A Moment of Clarity

By Jade East (jadetrekeast@yahoo.com)
Rating: PG
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Award: The Koffee Klub's Picnic Prose Prize (winner)
award graphic

Captain Kathryn Janeway was confined to her quarters. She sat on her sofa staring out the portal at the stars, sipping from the cup in her hand, and trying to understand why she was there and not on the bridge. Tuvok had explained why he had ordered her detention. Something on the planet had caused both she and Commander Chakotay to act contrary to their normal selves. The doctor had examined them and found a compound in the blood that was altering their behavior, so that until an antidote could be synthesized to reverse the effects or the substance wore off, the rest of the senior staff decided for their wellbeing and that of the ship, they should remain in quarters.

Although neither Captain Janeway nor Commander Chakotay recognized anything amiss in their actions, they trusted their staff enough to submit to their recommendations for the time being.

She tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Chakotay. Chakotay, are you there?"

"No, I left hours ago." A smile could be heard in his words.

Her laughter bubbled to the surface, as she remembered the words from such a long time ago. She whispered, "Thank you! I needed to laugh."

"You're welcome, Kathryn."

Her voice took on a more serious quality, as she spoke again. "Have you figured out why we've been confined? What we've done to cause the doctor to recommend this and the others to agree?

"No," he answered with the same bewildered tone of voice. "I know he found something in our blood and wants to monitor its effects. But I haven't been able to understand what everyone is talking about."

"I wish they would at least allow us to be together. It would be easier to think if I could see you, be with you."

"I know, Kathryn, but we agreed, that if the senior officers all think this is necessary, we should go along with it for at least a while."

His voice soothed her in a way nothing else could. She just wished she could be in the same room. She took a deep breath and another sip of hot liquid. "Well I'm not going to stay here for long. If they can't get some answers soon, I'm going to break out of here." Although his answering, soft chuckle warmed her heart, she wouldn't be dissuaded. "I mean it. I'm not patient. We both know it. And I'm the captain around here."

Chakotay understood that under her bravado, Kathryn was worried. "Our crew will get to the bottom of this and soon. So there's no need for you to plan a jailbreak."

"Then we could at least try to figure out what has happened. Let's try to go over what happened on Two Tannairb." She sighed again, "At least we might be able to comprehend what the others see if we think it through together."

Voyager was in orbit around a M-class planetoid where Captain Janeway, Chakotay, and Neelix had spent a two-day trade mission. The people who inhabited Two Tannairb had been more than willing to do business with Voyager. Since their world was actually a farming colony and had little industry, they were interested in replacement irrigation parts and medical supplies. The main planet, One Tannairb sent a supply ship there only once a year to pick up the colony's produce and brought needed supplies. A violent storm had caused damage to one of their irrigation system controls and some Tannairbians had been injured.

Negotiations had taken nearly two days but ended in a contract that both parties were happy with. A dinner party was held in honor of the successful agreement. The Tannairbians invited the whole crew, so that night, everyone, except for a small complement of personnel, attended. The celebration gave the crewmembers a chance to try out some of the foodstuffs they had traded for. Besides sampling the food and local wines, they were entertained by musical and acrobatic performers.

The event was held in an octagonal sunroom. The Trade Administrator Rynnij told them it was a multipurpose facility, sometimes used as a hothouse for raising seedlings ahead of the growing season and other times for social gatherings. All but one of the walls were made of a clear glasslike material, as was part of the ceiling. The only solid wall connected to the rest of a large building.

The captain and first officer enjoyed watching their crew relaxing. The Tannairbians mixed well with the Voyager people. The meal had concluded with an exotic tasting dessert served with wine.

"Do you think it was the wine?" Kathryn grasped at any clue.

"No, I don't. Everyone at our table had at least two glasses, like you and I did, and some had more." Chakotay voice was low, as he said again, "No, I'm sure it wasn't."

Kathryn sighed in response. "Well, let's keep thinking."

After the dinner Kathryn and Chakotay stayed to make sure everyone was transported off the planet and that there was no last minute problem with the trade arrangements. Rynnij and her mate Etep, stayed late as well. The Tannairbian pair listened while Chakotay responded to their questions about Earth and the Alpha Quadrant. They were especially interested in the farming practices of his home planet.

Kathryn felt relaxed as she only half listened to the conversation. Her eyes kept wandering to the windows, as she was close enough to see the moonlit garden just on other side. Tannairb's bright moon illuminated the fountain. Having never experienced moonlight bright enough that a person could see colors, she longed to explore. When there was a lull in the conversation, Kathryn asked, "Would you allow us to take a stroll in the garden?"

"Of course, Captain," Rynnij said. "It's a lovely time of the night for a walk. The Kmik lunar mists are just forming now." The alien guided them to the entrance, touching a pad that caused the glass to open. "We will wait here. You will find it more fascinating on your own."

Kathryn's eagerness to get to the garden distracted her enough she didn't question the administrator's comment. She took Chakotay's arm and impatiently walked through the doorway. The shadows and contrasting muted colors of the flowers reminded Kathryn of an illustration in a favorite childhood book. As they drew closer to the fountain in the center, a pinkish mist arose from the ground and wound around their feet like an affectionate family cat. Only this feline-like vapor didn't trip them, it twisted and swirled about them, hiding their feet from view.

Kathryn sat down at the fountain's edge and Chakotay joined her. Taking a deep, exhilarating breath of the night air, she looked down at the miasma. "I've never seen anything like this." She reached down and was able to lift some of the thick mist before the warmth of her hand melted it away.

"Me either," Chakotay said quietly, "It's so eerie and yet so beautiful."

"The mist!" They spoke in unison.

"That's the only thing that we experienced that the rest didn't," Chakotay finished.

Kathryn was ready to call Tuvok but another question occurred to her. "Chakotay, what did we do? The crew says that we weren't acting like ourselves. I think we should keep remembering."

"I agree but maybe we should inform the doctor about the mist. No one but the Tannairb knows that we went into the garden."

She reached for her computer, hit the communicator button, and said, "Janeway to Sickbay."

"Are you all right, Captain?"

"Yes," she said quickly. "But I have some information that you may need to find a way to reverse whatever is wrong with Chakotay and me. We took a tour of a garden last night. A pinkish mist arose during our walk. I think you should ask Administrator Rynnij about it."

"Thank you, Captain, I'll let Commander Tuvok know what you told me. Sickbay out."

"Did you hear his tone?" Kathryn sighed, "This is so frustrating. I don't think he believes we saw that mist."

"No, maybe not." The tone of Chakotay's voice reached out to comfort her. "But he will still act on what you told him. Our crew doesn't want us confined. They will do everything possible to help us."

"Yes, they will." There was less irritation in her tone. "Well, let's review more of what happened."

The command pair sat in silence for a while. Kathryn felt as if she had clarity for the first time in ages. There was no place she wanted to be at this moment other than with Chakotay. She slipped her small hand through his arm and laid her cheek on his shoulder.

Chakotay was a bit surprised at this intimate action, however he merely put his hand over hers. Duty stood in the way of his desire to kiss her. Glancing toward the room they had left, he could tell that Rynnij and Etep weren't watching them. The Tannairb were sitting with their backs to the glass. This moment of closeness would be theirs alone, without prying eyes or imposing protocols.

Moving back slightly, Kathryn lifted her free hand to touch Chakotay's cheek and to turn his face toward her. "I love you, Chakotay," she smiled and said in a voice as soft as the mist.

Her smile seemed brighter than the moonlight to Chakotay. His chest constricted as he gazed into her eyes, wondering if he had actually heard her correctly. However, he didn't have to wait long to find out, as she moved her hand to the back of his neck and pulled him toward her. When he was close enough, she kissed him. The caress was soft and tentative to begin with, but soon became hungry and demanding. Her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as he pulled into his embrace.

Chakotay reluctantly broke the kiss. "We need to slow down a bit." He touched her lips with his thumb, as he saw the disappointment and confusion in her eyes, he quickly said, "I love you, Kathryn."

The phrase caressed Kathryn ears and caused her to tremble and lean her cheek against his chest. "Mmmmm! How wonderful to finally hear you say that! What took you so long?"

"We have discussed this before. Protocols, rules against fraternizing." Guilt started to raise its ugly head.

"Oh yes," she sighed, as she cuddled in closer, "that!" After a quiet moment, Kathryn sighed again and straightened up. "I suppose we should be getting back. We wouldn't want Tuvok to come looking for us." Before she stood, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek once more.

He nodded, took her hand, and led the way back inside.

"I still don't see anything that would cause the senior staff to do what they did." Her voice sounded tired.

"No, although our declarations of love were monumental, they were private." She heard his grin as he finished, "And even if they had been public, they wouldn't warrant confinement. "

"That's right! So while we're waiting for the doctor, we'll keep looking."

The transport attendant's mouthed dropped open when she saw the captain and the commander materialize on the pad before her. The two were holding hands and standing very close to each other. They exited the room, taking little notice of the shocked ensign behind the console.

Soon, they arrived at Kathryn's door. When Chakotay said good night and started to leave, Kathryn held tightly to his hand to prevent him from going. "Didn't you forget something?" She grinned as she moved closer.

Chakotay tugged at his ear with his free hand, pretending he didn't know what she meant. "I don't think I forgot anything, unless I should have said, 'Good night, ma'am.'"

As she shook her head, a light, delighted laugh escaped her lips. "You can be dense, Commander." Standing on tiptoe, she kissed him.

As soon as her lips touched his, he enfolded her in his arms. They had begun to deepen the kiss when they heard a cough. Startled, Chakotay dropped his arms and looked around to find Tom Paris standing about a meter away.

Kathryn, however, kept her arms around Chakotay's neck. "Mr. Paris," she said in a matter-of-fact way. "Is there something we can do for you at this late hour?"

Although Tom was taken aback by the question, he grinned his cockiest and said, "No, Captain." He winked and walked past them, pausing to say, "As you were."

"Kathryn," Chakotay's voice was full of concern. "You do realize that this will be all over Voyager before the Alpha shift starts?"

She smiled up at him, framing his face in her hands. "Why do you think I made sure he saw us? I don't want to hide "us" behind old protocols. When I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye, I figured the 'Paris comm' was the quickest way to make the news known."

His stunned look made her chuckle softly. She wrapped her arms around his waist. "I'm sorry. I should have made sure you were ready to let others know."

"You're the captain." He hugged her tightly. "I guess if you are ready, I am, too." He lifted her chin and kissed her quickly.

Kathryn kissed him back. Then she said, "Why don't you come in for some tea?"

"Not tonight. I think we should call it a night. It's 0200 hours. I have some reports to finish before morning. Why don't we meet at 0630 hours for breakfast?"

"Chakotay!" Her pout was very un-captain-like. "Okay, it is late, so if we are to meet for breakfast, you will leave the reports until tomorrow. That's an order!"

The following morning when they entered the mess hall, all chatter ceased. Every eye was on them as they walked to the chow line. When Neelix greeted the captain and commander in his usual jovial way, the crew began to talk again. "Good morning, Captain, Commander. I hope that you're both well this morning." He didn't wait for more than a nod before he began explaining the breakfast menu to them. Enthusing over the new foodstuffs, he explained how good the morning's menu was. While he talked, he filled plates for each of them, according to their usual eating habits. However, when Neelix was done dishing up the food, Kathryn picked up the plate that was piled high while Chakotay reached for the one with toast and fruit.

Kathryn and Chakotay found a table and sat down. Neelix followed them, carrying a tray with two cups and two pots on it. He poured a cup of coffee for the captain and tea for Chakotay.

Kathryn was eating heartily already as she picked up the cup Neelix had put before her. She took a sip and shuddered. "Coffee? I don't want coffee! Could I have some tea?"

"I'll take the coffee," Chakotay offered as he exchanged filled mugs with her.

The mess hall went deadly silent again. Dumbstruck as well, Neelix looked around room, as if searching for help until he spotted Tuvok coming through the door. After nearly running into a crewman, he reached Tuvok. "Good morning, Mr. Vulcan, I need to talk to you right now." Lowering his voice, he began to tell the Vulcan his concern.

"You refused coffee!" Chakotay marveled.

"You wanted coffee!" Kathryn answered.

"Why couldn't we see how abnormal that was?" he questioned. "I really enjoyed that strong black coffee this morning. And I didn't have my regular appetite for breakfast."

Kathryn shook her head as if trying to clear it. "I couldn't stand that coffee this morning, and I was so hungry that I relished every bite." After pausing to let the memory sink in, she said, "You left for the bridge before I did. What happened to you before I joined you on duty?"

By the time Chakotay arrived on the bridge, the news of the incident in the mess hall had made it to the ears of everyone there but Tuvok as he was still having his ear bent by an upset Talaxian in the mess hall. The first officer took notice of the undercurrent of chatter as he stood on the upper level. An annoyed looked crossed his face as he put his hands on his hips and barked out, "Report!"

Each station nervously stammered out their status. They were not used to Chakotay being this way. Tom Paris was the only one who didn't seem to be concerned. He turned and gave Chakotay a cheeky grin as he gave his report.

"Mr. Paris, do you have something else to say?" Chakotay's voice was cold as he sat in the captain's chair.

Tom, at least, had the sense to lower his voice, but he spoke his mind. "Come on, Chakotay," he winked as he continued, "you don't have to be upset because I saw you kiss the captain last night. I only told B'E."

"Lt. Paris." The glare that Chakotay gave and the warning that was evident in those two words caused Tom to turn quickly back to helm. He wouldn't say more than two words the rest of the shift.

A few minutes later the turbolift doors opened. Janeway and Tuvok exited.

"Captain on the bridge!"

Chakotay stood and for the first time since he arrived on the bridge, he smiled as he looked at the captain.

"Good morning, everyone!" was her cheerful greeting to the crew, but her gaze never left her first officer.

As she walked down the few steps to the command deck, she glanced at Tom and saw his confused expression. Moving quickly to his station, she put her hand on his shoulder and leaned close to whisper in his ear, "Don't worry. I'm not upset about last night."

Tom threw a quick look at the commander before whispering back, "But he is."

Tossing back her head, she laughed with obvious amusement. Kathryn patted Tom's shoulder once more before she moved to where Chakotay was standing with a disapproving look on his face. Seemingly oblivious to where she was and who was around her, she reached up her hand to smooth away the Chakotay's frown.

Chakotay, also, seemed to be unaware of what was happening on the rest of the bridge. The only thing that existed for him was Kathryn and her fingers on his cheek. A dimpled grin quickly replaced the scowl. He reached up with his hand to take hers, and doing so he gave her palm a quick, gentle kiss.

That moment Ensign Kim received an incoming transmission from Two Tannairb. With trepidation he cleared his throat and said, "Captain, Administrator Rynnij would like to speak to you."

Smiling one more time at her first officer, Janeway turned and said, "On screen."

Both the administrator and her mate appeared on the view screen. The two stood close together with Etep just behind and to the left of Rynnij. Their stance mirrored Janeway's and Chakotay's.

"Captain Janeway," the Tannairbian cheerfully greeted her. "I hope that you are well this morning."

"Thank you, Administrator Rynnij, I am." Kathryn smiled back warmly. "And thank you for your hospitality. Did all of the supplies arrive satisfactorily?"

Rynnij's husband, Etep, smiled and spoke. "We are more than satisfied, Captain. What of those sent to your ship? Was there any problem?"

"Mr. Kim?"

"Everything arrived according to our agreement." Harry added, "Seven is especially pleased with the star charts."

"Good for her," Kathryn whispered sarcastically, but so low that she thought only Chakotay would hear. He responded with a choked chuckle.

"Everything is in order, Administrator. Again I want to express gratitude for your help."

"You are more than welcome. If you ever get back this direction, please stop by to visit us again." The Administrator smiled and signed off.

Taking her seat, the captain gave the order leave orbit. For a while the bridge crew went about their various duties until Seven of Nine's voice broke the silence.

"Seven of Nine, to Captain Janeway."

"What is it, Seven?" Kathryn sounded disinterested.

"The Trannairbian star charts show a rare trinary star cluster that warrants investigation." Seven said in her usual cool, Borg tone.

"Oh? How much of a detour would this investigation take?" She looked as if she was stifling a yawn.

Seven had obviously not expected the question. She paused to make the calculation. "I believe that it would take us three months to reach the phenomena. Depending on the length of time we take to study it, we should expect to be back on our present course in five to seven months."

"Forget it!" Janeway exclaimed quickly. "We aren't taking such a long detour."

Chakotay glanced at his captain when Harry spoke up. "Captain, this is a rare opportunity. Shouldn't we seize the chance to study it up close?"

"No!" She stood up and looked around the room at the surprised faces. "No more detours. We will take this ship home the quickest way possible."

Chakotay finally spoke, "Captain, I agree with Harry. We should do this while we can."

"That was the last straw, wasn't it?" She sighed deeply. "I have never turned down an opportunity to explore a new scientific wonder."

"And I don't remember a time when I argued like that in favor of detouring."

"Chakotay," her voice shook as she asked, "Does this mean that what we discovered in the garden wasn't real?"

He took some time to think before he spoke. "Do you still feel the same way about me?"

"Yes," she said confidently.

"And I love you." Chakotay declared. "Whatever happened to us in that garden, it did not somehow fool us into thinking we love each other. I know that I have loved you almost from the first time I saw you."

Kathryn sighed, "I have loved you for almost that long as well. Protocols always stood in the way of my acting upon that love."

The two were quiet for a few minutes, pondering the situation, trying to understand everything. The silence was broken by Tuvok on the comm. "Captain, Commander, I would like you both to come to the Briefing Room."

Kathryn smiled brightly when she met Chakotay in the hallway. Although she wanted to throw her arms around him, her renewed inhibitions and respect for Starfleet protocols held her back.

A look of sad resignation crossed Chakotay's face, as he understood that the love of his life was fully Starfleet Captain Janeway once again. However, he did not dwell on that fact, but rather flashed his dimples and offered her his arm.

Kathryn linked her arm with his and they silently made their way to deck one.

Tuvok was standing near the door and Rynnij and Etep were seated at the table and waiting when the captain and commander arrived. The two took their places.

"Tuvok," Janeway's tone gave the order to explain.

"Since you informed the doctor about the mist, I believe that you already suspected the cause of your abnormal behavior." Tuvok paused as Captain Janeway and Chakotay nodded. "We contacted Administrator Rynnij. She was concerned that you did not understand what had happened, having assumed that you and the commander knew when you went into the garden. After informing the doctor of the duration of the effects of the mist, she asked if she could explain everything to you in person."

The doctor stood and walked over to them, a medical tri-corder in his hand. "May I?" He asked while holding the instrument level with the captain's head. Upon receiving her permission, he began his scan in silence. "You are fine now, Captain."

Turning to Chakotay, he did a quick scan. "You're both back to normal and fit for duty, exactly as Administrator Rynnij told me you would be."

As the doctor left the room, Tuvok drew closer to the two. He opened his mouth to speak, but Tuvok seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for words. Closing his mouth for a moment, he pondered what to say. Finally, "I will leave you to speak with the administrators."

Again he paused for a moment, his discomfort apparent to the command team. Finally, he said, "I want to apologize, Captain and Commander, for relieving you of command and for the confinement. I am gratified that since the doctor is convinced that you are back to normal, I can turn Voyager's command back to you."

Kathryn touched Tuvok's arm for a moment. "You did what you had to do under that circumstances."

Tuvok nodded, and said, "I will to return to the bridge."

The captain dismissed the tactical officer and turned her attention to her Tannairbian visitors. "I appreciate you coming to Voyager to explain things to us."

Rynnij spoke up quickly, "We are truly sorry for the problems your walk in the garden and the mist may have caused you and your commander." As she paused, Etep reached for her hand. She smiled warmly at him before she continued. "We forget sometimes that others don't have the Kmik mist. Etep and I have lived on Two Tannairb most of our lives, were born there. I guess that isn't an excuse but I think it is why neither of us thought to explain things to you."

"The Kmik mists - mists of the moonlight - are unique in their clarifying qualities. When two peoples who are in love spend time in the mist, they share one another's feelings, personalities."

"Telepathy?" Kathryn asked.

"No," Rynnij answered. "We don't read each others thoughts. It's more like we share - almost - exchange traits, feelings, and personalities. Many couple chose to walk the mist before their wedding night. The stroll through the gardens seems to enhance their first night of marriage." She turned to her husband, smiling at the memories. "I remember eating a bowl of eiggam nuts for our morning meal. I hate eiggam nuts, and Etep loves them. However that morning I loved those gritty little things and Etep almost got sick watching me eat them."

Kathryn and Chakotay quickly glanced at each other, remembering their breakfast choices.

"Rynnij," Kathryn seemed to search for the right words. "Do the mists effect everyone the same way? If I had gone for a walk with Tom Paris, would I have had this experience of 'exchanging' traits?"

This time Etep spoke up, his voice warm with humor, "No, Captain, the kmik only seems to bring about the sharing if the people walking in the mist are deeply in love." He grinned and added, "I believe that Mr. Paris would've enjoyed the walk with his wife."

Kathryn was about to speak when Chakotay asked a question. "I'm still a bit confused. Does everyone take the mist walk?"

"No, as I said, usually only those in love, take the walk." Rynnij looked toward her mate. "We granted your request to visit the garden because we were under the impression that you two were in love." Seeing the shocked looked on the command pair's faces, she said, "You act so much like Etep and I. I can see many similarities that we have in common." She paused for a moment, "And your helmsman, ambassador, and a few others, told me how much you loved each but because of your protocols didn't act upon your feelings."

Kathryn couldn't think of any way to respond to what the administrator had said so instead she said, "I appreciate your coming to Voyager to explain this to us."

Rynnij stood to her feet and reached for Etep's hand. "When we realized that you hadn't understood the mist, we were embarrassed and didn't want to add to your discomfort by explaining everything to your doctor. Again, you have our sincerest apologies."

After assuring the Tannairb couple that she held nothing against them, Captain Janeway, along with the commander, escorted Rynnij and Etep to the shuttle bay.

When they arrived, Rynnij reached into a bag she had been carrying, pulling out a slender bottle that held a rose-colored liquid. She put it Kathryn's hands. "A gift from us to you both."

Turning the lovely spiral shaped bottle in her hands, Kathryn thanked Rynnij and said. "It is beautiful."

"It is a rare vintage. The fruit it is made from is picked in the moonlight during the Kmik." Her smile was bright with good-natured mischief. "Not quite as good as walking the mist in person, but it is close." Both Ambassadors turned as one and without another word entered their craft. A few moments later the small ship left Voyager and shot quickly out of sight.

As the shutter bay door closed, Chakotay moved closer to Kathryn and took the bottle from Kathryn. "Are you willing to give the wine a try at dinner?"

Kathryn lifted her gaze from the container she had just held in her hands. The twinkle she saw in her first officer's eyes turned from teasing to intense as he awaited her answer. Almost like a recording the past 24 hours or so flashed through her mind. The wonder of their first kiss, the security of his arms, the joy of losing herself in his thoughts and his deep love for her, flooded her. Next as she put together the reactions of her crew, Kathryn saw that the reason that she and Chakotay had been confined to quarters had not been their public display of affection, but the obvious personality changes. If Tuvok had started to let loose with loud guffaws like Neelix did, or if B'Elanna had begun to act like a shy Bajoran monk, Kathryn knew that she would relieve them of duty.

The love that had been allowed free reign would not return to the prison it had lived in for nearly seven years. She didn't want to do as she had upon returning to the ship from New Earth. Her heart ached for weeks when she had respond to Chakotay as her first officer and not the man she loved. It was so much harder this time. She knew that it wasn't possible. Even Captain Kathryn Janeway had her limits.

Straightening her shoulders and putting her hands on her hips, she spoke in full command tone, "Commander, I do believe that this wine will keep."

The smile left Chakotay's face. He was sure that Starfleet had won again and one more time his heart would die a little. He had experienced the thrill of her lips on his, the excitement of knowing that she loved him and was willing to let others know. However, during the last day he understood for the first fully why she held back, seeing through her eyes what Starfleet and its protocols meant. How could he expect her to turn her back on all of that?

Tears filled her eyes as she saw the grief spring into his. She moved closer and touched his cheek, "No, Chakotay," she whispered. "You don't understand. I meant that the wine would keep for a few more days. I think it would be best if we share it on our honeymoon."

Chakotay stared at her for several minutes before full comprehension dawned on him. His smile was like a full sunrise on Vulcan, beaming bright with promise of the heat to come. Holding the wine bottle tightly in one hand, he drew her to him with the other. "I agree with you completely." And as he lowered his head to place his mouth on hers, he said, "I wonder if Rynnij and Etep would like to attend a Voyager wedding."