Here I Stand

Chapter 4

Richard smelled like fish.

She'd noticed it after the second date. When he walked her back to her townhouse and leaned in for a kiss, Kathryn detected a slight fishy smell. But they'd just eaten dinner at an exclusive seafood restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf. Of course he smelled like fish. She probably did, too. So she kissed him.

It was…unremarkable. And fishy. But there was definitely room for improvement, and he was rather charming, so she agreed, with her characteristic optimism, to a third date.

The next time the subtle fishy odor hit her nose, she dismissed it as confirmation bias. He'd smelled of fish the first time they kissed, so she'd been expecting it and would likely have perceived it whether it was really there or not. The scent wasn't overpowering, just…there. The kissing had improved, that much was certain. And he was handsome in a primped and polished sort of way. She agreed to a fourth date.

More kissing. More fishiness. But he was damn sexy in his tailored Italian suits. She agreed to a fifth date.

Unfortunately, a diplomatic emergency forced her to cancel. Fortunately, this gave her time to prepare for the fishiness before their next date.

Or so she thought. The day after her return from Paris, they went out for an extravagant dinner – succulent Kobe steaks served with roasted vegetables and very expensive wine and no seafood whatsoever – and drinks and dancing. When the holographic band slowed to a sultry jazz tune and he pulled her close to his body to show her just how much he'd missed her, the smell of fish tickled at her nose.

At this point, the scientist in Kathryn took over. Why did he smell like fish? What was he ingesting or inhaling or smoking that caused it? Or was it just a unique byproduct of his body chemistry? Was he even aware of it? Were others? After she took him to meet her family, she called her sister Phoebe. They chatted about Richard's looks and charm and slight discomfort with Phoebe's children. "But what did you think of that cologne he was wearing?" Kathryn asked.

Phoebe's eyebrows knit together. "Was he wearing cologne?"

When he took her to his mansion in Cupertino, she half expected to find a giant koi pond or a tank of exotic sea creatures. Nothing. Not even a goldfish bowl.

In the absence of a tricorder, she snooped. In his bathroom she found no ingestible or topical medications that would explain it. The soap in his shower had no scent at all — and he had very little use for shampoo, so she didn't even check. The cologne on his nightstand was rare and expensive and Deltan...but it did not smell of fish.

His sheets, however, did.

Hers did, too, the morning after Celes and Billy's wedding.

In fact, she felt rather fishy herself when she woke up pressed against a clammy, clingy, ropy body and wanted nothing more than to extricate herself and make a cup of coffee.

She felt even fishier four days later when she broke her dinner date with Richard and set out across the Academy grounds to find Chakotay.

She told herself it was for Kayma. Earlier that day she had run the data and her own logs from Voyager's encounter with Chaotic Space off onto a padd, thinking Kayma might be interested in it for her thesis. She wanted to pull the Doc's medical logs, too, but as the patient in question, only Chakotay could give permission to release the information. She called his office. His teaching assistant said he was gone, but she could probably find him at the Boothby Memorial Gym working out with the Academy boxing team.

Kathryn grinned. Of course. How appropriate, given his hallucinations while in that otherspace. She grabbed the padd, sent a polite, perfunctory and vague message to Richard's secretary, and left her office at a fast walk. Kayma would surely want the data for her thesis. Kayma needed the data for her thesis. Kathryn had to find Chakotay immediately.

The gym was dim and dusty and smelled of old leather. She heard him before she saw him, encouraging his charges to keep their hands up, move their feet, use their heads as much as their fists. She smiled at that, wondering if as a young man he'd ever gotten the same advice.

Fit and strong and dressed in the boxing kit she remembered from Voyager, including the gloves, he bounced among three matches in three different rings, offering instruction and demonstrating techniques. She counted among the athletes two human boys, a very young, very slim Vulcan boy, a burly Bajoran who was surely a fourth-year Cadet, a tall Klingon girl and a Betazed girl. They were paired off roughly by size in the three rings. Kathryn kept to the shadows, not wanting to break anyone's concentration. The Vulcan boy and Betazed girl seemed wary and tentative with each other, and no wonder. It was an odd paring for anything. The two human boys were going at it with vigor, fists flying. The Klingon and the Bajoran, though, were shouting at each other more than anything – taunts, threats, curses. Chakotay warned them more than once, and finally climbed into the ring to step between them just as a bell rang ending the round.

The Bajoran spat out his mouthpiece and whirled on Chakotay. "This isn't going to work, sir. We have a match with UCLA next week, and I don't have anybody decent to spar with. I won't be ready!"

In an instant, the Klingon woman lunged at him. "'Decent?'" she growled. "You're soft, Granor. Like a Denebian slime devil."

Chakotay pushed them apart. "Both of you calm down," he ordered.

"But sir," Granor protested, "I don't want to go down there and get embarrassed because I didn't have a good training partner!"

The Klingon twitched a shoulder at him. "You'd get embarrassed whether you trained with me or a Nausicaan. You're weak."

Granor, the big Bajoran, rounded on her, but Chakotay pushed him back again. "Stand down, Cadets!" he thundered. "You're teammates first, remember?" Both young people backed off. Granor still looked angry and the Klingon woman looked smug, but they both seemed chagrined.

The Klingon woman ducked her head at Chakotay in a slight bow of respect. "Apologies, sir."

"Accepted," Chakotay nodded. "Now to your teammate, Cadet."

The Klingon woman gritted her teeth and turned to the Bajoran. "I'm sorry, Granor," she ground out. "You will fight honorably at UCLA."

Kathryn saw Chakotay suppress his smile at that. "Thank you, Cadet," he said. "Have a seat." The Klingon woman climbed out of the ring and sat down on a bench nearby. In fact, Kathryn noticed that all the other Cadets had gathered at the side of the ring where Chakotay and Granor now stood facing each other. The young people were chatting amiably, trying hard to look like they weren't interested in what was going on inside the ring.

Kathryn's gaze flicked back to Chakotay and Granor. Her former First Officer had one gloved hand on the younger man's shoulder, talking to him in low tones. Granor listened quietly, then shook his head in protest at something Chakotay said. Kathryn watched familiar expressions of persuasion, challenge and then determination cross Chakotay's face. He made one last sharp comment, the Bajoran nodded quickly, and Chakotay retreated to the far corner of the ring, yanking his shirt over his head.

Kathryn gasped. He was going to spar the Bajoran. Her first thought was to stop this madness. Chakotay was fit enough for a man of his age, but the Bajoran was bigger, burlier, and at least twenty-five years younger. There was no way to stop the fight without embarrassing one or both of them, though, and she didn't want to undercut Chakotay's authority with his Cadets. So Kathryn stayed hidden in the shadows, her breath frozen in her throat.

When the two men stepped together in the center of the ring, the other Cadets quieted instantly. Kathryn realized this was what they'd been waiting for. She wondered if Chakotay had had difficulty with Granor before. Perhaps this was an old dispute coming to a head at last.

Chakotay and Granor circled each other warily for several seconds before Granor finally unleashed a barrage of jabs that Chakotay dodged. When they turned as one and Kathryn got a good look at Granor's face, she relaxed a little. The man was furious – maybe not at Chakotay, but definitely at the Klingon Cadet – and not thinking straight. True to character and the instincts she'd trusted for seven years, her former First Officer had maneuvered the younger man into expressing his temper without hurting a fellow Cadet in his carelessness. Chakotay wasn't quite as strong as the Klingon girl, but he was quicker and more skilled, able to dodge the man's increasingly angry and uncontrolled punches.

Most of them, anyway. Chakotay gave as good as he got at first, but Granor managed to land a few crunching blows that knocked Chakotay back on his heels. Grunting, he stepped up to the Bajoran each time, gloves raised to protect himself, and let Granor release his irritation.

The rest of the Cadets stayed quiet, watching them. When Granor flailed at Chakotay's head, missed and shouted a loud curse, the young Vulcan raised an eyebrow. The two Human boys elbowed each other. The Betazed girl winced, and the Klingon smirked.

The fight went on for a minute, then two, Granor's apparent frustration increasing with every second. Chakotay kept dodging and ducking, but Kathryn could see that he was beginning to tire – and the Bajoran had abandoned all technique, making it difficult for Chakotay to anticipate where the next blow might be coming from. Kathryn winced with the dull thud of every punch to Chakotay's body. When Granor connected with a right jab to the gut that made Chakotay double over and followed it with an uppercut to the jaw that sent him reeling into the ropes, blood and sweat flying, Kathryn darted forward into the light.

The Vulcan saw her first. "Admiral on deck!" he cried, and the rest of the Cadets, including Granor, snapped to attention.

Draped over the ropes, blood dripping from his nose and oozing from a cut below his right eye, Chakotay gave her a lopsided grin. "Admiral Janeway," he said, his words distorted by the mouthpiece. "What a nice surprise."

"At ease," Kathryn said. The Cadets all moved to parade rest. "Commander, you're bleeding."

"I'm sure I am," he said, winking at her. He removed his mouthpiece and tossed it aside. "Cadets dismissed," he ordered, and began to extricate himself from the ropes, calling after Granor.

The younger man turned, his face set in tense, angry lines. "Commander?"

"My office, tomorrow at 0900."

Granor's face fell. "Aye, Commander."

"Dismissed."

The Bajoran nodded once and turned to leave the gym. Kathryn noticed the Klingon woman lingering nearby. When Granor passed her, she fell into step beside him and the teasing and taunting resumed as they walked away.

Behind her, Chakotay chuckled. "Remind you of anyone?"

Kathryn looked again and watched them retreat, the Bajoran's fair hair matted to his head, the Klingon talking rapidly, punctuating every point with a stab of her boxing gloves. The Admiral turned and smiled at Chakotay, who stepped up beside her in his old familiar place. "Now that you mention it, yes."

They shared a quiet laugh. Chakotay wiped blood from his face with a towel clutched awkwardly in his boxing glove. "What brings you here, Admiral? I assume it wasn't just to watch me get my ass handed to me."

"No, that was just good timing."

He put a gloved fist over his heart. "Ouch."

She took the towel from him and continued to clean his wounds. "What were you thinking, anyway?"

He shrugged and leaned into her touch. "I recruited Z'Mora right after the beginning of the semester so I wouldn't have to spar Granor anymore. Within a month he was refusing to give her his best, no matter how much she egged him on."

"It's interesting how that works out sometimes."

He nodded. "So it's back to me again. I try not to do it too often, because when I do…" He shrugged again.

She examined the cut on his cheek. "That looks like it hurts."

"Not as much as you'd think." He rummaged in a duffel bag and handed her a dermal regenerator. "Fix it for me?"

She took his face in one hand and passed the device over the open wound. "You're sure this doesn't hurt?"

He smiled under her ministrations. "I'll let you in on a little secret, if you promise not to tell B'Elanna and Tom."

She raised her free hand. "You have my word."

"I was pretty sure I'd wind up in the ring with Granor today, so I dosed myself up on analgesics before practice."

Kathryn's eyes widened. "You don't even like to take them after you're hurt."

He chuckled. "But I'm not as young as I used to be."

She touched the fading cut, ran her fingers over his crooked nose and placed her hands on his shoulders, holding his gaze. "You look just fine to me, Commander."

He swallowed hard. Kathryn fought not to sway further toward him, unsure whether the little thrill that rippled through her was for his reaction or hers. "Tell me, Kathryn," he said softly. "What brings you here today?"

Ignoring both the new spark of old attraction and her own confusion over it, she let him go and retrieved the padd she'd set aside. "I downloaded the data from our encounter with Chaotic Space. I thought Kayma might like to use it for her thesis."

He smiled and nodded. "I think she'd love that. But you could have just transferred it to my office."

"No, I couldn't. I can't release some of the medical data without your permission."

"Of course." He moved to take the padd from her, but his boxing gloves prevented him from pressing his thumb to it. He shook his head at himself and began to fumble with the ties of his right glove.

"Here, let me." Kathryn sat down on the bench and pulled him with her until his hands rested in her lap. She worked at the knots and soon her fingertips were almost raw from the friction of the rough, tight laces. "How do you do this on your own?"

"With my teeth and a lot of swearing."

She clucked her tongue at him. "Why laces instead of pressure strips?"

"The laces stay tighter. And they're more…traditional."

"A Starfleet Commander who prefers traditional laces on his boxing gloves." She pulled his right glove off and began to work on the left. "Always such a contrary."

He offered no reply to that. She felt his eyes on her, moving over her hair and face, resting on her hands as they worked on his. When she had both gloves off and began to pick at the tape he wore beneath them, he passed her a small pair of scissors. Gently, mindful of his bruised knuckles, she cut and peeled away the long layers and set them aside to retrieve the padd. "There you go."

Their eyes met again over the padd. Kathryn held her breath. She couldn't remember the last time they'd been this close, or the last time she'd touched him this much. His skin was warm under her fingertips. The air sizzled around them.

He lowered the padd. "Why don't you bring this to Big Sur?" he asked.

Kathryn blinked. "What – now? Tonight?" she breathed.

He smiled. "No, Kayma's in Berkeley tonight monitoring some lab work. But you could come down on Saturday and deliver it in person. The three of us could talk it over together."

She hesitated. "I don't know…"

Dropping his eyes, Chakotay looked away. "You probably have plans."

"Not really," she said quickly. "Nothing I couldn't change."

He nodded once. "Or you could…bring Richard." He licked his lips. "I'd like to get to know him better anyway."

Kathryn studied his profile, noting the tension in his strong jaw and bare, broad back. "Why?"

He forced a tight smile. "I think I should probably befriend the man who's captured the great Kathryn Janeway's heart."

She chuckled and thumped her shoulder against his. "You may be overstating the case on several counts."

The leap of hope in his eyes was impossible to miss. "Really?"

She nodded. "I think I might be trying to talk myself into something that isn't really there."

"But you seemed very happy with him at the wedding."

She waved a hand in a vague, dismissive gesture. "I think it was just the occasion," she said. "Maybe the music or the champagne just…got to me." She cocked an eyebrow at him. "I'm sure that doesn't sound very rational."

He gave his head an amused little shake. "I understand completely, Kathryn. Sometimes circumstances can make things more significant than they really are." He turned away again and let out a long, slow breath before he tapped the padd on his thigh and looked back at her again. "Saturday? You could beam into Monterey and I'll pick you up there. Or pull rank and take a Starfleet groundcar out for the day. The drive down the coast is beautiful."

She hesitated. "Are you sure?"

"Of course. You're the only one of my friends who hasn't visited yet, Kathryn. Even Tuvok and T'Pel came for tea."

"I know. He told me all about it." The Vulcan had practically gushed about the tranquility of Chakotay's isolated cottage overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In truth, Kathryn had very much wanted to visit Chakotay's home, although the tension and distance between them had left her unsure whether she'd be welcome there.

That tension, however, seemed to be melting away the longer she sat next to him.

"Kayma and I won't be doing anything," Chakotay continued. "Usually on Saturdays I just grade reports and projects and she does research. It would be nice to have a visitor." When she continued to hesitate, he grinned and lowered his voice. "Be there at 1700 and I'll make you an early dinner. When was the last time you had a home-cooked meal, Kathryn?"

"Home-cooked?" She fought to keep the pleading tone out of her voice.

He chuckled. "Anything you want, and all from scratch, since I don't even have a replicator."

"Anything?"

"Anything. How about…vegetable stew and homemade bread?"

"Pecan pie?"

"Fresh from the oven."

That did it. She felt a flutter of anticipation in her belly, for both the food and the company. "Five o'clock on Saturday, then. It's a date."

His easy, delighted smile touched off a warmth in her that she hadn't felt in years. "I look forward to it." He returned the padd to her. "And don't be late for dinner, Admiral."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Commander." She rose and patted his shoulder. "No more sparring with angry Bajorans?"

"Not unless you're here to patch me up, I promise. See you Saturday."

She gave his shoulder one last, lingering touch and left the gym.

Her steps felt light and quick on the short walk back to her office. She'd missed him. She realized it with a rush of deep affection and warmth. She'd missed that smile, those mischievous brown eyes, those broad, solid shoulders.

An hour later, seated in her apartment with a hot cup of cinnamon tea in hand, she realized she'd even missed his scent, warm and rich and heady, without the faintest hint of fish.


The soft glow from the townhouse's front window cast a warm light on the sidewalk below. The man was careful to keep to the shadows while he watched the house. The scanner in his hands swept the house over and over, searching for the telltale signs of a security system being armed. When the Admiral rose, casting a shadow across the pool of light, the man looked up, hopeful for a glimpse of her. He stepped into the light.

He didn't see the couple strolling along the sidewalk until they were upon him, tangling him in their loosely clasped hands. At the sudden physical contact he gasped and lurched away from them, from the overwhelming mix of emotions they projected on him: Surprise, irritation, embarrassment, lust. He waved off their muttered apologies, clutching his head, as the scanner clattered to the pavement.

When he retrieved it, he scrolled through the information and realized that in his clumsiness, he'd deactivated the scan. The Admiral's security system was armed, but he hadn't captured the code.

He slammed the device on his open palm, cursed and hurried away from the house, his black eyes glittering with anger and frustration.

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