Summary:One night changes everything. Set sometime towards the end of season seven.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Kathryn tried to stifle another yawn but was too weary to even lift her hand to her mouth. Instead she turned her head into her shoulder to muffle the sound. She couldn’t remember ever being so tired. Her body felt like lead and no matter how hard she tried, her eyes refused to stay open.
She was in Chakotay’s quarters, curled up on his couch. It had been their weekly dinner but they’d finished their meal some time ago. The empty plates were still on the table. Neither of them had the energy to clean up just yet. As always it had been a relaxed and comfortable evening and the two glasses of wine she’d had with her meal had left her floating in this warm soporific glow. Chakotay was talking quietly to her. About what, she had no idea… she’d stopped listening to the words several minutes ago, and was now letting the warm timbre of his voice lull her into a blissful world of semi awareness.
She loved these evenings together and, especially after a day like today, not to mention the preceding week, it was wonderful just to sit and relax and let everything slide away. It was such a relief to let all the worry, the stress and the responsibility wash into the background, even if it was only for an hour or so. He was such a good man. Kathryn looked at him through half lidded eyes and settled her head on the side of the couch. Her eyes drifted shut and with the gentle rumble of his voice as her lullaby, she slipped into the deliciously comforting arms of slumber.
It could have been minutes or hours later, Kathryn wasn’t sure, but she felt a gentle hand on her forehead sweeping the hair from her face and a soft voice whisper in her ear. “Kathryn, it’s time for you to go to sleep.”
He was sitting right beside her and her body tilted towards him and his comfortable shoulder. She mumbled into the warmth of his side. “Too late… already asleep.” And without thinking of the consequences or anything beyond the fact that she felt safe and secure, she snuggled into him and slid back into a deep dreamless slumber.
Kathryn squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to hang onto the last remnants of oblivion but it was no use. Morning was here. Rolling over she snuggled into the warm body beside her….
Warm body!? She froze.
Her mind raced back to the previous evening. The last thing she remembered was sitting on Chakotay’s couch in a state of complete and utter exhaustion. Most of the evening was a little hazy but she couldn’t remember a thing after she’d curled up on the couch to listen to him talk. She’d been virtually comatose.
Without even looking at her bed partner, she knew it was Chakotay. She would know him anywhere – the shape of him, the feel of him and his oh so familiar, warm and spicy scent. It assaulted her senses and she closed her eyes briefly and inhaled.
He was still asleep. The slow and steady rise and fall of his chest was indication of that, and besides, she was draped halfway across his body, so it didn’t take genius to figure it out.
Doing a quick head to toe assessment of her own body, she came to the conclusion that they hadn’t had sex. That she would definitely know. Even after all these years of abstinence, it was one bike she would remember riding and there were none of the telltale signs of soreness or fullness. Yes, she was still as chaste and pure as the driven snow, but for an instant she was disappointed… then gave herself an internal shake. Things were going to be awkward enough without sex rearing its ugly… well, not so ugly, more like awkwardly shaped… head.
Trying to keep her breathing steady, she also realised that she was wearing only her tank and panties. He must have undressed her. The cheek of the man! She frowned. Surely she would have remembered that. It had always been one of her dearest fantasies to be slowly undressed by Chakotay but she couldn’t remember a thing. Damn it. Sadly, however, she doubted that he’d even thought twice about it and had probably gone about the whole process very efficiently. She would have been no more enticing to him than Tuvok. Now that made a rather disturbing picture.
Except for the fact that it might wake him, she was tempted to look over her shoulder to see if her clothes were neatly folded somewhere within reach. It wouldn’t surprise her, though. He was renowned for being a bit of a neat freak. It was something she used to tease him about it on New Earth.
New Earth…Kathryn had to consciously smother a sigh. Again, she didn’t want to wake him and have to explain. Thoughts of their three month idyll always triggered a great surge of emotions within her. They were confused and complex feelings. Ones that she’d never really come to terms with, even after all these years.
This brought to light another dilemma. How was she going to get out of here? If she waited until he awoke there would be awkwardness and embarrassment, especially on her part, but if she slid out of bed now, dressed and left without speaking to him, there would be hurt feelings and unhappiness. The adage of being caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea came to mind and then her mind shot off on another tangent. She imagined them sailing up the river on New Earth sitting together at the tiller as they wended their way lazily down stream. It was another fantasy that would remain unfulfilled. She took a deep breath and decided she would stay. Hurting his feelings was the last thing she wanted to do, but, as she lay there in his arms, she did a mental tally. Awkwardness, embarrassment, hurt and distress were just a few of the reasons, on a long list of reasons, why she had never let herself get into this situation before. It was destined for disaster no matter how delicately it was handled.
Kathryn jumped as his voice rumbled through his chest under her cheek. She made a half hearted attempt to slide away from him, but he had his arm around her and it would have seemed churlish to try to escape his embrace, especially considering she was the one who had moved into his arms in the first place. So she stayed where she was and answered.
“Did you sleep well?”
There was a loud silence that followed and it left Kathryn feeling annoyed with herself but at the same time a little vulnerable and she didn’t like feeling either of those things. She was an experienced woman, a starship captain, not some adolescent nincompoop, but for the life of her she couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say. Fortunately he did, and she closed her eyes and tried to will the flush in her cheeks to subside.
“Its okay, Kathryn. Nothing untoward happened last night. You were exhausted. We both were and you fell asleep. I tried to wake you but you were so deeply asleep that I couldn’t rouse you enough to get you to move. It was a choice between either carrying you up the corridor to your quarters or having you stay here. I thought this was the easiest and most logical course of action.”
She lifted her head and looked at him. “Logical? Are you trying to sound like Tuvok? I have to tell you, it’s not working.” And… she thought to herself… it was something of a turn off. Then she snapped at him. “Whatever happened to transporters?”
“I didn’t think that was a wise course of action either. Can you imagine the rumours if the crew caught wind of you beaming out of my quarters in the early hours of the morning?”
Kathryn frowned. This all seemed rather rehearsed, but she couldn’t fault his reasoning. However she wasn’t going to go down without a fight. “What do you think they’re going to say when they realise I spent the night here.”
“They’ll never know. I rigged the comm system so that both our quarters are logged in as one room. If anyone should ask the computer for your whereabouts, it shows your combadge in your quarters. Don’t worry Kathryn, they’ll never know. You’re safe.”
Kathryn almost snorted. She felt decidedly unsafe – lying here next to him with very little between them, just skin against skin. It was damned dangerous and so very tempting. She mentally slapped herself. What was she thinking? Lots of outrageous and forbidden thoughts, it seemed. She really should move. And if she was going to move, now was the time. If she stayed here any longer, things were going to get a hell of a lot more complicated and she wouldn’t be responsible for her actions.
Damn, she wanted to kiss him.
It was time to retrieve some dignity and a firmer footing so she slid away from him, speaking at the same time to try and soften the blow. Whether for her, or for him, she wasn’t sure. “Well, thank you for taking care of me last night and for the sleight of hand with the communicators and everything. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired and it was kind of you to be such a gentleman. I, ahhh… thank you, Chakotay.” Kathryn knew she was rambling but she couldn’t think straight. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and found her clothes. They were tossed haphazardly over the chair near the bed. He must have been in a hurry, or not thinking about being tidy. That thought gave her pause.
As she reached for her trousers and tee, Chakotay took hold of her arm. “It was a pleasure, Kathryn. Anytime.”
Kathryn couldn’t help herself. She turned around slowly and stared at him. He was grinning from ear to ear and in return, a smile softened her features. He was so disarming and he was being a true friend by making this as easy for her as he possibly could. She was still a bit suspicious about his motives, but there was nothing unseemly or suggestive about his manner. In truth he was behaving like they were just two good friends sharing a moment of togetherness and she loved him for it.
Oh, God! That thought jolted her and she turned away quickly before he could see the truth in her eyes. Picking up her trousers and tee, she dressed quickly. Slipping on her socks and boots, she ran her fingers through her hair and once standing, turned back towards the bed.
He climbed out the other side, wearing only his boxers, but grabbed a t-shirt and hauled it over his head. Kathryn blinked a couple of times and tried to think of something inconsequential to say as she tried to erase the vision of his bare chest from her mind. “I think I need a coffee.” She pivoted and marched out of the bedroom.
Chakotay nodded. “Help yourself. I’m going to jump in the shower in a moment.”
Kathryn beat a hasty retreat and almost groaned. Thanks for nothing. Now she had the visions of him naked in the shower in her head. This was going from bad to worse and he seemed completely oblivious to her discomfort. Damn the man. She was moving towards the door as she spoke.
“Thanks anyway, but I’d better get back to my quarters, I’ve got to get ready for work as well. I’ll see you on the bridge, Commander.”
“See you there, Kathryn.”
She jumped. He was right behind her. Since when had he started operating on stealth mode? She hadn’t even heard him leave the bedroom. Was he doing this on purpose or was it just because she was overly sensitive to his presence? No matter what the reason, she had to get out of there quickly, before she made a complete ass of herself.
“God, don’t sneak up on a person like that, Chakotay. You scared me half to death.”
There he was again with that dimpled grin. Kathryn almost sighed and rolled her eyes, but instead she gave him a small smile in return, maintaining her thin veneer of control. With a slight shake of her head, she turned and left his quarters.
There was no one in the corridor and she made it safely to her door. Slipping into her quarters, she fell back against the closed door and groaned. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her? This was Chakotay. She’d lived and worked with the man for nearly seven years. What was her problem? What a stupid question. It was the same problem she’d had for years. She was irresistibly drawn to the man, but there was nothing she could do about it. Besides, it was her problem, not his. He’d got over his crush years ago. She just wished she could.
He didn’t seem to have any qualms about what had happened and wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable. Unlike her. She was having difficulty distancing herself from it all, and it only highlighted the fact that it was years since she’d slept with anyone. She’d almost forgotten what it was like to wake up in someone’s arms. To feel that wonderful sense of closeness and comfort that one experienced when sleeping beside another warm body. She hugged her arms around herself. Damn it, she missed it. All these years and she’d thought that she’d become inured to the fact that she would be alone for the rest of her life. What a fool she’d been. Now, after one little taste of togetherness, she was hooked. So much for the cool, aloof and stalwart Captain Janeway. His kindness and closeness had touched Kathryn and she had the awful feeling that she was going to experience the loss all over again; just as she had in the early months of their arrival in the Delta Quadrant, only this time she didn’t have the Kazon or Viddians to distract her. Damn it. Where were the Borg when you needed them?
Her shoulders sagged and she tried to bolster her courage and inner fortitude. This too would pass and she’d find her way back to the tenuous knife edge of equilibrium on which her life balanced. She turned and looked at the wall that separated her from the man she loved… oh great…that really helped.
Kicking herself away from the door, she headed straight for the shower. She’d done enough navel gazing for one day and it was only making matters worse. What she needed to do was to get back to work and get her mind back on the matters at hand. It was 0645 and she was due on the bridge in an hour. She didn’t have time for this.
In an attempt to regain some sense of normality, Kathryn busied herself with the mundane – she showered, polished her boots, dabbed on a quick swipe of makeup, had her toast and coffee and tidied her quarters. She stood by the doors and looked around her. She would almost put Chakotay to shame with this uncharacteristic fit of neatness. Damn, there she was thinking of him again. Until now, she hadn’t realised just how often she thought of him and how his presence constantly hovered just below the surface of all her thinking. Kathryn supposed that it wasn’t unusual, really. They were best friends and she was as close to Chakotay as she’d been to anyone else in her life. Closer maybe.
Her door chimed and she said an automatic. “Come.” And swung around as the doors opened.
“Are you ready?” It was Chakotay.
Kathryn tried to smile. “Um, yes.”
“I thought I’d escort you to the bridge.” He took a couple of steps into the room and took a closer look at her. Kathryn turned away on the pretence of looking for something. He wasn’t going to be deterred. “Are you all right, Kathryn? You seem a bit out of sorts. I’m sorry about last night. If I’d known it was going to upset you, I would have brought you home. I just didn’t think you’d mind.”
Kathryn’s head snapped up. “No, no, it’s all right. It really is. I really didn’t mind. I… umm, don’t know what’s wrong with me. Let’s just leave it shall we. Besides, its time we got to work.”
Chakotay nodded and crooked his elbow. Without thinking, Kathryn tucked her arm through his and they stepped out of her quarters and walked towards the turbo lift. She extricated her hand when they entered the lift, and both stood uncomfortably at parade rest until the doors opened on the bridge and they strode out, heading for their command chairs.
The morning was drearily unspectacular. Maintenance schedules and a minor fluctuation in the plasma relays were the highlights of the first part of their shift and the afternoon looked like it was going to be equally riveting, so, just before lunch, Kathryn took herself off to her ready room to catch up on some old reports and logs. It was also an excuse to remove herself from his presence. She’d become acutely aware of him after last night and she was sure he must have realised. It was very disconcerting and Kathryn needed some space to get her emotions under control.
End of shift approached slowly but it hadn’t been wasted. She’d managed to get all her logs up to date and also find some sense of calm. Ten minutes before Beta shift change-over her ready room door chimed. She knew who it would be. “Come.” She was right. “I’m nearly finished, Chakotay. Would you like a tea?”
He wandered up to the replicator and helped himself, bringing her a coffee at the same time. Kathryn thanked him. He sat down on the opposite side of the desk and sipped quietly on his drink while she finished what she was doing. It was quiet and comfortable and something that they did often. It only made Kathryn realise just how much time they spent together. Like an old married couple, they had their routines and habits. They even had their own ‘in’ jokes. Sometimes it would only take a look and they would both know exactly what the other was thinking. It was uncanny, comforting and terrifying, all at the same time but it was a big part of her life and she wasn’t going to risk alienating him or ruining, what was for her, the driving force behind her peace of mind.
Logging out of her computer, she snapped the lid shut and picked up her coffee.
“How was your afternoon, Chakotay?”
He shrugged. “Quiet. It would have been boring except for the fact that Paris was happy to regale us all with tales from the Stellar Cartography staff party. You’ll be glad you weren’t there.”
Kathryn raised her eyebrows but smiled. “I’ll remember that for next time. Do I want to know what happened?”
Chakotay’s mouth twisted into a grin and he tugged at his ear. “Probably not. But I can give you the highlights.”
Kathryn chuckled. “Later maybe. It’s home time now. Are you ready, Commander?”
He took her cup and placed it in the recycler. “Whenever you are, Captain.”
He didn’t offer his arm, but Kathryn tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow anyway and ignored his double take as they exited through the ready room doors onto the bridge.
The Beta shift was in place and they all smiled and said their goodnights to the command team as they made their way to the turbo lift. No one appeared to even notice that they were arm in arm. It was an interesting experiment, Kathryn thought.
They exited the lift on deck three and Chakotay led her to her door. He stepped away from her to say his goodnights and move down the corridor to his quarters but as her hand slid from his arm she felt a sharp twinge of regret and before she could think too much about it, she turned to him. “Would you like some dinner, Chakotay? I’ll try my hand at something simple, if you’re game?”
Kathryn could tell he was a little taken aback. It wasn’t usually her habit to ask him to join her for a meal. They mostly ate in his quarters under the guise of the weekly meeting. He covered his surprise with a smile and an enthusiastic. “That sounds tempting… or perhaps daunting is the word I’m looking for, I haven’t decided yet?”
Kathryn smacked him lightly on the arm. “Keep that up and I’ll cook you my specialty … liquefied roast.”
Chakotay held his hands up in mock surrender. “Please no. I give up. After you.”
They entered her quarters and Chakotay raised his eyebrow and looked around the room. “You’ve committed a neatness.”
Kathryn tossed her jacket onto the couch and shrugged. “Hmm, yes, well it needed it and I had a bit of time on my hands this morning.” She moved over to the cupboard and pulled out a bottle of wine and grabbed the corkscrew from the drawer. “Could you grab a couple of glasses, please?” She brandished the bottle. “You might need this if we’re going to eat.”
“You’re not filling me with confidence here, you know. What are you planning on cooking or should I get the bread and peanut butter out now?” He was obviously trying very hard not to laugh.
Kathryn pulled the cork from the bottle with a flourish and glared at him. “You’ll keep, you doubter. Pass the glasses.” She poured them each a glass of red wine and stared at the label as she placed it on the table, her mind taking her back years. She spoke without thinking. “Phoebe gave me this before we left earth, she told me to drink it…” She stalled and after a quick look at Chakotay, she turned towards the replicator. Damn, she could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. “I thought we could have something simple like pasta. Does that suit you?”
Chakotay gave her a puzzled look. “Yes, that’s fine. You didn’t finish though. When did Phoebe tell you to drink this?” He lifted his glass and looked at the rich red liquid in the light.
She should have known he would ask. After giving the instructions to the replicator she turned around and looked Chakotay in the eye. “She told me to drink this when I’d captured that ‘devilishly handsome Maquis rebel’.” Kathryn tilted her glass towards him in a half toast. “Consider yourself captured.”
Chakotay grinned. “’Devilishly handsome’, huh? I can live with that. We’re a bit late with the toast though. I’ve been your prisoner for almost seven years.”
Kathryn snorted. “My prisoner? Hardly. You’re my First Officer and… my dear friend.”
Chakotay just looked at her and smiled. It was a gentle knowing smile – one that gave the impression that he was in possession of some secret or other – one to which she wasn’t privy. It made her vaguely uncomfortable, but also sent a thrill through her. After several loaded heartbeats, she gave him a crooked smile and placed her glass on the table. Turning back to the replicator she picked up their meals. She bought one of the plates close to her face and inhaled. “Gnocchi with wild mushroom sauce. It smells delicious, even if I do say so myself.”
She grinned at Chakotay as he took his seat giving her a questioning look and, after setting the plates on the table, Kathryn returned to the replicator and brought back a small bowl of parmesan cheese, some cutlery and napkins. Passing them towards Chakotay, she sat down opposite him. They both sat with their forks poised in mid air.
He looked down at his food and then up at her again, quirking an eyebrow. “Is this some sort of dare? I vote you go first.”
Kathryn opened her mouth in disbelief and gave him a narrow eyed glare. She stabbed at her plate and popped a piece of gnocchi in her mouth. “It tastes wonderful and I expect you to eat every bite.” He didn’t move and Kathryn frowned. “What are you waiting for?”
“I’m waiting for you to swallow. We can’t be too sure.”
“Oh, that’s charming. I can always recycle it.” She reached across the table to take his plate, but he snatched it away.
“All right, I’m eating, I’m eating.” He took a mouthful and nodded. “You’re right, it is delicious.”
Kathryn gave him an ‘I told you so’ look and took a sip of wine. She loved this. The banter and the verbal jousting. They were good at it. They’d had a lot of practice over the years and had found their own rhythm. She decided, in that moment, that she was just going to enjoy their friendship and the closeness and guarded intimacy that they shared. She wouldn’t try to second guess every move she made and just let things flow. It was probably a dangerous thing to do, but after seven years and the prospect of perhaps another thirty years ahead of them, she wasn’t going to risk losing him. He was too important to her and she wasn’t too proud to acknowledge that he, and their relationship, was a big part of why she’d been able to survive the last seven years of constant pressure and responsibility.
“Kathryn?” Her eyes refocussed on his face. She’d been staring as her mind churned over the possibilities.
She gave him a guilty smile. “Sorry. I was just thinking.” He raised his brows in question and Kathryn shrugged. “About all sorts of things. Getting home and not getting home. All the years we’ve been out here. Us, and the fact that I don’t tell you often enough…I’m so grateful that you’re here.” She placed her fork on her plate and, resting her elbows on the table, she laced her fingers together and rested her chin on her hands looking at him. “I still can’t imagine a day without you, you know?”
He held her gaze and smiled gently. “And I can’t imagine a day without you either.”
Kathryn locked her hands together tightly. She was itching to reach across the table and stroke his cheek or trace the outline of his tattoo, but she knew she couldn’t. Well, not yet anyway. She pulled her hands apart and, resting one hand in her lap, she picked up her fork with the other. “It’s lucky that we feel this way. Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t like one another?” Kathryn took a mouthful of gnocchi and she contemplated his handsome face. He was grinning at her and she couldn’t help returning the smile. “What’s so funny?”
“You don’t remember do you?”
She frowned. “Remember what?”
“The early days. The fights and disagreements – your rigid adherence to all things Starfleet, the problems with the Maquis, my resentment and the fact that I was still so angry and took delight in ruffling your feathers.”
Kathryn tried to recall, but she didn’t remember it like that at all. She must have rewritten the past in her mind. The only things she could remember vividly was their disagreement over the Borg and his disappointment in her over the Equinox affair, but in her mind they’d always been friends, even in those early days. “I don’t remember any of that. I just remember thinking that I was glad that it was you who had been leading the Maquis. I felt a connection with you right from the beginning and knew that between the two of us, we could get the crew home. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t trust you.” Kathryn took a sip of wine and her eyes looked worried. “Don’t tell me you didn’t trust me back then?”
Chakotay spluttered at he sipped his wine. “No. I mean yes, I trusted you. I always trusted you, but we did lock horns a few times in the beginning. Remember B’Elanna and my push to make her Chief Engineer? You weren’t terribly taken with that idea to begin with.”
“B’Elanna as Chief Engineer. One of the best decisions I ever made.” Kathryn’s mouth quirked into a smile as she watched him look at her in shocked disbelief.
“Hey, it was my idea.”
“Ah, yes, but my decision. The buck stops here remember?” She couldn’t help herself, and laughed at his indignant expression. “Don’t worry, Commander. I think I remember giving you the credit in my logs but now that you mention it, I do remember giving you a piece of my mind over some poorly timed communications with Engineering when we were stuck in that event horizon.”
Chakotay pointed his fork at her. “See, it wasn’t always rainbows and lollipops.”
Kathryn grinned. “You seem to take delight in the fact that we were at odds with one another.”
Chakotay’s eyes sparked with something that she thought she recognised from long ago and sent a flutter to her belly. “It was exciting – trying to work out what made you tick and trying to get under your skin.”
Kathryn blinked several times. “You purposely went out of your way to make me angry. Commander I’m shocked.”
“No you’re not.” He grinned at her. “I was an interesting time though.”
“Interesting? That’s not quite how I remember it. It was more like terrifying, devastating and overwhelming. It took me a long time to get over those first few weeks out here.” Kathryn pushed her plate away from her and picked up her wine. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Chakotay nodded and picked up his drink as well. “Of course.”
“In those first few weeks I was terrified. This was my first command and look what happened.” Kathryn looked down at the table and her finger traced the wet ring that her glass had made on the lacquered surface. “I was devastated.” She looked up at him again and, baring her soul, the words spilled from her. “I’d go off duty, and escape to my quarters to either scream into my pillow or sob in the shower. I couldn’t see how we could possibly find our way home. The guilt of destroying the Array nearly killed me. I’d see some poor crewman staring out at the alien stars or sitting lost in thought in the messhall and I’d have to stop myself from rushing at them and apologising for ruining their lives. I lost kilos in those first few months. I could barely swallow past the knot that was permanently in my throat. So as far as I’m concerned there was nothing ‘exciting’ about that time at all.”
Chakotay reached across the table and took her hand. “Oh, Kathryn. If I’d only known.”
She gave him a sad smile. “There was no way in hell I would have let anyone know. Most of all you. I was the Captain. I couldn’t be seen as weak. I did draw strength from you though. Your steadiness and inner calm were a godsend. I never really thanked you.” She lifted her glass in a toast. “Thank you, Chakotay.”
“I’m glad I could help.” He lifted his glass and tapped it lightly against hers. “We make a good team, Kathryn and we’ll get them home.”
She nodded. “Yes, I know we will. I don’t doubt that these days. It may not be as soon as I would like, but I know we’ll get there one day.”
He cocked his head on the side and looked at her. “What are you going to do when we do get home, Kathryn? Have you got any plans?”
She shook her head. “None, apart from seeing my mother and sister again. I try not to think about it too much. It could be years. I’m likely to be an old woman by the time we get there. If I survive the journey, that is.”
“Oh, you’ll survive. I have no doubt about that. You’re tenacious, Kathryn Janeway and I swear you’re indestructible, even with your unerring propensity for finding trouble and landing feet first in the middle of it.”
“You make me sound reckless.”
“No, not reckless, just audacious, brave and bold. Besides, I’d never let anything happen to you.”
Her eyes softened at his gallantry. “I can afford to be so bold because I know I have you at my back. As you said earlier, we’re a great team.” She gave his hand a squeeze and slid hers from his grasp.
He pulled his hand back to his side of the table but was still contemplating her with thoughtful eyes. “Kathryn, can I ask you something? You don’t have to answer now, but would you just think about it?”
“Sure. What is it, Chakotay? You look so serious.”
He wiped his mouth with his napkin and tossed it on the table, but didn’t take his eyes from hers as he leant forward. “It is serious, I suppose.” He took a deep breath. “Kathryn, when we get back to the Alpha Quadrant, would you marry me?”
Kathryn was in the middle of sipping her wine and inhaled sharply. The wine went down the wrong way and sent her into paroxysms of coughing. Chakotay leapt from his seat and began thumping her on the back. In between coughs, she sputtered. “It’s…. cough … all right, Chak… cough … Chakotay… Just give me … cough … a minute.”
He moved back to his seat and waited until she’d stopped choking. Using her napkin to wipe her watering eyes, she looked up at him and spoke in a voice, ragged from coughing. “You sure know how to take a person by surprise. Did I hear you correctly? You want to marry me when we get home?”
Chakotay shrugged and swirled his wine in his glass. He looked calm and controlled but Kathryn could see the tension in the clench of his jaw and the slight tremble in his hands. His eyes darted up to hers, searing right through her as he answered. “I’d marry you this minute, but I know that’s not an option, so I just thought I’d get first dibs in for when we get home.”
Kathryn just stared at him. Why did he have to be like this? So earnest and uncomplicated… no, that wasn’t right… he wasn’t uncomplicated at all. He was one of the most complex men she’d ever known. He was one giant contradiction. A man of science, but also of deep spirituality, a man of simple tastes, but of complex needs. A man with a somewhat bizarre sense of humour but with a depth of feeling which was sometimes frightening in its intensity. And it now seemed she was the recipient of those feelings.
Her heart soared and she reached across the table and took his hand, her eyes were bright. “Oh, Chakotay. I don’t know what to say.”
He smiled gently. “Don’t say anything now. Just think about it. There is no rush. Let the idea settle for a while and see how you feel about it over the next little while. We’re a great team, Kathryn and like I said, I can’t imagine my life without you.” He pulled is hand away from hers and stood up. “I’d better go. Thank you for a lovely meal. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He hesitated, but then leant down and kissed her cheek before he strode out of the doors.
Kathryn sat in stunned silence, her napkin gripped tightly in her hand and her cheek tingling from where his lips had been. Her fingers drifted up to her cheek and she touched the spot. He wanted to marry her. Did that mean that he loved her? He hadn’t said as much, but the look in his eyes was enough to convince her that he did. Deeply.
She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly through pursed lips. He certainly was a dark horse. A proposal was the last thing she’d expected when she’d invited him in for dinner.
Married to Chakotay.
It had a nice ring to it. All of a sudden a stab of fear pierced her chest. If she said yes now, it would mean they were the equivalent of engaged for however long it took them to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. She’d promised herself after Mark married that she would never do that again. Tragedy and circumstance had torn her from both her previous fiancés and she wouldn’t risk that again. There was no way she’d survive the loss of Chakotay. It would destroy her. No, she was adamant. Marriage was out of the question.
Kathryn slumped back in her chair. How would she explain this to him? She could always ask him to wait? But that was so unfair. No, she couldn’t do that. It would be too cruel.
Standing up, Kathryn absentmindedly gathered up the plates and dropped them in the recycler, then placed her hands over her heart as the knife twisted. What would happen, or more importantly, how would she cope if Chakotay found someone else and moved on with his affections? There would be no more weekly dinners, no more trips to the holodeck, no more shared shore leaves, no more banter, no more ‘them’. She found herself staring at the wall above the replicator and with a jolt realised that a tear had tipped over her lashes and was trickling slowly down her cheek. Shaking her head, she swiped at the tear. No, she couldn’t let that happen either. She might survive without him, but that’s all it would be, survival. There had to be something better than that for their future.
There was no doubt about it. These days they were virtually inseparable. Their lives had become so interwoven that it would be impossible to untangle themselves from one another. Not that she wanted to. That thought made her decision so much easier to make. He’d said to take some time and she decided that it was a good idea and he probably needed a moment or two as well. Kathryn ordered a coffee from the replicator and picked a book at random from her shelves and, wrapping the throw that he’d given her for her birthday several years ago around her shoulders, she sat herself in her chair and opened her book.
She almost laughed out loud at her accidental choice of reading material. It was La Vita Nuova and if that wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was. She read the first line aloud and her soul sang. “In that book which is my memory, on the first page that is the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words – Here begins a new life.” Never a truer word was spoken. She snuggled into her chair and read for a couple of hours, letting the idea of what she was about to do gel in her mind and heart.
Three or so hours later, she closed the book gently and standing up, headed towards the bathroom. She filled the bath and added some scented salts. While the bath was filling, she cleaned her teeth and removed her make up. Kathryn undressed and with a critical eye, gave herself a head to toe assessment.
Turning from side to side, she decided that, all in all, her body wasn’t too bad really, considering what she’d endured over the last seven years. She’d been bent, broken and spindled more times that she cared to remember, but all things considered, she was reasonably presentable for a woman in her mid forties. Her breasts were not as pert as they used to be – gravity was a bitch. Her waist was still slim, and her hips flared with a touch of womanly roundness, but all in all, it was a reasonably attractive package and she imagined that Chakotay would be appreciative. No doubt he would be showing some signs of the years as well. He was close to fifty and all the angles and sharp edges of youth were starting to blur. It was comforting in a way.
With a shrug, Kathryn turned away from the mirror and with a sigh, slid into the warm perfumed water. Who would have thought twenty four hours ago that she would be contemplating such a drastic change in the direction of her life? She probably should run it by Owen Paris or Admiral Hayes. There were regulations regarding this sort of thing, but, if she was honest with herself, she didn’t really care what they thought. This had nothing to do with Starfleet. This was about life and living, and happiness and need. It was simply the right thing to do and besides, what the hell could Starfleet do. Voyager was still 30,000 light years from Earth, its not likely that they’d court-martial them. Besides, some things were just too important to be mired by either outdated regulations or opinions of people who didn’t really matter or understand their predicament.
Kathryn soaked for half an hour then climbed out of the tub and wrapped herself in a towel. Checking through the lotions and potions in her bathroom cabinet, she found a lightly perfumed cream and rubbed some into her arms and legs then sprayed a light mist of her perfume on her body. Walking out into her room, she contemplated her wardrobe and pulled out a simple short sleeved dress. Not bothering with underwear, she slipped the dress over her head and ran her fingers through her hair. This was it.
Without another thought, Kathryn left her quarters and walked bare foot, up the corridor to his door. She didn’t bother with the chime, chances were that he was asleep by now, so she entered her override code. The door slid open silently and Kathryn stepped over the threshold. The door whispered shut behind her. The room was in darkness, but there was just enough light from the passing stars for her to see her way to his bedroom without tripping over furniture. She smiled at the thought. It would rather spoil the surprise if she broke a hip on the way to his bed.
In the doorway, she stood for a moment and looked at him lying asleep in his bed. The bed she’d shared with him just the night before and the one she intended to share with him from this night onwards. Stepping up to the side of the bed, she pulled her dress over her head and tossed it onto the chair behind her. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the covers back carefully and slid into the bed beside him.
Lying on her side, with her head propped in her hand, she watched him sleep in the silvery light of the Delta Quadrant stars. He’d stirred slightly when she’d climbed in, but after a snuffle and a brief toss, he’d settled back into sleep again. So much for her angry warrior. She wanted to laugh but smiled instead. He was still a handsome man. Strong featured, but with a gentleness about his eyes and mouth. And that tattoo. It had fascinated her since she’d seen his picture in his Starfleet file. Maybe she’d been in love with him for longer that she’d thought. Phoebe certainly saw something in him all those years ago. Now there was someone who is going to be surprised when she found out about this.
This time Kathryn did huff a quiet laugh and one of Chakotay’s eyes opened. He didn’t move, but just stared at her. Perhaps he thought she was a dream.
Kathryn lifted her hand and lightly traced the lines of his tattoo. He blinked twice and in a voice rough from sleep, pointed out the obvious. “You’re here.”
“Yes. I have an answer for you.”
“Uh huh. I thought about it.”
“I’m assuming since you’re in my bed that you’re going to take me up on my offer?” He smiled.
“Yes and no.”
He still hadn’t moved, but his smile disappeared and he frowned at her answer. Kathryn reached across and smoothed over his forehead until the frown lines disappeared. “I won’t marry you when we get home…” She felt him stiffen, so she leant forward and brushed her lips across his, smiling at his intake of breath. “But I’m willing to commit myself to you here and now, for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t understand.”
Kathryn gave a shrug. “It’s simple really. I swore to myself that after we landed out here and I lost Mark, that I would never travel that road again. I’ve not had the best of luck with engagements. I’ve lost two fiancés in my life and I’m not about to risk losing a third.” She held up her hand, with her fingers splayed and Chakotay lifted his in reply. Their fingers wove together in a familiar gesture. Kathryn smiled. “I love you, Chakotay and I promise to share my life with you for as long as I live.”
Chakotay pulled her hand towards him and kissed her fingers, then leant forward and touched his lips to hers, whispering against them. “I love you, Kathryn, with all that I am and I promise to stay by your side, doing whatever I can to make your burdens lighter. Your needs will always come first. Kathryn you are, and always have been, my peace. ”
Kathryn smiled at him through unshed tears at the words from all those years ago, echoing the pledge that he’d made to her on New Earth. He’d held her in his heart for all this time. She cupped his cheek. “All these years, Chakotay?”
He nodded. “All these years.”
“I should have known. I’ve kept those precious words close to my heart ever since New Earth. They were more than a pledge of loyalty, weren’t they?” As he nodded, she reached across and placed her hand over his heart. “In here we’ve been bonded for all this time. I feel humbled. You are quite something, Chakotay.”
Chakotay laid his hand over hers where it rested on his chest and smiled. “I’m yours, Kathryn.” He reached forward and tucked her hair behind her ear and ran his fingers down her neck and over her shoulder. His eyebrows rose and his eyes flicked up to look at her. “Kathryn, you’re naked.”
“Yes, I am.”
“How did you get here?”
“I walked.” His eyebrows almost shot to his hairline. She chuckled. “I was wearing clothes. I haven’t abandoned propriety all together.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” He lifted the sheet away slightly and looked down at her. “Beautiful.”
Kathryn followed his gaze and shrugged. He continued to stare at her and she got the feeling that he wasn’t quite sure when or where to start. Waking him from a deep sleep, she had rather taken him by surprise. So to move things along, she picked up his hand and placed it on her breast. She breathed deeply as his warm hand caressed her soft flesh and his palm chaffed across her nipple.
He looked up at her again and chuckled. Kathryn gave him a look. “Do I want to know what you’re thinking, Chakotay?”
“Maybe not. It’s not terribly romantic.”
“You have my breast in your hand, Commander. I insist.”
He chuckled again. “All right. I was just thinking…” His hand moved to the other breast and Kathryn’s breath caught again as he tweaked her nipple gently and cupped her. He shuffled closer to her and kissed her neck and shoulder, his hot breath whispering past her ear. “If I’d known that shanghaiing you and taking you to my bed meant that you’d move here permanently, I’d have done it much sooner.”
Kathryn wriggled closer still. Her hands stroked over his chest and her leg draped over his hip. She pressed herself against his erection. “I was shanghaied, huh? It’s nice to know that romance isn’t dead.” Her hand slid down over his hip and under the elastic of his boxers. She grabbed a handful of his buttock and at the same time, leant forward and kissed him.
He pulled away gently and nibbled along her lips. “You want romance…?” And with that he scooted under the covers and Kathryn felt his hands, lips and fingers begin their foray. She arched up against him, pressing herself into him. A soft moan escaped her lips as his fingers delved and teased. As his mouth settled over her, she looked up at the ceiling and smiled. She decided that in all these years, this was one of the best decisions she’d ever made.
Her eyes closed and her last cognisant thought before she was carried away on a wave of Chakotay induced delirium was – here begins my new life.