Dream Catch Me. Rated NC17

Rated NC17

Summary: Two months into Voyager’s journey and plagued by nightmares, Kathryn and Chakotay are forced to confront certain realities.

A birthday story for Kim J. Happy birthday m’dear. Hugs and thanks.

Thanks to Corinna, Audabee and CF for the read throughs.

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

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After almost forty hours on duty and unable to ward off the numbing pall of fatigue for a moment longer, Chakotay finally succumbed to his body’s demands for sleep. Stumbling into his quarters, he headed towards his bedroom, unceremoniously stripping off his uniform as he went and leaving it in a scattered heap where it fell.

In one weary movement, he hauled back the bedcovers to collapse naked onto his bunk, his eyes closing almost before his head hit the pillow.

As hard as he tried to capture that magical moment between awareness and oblivion, it eluded him, and as he fumbled blindly for the sheet – dragging it up over his lower body – the whisper-soft arms of somnolence wrapped around him and the sticky tendrils of weariness pulled him down towards the stillness of sleep.

The waking world faded around him and he sank into a deep slumber of complete exhaustion – into a world where dreams took flight.

Out of the darkness, hazy images and flashes of places and people danced through his mind, flitting just out of reach and recognition. They skipped and skittered past conscious thought until the silky strands of memory intertwined and mingled, weaving themselves into the backdrop of a blister-hot afternoon.

Familiar hills shimmered in the distance, melting and hazing in the brittle brightness. He could taste the stinging dryness in the air; it seared his nostrils and throat, and made the skin tighten across his cheeks and forehead.

Trebus, home. And another scorching summer’s day.

The air was like a blowtorch and the ground – baking and hard as rock – burned the soles of his feet. These searing temperatures were not uncommon for this time of year but there’d been no rain for weeks and everything had become dull and indistinct in the relentless cloying heat. Even the hot breeze seemed listless. He stared at the horizon, searching the sky for a hint of cloud but there was only clear blue for as far as the eye could see.

For the moment, though, none of that mattered. Today was his fourteenth birthday and he was waiting for his friends so they could head to the waterholes and play.

His friends were late.

A familiar voice called his name and he turned. His mother waved to him, gesturing for him to come and he took off at a run towards her – leaping effortlessly over the tussocks of spiky grass and bramble in his path.

He ran like the wind, his long legs and lithe young body brimming with energy. The hot air fuelled him and the faster he ran the more he felt as though he could fly; and oh, how he wanted to fly. To be like the hawks and kestrels that soared high above the dry canyons near his home or the starships that sailed through the night skies above his planet. Sometimes, late at night, he would lie out in the fields and imagine he could see them darting across the heavens on their way to exotic places and unimaginable wonders. It had been this way since he was young enough to remember. Space was where he wanted to be.

Taking one last giant leap, he skidded to a halt in front of his mama.

She looked beautiful and serene, her dark eyes brimming with warmth and affection. His heart overflowed with love for her as he threw himself into her outstretched arms and hugged her tight. She smelled so good, like comfort and cornbread, peace and home, but before he could relish the moment and indulge the memory, she began to shrink in his arms, becoming insubstantial – almost wraith-like – and his happiness withered into shadows of despair – dark and menacing.

He looked down to see his mother’s hands claw at him as she wept into his uniform jacket.

Her crying wrenched at his heart but it quickly shifted pitch, to be joined by the howl of wolves. This eerie lament heralded the end of his carefree and familiar life, and he watched, stricken, as it dissolved before his very eyes.

He was taller now and wearing the black and red of Starfleet command. The unyielding fabric seemed harsh and incongruous against the muted grey-green background of his home.

“Mama?!”

She was slipping from his grasp, silently pleading with him – her eyes brimming with tears as she mouthed his name. With a desperate lunge, he tried to grab hold of her but she eluded his grasp.

His father appeared, also floating into the distance and, surging forward again, Chakotay fought to hold onto him too, but he was too far away – so distant that he could barely see his face.

Chakotay’s mind snatched at the whispering vestiges of memories but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t recall Kolopak’s face. All he could see were dark eyes and the indigo lines of his tattoo.

He began to panic and clutching and clawing at the ghost-like effigies of his parents, he struggled desperately to save them. But the harder he tried, the more distant they became; his hands merely passing through them, unable to touch or take hold.

They were lost to him.

There was a muffled scream and he swung around to find the land burning red and orange, the once-blue sky thick with clouds of choking smoke. The anguished cries of the maimed and dying together with the piercing howl of wolves now joined in chorus with the high-pitched whine of disruptor blasts – the sound was almost deafening in its discordance.

People – his people – like living torches, ran in all directions, dropping to the scorched earth to writhe and thrash like landed fish, their eyes blackened hollows and their mouths gaping in a lipless rictus of terror.

Riveted to the ground by the horror before him, he watched in shocked disbelief as their twisted bodies finally crumbled into cinders and ash at his feet.

Gusts of wind picked up their remains, the ashy cloud tossing and writhing in a grotesque parody of the dying – a choking zephyr laden with heartbreak and desolation.

Clutching at his head to stop the shrieking howl of death and destruction, he opened his mouth to scream but there was no sound – the silence was louder than any scream could ever be.

Unable to bear the torment a moment longer, his legs gave way and he collapsed to his knees. Tears scored salt-crusted tracks down his face to fall in slow motion from his cheeks and chin, sending tiny puffs of ash into the air. They left small dark craters where they fell on the parched earth, each one a memorial to the lives of loved ones lost.

His people were gone – all gone – and he was alone.

A wracking sob wrenched itself from deep in his chest and he felt as if he was suffocating, his throat as dry as the ash of his homeworld. Gritty-eyed, and gasping he stared at the bleak, empty landscape and from the very depths of his wounded soul, an anguished howl rent the leaden air.

He was dying of despair.

And just when he thought his chest would cave-in and his heart shatter, gentle arms wound themselves around him and he closed his eyes, turning into the welcome embrace.

His face pressed into a tumble of sweet smelling hair and his hands stroked over the soft skin of naked shoulders and back. Her scent – familiar and delicate – brought with it a soothing sense of hope, succour and love.

His lips met hers in a desperate kiss and she breathed life back into his ravaged soul. Gentle fingers reached up and brushed away his tears as the background light dimmed and they tumbled naked onto a soft bed of clouds. He didn’t dare open his eyes and risk breaking the spell, so, squeezing them shut he focussed his senses on the feel of her body writhing under his – so pliable and wondrously warm – the taste of her mouth and the soft feathery warmth of her breath caressing his cheek.

Her breasts pressed into his chest, the hard tips of her nipples branding his skin. She melted so exquisitely into his arms, moulding her body to his as he throbbed with want; his penis – rigid and hot – pulsed in time with his heartbeat and hers.

Bending low, he laved her breasts as she sighed, arching and pressing her damp sex into his belly. They were perfectly synchronised, knowing what the other wanted almost before they knew themselves. Without a sound, he slid inside her, through the sweet, slick wetness of her arousal into the welcoming warmth of her body.

Spirits! It was like coming home.

Her arms and legs wrapped around him, holding him still and tight against her and he knew without a doubt, that this was where he was meant to be. All the experiences of his life, both wonderful and tragic, had led him to this place, to this woman. Every fraught and disastrous misstep of his existence had merely been a stepping-stone to this moment of exquisite happiness.

His destiny was in his arms. This indomitable woman – crooning words of love and lust only for him – was his fate and his future, his Shangri-la, his reason for being.

Her fingers dug into his flesh, the bite of her nails contrasting with the soft cushion of her body, her mouth on his and her body willing and welcoming. He thrust into her, gently at first but as she opened herself to him, he pushed into her harder and faster. His muted words of love and thanks mingled with groans and gasped curses. She was fucking amazing and he knew that this was as close to heaven as he would ever get. As he felt his orgasm roil through his body, he cried out to the spirits.

Then, like lightning, his climax travelled its jolting pathway from his fingers and toes to his groin. He could feel her inner muscles tightening and her voice rising.

The world exploded with light and opening his eyes at last, he looked into the face of his captain.

He cried a garbled mixture of her rank and her name, “Capt…thryn!” and in grunting spasms, came as he woke – his pulsing organ grasped in his fist, his ejaculate spurting across his abdomen, soaking into the sheets and leaving a cooling damp patch of moisture.

He yelped, “Fuck!” and with a tortured groan, sat up and shook his head. That was the fourth time in a week he’d had that dream or something similar.

The terrifying memories of Trebus were nothing new – Chakotay had experienced that recurring nightmare many times since the annihilation of his home and family by the Cardassians. It always left him bereft and heartsore, but the part where he made love to his captain was a recent addition and, although wonderful, it was almost as disturbing as the nightmarish beginnings of his dream. For a start, someone – namely B’Elanna – would be asking questions about his replicator usage; he was going through sheets at an alarming rate.

Sighing again, he shook his head in disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. These errant thoughts were no doubt the result of their circumstances and the stress of being stranded seventy thousand light years from home. The fantasy involving the captain, however, was so realistic that each time he woke he was left with a deep sense of yearning and an almost desperate need to find that feeling of comfort and peace that she instilled in him during their imaginary lovemaking. It was an unattainable desire, he knew, but he couldn’t seem to convince his subconscious. It had a mind of its own – if that were possible.

They’d been in the Delta Quadrant for a little over two months and, as each day passed, he was finding it more and more difficult to be in her presence. His ever-deepening feelings for his superior officer were having a detrimental effect on his life and a more worrying influence on his position as her second in command.

He was not immune to the charms of a beautiful woman; he’d had more than his fair share of conquests over the years. He’d even fantasised and hankered after certain women, openly pursuing some, but this was completely different. Kathryn Janeway, in a matter of two short months had wrapped herself inextricably around his heart and soul and he was powerless to do anything about it. It was bad enough that she haunted his dreams but she had begun to torment his waking hours as well. It was ridiculous. He was a man of experience, and she’d turned him into a pining, stuttering adolescent.

It was obvious too. Seska had noticed his attraction to his captain almost immediately and, although he’d vehemently denied it, his ex-lover had already made it abundantly clear what she thought of the situation and, more worryingly, what she thought of the captain. His fear was that Janeway would get wind of it and he would have to explain his behaviour. No matter how he looked at it, it was an awkward and potentially volatile situation.

Kathryn Janeway was a woman in her late thirties, an officer of the line, her upbringing steeped in ‘Fleet’ tradition and she’d been engaged to be married before being thrown across the galaxy. This woman was no blushing virgin and would undoubtedly be either horrified or, worse still, amused by his infatuation. He was going to have to remedy this, and quickly. Voyager, in their current circumstances, was not the place for this sort of complication and there was certainly no time. Their situation was dire and he needed to be focussed and concentrating on important matters at hand – survival, the ship, the crew – not yearning for a woman who was so far out of his league to be almost in another galaxy.

After soundly berating himself, he rose and showered. Then, after recycling his sheets, he remade his bed and tried to sleep.

He wasn’t terribly successful and come morning, Chakotay had to drag himself from his bed and to the Bridge.

**************************************

Filled with an almost blinding sense of urgency, Kathryn strode up the winding path towards the door of her childhood home. The heels of her shoes clacked a loud staccato on the concrete paving, the rhythmic tattoo marching in time with her heartbeat. It was vital that she see her mother to tell her something of the utmost importance. The problem was that the nature of that ‘something’ hovered just out of reach and Kathryn was irritated with herself for being so careless as to forget. It didn’t help that her surroundings were distracting her and, as hard as she tried to concentrate on her goal, her gaze keep drifting downwards to the lush garden beds that hugged the side of the long grey path. Strewn with every conceivable and desperately needed engine part and tool, the gardens literally overflowed with these precious items and she couldn’t drag her eyes away from them. It was an astonishing sight; almost too good too be true.

Her first thought was that it is incredibly wasteful to leave all these much-needed items simply lying about, until it dawned on her that they weren’t just ‘lying’ there but growing in luxuriant clumps in the dark loamy soil. It seemed so obvious to her now and she was angry with herself for not thinking of the idea sooner. They would simply grow the parts they needed for the ship; it couldn’t be simpler and this suggestion would go directly onto the agenda for the next senior staff meeting. Kes could organise it; the young pixie-faced alien seemed able to grow almost anything in those hydroponic beds in cargo bay two.

First things first though; now, more than ever, Kathryn needed to get to the house, find a container and come back and collect as many of the plants and parts as she could before the weather or scavengers made away with them. The seedlings could be transplanted and the ready-for-harvest engine parts were far too rare-a-commodity to leave lying about unguarded in her mother’s front yard. This had been a truly fortuitous find.

She looked towards the door again but her preoccupation with the garden had allowed the house to drift further into the distance.

Damn the ever-expanding universe!

There was a theory about that in quantum physics – something to do with event horizons and time dilations – but she couldn’t quite remember what it was.

Panic started to set in.

What if she couldn’t remember and there was a test?!

She needed to know the theorem; it was important – lives depended on it and Admiral Patterson was an exacting taskmaster. He was forever ambushing her with spot quizzes or trick questions and failure was not an option. If she failed, Daddy would be so disappointed, even though he would try hard to hide it. She could always tell, though, from the tone of his voice and she hated when she didn’t live up to his expectations.

Kathryn moved faster. Time was of the essence. There was so much to do and so many people depending on her.

She was running now, past the power couplings and drive assemblies growing in a tangle along the garden’s edge. Dodging past the plasma inducers and manifolds that spilled over the sides of the haphazard beds, littering the path like oddly placed stepping-stones.

It took all her concentration to leap without stumbling over the obstacle course of conduits that spewed their contents into the atmosphere, leaving a choking haze in the still afternoon air. But no matter how fast she ran, the front porch of the house sped away from her; the old green door caught in a unrelenting sucking vortex.

Kathryn tripped over a magnetic constrictor that appeared out of nowhere and fell onto her hands and knees just as the green door opened and her mother stepped onto the landing.

Hauling herself to her feet again, Kathryn surged forward but the path had disappeared and in its place was an almost impenetrable snow-covered pile of wreckage. She clambered desperately over frigid, razor-edged pieces of shattered bulkhead and frozen chunks of exploded console; then scrambled over an upended shuttle nacelle, all the while slipping and sliding on ice and snow. She could taste panic in the metallic tang of blood in the air and her frantic efforts proved fruitless as she tried to push past the ice-encased, bloodied and broken bodies of her dead crew, her father and Justin.

Terror swelled within her and she looked pleadingly towards her mother for help but Gretchen – with tears streaming down her aged face, her lips mouthing Kathryn’s name – was shrinking and fading from view.

The dark green door swallowed her mother before Kathryn could stop it and as she made a last ditch effort to reach the porch, she missed and tumbled down the side of a small frozen mountain of damaged engine parts, her shoulder and neck bruised and cut.

Cold seeped into her body, the icy hand of failure and loss squeezing the life out of her as she lay there looking up at unfamiliar stars. She couldn’t save any of them even though she’d tried – she’d tried so very hard – but everything was against her. Tears burned but she refused to let them fall, biting her lip and forcing the pain deep into the pit of her stomach. The swollen knot of anguish began to expand and Kathryn could feel it pushing against her internal organs. Her ribs ached and her heart began to beat frantically against the rising pressure. It was suddenly hard to breathe and she knew that she was dying – slowly – from the inside out.

Then, from out of nowhere, a pair of hands reached towards her. They were comfortingly familiar, strong and tanned and they were there to help her, if only she could grab hold of them and hang on. They represented safety and salvation, and she knew in the very core of her being that they would never let her falter or fail. She reached towards them, fingertips almost touching when suddenly the air was rent by an anguished cry…

Kathryn jolted awake; her arms flailing and her heart beating wildly.

After a split second of disorientation, she pivoted forward on the couch, one hand clinging to the armrest and the other grabbing at the side of her head, a shooting pain spearing up from her neck as she straightened. Sucking in a ragged breath, she tried to find a centre of calm amidst the panic as she took in her surroundings – her quarters, Voyager, the Delta Quadrant – living nightmare.

Heaving a deep sigh, Kathryn mentally took stock.

Goddamn it! That would teach her to ‘relax’ while she read reports. She’d only managed to scroll through half of B’Elanna’s latest engineering wish list before she’d nodded off to sleep and finished up in that bizarre but terrifying land of cultivated engine parts, Indiana afternoons and Tau Ceti Prime. She hadn’t dreamt about her father and Justin’s death in years. The Delta Quadrant had a lot to answer for.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, the PADDs she’d been intending to read slid off her lap and landed on the floor with a thud. More than a little annoyed, she left them there as she tried to knead the kinks from her neck and glanced towards the wall she shared with her first officer.

A loud cry had woken her and although in a foggy state of half sleep, Kathryn was fairly certain that it had been the voice of her first officer. It appeared she wasn’t the only one having nightmares.

He lived next-door and she would often hear him moving about in his off-duty hours – nothing specific – just the odd dull thud of footfalls, the muffled thump doors or drawers closing or the gentle beat of his music selection. In a way, it was comforting to know that there was another living being so close at hand – it made her feel a little less alone.

Everything was quiet now however and, although she was tempted to contact him to see if he was all right, she didn’t. Partly out of respect for his privacy but it also occurred to Kathryn that even though she was fairly certain it was Chakotay she’d heard, there was a distinct possibility that she’d imagined the cry.

Her mental meanderings had been running amok since she’d they’d found themselves in this godforsaken quadrant. Her dreams – scratch that – her nightmares had been, without exception, some the most terrifying and disturbing in her life but there were times when she wasn’t sure which was worse – her dreams or her reality. This quadrant’s ability to dish up daily doses of terrifying aliens, life or death situations and bone-numbing fear held a close second to her imaginings.

Kathryn felt sorry and responsible that Chakotay also appeared to be suffering, but she wasn’t surprised and it prompted yet another wave of camaraderie to wash over her. They had much in common.

Shaking off the last fuzzy remnants of sleep, she listened for more noise from next door but there was nothing, and now that her heart had stopped hammering, there was silence again – both inside and out.

Stretching her neck, she stood stiffly and shuffled into the bathroom; grateful to have woken when she did. If she’d slept on the couch for much longer the knotted muscles in her shoulders would have become as rigid as steel – the pain in her neck only now beginning to subside. Shedding her clothes, she stepped into the shower and allowed the hot water to beat down on the tense muscles of her upper back. They were like rocks and she tried to ease the knots by kneading them with her knuckles but it was no use – she was a wreck. The stress and tension of captaining Voyager, seventy-thousand light years from home, had played havoc with her physically, not that she would ever admit to it.

Kathryn’s right shoulder was also still giving her grief, even though it had been two months since the injury.

In the same instant that the Caretaker’s displacement wave had picked up Voyager and tossed her across the galaxy, Kathryn had been thrown halfway across the Bridge, slamming into the floor near the conn, her shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. Ordinarily, she would have had it seen-to at the time but there had been too much to do and so many others worse off than she was. Besides, she was used to the pain and it had become a sort of welcome background drone to the chanter of all the other trials and tribulations she’d endured since that fateful day. The constant ache was like an old friend and it was almost a relief to be able to focus on a simple physical hurt rather than dwell on the emotional agony that writhed just below the surface.

She would give just about anything for a massage though, but the mere thought of that sort of indulgence prompted a wry smile and a huff of bitter laughter. In these dire times, it didn’t take much to imagine the looks on the faces of the Bridge crew as she informed them that she was going off duty to visit a masseur on the holodeck. She sighed as she saw the scene in her mind’s eye – Tuvok’s disapproving raised brow, Harry’s disappointment at her admission of less-than-superhuman fallibilities, followed by the sniggers of the junior officers as Tom Paris made some inappropriate remark.

Kathryn wondered idly what her enigmatic first officer would do and the answer came almost instantly in a crystal-clear vision of him leaning towards her and, in that quiet but bone-melting baritone, asking if she would like him to massage her shoulders for her. It would be just typical of him to do something like that. He was as unconventional as he was efficient and as compelling as he was professional. Even after so short a time as her XO, he’d developed an uncanny insight into her wellbeing and moods, and with that in mind, her thoughts wandered into territory that she’d been consciously avoiding since they’d become collaborators in this quest for home.

Almost from the moment they’d met, she’d been acutely aware of the Maquis captain’s presence and, as the days and weeks passed, this ‘hyper-awareness’ had only become more finely attuned.

She had no doubt that his strong yet gentle hands – which she belatedly recognised as those in her dream – would work wonders on the sore muscles of her neck and shoulders. She sighed quietly at the thought.

His physical presence was hard to ignore. There was an aura of calm acceptance about him – an inner strength – that she’d found herself relying on more and more. She’d watch him work; enthralled with the power and honed vigour beneath his steady, almost languid, movements. Never hurried but always efficient, he had a panther’s grace and a lion’s strength – a heady and potent combination.

His hands were something that had caught her attention almost from the first moment they’d met. His long tanned fingers gliding over their shared console, gesturing gracefully as he explained some obscure Indian ritual or wrapping around her forearm as he hauled her to her feet after the rough and tumble of a Kazon attack. Her skin would shiver involuntarily when he touched her elbow or lower back while ushering her through doorways. And, as unsettling as these reactions were, it only confirmed for Kathryn that there was an unmistakable and undeniable connection between them.

Her heart beat a little faster with the thought and then she chided herself for her foolishness. She was no guileless ingénue, not to mention more than capable of making her own way through doorways but his chivalry was so unaffected and sincere that she found herself captivated by the juxtaposition of his sweet guilessness and his rigid warrior facade.

Oh, what she wouldn’t give to feel those hands on her now. Closing her eyes, she could picture them vividly as they kneaded her stiff shoulders and neck. Strong but gentle fingers, working at the knotted and tangled muscles of her upper back, sliding up her neck and through her hair to massage her scalp, the long strands of her hair draping over his forearms, his warm breath on the back of her neck. Dark hair, dark eyes, and skin like warm honey – she could almost taste it.

Kathryn moaned and her eyes shot open. Standing bolt upright, she shook her head in an attempt to cast these disquieting thoughts from her mind.

What the hell was she thinking?!

She was a Starfleet captain and had no right to be fantasising about her first officer. Heaving another deep sigh, she tried to gag the thoughts, but they refused to be silenced. Her traitorous mind replayed the scenario of her imagined massage and she reluctantly admitted to herself that if he offered, she would most likely accept – the man was impossible to resist. Tall, dark, handsome with an edge of danger and mystery but these heady traits were tempered with a deep kindness and decency that she found practically irresistible.

From the moment Chakotay had beamed onto the Bridge all those weeks ago, Kathryn had known she was in trouble. They’d looked deeply into each other’s eyes, their pupils dilating as the connection was made and, as crazy as it sounded, she knew in that instant she could trust him with her life.

It had been a shock and she’d covered her discomfit with officiousness although recognized even then that he felt the same way. He’d confirmed as much when she’d offered him the position of First Officer by mentioning something vague and mystical about knowing that this was his path and that it was one they were destined to travel together.

There’d been no deceit or artifice in his words and, although Kathryn hadn’t acknowledged what he’d said, she’d known exactly what he meant. It was as if they knew one another – not just superficially, but deep down in the core of their beings. Their thoughts and reactions were eerily similar and as hard as she’d tried to ignore it, over the last several weeks, his presence had become a welcome balm and reassurance.

Closing her eyes, the undeniable truth seared itself in bright letters behind her eyelids; she had fallen for her first officer and she had no idea what to do about it.

With a groan, Kathryn turned under the warm spray and leant back against the cool tiles of the shower wall. She needed him as her right hand man – that was a given – but in a wanton corner of her brain, she also wished there could be something more.

He would be one hell of a lover. The way he moved and the easy self-confidence he exuded was clear evidence of that and almost of its own accord, her hand slid down her front and cupped her mons, her fingers pressing into her vagina and her thumb rubbing across her clitoris.

It had been two months since she’d had any sort of release and her mind warred with her body over what she was about to do. It was indulgent and petty, and she should have the willpower to rise above such a basic need for gratification but she was desperate to feel something other than despair and the numbing monotony of fear.

Closing her eyes, she tried to picture Mark – greying hair, soft hazel eyes, the familiar gentle smile but it was no use; his eyes morphed into the dark brooding orbs of her first officer, his smile broadened into a dimpled grin as she imagined running her hands through the course strands of Chakotay’s dark hair. God, she was going to come and it was just so wrong.

The man was her subordinate and she had to work with him every day. There was no way she would be able to face him if she went through with this. Gritting her teeth and, deeply ashamed of her errant thoughts, Kathryn turned into the shower wall, pressing her forehead against the tiles as she slowly pulled her hand away from her groin, taking slow shallow breaths until the sensations subsided.

Damn! Try as she might, she couldn’t get the man out of her mind and, as she rinsed herself off, dried and returned to her bedroom, she sent her apologies to Mark.

Kathryn again looked towards the wall she shared with her second in command and wondered what he was doing and if he had any inkling as to the battle she was waging with her emotions. God, she hoped not.

Moving out into the living area again, she ordered a glass of water from the replicator and, with great effort, cleared her mind as best she could in readiness for sleep.

Standing at the foot of her bed, Kathryn sighed as she wondered what horrors lay in wait for her tonight. It was ridiculous but she was almost too afraid to close her eyes. Each time she did, her mind veered off on some nightmarish tangent, animating all her worst fears and bringing into startling clarity some of her most terrifying forebodings – this evening’s venture into her subconscious a perfect example of what was in store for her. Placing her glass of water on the bedside table, she slid between the sheets and looked toward the vacant space beside her.

The solitariness of her bed was a vivid reminder of their grim circumstances and the great distance they were from home and loved ones. To counter that sense of loneliness, Kathryn sidled over towards the centre of the mattress, spreading her arms wide. Lying there, she could almost convince herself that it didn’t seem quite so empty.

Kathryn took a deep breath, tugged the covers up to her chin and stared at the ceiling. Opening her mouth to call for lights out, she jumped as another garbled yell came from next door and then the unmistakable sound of her name being called. Startled, she sat up again and, after hearing several more tortured moans and grunts, reached for her combadge to check if Chakotay was all right. Finger poised to tap her badge, she heard him swear and suddenly realised what she was hearing. Shocked, she slammed the combadge back on her nightstand.

Oh God! He’d been either dreaming or masturbating to thoughts of her and those yells and grunts were the sounds of his climax.

Kathryn’s heart did this strange slew across her chest; her abdomen spasmed and her inner muscles began to pulse.

A moment later, she heard the shower start and that bought with it visions of him naked, water beading on honey skin and small rivulets raining down his chest, over his belly and down to…

Without another thought, Kathryn threw herself onto her front, her fist wedged between her thighs as she rode her own hand to a shattering climax. Turning her face into her pillow to muffle her cries as she came, her inner muscles gripped wildly and almost painfully in their intensity and the stickiness of her come coated her hand.

Kathryn sobbed once, burning tears oozing from the corners of her clenched eyelids. What she had just done was weak and indulgent but she couldn’t help it. Instead of relieving the tension, however, it only made her hungry for more. She needed to be touched and held, to feel the living, breathing warmth of another body close to hers but it couldn’t be. Her position as captain precluded such things so she would have to inure herself to the solitariness of her rank and the empty pleasure of self-gratification. This would be her lot for the next seventy years.

She wanted to scream at the soul-destroying realisation.

A few more stubborn tears found their way through the barrier of her closed eyelids but she swallowed the bulk of them and, after rising from her bed to tidy herself, she slid back between the cool sheets.

Mortified by what had happened next door and equally appalled by her reaction, she lay on the very edge of the bed and tried to sleep.

She wasn’t terribly successful and come morning Kathryn dragged herself from her lonely bed to the Bridge.

******************************************************

The morning was torturously long.

Kathryn and Chakotay sat in stolid silence; neither of them making any effort to break the rapidly thickening wall of unease between them.

They’d arrived on the Bridge within minutes of one another and recited their usual morning greetings.

“Good morning, Captain. I hope you slept well?”

Trying not to cringe, Kathryn gave a perfunctory, “Very well, thank you, Commander. And you?”

He’d replied with an equally unenlightening, “Fine, thank you.” and that was as far as their conversation had gone.

**********************

Chakotay wasn’t quite sure why things seemed so strained between him and the captain, but he was almost too tired to care. His nightly forays into his past and the constant battle he was waging with his feelings towards her were wearing him down. The silence, although uncomfortable, came as a welcome respite from the usual yammering and stuttering of his newly acquired internal adolescent; the one whose droning urges he was finding so hard to resist.

His concern stemmed from knowing that if he didn’t get his feelings under control, he was going to do or say something inappropriate or stupid that would irreparably damage their burgeoning friendship – not to mention their command relationship. But until this morning, the woman by his side had not made it easy.

Day after day, she would turn to him with those damned blue eyes – all bright with curiosity and intelligence – and it was almost impossible to resist her pull. The banter and repartee had become the highlight of his day and his respect for her, as the leader of this odd band of misfits, had grown in leaps and bounds.

His allegiance was not at issue but his ability to keep his mind on the job was. He could barely concentrate on what she said. Her eyes would latch onto his with that penetrating gaze and he would be lost. To counter this dreadful lack of attention he would drag his eyes away from those startling pools of blue to focus on her mouth. This ‘solution’ was an unmitigated disaster. With his eyes glued to her lips, all he could think of was what it would be like to kiss her and how those lips would taste pressed against his.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. The true challenge came when he was required to respond. Inevitably, he would have lost the thread of their conversation and lived in constant fear of making a complete ass of himself. To remedy this he’d begun speaking in short clipped sentences in the hope that she would mistake his reticence for depth and profundity instead of the shallow puddle of yearning it actually signified. In a matter of two months, she’d transformed him from a hard-edged embittered terrorist into the blathering fool and he hated that fact – almost as much as he loved her.

Loved her!

He gasped aloud as the reality of that thought hit home and from the corner of his eye, he saw her turn towards him and stare. He tried to ignore her, pretending to be engrossed in the navigation logs on his console, silently hoping that she wouldn’t ask him what was wrong. Because, even if she made it an order, there was no way in hell he was going to explain.

******************************

Kathryn turned sharply towards Chakotay. He’d gasped and she was waiting for an explanation. She trusted him to tell her if it was something to do with the safety of the ship but he was being deliberately evasive, pretending to be preoccupied with information on their shared console. The noise, however, had sounded uncannily familiar and she almost groaned at the realisation. To divert her thoughts, she prompted.

“Commander?”

He turned towards her reluctantly. “Captain?”

Kathryn glanced at the console and then back at his shuttered face. “Is there anything wrong?”

“No, nothing.” He wasn’t sure if she was inquiring about the ship or him but he wasn’t about to ask for clarification and turned away again.

Kathryn realised that it was all he was going to say, so she nodded once and went back to staring at the star field, her irritation growing with every silent second.

He had no right to be so surly and uncommunicative. If anyone deserved to be upset, it was she, but this entire ghastly mess wasn’t something Kathryn cared to contemplate but as hard as she tried she could think of little else. Casting furtive glances at the man by her side, she knew that this situation was rapidly deteriorating and her resentment was building along with her anger.

His churlish attitude was poorly disguised and he had to be aware that the crew would sense his demeanour and react accordingly. It was imperative that he behave in manner befitting his rank and position and any conduct that might compromise his position as XO or her status as captain was intolerable. Today’s ‘bearish attitude’ was a case in point and last night’s ‘activities’ went beyond the pale. Suddenly, a disturbing thought occurred to her; if she’d been able to hear him through the bulkheads, then anyone walking past could have heard him yelling her name. The concept was mortifying and entirely inappropriate.

Entirely inappropriate!

But even as Kathryn took a stranglehold on righteous indignation and laboured the point in her mind, her body was betraying her and she could feel the telltale throb of excitement warm and liquefy her insides.

Damn it. She had to learn some control.

Without a word, she pivoted to her feet and began to pace the Bridge. She could feel Chakotay’s eyes following her, which only made things worse, so instead she began to wander from station to station on the upper deck. With an air of contrived nonchalance, she peered over people’s shoulders, checking consoles and readouts, and generally making the duty staff nervous. When she saw Harry fidget anxiously for the third time, she took her seat again and stared once more at the unfamiliar and rather bleak looking star field that filled the forward viewscreen.

This was ridiculous. She couldn’t continue like this. It was bad for morale, bad for command structure and she was so preoccupied that she couldn’t keep her mind on her job. She had to clear the air, but how did one broach a subject such as this and did she even have the right to present herself as the ‘above-reproach, holier-than-thou bastion of all things virtuous’ when she was just as guilty as he was of indulging her fantasies?

The onus of guilt hung heavy in the air. She was a hypocrite and even if he didn’t know about her previous evening’s ‘immoderation’, she was more than aware of it and the thought appalled her – as did her lack of self-control. This whole thing was a terrible, and potentially, destructive dilemma. As a newly minted captain, she’d never been in this situation before – certainly not where the attraction was mutual and instantaneous. It was the stuff of cheap and cheesy holonovels and she was almost embarrassed to admit it to herself. She heaved a weary sigh.

Her first command wasn’t shaping up how she’d imagined it would.

********************************

Chakotay shifted uncomfortably in his seat and glanced towards the captain at the sound of her sigh. She was preoccupied and irritable this morning and he knew instinctively that he was the reason – although he couldn’t imagine what it could be.

He’d been the embodiment of deference and Starfleet spit-and-polish for months. Not since those first few days when they’d argued over the Maquis staffing situation had he overstepped the mark with his behaviour. Whatever the problem was, it would to come to a head soon; he could almost hear the cogs grinding as she mulled over the issue. Any moment now, either she would disappear into her Ready Room to further ponder the problem or, decide that it was the time for discussion and call him into the room with her.

He prayed for the former; he wasn’t sure if he could be alone with her just at the moment, particularly with the previous night’s dream so vivid in his mind. Suddenly he was struck by the horrific thought that she’d learned of his feelings and the ‘cold shoulder’ treatment was her way of dealing with the awkward situation.

A second later, his ruminations were interrupted as she snapped out an order.

“Mr Chakotay, you’re with me. There’s an issue I need to discuss with you.”

He jolted to attention. “Aye, Captain.”

Damn it.

**************************************

Kathryn propelled herself from her chair and was almost to the Ready Room doors by the time she’d finished speaking. She nodded to Tuvok, silently handing over the command of the Bridge as she passed the Tactical station then bounded down the stairs and into the room beyond.

Taking her seat behind the desk, she waited for Chakotay to follow. He was only a few paces behind and came to parade rest in front of her; the door hissing shut in his wake.

Kathryn looked up at him, and then nodded brusquely. “Have a seat, Commander.”

He complied but looked very ill at ease.

Kathryn cringed inwardly. This was one of the most awkward moments she’d ever experienced. There was nothing in the command handbook to cover a situation like this and she would have given anything to avoid it but the command structure was at stake and subsequently the wellbeing of the crew, not to mention her peace of mind.

It didn’t take a trained counsellor to fathom that there was a lot riding on how she dealt with this. It was a delicate situation and if she didn’t handle it with grace and dignity, sparing his feelings and pride, the fallout could have lasting ramifications.

Even while she was thinking these thoughts and trying to find a subtle and dignified way of coining her concerns, her mouth opened and she blurted, “I heard you call out my name last night and I know what you were doing.”

She was almost as shocked as Chakotay at her outburst and blue startled eyes met brown. It took all her effort to grip the arms of her chair and not slap her hand over her unruly mouth.

Chakotay looked mortified. “Captain, it’s not what you think.”

To cover her gaffe, Kathryn took refuge in her well-practiced captain’s guise, which, to her horror, suddenly morphed into the personification of every prudish and sanctimonious prig she’d ever known – and sworn she’d never become. In a stilted voice that didn’t even sound like her, she barked accusingly, “I know exactly what it was Commander and I want you to cease and desist immediately. Our situation does not allow for such indulgent… pastimes. If you must partake…”

Amusement twitched at the corner of his mouth and her words petered out. He was laughing at her.

Chakotay quirked his brow. He couldn’t quite believe this was happening. “Partake?”

Kathryn gritted her teeth. Her reprimand wasn’t having the desired effect and hauling her cloak of righteous indignation closer around her, she took a breath ready to berate him further but he held up his hand.

He was dying of shame and all he could think to do was laugh or at least make light of the situation but the Captain didn’t look like she was in a laughing mood. All he wanted to do now was get out of there as quickly as possible with whatever tattered shreds remained of his dignity. “I apologise, Captain. It won’t happen again.”

Almost turning inside out with embarrassment, Kathryn couldn’t meet his eyes and fiddled with the PADDs on the desk. Her tone, however, remained brusque and uncompromising. “Good.”

“It was unintentional, I hope you realise that.” He paused, not sure what else to say but feeling compelled to try to explain as succinctly as possible. “I had a nightmare.”

Kathryn’s head shot up and she stared at him wide-eyed for a moment then looked away again. She was part of his nightmare?! Well, that figured, but how did one respond to that particular little gem of information?

Easily. She didn’t say anything.

“It wasn’t personal, Captain. It’s just that you’re so…” Chakotay hunted desperately for a word. “… impressive.” He groaned inwardly and gave her a tepid smile; it wasn’t the word he’d been looking for, but as usual, he was having trouble stringing a coherent sentence together and doubted that she was ready to hear what he really thought. Finding some humour in the situation was the only way he could see his way clear to survive the humiliation. He was horrified to have been found out.

Kathryn frowned. She’d expected a denial or at least a heartfelt apology but his reaction seemed almost cavalier and his description of her was less than flattering. She wasn’t sure what to think except that she was disappointed and a little hurt, which was so stupid under the circumstances.

Her voice was clipped but conciliatory. “Well, just make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Chakotay nodded and stood. “Is there anything else, Captain?”

“No Commander. You’re dismissed.”

Chakotay spun on his heel and returned to the Bridge.

Kathryn sat staring at the door for all of three seconds before leaping to her feet and making a beeline for the replicator. She ordered a double shot espresso and slugged it down in one gulp. As the caffeine hit, a heated blush shot to her cheeks and she stood on the upper level of her Ready Room in an acute state of embarrassment, unsure whether she wanted to laugh or cry.

Why couldn’t she have left well enough alone? What on earth had possessed her to confront him about something so personal? She must be insane. That was it; the shock and stress of the last two months had tipped her over the edge. As of this moment, she was downright certifiable.

She groaned and then almost spat the word, “Impressive.”

God, he’d made her sound like a mountain range or an engine modification. All she wanted now was for a black hole to appear at her feet and suck her into oblivion. What the hell had she expected him to say? That she was irresistible, the love of his life and he could think of nothing else but her, day or night.

The trouble was, that’s exactly what she’d hoped for, but just because she felt that way didn’t mean that those feelings were reciprocated. She’d obviously misinterpreted what she’d heard through the wall of her quarters and now, she’d embarrassed herself and him, and she wouldn’t be able to look him in the eye for the rest of the trip home.

In one fell swoop, she’d destroyed their growing friendship, damaged their command relationship beyond repair and made a complete ass of herself into the bargain. She’d sounded like a prudish schoolmarm – lemon-lipped and small-minded. Whatever happened to grace and dignity? She’d obviously left those in her other bag in the Alpha Quadrant.

Kathryn sat with a thud on her couch and groaning again, dropped her head into her hands.

************************

Chakotay took his seat on the Bridge and stared unseeing at the stars on the viewscreen. What a fucking disaster. It hadn’t occurred to him that she could hear him through the bulkheads, although it should have and now he felt like an absolute fool. She’d been appalled and offended, and he could hardly blame her. He was appalled, not to mention mortally embarrassed, even though he’d tried to cover his humiliation with humour in hope of defusing the situation. It had worked to a point but he still wanted the floor to open up and swallow him.

How was he ever going to face her again? She would undoubtedly avoid him and had every right to as far as he was concerned. He was an ass – a boorish ass – and couldn’t bear to think about what he’d done. Spirits, how could he have been such an idiot to think that there could ever be anything more between them than a command relationship? He needed to have his damned head read.

There was no way he could sit beside her day after day with this awful thing between them. Short of abandoning ship or blowing himself out an airlock, he could think of only one other immediate option.

Pulling up the central console, he reorganized the roster for the next month and put himself on Gamma shift. At least that way their interaction would be limited and as an added bonus, she would be on duty while he slept so the chances of her overhearing anything untoward were next to nothing. Satisfied, he quickly authorised the change and logged out.

It was a temporary solution but the best he could do at such short notice.

****************************

Kathryn had dug herself into this terrible hole and didn’t have the foggiest idea how to find her way out. Time was a great healer, or so it was said, but for now, she couldn’t bring herself to be sit beside him each day, it would be too awkward and disturbing. Raising her head from her hands, inspiration struck. The Gamma shift would be the perfect place to hide and she could deflect speculation with the excuse that the night crew were due for a stint with the captain in charge. At the same time, it would give the alpha shift a chance to test their mettle without her for a week or two. It was the perfect remedy for this ghastly situation.

Kathryn made her way to her desk and logged onto her roster. She quickly made the changes, authorised them and logged out before she could talk herself out of it. That done she heaved a sigh of relief then picked up a PADD from the ever-teetering pile on her desk and began to read. There were plenty of reports to catch up on from the previous evening and always more where they came from. Reports were one of the constants of her small universe and an excellent excuse to stay holed up in her Ready Room and away from the Bridge.

*****************

Chakotay was pleased that he’d successfully managed to avoid the captain for over twenty-four hours. It had been remarkably simple considering they usually spent the bulk of their time together. She’d been conspicuously absent from the Bridge but he wasn’t complaining. The shame and embarrassment were slowly subsiding but it was going to take some time before he could relax in her company again. Gamma shift was due to start in about thirty minutes and he had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before making his way to the Bridge.

The mess hall was empty and he helped himself to one of the meals that Neelix had left in stasis for the night-shift crew. It was some sort of vegetable stew and tasted vaguely like plasma residue but it was filling and tonight that was all that Chakotay cared about. He finished quickly, recycling his plates on his way out the door.

There were still fifteen minutes until the start of shift but he figured he’d get to the Bridge a little early to set a good example. As he left the Mess hall, he didn’t hear the doors open on the opposite side of the room.

**********************

Kathryn rushed through the Mess hall doors. She had just enough time to swing by and pick up a snack before shift. Neelix usually hid a few ‘delicacies’ and a pot of coffee for her amongst the large canisters in the kitchen. Making her way behind the counter, she quickly found the sought-after items and, with coffee pot and snacks in hand, headed out the doors again towards the lift.

She would be a few minutes early and that would give her time to drop the items off in her Ready Room before the start of shift, so, taking the turbolift to the lower Bridge level she made her way to the corridor entrance of her Ready Room.

Once inside, she poured herself a rejuvenating cup of coffee and took a bite of Neelix’s interpretation of a granola bar. Grimacing, she chewed the gritty substance before washing it down with a hefty mouthful of coffee then tossed the remainder in the recycler. Fortified by caffeine and the knowledge that Chakotay was at least three decks away, she straightened her uniform, patted her hair into place and marched towards the doors.

****************************************

Chakotay had made his round of the Bridge, acquainting himself with the night staff and checking their consoles. He’d just left the tactical station and was jogging down the stairs towards the command level when the doors to the Ready Room opened and he almost collided with the Captain.

She stared at him as though he were a Kazon intruder and, equally shocked to see her, he opened his mouth to say something but before either of them could utter a word, they were almost knocked off their feet as the ship lurched and shuddered under a volley of weapons fire.

*********************************

Kathryn staggered backwards, slamming her sore shoulder into the side of the tactical station. She hissed loudly but righted herself almost instantly. “Red alert. Sheilds! Who the hell are they?”

Chakotay bolted across the Bridge and threw himself into his seat, pulling up the schematics to try to identify their enemy. “It’s an unknown ship off our starboard bow. Heavily armoured and using pulse phase weapons.”

Another round of weapons fire accompanied his words and Kathryn – holding tight to the railing next to the Tactical station managed to stay upright this time.

Rollins called from behind her. “Shields are down to sixty-seven percent.”

Kathryn took the central seat and gripped the armrests as more phaser fire rocked the ship. “Evasive manoeuvres. Hail them.”

The crewman at Ops, called over the din of weapons fire. “Channel open.”

“This is Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. Stand down your weapons. We will defend ourselves.”

“They’ve cut communications, Captain.”

Kathryn strode to the front of the Bridge and grabbed the railing as another heavy barrage knocked them sideways again. A conduit on the upper level ruptured and the hissing sound of escaping plasma added to the cacophony of destruction. Kathryn muttered under her breath. “I’m not going to ask twice.” Then, after another volley knocked her to her knees, she raised her voice. “Target their weapons array. Fire!”

A lance of phaser fire streaked across space between the two ships.

“Direct hit, Captain. Their weapons are offline.”

Kathryn turned to Rollins. “Good shot, Ensign.”

He nodded and smiled proudly, but as he looked back down at his console the smile disappeared and Kathryn turned to the forward viewscreen.

Chakotay leapt to his feet, yelling. “Helm, get us out of here, full impulse. They’ve set their self-destruct and are on a collision course.”

The ship was heading towards them at full throttle. Voyager spun away but wasn’t quite fast enough. Kathryn saw the first bright explosions as the small ship began to break apart and bellowed at the top of her lungs.

“Shipwide alert!. Brace for impact!”

She glanced sideways at Chakotay as he reached for her, then grabbed hold of the railing just before there was a blinding flash followed by the screech of tortured metal.

In a hail of sparks and explosions, their world upended itself.

**************************

The first thing Kathryn heard was the familiar hiss of ruptured conduits quickly followed by the acrid stench of plasma mixed with oxygen and burnt circuitry. Her head hurt but after a quick self-diagnostic, she realised that nothing major was damaged. She could move her arms and legs, and with adrenalin pumping, she staggered to her feet to take stock.

The scene on the Bridge looked a little like her dream, conduits hung from the ceiling like lifeless limbs and charred pieces of bulkhead leaned against one another at impossible angles. Unrecognisable chunks of her beautiful ship lay in pools of fire suppressant and added to that were the strobing sparks of damaged electrical, which gave the whole scene a disorientating and eerie glow. Relief washed over her as she saw that all the crew were moving; each of them, climbing to their feet to man their stations. She was so proud of them.

Taking a step forward, Kathryn cried out quietly as her ankle gave way – so much for no damage and self-diagnostics. Biting her lip, she tried to stand again but before she could move two very familiar hands reached for her.

She looked up into a pair of concerned brown eyes and smiled grimly. He had a nasty cut and bump on his forehead and his lip was bleeding but he was a very welcome sight.

Kathryn took Chakotay’s hands without hesitation. “It’s only my ankle.” She grimaced and rolled her eyes.

***************************

Chakotay almost laughed at the look the captain gave him but instead, he squeezed her hands reassuringly and then moved to her side, wrapping his arm around her middle as she hung onto his waist. He helped her over the wreckage to her seat.

Unable to weight-bear on her ankle, she used his shoulder to steady herself as he swept the pieces of exploded console from her chair, and gave her a quick nod as she swung herself around and took her seat.

Everyone was back at their stations, looking rather worse for wear but still able to function.

“Report!”

Rollins spoke from tactical. “Damage reports are being logged and I’m routing them to your console, Captain. I hate to say it but the list of what’s not damaged is shorter.” He gave her a humourless smile. “Injury reports are coming in as well. Sickbay reports that there are fourteen crew with fractures and twenty- two with cuts and abrasions. There are two serious head injuries but no fatalities.”

Kathryn muttered, “So far.” Then she took a deep breath and waved her hand towards the viewscreen. “Any idea who they were?”

Chakotay studied the data they’d collected during their brief encounter with the mystery ship but it didn’t conform to any known enemy vessel or tell them anything about whom might have been or why they were firing on Voyager.

“No. We’ve never encountered this species before and there is nothing but space dust left of their ship. We could try to retrieve some organic matter but I don’t like our chances of finding anything viable.”

“Why would they self-destruct?”

“Possibly a cultural thing. We won’t know unless we meet with them again and I’m not sure I like the idea of that.”

“Good point. Do we have propulsion of any sort?”

“We have manoeuvring thrusters. B’Elanna is in Engineering and sent through a brief report to say that impulse engines should be back online in ten minutes.”

“Helm, get us away from here with whatever we’ve got in case they have friends on the way.” Kathryn stood and hissed again. “Damn!”

Pivoting to his feet, Chakotay took her elbow as she teetered. “You need to get to Sickbay.”

“I need to get to Engineering.”

Chakotay stepped a little closer to Kathryn’s side and whispered so no one else would hear. “Captain, you can’t help anyone if you’re injured. I’ll escort you to Sickbay and might I suggest that while you’re there, you get that shoulder looked at as well?”

Kathryn glared at her first officer, hating the fact that he could see through her façade of stoicism but she couldn’t argue with his logic. She found it a little disconcerting, however, that he knew about her injured shoulder. In a defensive tone, she muttered, “I can get there under my own steam, thank you, Commander.”

Stony-faced, he stepped back, removing his supporting hand from her arm but the instant she tried to put weight on her ankle, it gave way again and only Chakotay’s quick reflexes saved her from falling face-first onto a pile of wreckage.

Frowning but grateful, Kathryn turned towards him. “Thank you and point taken.” She nodded towards his face. “You need to get those looked at too.”

Chakotay touched his forehead, his fingers coming away covered in blood. “Sure.”

Tuvok and Harry had arrived on the Bridge and were now at their stations.

Harry called from Ops after checking long-range scans. “There are no other ships on sensors.”

Tom had reported in from Sickbay where he was helping with the wounded; his expertise at the helm was hardly needed when they were travelling on thrusters.

Chakotay, nodded to Tuvok. “You have the Bridge, Commander. I’ll be escorting the Captain to Sickbay.”

Tuvok acknowledged the order with a brusque, “Aye, Commander.”

Supporting her again with his arm around her middle, Chakotay and Kathryn made slow progress to the turbolift.

Thankfully, the lifts were functional; the thought of crawling down five decks through the Jefferies tubes was not something Kathryn wanted to contemplate.

It was an uneventful trip to deck five – apart from the awkward silence – with most of Kathryn’s energy taken up attempting to ignore the fact that she was in such close proximity to her first officer. But, at the same time, she was trying to remember the feeling of his hip pressed into hers and the taut muscles of his waist under her hand.

After hobbling up the corridor on deck five, they arrived in Sickbay and Kathryn thanked Chakotay for escorting her. He gave her an obligatory nod, handed her over to the Doctor’s care and left the room without a backward glance.

Kathryn was tempted to call him back to ensure that he saw to his injuries but he was gone before she could even get the words out. He was obviously still upset with her and she hated that fact. This had to be resolved and she decided that at the next opportunity, she would find a way of mending the rift in their friendship and command relationship. It was ultimately her fault that they were at this impasse, so it was up to her to fix it.

A half an hour later – broken ankle mended – she was in the Jefferies tubes on Deck thirteen, busily replacing burnt out relays and gel packs while Chakotay organised the repair crews on the Bridge.

It had been a hell of a day but Kathryn was thankful for small mercies. No one had died and the ship was still intact – sort of. It could have been worse.

***********************

It was midway through the following day that exhaustion finally set in. Tired and hungry; Kathryn handed over command to Tuvok and made her way back to her quarters for some well-earned rest. Rounding the corner near her door she ran headlong into Chakotay coming the other way.

He grabbed her shoulders to stop her from falling but let go almost immediately. “I beg your pardon, Captain.”

“Not a problem, Commander.”

They both moved to one side to let the other past, only to move in the same direction and block each other’s path once more. Moving back the other way, they blocked each other again.

Kathryn huffed a laugh. “We’ll be dancing in a minute.”

Shrugging, Chakotay took a giant step to the side and ushered her past with a smile. “Goodnight, Captain.”

“Goodnight, Commander.”

Kathryn took half a dozen steps along the corridor and then turned. “Chakotay, would you like to join me for dinner… lunch?”

He turned towards her wearing a look of pleased surprise.

She shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure what time it is or what meal it should be but I know I haven’t eaten for a long time and I’m sure you haven’t either.”

He nodded. “That would be lovely, thank you.”

“See you in, say, ten minutes?”

“Ten minutes, it is.”

Kathryn could feel his gaze follow her as she walked the last few metres to her door and, forcing herself not to look back, she keyed in her code and stepped into her darkened quarters. Once inside she heaved a sigh of relief. She’d made the initial overture towards rekindling their friendship and perhaps in light of what had happened last night, they’d gained some perspective regarding the awkwardness of yesterday’s confrontation. Compared to total annihilation, embarrassment was a pretty poor cousin.

She was determined to get past this.

************************

There was enough time for a quick sonic shower, something she desperately needed after spending most of the night and half the day crawling through the cramped confines of the Jeffries tubes.

A few minutes later, dressed in a clean uniform, she stood at the replicator and studied the menu. Kathryn caught her reflection in the dark glass panel and wondered if perhaps she should have worn civilian clothing but decided, under the circumstances her uniform was best. It acted as a buffer and also as a reminder of the regulations and protocols that she could so easily forget in Chakotay’s company. She’d made a concession however, leaving her pips in the bedroom and her jacket slung over the back of one of the dining room chairs.

Having no idea what Chakotay would like to eat, Kathryn decided to wait until he arrived before choosing their meal. In lieu of food, she replicated a bottle of red wine and poured herself a glass to sip while she waited. Besides, a little liquid courage never went astray.

Five minutes later, the door chimed and she called for him to enter. His hair was still wet and he was also in uniform but his jacket was unzipped and he was carrying a bottle of white wine.

He smiled as he handed it to her, noting her glass of red. “Sorry, next time I’ll know.”

Smiling in return, Kathryn placed the bottle on the table. “No need to apologise, it’s a safe bet. I drink both red and white wine.”

“Not at the same time I hope.”

“Not yet, but if days like the last few come around too often, I might seriously think about it.” Kathryn gave a self-deprecating chuckle and then asked, “What would you prefer?”

“I’ll have white, thank you.”

“Good, now I know.”

Chakotay was heartened. The captain was giving the impression that this wasn’t just a one-off event. It seemed as though their friendship was back on track and that the issues of a day ago were to be put aside. He was relieved.

Kathryn handed him his wine. “I took the liberty of putting us both back on Alpha Shift starting tomorrow. I hope that meets with your approval?”

“Yes, absolutely. The gamma shift idea didn’t work out quite how I’d planned.”

“Hmmm, yes, I know the feeling. Although, I’d like to think it was a case of great minds thinking alike.”

He gave her a deadpan look. “If you say so.”

There was an awkward pause until Kathryn murmured quietly, “Not my greatest hour.”

Grateful that she’d brought up the matter and that they could now clear the air, Chakotay smiled. “Not mine either. I apologise Captain and I know you don’t want to revisit this but the nightmares I’ve been having…” He blew out a breath and shook his head, “well, let’s just say they’re disturbing. It’s a poor excuse but the truth.”

“Apology accepted and I do understand. I’ve been experiencing some nightmares of my own and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.”

“I guess not.”

Elbowing her way past caution and circumspection, Kathryn offered, “If you ever need to talk, I’m a good listener.”

Surprised again, Chakotay responded hesitantly. “Thank you, and if you ever feel the need… I’m not a bad listener either.” He wasn’t sure if it was within the bounds of his job description but figured he should reciprocate. It only seemed fair.

There was another loud silence and Kathryn was very tempted to ask him what the circumstances of his nightmare were and why it had prompted him to call her name but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she pointed towards the replicator and asked what he’d like to eat.

Chakotay smiled. “I hope it doesn’t complicate matters but I’m a vegetarian.”

“You don’t eat meat of any sort?”

“No, I never have.”

“Well, you learn something new every day.” Kathryn thought for a moment then suggested, “How about some mushroom soup, followed by salad and fettuccine pesto?”

“Mushroom soup is one of my favourites.” He grinned. “There are those great minds again.”

Caught a little off guard, Kathryn merely smiled and added this coincidence to the ever-growing list.

Turning to the replicator, she ordered their meal and, after placing the bowls of steaming soup on the table, explained. “I hope you like this. The recipe is my Aunt Martha’s and over the years it’s become renowned as something of a cure-all. I have no idea why.”

“So, you’re not going to rub it on your ankle then?”

Kathryn looked up at him and laughed. “Only if there are left-overs and you rub it on your forehead first.” He grinned but Kathryn continued. “Speaking of which, is it all right?”

Chakotay rubbed his fingers across the recently healed skin then tapped his forehead. “It’s fine. Skull like duranium.”

“That’s handy to know if we ever need a battering ram.”

Chakotay’s smile broadened and, although he tried to stop it, his heart soared as she grinned up at him while refilling his wine and then her own.

After retrieving some bread from the replicator, Kathryn indicated that Chakotay should take a seat and she sat down across from him. She shook out her napkin, draped it across her lap and then picked up her glass, raising it in a toast. “Here’s to another lucky escape.”

Chakotay wasn’t sure if she was referring to their encounter with the unknown aliens or the glitch in their friendship but he didn’t ask and tilted his glass towards her. “To lucky escapes.”

Their eyes met and held, pupils dilating, as again the connection was made. Chakotay breathed deeply; the pull was powerful but with a concerted effort, he dragged his gaze away from hers to focus on his bowl of soup. His spoon felt unnaturally weighty or perhaps it was his reflexes that had slowed but it took all his concentration to gently dip his spoon into his soup, take a mouthful and swallow.

At last daring to glance up, he nodded his approval. “This is delicious. Kudos to Aunt Martha.”

“I’ll remember to tell her next time I see her.” Suddenly the reality of what that statement meant hit home and Kathryn made a small grief-stricken sound. It was unlikely that she’d ever see her Aunt Martha alive again and tears prickled at the back of her eyes at the thought.

Chakotay’s eyes snapped up at the sound and he could see the shimmer of unshed tears in the Captain’s eyes. He understood the reason behind them and reached across the table, resting his hand over hers for the briefest of moments.

Kathryn stared at his hand and then met his eyes again. She swallowed and whispered, “Thank you.”

Slowly dragging his hand away, he shrugged. “It often hits hardest when you least expect it.”

They could have been speaking in riddles but Kathryn knew exactly what he meant and nodded, then swallowed against the rising tide of sorrow that followed the admission. He was right though. How many times had she been king-hit or sideswiped by grief over the last two months? She’d become adept at pushing the feelings aside, tamping down the rising tide of despair and living with the rancid burn of injustice.

None of them – Starfleet or Maquis, living or dead – deserved what had happened to them and no amount of rationalisation would ever convince her that it was anything but a colossal case of cosmic bad luck that had brought them to the Delta Quadrant. She looked up, tempted to articulate all of these feelings but one look into Chakotay’s eyes made it unnecessary. He already knew and empathised. Talking about it would only bring the grief to the surface, and like a veritable Pandora’s box, once opened and exposed, it would be nigh impossible to close it again.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn looked down at her soup and tried not to think of home and Aunt Martha, her mother or her sister. She cast them from her mind and after taking a couple of mouthfuls of soup, placed her spoon down and looked up.

A change of subject was in order. “How are repairs going on the Bridge?”

Chakotay was at the same time grateful for the change of topic but also saddened to see the woman across from him sublimate her grief.

He respected her wishes though and answered in a gentle voice, accompanied by a matching smile. “They’re close to completed; the Bridge is almost back to its old self. Paris tried to talk me into authorising a redecorating detail but I put my foot down and, not so respectfully, declined the offer. He suggested that you might be partial to polka-dots, and that a few wall hangings might liven up the place.”

“Oh, I think it’s plenty lively without redecorating. Polka-dots? The man is incorrigible.”

“But great for morale.”

Kathryn tilted her head to the side and studied the man across the table from her. “It’s good to see that you’ve been able to forgive and forget.”

Chakotay quirked a brow. “Oh, Paris is forgiven but I’ve not forgotten.”

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed. “Ahh, I see. I suppose that’s another thing I’ll have to remember.” She watched his brow rise and answered his unasked question. “Even though you may not have forgotten, I’d like to think that you’ve forgiven me for capturing you.”

His brow rose even further. “Capturing me? I don’t remember it quite like that.”

Intrigued, Kathryn watched as his shoulders tensed and his jaw set defensively. Now this was the Maquis captain that she remembered and had found so fascinating. Almost without thinking, she goaded him further – a small but perverse part of her wanting to see how far she could push him before he retaliated.

Placing her elbows on the table, she wove her fingers together and shrugging, remarked offhandedly. “You’re on my ship, so I suppose technically you’re my captive.”

His eyes darkened and like lightening his hands – those same strong, tanned hands that had haunted her dreams – shot across the table and grasped her wrists, immobilising her. The grip was firm but not crushing – a warning – and Kathryn couldn’t tear her eyes away from his. She wasn’t afraid – knowing instinctively that he wouldn’t hurt her but he was making a point – a very valid one – that if he’d had a mind to, the ship could have been his.

He’d asked her once if she would have served under him and, instead of answering, she’d laughed off the question giving some obtuse and flippant response. Now, he was letting her know that, yes, she was the captain but, to a degree, it was only because of his good graces and the control he exerted over the Maquis members of the crew.

She shivered slightly.

It was no empty assertion; she’d heard the rumours and whispers and was well aware that he’d come between her and at least one decisive move by the Maquis to mutiny.

Intrigued and wanting to know if their thoughts truly were as in-sync as she’d imagined, she uttered two words that she hoped he would understand and that would diffuse this situation.

“Thank you.”

It seemed that he did understand, because as soon as she’d spoken his grip loosened and he let her go.

He picked up his spoon again, took another mouthful of soup, then looked up and nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Her heart pounding, she dropped her hands into her lap and spoke slowly and deliberately. “By rights, I should throw you in the Brig but…” He looked up, with eyebrows raised and waited. Kathryn quickly added. “I’m not a fool.”

“That is the last thing you are, Captain. But you are a surprise.”

“A surprise?” Kathryn thought to herself that it was a slight improvement on being ‘impressive’.

Chakotay shrugged. “You will tolerate what I just did now but not my mistake from the other night.”

“They’re two entirely different things.”

“No, not really.”

“I don’t understand the connection, Commander.” Kathryn knew they were heading into dangerous territory but, like her earlier goading, she couldn’t bring herself to rein-in the conversation. There was a self-destructive inquisitiveness in her that compelled her to know the answer.

Chakotay spoke in that rumbling voice that made her knees weak. “They both stem from my admiration.” Placing both his hands on the table, he slowly leaned forward. “I would never hurt you.”

Kathryn’s heart was pounding, her fight or flight instinct urging her to leave well enough alone but she couldn’t. They were teetering on the brink of something extraordinary and possibly treacherous but, like a train wreck, she couldn’t look away.

She husked a shaky. “I know.”

They sat staring at one another, time passing but neither of them aware.

Chakotay could barely breathe and had a horrifying thought that he might pass out if something didn’t happen to break this impasse. Suddenly his captain’s eyes sparked with something bright and distinct, and she reached slowly across the table, laying her hands over his wrists where they rested on the tabletop. He couldn’t move but watched mesmerised as she stood and leaned towards him.

Her eyes remained riveted to his until she was too close for him to focus. His eyelids fluttered shut and in the next moment, Chakotay felt her lips on his.

That was all it took. In the next heartbeat, he was out of his chair and she was in his arms, her body pressed fiercely against his as they kissed. He’d dreamed of this many times but the reality was breathtaking and not just in the figurative sense.

Kathryn was reeling. She’d gone with her heart but her mind was screaming at her to stop; to think and consider the consequences of her actions but she mentally backhanded the strident voice out of the way and pressed her body against Chakotay’s. How could anything that felt so right possibly be wrong? He tasted and smelled so familiar, almost as though she retained some primal memory of their undeniable connection – as if this was pre-destined and she had no say in the matter. Her mind filled with a tumble of obscure thoughts and flashing images of remembered fantasies. Her body – moving purely on instinct – couldn’t help but revel in the freedom of being in his arms.

The hard ridge of his arousal pressed into her pubic bone, the pressure almost bruising but she ignored the discomfort, her hips undulating against him, pushing harder and faster.

Chakotay groaned into her mouth, his arms tightening around her slight body as he lifted her off the floor. One hand sliding down her back to cup her bottom, pressed her more firmly against him as her hips rolled over his groin, driving him insane with want.

He staggered backwards, bumping into the wall behind the table. His legs were wobbling and he needed to lie down before he dropped her or they both collapsed to the floor in an ungainly heap. This wasn’t quite how it had been in his dream; his imagined finesse had deserted him but he didn’t care. He had her in his arms, she was kissing him and he was in heaven – that much, at least, was true to the dream. Tearing his mouth away from hers, he laved at her neck, inhaling her scent as he peeked over her shoulder to see how far it was to the couch and calculated if he could make it without falling.

Hoisting her higher, he took a gamble and staggered towards the grey upholstered soft-fall on the other side of the room.

Kathryn gasped. He’d found that spot on her neck that sent frissons of pleasure trickling down her spine to spread across her hips and buttocks, and pool, mercury-hot in her centre. The warmth suffused her lower body, making her knees weak and unstable. Thankfully, he lifted her higher so she wasn’t reliant on her own legs to keep her upright and grabbing his head, she pulled his mouth back to hers.

Then they were on the move, lurching across her living area, heading, she presumed, towards the couch. It wasn’t far but with their mouths locked together and their eyes closed, it was a blind stumble and somewhat of a risk in their current state of heady oblivion.

Chakotay gave a garbled grunt as his leg hit the coffee table and he gracelessly stumbled.

Pivoting on one foot, and with a loud, “Oomph!” he toppled backwards onto the couch with Kathryn lying half on top of him – her chin on his chest, her knees on the floor.

The jolt brought an abrupt end to their erotic clinch and they stared at each other in shocked surprise.

Kathryn wasn’t sure what to do. She’d been the instigator of this imbroglio and because of this, had no right to react with indignant surprise. The look in his eyes was still one of shocked disbelief, and she began to feel extremely uncomfortable. She’d crossed the line – that very distinct one – which stated that under no circumstances was a senior officer to make inappropriate overtures toward a subordinate – not ever.

She’d broken – no, smashed to smithereens – one of the most protected codes of Starfleet law and put her first officer in an untenable position. What was he supposed to do? His Captain had made a pass at him and even if he felt the smallest measure of attraction, he couldn’t very well turn her down without compromising his position or hers.

The idea of tonight’s impromptu dinner had been to mend fences not place insurmountable hurdles in their path. Images from her dream flashed through Kathryn’s mind. A gut churning reminder of the impenetrable obstacles and cold, jagged barriers that lay between her and what she so dearly desired. Fear and sense of loss pushed up from her middle making it difficult to breathe.

She began to pull away. Her shame revisited tenfold and she wasn’t sure if she could speak although, she knew she had to say something.

Squeezing the words past the tightness in her chest, Kathryn tried to apologise. “Commander, I…”

“I’m in love with you, Captain.”

The rest of her apology whooshed past her lips in a gushing exhalation as she stared, wide-eyed at her first officer. Gulping a breath, she squeaked a disbelieving. “You love me?”

He nodded slowly, hesitance and uncertainty replacing the surprise in his eyes.

“I know it’s a shock and I’ve tried to stop but I’m sorry… I just can’t control it, or me. The other night…it was you… in my dreams, in my thoughts. I’m so sorry.” The words were disjointed, his customary Janeway-induced incoherence ambushing his explanation. He hoped that she at least got the gist of what he was trying to say.

“Don’t!”The squeak in Kathryn’s voice was gone replaced by a gasp of strangled hope. One word was all she could manage before she was forced to inhale shakily but even then, she felt light-headed and breathless.

She didn’t want him to apologise for loving her. That was the last thing she wanted him to do but she could see a pall of sadness fill his eyes and she realised that he’d misunderstood. Though desperate to explain, she couldn’t get the words to come.  

The weight of her on his chest suddenly turned leaden as he accepted her assertion that she didn’t want him to love her. Of course she didn’t. Her negative reaction shouldn’t have come as a surprise but he couldn’t believe he’d unwittingly found himself in this position again. By throwing caution to the wind and responding to her advances, he’d made a complete and utter ass of himself by revealing his deepest, most guarded feelings. Why did he think she would reciprocate his sentiments? He was a fool. They’d only known one another for two months; he was an outlaw with nothing, and she had a career, a home and family back in the Alpha Quadrant, all of which he could ever be a part.

Gripping her shoulders gently, he tried to ease her away from him but she grabbed handfuls of his jacket and wouldn’t let go.

“Don’t.” Kathryn repeated the ambiguous entreaty and then frowned. Didn’t he understand? Was she so shuttered and unapproachable that he couldn’t read the unsaid plea in her eyes?

He loved her.

The admission had made her heart soar and ache at the same time. It appeared that the connection between them – the subtle but tenacious link that bound them – wasn’t only in her imagination, he’d felt it too. Tears stung behind her eyelids and she blinked rapidly. She’d never felt so vulnerable or delighted in her life, simultaneously hating and loving the feeling – her only counter was to smile through her tears.

Now he wasn’t sure what she was trying to say. He looked deeply into her eyes, his hands sliding from her shoulders to rest over her clenched fists on his chest. His intention had been to ease them loose from his clothing and break free but there was something in her look that stopped him. Instead of disdain, she looked down at him with smiling, shimmering eyes.

His hands rested on top of hers; those familiar, strong, tanned hands that had played such an integral role in her dreams were covering hers completely. They were warm, the palms soft and accommodating and, letting go of his jacket, she turned her hands over in his grasp.

Sitting back on her haunches, Kathryn slid off his chest but didn’t loosen her hold on his fingers, pulling him into a sitting position in front of her as she knelt between his legs. Then she held their clasped hands together between her breasts.

They were almost eye to eye; almost heart to heart.

Swallowing the swell of emotion that was threatening to overwhelm her, Kathryn squeezed his hands tightly and spoke in a husky whisper. “I love you too.”

Chakotay felt sure that he was going to pass out. He’d forgotten to breathe and only a prompt from the woman in front of him saved him from the humiliation of toppling from the couch in a dead faint.

“Chakotay, are you all right?”

A gasping inhalation was his answer, followed by a vigorous nod. All right? God, he didn’t think there was an adjective that came anywhere near to describing how he felt at that moment. Elated, terrified, relieved, awestruck, unsure of what the future held but not giving a damn, and deeply grateful to the fickle whims of fate for throwing him across the galaxy so he could meet this woman who had both tormented and saved him. He wanted to shout their love to the world, to the ship and the crew, to open every subspace channel from here to the Alpha Quadrant and bellow it across the lightyears but her next words clamped the lid shut on that idea.

Leaning forward, still with their clasped hands between them, she kissed him sweetly on the lips. “We can’t tell anyone about this though. Not a soul.”

“Who would I tell?”

“You have friends but also enemies on this ship and I think that so early in our journey it would not be wise. We are all still finding our way and there is a good deal of animosity and resentment existent between the two crews. If anyone thought that our affiliation was anything other than strictly ‘official’ …” She hesitated. “I fear for you.”

“You fear for me?! What about you?” He couldn’t believe this. Did she really think he had so little control over his Maquis crew that they might turn on him or that he would allow them to harm her? His hackles rose. The anger that had been his close companion for the last ten years again reared its ugly head.

Old habits died hard.

Noting his anger but unmoved by it, Kathryn shrugged, her blue eyes looking deeply into his. “My captaincy would be compromised and yes, I’d possibly be in danger too but that is nothing compared to the heartbreak I would suffer if anything happened to you.”

Chakotay blinked twice – slowly – and in that brief caesura between one blink and the next, all the resentment, fear, anger and trepidation vanished. A quiet stillness settled over his heart and he was at peace for the first time in more years than he could remember.

Any argument he might have put forward withered into nothing and he nodded solemnly, “Not a soul.”

Gently pulling from her grasp, he held her face between his hands and studied her; her brow, her eyes, her mouth and then watched as the corners of her lips turned upward. Her eyes sparkled with delight and her brow rose in question.

He hoped that she would understand what he was about to say in answer to that unasked question. That their sense of shared spirit wasn’t merely a figment of his imagination and that tangible bond he felt so keenly would allow her to see past the simplicity of his words to the visceral depth of their meaning.

Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to hers in a chaste kiss – a warm touch filled with reverence, respect and restrained passion. He eased away slowly and murmured, “Thank you.”

A heart-stopping smile spread across Kathryn’s face as she raised her hands to cup his cheek, her thumb whispering across his lips. “You’re welcome and in consideration of the fact that in the very near future we will be lovers, I think you should call me Kathryn.”

Chakotay mirrored her smile and nodded. “Kathryn.”

“Chakotay.”

“Kathryn.”

He couldn’t stop smiling.

******************************************

Stroking her fingers down his cheek and through his hair, Kathryn smiled then stood and held out her hand. “I’m now officially exhausted and you must be too. Do you need anything from your quarters?”

Chakotay shook his head as he got to his feet. “At the risk of sounding nauseatingly corny, all I need is to be here with you.”

Kathryn laughed. “Corny, yes, but the sweetest of sentiments, and one I share.”

Looking down, Kathryn slid her hand into his, their fingers weaving together and, without hesitation, she tugged him towards the bedroom.

They entered the darkened room – light from the living area spilling through the doorway behind them, throwing their elongated shadows across the bed as they stood there hand in hand.

Kathryn spoke quietly. “Computer, ambient illumination.”

The lighting panels on the walls hummed to life, casting a soft golden glow throughout the room and, without a word, Kathryn turned towards Chakotay, shook loose her hair and began to remove her clothing. Her movements were unhurried and methodical, almost as though it was something she’d done in front of him a hundred times before. There was no embarrassment, no timid modesty; she was forthright, bold and brave – it was pure Janeway and he loved her for it, more than he could say. He watched mesmerised as she peeled away the layers, revealing herself in all her vulnerable yet steely beauty.

He didn’t touch or move towards her, his eyes remaining riveted to hers as she stood before him. Anticipation dipped and weaved back and forth between them, its presence evident in the shiver of her skin and the corresponding tremble of his fingers as he slowly began to remove his clothing.

There was something deeply profound, almost reverential in the quiet and orderly divestment of their uniforms. As much as he wanted Kathryn Janeway in the most carnal of ways, this seemingly asexual baring of their bodies was a reflection of their circumstances and the economy of emotions they needed to maintain. This was no blundering seduction, no race towards completion but the beginning of a lifetime of ever-deepening love and commitment.

The crass play and counter-play of Chakotay’s past seductions held no sway here. Making love to Kathryn was the fulfilment of a dream and the answer to all the questions he’d ever asked or was ever likely to. This small but vital woman before him was the vessel that would carry his soul and heart for the rest of his life and he in turn was the shadowed warmth now illuminated by her love. Neither of them would ever be the same.

Moments ticked by as they stared at one another, eyes gently caressing bodies – seeing and learning.

His body was broad and strong, but not that of a young man. Time had blurred the sharp honed edges of youth and gravity had softened the outlines, but to her he was beautiful. She wasn’t a young woman either and, like her new lover, she was comfortable in her well-worn skin. There was an ease and effortlessness in their self-knowledge, a gift gained from years of hard won experience.

Silently, Chakotay reached for her and then pulling back the covers, slid into bed and waited for her to climb in beside him.

Kathryn slid into bed, her calm and fluid movements belying her nervous anticipation and the rapid beating of her heart. They lay on their sides, facing one another with only inches between them.

Her eyes held his until all she could see was warm brown, flecked with gold and something that burned bright and deep within that welcoming darkness. In a flash of recognition, she saw and understood. She was the light, or rather, Chakotay’s vision of her was and with her next breath, their mouths met in a kiss that sealed their fate.

From that moment on, time merged with place and the present fused with forever.

Her body was ready and willing as she opened herself to him without resistance or pause, hungry for his touch, his taste and the rigid press of his sex.

He suckled at her breasts, his hands drifting over the smooth planes and rounded rises of her body. It was here that he began to learn her secrets – the touches that made her jolt with delight and mewl with desire.

Unabashed, she pulled him closer, quietly begging for more. Wrapping her legs around his hips and urging him onward, she invited him to discover all of her – every shadowed hollow, every sensitive crease and crevice, every shivering, pulsing part of her.

He was a willing and fervent explorer.

Her hands weren’t idle either as they stroked down the silky skin of is back, grasped at his buttocks and clawed lightly at his shoulders. The back of her fingers delighted in the contrasts – the baby-softness of his loins and the harsh scratch of his unshaven face. As if in answer, his chin rasped at the tender pillow of her breast, her nipples knotting achingly as he nuzzled them with his bearded cheek. His fingers constantly delving and teasing, touching and caressing.

Overwhelmed by a torrent of sensations, Kathryn was drowning; gasping for breath between shuddering exhalations and crescendoing cries of arousal. She had never made love like this before, with such total abandonment and willingness to relinquish control.

As though sensing that she was straying into undiscovered territory, Chakotay slowed his pace, gentling his touches and easing her back from the brink. Rolling them over so he was on his back and she on top, he loosened his hold as she stretched full length along his body.

Resting her head on his shoulder, her lips pressed against the fragrant skin on his neck; Kathryn calmed as she aligned her body with his. Her legs lay along the lean length of his, her breasts pressed into his broad chest, her hands stroked along each arm, her fingers weaving through his before pulling his arms wide. She could see them in her mind’s eye; a single cruciform silhouette against the backdrop of her stark-sheeted bed, and in the silvery darkness of the Delta Quadrant, they became indistinguishable from each other.

A single tear seeped from behind her closed eyes and trickled onto his shoulder.

Chakotay felt the warm splash of moisture on his skin and shuddered as it left its cooling trail. He turned his head towards her, kissing her forehead and, tucking his head lower, nuzzled at her lips. He whispered against them. “I love you, I will always love you.”

With his declaration, Kathryn came to life and in one powerful movement, she reared up to kneel astride his hips. With eyes dark with passion, she planted her hands firmly on his chest and slid down until the hard ridge of his penis nestled against the yielding softness of her folds. She began to move, rocking back and forth, sliding him through her wetness.

With her head thrown back, hair tumbling down her back, neck straining and mouth open, she gasped as the glorious sensations surged through her body -the hard tip of him, bouncing against the knotted nub of her clit.

Awestruck, Chakotay grasped her hips and gritted his teeth as he watched her. She was magnificent. Wild and untamed as she revelled in the sensations with undisguised relish and delight – he’d never seen anything so beautiful in his life.

The heat of her beckoned and lifting her slightly and, with a slight tilt of his hips, he entered her. There was no resistance, merely a gentle slide into her welcome and enveloping warmth.

Kathryn’s head snapped forward and her eyes met his as she stilled. Her fingers curled, nails biting into the skin of his chest but still she didn’t move. Chakotay could feel the flutter of her inner muscles and their moist gripping heat. It took all his strength not to thrust but slowly her body began to relax and she sensuously folded forward, nipples dusting his chest, her lips brushing his in whispering touches. Closing his eyes he felt as well as heard her words. “We must never forget this moment.”

He would have reassured her – this entire wondrous event now indelibly imprinted in his memory – but her lips took his in a kiss that rendered him speechless and with a groan, he began to press his hips into her, thrust after glorious thrust. He felt the smile on her lips against his as she countered with perfectly timed hunching thrusts of her own.

Within moments, Chakotay could feel the surge of his climax searing its molten path along his veins. Vivid images filled his mind and, like snapshots tossed on a tabletop, they focussed his energy and thoughts – her thighs pressed tight around his hips, the matted moisture of their joining, her face caught in the blissful grimace of impending orgasm, the pale almost translucent flesh of her small body melded seamlessly with the darker skin of his, white hands on his chest, his tanned fingers indented in the supple flesh of her hips as they rose and fell in mounting waves of pleasure. All these images coalesced into one, as he looked up at her, a veil of hair draped down her front, her face shadowed but beautiful.

Then it was upon them.

Kathryn seized, her body rigid and still as stone as he plunged deeply into her. She stared, shocked blue eyes meeting brown, as he swelled inside her, the hot wash of his come bathing her insides and the stretch of her inner muscles triggering her climax. Joy surged from deep within her and as the grasping clench of her inner muscles shook her body, a keening cry began. At the sound, Chakotay bolted forward, his body caught in juddering spasms as he slammed his lips on hers and they crooned into one another’s mouths, hungrily devouring their shared howls of delight.

Kathryn’s entire body was thrashing in a jolting rigor, almost painful in its intensity but also wildly erotic and free. Never had she experienced anything like it in her life.

Chakotay was still thrusting, his climax ongoing as her body squeezed and clasped around him. They clung desperately to one another, the ecstasy of their simultaneous orgasms leaving them almost senseless.

Slowly the spasms began to subside and Kathryn’s body softened; the tension in her muscles melting like snow in the sun and her body sagged against his.

In a lethargic haze, Kathryn lifted her head but unable to keep her eyes open, squirmed closer and kissed him.

Her tongue swept lazily through his mouth and he kissed her in return, warm soft lips languidly caressing hers. With her arms draped loosely around his shoulders, she sighed into his mouth and then slid her lips from his to rest her head on his shoulder. She was almost asleep but didn’t want to move and sighed contentedly. “Can we stay like this?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good. Pity we have to work in the morning.”

“I could always roster us back on Gamma shift.”

Kathryn smiled, her brows rising but her eyes remaining closed. “Try explaining that to the night shift. Poor things.”

He chuckled quietly and pulled her closer. The movement caused his flaccid penis to slip from her.

Kathryn sighed and frowned. “Damn.”

Sweeping her hair back from her face, he kissed her again and then lay back with her in his arms.

In a relaxed post-coital fog, coupled with the weariness of their long day, neither of them could bring themselves to move.

Still tangled together, Kathryn pulled up the bedcovers and, as exhaustion washed over them, they fell into a deep sleep.

**************************

Kathryn strode along that familiar path that led to the door of her mother’s house; the urgency of her mission reflected in her determined stride. She needed to see her mother immediately and picked up her pace, refusing to let anything or anyone distract her from her goal.

She was almost there but the stairs loomed large in front of her, each rise almost head height and virtually insurmountable. With her jaw set obstinately, she hoisted herself up and, kicking and clawing, clambered over the first step. The climb was ungainly and awkward, and she couldn’t understand why her mother would make it so damned difficult to get onto the front landing. To add to her woes, the door was drifting into the distance, her goal rapidly moving away from her.

Gathering all her strength and, in a last ditch effort to scale the final few stairs, she pushed ahead. Deep down, though, she knew it wasn’t going to be enough but, stubborn and headstrong, she refused to surrender.

As she heaved herself onto the top of the second step and lay there in a panting heap, the door suddenly opened and Gretchen stepped onto the landing; her hand shielding her eyes as she searched the horizon. Finally, her mother’s eyes, so like her own, alighted on Kathryn and she smiled.

Kathryn could see her mother’s lips moving but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t hear what she was saying. Frustrated, she extended her hand towards the older woman, but the Gretchen shook her head and refused to take it, remaining out of reach, her words however, finally coming in a whisper. “Live Katie, love him and I’ll be here waiting for you.” Then her mother pressed her fingers to her lips, blithely blowing a kiss towards Kathryn before she turned away.

Stunned at her mother’s offhand attitude Kathryn stared in astonishment as the older woman disappeared through the old green door without looking back.

Kathryn was bereft, left abandoned halfway between the unknown stars behind her and what she thought was her home. Suddenly there was a presence beside her and the fingers of a warm hand wove through hers. She looked down at her hand clasped within the firm grasp of familiar tanned fingers, then she dragged her gaze upwards until she was staring into a pair of warm brown eyes. Now she understood and she smiled. Her mother had known too.

A strong arm wrapped around her shoulder and she knew that everything would be all right and lifting her face to his, she kissed him.

Turning around they walked down the steps and without looking back, Kathryn and Chakotay moved towards the unfamiliar star-filled sky.

*******************************

Chakotay stood on the dry, desolate earth of his home planet. The grey-ash remains of his people blew in small eddies around his ankles, whipped up by a hot wind blowing in from the plains. He spun slowly on the spot, looking towards the distant horizons. There was nothing to see for miles in any direction, no trees, no buildings, the familiar mountains levelled by thermalite blasts.

He was alone.

His fingernails bit into the palms of his hands and staring down at his clenched fists, he opened one slowly to find a lock of dark hair – his mother’s. It was all he had left of her but in yet another cruel twist of fate, a blast of hot dry air whisked it from his palm tossing it into the swirling grey miasma of what was once his home.

It was gone; they were all gone.

A wrenching sense of anguish enveloped him and the weight of his grief-heavy heart forced him to his knees. He tried to breathe, to clear his lungs of the choking haze of soot and ash but the dry grit in the air coated his tongue and throat, making it impossible to swallow or make a sound.

He was suffocating and as his world began to narrow to a dark pinpoint of light, he saw his mother smiling. He tried to reach for her but she evaded his grasp and with an anguished cry, he watched her disappear from sight.

He gasped, momentarily disorientated until gentle arms wound around him and he pressed his face into a tumble of sweet smelling hair. Warmth and the heady scent of her filled his lungs clearing the imagined cloying ash and grit, allowing him to breathe. Her voice was warmly familiar as it shushed and crooned to him, reassuring hums and words of love cushioning his heart and buoying his soul.

He rejoiced and delighted in the knowledge that he wasn’t alone. She was by his side – an impossibility made real by the sound of her voice and the taste of her on his lips. Her body pressed into his, the soft pillow of her breasts against his chest, the tangle of her legs around his, her palm stroking him, as he pumped into her hand. His orgasm surged up his body, his toes curling as he pressed his lips fiercely to hers.

Then it was upon him, he gasped and opened his eyes to look into the face of his captain, his lover, his Kathryn, his heart.

And this time she was really there.

Wrapped in each other’s arms, the ghosts of the past and the fears of the present momentarily faded and after a long lingering kiss, they sank again into the welcome arms of slumber, and rested undisturbed by nightmares – real or imagined – until morning.

**************

Kathryn fought against the rising awareness brought by the morning – so calm and comfortable that she didn’t want to move. Keeping her eyes shut, she slid her hand up her lover’s smooth chest.

She’d slept so soundly that she’d barely moved all night and, although already snuggled into the warmth of Chakotay’s body, she wriggled closer, draping her leg over his thighs and sighing happily.

Raining soft kisses onto his jaw and neck, Kathryn mumbled happily, as she rested against his shoulder. “How about we hand over command to Tuvok for the next few days, barricade ourselves in holodeck one and blow all our rations on a luxurious weekend in Venice?”

With his arm around her shoulder, his thumb stroking up and down the soft skin of her upper arm, Chakotay turned and kissed her head. He looked down, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “Is this the same workaholic, nose-to-the-grindstone, never-say-die Kathryn Janeway that I know and love?”

Kathryn hoisted herself up and, elbow bent, rested her head on her hand. She contemplated him seriously. “She’s still here. She’ll always be here while we’re stuck in this Quadrant but I want to have a life too, Chakotay. A secret one – as it will have to be – but I want a life nonetheless. Do you understand?”

“More than you realise. I want that too, Kathryn. I’ve lived the last ten years in an ever-narrowing spiral of anger and hate. No matter how many Cardassians I killed or how many innocent lives I saved, I could never bring back the ones I loved and lost, and at last, I think I’m beginning to realise that.” He smiled. “You may not have captured me, but you certainly saved me from myself.”

Kathryn smiled, her fingers stroking over his tattoo. “I know this is in honour of your father. I’d like you to tell me about him one day… and your mother. I want to know all about you – not just what I’ve read in your Starfleet dossier.”

“I have a dossier?” He grinned.

Kathryn nodded, smiling back at him. “Yes, and a hefty one at that. You led us on a merry chase, you know.”

“Well, we’ve both finished up somewhere we never expected to be.”

“I assume you’re talking about the Delta Quadrant and not my bed?”

“Both actually and we wouldn’t be in one without the other, so in a way, I owe the Caretaker a big thank you.”

Kathryn’s lip curled. “Well, what’s left of him is in sickbay, you can send a fruit basket.”

Chakotay burst out laughing and flopped back on the bed, addressing no one in particular. “I love this woman.”

Kathryn revelled in his delight. “I’m very pleased and relieved that you do, I was having a terrible time trying to hide my feelings. I could think of little else. You are a very distracting individual, Mr Chakotay.”

“And you, Captain, are positively dangerous in that regard, although, I don’t know whether this…” He ran his hand down her side, letting it rest on her hip. “… is going to make it easier or harder.”

“Literally or figuratively?” She grinned.

Chakotay rolled his eyes. “Both, no doubt. But for now, we have to get up and get to work. Venice will have to wait.”

“Talk about a hard taskmaster.” She slid her hand under the bedclothes. “and I mean that literally and figuratively.”

Leaning towards her, Chakotay was about to kiss her and roll her under him when the computer’s tinny voice shattered the moment. “The time is 0700, Captain Janeway, the time is 0700.”

They both looked at one another and chorused. “Damn!”

Kathryn dropped a quick kiss on his lips and slid out of bed. “We have to be on the Bridge in half an hour. Did you want to shower here?”

“As much as I’d love to, I think I should head back to my quarters.”

“Breakfast in the Ready Room after handover?”

“Sounds great.”

Chakotay quickly pulled on his uniform and with his jacket draped over his arm, headed towards the door of her quarters. Kathryn shrugged into her peach robe and followed him out into the living area. “Chakotay.”

He turned. “Kathryn?”

“I love you.”

His face broke into a wide dimpled smile and he moved back towards her, pulling her into his arms. “I love you too.” After a long lingering kiss, he spun around and headed out the door.

In a daze as he exited Kathryn’s quarters, his mind distracted by memories of the previous night and in anticipation of the days, months and years ahead, Chakotay failed to notice Mariah Henley and Walter Baxter behind him as he walked up the corridor from the captain’s door.

They both looked at each other in delighted surprise. It was obvious that their First Officer was leaving the Captain’s quarters after spending the night. In unison, they spun on their heels and headed back to the turbo lift and the mess hall.

Word spread like wildfire throughout the ship and by the time, Kathryn and Chakotay made it to the Bridge, only those on Beta shift – who were still asleep – had not been privy to the gossip. But it wouldn’t be long until they were.

Stepping out of the turbo lift together, they were greeted by several amused looks and a beaming grin from Harry. Tom spun around from the conn and raised an eyebrow, in a perfect imitation of Tuvok.

With a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Kathryn knew that their cover was already blown and word had somehow leaked about their affair. She glanced at her lover but didn’t say anything. Until she could gauge how the news had been met, she and Chakotay could only brazen it out. She hoped that he would follow her lead.

Pretending that all was normal and ignoring the stares, Kathryn greeted the Alpha shift with a warm good morning and took her seat. Chakotay called for each station to report and they both sat there, staring straight ahead, barely listening to updates and status reports.

Once the logs were updated and an adequate amount of time had passed, Kathryn handed over the Bridge to Chakotay and retreated to her Ready Room.

The doors snapped shut behind her and she had to resist the urge to scream.

Damn it all to hell!

She shouldn’t have been surprised. It was a small ship and nothing much happened aboard that wasn’t common knowledge within moments. Not even Section 31 could compete with the information-gathering prowess of bored crewmen and chatty ensigns. Having this out in the open presented her with a dilemma however. Should they continue, knowing that the crew were aware of their affair or did she call it off now, before they became too established in their new roles as lovers?

Almost before the thought finished, she decided against the latter idea. How did one unlove someone? It was impossible so the only thing for it was to stand their ground. Hitting her combadge, she hailed Chakotay. “Please report to the Ready Room, Commander?”

She left the channel open, waiting to hear the snickers of the crew and bold remarks from Tom Paris, but there was nothing. She frowned and was still frowning when the door opened and Chakotay entered.

He came to parade rest in front of her desk and she had a moment of déjà vu. Sweeping around her desk, she took his hand and led him up the stairs to the couch. Kathryn moved to the replicator. “Tea or coffee? We still haven’t had breakfast. Would you like something?”

“I don’t think I can swallow just at the moment.”

She stared at him questioningly and then realised what was wrong – he thought she was going to call an end to their liaison. Turning back towards him, she marched up to him, her face only inches from his. “I love you and I’m not changing my mind.”

Chakotay almost collapsed back onto the couch in relief, but instead, his shoulders sagged and he reached for her. “I’m so pleased to hear that, although, I would have understood.”

“I know that but I can’t – for all sorts of reasons – the main one being, I don’t want to. Is that selfish of me?”

“I hope that’s a rhetorical question because if you’re selfish them I’m positively mercenary. I can’t give you up, Kathryn – not now.” He took a step towards her, his eyes darkening, his expression serious. “Not for anything.”

Kathryn hung her head, then turned to look out of the view port, she’d found herself doing this a lot over the last two months. It helped her think. “We need to speak to Tuvok.”

“Tuvok? Do you think that’s a good idea? I’m not sure he can be impartial.”

“Why not? He’s Vulcan.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s not overly protective of you, besides, he doesn’t like me.”

“It’s not that he doesn’t like you, it’s just that…”

“He doesn’t like me.”

“Well, there’s no accounting for taste and obviously Vulcan’s aren’t as objective as they’d like us to think.” She smiled then huffed irritatedly. “This is ridiculous, you know. Do you think it really matters? The ship hasn’t stopped dead in space, the hull hasn’t breached and the crew all seem to be doing their jobs; no one has taken a pot-shot at either of us or seems particularly upset. Do you think that we might have underestimated our crew?”

“Time will tell. I…”

Chakotay was interrupted by the door chime. They both stepped away from one another and looked towards the door; Kathryn called, “Come.”

Tom Paris entered. He looked a little uncomfortable but smiled at them. “Captain, Chakotay.”

“Mr Paris, what can we do for you?”

“Ummm, not a lot, I just wanted to have a quiet word to you… both of you, if I could.”

“A quiet word? I can’t imagine about what.” Kathryn’s jaw tightened at the very thought.

“You can’t imagine?” Tom moved towards the railing but Chakotay noticed that although closer, he was keeping well out of arm’s reach. Probably wise.

Chakotay eyed him suspiciously. “I don’t need to warn you do I, Paris?”

Tom shook his head. “No. I come pre-warned, thanks to Tuvok and the others.”

“So you’re a delegate?”

Tom thought about that for a second and then shook his head. “No, not quite; more of a patsy really but that’s not important.” The helmsman took a deep breath and stood tall. “I’ve been sent to tell you that we are all very happy for you and think that it’s great that you’ve found one another. It was only a matter of time.”

Neither Kathryn nor Chakotay said anything. What could they say?

Kathryn cringed inwardly, realising that her attraction to Chakotay – something that she thought she’d so cleverly hidden – was obviously common knowledge. They’d all seen it and his attraction to her as well no doubt.

“Thank you for your analysis, Mr Paris. Dismissed.”

“Captain, please don’t make us all pretend that it hasn’t happened. Everyone is thrilled. It’s like the ultimate acknowledgement of the successful melding of the crews. Besides, as Tuvok so eloquently put it; there’s no point trying to deny it because ‘there’s a bag somewhere minus a cat’.”

Both Kathryn and Chakotay looked puzzled for a moment until they realised what Tuvok had meant. There was nothing sadder than a Vulcan trying to be ‘colloquial’.

The three Starfleet officers all stood silently, each busy with their own thoughts until Tom shrugged and muttered. “Well, I suppose I should get back to the conn, the ship won’t fly itself.”

“Yes, Lieutenant, dismissed.”

Tom turned around slowly and left the room.

The new lovers remained looking at each other, unsure of what to say or do.

Chakotay broke the stalemate. “I could kill for a muffin.”

“What?”

“Well, we didn’t eat much dinner last night…”

Kathryn opened her mouth to say something but Chakotay cut her off. “ – not that I’m complaining – but we haven’t had any breakfast yet either. To be honest, I’m growing weak with hunger. A nervous breakdown takes energy and I’m running on empty, so, until I’ve had sustenance, I’m going to have to pass on fallout control.”

He waited for her reaction. It would be either one of two things. He would find himself on the receiving end of a Janeway reading of the riot act or…

She grinned. “Make mine a blueberry and we’ll save the histrionics for later, huh?”

“Good thinking. Besides, there’s bound to be an evil alien or space dwelling lifeform that is more deserving of our wrath than each other, so, pact?”

“Pact and I’ll have a coffee too, seeing you’re buying.”

“Aye, Captain.”

Kathryn watched him move towards the replicator and order their meals. A flutter of concern tickled around her middle but, when Chakotay turned to her, smiling and bearing muffins, the worry evaporated like the steam from the coffee he was carrying.

Life would go on, they would deal with each new crisis as it arose and in the meantime, they would live their lives. The ghosts of the past, the reality of the present leading them to an unknown but shared future.

And nothing could be better than that.

fin

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