Searching through a bunch of "what ifs" in my mind, after reading Anneke A.'s story called "MIDNIGHT SPECIAL," this is what I came up with. Thanks for the inspiration, Anneke!
As usual, Paramount owns the world of Star Trek and everything in it. (Wish they'd let us write next season's episodes.)
After dinner, as Tuvok was reading the most current tactical report, his doorbell sounded. Looking up from the padd in his hand, he called "Enter," and was a bit taken aback when Neelix entered his quarters.
"Good evening, Mr. Tuvok," said Neelix, obviously nervous.
"Good evening, Mr. Neelix," replied Tuvok, evenly, noting the Talaxian's discomfort. "How may I be of assistance this evening?"
"I, ah . . . I just wanted a moment of your time . . . if you can spare it," replied Neelix.
"Of course. Would you care for a cup of Vulcan spice tea?" asked Tuvok, unusually gracious to the other man. He stood and crossed down to Neelix.
"Ah, no. Sir. It will only be a moment."
Tuvok stopped in front of Neelix, crossed his hands in front of himself, and nodded slightly.
Neelix took a deep breath and looked at Tuvok.
"I'm concerned. About the Captain and the Commander."
"How so, Mr. Neelix?"
Neelix sighed. Tuvok wouldn't make this easy for him; he never made things easy.
"Mr. Tuvok, they seem to be having . . . problems of some sort, these past few weeks. They don't smile much anymore, they always seem preoccupied, and they don't take their meals together in the mess hall anymore, either. And, while I'm not often on the Bridge, I hear that they . . ."
"Mr. Neelix, the Captain and Commander's personal lives are not your concern, and it is an obligation of the senior staff to stifle gossip, not repeat or encourage it."
"But, I disagree, Mr. Tuvok," said Neelix quickly, with a newfound determination in his voice. "As ship's morale officer, I have a right to look into any situation that affects other crewmembers on this ship."
"And how do the habits of Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay affect the other crewmembers on board Voyager, Mr. Neelix?" asked Tuvok, striving to keep the condescension out of his tone.
"In every way possible, Mr. Tuvok," replied Neelix.
"I see no change in the work habits of any crewmember that can be directly attributed to the . . . situation between our two most senior officers."
Perhaps Neelix needed reminding that he was interfering with the two topmost officials on board Voyager.
"You may not have noticed the effects yet. But they are all around us, Mr. Tuvok," said Neelix, in a quiet voice.
Now Neelix had Tuvok's closer attention. Neelix didn't seem so nervous anymore, just sad and concerned. Tuvok watched him carefully.
"How so?" he asked.
"Well, for one thing, there is a lot less laughter, and joking, in the mess hall at dinnertime," he answered. And before Tuvok could respond, he added, "And I know what you're thinking, Mr. Tuvok. But you have to understand that no other race on board Voyager is as disciplined as the Vulcan race. The rest of us need laughter and merriment it helps us to shoulder our burdens more responsibly. We need diversion, Mr. Tuvok." He paused, and lowered his eyes to the floor for a moment. He had come here to convince Tuvok that something had to be done. "There isn't laughter in the corridors anymore, and no one smiles. This terrible thing that is happening between Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay is affecting everyone on Voyager. Myself included." Again, he paused.
"Please continue, Mr. Neelix," prompted Tuvok, with more interest. Some recent events were coming to Tuvok's mind, things that had seemed odd at the time, yet not completely unusual, so he did not pursue those thoughts at the time.
After a moment, Neelix continued, "I remember once, a long time ago, I asked Captain Janeway how she could still smile in the face of all the adversities we were facing here, in this region of space that none of us knows. And she told me that every crew on every ship responds to the commanding officers and their moods, whether they are aware of it or not. And she felt it was her duty, her responsibility, to make her crew as comfortable as possible. And . . . and to try to give them hope." Then Neelix looked at Tuvok with a determination in his eyes. "And all these months, and years, Mr. Tuvok, she and Commander Chakotay have done everything they could to ease the burdens of our crewmembers, in any way they could. They've settled their own disputes quickly and amicably, for the good of the ship, if for no other reason." He paused briefly, then continued. "And now something has changed, Mr. Tuvok. And it seems to be . . . personal. I mean, nothing else unusual has been happening on board Voyager to prompt their sadness, and their avoidance of each other . . ." He broke off, realizing he was beginning to sound desperate.
"Mr. Neelix . . ." began Tuvok.
But Neelix found his resolve, and he needed to finish what he came here to ask.
"No one is as close to the Captain as you are, Mr. Tuvok. No one else on this ship can talk to her. Except you."
"Mr. Neelix, as I was saying . . . ."
"She has always listened to you, Mr. Tuvok. She respects you and your logic."
Tuvok thought for a moment.
"It is true that the Captain has sought my council on various matters over the years, Mr. Neelix. But she is not, at this moment, asking for my opinion."
"Then you need to go to her, Mr. Tuvok. Maybe she thinks she can get through this by herself, or maybe she doesn't realize how bad things are, or . . . maybe she's hurting . . ."
"Mr. Neelix, your suppositions are not changing the reality of the situation."
"Exactly!" Neelix paused, lowered his voice, and took one step toward the Vulcan. "Will you speak to her, Mr. Tuvok?"
Tuvok was a bit taken aback by the Talaxian's honesty, although he had always known of Neelix's loyalty to Captain Janeway. However, this was a matter of the Captain's discretion, and Tuvok was unsure of becoming involved in this issue himself.
"It is true that things have . . . changed recently. I am not certain why. And I am even more uncertain, at this moment, whether it is my duty to become involved in this matter." He paused. "However, I will give it some thought this evening."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Tuvok!" replied Neelix. He knew this was the best he could hope for from the Vulcan.
Neelix crossed to the door. "Well, I appreciate your time, Mr. Tuvok. And . . . thank you again." He smiled broadly as he left Tuvok's quarters, and his step was a bit more lively.
Tuvok sighed slightly. He would never allow himself more reaction than that.
Returning to his couch and his padd, he quickly found that he could no longer concentrate on tactical issues. He decided, instead, to meditate about Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay's situation, and decide whether he had any logical reason to involve himself and attempt to speak to the Captain about it.
The following morning, as Neelix was cleaning up his kitchen after the breakfast rush, Tuvok was manning his station on the Bridge. He had the early shift this morning, and had been on the Bridge for over an hour. Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway were due on the Bridge at any moment.
Even through his meditations last evening, Tuvok had not reached any conclusions about whether or not he should interfere in the Captain's personal life. He had finally decided to watch today's events, along with the reactions of the crew, and determine for himself whether his interference was necessary.
Finally, Commander Chakotay walked onto the Bridge. He looked tired and preoccupied. Tuvok knew that he had played tennis on Holodeck One with various holoimages well into the night. He did not normally check up on the extra-curricular activities of other crewmembers, but in this case, he had to look into every possible aspect of the problem between Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway.
Chakotay sat in his command chair and busied himself with reports. He had barely acknowledged other Bridge officers' greetings.
Moments later, the Captain entered the Bridge, mumbled something that resembled a "good morning," sat in her command chair and managed to spend the duration of the morning engrossed in reports from stellar cartography. This was not her usual pastime.
Tuvok knew that the Captain was also preoccupied, and that she had been in her quarters all last evening. She had even replicated a glass of brandy at 0100 hours, which was very unusual for her.
Neither the Captain nor the Commander spoke to each other unless the situation necessitated that they do so, and not once did they establish eye contact.
The early status meeting of the senior officers in the Captain's Ready Room was uneventful, as well. Tuvok noticed Neelix looking at him from time to time, as though to offer proof of his shared observations with the Vulcan the prior evening.
Tuvok made a mental note to suggest to Mr. Neelix any number of ways to be less obvious, then immediately dismissed that thought, as that would mean additional time spent in the Talaxian's company.
The afternoon proceeded with no change in the atmosphere. The Captain and Commander spoke to each other only when necessary, and in monotones. And they did not have lunch together, as they had until recent times.
As much as Tuvok did not want to admit that the Talaxian was right, he knew that, outside of Vulcans, most species needed positive interaction with other individuals. And today's interactions between the Captain and the Commander were anything but positive.
Yes, the situation had certainly advanced since Tuvok had last noticed it for himself. He would speak to the Captain this evening.
Now he only had to find the words to say.
At 2000 hours Captain Janeway's doorbell sounded. She groaned inwardly. Who could possibly want something from her at this hour? If it were a Bridge emergency, she would have been contacted over the communications system.
"Come," she called out, closing her 20th century book of short stories. Sometimes she needed all the help she could get in the evenings when it came to preparing for sleep.
As she stood, Captain Janeway was surprised to see Tuvok enter her quarters.
"Tuvok," she said, genuinely glad to see him, and he nodded slightly toward her. She smiled at him and beckoned to him to sit on the couch. "I was just about to have some tea; will you join me?" she asked, as she walked down to the replicator.
"I would be pleased to join you, Captain," said Tuvok. "And if I may say so, it is good to see you smile this evening."
Kathryn's smile slowly disappeared as she turned toward the replicator.
"Computer, two cups of Vulcan spice tea. Hot."
By the time she turned back toward Tuvok with the tea in her hand, Kathryn had forced his comment to the back of her mind. She moved up to the couch and placed Tuvok's cup on the coffee table in front of him.
"Thank you, Captain," said Tuvok, reaching for the cup.
As Kathryn sat beside him, she knew that Tuvok didn't just show up at her door for no reason. She just wasn't sure she wanted to know what that reason was.
During a companionable silence, as they drank their tea, Kathryn looked closely at her good friend and confidante. He was her constant, her guiding light in many complicated situations. A friend with a willing ear, and a strong shoulder . . . Why was he here this evening?
She sighed. She knew why he was here.
Sensing her change in thought, Tuvok turned to her.
"Captain, I am here to discuss your recent behavior, as well as the behavior of Commander Chakotay."
Kathryn closed her eyes and willed herself to accept Tuvok's interference in the matter as the concern it was. But she really did not want to discuss something she tried so desperately to push away every moment of every day. Gods, she was so tired of the struggle! When would it end? Why couldn't she just make up her mind not to love that man anymore? When did things get so complicated?
Kathryn opened her eyes again to see Tuvok staring at her intently.
"Yes. I'm fine, Tuvok." She looked anything but fine, and she knew it. She had barely slept these past weeks, and the Doctor was already lecturing her about taking better care of herself. She did not need pressure from Tuvok as well.
"Captain, I am concerned about your well-being."
"Tuvok, I'm fine. I've just . . . had trouble sleeping lately." She looked away, not wanting him to turn and look into her eyes. There were only two people on this ship she could not lie to if she set her mind to it, and Tuvok was one of those.
"There are always other reasons underlying sleeplessness," he said.
"Yes, I know." Kathryn paused. "I just don't want to discuss them, Tuvok. I appreciate your concern, but the reasons are . . . personal, and I don't see any reason to . . ."
"Captain . . . if I may. I understand that you believe these reasons to be personal; however, your physical and emotional well-being are vital to the function of this vessel, and her crew. Commander Chakotay's well-being is also important, and he appears to be in the same condition as you are."
Kathryn didn't know what to say without opening up the entire can of worms, so she didn't say anything. She just wanted to gather her wits about her enough to convince Tuvok that she was all right.
"Captain?" Her eyes were still averted, and he allowed her to keep her privacy. "I am concerned about you, and there is something I need to know about your . . . personal life. As your friend."
Kathryn really didn't want Tuvok to appeal to her on a personal level. She would owe him an explanation as a friend, an answer that she would not be obligated to give him as his commanding officer. But he knew that. He would only appeal to her in this way if he were deeply concerned.
Because she knew the lump in her throat would prevent her from speaking coherently, she simply nodded, knowing that he would accept that, and continue. She just wanted to get this over with, and quickly.
"Have you and the Commander decided to part ways, Captain?" he asked gently.
Turning her head to face him slowly, Kathryn forced herself to look Tuvok in the eye. What he saw there, before he looked away, moved him beyond words. He saw so many human emotions hurt, fear, loneliness, pain . . . emotions that he had learned to live without so many years ago.
"Part ways, Tuvok? How do you mean?" she asked softly.
"Have you decided . . . not to wait for each other? Not to continue to care for each other, to . . . love each other?"
Captain Janeway could only stare up at her good friend, silently asking a thousand questions. Finally, "I don't understand . . ." was all she could say.
"Captain, it is understood among the Voyager crewmembers that you and the Commander are what some consider soulmates, that you belong to each other. The only possible explanation for the two of you to avoid each other, is that you have somehow decided to try to live without each other's care and affections."
Again, the Captain could only stare at Tuvok, thinking that she had never seen this side of him before.
"Affections, Tuvok?" she whispered.
Tuvok nodded slightly. He did acknowledge the existence of human emotions, even if he did not understand them.
"Indeed, Captain. It would be most disconcerting for you and Commander Chakotay to destroy a relationship which has not yet experienced maturity."
"You've surprised me, Tuvok," Kathryn said softly, leaning against the back of the couch. She suddenly felt exhausted, and she needed to rest. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a thought occurred to her that she was so tired now that she would sleep well tonight. And that would be a blessed relief.
"Captain, am I correct in my assumptions?" Tuvok's voice seemed to come from somewhere inside her head.
Sighing, Kathryn raised her head to look at Tuvok, tiredly.
"Partly," she whispered. "Tuvok, Chakotay and I . . . care for each other very deeply, that's true. But I can't allow our relationship to grow, to mature, Tuvok. How can I possibly take care of this ship and our crew, and still find the energy a new relationship needs in order to thrive? How can I enjoy a relationship of that kind with Chakotay when I am the very cause of our crew being stranded in the Delta Quadrant without their own loved ones?"
"How, indeed?" responded Tuvok.
"Tuvok . . . ?"
"Perhaps, Captain, you should finally forgive yourself for making that decision six years ago, as the crew has already forgiven you."
"You sound like Chakotay . . ." she whispered, laying her head back once again and closing her eyes. This was too much . . . and she was so tired . . .
"Then you are already in the minority, Captain."
Kathryn laughed resignedly, and raised her head to look at Tuvok.
"Tuvok, I have re-lived that moment over and over in my mind for the past six years. And, believe me, I know that I would make that same decision again, if need be. I have made peace with that."
With a great deal of determination and stubbornness, she stood and walked to the replicator.
"Computer, coffee. Black, hot."
The computer delivered a cup of steaming coffee. If they were going to continue this discussion, then she needed this coffee, sleep be damned.
After a long moment, and a much-needed swallow of coffee, she turned to face Tuvok.
"Chakotay and I have had . . . feelings for each other for a very long time, Tuvok. I denied it, struggled with it, fought it. He tried to convince me it was all right, then he decided to give me some time and space to figure it out for myself. We've been at odds for six years about 'us.' But in the end, the truth is we love each other deeply, yet we've never made love with each other. We've never even kissed. We've held hands a few times . . . ." She smiled sadly, found herself blushing suddenly, and turned away. She couldn't believe she had just said those words to Tuvok. But, she had to finish the thought now.
Captain Janeway continued.
"And the other day, Chakotay told me he can't live like this any longer, Tuvok. He said that since I'm unwilling to allow our relationship to grow, to become something more, he has to learn not to love me, and to let me go . . ." Her voice trailed off and her eyes stared off into another time, as she remembered that evening, and his words. How odd it had been, to finally speak of the relationship that had been between them for so long, but had remained unspoken, until it was discussed only in terms of dissolution.
Suddenly, she turned back toward Tuvok, and the memory brought her tears to the surface, which she stubbornly forced away.
"I don't understand, Tuvok. We had never actually made a commitment to each other. We had never once discussed it. Yet, when he said those words to me, it made all the difference in the world. It felt as though he had taken something from me that I didn't even know I had." She paused a moment. "I feel so lonely, so incomplete without him. It's as though he has physically left me." Her voice was tired now, and she was spent. "Now I realize how much strength I took from the knowledge that he was beside me, that he supported me, no matter what happened."
Tuvok stood and walked down to his Captain's side.
"Captain, go to him. Allow yourselves to make those commitments verbally to each other. Do you not understand that your denial of these feelings is affecting not only Commander Chakotay and yourself, but the rest of the crew as well?"
Kathryn could only look at Tuvok in astonishment. She was deeply surprised that he would approve of a relationship of any sort between herself and Chakotay. After all, it wasn't a Starfleet sentiment, and she trusted Tuvok to be her touchstone where Starfleet was concerned. At the moment, she didn't trust herself to speak.
"Captain, you must reconsider. Do not lose that which may be so important to you, and to your spirit, as to compromise your ability to effectively run this ship."
The Captain was again deeply surprised by Tuvok's words.
"But . . . Starfleet protocol dictates that senior offices aboard the same ship are not to engage in . . . personal relationships," she managed to say. The entire passage was one she could quote by heart, she had read it so many times.
"Starfleet protocol also dictates that a commanding officer place the safety and concerns of his crew before his own needs, is this not true as well?"
"Yes. And I have always tried to keep that in the forefront, Tuvok," the Captain answered quietly. Surely he understood that.
"And is it also true that the commanding officer is encouraged to do that which is necessary to satisfy his own needs, to secure peace within himself as an individual, so that he may in turn command his crew to the best of his ability, and without reservation?"
Kathryn turned and put her coffee cup into the recycle bin slowly, then looked into the eyes of her dear friend. She knew where he was going with this.
"A Catch-22, Tuvok?" she asked softly.
"A quandry, Captain," Tuvok stated, looking over her shoulder, as he normally did when speaking with her. Vulcans did not often establish eye contact without reason.
"How can I possibly uphold one without violating another, Tuvok?"
"Perhaps, Captain, you must simply choose the best recourse for our present situation. If your primary concern is for the welfare of Voyager and her crew, as I believe it is, then why would you not explore your personal feelings toward Commander Chakotay, knowing that as commanding officer, you must also be at peace with yourself before you can effectively command others. In this way, you would be right to take care of your own needs, thus taking care of the needs of the crew as well."
"Then the only wrong is in defying Starfleet protocol. How do I make that one right, Tuvok? How do I uphold everything else Starfleet stands for, but ignore no, defy that one directive?"
"That is a peace you will have to find within yourself, Captain. But allow me to ask you: How can you not defy it in difference to the more important needs at stake at this moment in time, and on this vessel?"
"Am I ineffective as Captain, as things stand now, Tuvok?" Kathryn whispered, holding her breath, and knowing that Tuvok would never lie to her.
"On the contrary, Captain, I believe you are one of only a few who could accomplish the nearly impossible task of bringing two crews as diverse as Starfleet and Maquis together in a unified environment, particularly in uncharted space."
Kathryn let out her breath slowly.
"Then where do I fail, Tuvok? Why do you believe Chakotay and I need to involve ourselves in a personal relationship?"
"Why do you believe it is wrong, Captain? You and Commander Chakotay have been personally involved for five years already; perhaps it is time to advance your relationship. Or, perhaps to simply acknowledge it, and allow Time to be the judge of its advancement."
"Our 'involvement' has only been on a professional level, Tuvok. I thought you knew that long before coming here tonight."
"I do not believe it is necessary for a personal relationship to involve sex, Captain, if this is what you are referring to. A commitment between two individuals has no defined parameters. It can be of any nature that is agreeable between the two parties involved. And words do not necessarily need to be spoken for those truths to exist."
Kathryn's eyes filled with tears, and she quickly turned away. Tuvok related to her best as his commanding officer, not as an emotional human female. She walked away from him in order to better collect her thoughts. So, Tuvok was aware of how she and Chakotay had felt about each other all along. No, sex was not necessary for those same feelings to exist.
Although . . . sometimes just the idea of making love with Chakotay took her breath away.
And what about the rest of the crew? If Tuvok had known that she and Chakotay had feelings for each other, who else suspected it? This was not a large ship, and six years was a long time to spend with nearly 150 other people in relatively close quarters.
Forcing herself back to the present, she took a deep breath and again forced the tears away. She turned back to face Tuvok from across the room.
"Why do you believe things need to change now, Tuvok?" she asked.
"Sometimes a relationship develops a need to grow, Captain, or it will begin to struggle to survive at all, but then ultimately perish. You and the Commander have reached this point. And because your feelings for each other are strong, the choice to dissolve your relationship is not logical. It is only logical to allow it to grow, and to flourish."
"Why, Tuvok? Make me understand why allowing our personal feelings to become stronger is a logical choice." She slowly moved closer toward him, searching his face for the truth.
"Discord between the highest commanding officers does not promote an example of stability for the rest of the crew, Captain."
Captain Janeway stopped in her tracks. There, that was it. It was true that she and Chakotay had barely spoken to each other since their horrible argument nearly a month ago, but how could that have affected the rest of the crew? Did they sense what had happened? Without realizing it, she began to pace. Come to think of it, she had seen more sad faces, and had heard less conversation in the corridors recently.
Whenever she and Chakotay had taken their meals together, there had always been laughter and the sound of voices in conversation in the mess hall. Lately, when she took her meals alone, the people who were present were usually quiet. Sad.
So, she had been right all along. The attitudes of the commanding officers directly affected the rest of the crew.
Somehow, she had forgotten her own words along the way.
And, suddenly, something else occurred to her.
Tuvok was giving his blessing.
Tuvok was telling her that it was all right to go to Chakotay. He knew that both as his Captain and his friend, she held his opinions concerning Starfleet protocols in the highest regard.
Yet, Tuvok was telling her it was all right to go to Chakotay!
Kathryn suddenly walked up to Tuvok, and looked him in the eyes.
Knowing his Captain well, Tuvok knew that she wanted not only to hear the truth, but to see it reflected in his eyes. He pulled his eyes from the wall over her shoulder, and brought them down to look back into hers. What he saw there nearly broke his Vulcan resolve enough to allow his heart to skip a beat. He watched intently as the pain and fear in his Captain's eyes melted away. Silently, he gave her his blessing, with an almost imperceptible nod.
When Tuvok was satisfied that Captain Janeway had seen the truth for herself, he walked to the door. He turned, said "Goodnight, Captain," then left.
Kathryn stood silent, for several full minutes, in the same spot she had been standing when Tuvok had left her. She felt so many different thoughts and feelings flow through her, calming her.
Even Tuvok was encouraging her to go to him. There was no doubt. Tuvok was giving them his blessing.
Suddenly, Kathryn Janeway knew what she had to do. She knew with all her heart and soul, and she knew a decision had just been made that had been tearing her apart. There was no going back now, and she felt a great weight fall from her shoulders.
Only vaguely aware of her hand moving to her communicator, she slapped her comm badge.
"Janeway to Chakotay," she said in her best Starfleet Captain's voice.
A beat, then, "Chakotay here."
"Commander, we need to talk." Silence. "Please meet me on Holodeck One in thirty minutes."
More silence. Then, "Acknowledged. Chakotay out."
Thirty minutes? What had she been thinking? Kathryn hurried into her bedroom, ran a brush through her hair and applied some lipstick. Although she still looked tired, there was a new sparkle in her eyes that at least detracted from the circles under her eyes. Only sleep would take care of that.
There was no time to change into something less Starfleet, but it didn't matter. Chakotay would be in uniform, and maybe this was how it should be. They had disagreed with each other wearing these uniforms, and they had stood together wearing them. Now they would face each other as they knew best how to do.
Kathryn hurried to Holodeck One to start the program she intended to run before Chakotay arrived. Funny how things had a way of working out. She had already reserved this time on the Holodeck, thinking she could surely think of some type of diversion for a little while this evening.
After she instructed the computer which program to initiate, she walked inside the holodeck. Just seeing this program again, after so long, took her breath away. It wasn't finished yet, but she hadn't worked on it in months. Years, if the truth be known.
She remembered she had quit working on this program when it had started to depress her, thinking of how things could have been. Yet now her heart soared. Perhaps she would work on it again, make it right. Even finish it.
She turned as she heard Chakotay enter the holodeck. As he walked forward, his steps slowed, then suddenly he stopped. He froze, lost in time, and his face softened. He forced himself to look away from the trees and the beautiful sunset, and he turned to Kathryn.
"New Earth . . ." he was barely able to say.
With a small smile on her lips, Kathryn crossed to him.
"Yes," she whispered. "Remember how beautiful the sunsets were?"
"I remember how beautiful you were," he said to her softly, with a passion in his eyes that he had long held in check.
She looked into his eyes, and he was surprised that she held his gaze.
"How I've missed those compliments," she whispered to him.
They looked into each other's eyes, each having missed the other deeply. Finally, Chakotay broke the spell, knowing that if he didn't, he would do something he would regret later.
"I don't see the monkey," he said, looking around them. The comment was out of place, a diversion, but he wasn't thinking clearly right now. He needed distance, anything to bring distance between them. He could never think clearly when she was this close to him.
But Kathryn's eyes never left his face.
"He's not here," she said softly. When Chakotay looked at her again, she smiled slightly once more. "I remember how jealous you were of him," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.
"I wasn't . . . jealous. He was just . . . he interrupted two very important . . . experiments, just as I was at the critical stage." He looked away.
He had nearly kissed her twice. Both times, the monkey had intervened, squealing and squawking, and the moment was gone.
"He's not here now," she repeated softly, and her tone sent a shiver up Chakotay's back.
Chakotay looked deeply into her eyes, then decided quickly that, invitation or not, the moment was here again, and he would be damned if he would allow it to get away this time.
Stepping close to her, Chakotay took her shoulders gently. Kathryn didn't move, nor did she pull her eyes away from his. He moved one hand up to her cheek, and moved his thumb gently over her lips. She closed her eyes briefly, and a look of passion fleetingly crossed her face. Chakotay had never felt such longing. He slowly lowered his lips to hers as she tilted her head slightly to meet him.
All the days, months and years melted away in that instant. His lips caressed hers with a tenderness that Kathryn had forgotten existed. Or had she ever really known what this was like before now? Gently, he moved his lips over hers, eliciting a small moan from her. Forcing himself to stop, to raise his lips from hers gently and take a step back, he knew he had never wanted her more than he did right now. And he saw in her eyes that she felt the same way.
He looked at her, with hundreds of unanswered questions in his eyes.
"Kathryn . . ."
"Shhh . . ." She gently lay her right index finger over his lips. "I have something to say, and I need to say it now. I was wrong, Chakotay. I've been very wrong about a lot of things, for a very long time."
Then she took his hand and led him a short distance to the clearing where they had watched the sunsets all those years ago on New Earth. It was nearing time for the sun to set now.
Turning to him, her smile had faded, but her face held new hope.
"Chakotay, six years ago, when you and I first joined our crews together, it wasn't easy for any of us. The crew was near retaliation, and you and I had to learn to trust each other." She paused. She had never tried to put these feelings into words before, and she wanted to do this the right way.
"Chakotay, what made us strong, you and I as a team, was that we refused to be divided. Even though we didn't know each other, and even though we thought we believed in separate ideals, we stood together. And the crew learned that they had to adapt. And they did." She looked him in the eye for a moment, to be sure he was following her. He didn't know where she was leading, but he was listening.
"And I think it's time we all learned to adapt to some new changes." She turned away from him yet again, in order to gather her thoughts. Finally, she turned back to face him.
"Once, a long time ago, I told Neelix that the mood of a ship's crew was determined by the mood of her commanding officers. And somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that. I thought I could do this alone, Chakotay. But I can't. I need you beside me, in every sense of the word." She walked back to where Chakotay was standing.
"I want us to move forward, Chakotay, if you still feel the same way." She put her right hand on his chest, and looked up at him with all the love she felt for him alive on her face.
"Kathryn . . . ," Chakotay barely whispered her name. He could hardly believe this was real. Maybe he was dreaming, after all. New Earth, and Kathryn . . .
"But I need to move slowly, Chakotay. One step at a time. Let me get used to the idea." Her words were a statement, yet she looked into Chakotay's eyes with a question.
"We can move as slowly as you need to, Kathryn. Anything you need."
She smiled at him gently then, allowing herself to become lost in his eyes.
She continued to stare into his eyes, unable to move away. They stood that way for a long moment, she thinking about how right this felt, he thinking about how her love was the only thing he would ever need or want for the rest of his life.
Then, slowly, sensually, she moved closer to him, touching her hands to his face softly, then moving her arms to wrap them gently around his neck. And just as Chakotay was thinking he'd lost all reason, she raised her mouth to his, parting her lips and placing them gently onto his.
Chakotay froze momentarily, knowing that he would never forget the feel of her lips against his; he would forget nothing about this night, her body moulded against his, as though it were the most natural and common thing in the world. He knew he would never forget the softness of her, the smell of her hair, the feel of those silken strands in his hands, her soft breath against his cheek . . . and he knew without question that every one of those days he had spent waiting for her had been worth it.
When they finally broke for air, Chakotay whispered, "Kathryn, what could possibly have happened to change your mind; what brought you to me after all this time?"
Kathryn placed her forehead against his, and struggled to find the right words. Finally, she looked into his eyes.
"I couldn't bear it when you told me you were going to move on without me. I can't imagine life without you next to me."
"I would still have been beside you, Kathryn. I could never leave you in that sense."
"No, you don't understand. My strength comes from knowing you are with me, Chakotay, in every way. You have been a part of me for so long now, I no longer know who I am without you. I felt so . . . alone . . . when you told me you were moving on. I don't want you to be able to leave me behind."
"But you're not telling me everything, are you?" He was looking at her intently. He knew her well, and a piece of the puzzle was missing.
Kathryn looked into his eyes once more.
"No." They had to say it all, here and now. "Tuvok came to me tonight. He told me to go to you. He said . . ."
"What? Tuvok?" Kathryn had never seen a look of such dismay and total surprise on Chakotay's face. "Let me understand this, Kathryn. Tuvok said you should come to me?"
Now Kathryn looked at him and smiled, and her eyes danced.
"Well, what his words actually meant was: 'Starfleet be damned.'"
"I don't understand, Kathryn . . ."
"I know. But it doesn't matter. All that matters is what we decide to do now." Then Kathryn closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath.
"What is it, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked softly.
When she opened her eyes again, she looked at Chakotay with a longing in her eyes that nearly made him weak with desire. Yet, he had promised her they would move slowly, and he would honor that promise no matter how much he wanted her.
"I love you, Chakotay." Her words were barely more than a whisper, but they would echo in his mind every day for the rest of his life. "I've loved you for longer than I can sometimes remember." Then she smiled slightly, and tears filled her eyes. "And no matter how hard I've tried to stop loving you, I can't seem to do it." Then she grinned that grin that had melted his heart for years. "So I'll just have to accept the consequences, even if it means loving an angry warrior," she smiled.
Chakotay willed his heart to stop thundering in his chest, then returned her smile.
"I know the feeling," he whispered. "And I've loved you all the days of my life, Kathryn. Even before I knew you, I was looking for that person who would be you. And I'll keep on loving you, even if it means loving the most stubborn woman who ever lived." He grinned at her.
Kathryn looked into his eyes, smiling and speaking with a slyness that made his heart stop.
"Well, at least I'll keep you from becoming bored," she said in an even more sensuous voice than Chakoay had ever heard her use. It was rich and alive with innuendo.
They smiled longingly at each other. They knew each other well. Chakotay leaned toward her slowly and gently grazed her lips with his, still in wonderment that Kathryn was allowing him to do so, after all this time.
"Kathryn . . . ?"
"Hmmm . . . ?"
"I promised you we would move as slowly as you need to . . ."
"Yes?" She purred softly.
"Well, I know you to be a woman of decision, and passion . . ."
"Oh, if you think you've seen my passion before . . ." The look in Kathryn's eyes made Chakotay's heart beat even more quickly, and he took a deep breath.
"Don't, Kathryn . . ." Chakotay's voice was strangled, and he moved his lips against her hair, pulling her closer. "I don't think I can take very much of this . . . promise."
Kathryn smiled softly and pulled gently away from Chakotay.
"If you're asking me how long 'slowly' is going to be, don't fret, Chakotay. You and I have been slow dancing for years now. I love you, and I want you to make love with me. Soon. Very soon. Good enough?"
Chakotay smiled at her, but swallowed hard.
"I would have settled for much less than that, Kathryn."
"No. I've forced you to 'settle' for years, Chakotay." She gently touched his cheek and looked deeply into his eyes. Then she whispered to him, "I'm fortunate that you're still in love with me."
"Kathryn . . . I will always love you," he replied. The tears in his eyes threatened to spoil the moment, but the woman he loved wouldn't allow it. Slowly, gently, she lifted her hand to his face and caressed his cheek, his jaw, and then his tattoo.
"I've dreamed of this, you know," she whispered softly.
"Dreamed of . . . what?" he said, just as softly, hoping that his voice wouldn't sound strained.
"Being able to just touch you, without wondering if I should," she replied.
"Never ask yourself that question again, Kathryn" Chakotay managed to say. "I am yours. I have always belonged to you."
"Then let's watch the sunset together. The way we used to do, when we were here before," Kathryn whispered.
Chakotay smiled broadly.
"Don't tell me you really are a romantic at heart, Kathryn Janeway. What happened to the scientist we all love and fear?"
"Oh, promise me you won't tell anyone. Especially Tom Paris." The tone in her voice was light, yet promising.
Chakotay actually laughed aloud at that one.
"I promise." Then his smile slowly disappeared, and his eyes became bright with desire. "But I want you to know how very much I've missed that romantic woman I fell in love with years ago."
Kathryn returned his gaze and felt the tears return to her eyes. Shaking her head, she forced them away.
"And I've missed her, too, Chakotay," she whispered.
Chakotay took Kathryn's hand and led her over to a spot on the ground that was both soft and offered a good view of the soon to be witnessed sunset, the sunset that they both knew well. They could each visualize it and describe it completely from this location, for they had watched it many times from this very spot.
As Chakotay sat, he pulled Kathryn down beside him. She sat slowly, and then moved between his legs to lean back against him. Chakotay sighed. This was the way it should have been back then. He closed his eyes, moved his hands around her small waist and pulled her close to him. He breathed in her scent and buried his face in her hair. He had been willing to wait the rest of his life for just this moment, but he was glad he didn't have to, after all.
And tonight, as the sun began its descent in the evening sky, Kathryn turned to the man who loved her and lay her lips against his.
Although the sky was beautifully awash with the colors of the sunset, the two people who had once loved it and enjoyed it so much, missed it completely this evening.
They had each remembered it vividly for years now, and had imagined themselves making love with each other under this gorgeous sky.
But tonight they made a promise of love that was stronger and more real than anything either of them had known before.