Old Flames by D.A. Kent
Part 2

Go here to read Part 1


Kathryn Janeway studied the screen on her ready room computer intensely. If things went as she hoped, they could be back in space and on their way home in another three days. She'd wanted to leave tomorrow, but knew she'd always wonder if she'd done the right thing by turning her back on the DESTINY and their obvious needs. This way, what was two or three more days when they could retrofit the DESTINY and she could put her mind at ease that she'd done all she could for Seth and his crew?

She sighed, and hoped she wasn't underestimating the job. Three days, that was all the time she was prepared to wait, come what may. A week stopped in space was a week lost.

The door chime rang and she bid her first officer to enter.

She stood as he stopped before her desk. "Well?" she asked him. She knew that he would know what she wanted to hear. He always knew somehow. His instincts about his captain's needs were always right on the mark. "How long?" she asked.

"Five days," he said, handing her a padd.

"Good," she said, taking the padd from him and began to pace the room, looking at the information B'Elanna had given Chakotay, along with a detailed plan for retrofitting the DESTINY.

"Good?" he asked, surprised she'd be happy to hear it would take that long.

"Yes." She turned to look at him. "Tell B'Elanna good work," she said, handing the padd back to him. "But I want it done in three days. Tops."

He sighed. It was always like this, he mused. B'Elanna would start high, Kathryn would come in low, and they'd do it Kathryn's way. "And if it can't be done in three days?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Tell her I'll assign Seven of Nine to help her if she's short-handed." She smiled at him.

Chakotay took a deep breath. B'Elanna would work 24-hour shifts rather than allow Seven free reign in her Engineering room, and Kathryn knew that. "I'll tell her," he said.

"Keep me informed," she replied, knowing he'd pass along her message to B'Elanna, but in a delicate and appropriate way. It would also be understood that the captain would stay away from B'Elanna so her head engineer could do her job, and in return, it would all be accomplished in three days time. She might have to allow Harry to spend some time in Engineering rather than on the bridge, but it would be worth it.

And Chakotay would be right there all the time, making certain everything was handled properly, and diplomatically. He would keep everyone happy, including a high-tempered half-Klingon, as well as his impatient captain. It was one of the qualities he had as first officer that balanced the more formidable qualities of his captain.

"Aye, Captain," he said, turning to leave.

"And Chakotay?" she said in a soft voice, Kathryn's voice.

He turned back to her.

"Thank you," she said simply, and he grinned at her before turning to leave for the bridge. They both knew what she meant.

Her heart skipped a beat unexpectedly and then began to beat faster, but she ignored it. She was used to an increase in her pulse rate whenever she saw that grin on her first officer's face.

She was also accustomed to ignoring it.

*

Twenty minutes after her first officer left her, Captain Janeway entered the bridge. "Mr. Kim," she said, "Please contact Captain Thomas." She sat back in her command chair.

"Aye, Captain," said Harry, punching a button on his console. Commander Chakotay had warned him earlier that he might have to help B'Elanna out in Engineering for a couple of days, so he was trying to make sure his reports were caught up and in order.

Seth Thomas immediately appeared before them. "Why, if it isn't the incredibly lovely Captain Janeway," said Seth, in his smooth baritone voice.

Chakotay took a deep breath and held it. It was the only way he could be sure he wouldn't say something out of line. This man suddenly made Q seem merely open and friendly.

Kathryn ignored Seth's comment. "Captain Thomas," she said, nearly making Chakotay smile. "I'd like to see you in my ready room. Now, if it's convenient for you," she said.

Seth smiled. Any time was convenient, he thought. Just to be able to sit and look at her. "Of course, Captain Janeway," he said. "Now would be fine."

"Good. Commander Tuvok will meet you in the transporter room and escort you to my ready room," she said, standing. "End transmission, Harry."

Seth Thomas may have been a bit taken aback by the captain's abruptness, but Chakotay knew she was simply letting him know this was another business meeting. For that, Chakotay was glad. It may not matter in the scheme of things anymore, but at least he could rest better knowing it.

"You have the bridge, Commander," she said to Chakotay as she headed back toward her ready room. She nodded once at Tuvok as she passed him, and he immediately headed for the turbolift, and the transporter room.

A few minutes later, the chime sounded on Kathryn's ready room door. She took a deep breath. "Come," she said, standing.

Tuvok and Seth Thomas entered the room. She nodded at Tuvok and he left for the bridge.

"Seth," she said, moving from behind her desk. "I'm glad you could come right away." She wanted to make him comfortable, in case he didn't initially want her help.

He smiled, still amazed at seeing her again after all these years. He just couldn't quite get used to it. She was certainly lovely to look at, Starfleet uniform and all. "Kathryn," he said in his sexiest voice, and kissed her hand. Yesterday was used to discuss business, but today was a new day.

Kathryn took her hand back and ignored the sound of his voice. She knew he would try to woo her now; she'd been expecting it. Their dinner was behind them, and so was all that business talk, he'd think. She knew Seth Thomas. And he would try to win her affections one way or another. She nearly smiled.

*

Chakotay could barely sit still in his command chair. He couldn't stand the thought of Kathryn in her ready room with Seth Thomas.

He tried to think about the three separate projects he had in progress on his console, and he sent a reminder to B'Elanna to keep him informed about the retrofit project.

But he still couldn't concentrate.

He also didn't want to appear out of sorts to the other members of the bridge crew.

Finally, Chakotay turned the bridge over to Tuvok, telling himself he would get more work done in his quarters, rather than watching the closed doors to Kathryn's ready room.

He just needed to get away from Kathryn Janeway for an hour or two, drink some Chamomile tea, and clear his mind.

Maybe he would even contact his Spirit Guide. Right now, he needed all the help he could get.

*

"Please," Kathryn said to Seth Thomas, gesturing to a chair. As he sat, she moved behind her desk. This was a business meeting, and she was going to make it plain to him in every way possible.

"I won't keep you long, Seth," she said. "I'm sure you're a very busy man." It was always prudent to let another captain know that you appreciate their time.

Seth sat back in his chair, and locked eyes with Kathryn. "I always have time for you, Kathryn," he said.

Again, Kathryn ignored Seth's innuendo. She sat. "Good, because I want to ask your indulgence," she said.

"Anything," he said. "I think you know that."

She smiled. As with most men, it wasn't difficult to get Seth's attention. "I've asked my head engineer to give me an idea of how long it would take to do a minimal retrofit to the DESTINY, and what exactly it would involve to do it." She handed a padd across the desk to Seth. "As you can see, a great deal can be accomplished in just three days."

Seth perused the padd slowly, and nodded. Then he pushed the padd across the desk to Kathryn. "And you're planning to do all of this for us?" he asked.

"Yes. If you'll allow it," she said, looking him in the eye.

He considered it. "Why?"

"I want to leave here knowing that my crew and I have done everything in our power to help you, since you have no intention of returning home with us," she said bluntly.

"If you do all this to the DESTINY," he said, gesturing to the padd, "You may actually make us more vulnerable to attack than we've been in the past."

"I don't believe that, Seth, and neither do you," she said.

He raised one eyebrow quizzically.

She continued. "I know you, Seth," she said, leaning forward. "You would want to be prepared in case of attack, rather than take your chances as a sitting duck."

He smiled. "Perhaps the man you once knew would think that way, Kathryn," he said. "But I'm no longer him."

And I'm no longer the young woman you once knew, either, she thought, glad that she'd grown and experienced the things she'd had the privilege to experience in her lifetime. But she also knew that some of the basic ingredients of Seth Thomas's character wouldn't have changed with time or experience. "Maybe not," she said, "But I would consider it a favor to me if you would allow us to retrofit your ship. In return, I'll ask my head engineer to also create a way for you to mask your firing power from potential threats. Would that be acceptable?"

Seth thought a moment, then nodded. "Agreed."

"Good." She thought so.

He smiled a winning smile. "You still know how to drive a hard bargain."

She smiled back. "I try to cover the bases," she said. In this case, she'd known exactly what it would take.

"You've always been good at it," he said. "And at many other things, as well."

It was more difficult to ignore the innuendo this time, but she would manage. She took a deep breath. "Would it be all right if B'Elanna Torres, my head engineer, were to have a tour of your engine room first thing in the morning so she can begin work?"

He nodded. "Of course, Kathryn, of course." Her eyes were still the most intriguing shade of blue he'd ever seen. "And I'll alert my staff to the little project we're undertaking as soon as I return to my ship."

"Good." She stood, and he did the same because he was meant to. He still remembered the rules.

"Kathryn, please don't tell me you have to get back to work. I thought we could talk about a few other things…." He shrugged.

"What other things, Seth?" Best to get it over with now.

"Kathryn, if you have to ask…." He looked deeply into her eyes.

She took a deep calming breath. Yes, Seth was still a very attractive man, and once upon a time, his charming demeanor would have captured more than just her casual attention. But times had changed. She was a different person today. And while she could gaze at Seth Thomas and appreciate his physical appearance, he no longer appealed to her sexually.

Something else began to creep forward, from the far recesses of her mind, a memory of someone else, and a stirring deep within her, but she pushed it away.

"I am afraid I have a staff meeting in less than two hours, Seth, and I still need to prepare for it."

He sighed dramatically. "Will there ever be time for us, Kathryn?" he asked.

'I'll escort you to the transporter room, Seth," she said, and exited for the bridge, with him following closely behind.

Sometimes a non-answer answer was the best response of all.

*

Chakotay left the turbolift and started for the aeroponics bay before going to his quarters to work.

Sometimes he still took a few sprigs of the Ocampan herb that Kes had grown here to his quarters. It smelled like a musky incense, and had a very relaxing effect when hung to dry. Kes had grown it for her own quarters and often left some available for Chakotay, knowing he liked it, too.

Since Kes had left Voyager, Chakotay continued to grow the herb on his own.

Now was a good time to stop in and check on that last batch of seedlings, he decided, and while he was at it, he'd take some of the largest springs with him to his quarters.

He needed to relax right now. He had to get hold of himself. If Kathryn truly loved Seth Thomas, then there was nothing he could do about it.

But she'd not given anything away. Kathryn was not acting as though anything at all was different.

He stopped. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, Kathryn didn't realize yet that she still loved Thomas. Maybe she was slower in coming to the realization than Chakotay had been. The Spirits knew Kathryn was very good at denying anything she wanted to, and for as long as possible. In the past seven years he had certainly seen that happen often enough.

He took a deep breath and decided to put thoughts of Kathryn and Seth Thomas in the back of his mind for awhile. He needed to keep himself together, and his wits about him.

Above all else, he couldn't ever let Kathryn know that he still loved her. He'd never allow her to feel guilty about something she had no control over.

As Chakotay was tending to his herb garden at the rear of the aeroponics bay, he thought he heard a noise. He stopped what he was doing to listen more intently.

Suddenly, the doors to the aeroponics bay slid open and Kathryn and Seth Thomas walked inside.

Chakotay remained where he was, behind several large trays of Neelix's special Talaxian spices. He couldn't move. He knew he should say something to make his presence known, but all reason left him.

What was Kathryn doing in here alone with Seth Thomas?

He realized it would look as though he had been intentionally spying on them if he waited much longer to announce his presence. But he froze. He could hardly breathe.

"What do you want to talk about, Seth?" asked Kathryn, turning to face him. "As I mentioned, I don't have a great deal of time today."

"Kathryn, is it possible for us to go someplace…else?" he asked, looking around.

"The aeroponics bay isn't suitable?" she asked.

"It's just that…well, I thought we could talk for a moment…in a more comfortable environment," he said, realizing she wasn't going to budge. He knew her tone well, had memorized everything about her years ago, and still remembered it all. But he'd once been able to get her attention when he wanted it. Maybe he hadn't lost his touch. He had only to remind her she was not only a captain, but a woman.

"That's not possible right now," she said. "If we're going to begin repairs on the DESTINY, we have to get started right away."

"Kathryn," said Seth, taking a step toward her and placing his hands on her shoulders. "Are you quite certain you're not still angry at me for what I did so very long ago?"

Kathryn took a deep breath. He always wanted to talk about the past. "I'm positive, Seth. None of that matters anymore. I just have a great deal of work to do right now."

But Seth knew that whenever Kathryn Janeway didn't want to face something, she always had a great deal of work to do. Some things never changed.

Unfortunately, some things had changed, though. Seth saw in Kathryn's eyes that he no longer affected her the way he once had. He knew he hadn't lost his appeal – he kept himself in shape and still gave women cause to look his way.

But Kathryn was different now, and she didn't need him or want him anymore. He could see it in her eyes.

But he wasn't ready to take "no" for an answer. He just needed some time alone with her, time to remind her of what they'd once had together, time to sweep her off her feet.

Dinner the other night had been all business, she'd made sure of it. And he'd allowed it, because he wanted her to learn to relax with him again, to learn to trust him again. To remember what loving him had been like. They'd needed that time to talk business, but he'd spent the better part of the night afterward thinking about her in that blue dress.

"Seth, I don't have the time for this," she said. "Now, what is it you wanted to talk to me about that can't wait until later?" She was becoming agitated. Seth Thomas still ran his own show, but she would not allow him to run hers.

Seth smiled at her. She just needed a little reminder of what losing herself to a man was like, he told himself. She needed to be reminded of his touch, his embrace, the way he'd once made love to her.

"Perhaps we can talk later, Seth, sometime this evening," she said, not paying particular attention to the lust in his eyes, and the new way he was looking at her. "I'm preparing to…"

But her words were cut off.

Seth took his advantage and moved closer to her quickly, taking her chin in his hand.

The old familiar look in his eyes brought back memories she hadn't thought about in years. She wanted to tell him to step back, not to touch her like that again. But she couldn't.

Kathryn Janeway felt helpless for the first time in years, and it wasn't a good feeling.

Seth slowly leaned forward and brought his lips to hers. Kathryn automatically tilted her head just right, now remembering his strong, warm embrace of days gone by. When he'd loved her, he'd made love to her completely, wrapping himself around her, enveloping her body and her reason, taking her to heights she'd not known before him.

His warm lips caressed hers, and gently opened them. His tongue sought her taste, sending currents of electricity throughout his body in a way he'd long forgotten existed.

Seth folded his arms around her and brought her body next to his. His touch was gentle yet strong, powerful yet loving and warm, and she allowed him to kiss her as he'd done so many times, so long ago.

Chakotay watched them embrace from across the room.

Seeing Seth Thomas kiss the woman he loved was nearly more than Chakotay's soul could bear. But he watched from the shadows and willed his heart to be still.

Chakotay had never watched Kathryn in an intimate gesture with anyone but himself, and the limit she'd set for him a long time ago was the unspoken gift of her dazzling smile, or a squeeze of his arm or shoulder, or some other intimate look or touch.

But that was all she'd ever given to Chakotay. Now she was giving much more of herself to this man she'd loved a long time ago, and obviously still loved.

At least she would know it now.

Chakotay forced himself to watch them. Maybe this would prove to his heart that she'd never had intentions toward him, that she'd never loved him. Maybe now he would be able to move on without thoughts of Kathryn warming his heart before he went to sleep at night, without thoughts of waiting for her, wanting her, every single day when he awakened.

But as he watched them embrace, his vision blurred. He swallowed hard, and blinked the tears away. He could only see Thomas's back, but he could nearly feel the heat from the kiss.

But Kathryn pushed Seth Thomas away, and took a step back. She was facing Thomas, looking hard into his eyes, and Chakotay saw her face.

A look had come into Kathryn's eyes that he'd never seen before. It was a look of realization, Chakotay determined immediately.

She'd just now realized she still loved Seth Thomas – perhaps realized for the first time that she'd always loved him.

Chakotay quietly backed into the shadows and lowered his head, allowing the tears to fall softly down his cheeks. Whatever hope he'd had that he and Kathryn would eventually come together and love each other, was dashed in those few seconds he'd witnessed their kiss.

All his thoughts and dreams fell away with that hope, and in a just those few short minutes, the vision of his future changed completely.

He would have no life with Kathryn Janeway.

*

Kathryn stepped away and looked into Seth's eyes. She now knew something she'd only suspected before. No, not suspected, she'd pushed it away firmly, not wanting to know, telling herself it was all in the past.

Her heart had known the truth, but she had refused to acknowledge it in her mind.

She felt weak, and no longer in charge of her own destiny. It was a feeling she didn't have often.

She needed to be alone, to think in private. Her whole life had changed in the past few moments, and she wanted to acknowledge it alone.

She swallowed hard and forced herself to hold her ground. "I have to go," she said, but to her ears it didn't sound quite the same as when she'd said it only moments before.

"Kathryn…"

But Kathryn Janeway was quick to tap her comm badge. "Commander Tuvok," she said.

"Tuvok here, Captain," came the immediate reply.

"Please report to the aeroponics bay. I'd like you to escort our guest back to his ship," she said.

"I'm on my way, Captain," said Tuvok, and Kathryn knew he was already moving in her direction.

"Kathryn, why are you afraid to spend time with me?" asked Seth. "Are you afraid you will not want to leave me again? That you will want to stay behind with me and let Voyager return home without her captain?"

Kathryn couldn't speak. She couldn't answer him at all, but only continued to stare back at him. It was a blessing that he couldn't read her mind, she thought vaguely.

Suddenly, the doors to the aeroponics bay swept open and Tuvok entered. No one saw or heard Kathryn Janeway take a deep, cleansing breath.

"Tuvok, please transport Captain Thomas back to the DESTINY," she said.

"Aye, Captain," said Tuvok, and turned to allow Seth to walk in front of him into the corridor.

Seth turned just before the doors closed again. "Kathryn, you and I are going to have to talk about this sooner or later."

But Kathryn didn't answer.

The doors slid closed behind Seth Thomas and her security officer, leaving Kathryn Janeway standing alone in the aeroponics bay.

She took a deep measured breath and let it out slowly. A chill ran up her spine. The realization that had hit her only a few minutes before was starting to take effect. She needed time to herself, to think.

And she needed a big, hot strong cup of coffee.

Her hands were shaking, but she clinched them at her sides so no one would notice.

Kathryn Janeway turned and strode out the double doors and into the corridor. She didn't slow down until she reached her quarters, where her command for a cup of coffee from the replicator was being given before the doors had finished closing behind her.

As she reached for her coffee, she had no idea she'd just left her first officer behind in the aeroponics bay, trying desperately to come to terms with his own realizations.

*

Chakotay forced himself out of hiding and started for the doors to the corridor. He needed to get to his quarters as quickly as possible, before the shift change, when he would have to face other crewmembers in the corridors.

Right now, he simply wouldn't be able to make small talk.

He moved fast, and reached his quarters in record time. It was only when he was behind closed doors that he realized he'd forgotten the herbs that he'd originally gone to the aeroponics bay for. Not that it mattered anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.

He laughed a small laugh. Well, he'd sure gotten more than what he'd gone to the aeroponics bay for in the first place, hadn't he?

Chakotay sat in his favorite chair in front of his workstation. He didn't want to work, and he didn't want tea. He didn't want to be here at all.

How was he going to face Kathryn tomorrow morning, sit beside her on the bridge, see that look on her face, and know in his heart she was in love with Seth Thomas?

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Kathryn had called Tuvok to escort Thomas to the transporter room. Even Kathryn was so surprised by her own reaction that she couldn't trust herself to beam him back there herself.

He'd seen the scene play out before him, so he couldn't deny that it had happened.

And he'd seen the look on her face.

Still, he couldn't help but wonder what the disagreement between Kathryn and Seth Thomas had been about all those years ago just before he'd asked her to go away with him, the disagreement that Kathryn had mentioned to him earlier in her ready room?

And what did Thomas mean a few minutes ago in the aeroponics bay when he asked her if she was still angry about something he'd done to her a long time ago?

Evidently they'd both been talking about the same thing. Whatever it was, it obviously didn't matter to either of them anymore.

Chakotay sighed heavily and put his head in his hands. Nothing mattered at all to him anymore.

Although Chakotay thought he'd be the one to stand beside Kathryn when she finally brought Voyager home again, he'd been wrong. Now, it would be Seth Thomas.

Or, if she decided to stay behind with Thomas on his ship, then he'd let Tuvok take Voyager home alone.

Chakotay suddenly decided that he would look for a class "M" planet somewhere along the way that he could make his new home – a new planet without Kathryn Janeway, and one that didn't remind him of her. Because if he wasn't going home with her, then he wouldn't go without her. She had been his reason for living, for getting up each morning, and for wanting to get home in the first place.

It wasn't in his nature to feel sorry for himself, but this one had been coming, he decided. He'd lied to himself for too long, told himself he was important to Kathryn for too many years.

He'd even told himself that what he saw in her eyes from time to time when she looked at him was love.

He felt the tears threaten to return, but forced them away. There was no more time for crying.

He'd seen the look of realization in her eyes only half an hour ago, and his whole universe had changed.

The woman he'd loved for nearly as long as he could remember was in love with someone else.

*

Kathryn was calmer now. She'd had two cups of steaming hot coffee, which she rarely got to enjoy.

Now she had some serious thinking to do before her feelings took over and there was no going back.

She suddenly recalled when she and Chakotay were alone on a deserted planet a few years back, with the virus the Doctor had mentioned again only today.

Her heart skipped a beat and she tried to push the memory away before it could fully come to her. But she was too late – she saw Chakotay's smiling face, saw the caring way he'd looked out for her, the intimate way he could tell her all that was in his heart by just looking into her eyes.

She shut her eyes, willing the images to go away, and sat back on the couch. She needed to rest, then to move forward – not back – in time.

Why had those memories come to the forefront so suddenly, anyway? After so many months and years of pushing those weeks back, away, why were they still so close to the surface after all this time?

They were always close to the surface, weren't they? She opened her eyes again and saw that her hands were shaking. Again.

Damnit. Why was it she could face an enemy in battle with calm unshakable determination, but just thinking about being alone with Chakotay could unsettle her?

She covered her face with her hands. Because she'd fallen in love with him, that's why, she answered herself.

She'd fallen in love with him years ago, and had given him her heart. Her very soul belonged to him, still. It always would.

She sat back on the couch, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There were some things she just couldn't think about, not even now, and that was number one on the list. She'd fallen in love with Chakotay once, but they'd had to return to Voyager, to their duties.

And all of that had gone away. She'd had to make it go away.

Suddenly, she realized something else, perhaps for the first time.

She'd stopped thinking of having a child, stopped believing she would ever have a child, when she'd walked away from Chakotay.

Now she let the thoughts come freely, which wasn't easy. She had to put it all into perspective before she could file it away once more, and for all time.

She shut her eyes again, and it all came back to her. It was all there, just below the surface of her mind, her feelings. She felt overwhelmed.

Chakotay.

Strong, darkly handsome, smiling. He was always smiling back then. She had been too, for a time.

The tears rolled down her cheeks. They'd fallen in love, there was no mistaking that.

Her stomach clinched, hard, and she felt an emptiness unlike anything she'd felt in her entire life.

But she continued to explore the past. It was necessary, and it would cleanse her soul.

They'd been alone together for a few weeks, and had begun to make a life together. It had been so difficult for her to accept that she couldn't continue to work after her equipment had been destroyed in the plasma storm. It wasn't easy for her to understand, in no uncertain terms, that she would never find a way to get them off the planet, to return them to Voyager, or home.

But Chakotay had been there for her, had listened to her, had watched over her, and once, had held her when she cried.

But only once. She'd let the tears flow for a brief moment, and then she'd moved on, too, the way Chakotay had already done. It had been so easy for him, she remembered, so easy.

And then he had started to look at her with love in his eyes.

Her stomach clinched again, but she pressed her hands over her midsection and continued her journey back in time.

She'd fallen in love with Chakotay, too, back then. Really fallen in love, in a way she'd never done before. He'd taught her to laugh, to give fully, to appreciate each and every day they had together. And she'd begun to go back to her roots, to work with the soil and with her hands, as she'd done in her youth….

She pushed it away again, all except the image of Chakotay, looking into her eyes, showing her the love he felt for her.

He had fallen in love with her, too; he'd told her so.

But they were rescued, and had returned to Voyager. And back then she wasn't strong enough, hadn't had enough experience as captain, to handle her duties as well as a personal relationship – not one that took place on her ship, lost, far away from home, and with no place to turn if things went bad.

But now she was stronger, now things could be different.

Couldn't they?

Now she knew she didn't need a place to run to, because this man was her soul mate, her life line, the man she'd needed all along, had clung to all along.

It was too late to go back, too late to change things, though.

She and Chakotay had settled into a different sort of relationship, one that she treasured, and needed. And she was sure he had moved on, too, that he cared for her as a friend, but was no longer in love with her. How could he possibly still love her in that way after all these years?

And suddenly she realized why all these memories had come flooding back now, today, this moment. And it wasn't only because of Seth's kiss.

Chakotay was the man she'd always wanted to be the father of her child. And today the Doctor had told her she could still have one.

Her heart began to beat faster, and her hopes began to soar. But she pushed it all away, fast. She couldn't think about this; it was impossible. It was all impossible now. That was all years ago. He couldn't possibly feel the same now as he did then.

Her heart was beating rapidly, her pulse quickening. She had to forget this, let it go. She'd never considered herself to be the sort of woman who could command a starship and be a wife and mother, all at the same time. Who was she to believe she could have it all?

But if it were meant to happen, it was supposed to have been with Chakotay, she knew it in her heart. And after they'd returned to Voyager all those years ago, she'd stopped thinking of having a child, stopped dreaming of the day when she could have one before it was too late.

She pushed herself off the couch and began to pace the room. She didn't need this now. She didn't need to be reminded of the past.

Kathryn Janeway did not live in the past, she pushed hard in the present toward the future.

She still didn't know what her future held, but it hardly mattered anymore. She had a ship to get home, still, and that was her reality. It was the only future that mattered. It was the reason she got up each morning.

That, and the knowledge that she would sit once more beside her first officer on the bridge.

But she wouldn't think about it.

And, as good as it was to be told she was still fertile, she would never have a child.

No, her child was intended to be Chakotay's child, too, and so she'd never have one.

She treasured Chakotay more than ever today; he was a valued friend and confidante, her first officer, her touchstone. But she couldn't turn the clock back, and she wouldn't if she could.

She'd been with him once, for a brief time, and then they'd had to come back to Voyager. She had a crew to get home.

Her time with Chakotay on an alien planet was all but a distant memory, and she had to put that memory away, back where it belonged, filed away in the past, where Kathryn Janeway never dwelled.

But she was still unsettled, and her hands were still shaking. She'd just realized she was still in love with her first officer, and the Doctor had let her know in no uncertain terms that she could still have a baby.

And Chakotay could still father one, too.

She covered her face with her hands. It was too late, too late to think about what might have been.

Kathryn Janeway had never left things to chance, she'd never tempted Fate when it came to a contest she wasn't certain she'd win. All right, she conceded, at least the contest odds were stacked in her favor those times she'd tempted Fate.

But she was still in love with him. There was no doubt about it.

When Seth had kissed her earlier, she had rejected him. But she had also immediately realized that she wanted no one to ever know her intimately again, no one except Chakotay.

Kathryn Janeway never gave herself lightly to any relationship, be it friendship or more. This was one reason she didn't have many close friends.

But now she knew one thing for certain. She'd be alone for the rest of her life. Without Chakotay, she would devote herself only to her career There would be no other man in her life, because the only one for her had surely moved on without her.

He was all that mattered to her.

But whatever happened, she had to keep that knowledge to herself.

She stared out the viewport and took a sip of her coffee.

And while she watched the stars twinkle, and again felt the constant urge to get back on the path toward home, the tears fell mercilessly down her cheeks – for a love long lost, and a family she would never have.

*

The following morning, Chakotay followed his usual morning routine and dressed for bridge duty.

But all he felt was a sad sense of regret. In fact, he didn't think he'd actually feel anything real, or any sort of happiness, ever again.

He glanced into the mirror and adjusted his uniform, ignoring the empty eyes that stared back at him.

After a quick cup of coffee, he left his quarters and headed for the bridge.

Even though his life was never going to be the same, he had a duty to perform.

He'd never let her down. He'd made her a promise when he accepted the job as her first officer, and he'd die keeping that promise.

Right now, his life didn't matter very much anyway.

*

Captain Kathryn Janeway walked down the corridor and entered the turbolift. All last night she had tried in vain to relax, and to get some sleep.

But it hadn't happened. Instead, she felt more anxious this morning than she had before. So much for facing the past and filing it away.

She was in love with her first officer, a man who'd once professed his love for her through his storytelling.

But that was a long time ago, nearly seven years ago.

Today, they would again sit side by side on the bridge. They would do this forevermore or until they reached the Alpha Quadrant. They would speak of aliens and enemies, their crew and their collective goals. They would talk about getting home again, but they would never, ever, speak about what they would do when they got there. Things would go on as they normally did, only she would know the difference, that her life had changed yesterday, and her heart had finally broken.

She was exhausted from lack of sleep, but that wasn't uncommon.

The turbolift stopped and the doors opened. Commander Chakotay entered, and they stared at each other for a moment.

"Captain," he said in greeting.

She nodded, then looked away. "Commander."

He looked away, too, and moved to the other side of the turbolift.

Then they both took hold of their senses, letting nothing show on their faces.

They looked forward as the turbolift started its journey toward the bridge again.

His heart was beating so fast he could hear it echo in his ears. He still loved her.

Her pulse was racing, her knees were weak, and her stomach was tied up in knots.

And she would love him until the day she died.

Finally, after what seemed hours to them both, the doors opened onto the bridge, and both the ship's captain and her first officer strode to their respective command chairs.

The new day had begun.

*

Soon after alpha shift was underway, Captain Janeway retired to her ready room.

She was wired, like a panther ready to strike. She knew it, but she didn't quite know what to do about it. She'd never been in this predicament before. She wanted to call Chakotay into her ready room and ask him directly how he felt about her, but it wasn't right to do that. This was her duty shift, and his.

Instead, she'd not met his eyes in the turbolift this morning, but had moved away from him. And this was not like her. She always faced a situation squarely.

She took a deep breath and massaged her forehead. On top of everything else, the damned headache had returned.

*

Chakotay tried for two hours to get some work done on his center console on the bridge. He had duty rosters to work out, and three days' worth of reports to complete, but he couldn't concentrate.

And the more he tried to forget, the more he remembered.

He remembered Kathryn kissing Seth Thomas, and he remembered the look on her face when she'd stepped away from him.

She had told him earlier that she hadn't loved Thomas all those years ago, but maybe she had. Or, maybe she'd grown to love him later, and that love had been buried inside her. Maybe it had taken Thomas's return to her life to make her realize how much he meant to her.

But what kept coming back to him now was how Kathryn had said she and Seth Thomas had had a disagreement years before, and Thomas had asked her in the aeroponics bay if she was still upset about what he had done to her back then.

He had no idea why he couldn't get it out of his mind, but he couldn't. It was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together and this was one of the missing pieces.

Chakotay wondered what that had been about, and even more, what his obvious fascination about it was. Their disagreement wasn't his business. But it didn't matter. He still wondered what it had been about.

Finally, Chakotay managed to complete three reports and his duty roster, but he needed the captain's approval before he posted it. He sighed. What once would have been something to look forward to, visiting the captain in her ready room, being alone with her and perhaps sharing a cup of coffee, was now going to be a difficult thing to do.

He steeled himself, turned the bridge over to Tuvok, and rang the buzzer on the captain's ready room door.

The captain bid him enter, and he moved inside and over to her desk.

Captain Janeway didn't appear to be in much better spirits than she'd been in the turbolift this morning. But that was all right, he wasn't in much better spirits, either. They'd hardly spoken earlier, and the only other time she'd even acknowledged his presence was when she'd turned the bridge over to him and left for her sanctuary, her ready room.

But that was fine with him. The less they had to do with each other now, the better. The less he saw of her, watched her, memorized each smile, nod, movement, the better.

"Yes?" she asked, when he stopped in front of her desk.

"The duty roster for next week, Captain, for your approval," he said, and handed her the padd.

She took it from him, glanced at it quickly, placed her thumbprint on the lower right corner, and returned it to him. "Is there anything else, Commander?" she asked.

And then she looked up at him.

As much as he wanted to feel nothing, his heart still leapt, and his pulse raced.

No matter how much he wanted to stop loving her, he couldn't. She was everything he'd ever wanted in a partner, a mate. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on, and the kindest person he'd ever known.

She was also the most stubborn, hard-headed, determined person he'd ever known. And he wouldn't have changed her for anything.

Kathryn Janeway was his equal, a partner in everything that was important.

"If there's nothing else, Commander," she said pointedly, "I have work to do."

He snapped back to his senses. She had told Seth Thomas she had work to do last night, and now she was telling her first officer the same thing this morning.

When he didn't answer right away, she looked at her computer screen. "Dismissed," she said.

Oh, she was definitely the most stubborn person he'd ever known. And he couldn't help the fact that he loved this quality about her, though he'd never tell her, or anyone, that it only drew him to her more. Perhaps he'd never understand it himself.

"Captain," he said, wondering what had come over him to actually ask her what he was going to ask.

"What is it?" she snapped.

He swallowed the lump that was in his throat.

"Yesterday morning, you told me that long ago you and Seth Thomas had once had a major disagreement," he said, and had to swallow again.

She looked at him in what he thought was disbelief. "Yes?"

He took a deep breath to keep his head from swimming. "I wondered if you could tell me what that disagreement was about," he managed to say.

Now the look on her face was genuine disbelief. "I don't understand," she said.

"I keep remembering you said there had been a disagreement…"

"Yes," she said. She paused, trying to figure out where in the hell this had come from.

"What was your disagreement about, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked. He suddenly needed to know more than ever before. He didn't know why; he just knew he had to be told what it was about.

"I believe that is between Kathryn and myself," came a deep voice from behind them. They both turned quickly to see Seth Thomas standing just inside the doorway.

Kathryn was out of her chair instantaneously. "Who beamed you aboard my ship?" she asked in her fiercest command voice.

"No one, Kathryn," he said with a smile in his eyes and on his lips. "Come now, have you forgotten how good I am at understanding technological advancements? As I'm sure you recall, the DESTINY was a prototype ship for Voyager."

"She wasn't," said Kathryn. "She was a prototype ship for the ship prior to Voyager."

He shrugged his shoulders. "True. I'd forgotten."

Both Kathryn and Chakotay knew better.

"How did you transport to my ready room?" she asked.

"I sidestepped regulations a bit, Kathryn," he said. "I bypassed your circuitry just long enough to let myself in, so to speak," he said. Then he stepped closer to Kathryn and completely shut out Chakotay's presence in that way he had of doing. "Kathryn, you and I still need to have that talk, my dear."

"You are never to come aboard my ship again without permission," she said, looking straight up and into his eyes. "Do you understand me?"

Seth Thomas grinned from ear to ear and his eyes danced with what Chakotay took as pride. "I love that temper of yours, Kathryn, always have," he said calmly. "I find it very alluring, but you know that already." Then he sighed dramatically. "But, my dear, I'll remind you again – you and I have things to discuss." He glanced pointedly toward Chakotay.

Chakotay forced himself to be calm, to let Kathryn handle things as he knew she'd want him to do, but he had to use every ounce of energy he had inside his body not to move, and not to speak.

Kathryn took a deep breath. "Let's finish this discussion you so want to have once and for all," she said, trying to calm herself.

She turned to Chakotay and saw that he was barely holding his temper. "If you'll excuse us, Commander," she said, as gently as she could manage. There was nothing further she could do for Chakotay right now. She'd have to talk to him later, and make things right between them again. She didn't know why he wanted to know about something that was private, between her and Seth Thomas, but she also knew Chakotay well, and she knew he had to have his reasons for asking.

Chakotay nodded sharply. He couldn't speak for fear he'd say things to Thomas that he didn't intend to say in Kathryn's ready room. He balled his hands into fists to prevent them from grabbing onto Thomas's vestments and hurling him against the wall.

He hadn't felt this way in a very long time. But he didn't like Seth Thomas, and he didn't trust him.

And he didn't like leaving him alone with Kathryn in her ready room.

Chakotay turned abruptly, and left for the bridge.

He returned to his command chair and sat down, careful not to show any of the crew a difference in his posture or attitude. He closed his eyes and forced his mind to let go of the anger. He thought of poetry that had always brought him peace of mind, of tales of the Ancient Spirits, of everything he could possibly think about that would soothe his aching soul.

After several minutes, he opened his eyes. Then he brought his fisted hands forward and opened them slowly. His nails had dug so far into his palms they were bleeding.

*

"Well?" she asked Seth, when they were alone.

"May I sit down, Kathryn?" asked Seth, and gestured to the seat behind him. He was in no hurry to leave.

She sighed. And nodded.

She was still trying to place the look she'd just seen on Chakotay's face. She knew he didn't want to leave her alone with Seth because he didn't trust him – that she tell by his behavior and on his face, but there'd been something else there, as well….something akin to…jealousy?

No, it couldn't be. She brought herself back to the present.

Seth sat, and she returned to her own chair behind her desk. "What do you want to talk about?" she asked.

"Us," he said calmly.

"There is no 'us', Seth," she said calmly.

"Are you in love with him?" he asked casually, nodding toward the closed ready room doors Chakotay had just passed through.

Her heart thudded in her chest, but she kept her gaze steady on his. "Chakotay is my first officer, and my closest friend aboard Voyager," she said. "And I am the captain of this ship." He nodded as she spoke. "Seven years ago, I made a decision that stranded us all in the Delta Quadrant, and until my crew is safely home again, I will have no other interests which could interfere with my duties."

He nodded. He'd heard all this the other night from various Voyager crewmen. It was amazing how much information could be gleaned from attending a party on Voyager's holodeck.

"Now, if that's all you wanted to know…," she said, standing. "You still have all that work to do, Kathryn?" he asked, and remained sitting.

"As a matter of fact, I do," she said, and stood her ground.

Finally, Seth Thomas sighed grandly, and stood. "Kathryn, you can put it off as long as you want, but we both know that one day we're going to have to talk. About us," he said, and looked deeply into her eyes.

"That's where you're wrong, Seth," she said, feeling stronger now. "You want to talk about something that was. For me, that's behind us and I have absolutely no interest in talking about things that are bygone, or things that have no connection whatsoever to my future, or to the future of my crew." She stood even taller. "I'll contact you later this afternoon and let you know how the repairs to your ship are progressing. But first, I have some things to take care of on my own ship." She slapped her comm badge. "Mr. Tuvok, please report to my ready room."

"Aye, Captain," came the immediate reply, and the doors to her ready room opened only a moment later. Tuvok, of course, showed no surprise at seeing Seth Thomas standing in front of Captain Janeway's desk.

Kathryn's eyes never left Seth's. "Mr. Tuvok, please escort our guest to the transporter room and send him back to his ship."

"Aye, Captain," said Tuvok.

"Then report back here to me," she finished.

Tuvok nodded, and escorted Seth Thomas out of the ready room. As they left, Kathryn saw Seth's smile disappear.

When they were gone, Kathryn took a deep breath. And she felt better than she had in a very long time.

She smiled. She knew what she had to do, and she would do it just as soon as her meeting with Tuvok was finished.

Tuvok returned precisely fourteen minutes later.

Captain Janeway instructed him to gather up Harry Kim, B'Elanna, and Seven of Nine, and do what it took to ensure that neither Seth Thomas nor any member of his crew, nor anyone else for that matter, could override their transporter system and beam themselves onto Voyager without being detected.

Tuvok left to begin the task.

Captain Janeway called her second in command to her ready room, and he appeared immediately, though he didn't look very happy about it.

Of course not, she reminded herself. She'd barely talked to him this morning, rejected him when he came to her ready room later, then sent him on his way when Seth had appeared.

"Please," she said in a gentle voice, and gestured to the chair behind him.

Chakotay sat.

She sat across from him and looked into his eyes. "You asked me earlier what the disagreement had been about between Seth and me years ago," she said.

He didn't respond.

Kathryn sat back in her chair. She was going to give him an answer even if he no longer wanted one. "I told you that Seth and I were lovers for several months," she said, not looking at him. "Evidently, he fell in love with me when I wasn't looking. I wasn't in love with him, although I did feel great affection for him." She paused, and searched for the right words. "Seth told me there was no reason for me to continue my birth control boosters. He said he was taking his and there was no reason for me to have to do the same. At the time, the boosters were causing me to have migraine headaches, and my doctor at the Academy was working on exacting the right booster level for my metabolism." She paused. "I told Seth I had to get the booster level adjusted, but he argued with me. I let the subject drop, but I continued to take them. As you know, I'm not one to leave my fate in someone else's hands, particularly if I have an obvious choice in the matter."

He couldn't stop the grin that tugged at his lips.

She stood and moved away from her desk, and from Chakotay. She'd never spoken to anyone about this. "He took my dropping the subject as agreement, and thought I wasn't taking the boosters. And he constantly asked me how I felt, or was I all right." She paused and rubbed her forehead. "What I didn't know was that he wasn't taking his boosters, either."

Chakotay had been listening. He cared, even though he didn't want to anymore.

But he still loved her.

And then what she'd told him struck him full force. "He wanted you to become pregnant?" he asked.

She nodded, then turned to look at him. "Apparently. He thought a child would bring us closer together, bind us to each other. He felt our relationship was changing, that I was moving away from him, and he didn't want to lose me."

"I don't blame him," he said, without realizing he'd spoken aloud.

Kathryn looked at him. "What?" she asked so softly he barely heard her.

He realized what he'd said, and sighed. "I said I don't blame him," he said again, not meeting her gaze. "For not wanting to lose you."

Neither spoke for a time, but Kathryn chose to ignore Chakotay's comment. For now.

She moved back to her desk, and Chakotay. "That's what I was referring to when I told you we'd had a disagreement," she said. She sat in her chair and leaned back.

"That's quite a disagreement," he said, looking at her.

She smiled thinly. "Agreed."

He smiled slowly, and they shared a moment of complete harmony and companionship, something they'd always been able to find together when they tried.

"And I take it you never became pregnant?" he asked.

"No. In fact, last night he asked if I was still angry with him about that little episode, but I'm not," she said, more to herself than to Chakotay. "It doesn't matter to me at all anymore," she said.

He nodded. She must love Thomas a great deal to forgive him so easily.

"Oh, by the way, I asked Tuvok to take care of our security breach," she said.

He grinned again. He'd gotten used to Kathryn's sudden change of subject over the years. "I gathered you had, when he rounded up half the crew on his way to the turbolift," he said, still smiling. He couldn't help himself.

He still loved her and knew in his heart that he always would. He also knew these few precious moments with Kathryn would tug at his broken heart, but he would pay the price later, willingly. Just to have these moments, to look into those blue gray eyes and see the quirky smile tug at her mouth, was worth everything to him. It had made his life worth living for a long time now.

She shook her head. "That man has always gone his own way. But I won't have it on my ship," she said, referring to Seth Thomas.

Chakotay nodded. Yes, that was one thing he loved most about her. She would cut no one slack, most of all herself. Seth Thomas might have a lot to learn, he thought, if he was going to join Kathryn and return home on Voyager with the rest of the crew.

Suddenly, Kathryn looked at him again, and he saw a change in her eyes. "Chakotay," she said softly, "There's something else I need to talk with you about."

His heart stopped.

She was going to tell him she was in love with Seth Thomas. He knew it. And he didn't want to hear it. He didn't know if he could bear hearing her actually say the words aloud.

"I have reports to finish, Captain," he said, standing.

"As do I, Chakotay," she said, and stood as well. "But I'd like some time with you later this evening. What I want to discuss with you isn't work related, so I'd like to have that discussion in private," she said.

Chakotay knew better than anyone that Voyager's captain didn't like to mix business with pleasure.

He nodded. There was nothing else he could do. If she had decided to tell him she was in love with Seth Thomas, and had chosen to either remain behind with him or to bring him along on Voyager's trip home, then he would have to listen to her tell him her decision whether he wanted to or not.

Captain Kathryn Janeway would have to deliver the news to her second in command, and it was his duty to hear her out.

If Kathryn Janeway could separate duty from personal issues, then he would do the same. He swallowed hard.

"Why don't we have that dinner we missed with each other the other night?" she asked gently, evidently sensing something was amiss with her first officer.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth to tell her he already had dinner plans, but of course he did not. He had never lied to her before, and he wouldn't start now.

We may as well have one final dinner together, he thought.

At least he would have one last memory to take with him on his separate journey. "Sounds good," he said. "I'll bring the wine."

She smiled at him, and it was the smile he loved so much, the one that told him she cared about him. The one that had kept him awake on more than one occasion over these past years, keeping alive the hope that one day they would be together.

Evidently he'd misread a lot of things over the years.

He pushed away the lump in his throat. "Well, I'll see you tonight, Captain," he said.

She nodded dismissal, and he left for the bridge.

After the doors swished shut behind him, Kathryn remained standing behind her desk.

Chakotay had seemed awfully preoccupied, she thought. She knew he didn't care for Seth Thomas, but surely that had nothing to do with why he seemed to be evading her. He couldn't be jealous, since there was nothing to be jealous of. And jealousy wasn't a part of Chakotay's nature anyway – well, except where Q was concerned, she reminded herself. And she still couldn't figure that one out….

But there was something odd in Chakotay's manner that she couldn't quite put her finger on. There was a distance, a wall he seemed to be trying to put up between them, and she just didn't understand why. Worse, it made her uneasy.

She took a deep breath to clear her head. Then she sat and turned her computer screen toward her. She truly did have work to do, and it was time she got to it.

She'd just have to figure out what was wrong with Chakotay this evening. She'd replicate a nice vegetarian chili with pita bread and they'd relax together with a bottle of wine.

Maybe.

And maybe, just maybe, that had been a look of jealousy on Chakotay's face a little while ago, after all.

She stopped looking at her computer screen and sat back in her chair.

Could he possibly be jealous of Seth Thomas? She shook her head. It just didn't make sense.

She took a deep breath. Either way, she would somehow find the nerve to tell Chakotay she was in love with him tonight. She had to.

Her heart began beating faster just thinking about confronting him.

Even if he didn't love her, she would finally know for sure. There would be no more supposing, no more questions. She had to know.

So, tonight she would tell him she was in love with him.

She hoped.

If she could bring herself to do it.

She thought about the look on his face again, and a faint ray of hope started to shine in her soul. Perhaps he did still love her, after all – maybe, just maybe.

She'd never run from anything in her life, and she wouldn't start now. She had to tell him the truth.

But right now, the thought of facing a dozen Borg cubes at once seemed a whole lot less terrifying.

*

Kathryn began putting out the two place settings at the table. She very carefully put the utensils beside the plates and rearranged the glasses. She sighed. She wasn't being herself at all, she mused.

She turned away to check the replicator, and then smoothed her uniform.

No, this wasn't like her at all.

She began to light the candles they both enjoyed so much.

Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing and looked around. Soft light, candles, her favorite wine glasses ready to be filled…she and Chakotay had always shared dinners this way, hadn't they? For two people who were no more than friends, things certainly seemed different, looking at it now. Anyone just walking in here would think she was preparing to see a lover this evening. She took a deep breath. Suddenly, all those months and years of innocent dinners seemed like a lot more than that, beneath the surface.

But she shook her head and forced herself to put these thoughts away for now. She had to think about the evening ahead.

Kathryn had briefly considered changing into civilian clothing, but couldn't. Chakotay would be in uniform and she had to keep the meeting on equal ground.

Meeting. Interesting thought. It wasn't a meeting, it was a dinner – a dinner between two friends.

And one of them was going to tell the other one she was in love with him.

Even the thought of telling him that made her heartbeat erratic. She felt her pulse throbbing in her veins. If this is how she felt just thinking of telling she loved him, she had no idea what would happen to her after she'd said the words.

What was she afraid of?

She knew perfectly well what she was afraid of. She was going to tell her first officer she was in love with him, thus risking everything – the comfort and security of their friendship, the knowledge that no matter what happened she could depend on him to be there for her as a friend and partner in the line of duty.

And she was risking her heart, she knew. She was desperately afraid he would tell her he'd moved on, that he no longer loved her.

She felt tears sting her eyes, and forced them away angrily.

Kathryn Janeway never turned her back on fear, but used it to her advantage whenever possible. But was it possible this time?

She'd find out soon enough.

In order to keep herself from climbing the walls, she'd stopped drinking coffee and switched to calming herbal teas in the middle of the afternoon.

Whoever had told her that herbal teas were settling didn't know what they were talking about, she thought. Wait – Chakotay had once told her that herbal teas were calming, but they only worked if one's psychological state was calm, too.

That shot the herbal tea theory all to hell, she thought, and ordered herself a much-needed cup of strong black coffee from the replicator.

*

Chakotay drank his tea and stared out his viewport, trying to find some peace of mind before he left to have dinner with Kathryn.

She had once told him that watching the stars streak past brought her comfort because it made her feel she was doing something to get her crew home.

But tonight the stars were still, as they'd been for days now.

And Chakotay felt no sense of peace tonight. For the very first time, he dreaded having dinner with Kathryn. He knew he didn't want to hear what she was going to tell him.

He drained his cup of tea and wondered when the calming herbs were going to start doing their job.

But he knew they wouldn't help him tonight.

He put down his empty teacup, and picked up the bottle of wine he'd taken from his dwindling stash in the cargo bay. He grinned when he remembered Kathryn telling him once that she didn't care where he got it, and she didn't want to know about it. She just liked the fact that he kept showing up at her door with it.

Once more, Kathryn, he thought. This would be the last time.

He swallowed that same lump yet again and told himself he was too old to cry. He'd seen too much in his life, too much struggle and strife, too many people trying to kill each other for incomprehensible reasons, to cry.

Yes, he'd seen a lot, and for the past few years he had held onto thoughts of finally winning Kathryn's heart for good. He'd used those dreams to help him through the hard times.

But now he would have to put those dreams and hopes away. And somehow, some way, he would have to find a new life for himself, one that didn't include her.

Chakotay straightened his shoulders and started for the door.

*

Kathryn took a deep breath, one of many she'd needed to clear her head today, and bid Chakotay to enter.

The moment he walked into her quarters, her heart leapt into her throat. She berated herself for not realizing she still loved him long before now.

But in this instant, she knew without question she'd never again love anyone else but him.

There was a reason for the suns and the moons, for the solar systems, for all the worlds in all the galaxies. There was a reason for everything, including the very reason she existed. And that reason had just walked through her door, as he had hundreds, if not thousands, of times before.

This time, though, her eyes and her heart were open – open and accepting of the truth.

"Right on time," she said to him, smiling somehow. She was more nervous than she'd ever been in her life, and she hated herself for it. This was not true Kathryn Janeway behavior. Then, she'd never been in this position before. "Why don't you pour the wine?"

Chakotay nodded. She always asked him to do it, and he always did. They had developed routines between them the same way old flames or current lovers did. That thought made him all the sadder.

He moved to take care of the wine, and pour it into the tall goblets she'd set out for him. They were the wine goblets he liked best, he thought absently. It was fitting that she would choose them for tonight. He fought back the lump that had become lodged in his throat.

Kathryn finished preparations for the meal and set it on the table. Chakotay smiled a sad smile when he saw she'd replicated one of his favorite dishes. It was also the very first meal she'd replicated for him, years ago. This seemed fitting, too.

He handed her a glass and, as usual, she took a small sip and savored it. "Ummm… still my favorite," she said, as she usually did.

He would miss these times, the welcome rituals they'd developed with each other.

That lump was back, but he forced it away again. He would never get through the evening if he stopped every few minutes and thought about how he would never share this time with Kathryn again.

Not ever again.

For the next half an hour, Chakotay and Kathryn ate dinner and enjoyed the fine wine. They kept the conversation light, and avoided talk of Seth Thomas or the DESTINY.

And they both knew they'd get around to taking their usual dinner conversation into new directions eventually.

Finally, when dinner was finished, Chakotay helped her clear the dishes as usual, even though he really didn't want the meal to officially end. They took the remainder of their wine to the couch where Chakotay freshened their glasses and finished off the bottle.

It seemed so symbolic, he thought. The now empty bottle, the last meal they'd share alone together, and now the final friendly conversation over wine, and then coffee, as the friends they'd been for so long.

He sat back on the couch and waited. As difficult as this was for him, he wasn't going to walk away from the last few minutes he would have alone with her.

Kathryn accepted the refilled glass and wondered not for the first time this evening why Chakotay wasn't himself. He was trying to be the man she knew, but he wasn't. He held up his end of the conversation well enough, but his heart wasn't in it.

And he wouldn't look her in the eye.

Could he possibly know what she wanted to say to him? Could he know that she was going to tell him she was in love with him? Maybe he dreaded hearing it from her.

Maybe he didn't know quite how to tell her he'd moved on with his life and now thought of her as just a friend, and only a friend.

The thought brought a new fear to her mind, and she felt her stomach tie up in knots. Had she lost him without a fight, simply because she'd ignored her own feelings for so long? Because she'd looked away, denied any extra attention he might have once lavished upon her? Pretended to herself that they were just friends?

She felt her eyes blur, and looked quickly at the glass in her hand.

It was time to tell him, she decided suddenly. And it had to be now. She couldn't put it off any longer. And if she didn't tell him at all, she'd never be able to look at herself in the mirror ever again.

It was time.

Kathryn put her glass carefully on the coffee table in front of them, and stood. She turned away and walked down to the center of the room. She needed distance.

She didn't want to be too close to him when it was time to look into his eyes and see that he didn't love her anymore.

Chakotay took a deep gulp of air into his lungs to steady himself. No matter what happened now, he would be a gentleman about it. He would congratulate her, he would wish her well with Seth Thomas, and he would take it like a man.

He wouldn't let her know that his life had changed forever in just these past few hours.

And no matter what, he wouldn't cry.

They were both quiet for a moment, thinking their own thoughts.

Chakotay already felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach, but he looked at her, watched her as she moved about the room, as she tried to get her bearing. He wanted to memorize everything about her so he could take out the memory and replay it in his mind whenever he needed it, when he needed to be strong, when he had to convince himself he could live without her. After all, what he wanted most was for her to be happy, and if Seth Thomas was the man who could bring her happiness, then so be it.

As he watched her, he saw another look cross her face he'd never seen before. How many times did that make lately? How many times in the past few days had he seen a different side of Kathryn Janeway, a different look in her eyes?

Suddenly, Kathryn turned to him from the middle of the room. "Chakotay, there's something I have to tell you," she said in a soft, calm voice. Starfleet training was good for many things.

He watched her from the couch, and nodded. He wouldn't have been able to speak if he'd had to. She was going to tell him she was in love with Thomas now. And he had to be strong. He could figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life later. But he knew one thing already – he couldn't stay aboard Voyager for very much longer.

If Kathryn stayed with Thomas, he'd let Tuvok take Voyager the rest of the way home by himself, and if she chose to bring Thomas along with her, then he'd stay behind on some other M-class planet. That's what he'd already decided, and that's the way it would be.

Voyager had been his home for a long time now, because his heart was here. She was here.

Just get it over with, Kathryn, say it and let me be, his mind told him.

She swallowed hard. Damn it, she'd been engaged in every type of battle a Starfleet captain could possibly imagine, been in negotiations with races no one had heard of before, settled conflicts no one else thought it was possible to settle, and she couldn't face one man and tell him….

"I need to tell you…" she searched for the right way to continue, then tried it another way. "I came to a realization last night," she said. Where was a Borg cube when you needed one?

He nodded again. Yes, he'd been there. He'd seen the realization spread across her face. He'd witnessed it for himself.

Chakotay put his drink on the table next to hers and stood tentatively. His legs seemed steady enough. He needed to be standing when she told him. He needed to be ready to congratulate her and make a fast exit. He needed to leave before she could see the pain in his eyes.

This wasn't working, she decided.

She stood tall, squared her shoulders, and took a deep breath. "Chakotay," she said, and swallowed hard. "I'm in love with..."

"Ensign Kim to Commander Chakotay," came the voice over the comm link.

They were both stunned, even though they were accustomed to being disturbed while in the middle of everything one could possibly imagine. Interruption came constantly to a ship's commanding officers.

Chakotay took a deep breath. "Go ahead, Harry," he said evenly. His Starfleet training ran nearly as deep as his captain's.

"Commander, I've got something to show you," said Harry's voice. "I'm in Engineering."

Chakotay pulled himself back to the present with every bit of steel resolve he had left, and moved down to the captain's level. "Is this something our captain should know about?" he asked in a steady voice, glancing at Kathryn as he walked toward her. He saw that she was pale, and working to calm herself, just as he was. How odd, he thought. They could both handle uneasy first contact situations with aliens and stand toe to toe with their enemies in dangerous confrontations, but Kathryn Janeway couldn't tell her first officer she was in love with another man. And her first officer didn't want to hear it.

"I wanted to explain my findings to you first, Commander," said Harry's voice. "But I think you'll want to contact the captain afterward."

"Well Harry, since the captain's right here with me, I'll just bring her along. If that's all right with you," he finished, still looking at her.

"Uh…sure Commander," said Harry, chiding himself for not checking the captain's whereabouts before contacting the commander.

"We're on our way," said Chakotay, breaking transmission. He'd had just enough time to calm himself, and to thank the Spirits for granting him a small reprieve from hearing Kathryn's declaration of love for another man. The Spirits had been watching out for him, he was certain. They wanted to spare him for just a bit longer. And although it would kill him to hear it from her when the time finally came, he could better help handle whatever catastrophe Harry had discovered in the meantime.

He took another measured breath and made eye contact with Kathryn.

She took a deep breath, too, and looked into his eyes as the color returned to her cheeks. Nothing had ever been easy for them, she thought. She was about to tell him she loved him and it still wasn't easy. Would there ever be time for the two of them, she wondered.

"Shall we, Captain?" he asked, gesturing toward the door. His voice was kind and gentle, the same voice she'd instinctively trusted the moment she first heard it, all those years ago.

She nodded once and moved into the corridor ahead of him.

*

"What is it?" asked B'Elanna.

Harry sighed. "I did it again. He's with the captain now, and he's bringing her with him."

"So what's wrong with that?" she asked.

"Nothing, I guess. It's just that I always seem to contact one of them when they're with the other. And I never think to check their whereabouts in advance," he said.

"Listen, Starfleet, it's better they hear about this together anyway. You and Chakotay won't have to bring her here and explain it again later," she said, and punched another button on the console in front of her.

"Somehow I thought Commander Chakotay would do that part. Alone," Harry muttered.

"Not on your life. You'd be right there with him," she said.

"B'Elanna, can I ask you something? I mean, this is completely off the record," he said, deciding to take the plunge.

"Sure, what is it?"

He took a deep breath. "What do you think of Captain Thomas?"

She stopped examining the panel in front of her and looked at him. "Personally, you mean?"

He nodded.

She looked back at her panel. "I think he's arrogant – and extremely good looking."

"In that order?" he asked, and when she glanced at him, she saw the grin on his face.

"Not necessarily," she said, with a slow grin of her own.

After a moment, he asked the real question that was on his mind. "What do you think the captain thinks of him?"

B'Elanna turned her back to the console and folded her arms. "You mean, do I think the captain is attracted to him?"

"Something like that," he muttered, suddenly feeling self-conscious, and uncomfortable for talking about the captain this way.

"Harry," she said gently, "You know the captain can take care of herself."

"I know, but…"

"But what?" she asked.

"The commander…" He couldn't even finish the sentence.

"Don't worry about Chakotay, either. Who knows, maybe this will finally convince him to make a move." She turned back to her console.

"You mean, with the captain?" asked Harry.

Just as B'Elanna was about to retort, the doors to Engineering swept open and Captain Janeway and Commander Chaktoy walked briskly through them.

"Harry, B'Elanna," Chakotay said in greeting, and the captain nodded at them.

Kathryn had been quiet in the turbolift on the way to Engineering, and Chakotay hadn't pushed her. Their earlier conversation was one they had to complete in private. And they both knew it.

Upon entering Engineering, Chakotay knew Kathryn would let him take the initiative since Harry had contacted him first.

"What's so important, Harry?" asked Chakotay.

Harry sighed. He wasn't comfortable talking about the new information he'd discovered, especially with the captain present. But he took his job very seriously, and now that took precedence. He turned to the console B'Elanna had just stepped away from and keyed in the information he needed. "Here, take a look," he said to them both and stepped away.

Both Kathryn and Chakotay stepped forward and gazed at the screen as Harry continued.

"I've been monitoring the DESTINY for the past 24 hours," said Harry. "I wanted to be sure they were…behaving with a Starfleet mentality," he finished lamely.

Harry glanced up just in time to see his captain smile. She turned to him. "And what is your opinion now, Ensign?" she asked.

There was a gentle tone in her voice. Harry appreciated that more than he could say. "Someone from the DESTINY has tried to tap into Voyager's database on three separate occasions, Captain," he said, reaching over and keying another code into the computer.

Kathryn Janeway saw all that she needed to see and turned away thoughtfully.

Chakotay saw it, too. "What were they trying to find, Harry?" he asked.

"It's impossible to tell since they weren't successful in breaking into our systems, Commander," said Harry.

Kathryn turned to Harry. "You're certain none of Voyager's database was compromised?" she asked him.

"Nothing was compromised, Captain," he said. "There is some kind of dampening field preventing it, but I haven't figured out what it is or how it got there yet. I'll start working on that now," he said.

The captain held up her hand. "There's no need for that, Harry. Concentrate your efforts where they've been – in keeping the DESTINY out of Voyager's database. Let's make certain Voyager's security remains intact. I'll ask Commander Tuvok to join you here so you can show him what you've just shown us. He'll need to know," she said.

Harry nodded.

"Keep either myself or Commander Chakotay informed," she said.

"Yes, Captain," said Harry, breathing a silent sigh of relief.

Captain Janeway started for the door. When she realized her first officer wasn't with her, she turned and saw that he was studying the monitor in front of him. "Commander?"

He looked up from the console and she realized in that instant that he knew. He'd seen it for himself.

She took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders back. "Are you with me, Commander?" she asked pointedly, and Chakotay knew she was asking much more than whether he was joining her in the corridor.

He looked at her steadily. "Always," he said softly and followed her out of Engineering. The doors shut behind them.

Harry turned to see B'Elanna standing nearby. "What was that all about?" he asked her.

She shrugged. "Who knows?" she asked, going back to work at the console. "They've always had a language of their own."

*

As soon as Tuvok had been duly informed of their conversation with Harry, the captain and commander stopped off in the captain's ready room, where she contacted Harry Kim and asked that a copy of his findings be transferred to her personal computer.

There was really no reason to come here, she thought, but she didn't want to go back to her quarters with Chakotay, not now, knowing they had to talk.

Kathryn had felt his looming silence ever since they'd left Engineering. And she knew she'd have to have yet another conversation with her first officer tonight that she didn't want to have.

Of course, she was virtually certain they'd not be interrupted this time since she would love to be, she thought dryly.

She ordered two cups of tea from the replicator and scrubbed her face with her hands while she waited for them to appear in the slot.

The early part of the evening had been lovely, she thought. Although she'd enjoyed Chakotay's company during dinner, she'd also been nervous about telling him she was in love with him. Her nerves had been taxed all evening. And then when the time came, the moment the entire past seven years had been building toward, they'd been interrupted. And now who knew when, or if, she'd ever be able to finish the sentence she'd started to tell him.

Kathryn glanced discreetly toward Chakotay, who was standing in the middle of her ready room, studying a padd. He'd refused to sit when she'd asked him to. That was always a bad sign. He was waiting for her to bring the tea and to run out of ways to put off the inevitable. And then he would begin the conversation that would quickly turn into an argument.

What a hell of a way to end what was supposed to have been a wonderful evening. Maybe. She glanced at him again. Unless he truly didn't still love her. She stifled a huge sigh. Maybe this was the way it was supposed to be, after all. Maybe she was being saved from humiliation – saved from professing her love to a man who would tell her he no longer cared for her in that way.

She shook her head, putting those thoughts aside for now, and took the two mugs from the replicator slot. There was no time like the present for a good argument, she decided. She needed to get her blood boiling so she could be prepared to put Seth Thomas in his rightful place first thing in the morning. If he thought he was going to break into her ship's systems….

But she stopped herself short. That was for later, Chakotay was here now.

She watched him watch her out of the corner of his eye. This is the way it was with them. He was like a tiger, quiet but ready to pounce, and she was the lion, prepared to butt heads to stand her ground.

Kathryn walked straight up to her first officer, looked him in the eye, and handed him a mug. "Out with it," said the lion.

"I don't know where to begin," he said steadily.

It was the sort of steadiness that unnerved her, especially when she knew she was the subject of his scrutiny.

Chakotay had accompanied Kathryn from Engineering, and had remained silent while she contacted Tuvok in the corridor on the way to the ready room. He'd listened to her with half his attentions, knowing she was trying to behave normally, as though nothing were wrong and nothing had happened in her quarters earlier.

But what he had seen in Harry's calculations had disarmed him. He just couldn't make the whole picture fit.

"Try," she said, just as steadily.

"What?" he asked, distracted by his own thoughts.

"Find a place, and start talking," she said.

He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. He truly didn't know where to begin. He looked away.

"Let me begin then." Kathryn began to pace, needing to avoid eye contact more than anything else. "You saw Harry's calculations on the Engineering console. You know why the DESTINY wasn't able to tap into Voyager's database."

"A magnetic proton field was erected around all of Voyager's vital systems," he said.

"Yes."

"It's a variable field, not easily detected unless one were to actually look for it," he continued.

She paused, thinking how well he knew her. He'd known precisely what to look for. "Yes," she said.

"You erected the field," he continued. "It has your signature all over it."

She couldn't stop the twitch that turned up the side of her mouth momentarily.

"Which is also why you told Harry it wasn't necessary for him to determine why Thomas couldn't tap into Voyager," he said.

"Yes." Her back was to him. She sipped her tea, trying to appear calm.

"Why?"

She turned to him. "Why do I not want others to tap into Voyager's database?"

He was becoming heated. Why did she do this – make him work for the answers. "Why does it appear that you don't trust him?" he asked.

"Appear?" she asked, surprise evident in her tone. "I've never said I trust him, Chakotay."

He stared at her. What she said was true. But how could she possibly be in love with a man she couldn't trust. Suddenly, the woman he thought he knew so well was someone else entirely.

"Chakotay, I've already told you how untrustworthy he's proved himself to be." She moved closer to him. Suddenly, this man she thought she knew so well seemed to be someone else. "I've even told you about my distrust of him on a personal level, Chakotay," she said softly.

"Yes, I remember," he said.

"Why could you possibly think I would trust him on a professional one?"

He was more frustrated than he could ever remember being. He started to pace, which was normally her job at times like this. "What I don't understand, Kathryn, is how you could care about him so much, how you could be so forgiving."

She turned to follow his movements. "Forgiving, Chakotay? He's never asked for forgiveness and if he did, that wouldn't mean I could begin to trust him as though I know nothing about him, what he's capable of." She moved closer to him. "Chakotay, this man stole a ship from under the very nose of the Federation and took off with it."

He stopped only inches from her and looked into her eyes. "I know that, Kathryn. And in the past two days I've read every piece of history I could find on the man."

She nodded absently, knowing he would do just that. "Then why should I trust him?" she asked again.

"Damn it, Kathryn," he said, moving away from her, and feeling his heart thunder in his chest. "I'm not saying you should trust him – I'm asking you how you can be in love with him when you know all of that about him!"

"What?" she asked, staring at him as though he'd gone mad. "What are you talking about, Chakotay?" She could barely speak; her throat had gone dry.

"Thomas, that's what!" He turned back to her, and she saw that his eyes were dark, angry. "How can you be in love with him when he's nothing like you! He's arrogant and condescending and his entire ethical nature is nonexistent, if you haven't noticed!"

Kathryn managed somehow to put her cup down onto the edge of the desk beside her. Her hands had begun to shake and she couldn't allow that now. Finally, she turned to Chakotay and took a deep breath to calm her beating heart. It didn't help a whole lot. "Chakotay, even when you and I disagree, we still understand what the other is saying. Until now." She paused. "I am not in love with Seth Thomas, and I have no idea where you came up with the idea…."

"Came up with the idea, Kathryn? What are you talking about? Isn't that what you were trying to tell me before Harry interrupted us earlier?" He was more upset than he'd been in a very long time. In fact, his whole life had fallen apart today and Kathryn was looking at him as though he'd gone crazy.

But she could only stare at him, still, her mind trying to sort it all out and put it back together in a way that fit. Suddenly, she gasped. "In love with him? You mean, you think I was trying to tell you I'm in love with Seth Thomas?"

He was breathing heavily now, and trying without much success to calm himself down. "Kathryn, you stood there and started to tell me you were in love with him when Harry interrupted us."

"No," she said softly, shaking her head. "That's not true."

He moved to within six inches of her. Why wasn't he getting through to her? This was ridiculous! "Kathryn, you said you're in love with…"

"You," she said softly, looking into his eyes. "I was trying to tell you I'm in love with you."

He could only stare at her.

Suddenly, his heart began to beat rapidly and his breathing became sporadic. He kept hearing that one word over and over again. "You," she'd said. And he watched her face, that wonderful face he'd loved for such a very long time.

Then as things began to settle down inside him, and his world began to come back into focus, he swallowed hard. "Me?" he asked, in what seemed to him several minutes later.

"You," she said so softly he could barely hear her. But he saw the look that had come into her eyes, and he knew beyond reason that she was telling him the truth, that she loved him. Her eyes told him everything he needed to know, all that he'd needed to know for seven years.

She'd just told him his life mattered again, that he had a reason to live.

At that moment, Kathryn saw a look come into Chakotay's eyes that was new, yet not new. It was a look that had been well hidden from her for a very long time, but one that she recognized now – a look she knew from their time together on an alien planet so long ago. It was a look of love.

The relief she felt was overwhelming, but it was followed immediately by a feeling of exhilaration unlike anything she'd ever known in her life.

He loved her. She could see it in his eyes, and on his face.

Her mind kept telling her he loved her, over and over again, trying to accept it. It was so difficult to believe she hadn't lost him at some time, some place along the way, but all she had to do was look into his eyes to know that she hadn't. After all this time, he still loved her.

Through all their disagreements, through the bad times and the good, he still loved her.

She knew how lucky she was. And how grateful.

He couldn't move, couldn't comprehend it all. Kathryn Janeway had hidden her true feelings from him all these years, the same way he'd hidden his feelings from her. And he'd never known it. Oh, he'd wanted to believe she loved him, but he had been too afraid to even think it.

They stared into each other's eyes a moment longer, trying to grasp all that had happened just now.

And Chakotay suddenly understood that the realization he'd seen on her face the other night was for him, all for him.

Kathryn Janeway was an explorer, and she'd gone from one galaxy to another, continuing the great mission to search for new life, new civilizations, new worlds. And all the time, there was a great new world to discover right here in front of her – a new relationship to explore with the man she'd been looking for, waiting for, the one who'd been here waiting for her, without her even realizing it.

Slowly, he reached out his hand and touched her cheek. It was soft and warm against his skin, and it made him ache to hold her in his arms.

She rubbed her cheek against his hand and closed her eyes. His hand was warm, strong, and always there for her. And she wouldn't take him for granted again.

When she opened her eyes, Chakotay saw a passion there that amazed him, warmed him, sent a fire shooting through his body in a way that made him physically weak.

He touched her other cheek, too, and moved toward her slowly, surely. When his mouth was an inch from hers, he stopped, and was gratified to hear her make a small sound of frustration.

They'd been so close to this moment so many times, yet she'd always pulled away. But she wasn't pulling away now. In fact, he could feel her breath on his cheek and hear her taking small quick breaths, just as he was doing.

"I love you, Kathryn Janeway," he whispered, as his mouth finally, gratefully, found hers.

She pressed her body closer to his, and wrapped her arms around his neck. This moment had been so long in coming, so very long. She'd been a fool to put him off all those years ago, but how could she have known they'd ever get this close to the Alpha Quadrant?

She'd been afraid then, knowing it would take everything out of her just to get her crew home, if she ever did.

No, she'd done what she thought was best, but she should have told him that, and then told him she loved him, long before now. She was stronger today, and more capable of being both a captain and a lover.

He tasted just as she'd known he would, warm and sweet, and when he pushed his tongue gently into her mouth, she felt a warmth spread through her that was unlike anything she'd felt before in her life.

No old flame had ever affected her this way, no past love had held her this way, touched her this way. No man had meant even half as much to her as this one, this one incredible man she'd sat beside, laughed with, argued with, loved, for seven years. This one man who knew her better than anyone else, and who made life worth living.

She could feel his heart hammering inside his chest as he held her close, as he touched her face and ran a hand around to the back of her neck, pulling her even closer. It was amazing how wonderfully their bodies fit together.

Suddenly, she couldn't get enough of him. Her entire body was pulsing, throbbing, and the fire was burning deep inside her.

She stepped closer to him, though it was nearly impossible to do, and ran her hands down his arms, feeling his muscles grow taunt beneath them. She ran her hands up over his chest, over the uniform. She could feel his chest through the fabric, through all that fabric, but it wasn't enough.

He moved his hands over her back, her shoulders, and ran his fingers through her hair, satisfying a desire he couldn't remember not having. He didn't know when he'd last gone to sleep without thoughts of burying his hands in her hair, and pulling her lips to his.

They were both gasping for breath, but they couldn't stopped touching, caressing, kissing each other. It had been too long in coming.

Finally, she forced herself to pull away and look at him.

They were both breathing hard and her face was flushed, her lips already swollen from the heat of their kiss.

Her hair was mussed – the last time he'd seen it like this was during some battle, was it with the Hirogen? He couldn't remember.

His breath was still uneven, but he rested his forehead against hers so they could both get their bearing. But she pulled back and looked up at him with passion in her eyes. "Chakotay," she whispered, "I don't want our first time to be in my ready room."

Before he could think straight, let alone speak, she took care of the matter for them.

"Computer, site to site transport, directly to my quarters," she said, then kissed him again as they left her ready room and materialized in her quarters.

Before he could speak, she began to unzip his jacket and push it off his shoulders.

"Kathryn," he managed, "Wait. Are you sure you want to…do this? Now?" His voice was stuck in his throat.

But she continued with her mission, and pulled his shirt out of his trousers. He put his hand over hers.

"Kathryn?" he asked again, and waited until she stopped what she was doing and looked into his eyes. "You don't want to…" What, he thought? He didn't know what to say, really, but he had to know she would have no regrets later. "…to have dinner and a dance first?" It might have been a dumb thing to say, but he had to know she realized what was happening here.

But he needn't have been concerned. "Chakotay," she said in a low voice that sent fire shooting through him again, "We've had dinner, and we've been dancing for seven years. Make love with me." And she pressed her lips to his again.

That was enough for him. He pulled her to him, taking her in, loving her freely for the first time.

She pulled back again and continued to undress him. He unzipped her jacket and pushed it to the floor alongside his, and pulled her turtleneck over her head. She couldn't shed it quickly enough.

Within a minute they'd undressed the other down to their Starfleet regulation underwear, and Chakotay picked her up in his arms and carried her into the captain's bedroom, putting her down in the middle of the bed he'd dreamed of lying in with her for seven years.

She reached for him impatiently, but he pinned her arms to the bed over her head. "Not so fast," he gasped, trying to get his breath. His erection was throbbing and pushing into her thigh, and he knew she felt it.

Her eyes grew even darker. "Why not?" she whispered in that sexy voice he would hear in his head for the rest of his life.

She made a good point, he thought, and let her arms go. She immediately reached for him and brought his mouth to hers again. He reached behind her and undid the fastener on her bra, and ran his hands underneath it to the soft, smooth, warm skin that awaited him. He slowly worked his hand around to the front and over her breast, loving the sound that came from her throat when he finally brushed her nipple with his palm.

She whimpered into his mouth, this fiery woman who knew no fear but was giving herself to him so openly, so completely.

He pulled her bra away from her and marveled at her incredible breasts, realizing that even in his best fantasies he'd underestimated their beauty. He moved to take them in his mouth, one at a time. They were warm and soft, and the nipples became even firmer as he sucked and nipped at them.

She reveled in the feel of his mouth on her breasts, and moaned with pleasure as the heat inside her began to boil.

Chakotay slowly ran his hands down her side, and along her stomach, where her muscles bunched and she trembled with anticipation. He smiled as he ran his tongue down her body, nibbling and kissing as he went. Her body was incredible, strong and well toned, yet soft, supple, warm, and her skin tasted like honey.

Her entire body reacted to his touch, his kisses, his soft breath on her skin, and she knew she'd never been loved like this before.

She'd never been in love like this before, either.

He slipped his thumbs inside her panties as his tongue found its way inside her navel.

She gasped and thrashed beneath him. "Chakotay," she gasped. "Please…" she whispered, as she reached for him.

But he ignored her hands and continued his explorations. He slipped her panties down as she lifted her hips to accommodate him, and her hands found their way into his hair.

She was ready for him, completely ready. He knew it, he could feel the heat rise from her, could taste it in her skin, and he'd never wanted anyone in his life as he wanted her right now.

Kathryn raised herself from the bed before he could continue and pulled him up to kiss him. She pushed her tongue into his mouth and elicited a gasp from him he'd have thought impossible for him to make. "Love me," she whispered, pulling away. "Come to me now," and she slid his underwear off his body and wrapped her hand around his huge erection, eliciting another gasp from both of them.

They were completely free of clothing, and free of spirit, and she pulled him down with her as she lay back on the bed. "I want to feel you inside me," she whispered to him as she kissed his lips, sucked them, kissed his jaw, his neck, and sent a jolt of electricity through his entire body that took away all thought or reason.

His body was trembling in a way he'd never known, and if he'd not been sure before that this woman was his entire life, his reason for living, he knew it now. He was sure of it now.

She touched him like no one had. As her hand moved from one place to another over his body, she left behind a patch of fire that moved into the one she'd left behind it, and on and on. He'd never felt so powerless, so ready to let her take control of his body and his mind, his very soul. She'd stolen his heart long ago, and now she could take what was left of him.

He grasped her hand so that she released him, knowing that if she didn't he would lose control in her hand, something that had never happened to him before. But now, for the first time, he understood how that sort of thing could happen. He was putty in her hands, willingly. He'd follow her to the ends of creation if he had to, if she'd take him with her. And oh how he had to be with her. Nothing else, and no one else, mattered.

Her body was on fire, and the flames were climbing rapidly to the surface. Her upper lip was moist and her breathing was erratic. She couldn't last much longer. Just watching him take her nipple into his mouth had nearly sent her over the edge, and when he'd removed her panties and eased his mouth closer to her center, she'd pulled him back. She'd had to. She wanted him inside her when she reached her peak, and that wasn't going to happen if he didn't make his way to her quickly.

"Chakotay…please," she said. "I can't last, and I want you with me when I go," she whispered in a voice that he'd not heard before – a sexy, pleading gift for his soul.

All of her control was gone, all sense of logic, of direction, and she'd never wanted anyone more in her life than she wanted him, now.

He moved up over her deftly, feeling the softness of her body under his. Her nipples were erect, straining for him, and he took one in his mouth as he worked his way back up her body. She shuddered beneath him, and then pulled his mouth to hers, hungry for more, needing to be with him completely.

His tongue met hers in a way that was already familiar to them, in a way they'd both only dreamed of for years. He was hard and ready, and she was ready too, so he pushed easily inside her as she reached for him, wrapping her legs up high around his back, and kneading his buttocks with both her hands.

He pushed deeper inside her, then began to move, knowing this was right, so right. She was his, finally, he was with the love of his life, the only woman who could move him, the only one who mattered.

She pushed up, up, faster, harder, feeling him move inside her, knowing he'd come home to her, the only man she would ever need again was with her now, finally, at long, long last.

After only a few thrusts, Kathryn felt the flames shoot through her body, fast and strong, and she called his name as she reached the highest point, as her body caught fire and she leapt toward the flames with all her heart and soul.

He thrust one final time and leapt into the flames with her, holding on to her for all his life.

They were finally together; they were One.

Chakotay gently lay on top of her, holding on to her.

She was holding him, too, not wanting to ever let go of this wonderful man she'd loved and respected for nearly as long as she could remember.

As their senses came back to them and their breathing began to return to normal, Chakotay started to move away.

"No," she said softly, and hugged him to her. "Don't go. I like you here."

And he liked being here, lying on top of her, and being inside her still – although he was beginning to slip out of her along with their combined juices.

But she didn't seem to care. She rubbed the back of his neck with her hand, and when he looked at her, her eyes were closed but she had the most peaceful look on her face he'd ever seen.

She opened her eyes and stared into his. And a smile spread across her face. "That was nice," she said lazily.

"Nice?" he asked, smiling back at her. "That's it – just nice?"

She laughed, and he slipped out of her completely and moved beside her, close enough that their bodies still touched. He propped himself up on his elbow. "Well? Nice?"

She turned on her side and they faced each other. "It was nice, yes, but also so much more than that."

"That's a very diplomatic answer, Captain Janeway," he said, smiling and loving her right now more than he ever had before.

She laughed again, and his heart swelled. Her laughter, so real, was like music to his ears. And it occurred to him, not for the first time, how very important it was to her to get her crew home, to the exclusion of everything and every one else. And how rare it was for her to completely relax.

"Diplomatic, eh?" she asked. "Diplomacy is one of my strong points."

"True," he said, knowing he still had a silly grin on his face, but not caring.

"And it may have been nice to finally be with you, Chakotay, but it was also incredibly wonderful." Her eyes poured into his. "And I love you with all my heart," she said.

His breath caught in his throat. He wasn't used to this – Kathryn Janeway telling him she was in love with him. But he wanted to hear it from her every day, many times every day, for the rest of his life.

Please the Spirits, don't let this be a dream, he thought suddenly.

He pulled her closer to him and buried his face in her hair. He'd always wanted to do this, to engulf his senses with the smell that had teased him every day since he'd known her, that faint fresh smell that came to him often from the other command chair on the bridge.

And now he was holding her in his arms, another thing he'd only dreamed of doing until now. She was as warm and soft as he'd known she would be, no matter how strong and tough she was as captain. He'd known she could be both, even when she didn't think so.

Chakotay suddenly felt his eyes begin to mist and was glad she wasn't able to see it happen. But he just couldn't help it. Earlier today he hadn't cared about living, and now life was precious again.

And she made all the difference, this woman he loved more than life itself.

He pulled his thoughts back to the moment. "Hey," he whispered into her hair.

"Hmm?" She was more relaxed and happy than she could ever remember being. And he made all the difference, she thought, this one man who made her glass half full instead of half empty.

"How are you going to explain the site-to-site transport to Tuvok?" he asked.

She smiled, her eyes still closed. "Don't worry about Tuvok," she said. "I'll deal with Tuvok. Your job is to deal with the head of Engineering."

"B'Elanna's not a problem," he said, kissing her hair. He knew that when B'Elanna saw evidence of the site-to-site transport, she would come to him about it first.

She smiled again. "No, but you might want to ensure that she doesn't mention it to her husband."

The sudden thought of Tom Paris knowing about the fact that he and Kathryn had made a site-to-site transport from her ready room to her quarters made his heart skip a beat, and not in a good way. He would never live it down, not even if they spent another 50 years on this ship.

Kathryn continued her thought. "Of course, Tom Paris would find a way to let me know he knew about it, but after that, he'd concentrate his efforts on never letting you forget it."

He sighed, knowing she was right. "I'll take care of it," he said, leaning over and kissing her eyebrow, then her nose, still marveling that he was with her like this. "And if B'Elanna doesn't keep her mouth shut and Tom finds out, I might have to blow him out an air lock."

"Hmm…," she said, turning to him slightly. "It would really be sad if Tom never got to see his child born."

"Yes, I'd hate to see that happen…" he said, "But it would be his own fault."

She looked at him with amusement. "He loves to taunt you, you know, and you fall into his trap every time."

He pulled back to look at her. "Not every time," he said, pretending his male pride was hurt.

"Oh yes, every time," she said confidently. "If you would ignore him, he'd eventually leave you alone." She grinned. "Maybe."

"I can't help it if he aggravates me," he conceded. "But I have to admit that I am envious of your ability to put him in his place so easily," he said. "You and B'Elanna are the only ones who can control Tom Paris. B'Elanna does it by threat of physical harm, and you beat him at his own game."

She laughed. "He's so obvious, Chakotay. Like a little boy," she said.

"Believe me, he doesn't look at you as a mother figure," he said, recalling all the taunting things Paris had said to him over the years, words referring to the captain's attractiveness.

"And that's why I win," she said softly, continuing her own explanation, and reaching over impulsively to suck on his ear.

Chakotay gasped, suddenly losing interest in the conversation.

She pulled back and looked at him. "I couldn't resist," she whispered, a tease in her voice.

"Kathryn?" he whispered, touching her face gently with his fingertips, and kissing the corner of her mouth.

"What is it?" She stared at his lips and ran her thumb over them lightly. She'd wanted to touch these lips, kiss them, for a very long time.

He felt a tingle run through his entire body at her touch.

She looked into those dark incredible eyes that a woman could fall into and never surface from again.

"I'm never going to let you go, you know," he said simply.

She smiled slowly, and looked deeply into his eyes. "I'm counting on it," she whispered.

He lowered his lips to hers and they shared a kiss that began slow and easy, but soon the fire began to burn inside both of them.

Kathryn was already lying beside him, but she slowly turned her body so that it fit perfectly against his, body part to body part. Both their hearts were beating quickly, and their breathing soon became labored.

She slipped her arms around him and pulled him even closer, moving her hands deftly over his back and torso.

Chakotay moaned. Just a touch from her made his body react in ways he had no control over. He'd waited for her for years, and he knew without question that he would have waited longer, much longer, to get to this moment, to hold her in his arms and kiss her, to love her.

He wasn't used to this much sexual excitement, so intense, so fast. But then, he suddenly realized, he'd never before made love with a woman he intended to be with forever. Until now. He'd never been with a woman who was so much a part of his life that he didn't want to live without her.

Maybe he'd known this about Kathryn Janeway for a long time, but the full reality of it hit him hard. He pulled her tightly to him, feeling her nipples hard against his chest. And he heard her moan when he pulled her close against his erection.

Kathryn felt another loss of control over her entire body – she felt weak from desire, and her stomach muscles clinched, the burning sensation beginning to rise inside her. Even her toes were tingling.

She felt completely helpless for the second time in a week, but this time it wasn't a bad feeling at all. This time she was where she belonged, with the man she'd given her heart to a long, long time ago.

He felt her body tremble, and it filled him with a more satisfying pleasure than he'd ever experienced. Slowly, he pulled himself up next to her and began to run his hands slowly down her body.

Kathryn didn't want him to move away from her, but she saw what he was doing, and watched him look at her. He wanted to give to her, and let her take. She understood completely. She looked at his body, that wonderful hard body that she'd watched move inside that uniform, those arm muscles that she'd touched whenever she could get away with it, she realized.

She locked eyes with his, giving him permission, telling him she belonged to him, only to him.

He leaned over and kissed her on the lips and she closed her eyes and felt the warmth spread inside her. He nibbled her earlobe and ran his tongue down her neck, listened as her breathing quickened, and watched her nipples become taunt again. He lowered his head to her chest and listened to her heartbeat, quick and slightly erratic, and he closed his lips over her nipple, flicking his tongue gently against it.

She gasped and whispered his name, and her body trembled again. She reached her hand out slowly, lazily, and buried it in his hair as he kissed his way down her body.

After a moment, he brought himself back up and looked at her face. Her eyes were closed, but there was a faint flush across her cheeks, and even across her breasts. He smiled. She was so beautiful.

Chakotay again teased her skin with his hands, causing her to move slightly beneath them. She was warm and ready for him, but this time it was all going to be for her, just for her.

He gently pried her legs apart, and she allowed him to spread one over his own legs and move the other one to the opposite side.

She could feel his eyes on her, but it only made her want him more, and her breath was suddenly more labored. She wanted to call out to him to take her, take her places now, but she couldn't speak, she could only feel. His eyes were on her, and his hands were roaming freely over her body. She had given him complete control.

He watched her chest move up and down, her breath coming in quick gasps. He gently brought his hand down across her stomach, causing it to clinch, and trailed a finger down to part her pubic hair so he could see all of her.

She gasped and whimpered, wanting to cry out to him, but she couldn't. She was completely in his mercy.

He gently stuck a finger inside her, knowing she was wet and ready. Then he added a second finger, and then a third. He moved them in and out, gently at first, and then he began to increase the thrusts.

She was warm and wet, and she moaned and thrust against his hand as he moved his fingers inside her. Her nub was swollen and pink, and he was tempted to take it into his mouth, but this time he just wanted to watch her.

His heart beat faster, too, as he watched a small bead of moisture appear on her upper lip, and her chest rise with her increased heartbeat. Her nipples were erect and straining toward his mouth, but he ignored them too. Now he slowly moved his thumb over her clitoris and rubbed it gently, as his fingers continued to thrust inside her.

That was all it took – she arched up to meet him, crying his name. Her body shook with the explosion that came up from inside her, and he thrust his fingers deep inside her one last time, and stayed there.

He lay beside her as her body calmed and her heart rate slowed. His fingers remained inside her, and she turned her head, opened her eyes and looked into his with so much devotion, he felt a lump in his throat.

"I love you," she whispered, and slowly and with a great deal of effort, brought her hand up to touch his face.

"I know," he whispered, and again buried his face in her hair before the tears could form in his eyes.

After a few moments, he leaned over her and kissed her full on the mouth, loving it that she welcomed him, wanted him to be with her. He gently pulled his fingers out of her, feeling the warmth flow out of her as well.

Then he lowered his head over her breasts and began to tease her nipples, licking them and sucking them, and she moaned deep in her throat.

"You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, Kathryn Janeway," he whispered.

And before she could respond his tongue had reached lower, and she gasped and felt a final spasm spread through her as he took her nub into his mouth and sucked it gently.

He went lower still, and moved his tongue inside her, tasting her warm liquid, wanting to take everything she was willing to give.

She buried her hands in his hair again and let him explore her, giving herself over to him fully.

When he was finished, he moved up beside her again. "I can't get enough of you," he whispered.

"Oh, I hope not," she said, opening her eyes and gazing into his dark, clear ones.

They lay beside each other and caressed each other until finally, Kathryn sighed. "I need to get back to work soon," she said.

"I don't know if I can let you go," he said with a grin, but his voice had a sadness to it that she recognized immediately.

"Don't worry, I'll be back," she said. "I'll always come back to you, Chakotay."

He leaned over to kiss her, knowing that she was telling him not to worry. Kathryn was finally his, they belonged to each other now, and for all time. He didn't want to let her out of his sight, but he wasn't afraid to.

She wrapped her arms around him and brought him closer. She would never let go, never take him for granted again, never be so arrogant as to think he'd always be here, waiting, with no signs of affection from her. No, this wouldn't happen again, because her love and attentions would be heaped upon him every single day for the rest of her life, and his. They belonged together – she'd always known it, but had been very good at denying it to herself, to him, to everyone. But no more. Never again.

His heart was full, fuller than it had ever been, and he held a peace inside him now that he'd never known existed. It was a peace he'd searched for often, when he spoke to the Spirits and listened to his Spirit Guide's words. But he had never really understood it, and had never found it, until now. Somehow he'd known in his heart that peace would only come to him when Kathryn Janeway accepted him into her heart, and her life, and allowed him into hers.

Peace was found in the mind, and in the heart, when there was nothing else to want or need, because all desires have been met.

All of his needs had now been met, he knew. The needs of his body, mind, and spirit were all met right here, in this one woman – his friend, his companion, and his lifelong love.

*

"What do you think, Tuvok?" asked Captain Janeway.

She had called Tuvok in to her ready room only moments before. She'd stopped off in Engineering on her way to the bridge to be sure the retrofit was going according to plan. After B'Elanna's quick reassurances, she'd left for the bridge. She was anxious to get Voyager moving again.

"I believe that even though he was attempting to access Voyager's database, there was no ill intent," he said.

She turned to him, surprise evident on her face. She never felt a need to hide her emotions from Tuvok, which she always found a bit odd, since he obviously never showed emotion himself. "What makes you say that?"

He thought for a moment. "If Captain Thomas were trying to harm Voyager he would have been more forceful, and less obvious." She nodded. "He is aware that you know his past methods well, and yet he never tried to change them in this instance."

She nodded again, considering his words. "Then why even try?"

"Perhaps he is simply trying to get your attention, Captain," he said.

"Why? He already has my attention, Tuvok," she said.

Tuvok raised one eyebrow. "Not entirely, Captain," he said.

Now she understood. She sighed. Human males could often be childish, and transparent. In this case, Seth Thomas was being both, and the fact that he was being so obvious about it had only confused her. She hadn't expected this. She was looking for a reason that didn't exist, and ignoring the obvious. "He is trying to get my attentions in…another way," she said, understanding what Tuvok meant.

"Yes, Captain," he said. "He is trying to win your affections," he said.

"I don't mind telling you that his method makes no sense to me, Tuvok," she said.

"Nor to me, Captain, but the human male can often be…senseless," he said, finding the right word. "Transporting himself to your ready room yesterday was also an attempt to gain your attentions, Captain. There was no logical reason to do so, when he could have simply requested a meeting with you."

She smiled and nodded. Tuvok was right, of course. "I know that some of our crew are wondering about my past relationship with Seth," she said. "Most of the senior staff can pretty much figure it out for themselves since they've been present for many of our conversations," she said.

Tuvok said nothing, knowing that Captain Janeway often said aloud things they both already knew, as though to make sense of it. "But I also know that some may wonder if I'm in love with him," she said, testing the waters.

Tuvok said nothing.

"What do you think, Tuvok?" she asked, knowing that he would only respond to a direct question.

"If you are asking whether I believe you are in love with Captain Thomas, Captain, the answer is 'no'," said Tuvok.

She moved closer to him, and smiled. "You seem so sure," she said.

"I am, Captain," he said. "It is my experience with humans that one can only be in love with one other individual at a time, and often only once in a lifetime," he finished.

She suddenly realized that what Tuvok said about this once in a lifetime business was true, at least for her. She'd loved other men, but had never felt about any of them as she did Chakotay, nor loved them to the degree she loved him. He was her once in a lifetime lifemate.

She pushed thoughts of Chakotay aside for now. Tuvok was here on business.

"True," she said, closing the topic and looking at the padd he'd given her.

"And since it is not possible for you to be in love with two men at one time, then it is illogical for you to be in love with Captain Thomas," he said, still facing forward.

Suddenly, she realized what Tuvok had inferred and looked up from the padd. "Two men?" she asked.

"Yes, Captain," he said.

Kathryn knew she should let it go at this point, and a few days ago she would have, but something inside her wouldn't put it aside today. Too many things had happened to her lately, too many coincidental things, and she was slowly coming to the realization that these past few days truly represented a turning point in her life. Whereas once she would have let Tuvok's words go in one ear and out the other, so to speak, today she wanted to hear the rest of it. "Why can't I be in love with Seth Thomas, Tuvok?" she asked softly, knowing what he was going to say, feeling it in her gut.

"You exhibit none of the human signs of affection for him that you have had for Commander Chakotay since shortly after first contact with his Maquis ship, when we first came to the Delta Quadrant," he said simply.

She sat down behind her desk slowly. She had to. So many things were coming together now, so many things she'd ignored for so long.

A few moments later, she became aware that Tuvok was still there. "Thank you for your honesty, Old Friend," she said.

Tuvok nodded. "I am no more or less honest with you than I have always been," he said.

She smiled. "I know."

*

An hour after her discussion with Tuvok, Captain Janeway entered the bridge and took her seat next to Chakotay. The sexual tension between them was so strong, she thought everyone must see it, feel it, as she did.

But no one seemed to notice anything. If they did, they were all good at concealing it, and Kathryn knew that Tom Paris, for one, wouldn't even try to do so.

The atmosphere on the bridge was relaxed today, as it had been recently. With Voyager stopped in space, and the Engineering team working away on the retrofit of the DESTINY, there wasn't much for the helmsman and other bridge personnel to do.

Harry had been in Engineering most of his shift, but had come back to the bridge to run some calculations for B'Elanna. And, with the constant activity in Engineering, he'd chosen the relative quiet of the bridge to do his work. That, and the fact that when B'Elanna was on a mission, it was best to stay out of her way.

"So Harry," said Tom from the helm, "What are you doing this evening?"

"Working in Engineering," came Harry Kim's tired reply.

"Again?" asked Tom, and sighed. "Geez, my wife is in Engineering every night, and she's taken my best friend away from me, too. What's a guy to do?"

Harry took a deep breath, and looked at Tom. "I'm sure you can find someone else to play with for one more evening, Tom," he said and returned to his calculations.

Kathryn smiled. "Mr. Paris, since you have a bit of free time this evening, maybe you'd like that rematch in Sangrine's I promised you a few years ago."

Tom Paris gulped and whirled in his seat to face her. "You mean – pool?" he asked.

"What else?" she asked innocently. The other bridge crew, outside of Tuvok, worked hard to keep the grins off their faces, and their mind on their duties.

"I…well…sure, Captain," he said, trying to pretend it didn't matter to him. "I mean, if you'd rather practice a bit first…"

"Not necessary, Mr. Paris," she said. "I'm feeling lucky tonight."

He gulped and turned back to his console. If she was feeling lucky tonight, that meant he wouldn't even get a shot at the table. He sighed, his back to the rest of the crew. Why did he always have to open his big mouth, anyway?

Kathryn cast a glance in her first officer's direction and caught the grin on his face, but he didn't look at her.

She sighed and looked away. It wasn't awkward to be around him, but it was suddenly very difficult not to look at him and think about…things she should never think about while on bridge duty.

Finally, after staying in her seat for half an hour so as not to attract undue attention, Kathryn Janeway excused herself and returned to her ready room, turning the bridge over to her next in command. At least she could get some work done in private without being constantly aware of her first officer sitting next to her.

*

Half an hour later, Chakotay entered the captain's ready room. "You wanted to see me, Captain?" he asked, with his hands behind his back.

She stifled a smile. He was proving to her that he could be both her first officer and her lover.

"Sit down," she said. "How about a cup of coffee?"

He grinned and sat. "Sure."

"I had a very enlightening conversation with Tuvok earlier," she said, as she ordered their coffee.

"Oh?" This was business, he reminded himself. She's the captain, you're her first officer. Do not look at her as though you're in love with her.

"He says he believes Seth Thomas had no harmful intent by trying to break into Voyager's computer systems," she said. Chakotay bristled, but managed to keep calm. "How can he know that?" he asked, and took a sip of his coffee she'd just handed him, hoping to appear nonchalant.

But, of course, she could read right through him. "I know you don't care for Seth, Chakotay, but think about this rationally."

He took a deep breath. "All right. I'll try." His eyes met hers, and he grinned. "But I will admit I'll be glad when we've left him behind."

She smiled. "I never thought of you as the jealous type," she said, her voice holding a hint of suggestiveness.

"Be careful using that voice with me, Captain," he said. "We're on duty."

She smiled and shook her head. They might have to adjust a bit in order to have this dual relationship, she mused, but if anyone could do it, they could. They would. She knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt. She'd waited too long for him,.

This new knowledge lifted a burden from her shoulders she wasn't even aware she was carrying.

"What I want to know, Kathryn," he said, finally asking something he'd wondered since yesterday. "Is, why did he do it? You've offered him nothing but assistance. Why would he override your authority? And more than that, how did you know he would do it?"

She knew he was referring to the fact that she'd anticipated Seth's move and had personally put into place the force field that had kept him out of Voyager's systems. She thought about how to answer. "He can't help himself, Chakotay," she said finally. "It's who he is. Seth isn't used to trusting someone, anyone. He has to take matters into his own hands, whether it's ethical or not." Suddenly, as she spoke the words, it finally hit home with her, as well. "It's sad, but it's true. He doesn't have the capacity to trust others."

They were both quiet a moment. "You said Tuvok believes he meant no harm. Do you believe that?" he asked.

"Perhaps," she said. "Probably. But I still intend to ask him."

"You're going to mention it to him?"

"Oh yes. He knows he was found out when he detected my force field. He's waiting for me to confront him," she said.

Chakotay shook his head. "He's a strange man, Kathryn."

"Yes, he is," she said.

And then she stood and moved to the other side of her desk to Chakotay. He stood as she came to him.

She walked right up to him and put her arms around his neck. "I love you, Chakotay," she said, as he brought his lips down to hers.

After an extraordinary kiss that left them both breathless, she pulled away and looked at him closely. "There won't be much of that in my ready room," she said honestly, "And I hope you understand. But I'd like us to be together outside our duty shifts, as much as possible," she said.

He gulped. She'd had to get ready for bridge duty this morning and they hadn't had time to discuss the future at all. She'd kissed him firmly before she left him, though, leaving no doubt in his mind that she was his, and ready to be with him fully. "As much as possible, Kathryn," he said, repeating her words. "And there's something I want you to know, too. I do understand that the captain and her first officer belong in the ready room, and Kathryn and Chakotay belong to each other off-duty."

She nodded, her eyes filling with unexpected tears. She forced them away, not realizing how much those words would mean to her. "Thank you for that," she whispered.

"And there's something else we haven't discussed," he said.

She looked at him expectantly.

"If you'd prefer to keep our personal relationship secret for now, I understand that, too," he said. "I'll leave that up to you."

She nodded, considering his words. "For now, I'd like that," she said. "I want us to get used to it before we let everyone else know," she said. "A bit of time for us to acclimate ourselves to whatever adjustments we'll need to make. And then we can let everyone else be a part of it with us."

He grinned, but she'd just made him happier than she could know. "Actually, that sounds good to me. Besides, I think I need some time to prepare myself too, Kathryn," he said.

"Oh? What for?" she asked.

"Tom Paris," he said, grinning again.

She laughed. "Let me know if you need me to take care of him for you," she said, moving back behind her desk and reaching for her coffee mug.

"Maybe you should just teach me to play pool," he said.

She shook her head. "Skill has very little to do with it," she said. "He's already lost tonight's game."

"Oh?"

She nodded. "He believes he has, and so he has. He won't even get a shot at the table," she said.

"I might just stop in at Sandrine's later to see that happen," he said, and they smiled at each other, knowing that last night had changed both their lives forever.

And neither of them would go back to the way things were for anything.

Suddenly, the captain's comm badge chirped. "The Doctor to Captain Janeway," said the voice.

She looked away from Chakotay and concentrated on her job. "What is it, Doctor?" she asked.

"I need to see you in Sickbay," he said. "At your earliest convenience."

"I'm on my way, Doctor," she said.

She walked past Chakotay, heading for the door, and he followed her, as usual. But she turned to him just before the door opened and wiped a trace of lipstick from his incredibly sexy lips. He smiled at her, and she sighed. This was going to take some getting used to.

She shook her head and went out onto the bridge with her first officer. He continued to his command chair, in charge of the bridge, and the captain moved to the turbolift, heading for Sickbay.

*

Captain Janeway walked into Sickbay, and immediately saw the Doctor across the way. She started toward him, but he nodded toward his office, and they met each other there instead.

"Good morning, Captain," said the Doctor, shutting the door behind them. "Pardon me, but I have a couple of patients out there complaining of indigestion, of all things." He rolled his eyes. "Then again, if I had to ingest the things Mr. Neelix serves…"

"Doctor, you wanted to see me," she said, bringing him back to the reason she was there. She promised herself she'd get caught up on the Doctor's complaints as soon as Voyager was on her way home again.

"Ah yes, Captain." He brought himself to the situation at hand, and gestured for her to sit. He pushed his computer console aside and sat behind his desk. "After our recent discussion regarding your physical examination, I took the liberty of running a few additional tests with your recent blood sample. And while I was correct that you are still of child-bearing age and condition, I found out something else of interest."

"What was that, Doctor?" Her mind was on the DESTINY's retrofit schedule, and not on the Doctor's long-winded explanation of something he'd already told her about.

"Interestingly enough, while the long-term effects of the virus you and Commander Chakotay contacted several years ago is null, as I explained to you before, I did find another exciting discovery." His voice took on a child's enthusiasm.

The captain forced herself to give him her full attention.

"The virus does have an adverse effect on your booster shot, Captain. I can't explain it, at least not yet, but suffice it to say it's a good thing you're currently celibate."

He'd definitely caught her full attention now. "I don't understand, Doctor," she said calmly, but her heart had begun to beat more quickly.

"Captain, your birth control booster is no longer effective. In fact, it hasn't been for some time," he said. "For some as of yet unidentifiable reason, the properties of this particular booster were broken down by the otherwise dormant virus that remains in your system."

She swallowed hard, but remained still.

"Of course, that's not a problem," he continued, "I will simply conduct some experiments to find out which of the other types of boosters will work for you instead." He smiled at her brightly.

She nodded. "Yes, please do," she said softly.

The Doctor looked at her more closely, and his smile slowly faded. "Captain, is there something wrong? You seem pale," he said, standing to run his medical tricorder over her.

"What about Commander Chakotay?" she asked. "Is his booster working properly?"

"I'm not certain," he said. "I'll need to ask Commander Chakotay to report to Sickbay for some tests."

"In the meantime, Doctor," she said, "Perhaps you should examine me to see if I'm pregnant."

He stopped scanning and looked at her closely. "When I told you it was still possible for you to have children, I didn't realize you would try to do so immediately," he said.

She sighed. "It wasn't quite like that, Doctor," she said.

He exchanged his tricorder for a second, smaller one. "How far along would you be, if you are pregnant?" he asked.

She paused. "A day."

He snapped shut his tricorder and took a deep breath. "Captain, while it is possible to run several tests to determine whether you are pregnant, at this point any medical conclusion I may reach would be…inconclusive."

She nodded. She thought as much. "How long before you can run a test with conclusive results?"

"A week," he said.

"All right, I'll be back then," she said, standing.

"Captain…"

"Yes, Doctor?"

He chose his words carefully. "I will contact Commander Chakotay immediately. I'll need a blood sample from him to determine whether the virus has caused his booster levels to degrade, as well," he said.

She nodded absently.

"Perhaps if his booster is working effectively, we'll not have to run pregnancy tests on you later," he said.

She glanced at him quickly. "Why not, Doctor?" she asked. She wanted to hear him say it.

"I merely assumed…" he paused, knowing the truth was always best. "That since you have had recent sexual relations, your partner would be Commander Chakotay," he said.

Since he didn't comment further, she didn't ask. She didn't need to. First Tuvok, and now the Doctor.

Captain Janeway nodded once more at the Doctor and left his office, and Sickbay.

*

Kathryn Janeway strode the corridors of her starship, headed for the transporter room. She slapped her comm badge. "Janeway to Chakotay."

"Chakotay here," came the reply from the bridge.

"Mr. Chakotay, please contact Captain Thomas. Tell him I need to see him immediately. I'm headed for the transporter room to greet him now."

She could hear the grin in her first officer's voice when he answered her. "Aye, Captain, I'll let him know."

Chakotay knew she was going to confront Seth, and whereas yesterday he would have been jealous, today he was perfectly comfortable with her seeing Seth in private. She grinned and shook her head. What a difference a day could make – or a night. She smiled again, in spite of herself. Last night had certainly proved to him where her loyalties were.

She reached the transporter room and dismissed the ensign on duty. She wanted to be alone with Seth, and she had no intentions of taking him to her ready room or anywhere else aboard her ship. He'd seen enough of it.

"Chakotay to Janeway," came the voice over her comm badge.

"Go ahead, Commander," she replied, stepping behind the console.

"Captain Thomas is ready to be transported to Voyager," he said.

"Thank you, Commander," she said, closing the link and keying Seth's coordinates into the console in front of her, then energizing.

He appeared on the transporter pad, as she stepped down to greet him.

"Kathryn…" he said, stepping down.

"Seth."

He stopped mid-sentence, seeing the expression on her face, and sighed heavily. "You're mad at me."

She took a deep breath. "I am not 'mad' at you, Seth. I am the captain of a Federation starship and so are you. I take my position very seriously, whether you do or not."

He nodded. It was always best to let Kathryn finish what she had to say.

She continued. "You've transported to my ship without my authorization, and you tried on three separate occasions to break into my ship's computer system."

He nodded.

"But you were unsuccessful," she said.

"Correct, Captain," he said, detecting a pause. "Because you prevented me from doing so."

"I did. And I will again, if you try it."

He nodded. "Oh, I'm sure of it," he said.

She took a deep breath, then thought better of what she'd intended to say. "I'm not going to ask why you did it, Seth. I don't care why. Believe me when I tell you it won't happen again. The retrofit to the DESTINY will be complete within a couple of hours, and we'll be on our way."

He nodded. "Back toward the Alpha Quadrant," he said.

"At Warp 5," she said.

He grinned. "Only Warp 5, Kathryn? I thought you were anxious to get home again."

She ignored him. "My crew and I will wish you well and be on our way."

"That's very kind of you," he said. "And my crew and I appreciate all that you've done for us."

She hoped so, but it didn't really matter. Either way, she would sleep at night.

"And Kathryn, I meant no harm to Voyager. I would never have compromised her. I merely wanted to take a glance at your database, maybe take a look at some of Starfleet's latest technologies, and learn from it," he said.

"It's privileged information. But you know that," she said.

"Kathryn…"

"Just taking something else that's due you, I suppose?" she asked.

He sighed heavily. "You and I still look at things differently, Kathryn."

"I thought I knew you once, Seth, and I've been telling myself you've changed, but I realize you haven't."

"I told you the other night I'm the same man, Kathryn," he said. "You've always noted the good in people, and did your best to overlook the not-so-noble qualities."

"I've had to open my eyes to a lot of things these past few years, whether I've wanted to or not." And it had been good for her, she realized. Sometimes one had to see the bad to appreciate the good. She thought of Chakotay, and her heart warmed.

He didn't like to ask anyone for anything, but he had to do it now. "Kathryn, about the DESTINY…will you tell Starfleet about us?"

She looked into his eyes. "No."

He couldn't cover the surprise on his face. "You won't tell them we're here?"

"I won't compromise your location, Seth," she said. "For old time's sake," she added.

He nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "I didn't expect this," he admitted. "Thank you."

She nodded back.

"What will you tell Starfleet? You've just spent several days here, retrofitting the DESTINY and visiting and old friend." His eyes sparkled. Kathryn didn't lie easily.

"We've had a few glitches in our database lately," she said. "I'm afraid that most of the information from the past few days has been lost, including our current location."

He grinned. "People talk," he said.

She nodded. "Perhaps."

"Don't hate me, Kathryn," he said. It was important to him.

She smiled. "I could never do that," she said. He might be stubborn and arrogant, but she'd cared for him once. She reached up and kissed his cheek briefly. "I'll say good-bye now."

"Good-bye, my dear Kathryn Janeway. I wish you well." He took her chin in his hand and lightly kissed her lips. "When you make Admiral, think of me, if only for a moment, for I've always known you'll be a Starfleet Admiral someday." He smiled and stepped back. "And you'll be the most beautiful Admiral Starfleet has ever had the privilege to decorate."

A grin tugged at the corner of her mouth. "You really think they'd promote me to Admiral, knowing what trouble I can be?"

"Absolutely, my dear," he said, "Absolutely."

They looked at each other another moment, and then Seth turned and stepped onto the transporter pad. Kathryn moved up behind the console to send him back to his ship.

"Oh, and Kathryn?"

She looked up.

"Don't make him wait for you forever," he said. "Your first officer," he continued, when he saw the question on her face. "He's deeply in love with you, and he'll be good to you."

First Tuvok, then the Doctor, and now Seth.

"Take good care of yourself Seth," she said softly, and pushed the control on the panel in front of her, energizing the transporter beam and sending him back to the DESTINY.

Kathryn Janeway looked at the empty transporter pad and took a deep, satisfying breath. The hard part was done.

And Voyager would be back on her way home within the hour.

*

Captain Janeway had just entered her final comments in the captain's log.

She sat back and sighed, and reached for her ever-present cup of coffee.

Voyager was finally moving again, her computer log was complete, the stars were streaking by her viewport, and her first officer was making dinner for the two of them tonight.

Life didn't get much better than this, she knew without a doubt.

"Chakotay to Janeway," came his voice over her comm badge.

She grinned. "Janeway here, Commander."

"Captain, I'm sure you've not checked the chronometer lately, but you are due in your first officer's quarters in exactly ten minutes."

She groaned when she saw the chronometer across the way. "I wanted to stop off at my quarters to freshen up first," she said.

"No time, Captain," he said, "I expect you to be here on time tonight."

"I'm on my way," she said, cutting the link and standing.

She stretched. So much for a long soak in the tub.

And she had to admit she was looking forward to seeing Chakotay. They'd worked apart for most of the day, and she suddenly realized that she needed to look into his eyes and see that he loved her again. She needed to be reminded that the other night wasn't a dream, after all.

Kathryn left her ready room and made her way to Chakotay's quarters.

He met her at the door, pulled her into his arms and kissed her, still amazed that he could get away with it.

"I hope you always greet me that way," she said in a smoky voice.

That was all it took. "Count on it," he said. His erection was suddenly bulging in his trousers.

"Oh my," she said, with a gleam in her eye. She started to reach for him, but he turned her around and slipped her jacket off her shoulders. She immediately felt her body tremble beneath his hands.

Chakotay had her tee shirt up and over her head in an instant, then unsnapped her bra and let it fall to the floor.

She gasped as his hands snaked around from behind and took both her breasts in his hand, rubbing the firm nipples with his fingers. He kissed her neck and nibbled her ear lobe as he teased her nipples.

She felt his erection press into her lower back and rubbed herself against it. Chakotay turned her to him and kissed her as he unzipped her pants and pushed them to the floor, along with her underwear. He picked her up in his arms and carried her to his bedroom as she kicked off her boots along the way.

He put her onto his bed and took a moment just to look at her lying there, to marvel that she was here on his bed, the bed he'd lain in and fantasized about her for years.

She saw the look in his eyes, even as she reached up to begin undressing him. He helped her quickly, wanting to feel her body against his.

Soon they were lying together, their bodies touching, their hands caressing.

Chakotay had needed to hold her all day, and had barely been able to keep his mind on business, waiting for this evening. He was still insecure that this was real, that she was his, that they'd been together and would always be together now.

But after she'd walked into his quarters and he'd looked into her eyes, all his fears were quelled. She loved him as he loved her.

He rolled over above her and kissed her breasts, gently biting her nipples, and becoming more and more aroused by her gasps and sighs.

She reached for him and manipulated his erection, making him also gasp. She rolled him over quickly, unexpectedly, and bent over him. She flicked her tongue over the head of his penis, and then took him into her mouth completely. Chakotay cried her name and pulled her up. "Not yet, Kathryn, not yet," he whispered between breaths.

She smiled and straddled him. He watched as she rubbed the head of his penis over her nub and then pushed him inside her, slowly, completely. She moaned with pleasure and his own breath came out in quick gasps, just watching her take him inside her. Her cheeks were flushed and his pulse was racing.

He reached his hands out and took her breasts in his hands, then raised up to suck them, one at a time. Kathryn ran her hands through his hair and rode him slowly, very slowly, bringing them both sharp jabs of exquisite pleasure.

Finally, he rolled her off him and spread her open before him. He moved between her legs and felt her body tremble with expectation, as she realized what he was going to do.

He slowly leaned over her, feeling the heat from her body, and loving the knowledge that she was giving herself to him, only to him, and that what he was taking from her was what she was giving him with her heart.

She was already wet from their bodies being together, and he kissed her inner thighs and ran his tongue behind her knees.

Kathryn moaned and called his name, moving on the bed as he pleased her, thrilled her, and satisfied her every need.

He kissed her, and nipped at her flesh, and she felt the jolt of electricity run through her body as got closer to her center. She arched toward him, pleading with him to take her now, and he moved his tongue deep inside her, tasting her juices and sending her close to the edge.

She gasped, and her heart was racing, her pulse throbbing in her veins. She was wet, but she felt the warmth in her groin increase. He was loving her fully, so completely she didn't know how much longer she could last.

When he took her warm, swollen nub into his mouth and sucked it gently, she went over the edge, bucking into his mouth and calling his name between quick, breathless gasps of ecstasy.

He felt her stomach muscles contract, and then the sudden explosion. He moved his mouth to her vagina and thrust his tongue inside her, feeling her muscles clinch and unclench, again and again. Her warmth flowed over his tongue and he loved her like he'd never loved anyone in his life, more than he thought it was possible to love anyone.

And when she cried his name, he was close to reaching the edge himself.

He moved up and over her as she reached for him. He pushed himself inside her, hard and deep, and she pulled his mouth to hers and kissed him deeply, tasting herself in his mouth.

They were bound together, physically and emotionally, and they would never be separated again. Their love had been a long time in coming, but it had been worth the wait.

Their lives had a different purpose now – there was a new reason to get up each morning. They would get their crew home together, and then start a new life for themselves.

He thrust inside her, deeper, stronger. She matched his rhythm quickly, as though she'd done this many times before, as though they'd come together thousands of times already, and not just one.

Finally, he watched as her face flushed again, and then her breathing become more ragged. She quickened her pace, and he did too, and they rushed toward each other, quicker, harder, faster than before. And then he plunged into her one last time, releasing himself into her, as she reached up to meet him. Her arms held him tight and strong, and she felt her own release as his warmth flowed into her.

Both their breathing was labored, but they held onto each other as though their lives depended on it. They would never be apart again.

"I love you," he whispered into her hair and she smiled. She knew that no matter how long she lived she would never get tired of hearing him say those words.

"I'm not sure I heard you correctly," she whispered, her breath still coming out in spurts.

He grinned. "I said I love you, Kathryn Janeway."

"Oh," she said. "I'm glad I asked you to repeat it. I wasn't sure."

He felt her smile against his shoulder.

"I intend to say it so often you'll never have to ask for more," he said.

"Good, I'll hold you to it," she said, and looked up into his eyes.

He kissed her.

"I thought we were going to have dinner," she said, rubbing her thumb over his incredible lips.

"We are, but I wanted to hold you for a moment first," he said.

She grinned. "You have a strange definition of the word 'hold'," she said.

"It got a bit out of hand," he said.

She laughed, and he was amazed again at the lovely sound of Kathryn's laugh when she truly gave herself to it. "I'm not complaining."

"Are you hungry?" he asked, slipping out of her.

She nodded. "It seems I've worked up quite an appetite."

"Then let's go eat," he said. "I just have to make the pasta. It'll only take a few minutes." He got up from the bed and took a bathrobe from his closet and handed it to her. "For you," he said. "Time to dress for dinner."

She smiled and took the robe. He took another for himself, and then turned to look at her. The robe he'd given her had an Indian pattern in blues and greens across it, which accented her eyes.

He reached out and began to roll the sleeves for her. "It looks good on you," he said. "And about three sizes too large."

"I don't mind," she said. "I love it." She looked into his eyes. "And I love you," she whispered.

He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly, squeezing his eyes shut. Even his dreams hadn't been as good as this. He pulled back. "Come on, let's go, I want to feed you," he said, taking her hand and leading her into the other room.

He opened a fresh bottle of wine and poured two glasses, handing her one and taking his with him to the kitchen.

Kathryn began to put out the plates and utensils, a job that was hers whenever he cooked, no matter whether it was in her quarters or his. She loved their little rituals, their comfortable routines. And now they'd added another one to their lives.

"I saw the Doctor earlier," he said, watching her out of the corner of his eye. "He wanted a blood sample."

She took a deep breath. 'Yes."

"Evidently there was a possibility that my birth control booster wasn't working properly," he said.

"Yes," she said softly.

"Kathryn…"

She turned to him. "Do you believe things happen for a reason, Chakotay?" she asked.

"I've always believed that, Kathryn," he said softly. "But you've never been one to believe in Fate."

She nodded. "The virus that you and I still carry has degenerated my booster," she said steadily. "The Doctor is running some tests to determine if there is another one he can give me which will remain stable."

He stopped what he was doing and went to her. "So if mine wasn't working, then we'd have had no protection the first time we made love," he said.

"If yours wasn't working, then there was a chance I could have become pregnant, yes" she said, looking into his eyes.

"How do you feel about that?" he asked, giving nothing away.

She tried to read the expression in his eyes, but he was guarded. "I can still have a child," she said. "The Doctor told me two days ago."

Yet she hadn't resisted his lovemaking tonight, he thought.

She knew what he was thinking. "I know your booster is still active, Chakotay," she said. "The Doctor contacted me this afternoon, after he'd confirmed it."

He nodded.

"So I know that I'm not pregnant," she said. "From the other night."

"Kathryn," he said, taking her face in her hands and kissing her lips. "I want our children, I've always wanted our children."

She touched his face. "So do I," she whispered, "But I want to wait a little while longer. I want us to have some time together first, just the two of us." She paused. "And, I need to get Voyager home."

He grinned. "I agree."

"You're sure?"

"Absolutely. I want some time alone with you, too, and I'll do everything in my power to help you get our crew home. You know that."

She nodded and smiled at him. "I was so afraid I'd waited too long to tell you how I feel about you," she said, feeling her throat begin to tighten. "I thought you couldn't possibly still love me," she said.

He hugged her to him. "I've loved you my whole life, Kathryn Janeway," he said, kissing the top of her head. "You are the one I've spent my life looking for."

She pulled away and smiled at him. "You were looking for a woman who would put her career ahead of your needs…"

"Only most of the time," he said.

"One who can't cook…" she continued.

"But who can play a mean game of pool," he replied.

"One who is stubborn…"

"And beautiful, kind, ambitious, honest and generous to a fault, and who isn't afraid of anything," he said.

She looked into his eyes. "You give me too much credit," she said.

"And I think I take you for granted," he said. "Come on, let's eat."

When they were seated, she raised her glass. "To us," she said. It was an age-old toast, but it had never meant more than it did right now. She smiled at the man across the table from her. No old flame had ever made her feel the way Chakotay did, and the new fire inside her was proof of that.

"To us," he said, thinking he was the luckiest man he'd ever known.

She touched her wine glass to his and smiled at him. He grinned back.

Things didn't get much better than this, Kathryn thought, not knowing Chakotay was thinking the very same thing from across the table.

THE END


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