The Woman Inside by D.A. Kent


D.A. Kent


December, 2002




They're not really mine. Paramount and Viacom control them, and me.


It's almost Christmastime. Q decides to do something about the relationship between the captain and commander, so he shows up just long enough to help it along a bit.

The bridge had been quiet all morning, but now it sprang to life. Captain Janeway gave a quick thought to how proud she was of her crew. They could jump into action in a heartbeat.

Voyager had suddenly and unexpectedly ran upon what seemed to be a large blob - just a huge mass of . . . something . . . floating in the middle of space.

"Red Alert," she shouted. "What is it, Harry?" she asked, as she looked out the viewscreen in front of her.

"I . . . I don't know, Captain," came the reply from over her left shoulder.

"That's not good enough, Mr. Kim," she shouted. "Commander Tuvok?"

"It seems to be gelatinous in nature, Captain," said Tuvok.

She turned to her first officer. "What do you think, Chakotay?" she asked, knowing that his quiet assessments often brought more clarity to difficult situations.

"I'm afraid I'm at a loss, Captain," he said, turning to her. "Gelatin isn't my specialty."

She turned away before her mouth had an opportunity to turn up at the corners at his witticism. This was a command situation, and she never, ever allowed personal feelings to interfere with it. She studied the console in front of her. Whatever was out there had no substance, and seemed to be in no way a threat to the safety of Voyager and her crew.

"Stand down Red Alert," she said, standing, and the klaxons immediately stopped sounding. She moved down to Tom Paris. "What are your thoughts, Lieutenant?" she asked.

"Uh . . ." Tom worked his console quickly, having been caught at a loss. He wasn't often asked his opinion on these matters, but simply given directives to follow. "It's just sitting there, Captain. I'd say we move around it and continue on our way. It doesn't seem to be losing integrity, nor gaining it. And it seems harmless."

"Agreed," said the Captain thoughtfully. "I just wish we knew what it was."

"Oh puhleeeze!" came a voice from the front of the viewscreen. Q materialized, sitting on the ledge beneath the view of the huge mass outside Voyager. "One of these days my feelings are going to be hurt, Kathy. You never, ever think of me when you see clever new things outside your little window. I'd think you could give me some credit on occasion without my having to seek it out."

Kathryn Janeway forced herself to remain where she was and not react in any obvious way, both for the benefit of Q and her crew. Q's constant meddling would probably never stop completely, but at least he wasn't interfering with her command as often as he used to. She stifled a sigh. That was probably the best it was going to get.

She took a deep breath, already feeling the hostility from Chakotay to her left. "I apologize, Q, for not immediately thinking of you when I saw a huge green glob of slime out the viewport."

Tom Paris chuckled.

"Oh, fun-ny, Pilot Boy," said Q, slipping off the ledge easily to stand on the Bridge.

"What is that thing out there, Q, your broken Jell-O mould?" asked Chakotay. Kathryn's heart skipped a beat. Q and Chakotay were often adversaries, but sometimes Chakotay couldn't help himself. He had to belittle Q every chance he got. But Q was quick to return insults to Chakotay, she reminded herself. And though she knew their jealousies were basically over her, she still couldn't understand why.

"As a matter of fact, it is," said Q, and turned to look out. "I was trying to create a festive centerpiece for the head table at the Continuum's upcoming holiday party and it . . . got out of hand, so to speak. Ah well . . ." he snapped his fingers and the blob disappeared. "I'll have to come up with something else." He turned to the Captain. "Kathy . . ."

"The Continuum has holiday parties?" asked Harry Kim, then blushed when he realized he'd spoken aloud.

Q looked at him in exasperation. "Do you think you humanoids invented it?" he asked. "Why, you never invented anything that the Continuum hasn't done first. We've had holiday parties for millennia." He turned back to Kathryn. "Now Kathy, I was wondering if you could arrange to take a little leave of absence."

"What?" She couldn't figure out why he was here, but was afraid to ask.

"You know, take a few days off." He puffed his chest out a bit more than usual, and cleared his throat. "Kathy, I'd like you to be my official date at the Continuum's annual holiday party." Then he leaned over to take her hand. "It'll only take 3, 4 days at the most. And I promise to bring you right home afterward. Your little ship will hardly miss you. And Chuckles here can get some command experience in."

Chakotay jumped up. "I have plenty of command experience, Q, and you will not take the Captain anywhere."

"Gentlemen," began the Captain, feeling a sick sense of déjà vu.

"Oh come now, Chuckles, do you think you can actually speak for Kathy? The last time I checked she was perfectly capable of making her own decisions," said Q.

Chakotay took a deep breath and Kathryn could see his eyes flash and color begin to creep up the neck of his uniform. "Stop it, this instant!" she said, stepping between the two of them. "Chakotay," she said to him, forcing her voice back to a normal level.

"Please sit down." She looked him in the eye with meaning, and he turned away and sat in his command chair.

Now, Kathryn took a deep breath and pulled her hand from Q's. "Q . . ."

"I know you're going to say 'no', Kathy, but hear me out first," said Q. "It will be so much fun. I can finally introduce you to other Q. I've told so many of them about you! And there will be food and dancing and walks by the seashore beneath the stars - we always have these little parties down by the seaside - and maybe we can share a kiss or two . . ."

Kathryn was nearly in shock at Q's suggestion. But Chakotay wasn't. He jumped from his seat again. "It is out of line to make such suggestions to the Captain," he sputtered.

"Oh come now, Chuckles, you're just jealous because she didn't say 'no'," he said, enjoying Chakotay's distress. "Now Kathy," he continued, turning back to Kathryn. "I know you hate to be gone from . . . here . . . but it will be good for you to get out for a bit, get a breath of fresh air." He exaggerated the last part, looking meaningfully at Chakotay.

Tom Paris had turned in his seat, and was enjoying the situation immensely. Harry Kim, on the other hand, was wide-eyed and speechless behind them all.

Kathryn regained her footing. She turned to Chakotay and stared him hard in the eye. "Chakotay, sit down." He opened his mouth, but had the good sense to close it again. He sat. "And Q . . ."

"I know, I know, you always have excuses . . ." said Q.

"I do not have an excuse, Q," she said.

"Oh! Goody!" he said.

"I have very good reasons for not going, but since it's not necessary for me to give them to you, just suffice to say I'm not interested," she said. "Now, please leave my bridge."

Q pouted. "You're always rejecting me. And for what? Him?" He pointed to Chakotay.

"Leave, Q," she said, staring him in the eye as she had her first officer only moments before.

"Hrumph," he said. "All right, fine. Be that way. I'll give you until noon tomorrow to make your decision."

"I have no further decision to make, Q," she said. "I'm not going."

"I mean your real decision, Kathy," he said. "See you tomorrow!" And he was gone.

Kathryn took another deep breath to clear her mind. When her gaze hit Tom Paris's, he turned abruptly in his chair and began to busy himself at his console. By the time she turned to look at the other crewmen in turn, they were all very busy at their stations as well. Good, she thought. At least she wouldn't have to deal with any of Voyager's bridge crew about this. But then her eyes settled on Chakotay's. 'Except one,' she thought.

Making sure her voice was even, she addressed her first officer. "Commander Chakotay, I'd like to see you in my ready room," she said. He stood before she'd even finished her sentence, then followed her across the bridge. Janeway nodded discreetly at Tuvok, who nodded back just as discreetly. Tuvok would handle any incident or comment that arose as a result of Q's visit.

Kathryn and Chakotay entered her ready room and she quickly moved behind her desk. Redefining authority wasn't always necessary with her crew these days, but sometimes it helped a situation, and sometimes it helped her to regain focus, as well. Especially if the situation involved Chakotay. She was always vulnerable where he was concerned; she just couldn't let him know it.

Chakotay stood before her with his arms behind his back. He would have liked some time alone to get control of his thoughts and his feelings before this meeting, but since that didn't happen he used a quick meditation he'd taught himself for just such times. And he waited for Kathryn to begin.

Kathryn took a deep breath and steadied herself. "Chakotay, your behavior on the bridge was completely uncalled for."

The meditation wasn't working as well as he'd have liked. Perhaps it was because Q was involved. He looked up at her, eyes flashing, prepared to defend his actions. His eyes met Kathryn's and held.

She waited for him to say something. She held his gaze steadily - there was no choice. If she looked away she would lose control of the situation, and Chakotay would react in a personal way rather than a professional one. And she couldn't afford to take that chance.

His eyes calmed, and his heartbeat began to slow. She was right, the Captain was right. And so was Kathryn. "Yes it was," he said, nearly calm again, and speaking in his usual soft tone of voice.

Kathryn took a long slow breath. His behavior was wrong and he knew it. What else could she say? She sat then, and looked up at him.

Chakotay waited for her to continue. Why had she sat and leaned back in her chair as though the conversation were over? She couldn't possibly be finished with him. He continued to wait.

Finally, Kathryn sighed. "Tea?" she asked.

"I beg your pardon?" He couldn't have heard her correctly.

"Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Uh . . . ."

"Or coffee?" She rose and started toward the replicator. "I don't know about you, but I could sure use a cup." She stopped and looked toward him, waiting for his decision.

Chakotay nodded. That's all he could do right now.

"Computer, one coffee black and one coffee with cream and sugar." The two cups appeared in the slot, and she took them back to her desk. "I don't know how you can drink it this way," she said, pushing Chakotay's across the desk and sitting with hers.

Chakotay sat. A cup of coffee meant it was all right to do so without being told. It meant he was her friend and not her subordinate right now. He didn't understand. It wasn't like Kathryn not to complete something once she started it.

"Chakotay," she said in Kathryn's soft sensual voice. He looked up from his cup. "I know you and Q aren't close friends, but I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't argue with him in front of the crew."

He grinned. "Here I thought I was headed for the brig and you only ask me for a favor." But they both knew it was more than a favor. Kathryn had taken the kind way out of giving him a directive. But the hidden understanding was there, and they both knew it.

"I realize Q is unbearable at times," she said.

"Kathryn, Q is unbearable all the time," he said.

She smiled and shook her head. "For a man who has such control and self-discipline, I don't understand how it is so easy for Q to push your buttons."

Because he uses you as bait, Chakotay thought. "He's good at it," he said. "Must be all the practice he's had." His big grin reached his eyes, and when Kathryn looked at him, she felt a flutter in her abdomen.

Damn him, she thought. After all these years, that smile could still affect her like this. But she couldn't be upset about it, either. It was that smile that kept her going at times.

It was that smile that made her think she might even have a personal reason for wanting to get home again.

Chakotay took a deep breath. What Kathryn had said about Q pushing his buttons was certainly true. "I apologize, Kathryn. I can't help myself." When he saw her look, he finished, "But I'll certainly try harder to control myself next time."

She grinned her crooked smile at him. "I expect you to, Commander," she said, and then looked into her cup and sighed. Q's mention of a holiday party had reminded her of things she liked to forget about this time of year. "The holidays are coming up, you know," she said softly.

"Yes, I know," he replied. The holidays had never meant much to him, but he knew they had to Kathryn, back on Earth.

"And the people on this ship will want parties, holiday extravaganzas," she said, not looking at him.

"Yes." They would, he knew.

She looked at him suddenly. "I don't want anything to disrupt this crew's happiness," she said sadly. "They all deserve a time of celebration."

He nodded. He knew how Kathryn was during these times each year. Her crew and their happiness was all that mattered to her. It was a strange thing to him, how much she would focus on the crew's interests for several weeks. There would be parties and special dinners and events, and Neelix would be extra busy for a while, putting it all together. Then, when the holidays were over, things would go back to normal. This had happened for six consecutive years now. He knew the routine.

He also knew it was because she still felt guilty about stranding them all in the Delta Quadrant, even after all these years. Somehow, seeing the crew enjoying themselves was as close as she could come to feeling better about it.

"Understood, Captain," he said, and grinned at her. He needed to distract her from those feelings of guilt.

She looked up, taken from her reverie, and smiled back. "What are you doing for dinner tonight, Commander?" she asked softly.

"No plans," he said. If he'd had them, he would have cancelled. Everyone on board ship understood when he occasionally had to cancel other plans to have dinner with the captain. And he knew that they knew the real reason why. The fact that she was the captain was secondary to the fact that she was Kathryn.

And that he was still in love with her after all these years.

"Good," she said. "How about 1900 hours, my quarters?" she asked.

"Sounds good to me," he said, his heartbeat accelerating as it always did when he thought of having time alone with her without the constraints of command. It didn't matter that he knew nothing would come of it tonight, or any night, until they were home again. What mattered was being with her, sharing a meal, candlelight perhaps, some wine. "Are you cooking tonight?" he asked with a gleam in his eye. He couldn't help it if he liked to tease her about her lack of cooking skills. The skills she did have more than made up for the fact that she didn't cook.

She threw him a glance that said not to dream about it. "Complaining about my replicated meals?" she asked.

"Not in the least," he replied. "I was just wondering what kind of wine to bring."

"I'll tell you what, leave the wine to me and bring dessert instead." She smiled.

He'd walked right into that one. That was a hint to make his special chocolate truffle mousse. But it also meant they would share a bottle of real wine instead of synthehol. It was a fair trade. "Done," he said, standing. "Well, I'd better get back to the bridge, Captain, since I have dessert to prepare after duty shift." It wasn't easy to leave her. Spending time with Kathryn wasn't just his favorite pastime, it was his reason for getting up each morning.

"I have work to finish up, too, since I now have plans for the evening," she said, and turned up her mouth in a wry smile. She turned to her computer terminal, as Chakotay left for the bridge.

Chakotay nodded at Tuvok as he moved over to his command chair. Tuvok returned the slight nod, relinquishing command of the bridge to Commander Chakotay.

Activating his computer, Chakotay got to work. It was difficult to keep the grin from his face, but it was necessary. Work would be a lot more enjoyable this afternoon, though, knowing he had a date this evening. Well, not really a date, but still a date nonetheless.

He and Kathryn hadn't had a non-working dinner together in nearly a month, and it would be good to relax with her. He always missed quiet time with her when things got as busy as they'd been lately. It was their chance to catch up, to share ideas and opinions. Sometimes they would read to each other, a poem or story they'd recently come across or something they were reminded of from long ago.

And even if they did nothing but have dinner and share a glass of wine, they always laughed together. Kathryn Janeway had an abundant sense of humor, and rarely had the opportunity to use it to its full advantage. He was lucky to see it more often than others on board ship. And he still had hopes of seeing it for years to come, after they arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant, and Earth.

Sometimes at night, Chakotay would lie awake and let his thoughts wander and his feelings about Kathryn come to the surface. He didn't do this often because it would drive him mad, he knew. Longing was a dangerous thing - it could destroy a person if it were allowed to. He knew that, and had learned the hard way to quiet his desire for her for long periods of time.

After they'd returned to Voyager from New Earth years ago, he'd learned firsthand what loneliness meant. Where once he'd been comfortable with spending long periods of time alone, after New Earth he had surrounded himself with other crewmates in the evenings, playing endless games of pool with Harry and Tom, Parises Squares with B'Elanna, even helping Kes in her aeroponics bay gardens. Anything to lessen his loneliness, the huge ache he felt without Kathryn.

Kes had known what the matter was, he'd seen it in her eyes. She had known that he and Kathryn had been together alone all those weeks, and he believed she also knew how deeply he missed Kathryn. His Kathryn, the one he'd confessed his love to in the only way he'd known how, and the one who had nearly taken him to her bed. But then they'd been rescued by Tuvok and Voyager.

He would never forget Kathryn's face when she first heard Tuvok's voice come over the combadge. It was utter disbelief. He'd placed the combadges before her then. It was her decision to make - answer the call, or not. She'd been the captain, Voyager's captain, and now she had to decide the future for both of them. In all fairness, he knew she had to answer the call. Kathryn Janeway would never walk away from her duty. And the fact that she wouldn't ever do that was one of the things he loved most about her.

Yet there was still a part of him that wondered what it would have been like had she ignored Tuvok's voice. He would have ignored it had it been his call, but he hadn't been the captain.

If he had been captain, he was sure he'd have answered the call just as Kathryn had. Starfleet training and personal ethics ran deep. Kathryn wouldn't have been Kathryn if she'd ignored her return to duty.

Yet he still thought of how they'd come so close to making love. He'd nearly allowed those thoughts to drive him out of his mind the first few months back on Voyager. Kathryn had put a distance between the two of them that had been nearly unbearable at first, but he knew it was self-preservation on her part. She'd had to make the same adjustments he'd had to, and he knew she didn't believe they could continue an intimate relationship while she still had a ship to get home.

And after a few months back on Voyager, Kathryn had begun to let down the wall a bit. He'd shown her in every way he knew how that he'd respect her wishes, that he would respect her as his captain, and work beside her as they had done before. All talk of New Earth has ceased, and soon it was as though those weeks had never happened.

Ah, but he knew they'd happened. And sometimes still, when he glanced her way and caught her unaware, he would see that look on her face, the one that said she still remembered it, too.

That look kept him going many days.

But that was all right. He was willing to wait for her. After months and years of trying to tell himself he didn't love her, didn't need her in his life, and that he'd find someone else to love, he'd finally thrown in the towel and admitted to himself he'd never find anyone who meant what Kathryn did to him. He was in love with her, and always would be.

And so he'd wait for her, no matter how long it took to win her affections again. And it didn't hurt like it once did, either. He had decided awhile back that sometimes the present was worth sacrificing for a future that just might happen.

And sometimes when he looked into her eyes, he saw that possibility.

He and Kathryn had both tried to move on in their own ways, but they always came back together, drifted toward each other again and again. They were both still alone. They used their combined energies to work on getting their people home. And they had dinner together and shared a special friendship.

Chakotay looked up from his computer terminal. He had allowed his thoughts to wander, something he never did when on duty. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his mind. He'd allowed thoughts of Kathryn to interfere with his duty. Well, no damage was done; he'd caught himself quickly. He only allowed himself to daydream about Kathryn at night when he was alone.

But he would wait for her. She was worth it.

"So, what do you think, Commander?" drawled Tom Paris from the helm.

"About what, Tom?" asked Chakotay, already dreading Tom's question. He knew that tone of voice.

"Do you think the captain will go to the party with Q?"

Chakotay heard Harry take a deep breath behind him. "Whatever the captain decides is her business, Tom," he replied calmly. He was having dinner with her tonight, and that was what he was going to concentrate on right now. That knowledge made him feel too good to ruin it with thoughts of Q.

"I don't know what it is about Q," said Tom. "He and the captain seem to be pretty close," he continued. "In fact, she lets him get away with things no one else would even think about doing."

"Why don't we concentrate on our duties, Lieutenant?" said Chakotay pleasantly. Not even Tom Paris could disarm him this afternoon.

"Aye, Commander," said Tom, sighing in resignation. The rest of the afternoon would no doubt be pretty boring after Q's visit this morning, especially since he couldn't even get a reaction from Chakotay.


Chakotay finished his reports and his daily log, then left the bridge precisely when his duty shift ended. He knew Kathryn wouldn't leave her ready room for awhile yet, but he had dessert to make, he thought, smiling. And if she wasn't in her quarters within an hour, he'd call and remind her. She wasn't the best at keeping track of time, and he knew she'd want to have a bath before he arrived.

He smiled again at the thought of seeing Kathryn tonight as he entered his quarters. She was always relaxed after she'd had a bath, and even though she never used heavy fragrances, he was always aware of her scent. It was fresh, soft, and sensual. At least that's what it was to Chakotay. It was a smell that was all Kathryn, and just Kathryn. Well, actually, the captain smelled like her too, he thought, and grinned again.

He was feeling like a kid again and that wasn't necessarily a good thing. He would be lighthearted tonight, but it would hit him hard when he had to return alone to his quarters, and then again on the bridge tomorrow when they would be captain and commander once more.

"Lights to full," he said automatically.

But his grin faded immediately when he saw Q lounging on his couch. "What do you want, Q?" he asked, moving into his kitchen area so that he could begin preparations for the dessert he was about to make.

"Oh really, Chuckles. Is that any way to greet a pal?"

"You're no pal of mine, Q. Now what do you want?" He continued to pull out pans and ingredients for the chocolate truffle mousse.

Q walked over to see what Chakotay was doing. "Is your little replicator broken?"

Chakotay turned to him. "Look, Q, I don't know what you want, and I'm really not interested. But since I know you won't leave until you say what it is, why don't you just get on with it and then get out of here."

"Hmm," said Q. "Well, there went our newfound friendship. All right," he said, "I want you to use your influence with Kathy on my behalf. Convince her it's a good idea to be my date at the Continuum's party," he said, and picked up a chunk that Chakotay had shaved from a block of chocolate.

"What?" Chakotay was dumbfounded. "You want me to convince her to go with you? Your ego is even larger than I thought," he said, and forced himself to calm down by shaving more chocolate.

"Ewwww," said Q, dropping the piece of chocolate onto the table. "That is awful! I can't believe Kathy likes eating this," he said.

"Q, that is unsweetened chocolate. It doesn't taste good until it's baked with other ingredients."

"Oh," said Q. "Well you could have warned me about it."

Chakotay stopped what he was doing and glared at Q. "I am not suggesting to Kathryn that she go to your party with you, Q. So you may as well leave now." He began to work again, knowing he had to keep busy so his temper wouldn't get the best of him. He folded the ingredients together and put them in to bake.

"Well, fine," snorted Q. "At least I'll know she won't be going with you to those ridiculous holodeck holiday parties, either."

"What exactly does that mean, Q?" asked Chakotay.

"Well it's obvious that you're nothing to her. You've had years to win her heart, and have you? Well, have you? No!" said Q.

Chakotay took a deep breath and said calmly, "As a matter of fact, Q, the captain is going with me to the holodeck party on Saturday."

"Oh puh-leeze, Chuckles! The captain's going to the little party with her second in command." He paused for emphasis. "Kathy isn't going to the party with a date. If you know what I mean."

Chakotay knew exactly what Q meant, but he wouldn't say so. And the fact that Q was pointing it out only upset Chakotay more.

"Oh well, if you're not going to help me out I have other, more important things to do," said Q. "Forget I even asked. I just thought if you weren't having any luck making Kathy feel like a woman, then I'd gladly step in and take care of it."

Chakotay could no longer hold his temper. "Q . . ."

But Q was gone.

And Chakotay couldn't remember ever being this angry.

He paced the room and took deep breaths, trying to relax, telling himself it was only Q, and that he was reacting exactly the way Q expected him to, wanted him to.

But how dare Q come to his personal quarters!

Nothing helped - deep breathing exercises, pacing, mellow thoughts that wouldn't stay in his head for even a few seconds.

He put the dessert on the table when it was ready, knowing Kathryn would love it.

Finally, he replicated a cup of herbal tea and sat in his favorite chair in front of his computer terminal. And for the first time in years, he punched a command and a particular photo image of Kathryn Janeway appeared before him.

The photo was from New Earth, taken only hours before the plasma storm, when Kathryn's equipment, and the holoimager, were destroyed. Even though she was still spending hours and hours each day on her experiments, she was settling in to a daily routine with Chakotay, and a precious life they could share together - but in just a short time, it had turned out to be only a memory that he held onto with all his heart for as long as he could.

He continued to gaze at the only picture he owned of her when she looked truly relaxed, one hundred per cent feminine, and she was looking at him with a gleam in her eyes he'd only dreamed of seeing since.

If he didn't know better he'd swear to this day there was a hint of desire beneath that gleam.

He felt tears spring to his eyes, and he reached over quickly and touched a command, shutting down the image. It still hurt to look at it. After Tuvok returned to New Earth for them, he'd brought up this image in his quarters every evening for nearly a year. It was his Kathryn, the one he'd fallen completely in love with, the one who still owned his heart. The woman who was still here, buried inside the captain he sat beside every single day.

He missed her desperately.

But he knew she was still here. Every now and then when he looked at her quickly and caught her off-guard, he saw the woman he knew back then.

He sighed heavily and sat down his empty teacup. It was time to go to Kathryn's quarters for dinner. Tonight he knew he'd see a relaxed and fun Kathryn Janeway, one who enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed hers. And after dinner, and a couple glasses of wine, she would very nearly be that woman he was looking for. But there would be a bit of reserve left.

But that was okay. He'd take it. He'd take her any way she came.

He walked over and picked up the dessert from the table. She'd enjoy this. He smiled, imagining her face lighting up at the first taste. He knew how to make her favorite dessert, and he knew a few other things that she'd like too, if she would just let that barrier down and give him a chance to make her happy. He knew he could do it if she'd let him. Or at least he'd spend what was left of his life trying.

Ah, but would she ever let him . . . .

Chakotay put the dessert back on the table. He had another minute or two to himself before leaving for Kathryn's quarters, and tonight he needed it. Tonight he needed to clear his mind and forget Q's visit.

But he couldn't - and the reason he couldn't was beginning to settle into his mind.

It was because Q was right.

This realization brought on a fresh wave of frustration and anger, and he began to pace his quarters again.

Q was right!

The captain was going with her first officer to the holodeck party; Kathryn wasn't going with Chakotay.

He closed his eyes and searched for thoughts of well-being, told himself how fortunate he was to be alive, to be respected and trusted . . . and then he opened his eyes again. There was only one thing missing in his life, and Spirits willing, he'd heal that hurt within himself.

And he'd prove Q wrong while he was at it.


Chakotay was at the captain's door at precisely the time she was expecting him. She bid him enter and he did so, just as she was lighting the candles on the table.

He grinned. He loved to watch her when she lighted candles. The lights were low now, and the soft shadows from the flames drifted across her face. When she smiled at him, his spirits soared. Ah, what a man's heart did at times like this . . . .

But tonight things would be different. Tonight he would take his Fate into his own hands.

"Oh, how lovely!" she cried, when she saw the dessert he held in his hands. When she breezed over to take it from him, he could smell the fresh scents she'd used in her bath. He inhaled deeply, as he always did, and felt a little bit guilty. As he always did.

Kathryn put the dessert on the table with care. "How about opening the champagne?" she asked.

"Champagne?" he repeated, acting his usual self. "Where did you get this?" he asked, examining the bottle.

"Don't ask," she said, as she always did when he asked about the wines she managed to procure.

He grinned. "Of course not, Captain," he said, and poured the bubbly liquid into their glasses.

She moved to him and took her glass. "To a quiet evening," she said, and sighed. Then she touched her glass to his and drank deeply. "Ah, there's nothing quite like good champagne," she said, and sat on the couch.

Chakotay joined her. "It's been awhile since I've tasted it. I'd forgotten just how good it is," he said.

She laughed, and his heart melted a little, as it did every time he heard it. "Well, I can't say I've had much of it in the past few years, but it's a taste I've never forgotten."

Chakotay watched her for the next two hours, listened to her, nodded at her suggestions about modifying the warp core, agreed when he thought it best and made alternate recommendations when he felt they were called for.

And in his heart and soul, he hoped Kathryn wouldn't pull away from him when he spoke his mind later.

Finally, after a fine dinner and two bottles of sparkling champagne (knowing that Tuvok was on the graveyard shift) Chakotay prepared to leave for his own quarters.

It was getting late and they both had duty shift in the morning.

It was now or never.

Either way, things would not be the same between them again.

Chakotay took a deep breath. "Kathryn . . ."

She looked up from where she sat sipping her cup of coffee on the couch. "Yes?" She looked perfectly content, and completely at home with him there.

He swallowed hard. "Q said he'd be back tomorrow."

She sighed. "Well, you know how Q is, Chakotay. He knows I gave him my answer today."

"But he'll be back," he said.

She looked at him. "And if he does come back?"

"What will you say?" he asked.

"Chakotay, I've told him - and you, and the rest of the bridge crew - my answer." She sighed again. "Why do you ask, Chakotay?"

He chose his words carefully. "I just wanted to know what to expect," he said. "In case things had changed."

"They've not," she said in a firm voice, as though to close the topic.

"Good," he said, and they were both quiet for a moment. "Kathryn?"

"Yes," she said cautiously, wondering what could possibly be next.

"I'd like you to go with me to Neelix's party on the holodeck on Saturday."

"Chakotay, we've already had this discussion," she said rising and taking their empty plates and forks to the recycler. "How's your tea?"

"What? Oh, it's fine," he said, nearly thrown off track. He watched her replicate herself another cup of coffee, wondering not for the first time how she could sleep after drinking so much coffee late at night. "I know we've talked about the party," he said.

"And you're going to pick me up at 19:30," she said.


"Then it looks like I'm going with you," she said, smiling, returning to her place on the couch.

He took a steadying breath and let it out slowly. "Yes," he said. He could let it go now and everything would be the same as always. If he continued, there'd be no going back. He plunged ahead. "But that's not what I meant."

She looked at him over the rim of her cup. "Oh?" The look on her face hadn't changed, and Chakotay knew she had no idea what he meant.

He stood. There was no way he could look her in the eye and continue. He slowly took his empty teacup to the recycler. "I want you to go with me to the holiday party, Kathryn." He turned and looked at her from across the room. "I want Kathryn to go with Chakotay."

He watched as the look on her face changed from calm and serene to questioning. And then, she understood fully well what he meant. He saw her face change again, and what he saw surprised him. She tried to put a wall up, a façade that would stand between them, to make it more comfortable for her to pull away, but what had surprised him was the fleeting look of fear that had touched her first.

"Chakotay, you know very well that's not possible," she said in the captain's calm voice, the one she used for negotiating with difficult species.

"I don't know that," he said, feeling stronger now. "I do know that you once cared for me as I still care for you." His throat was tight, but he swallowed hard and forced himself to continue. If he didn't he would never be able to look her in the eye again. "I also know that things are different now. We are closer to home, we've made contact with Starfleet and they know we're here."

Why pretend they were simply talking about a date to the party, he thought. They both knew exactly what they were talking about.

Kathryn tried to keep calm and stop her heart from beating so quickly. Why had he brought this up now? Why couldn't he have waited a little longer? They were practically home now; she could feel it. She told herself to behave normally, to act as if this were a perfectly normal conversation. But she damn well knew he was talking about a whole lot more than just a date to a party. "Chakotay, I still have a ship to get home, no matter how close we are. There is still a lot of space to cover."

"I know that, Kathryn, and we'll do it as we've done it for the past seven years - together. I'm still here to share it with you. I'll always be here to share it with you." He took a deep breath. "That won't change."

All the reasons why it could change seemed nearly alien to her mind now. Their last conversation about having a dating relationship had been so far in the past now that the words and the reasons she'd once used seemed so vague. So meaningless. But it was all she had. "What if it did? What if we had a disagreement . . ." she said, trying to put meaning behind the words. But they sounded limp, even to her ears.

"Then we would work it out as we've done in the past." He took a few sure steps toward her, and stopped. "You and I have come through war zones, Kathryn, not only out there," he said nodding toward the viewport behind him, "but between us, on this ship. And we've survived."

"Survival isn't the only option," she said. She wasn't ready for this conversation. She had no idea where this came from tonight, either, or what had gotten into Chakotay. If she'd known, she certainly wouldn't have had all that champagne.

"No, survival isn't the only option, Kathryn," he agreed. "But if you'll notice, we've also done much more than that. We're stronger today. This ship and her crew are stronger today than when we were a divided crew, Starfleet and Maquis. The people are stronger, the captain is stronger," he said softly. "You and I are both stronger, together and apart." He closed the distance between them. "Can you imagine how strong we would be if we fought every battle together, personal as well as professional? If we allowed ourselves to come together in other ways, Kathryn?"

But she moved away from him, quickly, and turned her back to him so that she could think without having to look into those brown eyes. "No." She took a deep breath and scrubbed her face with her hands. Where in the hell had all this come from?

But he followed her, and when she turned to face him again he was there, in front of her. She nearly gasped. She hadn't expected him to be so close, and her defenses had weakened. But she'd never allowed him to know it. "Chakotay, you know how I feel about . . ."

"No I don't, Kathryn," he said. "I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure." He began to pace her quarters as he'd done his own earlier. "Tom and B'Elanna are married. They are expecting their first child. They're different people today than when we all first got together out here in the Delta Quadrant. And they're both better for it."

"Chakotay . . ."

"And there have been other changes, as well. I don't have to tell you what they are because we've been sitting on the bridge next to each other when they've occurred. We've experienced them together." He watched her but she wasn't trying to say anything now. He had no idea what she was thinking, but she was working very hard to keep her captain's face together. He wanted to see it shatter.

That thought struck him from nowhere. Just for tonight, he wanted to see her as she truly was, to see all her feelings spread out before him, to be able to read her face the way he was letting her read his right now.

"Kathryn, we've come this far together, not without diversity, but look at us, the two people we've become. I'm stronger today than I was before, than I was when we were fighting the Kazon, or the Vidiians. Or the Borg." He took a deep breath. The Borg. That was when they'd had their worst battle of all, and it wasn't with the Borg, it was between he and Kathryn. But they'd worked it out. It had taken time, but they were indeed stronger today because of it. "And you're stronger, too."

Her back was once more toward him, but she shook her head.

He knew she was denying his words, but not the meaning they held.

"You're a better captain than you were when we started this journey," he said softly. "Everything gets better with practice," he said lamely, not knowing whether he was getting through to her or not. She wouldn't even look at him.

"Not everything," she said suddenly. "Not everything." She still wouldn't look at him. "I'm no good at relationships, Chakotay," she said softly. "Some way, some how, I'd destroy it."

He felt his heartbeat quicken. She was talking to him, and she'd given him a part of her she'd never given him before. "I can't believe that. You've come through more diversity than anyone I've ever known and you're better for it and stronger for it. Relationships work much the same way."

She wouldn't face him, but she shook her head again. "You're talking about the captain, Chakotay. Kathryn can be even more difficult than the captain."

He grinned in spite of himself. "I know that," he said.

She heard the grin in his voice and turned to him without thinking. His eyes were dancing. "You think you know, Chakotay. But you don't really know me." Her heart was thudding in her chest. Just looking at him could do this to her. Still.

"I know Kathryn Janeway better than you think," he said so softly it was nearly a whisper.

"No," she said. "Did you know I'd nearly managed to destroy my relationship with Justin while we were engaged? I doubt we'd ever have gotten married. And Mark and I were good together only because he let me have my way, always, and he understood when I was away from home. We had a relationship that worked, but there was no real passion in it." She paused. "And none of the men in between were even worth considering." She stopped suddenly, realizing she'd just said more than she'd ever told anyone. She looked into Chakotay's eyes.

"I know all that," he said softly, his eyes never leaving hers.

"You couldn't possibly," she said.

"I do," he said. "You were still a girl when you were with Justin, and you began to grow in other directions, which often happens with young couples. And you were still finding your place, both as a captain and a woman, when you were with Mark. You were also learning how to blend the two together." He watched her eyes. "But I want a relationship with a captain who knows how to handle command, and a woman who knows her heart."

"And you think you've found her?" she asked. Her throat was dry and she could hardly get the words out.

"I found her a long time ago. I've just been waiting for her to find me," he said and grinned again.

She couldn't stand to look into those eyes that spoke volumes, that showed her what was in his heart, and so she moved away. "Oh, she found you, all right," she said softly. "A very long time ago. But she had a tremendous mission before her, one that kept her awake nights."

"And one that still does," he said. "It still does, Kathryn." He took a deep breath. "I said we're closer to home now. I didn't say the hard work is behind us. There's a lot more ahead, but we will continue to face it together. We're stronger together, Kathryn."

"Yes," she said. "But I'm so tired." She felt the tears spring to her eyes and forced them back down again. For seven years, she had not once cried about her responsibilities, not even when she was lying in the dark, alone in a captain's bed that was far too big for one person. She would be damned if she'd cry now.

He moved closer to her and she felt his presence so close behind her, so strong. So comforting, and so permanent. She could nearly feel his breath on her neck. The thought made her tremble.

"Kathryn," he said quietly, "Let me be a part of your life, not just your command."

"You've been a part of my life for a long time, Chakotay," she said. "But now, all those reasons for not bringing you closer seem like empty words. Once, they weren't."

"I know that, too," he said, and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him again. "I'm not complaining about how things have been between us. I understand it. I just think it's time things changed." He looked deeply into her eyes. "I want us to finish what we started a long time ago, on New Earth."

Her eyes changed and a slow smile crept across her lips. When the corner of her mouth turned up slightly, he smiled in return.

"New Earth?" she asked. "That was a long time ago." But the look in her eyes said it hadn't been so long, after all. "Chakotay," she said softly, "If you haven't noticed, you and I are much closer than we ever got to be then. We've been building on that budding relationship for years."

And in that instant he knew she was right. "So you never forgot," he said softly, more to himself than to her.

"Forget? Not on your life," she said, smiling, and he watched as the captain faded away and Kathryn's eyes radiated with all the love she felt for him.

He swallowed hard. "Then will you go with me to the party on Saturday, Kathryn?" he asked, knowing he had to take a step back.

She looked at him, hard, and tried to consider her options. But of course there were none, and she knew it. Sometimes it was best to plunge ahead and take one's chances, a hard lesson she'd learned somewhere along the way. But she also knew that this time she'd found a direct route for her heart to take.

He'd been here all along. He hadn't given his heart away, but had kept it safe for her to take when she was ready. And now she knew beyond doubt that she was ready.

Maybe she'd finally enjoy one of these damned holiday parties, too.

"I'd love to go to the party with you, Chakotay," she said in a voice that made his heart flutter again. "And I'll trust you to handle any unorthodox rumors among the crew that might spring up as a result of any obvious change in our relationship," she said.

"Of course, Kathryn," he said, grinning. "Not that you'll hear any of them yourself, being the captain."

She smiled. He was slowly moving closer to her and the chemistry between them was working overtime. "There are some good things about being captain, you know."

He grinned. "Like being invited to parties in the Continuum with Q?" he asked softly as his lips neared hers.

"Q who?" she murmured, as his lips finally, finally, touched hers.


As Chakotay kissed his beloved Kathryn, two figures looked down upon them.

"Gee Dad, you were right!" exclaimed Q Junior. "You did it! You got them together!"

"Of course I was right," said the first Q. "But I'm still not happy about this."

"But Dad, she's in love with him!"

"But he's so unworthy of her," he said and sighed dramatically. "If only I'd experimented more with facial art," he said to himself, watching the two kiss across the room.

"Thanks Dad, you're the greatest," said Junior. He knew how to handle his dad.

Q beamed in spite of himself.

"Aunt Kathy will be much happier now," said Junior. "And I owed her something for all the trouble I caused her before."

"Yes, but why did I have to be the one to pay?" complained Q. "Things just won't be as much fun anymore."

"Oh, you'll find a way to have fun," said Junior. "You're a smart dad." Oh yeah, he knew how to handle his father.

Q beamed again. "Well, you do have a point there."

"Come on," said Junior, "Let's go to our party - did you get the centerpieces finished?"

"Don't ask," said Q, and the two were gone.


Chakotay knew that in this moment his universe had changed.

As their kiss deepened, he touched Kathryn's face and ran one hand under her hair and over her neck. It was warm and soft and he felt her pulse quicken.

He pulled her closer to him, feeling his own knees weaken as her body fit perfectly against his. His heartbeat was off the scale, and the blood was pulsing in his ears.

One person should never have this kind of control over another, he thought fleetingly.

But he wouldn't change it for all the jello in the Continuum.


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