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Commander Chakotay has decided he cannot continue to love the Captain from afar. He will stay behind on an alien planet and help the natives battle their enemies instead of continuing the journey home with the Voyager crew. The Captain can make it home just fine without him, after all.
To Jana, and all the other JetC folks who still believe it really could happen . . . for it is the dreamers who make up the best part of life.
"I'll be back." Tom stood from the table.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"To see the Captain."
"Tom, don't do something stupid." B'Elanna stood from the table, and touched his arm gently.
"Stupid? I can't believe this, coming from you!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" She immediately retracted her hand at the tone in Tom's voice.
"Chakotay is supposed to be your friend, and you're not going to do anything about this."
"There's nothing we can do, Tom. He's made up his mind, and it's not up to us to interfere."
"Well, minds have been changed before, B'Elanna. And Voyager is leaving at 0600 tomorrow, whether Chakotay's with us or not. And it's obvious that the Captain's not going to try to talk him out of this without a little shove."
"Tom! You . . . you can't do that!" B'Elanna glanced around at the other crewmen eating in the mess hall, and was relieved to see that no one was paying attention to them. She lowered her voice. "You can't go see her! This is between the Captain and Chakotay, and you can't interfere!"
"Because . . . because . . . it's not our business." B'Elanna couldn't believe Tom was behaving this way. "Because one does not just walk up to the Captain and ask her why she doesn't go after her First Officer and beg him to come back. He's made the decision to remain on this planet, Tom, and you have to respect the fact that it's his decision to make. "
"That's not the Starfleet way, is that what you're saying? You of all people, B'Elanna?"
B'Elanna paused, struck by his words, but she would never acknowledge it.
"I never understood Starfleet rules when dear ole' Daddy explained them to me, B'Elanna, and I can't say I understand them much better now. But I do know when I see two people who are both too stubborn to swallow their pride and make up with each other." His voice became gentler. "In fact, I understand it well." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek briefly, then turned to leave the mess hall just as Harry walked in.
"Hey, what's going on?" said Harry, casually.
Neither B'Elanna nor Tom answered Harry at first. Finally, Tom turned back to look at B'Elanna, and said softly, "B'Elanna will explain it to you. She seems to understand it much better than I do."
Then Tom turned and exited the mess hall, leaving Harry dumbfounded and B'Elanna unable to decide whether to steam or to admire his moxy.
The Bridge had been unusually quiet this morning. Tom thought about it on his long trek to the Captain's quarters.
Captain Janeway had been in one of those moody moods, and Commander Chakotay was in a sulky mood. Everyone around them tried to remain as quiet as possible, knowing that the difference between a good day and a bad one was whether one was successful at staying out of their way. The key was to not be noticed at all.
Tom Paris was in a different situation from everyone else, though. He sat directly in front of the Captain and Commander, and there was no way he could just blend into the conduits. So he'd tried desperately not to breathe too heavily, or sigh too loudly. It was the best he could do.
Tom had sat at the helm all morning, thinking about Voyager, and trying to content himself with reminiscing. He reflected for the thousandth time on the turn of events in his life. He'd barely managed to slide through Starfleet Academy, had made some bad judgments and even worse mistakes, and wound up in a New Zealand Penal Colony. His father, the incomparable Admiral Owen Paris, had not gone out of his way to help his son, or to attempt to have his sentence lessened.
But Tom's life had taken a much-needed turn for the better when one Captain Kathryn Janeway had walked into his life on a day he would never forget. Because of Captain Janeway he had found a new life, a reason to get up every morning, and a beautiful and feisty half-Klingon, half-human wife he'd do anything for. Who could have known that his life would one day be worth living?
And he had the Captain to thank for it all.
The Captain and Commander Chakotay had seemed just fine when Tom saw them in the Mess Hall late last night. But this morning on the Bridge they'd been sullen. That was the word that had come to Tom out of the blue this morning. They sat directly behind him, and he could almost cut the air with a knife. Quiet was nice sometimes, but today it hadn't been nice at all.
At first he thought they'd had a fight. It still happened occasionally. It was a waste of time, Tom thought, since they didn't indulge in the making up part that lovers got to have afterward. Although, they sure shared the ups and downs that lovers went through. Tom had long thought they should just say the heck with the command structure and protocols and start a new type of relationship with each other. And, if they were still unsure about whether they loved each other, any crewmember on Voyager could enlighten them. Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay were made for each other.
There was no person better suited for the Captain than Chakotay. The Captain was soft, gentle, kind, warm and caring. She was also strong, independent, opinionated and extremely stubborn. Chakotay admired her and protected her, though she didn't always realize it. That was the good thing about it - Chakotay knew how to look out for the Captain without her being constantly aware he was doing so.
And the Captain was good for Chakotay, too. He was soft-spoken and mild mannered. He had been known to sometimes take the side of diplomacy too far - even to the point where it was too late to make an about face. He disliked factions or war of any kind, this former Maquis Captain, and could easily become lost in the process of trying to solve problem situations with discussions that had long become stale. But he was also often able to bring new understanding to old situations.
The Captain, on the other hand, knew how to punch her way through when the need arose.
Tom smiled. He'd seen the Captain at her best. And had even lived to tell the tale.
There were certainly disagreements between the two top commanding officers from time to time, but truth be known, the Captain and Commander's diverse command styles complimented each other more often than not.
And then there was The Look.
Tom had once had a bet going on about how many looks Chakotay slipped the Captain in one week's time, how many of those looks the Captain ignored, and how many she actually acknowledged. There had finally been a long discussion in the Mess Hall late one evening among several crewmembers. They just couldn't come to an agreement about what constituted the Captain's acknowledgement of The Look. Some said she had to actually smile, and others said she merely had to glance over and see it. The lengthy discussion had pretty much killed that betting pool.
Tom continued on toward the Captain's quarters.
Then just about a week ago, Voyager had come upon a race of aliens from the planet Serus. They were having problems repairing one of their ships due to a recent attack from a lifelong enemy, the Trilig. The Captain had instructed B'Elanna to do whatever it took to get the Serian ship back up to speed. B'Elanna and her crew of Engineers had assisted with the repairs, and in a matter of a couple of days things were looking good.
Tom recalled how the more time Chakotay and the Captain spent with the Serians, the more troubled Chakotay had looked. Now that Tom really thought about it, he also remembered that Captain Janeway had called Chakotay aside more than once to discuss his opinions, and the current situation, in private.
Things hadn't been good between them in several days. Tom knew that Chakotay had admitted to B'Elanna that it troubled him a great deal that the Serians were a lesser developed race than the Trilig, technologically, and that the Trilig took advantage of the Serians' weaknesses.
Tom had figured that Chakotay wanted to help the Serians and the Captain had refused, probably citing the Prime Directive in all its glory. This sort of thing had happened before, but something was different this time. The two of them always settled their disagreements quickly, but this time something was lingering. There was definitely something wrong here.
This morning, Tom had suddenly been drawn to an unusual pattern on his console. There'd been an odd sort of planet with three rings circling it four light years from Voyager's present course, off the port bow. He'd informed the Captain about it and she'd told him to maintain course.
No, she had certainly not been herself today. When the Captain, a natural explorer not only by profession, but by nature, was not interested in veering slightly off course to check out a phenomena this strange, it was not good news. Something was definitely wrong. And it had to do with Chakotay. If it were anything or anyone else, the Captain would have been able to let go of her bad mood and become interested in the strange planet ahead. Chakotay was the only person who could affect her this way.
There had been a senior staff briefing scheduled for noon, and that was when Tom and the rest of the senior staff found out what was going on.
The noon briefing was exactly that - brief. The Captain had asked for status reports, made quick yet detailed comments and gave direct orders. While she had been efficient, as Seven might say, her mind had also seemed to be elsewhere.
Finally, at the end of the meeting, she'd stood from her command chair and turned away, toward the window. She'd watched the stars streaking by for a long moment, and it had seemed that she was lost in deep thought. She'd watched the stars countless times, yet each member of the crew knew she was as fascinated by what lie outside as ever. Turning back from the window, the Captain had appeared to be all business, but she didn't seem very happy.
And her senior staff knew from experience that the Captain's current dark mood was one she was apt to stay in for awhile.
"Commander Chakotay has decided to remain on Planet Serus to assist the Serians with their plight against the Trilig. When Voyager departs orbit tomorrow at 0600, the Commander will remain behind, and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok will become second in command of Voyager. He will sit beside me on the Bridge for the remainder of our journey home." Her voice began to break, the very slightest bit, and it was obvious that it annoyed her. "Please feel free to say your good-byes to Commander Chakotay, either now or in private."
Then she had turned to Chakotay, and he had slowly looked up into her eyes.
While the Captain's eyes were steel, Chakotay's eyes seemed to be searching hers for one last reason to stay.
"Thank you for your seven years of dedicated service to this crew, Commander. I wish you well in your new life, and on your new venture. I'm sure we will all miss you."
Then Captain Janeway had turned and strode purposefully from the room.
And that was that.
Chakotay had stood by while the senior staff came to him one by one and hugged him, shook his hand, congratulated him, refused to look him in the eye, or in some appropriate manner, wished the Commander well. But Tom had seen the distress in his eyes.
Everyone in general seemed shocked, and yet deep inside, no one was surprised. The Captain had pushed the Commander away for years, and there was only so much a man could take. The shame of it all was that these two people belonged together as night belonged to day, and they both knew it. Everyone knew it. Yet the Captain wouldn't acknowledge it, and the Commander wasn't allowed to.
Tom knew B'Elanna was deeply hurt. He'd seen the tears in her eyes. Everyone had gone from the room except Tom, who'd stood silently in the back of the room waiting for her, as she questioned Chakotay.
"Why can't you give me a better answer than that, Chakotay?" she'd asked softly.
"It's all I have to give, B'Elanna," Chakotay had told her, staring out the window ahead. "I need to stay here. These people need all the help they can get in defending themselves against their enemy."
"That's a lousy excuse, Chakotay, and you know it. It's not your battle to fight."
Tom had watched Chakotay turn to B'Elanna, and for a moment his eyes had turned dark. "I've finished fighting my battles, B'Elanna, and I lost them all. Now I'll help someone else fight theirs. Maybe this time I'll be luckier." He'd turned back to the window, and Tom knew he was trying to forget.
B'Elanna had looked at Chakotay's profile a moment longer, the face of the ex-Maquis Captain she had called a friend for so many years now. His pride was hurt. And there was nothing she could do about it. She turned quickly, and strode away angrily. She'd walked past Tom, and exited through the Briefing Room door. As he turned to follow her, Tom paused just long enough to see Chakotay drop his eyes to the floor and close them tightly.
Chakotay had put on a brave front, but he was a lost man.
Tom suddenly felt bad for Chakotay. They had never been close, but Tom understood how Chakotay must feel. A woman like the Captain wouldn't be easy to get over, and downright impossible to forget.
Tom had once again been thankful that B'Elanna belonged to him. She hadn't made it easy on him, not that he'd deserved it either, but the wait had been worth it. He only wished Chakotay could find the same happiness with Captain Janeway. But it just didn't seem like things were going to work out that way anymore.
However, Tom Paris was not ready to watch them walk away from each other just yet, pride be damned.
Now, Tom paused outside the doors to the Captain's quarters, knowing that she probably entered these doors only a short time ago. He took a deep breath, not knowing what he'd say when he saw her, when those blue-grey eyes stared straight into his without flinching, but knowing that he had to do something nonetheless.
Closing his eyes, he reached out and rang the buzzer to the Captain's door.
"Come." Tom opened his eyes upon hearing her voice respond immediately. The doors opened and Tom entered the dimly lit room. He was more than just a bit uneasy; after all, he'd only been in the Captain's quarters on very few occasions in the past, and always when he'd been invited to come.
Upon quick reflection, most of those times hadn't been very pleasant, either.
Tom stopped a few feet inside the doorway and looked around, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimness.
"What is it, Mr. Paris?"
Tom turned toward the voice, and saw the Captain standing a few meters away, near the viewport. The soft light outlined her slight form, and Tom moved another couple of steps toward where she stood.
"I, uh, wondered if you're feeling all right, Captain. You left the Briefing Room in a bit of a hurry a little while ago." He didn't know what made him say this, but he had to say something.
"I'm fine, Mr. Paris. Is there anything else?"
Tom was very aware that the Captain was using her "command" voice, and he instinctively knew that he needed to be careful about what he said to her. And she obviously wasn't in the mood for company right now, either.
"Well, uh, yes, Captain, there is."
"If I were you, I'd tread lightly, Mr. Paris."
Tom recognized her warning tone immediately. "Yes, uh . . . yes, Ma'am." Tom paused and cleared his throat. "I uh . . ."
"VERY lightly, Lieutenant."
Tom sighed. "Yes, Ma'am," he said softly. She knew why he was here.
Both were quiet a moment, while Tom gathered his wits about him. Finally, he steadied himself and ignored his discomfort. Tom said gently, "Captain, B'Elanna and I are planning to have dinner together in a couple of hours. And, well, I don't have anything planned between now and then. And, uh . . ." Tom swallowed hard and forced himself to continue. "Captain, the new Delta Flyer hasn't been taken out of the shuttle bay and given a good run about in a few weeks." Again, he paused, but Captain Janeway didn't respond. And she didn't move from where she stood. The lighting was so dim that Tom couldn't make out her facial expressions, either, so he had no idea what she was thinking. If he could only see her eyes, he thought vaguely. They always told the tale.
"Well, Captain, I wondered if I might have permission to take her out for a spin." He continued quickly, this time not giving her a chance to answer. "And, uh, well, while I'm out I thought I might swing by Chakotay's new camp on Planet Serus. For a minute or two. Just to get some idea about where he'll be, you know. I thought maybe B'Elanna might like to know. For future reference." Still Janeway said nothing, and Tom continued onward. "I'd only be gone an hour or so." Still, nothing. Tom took a deep breath and plunged ahead. All or nothing. He was used to those odds. "And I thought you might like to join me, Captain," finished Tom, softly.
Still, Janeway said nothing.
Finally, feeling more than a little foolish, Tom ventured forth again. "Captain?"
"Let's go, Mr. Paris," said the Captain, in a quiet and determined, yet somewhat defeated, voice. Then she moved down and past him, heading for the doors to her quarters. As she exited into the corridor, Tom quickly turned and followed her. He had to move fast in order to keep up with her. Once the Captain decided to do something, there wasn't a force in any universe that could keep her from it.
Ten minutes later, the Delta Flyer had been given a quick system's check, and was ready for take-off. Just as Tom was wondering how they were going to convince Tuvok to let the Captain out of his sight for a bit, the Captain hit her comm badge. "Janeway to Tuvok," she said.
"Tuvok here, Captain." Tom knew that it was Tuvok's late night for Bridge duty. Chakotay had assigned the duty roster for the next two weeks, prior to leaving Voyager. He'd made sure to tidy up all the loose ends. Well, nearly all of them, thought Tom wryly.
"Tuvok, Mr. Paris and I are taking the Delta Flyer out for a little spin. Open the launch doors." Tom heard the Captain give the command in her best, and most determined, Bridge voice. He smiled in spite of himself. She was good. She knew how to give a command that not even Tuvok would question.
After a moment, the launch doors began to open. Tom shook his head in admiration. "Launch doors are opening, Captain," stated Tuvok through the Captain's comm badge, and Tom thought his Vulcan superior tone of voice was a bit less superior sounding right now.
"Thank you, Mr. Tuvok. We won't be long, and we'll check in every 15 minutes. Janeway out."
Tom maneuvered the Delta Flyer out of the shuttle bay, and immediately headed for the planet Chakotay had settled on earlier that day.
After several minutes of silence, Janeway said in a soft, but very Captain-like voice, "Why, Tom?"
"Captain?" He looked over at her, but she was busy with her controls and wasn't looking at him.
"Why did you come to my quarters earlier?"
Tom sighed, and turned back to his own controls. First she had told him to tread carefully, and now she was asking him to explain something to her which required honesty, and forthright answers. Yet, he knew instinctively that his answer had to land somewhere between the two. "Captain, both you and Chakotay can be stubborn at times. He wouldn't come to say 'good-bye' to you and you weren't going to go down to the planet to say 'good-bye' to him. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to do so." Then the tone in his voice lightened considerably. "Besides, I know it's difficult for nearly anyone to turn down a ride in the Delta Flyer with the best pilot in Starfleet Command flying her!" He turned back to grin at his Captain, but it was quite obvious she wasn't buying his charming explanation. She was, however, looking at him intently, but after a moment her eyes softened, and she looked away from him, suddenly busying herself with instrument readings again.
Tom turned back to his own console, and let out a deep breath. He was extremely relieved that the Captain had decided not to pursue that train of thought. He was glad he could concentrate on just flying the shuttlecraft right now.
"Captain, I'm picking up some distant energy signals that seem to be part of a plasma storm, or something like a plasma storm, anyway. It's approaching, and seems to be heading in the same direction we are."
"How bad does it look?" asked Janeway.
"Unknown, Captain. It doesn't look bad right now, but it's hard to tell about plasma storms sometimes."
"That's for sure . . ." Janeway muttered under her breath, and just as Tom was about to ask her what she meant by that, he thought better of it, and shut his mouth. It was often best to leave well enough alone. "Just keep an eye on it, Tom."
"Aye, Captain," said Tom, grateful for the quiet once more.
After nearly twenty minutes of blessed and comfortable silence between them, and one uneventful check-in with Commander Tuvok, the Delta Flyer approached the last known coordinates for Commander Chakotay. Although Tom knew that the Captain didn't want to appear overanxious, he also noticed that she kept glancing at the scanning equipment over her head and was watching her displays rather intently. He knew that she was trying to lock onto Chakotay's comm badge signal, knowing that he wouldn't have dispensed with it until after Voyager left orbit for good.
"I see it!" said Tom, suddenly, catching the outlined image of several handmade huts in the distance. "That's it. That's where Chakotay beamed down to earlier!"
Kathryn Janeway checked her console and calibrated the readings to match Chakotay's comm badge signal. "You're right. He's in there," she said softly.
Tom thought he detected a reticence in the Captain's voice, a dread for what may lie ahead, and he turned to look at her face, to see if he'd been correct, but she turned away from him quickly.
Suddenly, he realized for the first time that she was afraid. He had never known her to be afraid of anything, and so he hadn't immediately recognized this reaction from her.
Then it hit him. She was afraid they had lost Chakotay forever. As long as Voyager was nearby, there was still a chance that he'd come back and things would continue as they had for a long time now. Chakotay had always come back before. But now she was going to see him face-to-face, and when she and Tom left this planet, just a short while from now, they would all know how things stood for certain.
Now, so many things became clear to Tom. He suddenly understood that losing Chakotay was probably the Captain's only fear. She could stand toe to toe with any enemy they encountered, in order to protect her crew. She had no fear for her personal safety, but she couldn't entertain the idea of losing her First Officer, and best friend. And, Tom thought, perhaps Chakotay represented even more than that to her. It was no secret among the Voyager crew that the Captain and Commander could lock gazes and send electrical currents throughout any room they happened to be in.
And Tom had known for a long time that Chakotay was deeply in love with the Captain; it was written all over his face when he looked at her, thinking that no one noticed.
Tom sighed. He could certainly relate to that. B'Elanna had held Tom at bay for four years before he had finally charmed her into taking a chance on a relationship with him. He smiled to himself. B'Elanna was the best thing that had ever happened to him. A close second was serving on Voyager, and he had Captain Janeway to thank for that. In fact, if the truth be known, he had Kathryn Janeway to thank for a lot of things.
Tom knew it was time to land the shuttle, it was now or never, and he'd be damned if he gave the Captain a chance to back out and order him to take her back to Voyager without even seeing Chakotay. This was the last chance the Captain and Chakotay had to take a stand for, or against, each other, and he was going to make sure they didn't turn coward now.
"I'm taking the Flyer down, Captain. Prepare for landing."
Before the Captain could reply, she was forced to grab onto her console quickly, as the Delta Flyer came in for a sudden and quick landing, then came to a stop. Tom was certain the Captain knew instinctively that he'd done that on purpose. He hadn't wanted to give her time to respond, though, because if she had gotten cold feet and ordered him to return to Voyager, there wouldn't have been anything he could've done about it. He would have had to obey her order.
"Lieutenant . . . ," began the Captain, in the voice that Tom always dreaded.
"Captain," Tom interrupted, looking at the small viewscreen over his head. "It's Chakotay. He's standing in front of one of the huts. He sees us."
Kathryn Janeway turned quickly and looked at her own viewscreen. It was true. He'd seen them, and had stepped outside. Waiting. He was waiting . . .
"Captain," said Tom gently, but Janeway was still, and she didn't pull her eyes from the image on her viewscreen to look at him.
"I don't think he's waiting for me, Captain," said Tom softly.
Finally, slowly, Kathryn Janeway lowered her eyes from the viewscreen, and looked at the floor. She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. After a moment, she opened her eyes and turned her chair slowly toward Tom. He saw the determination in her eyes, then, and he knew that she was going to see this thing through, all the way through.
"Open the hatch, Tom," she said firmly. "I'm going out there."
"Yes, Ma'am!" he called, and turned his chair back toward his console, as the Captain stood and started for the hatch.
"Captain?" he asked, as he turned his chair back toward her.
"Be sure to check in with Tuvok at the appropriate time. I don't want him to worry."
"Yes, Ma'am," said Tom softly, and he depressed the button that opened the hatch door. Far be it from him to comment on whether or not Tuvok would actually "worry."
The door opened, and the Captain turned and stepped outside.
Chakotay stood outside the hut and watched the new Delta Flyer land several meters away from the campsite. He knew instinctively that Tom had flown it; no one else could make a landing quite as quick and smooth as that. And Chakotay couldn't help but admire the new Flyer. All the things they had done wrong with the original Flyer was made right with the new one. Practice did, indeed, make perfect. The Delta Flyer II looked to be about as perfect as a shuttlecraft could get. He had loved to fly it himself, and his heart ached at the thought of never flying her again.
But when he saw the shuttle door open, his heart stopped beating, as he watched Kathryn step out of the opening. He was completely unprepared to see her. He hadn't said good-bye to her, he couldn't bring himself to do it. There were no unsaid words between them, they knew each other too well, and had experienced too much together to say a simple "good-bye," and they both knew it.
But he certainly never expected her to come here to see him. Not Kathryn Janeway.
He watched Kathryn hesitate only a moment when she saw him, but then in typical Kathryn Janeway fashion, she straightened herself slightly and walked straight toward him. This was just business as far as she was concerned, he tried to tell himself. She probably just wanted to be sure that he was settled. Then she could set Voyager on a course for home, and move forward. She would soon forget about her ex-First Officer. With Tuvok by her side, Chakotay told himself that Kathryn Janeway would finally be able to forget that an ex-Maquis had ever sat in the second command seat. He'd never be missed.
Oh, but he hoped he was wrong. He didn't want Kathryn to forget him. He wanted her to remember him, as he would always remember her.
Chakotay watched Kathryn walk toward him. He didn't trust himself to move so he stood rooted to the spot. After all these years he was still mesmerized by her, whether he wanted to admit it or not. She moved with such grace, yet such power. She embodied authority with every step she took, yet it wasn't practiced with her, it was completely natural. That was one of her most endearing, as well as enticing, traits, and Chakotay never tired of watching her. Now, he watched her with a heavy heart, memorizing her walk, her looks, her air of confidence, and knowing he would never experience this moment again.
When she was about five meters from him, Kathryn stopped. And Chakotay saw such a fleeting look of hurt in her eyes, he was actually uncertain as to whether it had actually been there. Perhaps he had imagined it. One did not see this look in Kathryn Janeway's eyes often.
"Hi," she said softly.
Chakotay nodded slightly. He couldn't speak, even if he'd wanted to. What did she want? Why was she doing this to him?
Kathryn looked at the ground. Chakotay wasn't going to make this easier for her then. So be it. She would get this over with, then be on her way. If he was going to make this more difficult for her, if he truly wanted to be free of her and Voyager, she'd just as soon get this visit over with as quickly as possible. And she would never have to feel guilty for not trying to bridge the gap between them at the end. She looked up again. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Captain. Is there something I can do for you?" He barely recognized his own voice. It was hard, uncertain.
But she shook her head. "Nothing," she said softly. "I just needed to know that you're all right. That you're . . . safe."
"I'm fine," he lied. He wasn't fine. He would never be fine again.
Again, she nodded and looked down. "All right then."
But he would never see her again, after this moment, and it wouldn't hurt to ask. "Why do you care, Kathryn?" His voice was hard, and he hadn't meant it to be.
"What?" She raised her head, and he could see the uncertainty in her eyes. She was surprised, shocked, at his tone of voice.
He sighed. "I'm fine. There's nothing to be concerned about. Just get your ship home, Captain. Get our people home." He looked away for a moment and shut his eyes briefly. But when he brought his eyes back to look at her, he knew that she'd been looking at him all along. Her eyes immediately showed him that she was confused, and concerned.
"Chakotay, what is it?" Her question was so faint that if he hadn't known her better, hadn't known her voice so well, along with its many inflections, he wouldn't have known for certain that he had, in fact, heard her at all.
"I'm fine, Kathryn," he lied again.
"So you've said, Chakotay," she said. "Several times now."
"Then perhaps you'd best be on your way."
She looked him in the eye, and he forced himself to hold her gaze, until he could feel his eyes nearly glaze over.
Finally, the Captain nodded at Chakotay, then looked at the ground again. "All right, Chakotay," she said gently. "If this is what you really want."
"Have a good journey home, Captain," he said, willing her to leave him alone quickly before he broke down and began to cry openly, for all the things they had lost, but never truly had in the first place.
Tom watched from the small viewport of the shuttlecraft. Whatever was going on out there, it wasn't good. He could tell from their body language that both the Captain and Chakotay were being aloof with each other. This was a fine time to play shy, he thought to himself. He could recall various times throughout the years when they were extremely verbal with each other. They certainly had had their moments. And this type of behavior wasn't like either of them.
As Tom watched through his viewport, Kathryn Janeway nodded silently toward Chakotay, then turned and started to walk away from him.
But after Kathryn had moved away several meters, she stopped suddenly. To hell with it. She wasn't going anywhere without knowing why. If this was to be the last time she ever saw Chakotay, she'd rather they end their relationship with an all-out blow up argument than to leave it like this. They'd never lied to each other before, and right now they were parting with lies between them.
And she would be damned if it would end this way.
Tom continued to watch the Captain. She stopped, and he watched her face as she seemed to consider some things. Then he saw the look that he'd been on the receiving end of on too many occasions - it was the look that said she wasn't accepting any answers she didn't want to hear. And as he saw the Captain turn slowly back toward Chakotay, Tom grinned. This was more like it. Boy, was Chakotay in for it now!
Sitting back more comfortably in his chair, Tom made a mental note to check in with Tuvok in seven more minutes. He didn't want the time to get away from him. If he didn't make the expected contact at the precise time, Tuvok would contact the Captain himself to be sure everything was all right. And Tom didn't want Tuvok to interfere with what was going on outside his window. Not now. In fact, he was going to be sure he didn't forget to check it. He reached over and manually keyed in instructions for the computer to remind him to check in with Tuvok 30 seconds beforehand.
Captain Janeway straightened to her full height, and then took a deep breath. Damn him. He'd tell her why he was doing this. She wasn't leaving until she had some answers, and those answers had better be good ones. The entire crew was counting on their Captain to get them home again, and she couldn't do it without Chakotay, no matter how much she told herself she didn't need his help, or anyone else's. She knew the truth of the matter, and how much she really depended on him. And, damnit, he knew it, too.
Chakotay saw her stop. He held his breath, then let it out slowly, as he watched her turn back toward him. He had wanted her to leave, but somehow he'd known she wouldn't, not without some answers that made sense to her. The problem was that he had no answers for her, none that she wanted to hear. The only real answers he had, the only true answers to everything that had meaning in his life, was something she wouldn't want to hear. They were truths she didn't want to believe.
The Captain slowly made her way back to Chakotay, not once taking her eyes from him. When she was only four meters from him, she stopped. "Well?" she asked.
But Chakotay merely looked at her. He had nothing to say to her.
Kathryn sighed softly. "I need something more from you than this, Chakotay, something real to take away with me. I need to know why you've decided to stay here."
"Are you sure you want to know, Kathryn?" His voice was soft, and he hadn't meant to ask the question at all.
"I need the truth, Chakotay. I need to know why you're abandoning us now."
"I'm not abandoning anyone, Kathryn. You have Tuvok. He can take over my duties, and my command chair, with no effort at all. He'll help you to get the crew home."
"Tuvok's place is not at my side, it is at the tactical station, Chakotay. Your place is at my side."
"I've been there for nearly seven years, Kathryn. Now it's someone else's turn."
There was silence for a moment. "I don't want someone else, Chakotay. I want you." Her voice nearly broke, and she could barely speak, but she forced herself to remain strong.
Chakotay felt his heartbeat increase at her words, and her tone of voice. And her incredible eyes were looking right through him, burning into his very soul. How did he ever think he could walk away from her, and survive? He belonged to her; he had for longer than he could remember. He would never be able to pick up his life and go on without her. And he was a fool for thinking he could.
"The truth, Chakotay," she whispered. "Tell me." Her voice had dropped an octave, and Chakotay heard the hint of fear behind it. She wanted to know the truth, yet she was also afraid of hearing it.
But Chakotay didn't know if he could tell her the truth. Perhaps it would be better to leave things as they were, with the truth known in both their hearts, but the words never said aloud. Perhaps it was best to part with lies between them.
"Kathryn." Chakotay paused. He tasted the salty tears that he was forcing down his throat. "Let's just leave this be, Kathryn." His voice was soft. He couldn't stand the look in her eyes, boring into his with such intensity that he finally had to look away. And he was tired of leaving things unsaid.
"I can't do that, Chakotay," she whispered. They were both finding it increasingly difficult to speak. "I need to know."
Chakotay closed his eyes, trying to find peace in his soul, but there was none. There never would be again.
Slowly, Chakotay opened his eyes and met Kathryn's once again. "I can't continue the rest of our journey home working within the same parameters you set for us so long ago, Kathryn." His voice was gentle, and kind. If she wanted the truth, then he wouldn't keep it from her any longer. At least he owed her that much. "I can't sit next to you on the Bridge, day after day, year after year, and love you. And not be allowed to touch you."
Kathryn stood very still. Her eyes never left his, but she couldn't speak. There was nothing to say. What did she expect? She had asked for the truth, and deep in her heart, she had already known what that truth was. Did she think he wouldn't tell her? Did she think she could get some sort of half-answer from Chakotay that would suffice, then walk away and be free from him, free from all the complications of a relationship that couldn't exist?
Finally, Kathryn pulled her eyes from his. She lowered her head and closed her eyes. The tears were there, behind her lids, and she had to use every bit of self-control she had learned over those years at the Academy to force them away. She had no idea how much time passed, but when she finally raised her head to look at him again, Chakotay was watching her intently, with a gentle look on his face. Gentle. He was the kindest, gentlest person she had ever known. And she loved him deeply. Damnit! She didn't want to love him! She had tried not to love him for so long now.
And until she got her crew home, she could never act on her feelings for him. She took a deep breath. "Chakotay." She swallowed hard. "I can't even entertain the idea of a relationship with you, or anyone, until we're back in the Alpha Quadrant. You know that," she said in barely more than a whisper. "We've already had that discussion, a long, long time ago. And I thought . . ."
"You thought what, Kathryn? That everything was all right, that I could accept that wall you put up between us, for as long as it took? Well, it's been nearly seven years, and I think that's longer than most people would wait, Kathryn. It's a lot longer than Mark waited!" He saw the pain of his words reflected in her eyes, and he was angry at himself for lashing out at her. It wasn't her fault that his heart was broken, that he couldn't take it any longer. She had never made him a promise.
"I'm sorry, Kathryn," he lowered his eyes, and choked back the tears. "That was unfair, and unnecessary."
"Mark and I had a relationship. We were engaged to be married, Chakotay. And he did wait for me - until it seemed fruitless to do so. He had no reason to believe I was still alive, and trying desperately to get my ship, and my crew, home. I don't think this situation is quite the same."
Her words were cool, but Chakotay knew he'd hurt her. He would never forgive himself for what he'd just said. It wasn't like him to do this sort of thing. He never lashed out in a jealous manner, as he'd just done. And why had he done it? He wasn't jealous of a man whom he'd never met, and who had once had a relationship with Kathryn. Or was he? Was he jealous that Kathryn had once shared her life with Mark, and now refused to do the same with him? Was that it?
Maybe Kathryn didn't love him, after all.
He hated himself for hurting her as he'd done just now. But he couldn't stop the anger that was welling up inside him. "No, it's not the same, Kathryn. You're right. You've never given me the same chance to make you happy that you did Mark."
There was silence for a moment. "Is that what this is about, Chakotay? Are you still upset because I can't commit to a relationship with you?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, but her eyes were unchanging. They were challenging, demanding an answer.
"I'm not upset, Kathryn." He moved toward her, but she immediately sensed what he was about to do, and turned away. She started purposefully toward the Delta Flyer, but Chakotay stepped in front of her, stopping her in her path. She glared at him.
"What are you doing, Chakotay?" she asked in a low voice which said she didn't want anything unexpected to happen.
"You wanted answers, and now that I'm giving them to you, you act as though you don't want to hear them, after all. Why is that, Kathryn?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Chakotay," she said defiantly.
Chakotay moved a step closer, but that one step put him directly in front of her. "Kathryn," he said her name softly, relishing the sound of it, coveting it. Kathryn quickly moved to walk around him, but he placed his hand gently on her shoulder. "Don't go," he whispered.
"Evidently this conversation isn't accomplishing anything, Chakotay," she said, trying to remain in control of the situation, but appearing slightly nervous to Chakotay. No one else would have noticed it at all, but he knew her well. "And I need to get back to Voyager."
"I want to kiss you good-bye." He'd shocked himself with his own words, so he wasn't surprised to see Kathryn's eyes widen.
"I want to kiss you."
"Chakotay, that is hardly an acceptable . . ."
"What does protocol matter, if we never see each other again? No one will be the wiser, you won't have to explain anything to Starfleet Command, and you will be at the very least granting me a last wish, Kathryn." He was pushing it, but he didn't care. Not anymore. His life would be over when she returned to the Delta Flyer, and left him, anyway. He knew that now, with more certainty than he knew his own name.
"Chakotay . . ." She didn't know what to say, couldn't think of an appropriate way to rebuff him. She'd never been in this situation before. She was saying good-bye to the man she loved, and all because he loved her. Isn't that what all of this boiled down to? Her heart was pounding in her chest, and she wasn't sure how she could walk away from him gracefully. She didn't need this complication in her life and she certainly didn't need Chakotay to kiss her, either, not now. Just the thought of it was making her breath catch in her throat, but she couldn't allow him to know that. And she couldn't possibly allow him to . . . kiss her.
Chakotay wondered what was going through Kathryn's mind, but she was too skilled at hiding what she was really thinking. While he admired her ability to hide her emotions, it also bothered him tremendously at times, times like these especially. "Kathryn . . ."
"No." She looked away from him. "I have to go, Chakotay." Her voice was low, soft, but she finally managed to look up and into his eyes one more time. She wanted to memorize everything about him, every line in his face - how many of those were her doing? - every strand of his hair, each line of his tattoo. But, she'd already done all this, hadn't she? She knew everything about this man already, and had known it all for years.
"I'm going to kiss you, Kathryn. You can push me away, slap me, force me to stop. And if that's what you want, I will. But all I ask is that you allow me to kiss you. You don't have to kiss me back," he finished, in a whisper, slowly lowering his face toward hers, and deeply surprised at himself for doing this. And even more surprised that Kathryn Janeway wasn't already moving past him, and toward her means of escape. He must have truly shocked her. That was something unto itself.
Kathryn stood very still, willing herself to move, to walk around this man and leave him. She told herself to go, walk away. Yet she remained standing very still. What was wrong with her? Why wouldn't her legs move? But she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and breathed in the smell of him. Chakotay had his own distinct scent that had nothing to do with cologne. He smelled of a special kind of scent - spices - that was different from anything, or anyone, else. She struggled with her desire for him, as she'd done for years. Why couldn't she be stronger? Why was she so weak where this man was concerned? Kathryn Janeway could look any enemy in the eye and stand toe to toe with him, yet she melted under the direct gaze of her First Officer. She just hoped he would never know that for sure.
Chakotay couldn't believe she was still standing in front of him. How could she still be here? He could smell the fresh scent of her shampoo and the body lotion he knew she always used. He'd inhaled these same scents every day for seven years while sitting next to her on the Bridge, and he never tired of smelling them. They were hers alone, distinctly Kathryn's. He even smelled them in his sleep. How would he ever survive, knowing he would never smell her again?
As he moved his mouth toward hers, Kathryn remained perfectly still. She had to move away, had to remain the Captain. She couldn't allow him to kiss her! That would change everything and she couldn't afford to have things change between them now. Not now. She wasn't as strong as people thought she was, as she wanted them to believe. She had to break away, go back to the Delta Flyer, and back to Voyager, where her duties awaited her.
Chakotay continued to move his lips toward hers slowly, so slowly. He focused on her mouth, that mouth he'd yearned for, and loved, for so long. She didn't move away from him, and he was surprised, but he could also sense her tenseness, and he knew that she wasn't going to make this easy for him. She was trying to figure out how to handle this unexpected turn of events, he knew. Yes, Kathryn was probably mentally running through the Starfleet manual, trying desperately to reach the section that would tell her how to handle her First Officer's advances. But it was too late for that now. It was too late for a lot of things.
Kathryn knew she was tense, and she couldn't remember when she'd last taken a breath. She wanted to tell Chakotay to back off, to go away. But she couldn't. She couldn't move, couldn't even speak. Why had she come here in the first place? She should have left well enough alone and let him stay on this godforsaken planet. She shouldn't have come back for him. But then, that's exactly what she'd done, hadn't she? She had come here, not to tell him good-bye, but rather, to find some way of convincing him to come back to Voyager. To her. She couldn't live without him, didn't want to. She could no longer imagine a life without him in it. Isn't that what she had been thinking about when Tom Paris interrupted her in her quarters earlier, after all?
Chakotay gently touched the corner of her mouth with his lips - the corner of her mouth that turned up in that sexy way she had whenever she was amused about something. He touched her gently, but she didn't move. That was all right. He continued his journey, slowly moving his lips along hers until he reached the middle of her mouth, the soft, luscious, fullest part of her lips. He knew she was fighting any good feelings she might experience from the touch of his lips on hers, but right now that didn't matter to him, either. All that mattered was that he was this close to her, touching her, feeling the softness of her skin, smelling the sweet, clean scent of her, and loving her openly. He gently caressed her lips with his, knowing she wouldn't respond, not Kathryn. He also knew that if his life ended when this kiss was over, then it had been worth it.
Kathryn was still holding her breath, standing her ground. She didn't want to breathe his scent any longer, didn't want to acknowledge how her heart continued to hammer in her chest, how her breasts were aware of his closeness, even through all those layers of Starfleet fabric. She didn't want to feel all the things she was feeling right now. Damnit! She couldn't afford to let herself feel these things! She was a Starfleet Officer, with a ship and a crew that was stranded so far away from home . . . and she had to get them back intact. She'd managed to keep her First Officer at arms' length for seven years, and she'd be damned if she gave in to temptations now. But he was so close, so tempting . . . .
Chakotay slowly brought his hands up to Kathryn's face. He moved his right hand around to the back of her neck, gently tilting her head so their lips could meet more squarely. He felt her body tremble; he knew he hadn't imagined it. Even though their bodies weren't pressed tightly together, they were close enough for him to know that she had trembled. Oh, Kathryn . . . He moved his hand up her warm, smooth neck and into her hair, just as he'd always wanted to do. She didn't fight him, but at any moment she would come to her senses and push him away, then flee to the Delta Flyer and escape - she would be out of his life forever. Not yet, Kathryn . . . .
She was breathing again, but barely. When he'd moved his hands up to her face, she thought she would faint from the warmth, the gentleness, the love in his actions, and she'd forced herself to breathe to keep from falling over. But then she had allowed herself a moment to revel in the feel of his lips on hers, and that was all it took. Her body had betrayed her, and she had trembled in his arms like a foolish lover. She couldn't allow this to continue any longer. No more. She had to act like the Captain she was.
He had to taste her, to know her completely for one moment in time. For one moment, before she left his life forever. Chakotay flicked his tongue across her lips gently, so gently he could feel how tight her lips were over her teeth, letting him know he would not be allowed in. But he slowly began to run his tongue across the part in her lips, and she suddenly gasped and her lips parted for the first time. He continued to kiss her lips, giving her time to understand his intentions.
Kathryn felt a ripple run through her entire body. His tongue on her lips was so unexpected, yet so daring, so enticing, she didn't know how much more of this she could take. She had gasped against his mouth, and he'd only held her tighter. She instinctively brought her arms up, her hands were on his chest now. She willed herself to push - just push - and force them apart. She had no strength left in her body, but she needed to be free of him now. Now or never.
Even though her hands were on his chest, she wasn't telling him to stop. Neither was she begging him to continue, but he knew she would break away at any moment. Chakotay moved his tongue inside her mouth gently. He brushed past her teeth and found her tongue, waiting, hiding. He flicked his tongue against hers once, and she gasped a second time, then he brushed her tongue again. And again. He heard her moan in the back of her throat, and felt the slightest give in her stance. Her hands became less tense against his chest, and he pulled her even closer to him slowly, gently. He wanted to feel her heart beat against his chest.
Kathryn knew she was weak, she'd always been weak where Chakotay was concerned, but now she was actually allowing him to see it for himself. What was she thinking? She wasn't thinking, wasn't thinking at all. That was the problem. She couldn't think now that this incredible man had his arms around her, his hand tangled in her hair, his tongue in her mouth, and was caressing her tongue in such an indescribable way. She'd dreamed of this, yet it was so much more than she could ever have imagined. He was so strong, yet so gentle and so warm. She wanted to melt into him, but she couldn't. She couldn't . . . .
Tom Paris was stunned. He couldn't believe he was actually seeing what he was seeing through the small viewport of the Delta Flyer! He blinked, quickly, and continued to stare. He knew Chakotay could be aggressive when he wanted to be, but Tom didn't realize he had such little regard for his own life as to actually kiss the Captain against her will! Wow, and here he was --Tom Paris - a witness to the whole thing!
Chakotay knew Kathryn Janeway, and he knew she was trying to get her bearing, he could tell from the way she was trying to gain a steadier footing, and from the way she was trying to position herself to move away from him. Yet he also knew she was feeling things she wouldn't admit to feeling just now. He could feel her body react to his, respond to his.
She decided to concentrate on pushing away from his chest, and not on the kiss. She couldn't allow him to control her thoughts, her feelings. Damnit, she didn't want to let Chakotay control her desires. But then, he had been master of her desires for so long already, hadn't he? What had changed? Nothing, except that he had taken charge. He had taken control. Oh, yes, he certainly had full control of her desires now.
Chakotay brought his hands down and put both of them on top of her hands, which were still positioned against his chest. He lifted her hands from his chest and moved them up and around his neck. It was all or nothing. He needed to feel her body against his. He needed her so badly. Kathryn, his Kathryn . . . .
She felt him cover her hands with his. All she could think was how warm his hands were - like his tongue. Warm, gentle, loving. And how big and strong. She wasn't the sort who needed to feel a big strong man next to her in order to feel like a woman, but then again . . . . Now, suddenly her arms were around his neck and her body was tight against his. Damn him . . . damn . . . .
He knew she was struggling with many emotions - anger, fear, and maybe even longing, desire. Or maybe that last part was just his imagination running away with him. Oh how he wanted her, loved her, needed her. Kathryn . . .
Damn him! How could he do this to her? She was his Captain. No. No more. He had left her, abandoned her, abandoned Voyager. But, what was this then? Was this the kiss of a man who intended to walk away? Then again, hadn't she given him no reason to stay? Hadn't she rejected him time and again, and for seven years? Hadn't she sent him away more times than she could remember, and more times than any man could accept?
Tom was staring in disbelief! The Captain wasn't pulling away! She hadn't pushed Chakotay back and slapped him, either, nor had she thrown him to the ground with one of those body slams Tom had seen her execute on more than one occasion when she was in battle with an enemy . . . but then, Chakotay wasn't exactly her enemy, was he? Tom personally felt they should have engaged in this sort of behavior long before now, but what did he know? He checked the chronometer quickly. Three more minutes, and then another check-in with Tuvok. So far, so good, but he could tell Tuvok was beginning to wonder why Tom was checking in and not the Captain.
Chakotay couldn't believe what was happening! Kathryn was beginning to relax against him, and she'd even moved closer to him - no, no, he must have imagined it, but her body was pressed against his, and she had tilted her head a bit further so their lips could touch without wasted space between them. And now she was opening her mouth just a bit more . . . he was beginning to lose his mind now, he knew this wasn't real, couldn't be real at all. He could hardly breathe now, and his heart was beating so fast.
Kathryn pressed her mouth into his, and moved her tongue up to touch his. If he wanted just one kiss, and was going to take it, then she might as well enjoy it, too. She felt him tremble against her body, and she couldn't deny the thrill it gave her. He still cared for her, still wanted her. She hadn't realized before how important this was to her, how much she didn't ever want him to move on with his life and leave her behind. She didn't want to lose him . . . oh gods, she couldn't bear to lose him . . . .
Chakotay moaned. Kathryn was moving her tongue into his mouth and pressing her body against his. He knew she had to feel his need hard against her, but she didn't move away from it. She moved her hands to the back of his neck and brought his head further down to her. They were so close now, so close. Their tongues were nearly joined, and Chakotay knew that if he died right now, if his ancestors chose this very moment to join his Spirit with theirs, he would gladly go. Kathryn was here with him now, and it was everything he'd dreamed, everything he had ever wanted, ever needed. She wasn't the Captain anymore, she was a woman, a lover, and the most sexy, sensual being Chakotay had ever known. She was the only good thing that had ever happened to him. Nothing else in his life mattered.
Kathryn began to move slowly away from him. She moved her tongue away from his, even though he resisted at first. And then her lips left his. She had to go, she told herself. She had to go now, or she would never be able to leave him at all.
Chakotay had known this moment wouldn't last forever. They had to break apart, had to continue with their lives, yet it was unexpected just the same. Kathryn was pulling away, moving away from him, and his body ached from the separation already.
She slowly brought her arms from behind his head and ran them gently down his chest, never looking into his eyes. Instead, she looked downward, trying to regain her composure. She was trying to tell herself she was the Captain of Voyager, and not her First Officer's lover, no matter how much she would like to be both.
He stood still, and closed his eyes. His body ached, throbbed with need, as she moved hers away from him. He felt empty, lost, alone. She was with him only moments ago, had come to him, and now she was leaving him. Again. She was always leaving him, somehow, or pushing him away.
He realized she had said his name. Her voice was so soft, he hadn't realized she'd spoken at first. But then, when he opened his eyes, he found himself looking straight into hers. Her eyes were dark, but bright. Was this how she looked when she wanted to make love? Was this lust? Was it desire? Did she feel what he was feeling right now? She had managed to remove herself from him entirely. He didn't feel her body against his at all anymore. He couldn't taste her, smell her, feel her. And yet he would always taste her, smell her, love her.
She was already gone from him, but he was a different man now than he was before. He would never be the same again, nor did he want to be.
She'd spoken his name again. He needed to answer her. "Yes." He'd managed to say something, though he didn't recognize his own voice.
"I have to go."
He stared at her; all he could do was stare. She was leaving him, going back to Voyager, back to the ship, to their crew. She had a ship to get home. And he had no home. No more. She was his life, his everything. And she was leaving him. He nodded at her. He could only nod. And when she was gone, he would go on his last Vision Quest. He would ask, beg, his ancestors to take him home to them. He had nothing left to do here.
Kathryn managed to step away from him. She had to go now. Getting her crew home was the only thing that mattered to her. She had made them all a promise that she would get them home. Her own life, and feelings, didn't matter in the scheme of things. She had no life, not anymore. And certainly not without Chakotay. When she got her crew home, she would just disappear, go away and try to learn to live without him.
Kathryn forced herself to turn away. Her legs felt like rubber. She'd never been so affected by something, or someone, in her entire life. She took two steps, then stopped. She looked at her hands and realized they were shaking. Her heart was thundering in her chest, but more from pain than from need, as it had been before. She felt almost sick to her stomach. She forced herself to take a deep breath, to steady herself. But her hands were still shaking, and she suddenly realized that this is what it felt like to have a heart that was breaking. She turned back, and looked at Chakotay. He hadn't moved. He was still standing where she had left him, and he was looking at her with a look she hadn't seen before; it was the look of a drowning man, she thought to herself. She knew she must have a similar look on her own face.
Chakotay watched her move away from him. She stopped, then turned to look back at him. She was pale, and her eyes were still so bright. He wanted to go to her, to take her in his arms and hold her, to feel whole again. But he still couldn't move. And what if he could? Wouldn't she reject him again?
Kathryn forced herself to take another breath. Then she turned completely around to face him fully. She saw the look in his eyes when she did that, and she couldn't help but smile to herself. Damn Starfleet and their protocols. She knew her duty, and she would uphold the Prime Directive and everything else she held in high regard. But there was no way she was going to walk away right now and leave this wonderful man, and her First Officer, standing here alone on a strange planet. He was the man she wanted to be with, to have in her life forever, to walk into the sunset with when Voyager was finally home. She was suddenly more certain of that fact than she had ever been about anything.
Chakotay watched a series of emotions cross Kathryn's face in no more than a moment. Then he saw her mouth turn up at the corner, in that way she had of doing. She'd decided something. Or, she was planning something. He didn't know what, exactly, but his heart lurched at the prospect. She'd stopped moving away from him, and had turned back to face him. That was something. And then suddenly, she grinned at him!
He barely heard her, but he couldn't move, couldn't respond. He nodded, it was all he could manage.
"I just thought of something." Her voice was deeper, smokey, and so enticing. "How do you feel about dating?"
"What?" He still didn't recognize his own voice.
"Dating. You know, having dinner together once-in-a-while where it doesn't involve business, and maybe with a lighted candle or two on the table, and perhaps even a chilled bottle of wine?" She smiled again, and her eyes twinkled.
He tried to smile back at her. "I've heard that dating can be nice."
She nodded, and then her smile slowly disappeared. But her eyes still held his, and a fire was burning deep inside them. "I know a Captain who needs her First Officer desperately. No one else can do the things for her, or to her, that he does. And, quite frankly, she can't live without him. Nor does she want to. In fact, she was thinking maybe they could try dating on a more personal level from time to time. Just to see what happens."
"To see what happens," he said, just to say something. He already knew what would happen.
"Yes," she said. And then she turned more serious. "Why don't you consider my offer, Chakotay. And if you are . . . interested . . . .let me know." Her tone of voice held many promises, and she smiled slowly. Chakotay somehow managed to smile back at her. Then she turned and continued on her way back toward the Delta Flyer. She was back on firm ground now, literally and figuratively, and there was a spring in her step that hadn't been there earlier today.
Chakotay watched her until she disappeared inside the Flyer. Was he interested, she'd asked. Was there a difference between life and death? And as he turned away to collect his medicine bundle, there was a new bounce in his step, as well.
As Captain Janeway entered the Delta Flyer, she saw Tom Paris move quickly behind the shuttle's pilot controls. She smiled to herself as she watched him suddenly become busy, with his back to her.
"Mr. Paris," she said in her best Captain's voice, as she moved into the secondary seat at the controls.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, trying to sound as though he'd been sitting right there all along, and had missed everything else that had been happening in the known universe.
"Prepare for takeoff."
"Aye Captain," he said in his cool, calm voice.
"And thank you."
"Captain?" he asked in an innocent voice, turning toward her.
"For giving me a chance to win him back."
Tom didn't know what to say; he certainly didn't expect the Captain to be so forthcoming, so honest, in her words. He'd never heard her say something like this, that was for sure. "Uh . . . sure."
"I think Chakotay might consider returning to Voyager," she said, noncommittally.
"Consider?" asked Tom, not thinking about what he was saying.
"Uh, I mean, well . . ."
Tom sighed, realizing he'd been set up. "Captain, with incentive like what you just gave him, I don't think there's any question where Chakotay's loyalty will lie. Ma'am." He swallowed hard.
The Captain turned toward him with a look on her face that he'd grown to dread over the years. And although she spoke gently, easily, he understood all too well what she really meant beneath those words. "Well, at least no one will ever know what happened out there just now except Chakotay and me." Then she paused and looked at him meaningfully. "And you."
Tom sighed. He'd just witnessed a monumental event, one that every crewmember aboard Voyager would love to hear about, and he couldn't tell a soul. Something like this was sure to get out if he did tell, and it could all be traced back to him - no one else, just him. And, forget about being reduced to the rank of Ensign again; this time he'd be reduced to Crewman, or worse. Maybe he'd even wind up in the Brig if he ignored the Captain's implied orders. "Yes, Ma'am." He sighed again. Where was the fun if he could never tell a soul?
Captain Janeway smiled. "I can always count on you, Tom, when it really matters."
"Yes, Ma'am." She really had him there.
They both turned back to their stations. The Captain had a smile on her face, and although Tom Paris knew she had him in a corner on this one, he grinned. He had just witnessed the Captain and Chakotay locked in a passionate embrace, and although he was genuinely happy that they had finally made up, and uh . . . made out, he was going to make sure Chakotay knew he owed Tom Paris big time for bringing the Captain to him today! If he couldn't tell anyone else about it, at the very least he was going to have some fun with Chakotay.
"Commander Tuvok to the Delta Flyer," came the familiar voice over the comm channel.
"Go ahead, Tuvok," said the Captain in her strong and confident voice.
"You and Lieutenant Paris missed your check-in call by nearly a minute. Is everything all right?"
"I appreciate your concern, Tuvok. Everything is just fine. Mr. Paris and I are en route to Voyager now, and will be ready to enter the shuttle bay in four point two minutes."
"I'll open the shuttlebay doors, Captain," came Tuvok's steady voice.
"Thank you, Mr. Tuvok," said the Captain, and then closed the communications channel.
Tom Paris sighed. He had nearly had to do battle with Tuvok during the last couple of check-ins, and all it took for the Captain to satisfy Tuvok was a few choice words. Sometimes life just wasn't fair.
Four point two minutes later, the Delta Flyer entered Voyager's shuttle bay, and the doors closed behind her. The Captain and her pilot locked down all ships systems and climbed out of the shuttlecraft. As they were turning to exit the shuttlebay, the doors opened and Commander Chakotay entered.
Tom looked at the big grin on Chakotay's face, and then turned to the Captain. She had a big grin on her face, too, as she looked back at Chakotay. Tom shook his head and started for the exit. After seven years, and only one kiss, those two definitely needed some time alone.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant," Chakotay said to Tom, stopping him in his tracks. He consulted the padd in his hand. "But I was wondering what took you so long to bring the Flyer in. According to my calculations, if your course was plotted accurately, you should have arrived back in the shuttlebay nearly a full minute ago."
"Uh, yeah, well, Sir . . ."
"It's my fault, Commander." The Captain was looking at Chakotay with stars in her eyes.
"Oh?" The Commander had the same problem, Tom mused.
"We took the scenic route. I thought my First Officer might contact the Delta Flyer, and ask for transport back to Voyager, so we took our time. But now I find that he's arrived before us." She grinned.
"He couldn't wait that long to get back to his ship," he said, looking deeply into her eyes.
"Oh, really? He was that impatient?"
"He was very impatient. He had a lot to come back to," he said softly.
"I see." The Captain's voice was getting lower in her throat, and the smiles on both their faces were fading, and a kind of intensity was building between them.
"You know, when two people talk about themselves in the third person . . ." began Tom.
"Dismissed, Mr. Paris," said the Captain automatically, never moving her eyes from Chakotay's.
"Yes, Ma'am!" With a grin on his face, Tom reached out and took the padd from Chakotay's hand, then started again for the Exit doors. It was definitely time to leave them alone. Besides, he had some making up to do with B'Elanna, and he didn't want to put that off any longer. In fact, he was beginning to look forward to it . . . .
As the doors closed behind Tom Paris, the Captain and Commander were moving closer toward each other.
"How about dinner tonight, in my quarters?" asked Chakotay.
"Oooh, a date already? You move awfully fast, don't you?" she said, smiling.
"Only when I don't want something, or someone, to get away."
Kathryn was now standing directly in front of Chakotay. She gently touched his right cheek with her hand, and looked into his eyes. "I'm not going anywhere without you, Chakotay. We still have a long journey ahead, and I need you beside me."
"I'll always be with you, Kathryn. Count on it."
"I do. More than you know." Her voice was soft, sexy, and it held promises that Chakotay could only imagine. "Now, before someone misses us, why don't you kiss me again. And, Chakotay, this time kiss me the way we both want you to."
She was slowly moving closer to Chakotay, and his heart was beating so fast that his blood pressure was surely off the Doctor's medical charts. He reached out his arms and folded her into them. It was so easy, and she fit against him so comfortably, as though she belonged there, as though she'd always been there. And the feel of her in his arms was everything he'd dreamed of.
As Chakotay lowered his head, and as he placed his lips gently against Kathryn's warm, soft mouth, he felt her arms encircle his neck. He knew without a doubt that he was the luckiest man alive, for now he had everything he'd ever wanted, or ever would want. He was alive again.
And on that night, promises were made. They were promises of forever, and of a love that was shared by two people who loved each other, and whose souls had truly merged a long time before now.
They would date, they would share more meals and laughs together, and they would begin to put a new sort of relationship in place. And a new beginning would be waiting for them when they reached their destination, after their long journey home.