parallel to and after 3x25 - worst case scenario
A few seconds after Chakotay had stripped to the waist in preparation for a sonic shower, his door chime sounded. Wishing it would be Kathryn, but realizing the more likely candidate would be a disgruntled crewmember, he stepped back into the living room, snagged his undershirt, and yanked it on without bothering to tuck it into his uniform pants. “Come in.”
He exhaled into a crooked smile.
“Good morning, Chakotay,” Kathryn grinned, fully dressed and leaning against his doorframe with crossed arms, her ubiquitous morning coffee mug absent.
“Captain,” he nodded. “What can I do for you?”
She drew her brows together. “Breakfast, I hope.”
“Love to,” he said, abandoning the desire to shower with expediency, his heart warmed that she felt comfortable inviting herself in. This would be a rare treat. Turning to look at the various pieces of clothing strewn about, he said, “You’ll have to pardon the mess, but you’re welcome to have a seat.” He began to acquire the rest of his uniform, one item at a time.
“You call that a mess?” she asked in astonishment. “Haven’t you ever seen Neelix’s ship in shuttle bay two? It’s so cluttered I think his junk has learned how to multiply.”
By the time he was shrugging into his shell, she had taken a seat and crossed her legs, leaning forward on her elbows. He headed for the replicator. “I’ll make sure to send the Doctor down to study that new and unexamined life form. Any requests?”
Confused, he spun slowly to face her. “I thought you wanted breakfast.”
She shrugged with her shoulders and her lips. “I ate already.”
“So did I.” He tipped his head. Typically she would have explained why she came over for a breakfast she didn’t need in the same breath. Was she hiding something? He could’ve sworn he saw a secret dancing in her eyes. “Are you out of replicator rations? Is that why you came over here?”
“Chakotay, please. I came for the company. Now give me my coffee before I make a real mess.”
“Yes ma’am.” As he ordered two coffees, he stole a long sideways glance at her – perhaps he was imagining things. She looked completely at ease, as usual. And anyway, why would she keep a secret from him?
“Thank you,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you with coffee.”
He joined her at the table and they drank together, the hot, full-bodied taste strong in his mouth. He swallowed in satisfaction. “I had an early morning. I wouldn’t want to fall asleep on the bridge – I hear Captain Janeway is brutal enough to Maquis rebels as it is, so I’m not giving her any extra reasons to throw me in the brig.”
Apparently delighted, she laughed. “She’s particularly hard on tall, dark, and handsome Maquis leaders with a chip on their shoulder and a penchant for mutiny.”
At the word handsome, his smile brightened and he peered down at the table. Even if he couldn’t have her, he had… this.
He took a swig of coffee so rapidly that his eyes watered. “Did you notice how my character decided we shouldn’t shoot Neelix because ‘We’re still going to need a cook’?”
She continued to chuckle. Her high spirits were infectious. “In the middle of such a serious scene, you did seem quite concerned about food, didn’t you? And you had a healthy disrespect for ‘all-mighty Federation principles,’ if I remember correctly. Something tells me Tuvok didn’t do his research prior to writing your character.”
“He did his research onboard the Val Jean, alright. Let’s just say I wasn’t always concerned with Starfleet principles.” He took another sip, admiring the color in her cheeks. “You’ve done a number on this Maquis rebel since we’ve been in the Delta Quadrant, you know.”
A flicker of bashfulness jumped across her face, but it was gone before he could be sure he’d seen it. His theory snuck back in; was she keeping a secret?
“And you’ve kept me honest,” she replied, but this time he knew. The jaunty tip of her smirk and the sparkle in her eyes clued him in, like she was so amused at her own irony she couldn’t help expressing it.
He wondered what exactly she wasn’t being honest about. “So I assume you’ve been up early this morning running the holo-novel as well?” he asked, waiting for her to cock her eyebrow at him in confidence.
Instead, she squinted. “So you were the one using my favorite holodeck?”
It wasn’t like her to keep a secret or avoid a question; the more signs Chakotay saw, the more intrigued he became. He seemed to be on the right track. “Everyone knows holodeck one has a faulty omnidirectional diode. Don’t blame me for getting to the good one before you.”
She splayed her fingers on his forearm briefly. “I’ll forgive you this once. You did give me coffee, after all.”
“I’m curious, Kathryn… what program were you running?”
He’d hit the nail on the head. Her color shot up, her smile faltered, and her mug rose to hide part of her face. A microsecond later, she reasserted control and the uncertainty vanished. “I believe we already established that both of us were running Insurrection Alpha. Don’t tell me there’s another one, now.”
“If there is, I don’t know about it yet.”
“You’d know better than I would. You’re closer to the crew.” She sipped. “So I’m guessing you played along with the rebellion from the start?”
Because he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, he accepted her change of subject with a concealed breath of disappointment. “Actually, no - I couldn’t bring myself to fall into line behind that blockhead and revolt against the valiant Captain Janeway. Did you?”
Her eyes left the surface of her coffee to meet his gaze. “Of course.” She gestured at him with her mug. “I found the ‘blockhead’ in question very compelling.”
He couldn’t help smiling again. “You mutinied against yourself, then?”
She nodded. “With great enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe it when the program cut off in the heat of the action.” Her ensuing grin and raised brows would have looked natural if she hadn’t blushed. “I nearly had to run it again.”
His heart caught. He vowed to himself that no matter how much he may have longed to, he would not allow himself to check her holodeck logs. Even if doing so would reveal her secret. He refused to violate her privacy.
The moment he made the decision, his moral reasoning started to crumble. All-mighty Federation principles, indeed. He blamed it on the twinkle in her eyes, so spritely it shone through the steam from her coffee as she held it up to her lips and smiled at him.
Despite the excitement in the holodeck, the rest of the day crawled by for Chakotay. Each passing minute further eroded his resolve; by the time Kathryn returned to the bridge after dealing with Seska, he had told himself every second for ten hours that he wouldn’t go through her holodeck logs. But he didn’t once believe himself.
“So then,” Kathryn explained, nearing the end of her tale, leaning heavily toward him on the arm of the Captain’s chair, “I had aliens jump in out of absolutely nowhere to save the two of them. Not that it worked. Tuvok’s reliable ingenuity came to the rescue once again: he rigged Seska’s phaser rifle to backfire. She vaporized on the spot.”
“Not a moment too soon,” Tom threw over his shoulder from the conn.
Tuvok chimed in as well. “Without the Captain’s additions to the story, Lieutenant Paris and I would have undoubtedly perished long before an opportunity to reprogram the weapon arose.”
Chakotay blinked seriously at Kathryn. “Thank goodness for happy endings. You’ve got quite a talent for writing riveting stories.” With carefully calculated cheek, he added, “I look forward to your next holo-novel.”
Her eyes narrowed, as though she were trying to see something. It lasted an instant before vanishing, just like the same expression from this morning. She grinned. “I’m not sure I could top today’s foray into literature.”
His curiosity peaked. “Well Captain, if you don’t mind, I’d like to end my shift.” Blood began pounding through his ears. He couldn’t do this.
“By all means, Commander. I’ll be here for a while yet. You’re free to go.” She readjusted herself in her seat, spine straighter and hands on each armrest.
Standing and clasping his clammy hands behind his back, he asked, “Meet me for dinner later in the mess hall?”
“Love to.” Her smile was dazzling.
The second the turbo lift doors shut behind him, he asked, “Computer, is holodeck one free?” Even though he absolutely could not go.
“Affirmative; holodeck one is available.”
“For how long?”
“Three hours, twelve minutes.”
Before he could overanalyze, he told the computer, “Deck fourteen.” As long as he was on the lift, it would still be possible to act as if he were on his way to engineering. He fidgeted the time away.
Had the lift always been so speedy? Deck fourteen came sooner than he would have liked. At least the entire corridor was empty.
He pretended the walk to the holodeck was excruciating. He did his best to argue with himself, but it was a lost cause from the start. His failed ethical standards put up a good fight, at least.
He slipped through the holodeck doors – had they gotten louder? – and set right to work. If he were discovered… Well. He could think of several ways to cover for himself and eliminate his tracks. He needn’t worry. Unless Kathryn came in.
He knew she’d hold true to her word about remaining on the bridge, but just in case… “Computer, engage the security lock.”
The computer beeped in compliance.
Yet wouldn’t that look more suspicious upon a cursory glance? “Computer, disengage security lock.”
“Access Captain Janeway’s personal holodeck logs from this morning.”
“Captain Janeway accessed Insurrection Alpha and Janeway Insurrection Delta. Please specify.”
That had to be it. Heart in his throat, he clenched and unclenched his fists. “Run program Janeway Insurrection Delta.”
“Access denied. Security code required.”
That almost made him feel relieved. Surely his password wouldn’t work. “Use First Officer’s access code Chakotay-kappa-one-one-eight.”
He blinked, utterly stunned.
A beautiful vista materialized around him – he didn’t recognize the rolling grassland dotted with groves of trees, but he assumed it was Indiana. The pleasant breeze brought him an earthy scent and softly ruffled his hair. Sunshine warmed him, inside and out. A character shimmered to life.
It wasn’t Mark or some debonair Victorian gentleman. It was… him. Chakotay.
The hologram blinked at him, then frowned in confusion. “Where’s Kathryn?”
Chakotay took a few subtle deep breaths. If someone walked in on this, he had no idea what he’d say. He resolved to make it fast. “Why do you ask?”
The hologram, Chakotay noticed, sported his casual clothing – an outfit he’d worn often on New Earth. “I guess you could say we had a date,” the hologram said simply. “And you are…?”
Unsure as to the best method of solving this riddle, Chakotay played along. “I’m Chakotay. Commander Chakotay. You?”
The hologram did a double take in such a way that Chakotay had to remind himself he wasn’t looking in a mirror. His narrowed eyes, furrowed brow, and minute head shake were all there. The personality subroutines of this program had certainly been written by a practiced hand who knew him very well. “You,” the hologram said. “I’ve heard about you. I guess you could say I am you without the uniform and everything it represents.”
“No argument there,” Chakotay said. “What’s the purpose of your program?”
Eyes on the grass and hands clasped behind his back, the hologram replied, “I hate to say this, but if you don’t already know, you’re in bad shape.”
Chakotay shook his head. “What about Mark?”
The hologram squinted slightly. “Who’s Mark?”
Incredulous, Chakotay answered, “Kathryn’s fiancé.”
“You’re telling me she’s engaged?” The hologram clenched his jaw.
Chakotay recognized his jealousy as easily as the color of the sky. There must have been a reason for the hologram to feel that way, and it had to be a deeper motive than the distant longing Chakotay’s own life had become. Kathryn had clearly shared some kind of intimacy with the hologram. “She hasn’t seen Mark in almost three years,” Chakotay answered with some amount of satisfaction. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s decided to move on.”
The hologram dipped his head, clearly pleased to hear it. “As far as I can tell, I – or rather, you – are the only man she thinks about.”
Finally, Chakotay pushed the shock aside and allowed the realization to wash over him. Kathryn craved him this badly. That made this entire spying operation more than worth it. Spirits soaring and pulse racing, he asked, “Does she want me to go to her?” hoping the answer would be yes a thousand times.
“In my opinion,” the hologram said, glancing at his feet, “… No. I’m sorry to say that I believe she can only have me here, and not you on Voyager.”
He should have expected that. Chakotay swallowed the rejection with relative ease. The joy of discovery lingered, as he knew it would for days. “I can’t help thinking about it.”
The hologram grinned. “Neither can she.”
“Computer, end program.” The scene dissolved, and instantly Chakotay missed the wind whisking over the grass and the chirping of birds. “Delete the previous five minutes from the character’s memory,” he began, then proceeded to erase all traces of his presence from the log.
The exchange had whipped by so quickly that he was glad to have an hour to process by himself in the mess hall before Kathryn arrived. He passed the time with an Earth travel guide he’d downloaded onto one of his personal PADDs. He’d found a picture taken in central Indiana that closely resembled what he’d seen in the holodeck.
Several crew members’ gazes strayed toward his face as he waited. He tried not to smile quite so widely or so often. What exactly he would say to Kathryn remained a mystery, but he wasn’t too worried.
The instant she strolled in and beamed at him in deliberate confidence, the pieces of his puzzle fell into place. She’d wanted him to find the program. She must have assumed that by now he had, and she seemed happy about it. That’s why her security codes hadn’t restricted him, and why she’d given him so many hints this morning. She’d led him to find out how she felt without fundamentally shifting their relationship.
Once they returned to Earth, though…
“Reading up on something?” she asked as she took her seat across from him.
Unsure whether she’d seen the picture, he turned the PADD off and slid it onto the table. “Earth. I was feeling a bit homesick all of a sudden. Everything alright on the bridge?”
“Same as ever: warp six, headed for the Alpha Quadrant, all systems functioning normally.”
Neelix approached their table – he’d known Chakotay had been waiting for Kathryn to order a meal. “Captain, Commander,” he nodded to each of them. “You must be starving! Tonight we have a lovely Andorian-inspired leola root stew and an Earth dish I believe is called… ‘Pad Thai’?” Neelix leaned toward Kathryn conspiratorially. “If you want my opinion, the stew is superior.”
Kathryn shot Chakotay a swift, appraising look and responded, “Thank you, Neelix, but we’ll take two Pad Thais.”
Chakotay exhaled in relief, then added, “With chopsticks, please.”
Neelix made as if to argue, but must have thought better of it. “It does have a delightful peanut sauce I think you’ll enjoy. I’ll bring that right out for you both.”
“Thank you, Neelix,” Kathryn replied.
As soon as Neelix’s back had turned, Chakotay smirked and silently mouthed thank you.
The meal passed in pleasant conversation, however the peanut sauce Neelix had mentioned wound up tasting nothing like peanuts. Kathryn and Chakotay skirted around the issue at hand. He wouldn’t mind addressing it, yet… she was the Captain. If she wanted to discuss it, he knew she’d bring it up. That way at least he didn’t have to muster his courage and broach the subject himself.
The very second their plates had been cleared, Kathryn leaned forward as far as she could, clasped her hands on the table, and quietly said, “Chakotay.”
His stomach bottomed out. He mirrored her pose, placing his head as close to hers as the table between them allowed. An electric charge crackled between them. “Kathryn.”
She spent a hushed moment studying his eyes, during which time he considered just how far he’d have to move in order to kiss her. It wasn’t far.
Of course, that was out of the question. But there was no harm in thinking about it.
She laid her hands on top of his. “I’d like to make you a promise.”
His hands curled around hers. “By all means.”
“You know the situation on Voyager can’t change,” she began.
He nodded. His vision tunneled. There could have been a Borg attack and he wouldn’t have noticed.
Her brows knitted together. “Although I wish it could. That’s why I need you to know that…” She tilted her head. “No matter how long it takes us to get home,” her hands tightened around his, “Even if I can’t say it out loud…”
She appeared unable to complete her sentence, but her grip strengthened further to make up for the missing words.
“I love you,” Chakotay breathed, immediately wondering if she could hear him and panicking about whether he really wanted her to.
She nodded emphatically. “Exactly,” she whispered. His eyes stung gently as hers misted over. “So,” she continued, “I promise that when we get home, I will still want to be with you, every day, for the rest of my life. And I hope you’ll want to be with me.”
“I’ll never stop wanting you.” He released her hand and touched her warm cheek with his knuckles. “I promise. You’ve given me so much, Kathryn, and I’ll be fighting the urge to kiss you until the second we get to Earth. No matter how long it takes.”
A tear escaped her eye as she beamed at him. He caught the drop with his thumb and heard something from behind him.
Tom and B’Elanna. They had just entered the mess hall.
He drank in one final look from Kathryn – full of love and joy – before giving up his chair and moving to her side. Tom seemed to have already asked to join them, so Chakotay found himself able to speak and offered, “Please,” indicating his previous seat.
Kathryn squeezed his hand under the table one last time.
He smiled at her. As the conversation carried on and rest of the senior officers filed in and pulled up chairs, discussing the day’s events, he couldn’t help… laughing. He felt so happy.
And when B’Elanna said to Tom and Tuvok, “You two are going to have to come up with a new idea for your next literary collaboration,” Chakotay couldn’t resist.
“I don’t care what kind of story it is, as long as I’m not the bad guy this time,” he said, smirking at Kathryn.
She narrowed her eyes – in playful humor, this time – and swatted his arm.
“Set a course,” Kathryn said, her tone low and flat, “For home.”
Chakotay, still suffused with adrenaline, tore his eyes from the image of Earth on the viewscreen to the conn station at his fingertips. He wiped his sweaty hands on his pants and drove Voyager toward a low orbit at half-impulse.
He swallowed. When he turned around to look at Kathryn, she gave him one misty glance and set her jaw.
He understood: she remembered, but assumed he did not.
“Damn,” he breathed, tapping the panel a few more times to set the rest of their short trip on auto-pilot. He had five minutes. Might as well take care of it now.
He stood and started walking. “Seven, I need to speak with you in the briefing room immediately.” His low voice sounded like a shout over the poignant silence on the bridge.
The expression Kathryn shot him was full of venom. He shook his head minutely – trying to tell her… what? I’m not going to be getting intimate on the conference table with Seven? Or – I’m sorry I’m abandoning you and my post now that we’re actually in Sector 001?
He’d make things right. As soon as he took care of this.
The door shut behind Seven. She hung back, near the replicator, emanating uncertainty and peering at him with those wide eyes. “An unexpected date?” she tried.
“I’m sorry, Seven,” he said quickly, “But… I’m afraid I can’t be with you anymore.”
She frowned. Her mouth dropped open slightly.
Chakotay wished to high heaven that he’d never gotten himself into this.
“But,” Seven began, voice steely, “You just told me your feelings for me cannot be turned off. I fail to understand your reasoning.”
He was ready for that. “They can’t. It will be hard for me. But being home changes everything.”
She blinked as a blanket of grief passed over her features.
He fought the impulse to embrace her and erase her pain, positive he was doing the right thing. “Seven,” he continued, “I hate to hurt you like this. But I believe it will be best for both of us to move on. If you’re alright, I’d like to return to the bridge.”
“You are contradicting yourself,” she said. She appeared to be indecisive about what to do with her hands; they opened and closed at her sides. “When I said the same thing to you, you refused to accept it. Now you expect me to be placated simply by our location while you go back on duty?” Her voice rose. “The Doctor performed a life-changing surgery on me so that we could be together.”
Remaining upright and pressing his fists onto the table from across the room, he sighed. The light of the Sun started to filter in and cast long shadows. “All I can tell you is… yes. You’re right. I’m a hypocrite. But I have an obligation to fulfill, and it’s extremely important to me. I’ll never be happy unless I do.”
Her head rose, her voice breaking. “Captain Janeway.”
He supposed he owed her the truth. “Yes.”
Her sour expression appeared minutely alleviated. “I am… not happy for you. This feeling is unacceptable. Why can I not feel pleased that two friends will be together? Instead I would rather you suffer as I do.”
“You have every right to hate me, Seven.” He exhaled through his mouth. “What I’ve done is unforgivable.”
“You must elaborate on your motive.”
He shifted his weight back onto his heels. Owning up to it would be his only escape, however much he had hoped to avoid it. How could he explain this to someone like Seven, who had so little emotional experience and who he had wronged so badly? “I should have told you…” He ran his hands over his face. Earth kept growing bigger in the window and he couldn’t shake the sting of that unfriendly glare from Kathryn. “I thought we’d never get home. But I should have told you, just in case –”
“Please arrive at your point, Commander.”
His view skittered up to her face – it looked hard as a mask.
His jaw tightened. He forced the words out. “I was only ever available romantically while we were in the Delta Quadrant.”
The raw disbelief evidently morphed into anger. “Did you truly have feelings for me?,” she said. “Or is that information only available in the Delta Quadrant as well?”
He deserved that. Of course, telling her the truth here would be out of the question – that he’d merely deluded himself into thinking that he was infatuated with Seven because he couldn’t have the woman he really loved. He could only be so honest. “Absolutely, I had feelings for you,” he said, using past tense so the words wouldn’t taste so bitter. “I wanted to be with you very much.”
There was a long pause. He had the sense she didn’t believe him. But what else could he do?
He exhaled deeply and stared at the window. He could make out North America under the cloud cover.
“I wish to be alone,” she said unevenly.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am,” he added again, gaze on the door. And he walked out.
Returning to the bridge without Seven turned a few heads, but not Kathryn’s. The vice on his chest hadn’t given a micron yet.
Earth had grown larger than the angle of the viewscreen could encompass; Ensign Culhane had replaced Chakotay at the conn, so he took his seat next to Kathryn. She seemed as taut as he felt.
“I remember my promise to you, Kathryn,” he whispered without pausing to think. “And I intend to keep it, if you still have the same feelings you did four years ago.”
Her eyes snapped to his. She pursed her lips. What if she didn’t want to remember?
He grew unsure. It had been a long four years. All the moments that made him doubt his chances sprang back up in his mind, worn in his memory like the corners of well-read pages. Romances she’d had, times she’d pulled away, the way he’d acted lately. The lunch with her he’d just refused. Most of all – and the reason he’d gone to Seven in the first place – Jaffen.
“If you don’t, I understand,” he said, heart sinking, retreating into his chair. “It’s been a long time.”
“What about Seven?” she breathed.
As if on cue, Seven chose that moment to emerge. Her face was somewhat contorted; she was plainly fighting for control. Not making eye contact with anyone, she returned to her post right behind them.
Chakotay turned to Kathryn and drew his finger across his neck – it’s over.
“Captain, we’ve reached orbit,” Ensign Culhane said with joy.
A great whoop erupted from the ops station. Harry began to applaud, and the gesture soon spread to half the bridge crew. Seven, Chakotay, and Kathryn did not participate – until Chakotay saw Kathryn peek at Tuvok. She then apparently decided her own enthusiasm could not be outdone by a Vulcan’s.
“Welcome home,” she said, standing with her back to Chakotay. He detected only a small quiver in her voice. “Harry, hail Admiral Paris. Tell him I have an urgent matter to tend to before disembarking, but that the rest of the crew will be free to beam to the surface.”
Chakotay studied her intently as she tapped her combadge. “Captain to all hands. As of now, I’m pleased to tell you we’re on ship-wide shore leave.” She spun toward Chakotay, smiling faintly. It looked forced, but he couldn’t say for sure. “In my ready room, Commander.”
He followed her through the door and up to the window, the Yucatan Peninsula stretching across the horizon below them. As they faced the window together, their view slowly rolled into the Atlantic. Chakotay suffered a moment of agonizing stillness, desperate to know how she felt but unwilling to push her.
“I’m so…” she said. “So… relieved to get the crew home. But…”
“Let me guess,” he said. She turned her face up to his, and he continued, emboldened by her gaze. “You’re not sure you’re ready to be home yet?”
Her brows raised. “It happened so quickly. As if a holo-novel I’d been running suddenly ended halfway through the action. It’s a selfish thought, I know.” She gestured unenthusiastically with one hand, the other on her hip. “But I don’t feel ready to leave this ship – this family – and give up my crew.”
He couldn’t stop his spirits from lifting. This was so her. “What makes you think I, or any of the rest of us, are ready to give you up or cut you out of our lives?”
She gave him a grateful expression, a half-grin with her head tilted. Her hand found its way to his shoulder. “You always did know exactly what to say.”
That kindled his optimism. Finally, he started to relax from his myriad anxieties; he was home, yes, but he’d been home for seven years, and this new location wouldn’t change that. “I just hope we can still be neighbors.”
She puffed out her chest as though preparing herself for something unpleasant. Her hand slipped off of him and she crossed her arms. “Chakotay… based on what the Admiral said, I know you belong with Seven. Don’t let me keep you from what will make you happy because of some silly promise we made four years ago.” Her eyes, laden with a doubt he was unaccustomed to, gradually crawled up to meet his.
His heart broke – is this what she really believed? “Kathryn,” he said with urgency, “I don’t know what the Admiral thought she knew about my happiness, but I can tell you this.” He took her hand, warm and slight, inside his. “The night we made that promise to each other was one of the happiest nights of my life. If my affection wandered elsewhere for even one second it was because I thought you had forgotten about it.”
She pressed her lips together until the surrounding skin turned white, her grip on his hand tightening almost painfully. Then, all of a sudden, it was as though she couldn’t keep her emotions inside anymore; they burst out in a single sob before she buried her face in his chest and embraced him. Hard.
He enfolded her in his arms and squeezed her right back. His sense of gravity flipped. Her feelings for him had never been so palpable.
She breathed deeply into the fabric of his uniform, warming his collarbone, perhaps attempting to calm herself. He hadn’t ever seen her express this much emotion and wondered how long she had intended to keep it hidden away. He remained silent, more than content to hold her while watching the Sahara Desert rise under the window.
This woman meant everything to him. And she was finally in his arms.
“I was scared to death I’d lost you,” she eventually said. Her head pulled up so he could look into her eyes, remarkably steady and clear. “It’s been so hard. There were times I had to distract myself from the power of my feelings for you so it wouldn’t tear me apart.”
“Likewise.” He hooked his hands together behind the small of her back. “Now that we’re here, think of all the possibilities in front of us.”
“I don’t know about you, Chakotay,” the corner of her lip quirked up, “But I’m ready to kick Starfleet’s god damned protocols into the Delta Quadrant and initiate a romantic relationship with my First Officer.”
A smile grew until his cheeks ached. “No argument there. Whoever wrote the offending section of the Starfleet Code of Conduct never secretly lusted after his untouchable Captain for seven years.”
She closed part of the distance between their mouths. “Seven years, really?” she asked, grinning softly.
Her casual compliment-fishing was the final straw. Nothing could have endeared her to him more.
He darted in and kissed her, deeply and fully. He felt her respond under his lips. One of her hands rested on his jaw with a tenderness that touched his core.
The kiss was long and sweet. Completely unrushed. Every dark corner of him filled with golden light.
“I’ve had it bad for you since day one,” he whispered, once they’d broken apart. “You make quite an impression, Kathryn.”
She chuckled into his neck and wrapped her arms around him. “Speaking of impressions…” The words curled deliciously into a double entendre.
He couldn’t remember the last time he laughed… but it might have been four years ago, at the end of a long day, sitting next to her in the mess hall, bursting with happiness.