Shock overtook Chakotay's entire body. Color drained, muscles tensed, speech frozen. Fortunately, Kathryn’s sofa was behind him, ready to cushion his backwards fall as his knees gave way. “Me… captain… of Voyager?” he finally managed to mumble.
“Who else?” she smirked, pouring the champagne into the fluted crystal standing at attention on the low table in front of the couch. “I might have been the ‘mother hen’, but you were her lifeline.” She sat down next to him, curling her legs underneath her as she handed him one of the glasses. “To our ‘brood’,” she smiled, holding her glass out to his.
Still somewhat dazed, he smiled with the ‘clink’ of their glasses. “To Voyager – past and future.” In unison, they sipped some of the golden bubbles.
“Surprised?” she asked.
“Surprised doesn’t even begin to describe it,” he muttered. “I only talked with Starfleet yesterday about rejoining. How… when… ?”
Her eyes danced in the dimmed light of the room. “Oh, come on; you knew that you’d be coming back; I certainly did.”
“Am I that predictable?” he asked, his face once more ruddy and relaxed.
“Only to me,” she responded, laughing. “But then, we know each other pretty well after all this time.”
He shook his head, joining in her laughter. “Then why can’t I ever figure out what your next move is going to be? You would drive any military strategist insane with the way your mind operates!”
She rapped him gently with her fist. “That’s not true and you know it! Why… Starfleet is even incorporating some of our Delta Quadrant maneuvers into their teaching materials. You’ll probably find them on your ‘must read’ list soon.” She drained her glass and refilled it, offering him some more of the wine; he nodded ‘no’. “Besides… there were many times when one of your ideas pulled us through, from the very beginning when you saved us in our first battle with the Kazon through the ordeal of the split time lines with the temporal rift. If it hadn’t been for your actions, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“Pure Maquis skills,” he smiled at her. “I don’t know that Starfleet would have approved of my action plans.”
She laughed, her voice full. “And you think they would have approved all of mine? Chakotay, I’m going to be answering their questions about some of my actions in the Delta Quadrant for the rest of my life! Why, if everything ever came to light… if they ever really read or listened to all my records, I’d be busted to ensign and be put to cleaning nacelle exteriors for the rest of this life and the next.”
His eyes twinkled with his response. “I just hope they never subpoena my personal logs; they’d nail you for sure.”
“Oh really?” she asked. “How’s that?”
He helped himself to another glass of bubbly. “Um… well, just say that I wondered about your… um… sanity sometimes, Kathryn.”
She jerked upright, putting her glass down. Her eyes livened with hidden fire. “And you put this in your logs? What do you mean – ‘my sanity’? Just because I didn’t always agree with your advice or suggestions… we made it back, didn’t we? We’re sitting here, right now, all safe and comfortable with rank and privilege. Just because I didn’t always confide in you about my actions – is that why you feel this way? Did I bruise your ego I bit?”
He winced at the biting tone of her voice; he’d really opened it this time! What to say now? He hadn’t meant to back her into a corner, not now; not after the candid delight she’d shown just a short time ago. He put his glass down and took hers, placing it beside his – this was no time for an accident. “Kathryn, that’s not what I meant. No, you never did anything of that sort. It’s just that – well, let’s just say you could be overly tenacious at times… a little bit too focused on a single goal or outcome when other options could have been explored.” He shook his head as he silently recalled some strong times on Voyager. “But you’ve got to admit that there were times when you were pretty rigid in your decisions.”
She crossed her arms and her legs and drew her mouth into a tight line. “I was making decisions that would affect over a hundred and forty people, every hour of every day, Chakotay. What would you have had me do? Flip flop with my decisions? Bow to every new idea that came across my desk?” She shook her head emphatically. “If that’s the way you think a starship captain should act, perhaps I’d better contact Starfleet and let them know they’re making a wrong choice with their new captain for Voyager.” She concluded her words with a huffy snort.
He leaned over to her, gently pulling her clenched arms apart. “You know that’s not what I mean. God knows what I would have done if I’d had the everyday load you had for almost seven years. I probably would have slipped away permanently into a dream world somewhere. No, Kathryn – you did a remarkable job; I’m not belittling that at all. It’s just that I think you isolated yourself more than you needed to; that you could have saved yourself a lot of personal grief if you had let yourself be more open.”
She recoiled at his touch. “I asked for advice and input frequently! But the bottom line is – and always will be – a personal decision made by the captain. I had to live with my decisions then and even now.”
“All of them?”
“All of them!”
He lowered his head, letting her mull over the ramifications of her words for a few seconds. “Every single one?” he asked again.
Her eyes spit out lightening at him. “Don’t try to trick me with all your words.”
“Why did you invite me here tonight?” he asked calmly.
She got up, brusquely grabbing the glasses and taking them over to the recycler. “To give you what I presumed would be some good news… something that you might have wanted. As I recall, you once said in jest that if something happened to me then you would be captain. But I wondered how much of that was really a deep desire of yours.”
He got up and started to follow her. “You wouldn’t have chosen me to be your first officer if you didn’t think I could do the job. That iswhy you chose me over Tuvok, isn’t it?”
She turned but refused to meet his gaze. “I… I chose you because you had skills and experience that I thought could meet the needs of both our crews. And I… I had to have a show of unity.”
He nodded. “That’s true. And I think it worked. I think we worked; we were a good team, Kathryn.”
His words found their mark; they stunned her into a few seconds of thought. “Yes, we were,” she murmured. “Even with our differences, we were. Even when you and she…” She choked on her words. “Even when your attention was less on Voyager and more on someone else.” She stopped, her body caught in a shudder.
Standing behind her, he enfolded her shoulders with his arms. His lowered his face – her aura and warmth engulfed him. “Less on Voyager – or on you? Kathryn… dear sweet Kathryn. I never meant to hurt you; truly I didn’t.” His words drifted down, floating into her hair.
Her body answered him before she did, as she leaned back into the cradling comfort of his torso and arms. “I know you didn’t. You had every right to do whatever you wanted; we both know that. It’s just that… oh, I don’t know what I thought. I couldn’t hold you to a promise you never made.”
“But I did make a promise to you – once, a lifetime ago.”
Her hands slipped over his; she felt the warmth and strength they held. “And I’ll always remember that. You promised to remain by my side, to do whatever was necessary to make my burden lighter.” She turned within his embrace, resting her cheek on his chest. “And you did, Chakotay. Even in moments when we seemed hell-bent on destroying each other, you still did it so as to make my job easier.”
His arms encircled her. “That’s what I always hoped to do. And – looking back – you were right in that it would have destroyed us if we had stepped over any unspoken personal boundaries. It would have weakened us for our duties – our obligations – to Voyager.”
He felt a twitter against his chest. “So now you finally understand!” she laughed softly.
He held her out from him, joining in with her gentle laughter. “Okay; so I’m a slow learner – at least, with some things!”
“Maybe that’s a course that should be taught at the Academy – male/female command relationships,” she said, taking his hand and leading him over to the table.
“It would never work, Kathryn; you know it,” he chuckled. “Too many variables involved! No one would ever be able to prove any theory significantly valid.” He pulled out her chair for her.
She looked down at the plates in front of them. “Oh, look at this meal; it’s probably stone cold by now.”
“And after all your hard replicating,” he chuckled. “It’s okay; we’d better eat it. We need something to counteract a couple of glasses of champagne on empty stomachs.”
“It will take only a few seconds,” she said, picking up their plates and taking them to the microwave compartment. “Maybe we should arrange some crash courses for each other,” she continued. “I can teach you how to be a starship captain and you can teach me how to cook. That would be a fair trade, don’t you think?” She brought the plates back to the table, their contents once more steaming and aromatic.
“Sounds like an interesting proposition,” he answered. He picked up his fork, his eyes gleaming. “Question is – who would need the longer time to learn?”
“You were the one who said he was a slow learner,” she responded, cutting into her lamb.
“Sometimes learning slowly is better. Makes for better retention,” he countered. “Say – this risotto is pretty good!” he said, suddenly aware of what he was eating.
Kathryn nodded. “Thank you! I found the recipe in Voyager’s database… figured you had entered it.”
“Well, I see – or at least taste – that you’ve omitted some of Neelix’s ‘additions’ to it… thank you for that!”
She leaned towards him, confiding secretively. “It’s rather difficult to find Talaxan spices here on Earth. I asked my mother for some suggestions to use as substitutes.”
“Thank your mother for me,” he answered, leaning in to meet her face mid table. Her face – that face which had been in his mind and his dreams so often lately. It was more angular than it had been when they first met eight years ago. Shadows and fine lines encircled her smoky eyes but they still sparkled, fathomless and bright. Her lips appeared thinner, but much of the rest of her did, too. He realized that ever part of her told the story of her years – vibrant and vigorous but burying countless burdens, too… burdens he had promised to ease.
She smiled; the angles of her face softened. Her lips parted as she spoke his name. “Chakotay?”
The word came as a question but it was also an invitation; he knew it. He leaned into her, cupping her face as he brought his lips to hers. He was afraid that she would pull away; maybe he had misread her. But he hadn’t. Her hands reached up to his, holding him in place, allowing him to meld into her. Her lips opened more, unfolding to him as he’d never thought possible – warm and soft and inviting. Silently, they rose from their chairs. Still linked together by lips and hands, they moved to the side in one fluid movement. With the table no longer in between them, he slipped his hands from her face and pulled her close to him, welcoming her into a new intimacy.
Suddenly afraid, he pulled back, only to whispering into her ear, “Kathryn – are you sure?”
“Yes,” she whispered huskily. “Yes, I am.”
His mouth found hers a second time, this time without hesitancy or fear. Her acquiescing response silently answered his unasked question. He tasted her sweetness and molded to her flesh, reveling in the firmness of her touch, aching to know more. All these years, he thought that if the time ever came – when it came – that he would be prepared, fearing nothing. Yet now, with one simple word, his knees felt weak. He didn’t know if the long anticipation would heighten the final culmination of their love or if it would be anticlimactic.
Now she was the one who broke away, but it wasn’t as he had feared. She took his hand and began leading him towards the bedroom.
“Kathryn, I don’t know…”
“Shh!” she said, turning to him, her eyes telling him that she shared his qualms “It will be fine. We’ll just learn from each other, as we have always done.” She eased him out of his jacket and placed it on a chair right inside the door.
He moved behind her, brushing back her hair. “I’m glad you’ve let your hair grow again,” he murmured, fingering the auburn tresses. He leaned down and kissed the inviting skin of the nape of her neck, triggering a small shudder from her.
“Chakotay,” she whispered, turning into his embrace.
They both sensed the time for words was over. What needed to be said had been said; nothing more could be added to it. In the soft glow of the lowered lights, they divested themselves of years of denial as well as their clothes. Hands and lips and mouths replaced clothing, seeking to cover and explore the untried expanse of their new universe.
He felt himself reacting to her responses; a pillar of firmness and heat invaded the closeness of their bodies, prodding them into the next step. Slowly but decisively he backed her over to the bed. He felt her knees bend as they reached their destination. Gently he guided her to a prone position, caressing her with each touch.
Her eyes widened with the excitement of expectation; she opened her body as well. Her hypnotizing essence arose and enveloped him, pulling him towards her with its invisible tendrils, entwining him irrevocably. He buried his face in the sweet flesh of her neck, exploring and following the trail wherever it went. His hands led the way, giving him as much pleasure as she seemed to be receiving. The exploration heightened all of his senses greater than any vision quest ever had. This woman…this friend… this lover… glowed bright and surreal in his eyes. She tasted like all the sweetness and pungency he had ever savored, combined into one delectable morsel. Primitive sounds came from her, communicating more than words ever could, affirming the rightness of their actions. His hands and lips felt the heat of her skin, quivering under his touch. Dry tautness gave way to warm moistness as he reached the nether chasm from which her rich female fragrance emanated.
He hesitated but felt her hands entwined in his hair, guiding him in his journey, leading him along the way. Greedily he drank from her offered oasis, quenching his long thirst. He sensed the same longing in her as she opened herself fully to him, inviting him to fulfillment and satiation. Tremors from her body reverberated off of his flesh, signaling him that it was time, after all these years. He shifted, gliding his body upwards, positioning himself above her. Silently and swiftly, he entered her, allowing her to mold around him, to take him within her body… and into her soul.
“Why now?” he finally asked.
She rolled over onto her side, tracing her finger down his long nose. “Because we’re no longer within a command structure.”
He took her hand and kissed her fingertips. “But you still outrank me – doesn’t that matter?”
“Ah – but you’re not directly under my command anymore, don’t you see? We’re not on the same ship… I’m not responsible for your direct orders. It’s not like the present and future duo Janeways we saw last year in the Delta Quadrant.”
He laughed. “Hmm. That future Admiral Janeway – I don’t know if I could handle her!”
“Would you be willing to try?” she asked.
“Only if she’d be willing to give me a chance.”
She sank into the cushion of his chest. “How about taking that chance every day for about the next… oh, let’s say… fifty years or so?”
“Sounds like an interesting assignment, Admiral.” He kissed her slowly, musing on such an outcome. Even if they lived to be a thousand, he would still be learning new things about Kathryn Janeway each and every day.