But I can tell you a story, an ancient legend among my people. It's about an angry warrior who lived his life in conflict with the rest of his tribe, a man who couldn't find peace, even with the help of his spirit guide. For years, he struggled with his discontent. But the only satisfaction he ever got came when he was in battle. This made him a hero among his tribe, but the warrior still longed for peace within himself. One day he and his war party were captured by a neighboring tribe led by a woman warrior. She called on him to join her because her tribe was too small and weak to defend itself from all its enemies. The woman warrior was brave and beautiful and very wise. The angry warrior swore to himself that he would stay by her side, doing whatever he could to make her burden lighter. From that point on, her needs would come first. And, in that way, the warrior began to know the true meaning of peace.
“Is that…really an ancient legend?” she asked, surprised to find tears in her eyes.
“No,” he admitted, putting down the tool he’d been fiddling with. “But that made it easier to say.”
He looked her in the eyes.
She didn’t allow herself to think about her reaction, to let the myriad reasons of why this wasn’t a good idea to take hold of her mind. She held out her hand and he mirrored her movements, lacing his fingers with hers as a tear fell down her face.
No one had ever validated her in such a way before.
They stayed that way for several moments, just looking at each other. Eventually he quirked an eyebrow at her as if to ask what was next.
“I still want to find a cure,” she said.
“I know,” he said. “I want you to know that just because I want to build a home here doesn’t mean I won’t support any effort to find a cure.”
“I know,” she said. “And I appreciate every ease and comfort you’ve devised for us.”
“Especially the bathtub?” he asked teasingly.
He said it lightly enough but it just made her remember the night they had first seen the monkey and how he’d looked at her.
A warm flush rose to her cheeks but she didn’t look away from him.
“Yes,” she said, letting her tone say what she couldn’t even imagine saying to him.
His eyes widened and he swallowed. She chuckled slightly.
“It does look cozy,” he said.
“Yes,” she said, standing up, bringing him with her by their linked hands.
“I’m not rushing you, am I?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“I don’t want you to rush yourself.”
“I appreciate that,” she said, moving closer to him, “but you know this has been brewing for awhile. We may be here for the rest of our lives. I don’t want to waste any more time.”
“Then I’ll keep going until you say stop,” he said, putting a hand against her cheek and bending to kiss her.
As far as first kisses went it was rather tame, he was obviously still trying to take it slow, but it had been so long for her and she was pretty sure her brain had forgotten how to say any words, let alone tell him to stop, by the time he was done kissing her.
But where her mouth wouldn’t work, her body took over, and the warm burn beginning in her gut started to rise. She pulled his head back down and felt his arms begin to inch around her waist, fingering with the cloth of her clothes. She let her fingers frame his face, softly feeling their way into his hair.
“May I?” he asked, using one of his own hands to touch the back of her head where pins kept half of her hair bound up. “I’ve always wanted…”
She nodded against his mouth and felt the pins pulled loose and her hair fell around her face. He pulled back and looked at her, his eyes somehow communicating how much he approved. He slowly smoothed the tendrils around her face and then kissed the corner of her mouth gently, slowing moving his way down her neck. She tilted back her head and slid her hands around his back, pulling at his tunic, grazing over the bare skin she found there underneath.
She still didn’t have any words, but, again, that wasn’t a problem at all, and she let her body speak for her the rest of the night.
Their days passed along the same vein from that point on. She slowly worked on trying to repair the insect traps, but gradually she became more invested in her tomato plants and exploring the river and pitting her will against Chakotay’s playing poker.
This was shore leave in the best possible sense. She missed the crew and she worried about them and she knew he did, too. Yet, there was nothing they could do and her old life seemed very far away from her these days.
When she was lying next to Chakotay in the new bed he had made for them, it was almost impossible to want any other life. She got to know him, to respect him, to let him see her in a way that would never have been possible were they still Captain and Commander. She couldn’t regret it.
One day they were discussing his plans for building a boat for them, his latest gift to her. She was just about to suggest they have some lunch when a strange noise sounded in the house. It was vaguely familiar and she saw him looking toward the shelf where their long neglected com badges still lay. A static issued from them and he went and brought them over to the table. Slowly Tuvoc’s voice, last heard months before, filled the room. Voyager was on its way back for them, they had a cure, and they would be there in thirty hours.
Kathryn and Chakotay sat there in shocked silence for a few moments. It was almost unbelievable.
“We should have known they wouldn’t stop until they had found a cure,” he finally said.
“But Tuvoc,” she said.
“Even Tuvoc couldn’t stand against the entire crew,” he said. He paused. “Ka- Captain-”
“Don’t,” she interrupted him. “I know.”
“I won’t make it hard for you,” he said.
She wanted to laugh because only a moment before he had held her in his arms, laughingly brushing her hair behind her ears – he loved her hair – now he felt like he could have easily been in the Alpha Quadrant for all the physical closeness between them.
“It will be hard no matter what,” she said.
And that was it. There were no declarations or goodbyes, no spoken regrets. They packed their things, mostly in silence, and, when Voyager arrived, their only farewells were to their monkey friend. Kathryn took one last look at the home she’d had for such a brief time and they beamed up to the ship, both wearing their uniforms again, symbols of the impossibility of continuing to be together.
Walking on to the bridge again was a bittersweet feeling. She’d missed this so much, exploring the stars, living with these people, trying to get home, taking care of them all. But she’d found something equally as lovely and she couldn’t have them both. She and Chakotay settled into their seats, side by side, and she gave the order to engage, not so much as looking at him, nor he at her.
It couldn’t really end like that. Too much had passed between them. She couldn’t deny that before their exile she had spent idle hours wondering what it would be like to love Chakotay, but it had never been a serious consideration until she had nothing else, no ship and no way home. Now, though, she knew what was beneath her curious thoughts of before and sometimes during their morning briefings she missed being able to sit close to him, stealing sips from his mug of coffee instead of drinking her own, or hours spent climbing trees to get the ripe nuts growing at the very top, or the lazy evenings lying out on the grass, naming the constellations they were discovering for the first time.
Sometimes she’d catch him looking away from her or off into the distance and she wondered if he was thinking about her, too, remembering the feel of her lips on his skin, or how it felt to rub her shoulders, or joining her in the bathtub, or building things for her with his bare hands, or coming with her on treks into the woods. He kept a respectful distance, yet still managed to be attentive. Their old jokes about Neelix’s cooking and Tom’s antics and the Doctor’s caustic remarks were still in place. They spent almost as much time together, but lying in bed at night, she found herself dreaming about his arms around her.
She felt guilty about it in a way because, after all, she still loved Mark, it had only been two years, and she wanted to get home more than ever. She didn’t want to hold Chakotay back from living his life when she had nothing to give him. She just had to keep to her course and figure out what to do when she got home. But Chakotay deserved more than that.
One morning before he left after their briefing she forced herself to look him in the eye and ask him how he was doing.
“I’m fine, Captain,” he said, his face quizzical.
She took a deep breath.
“The Captain isn’t asking, I’m asking.”
“Kathryn,” he said, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes.
“You make it sound like I’ve got a split personality,” she said wryly.
It seemed to break the sudden tension because he laughed and leaned his forearms against her desk.
“You were the one who brought it up,” he said.
“True,” she said.
“I’m okay,” he said. “Are you?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “You’ve kept your promise not to make it harder on me, but sometimes I make it hard on myself.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Obviously I don’t want to dissect our every thought and feeling, but it’s a long seventy odd year trip to never speak about it at all.”
“I understand,” he said. “Shall we set up an annual check in of some sort?” He smiled at her.
“If you’d prefer never to speak of it again, I’m happy to do so,” she said. “We both know there’s no personal obligation here.”
“Our dutiful obligation makes it harder to forget any personal obligations,” he said.
“I know, but it would be madness for me to replace you as first officer, no matter how I feel about it.”
“Do I make you feel bad?” he asked, his concern for her evident as it always was.
“No,” she said, “that’s just the trouble. Chakotay, I…I miss it.”
“So do I,” he said softly, folding his hands together as if to stop himself from reaching out for her.
“If you weren’t here, then I could put it in the back of my mind,” she said. “And I do, it’s just not very easy. I have so many lives to consider and a life of my own waiting for me.”
“I’ve got a cozy prison cell waiting for me,” he said.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.
“I know, but like you said, if you weren’t there every day in front of me, this would be easier.”
“I still need you as first officer.”
“And if that’s how I can help you, then that’s how I will.”
“But if an opportunity comes along for you,” she said slowly, “a relationship or…” She stopped and felt annoyed at herself. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
“It would have to take someone pretty special,” he said. “And I’ve already met everyone I’m going to be spending the next seventy years with.”
“There’s a host of new and interesting species to meet in this Quadrant,” she said, lightening the mood.
“I don’t do flings,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “But I had to say it.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “I know when we do get back- you have…you have someone special of your own.”
“I do,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not just as special.”
“Understood,” he said, the deference back in his tone and she could see he didn’t want to talk about it any longer.
Indeed, she didn’t either. The longer they did speak the more she wanted to sit in his lap and run her fingers over his tattoo and feel his fingers brush over her bare skin. That would be highly inappropriate.
“Unless there’s anything further, Commander?” she asked. He shook his head. “Dismissed,” she said.
He gave her a nod and stood and left the room. She sat for a long time, tracing lines on her desk and building back up her walls. She had to, it was her duty, and they both understood their duty all too well. It was one of the things she loved about him.
Harry knocked on the door with the sensor logs for her to review and she shook herself out of her reverie. She was a Captain and she would be a good one, no matter what that meant giving up.