The first time, they labeled it as a fluke. Kathryn had raised her bare feet up onto the couch as she was turned turned towards Chakotay, talking animatedly, and he’d forgotten that he wasn’t supposed to be touching her. The next thing he knew, he had drawn one of them into his lap and was massaging it.
“I’d almost forgotten exactly how magical those hands of yours are,” she breathed, instead of protesting or pulling away.
Her foot was tiny in his big hands, reminding him of how small she really was, despite her larger-than-life presence. Since she was encouraging him, Chakotay took the other one and began to rub it gently as well, thumbs pressing up into the arches, where he knew she must be sore from long days in those unforgiving heeled boots.
Kathryn closed her eyes, a smile relaxing across her face. He knew that he should probably finish this up and say goodnight. After all, the indirect reference to their time on New Earth was a sign that they were getting dangerously close to ground they’d silently agreed not to tread on. He couldn’t bring himself to stop, though.
“I don’t suppose it would be ethical to order you to report to my quarters nightly to serve as my masseuse,” Kathryn sighed.
“You wouldn’t have to order me, Kathryn,” he replied, hands caressing her ankles under the hem of her uniform pant legs.
Kathryn bit her lip and looked suddenly sad.
“There are days when it just seems so cruel,” she choked, pulling her feet away and back down towards the ground, as her arms wrapped around her torso. “You want to offer and I want to accept and we both know it's impossible.”
He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t stop himself from putting an arm around her shoulders and pulling her against him. She came willingly and rested against his chest, one hand gripping his far shoulder. They stayed there for a good while, the comfort of the proximity counterbalanced by the agony of not being able to do more.
He wanted to kiss her, to make love to her, and she had as good as said that she wanted the same thing. That didn’t change all of the reasons keeping them apart. She looked up at him, ran her hand down the side of his face.
“Just this one,” she whispered, and craned up to kiss him, tender but hungry at the same time. The intensity of it knocked him off balance and he was drowning in her. For all the times he’d imagined this, the reality blew him away. When they finally pulled apart, gasping for air, they stared at each other.
He wanted to draw her back to him and could see the same desire in her eyes, but instead, he took a deep breath and said, “I should go.”
She nodded, conflict written all over her face. Her eyes begged him to stay.
The next time, they tried to blame the alcohol. It had been a long week, and the bottle they’d lifted from Neelix’s stash (command privilege) had been stronger than they anticipated. They both were relaxed, learning into each other, foreheads touching as they laughed about Tom Paris’ latest antics. His hand had fallen over her shoulders without either of them noticing, and her hand was on his knee.
Kathryn felt giddy, enjoying the softened edges of a good buzz. It reminded her of being young and carefree. It reminded her of being a teenager.
“Tell me, Chakotay. Do they play Truth or Dare on Trebus?” Kathryn smiled a wicked smile as she surveyed his all too well known face.
“As a matter of fact, they do.” He grinned back, daring her to continue this line of thought.
“So tell me, were you more of a Truth or a Dare boy?”
“Well, that depended on the situation.” He cocked his head to the side a little, “Something tells me you were all Dare.”
Of course, he was right. Kathryn had a lot of nerve when it came to facing danger head on, but opening up was another matter. She’d always felt more naked telling secrets than streaking around the block.
“So, what about now?” she flirted. “Truth or Dare?”
He looked at her intently for a moment, gauging her intention. “Dare.”
Kathryn realize that this had become a game of chicken, each trying to get the other to be the one to back off.
“I dare you to do something you’d do if I wasn’t your captain and you weren’t my first officer.”
Her heart raced in anticipation. This was a terrible idea, but right now that seemed irrelevant though the fuzzy haze of alcohol and bodily proximity.
Chakotay reached over and ever so lightly caressed her neck, his other hand pulling down the edge of her turtle neck as he leaned in and followed the same path with his lips, their soft touch sending shivers down her spine as they ghosted down her throat only to rest against her collarbone with the lightest and most tantalizing hint of suction.
He leaned back, eyes following hers, and she desperately wanted to follow him back to his side of the couch and get lost in the exploration of one another’s bodies.
“I suppose it is my turn now,” Chakotay grinned. She was pretty sure that he was intentionally breaking up the moment for both of their sanity. “Truth or Dare?”
“Truth,” she replied, both because he’d anticipated her having the opposite response and because she couldn’t risk the temptation of physicality right now.
He hesitated for a moment, clearly deciding how far to push the line, “What made you pick Truth?”
She swallowed. She’d been expecting him to either ask something playful or profound, and this ran right down the middle.
She knew she could say something silly, and he wouldn’t call her on it, but liquid courage was also liquid honesty. “Right now, I don’t think I could hold back if you gave me a Dare that was anything like the one I just gave you.”
“Oh, really. What do you think would have happened?”
That was all it took: the next thing she knew, Kathryn was pressed against his body, mouth against his. A moan escaped one of them, and she wasn’t even sure which. She knew she should stop but it just felt too damned nice.
“Kathryn…,” he responded as she explored his neck with her mouth, mimicking his earlier display.
She looked back into his eyes, and the emotion in them broke through the fog of lust and intoxication.
“This. This is why I didn’t choose Dare.”
“I know. We can’t,” he sighed.
She sat up, painful as it was to leave the warmth of his body against hers.
“I should go,” he said, getting up, and she wanted desperately to tell him not to, but knew she couldn’t. Instead, she let him walk away and sat there on the couch aching and drinking in the scent of him lingering in the air.
The third time, it could have been argued that it was a result of exhaustion. Neither of them had gotten more than a few hours of sleep at any time in the last week, and Chakotay was pretty sure that Kathryn had gotten even less than that. He’d offered to postpone their weekly dinner so she could get some rest, but she’d brushed off the idea.
“I look forward to our dinners all week,” she’d told him, and he’d had to resist the urge to suggest that they dine together every night. It wouldn’t work for scheduling reasons and he knew that it would throw off this delicate balance they were trying to maintain.
Still, tired as Chakotay was, it was hard not to think about things he was really not supposed to be thinking about. They’d had a light dinner of salad and corn chowder and both agreed that they were too tired to drink without passing out, so they were resting on her couch in amicable silence.
He found himself staring at her once again. He always thought he had committed her image to memory perfectly, but when he was faced with the reality, her beauty always caught him off guard.
“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked, noticing his distracted expression.
“I was just thinking that no matter how well we know a person, there is always a difference between our idea of them and reality.”
It wasn’t a lie, merely an omission.
“I can’t deny that is the truth,” Kathryn smiled sadly. “It is getting harder and harder to recall anyone back in the Alpha Quadrant accurately, even if I look at video footage.”
He wondered if she was talking about Mark, but he didn’t ask.
She leaned her head against his shoulder, relaxing. He allowed his head to press against hers. It was all too easy to imagine that they were together and that, in a little while, they were going to crawl into bed together and then, later still, wake up in each other’s arms.
He realized suddenly that her breathing pattern had changed. She’d fallen asleep. Once again, he had a hard time not just getting lost staring at her beautiful face. He knew he should get up and go, let her go to bed. They both needed some rest.
When he went to move, Kathryn grabbed onto him, “Stay…,” she murmured.
He didn’t have the heart to deny her request, even though he knew she would never have made it if she were fully conscious.
He didn’t realize that he’d fallen asleep, until he woke up and realized just how intertwined he and Kathryn had become. Her arms were around his neck and he hand one around her waist; they were pressed together and one of her legs was wrapped around his.
He considered extricating himself, but lying here with Kathryn was so comfortable (despite the fact that the couch wasn’t really big enough for one person to sleep, let alone two) and he couldn’t bring himself to leave just yet.
The fourth time, they weren’t tired or intoxicated, which is why they thought it would be safe to sit on the couch together.
“I am going to have to disagree,” Chakotay insisted. “Palak Paneer is a far superior dish to Mattar Paneer.”
“I will never understand your hatred of peas,” Kathryn laughed.
“I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree,” he smiled. “Again.”
He could have meant any number of command decision disagreements, but Kathryn wondered if he meant the larger issue of parameters on their relationship.
“I suppose you are lucky that this isn’t a command decision,” she teased, trying to keep the mood light. “Otherwise, I’d just overrule you.”
“It wouldn’t be the first or the last time.”
“Does it bother you?“ she asked, considering how she might feel in his position.
“Bother me? Well, that’s hard to say. Of course it can be frustrating, but you are the captain and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Not even if you could have your own ship back?”
“Not even then,” he insisted. “I’d be lost without my Woman Warrior.”
She was surprised by the addition. They both seemed to have agreed that talking about anything relating to New Earth was too painful, too dangerous.
“I wasn’t sure you still felt that way,” she admitted. In for a penny, in for a pound.
“Always,” he replied, facing her more directly. “I hope that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”
“On the contrary. I draw strength from it… from you.”
She wanted to say more. She wanted to tell him how just sitting here next to him made her feel more alive than she’d felt all week. That wasn’t something she could do, though: it was far too much like admitting the power of this thing between them.
“The feeling is mutual,” he responded, and his expression was so sincere that something inside of her broke and she leaned in and closed the distance between them, breathing him in as her lips brushed his.
Their kisses were softer, slower than the other times they’d slipped over the line. His hands barely touched her, as if afraid that the spell might be broken. She was kneeling on the couch across from him, and he was gently running his hands over her shoulders and arms as their tongues intertwined.
She straddled his lap, her body pressing against his, and deepened their kiss, heat and energy radiated off of him and electrified her. It was so easy, just to get caught up in this moment and drink in the feeling of his adoration.
She knew it was wrong and she was going to stop it in just a moment, but a little while longer wouldn’t made a difference… not really.
By the fifth time, they weren’t even sharing the couch anymore. Chakotay was sitting in the chair, watching Kathryn curled up against the corner of the couch as she slowly consumed the chocolate gelato she’d replicated. She was licking the spoon in a way that was driving him to distraction.
He wondered whether it was on purpose, but brushed the thought away. He knew that Kathryn was doing her best to keep both of them from crossing over the line, even if they had both slipped up a bit.
From there, he couldn’t feel the heat radiating off her body, but he did notice the way she was craning her neck. Her shoulders must have been bothering her again.
“You know, I could help you with those knots,” he commented.
“Is it that obvious?” she grimaced.
“To me, yes. Maybe not to the rest of the crew.”
“I have a bad habit of carrying all my tension in my shoulders,” she admitted.
“I know. Fortunately, you have a first officer who is somewhat of an expert in dealing with shoulder knots.”
“Lucky me,” she smiled, and he took that as an acceptance of his offer.
Walking around the couch behind her, he started gently. She relaxed visibly the moment his hands touched her uniform, letting him work out the pain from her shoulders and neck. She especially seemed to enjoy when he pressed his fingers up into her hairline at the top of her neck.
Doing this brought back memories of New Earth, and how close they’d been to becoming lovers. He knew he should be glad that the crew had rescued them, but sometimes his longing for Kathryn made him resentful of it. He wondered what their life would be like now, if they’d stayed there. He imagined waking up next to her every day, knowing each other’s bodies with the intimacy of having made love so many times you don’t have any idea how many anymore.
Instead, he had a couple of times where they got a little too close, some stolen kisses. Instead, he had moments like this, when they had an excuse to touch one another. Instead, they couldn’t allow themselves to sit on the same damned couch for fear of losing control.
The knots had dissipated, and Kathryn had relaxed into jelly against his hands, but Chakotay couldn’t bring himself to end this massage, which allowed him to touch her.
She craned her head back, over the back of the couch, looking up at him. He could see the same hunger in her eyes. He knelt down, bringing his face close to hers, and they kissed, faces backwards and the angle awkward, but he didn’t care.
“Come over here,” she whispered, and he walked around the couch to kneel before her, body between her legs. She wrapped herself around him, their kisses intensifying as they grew breathless and shaky.
Their hands wandered up under uniforms, exploring the flesh beneath, and then pulling them off, stripping down to the waist as they took in the sight of one another.
His mouth started working its way downwards, kissing all of her pale perfection, and her hands caressed his shoulders and back.
“Chakotay…,” she whimpered, and the sound of his name on her lips drove him to distraction.
He reached the top of her pants and looked up for agreement before working them open. She lifted her hips up to let him pull them down and off of her. The reality of her, before him in nothing but lingerie, was better than anything he could have imagined.
He resumed kissing his way across her hip bones and down her thighs. He wanted to burn this memory into his mind forever, in case it was the only chance he got.
He moved back up to kiss her lips again, reaching around to unhook her bra and then caressing her breasts with his hand, enjoying the feeling of her soft skin against his.
Her hand slipped down the front of his pants, finding him ready for her. She smiled and he lowered his hand back down between her legs, pushing aside her damp underwear to slide a finger inside. She stroked him as he fingered her, a sort of call and response as they gasped into each other’s mouths.
She pulled her hand away, working instead of getting rid of this remaining clothing and he followed suit by helping her out of the underwear at last. He moved to sink down between her legs, but instead she pulled him up and against her.
It took a bit of readjusting, but when he finally slid inside of her, it felt as though time stopped for a moment. The feeling of her around and against him and the look on her face were everything he’d ever hoped this would be. For a moment, they were content just to stay there, entwined with each other, a sense of completeness overwhelming him.
Then, she began to move against him, and the passion he’d been suppressing took over once more. There was something desperate about the way that they clung to each other as their thrusts grew more and more frantic until she dug her nails deep into his shoulder and shuddered around him and he pushed all the way back in once more and collapsed against her.
"Well now we've done it..." Kathryn groaned against his shoulder, clearly coming to her senses and recalling herself. She didn't stiffen or pull away though, so he stayed where he was.
"I suppose that is quite literally true," he responded as neutrally as he could. He didn't want to assume the worst and inadvertently lead her in that direction.
"This was a mistake," she confirmed his fears as to where she was headed, "It should never have happened... I should never have-"
"But it did," he pointed out to her softly, drawing his face back enough to look her in the eyes, "And I for one can't bring myself to be sorry."
"Even knowing it can't happen again?" She submerged the decree in her question.
"Even if that's the case. I'd rather have this memory than nothing, Kathryn."
He knew the memory would torment him, as he replayed it over and over again in his mind. How much harder would it be not to touch her knowing how she would react, the way she'd would feel and taste and sound?
"Oh Chakotay..." she sighed, tracing the side of his face with her hand, "I wish it could be different."
He knew she meant it, and he reminded himself that he had promised to make things easier and not harder for her. So he didn't contradict her, not directly. He didn't tell her that, as far as he was concerned, the parameters could go to hell.
"I'm not giving up hope that someday it might be," he promised her instead, holding her close, cherishing this moment where she was in his arms for as long as it could endure, "Not unless you are telling me never definitively."
"Not never," she murmured, tears in her eyes, "Not definitively."
"Then I'll treasure this memory, and pray we reach that someday," he insisted, though his heart was breaking at the thought that he was going to have to get up, pull himself from her, and know that when he saw her next the wall would be up once more, "Though, I wish we hadn't rushed so much under the circumstances."
"I hurried us along," she confessed, "I didn't want to give my better judgement a chance to kick in. I needed to act before I came to my senses."
"I'm sorry, Kathryn. I'm sorry if I..."
"You were perfect," she shook her head, "You always are even though I know I make it difficult sometimes."
"Can I kiss you just once more?" he couldn't help asking, "Before I have to go and this all becomes another memory we can't speak of..."
Instead of responding verbally, she wrapped her hands around his head and kissing him deeply, a long sorrowful kiss, full of passion and regret. He kissed her back, feeling the tears stream down her cheeks and tasting the saltiness on her lips.
"You should go," she swallowed, "Before this gets even harder."
Chakotay was pretty sure that pulling away and putting his clothes back on was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
Kathryn curled herself into a ball on the couch, retreating into wherever it was she went when she backed away from him. She looked so small and forlorn, and he wanted nothing more than to scoop her up into his arms and carry her to her bedroom, to hold her and comfort her until her sadness passed. She might not even have objected, but she was right that it was only going to get harder. If he left now they would likely both experience a sleepless night, but if he did not then neither of them was likely to sleep well in their empty separate beds for too many nights to count.
He bent down and placed a gentle kiss against her hair, shaky and conflicted, before using every inch of willpower he possessed to back away from her towards the door. The sound of doors whooshing open felt like the death knell, his heart tightening and twisting in his chest, threatening to choke him. As they slid shut again, he wanted to turn back and tell her no, that he didn't accept her conclusion, that they should be together even under the circumstances, but it was too late.