"Tell me about her." Tessa looks across at him, she leans back against the bulkhead of the shuttle and watches him closely. "Tell me about, Janeway."
Chakotay turns away, back to the comfort of the familiar console. He can't go there. Even now, 15 years later, he can't talk about her. He's holding her back, but he can feel her presence, see the quick flash of a red uniform out the corner of his eye, hear her whisper his name.
"There's nothing to tell," he finally replies. He closes his eyes to block out the image of her body, perfectly preserved in her frozen grave, but it doesn't work. Nothing works. She's there in his mind, has been since that day 15 years ago, haunting him, refusing to leave. He doesn't want her to leave. The pain of seeing her again is so achingly beautiful, it's the only time he feels something other than emptiness.
"You can't fool me, Chakotay. You might be able to fool yourself, but you can't fool me. Tell me about her," Tessa presses. She's never been this forceful before, but time is running out.
Chakotay sighs, "I've told you, there's nothing to tell. She was the Captain, I was her First Officer. That's it. That's all."
"Liar..." he hears the whispered word bounce around inside his brain. And there she is, hands on her hips, eyes sparkling and she's smiling at him from across the shuttle. He blinks. She's gone.
"She was more than that. Come on, Chakotay. I saw how you looked at her today. I can tell it's bothering you." Tessa pushes, oblivious to the continual torture that rolls around inside his mind. Usually she would back off at this point, but not now, not today.
Chakotay offers a sharp bark of a laugh. Bothering him? That was an understatement. Their names start to roll through his mind. And she's there again, arms folded, smiling infuriatingly at him. He shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut.
"They are all dead!" he snaps. "Of course it bothered me!"
Tessa gets to her feet and moves to the chair next to him. She leans over and places her hand onto his arm.
"Talk to me, tell me about her, about, Kathryn." Tessa says, her voice soft.
Chakotay shakes his head, swallowing back the lump growing in his throat. The image of her laid at an awkward angle amongst the ice growing clearer in his mind. Her face, frozen in time, begins to thaw before his eyes, the blue hue of her skin transforming into the soft pink of life, her closed eyes softening back to the beautiful shade he always admired, her hair loosening back into the colour and style he remembers, but has spent 15 years trying to forget.
"I can't!" he gasps, desperate to keep her ghost at bay.
"Yes, you can," Tessa urges, her grip on his arm strengthening.
"Why? Why do you want to know?" He pleads, the anguish clear in his voice.
"Because, when this works, you will be back with her and not with me. I won't recall any of this. I'm giving up everything for her. I'd like to know her. Like you knew her."
"But you won't remember," he reasons, battling with the images that threaten to overwhelm him. He thinks he hears her call his name again, but shakes his head to rid himself of that torturing thought.
"I will for a few hours. That's good enough for me. Tell me about her." Tessa says gently. She strokes his arm and he can't hold it back any longer.
The image in his mind blossoms into full colour. Her voice is there in his ears, in his mind. She's always been there, "Have you missed me?" she asks, that flirty smile playing across her lips.
"Yes," he gasps out loud. He feels Tessa's hand on his arm and he pulls away as if she is burning him. He grips the console, shocked and confused at the images in his mind and her voice in his ears.
Tessa reaches out again, "Talk to me. Tell me."
He's battling with his inner demons. Battling the raw emotion that never went away, that didn't ease with time as the councillors said. And she's there. Sat across from him at the dinner table in her quarters. Disregarding his concerns with a wave of a hand and a flirty smile. She's drinking wine, eyes sparkling, talking to him of how they had waited too long.
"Are you with me?" she asks and he curses the universe that he never had the courage to fight her on it. She was so happy and he loved seeing her that way, he gave the only answer he could.
And Gods help him, he meant it. He can't stop looking at her. The images are always so vivid, so clear, they make 15 years feel like mere seconds. He wishes he could remain in his memories forever. Where Kathryn is alive and he is happy.
"Chakotay..." her voice is soft, she's out of her seat and in front of him, her hand stroking his cheek. Any concerns for tomorrow blown out the airlock as the pure scent of her assaults his whole being.
"Have you missed me?" she asks, his mind creating things that never happened. Or did they? He's lived so long loving her ghost, he can't determine what is real anymore.
"Yes," he gasps, she smiles and strokes his cheek.
"Our last night in the Delta Quadrant, how should we celebrate?" she asks and there is no doubt of the intentions in her voice.
"How would you like to celebrate?" he asks, his hand reaching up to cover hers on his cheek.
She smiles softly and gazes at him from beneath her eyelashes. She licks her lips, "Together," she answers. "Are you with me?"
The image twists, he's in her bed, she's beneath him and surrounding him, he's in heaven, she's holding onto him and he's barely clinging onto to any form of coherency.
"This time tomorrow," she rocks her hips against him, "We can be together," she gasps, reaching up to kiss him. "Earth."
"Yes," he groans, kissing her neck.
"It's what I've always wanted," she whispers. "You."
He can't hold back any longer and he's calling her name, the image blurring and disappearing before his eyes. And she's there, before him, leaning against the console in front of him in that cocky, self-assured way she always did.
"Have you missed me?" she asks, her head tilted to one side. Her face blossoms into a beautiful smile that takes his breath away.
"Yes," he chokes.
She fades away before him and he tries to reach out for her, but she's gone. Tessa appears in front of him, her eyes filled with concern.
"Chakotay? Are you OK?"
"I love her," he gasps. "Always. That's all there is to say."
Tessa nods, swallowing the pain the truth brings her, though she's always known it. Known it since she met him. He has no idea how many times he's called her, Kathryn by mistake. She's never called him on it. She just accepted it.
"I know," she responds. "I just needed to hear you say it."
She gets up and pats his shoulder, moving away to the back of the shuttle.
"I'm sorry," he says to the empty room. His head drops to his chest before finally, he looks up at the console and continues with his preparations.
"Have you missed me?" The words are uttered into the silence in a voice he barely recognises as his own.
"You know I have...." comes the reply inside his head.
"I hope so. Just don't pull away from me, Kathryn."
"I won't. Come back to me and you'll see," her voice echoes through his mind and he's treated to the final image of her laughing, confetti in her hair, as she turns to look at him, sparkling eyes, filled with hope.
He shakes his head sadly, the image disappearing into the depths of his mind. He knows that deep down, if this works and they erase the last 15 years away, she'll pull back from him. That night only existed under the proviso of them reaching home. There's no room for them in the Delta Quadrant. If it fails, he's still lost her. Either way, he's destined to live with a broken heart and the ghost of what could have been.