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Swings and Roundabouts

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Kathryn held her breath in anticipation, lifting her hand slowly and deliberately to the keypad by her door. The singsong beeps as she entered her code and the familiar hiss of the opening door were music to her ears. Almost overwhelmed with relief, she stepped over the threshold and stood just inside the doorway to survey her ‘kingdom’. A slight puff of air whispered past her as the doors hissed shut, and closing her eyes, she took a deep, deep breath. Ahhh… sweet solitude, quiet aloneness and blissful isolation.

She hugged herself, and with her eyes still closed, she listened. The only thing she could hear was the gentle thrum of the engines. There were no squawking monkeys, no torrential rain, no howling gales, no chorus of insects or squabbling birds….. and no hammering, sawing or planing.

Just heavenly, delicious, soul-restoring silence.

Opening her eyes, she slowly scanned her quarters. She’d thought she’d never see them again, and couldn’t remember ever being so happy to be somewhere in her life. Her eyes travelled lovingly around her private sanctum. Everything was as she’d left it, except for the large cargo container in the middle of the room. It contained all her personal items that she’d brought back from New Earth.

“Computer, lights fifty percent, ambient.” The lighting in her room rose to a comfortable glow. Soft gentle lighting, not the harsh glare of one hundred percent illumination on which he’d always insisted. It had driven her to distraction. After several almost stand-up battles, they’d come to a compromise – seventy-five percent ambient lighting – but the harsh glare had still given her headaches. God, she’d never met anyone so damned stubborn or contrary… but it didn’t matter anymore. She calmed herself. They were back on Voyager and they had their own space to do with as they pleased.

She wandered around the living area, running her fingers along the back of her armchair, her desk, her cabinet and then over to her couch where she sat with a thud, plonking her feet up on the coffee table. Smiling to herself, she leant back, stretched her arms along the back of her settee and gave a heartfelt sigh of relief.

They’d been gone for just over eight weeks. It had seemed longer. Much, much longer. Closing her eyes, she let the quiet stillness seep into her bones. It was almost fifteen minutes later that she dropped her feet to the floor and heaved herself up to inspect the rest of her private domain. At her bedroom door, she leaned against the jamb and smiled at her double bed. It looked so inviting with its acres of mattress, crisp white sheets and mountains of pillows. After sleeping on that narrow single bed for the last two months, her old bed looked like Starfleet issue luxury.

Passing through her bedroom into her bathroom, she cast an adoring gaze over her bathtub.

Indoor bathing. What a novelty! No more swatting at insects while she tried to wash and no more monkeys interrupting her bath time. Pure delight!

“Computer, run bath, the usual settings.”

She watched as the hot water magically flowed from the faucet. Modern conveniences – there was nothing to rival them, not to mention the fact that she didn’t have to lug the water up the hill from the spring or collect kindling and wood to heat it.

Her bathtub – the one he’d built her. Her offhand remark, when they’d first arrived on the planet, about baths being her favourite way of relaxing, had prompted him to surprise her by building her one. The memory made her sigh.

It had been an incredibly generous gesture and it wasn’t as if she hadn’t appreciated his kindness, she really had, but it took twenty buckets of water to fill the damned thing. That was ten return trips to the spring. Initially, she’d been so excited, but after the sixth trip to the spring, carrying two heavy pails each time, her delight had soured markedly. In the end, she’d demanded to know why he’d built the damn thing so far away from the water supply. His feelings had been hurt and she’d been very sorry, but he wasn’t the one who had just carted two hundred litres of water up the goddamned hill. Although, to be fair, he’d offered, but she’d been stubborn and refused his help… more fool her.

He explained, in that quiet and irritatingly calm voice of his, that for safety’s sake, it was essential that she be close by the shelter. It was a valid argument. What if something tried to eat her while she was bathing down by the spring and he was all the way back at the shelter? The first visit from their monkey friend had been a case in point, and the fact that he was proved right, irked her even more.

On that particular evening, when she’d heard the rustling in the trees, she’d called out to him, leaping from the bath and hurriedly pulling a towel around her naked body. Chakotay had come to her rescue, running from the shelter, phaser drawn, ready to defend her with his life. Her saviour.

It had only been the monkey but in many ways it had been a ‘watershed’ moment for both of them, but especially for Kathryn. Even now, her body warmed at the memory of Chakotay’s look when, after the ‘danger’ had past, he’d turned and gazed at her, mentally undressing her with his eyes. It had been a resounding wake-up call for her. There on New Earth, he was a man first and her first officer second. It was the first time she’d realised that on that isolated planet, where they were to live out the rest of their lives, their relationship might be very different. Very different indeed….

She shook herself to clear her head of the seductive thoughts and frowning, reached across and grabbed a bottle of rose scented bubble bath. Pouring a generous amount into the gushing water, she watched the bubbles form a small foamy mountain under the faucet.

The use of bubble bath and bath oils had also been a forbidden luxury on New Earth. The cooled bath water was used on the vegetable garden and Chakotay insisted that the chemicals and phosphates from the soap bubbles were not good for the soil or the plants. She’d reminded him that a disgruntled cabin mate was not good for his hopes of a long and fruitful life, but he’d stood firm. No bubbles, only unscented vegetable soap and, to add insult to injury, he’d replicated a phosphate free shampoo, which, she took great pains to remind him, made her hair feel and look like straw.

Now, just because she could, she added a healthy dash of bath oil to the water. The heady mix of perfumes wafted around the bathroom, floating out into her bedroom and to the living area beyond.

A glass of wine was the next thing on her agenda. She wandered back out to the living room to her wonderful, quirky replicator. Patting the overhead panel affectionately, she whispered to it that she was very glad to see it and hoped that her kind words would make up for the many times she’d abused it over the years. They’d had to restrict their use of the replicator on the planet. Nothing extraneous, nothing unnecessary and nothing he couldn’t fashion from a piece of wood – which seemed to be almost everything.

Rolling her eyes, she took off her uniform jacket and tossed it over the back of a chair. She missed and it slid to the floor. That sort of thing used to drive Chakotay to distraction. He was unnaturally tidy for a man, something she hadn’t realised before she’d lived with him. Eying the offending jacket where it lay on the floor, she smirked, grabbed her glass of wine and made her way back to her bathroom.

After placing her wine on the side of the bath, she peeled off the rest of her uniform, hastily tossing it aside. With her hair wrapped in a towel, she slid into the luscious and fragrant water. The warmth enveloped her and wriggling her toes in delight, she swished the bubbles with her hands, scooping up the foam and blowing it across the room. Taking a couple of hearty sips of her wine, she leant back and relaxed, letting her mind wander.

They’d been gone for over eight weeks. A little over fifty-nine days. One thousand, four hundred and twenty-three hours and forty-two minutes, to be exact, but who was counting?

Tuvok had gone against her expressed orders and contacted the Vidians for the cure. She’d feigned displeasure at his breach of protocol, but in truth, she could have kissed him. When she’d heard his crackling hail come through the combadge, it had been a godsend. Their rescue had been timely. Discontent between her and Chakotay had been simmering for weeks, and it was getting dangerously close to boiling over. It hadn’t been anything major, merely the little quirks of life that seemed to get on each other’s nerves when living in close quarters. He was so irritatingly fastidious, contrary, impossibly accepting of their circumstances and always able to see the bright side of every situation. That beatific smile of serenity would pass over his face and she’d want to slap him. In retaliation, she’d taken to goading him to try to get a reaction, but he’d been mindful of her ploys and refused to react. She was aware that she wasn’t the most accommodating of cabin mates either. There were, no doubt, one or two of her foibles that got on his nerves, but she didn’t have nearly as many irritating habits as he did.

All she knew was that life would have become very unpleasant if Voyager hadn’t turned up when it did. It wasn’t as if there was anyone else to be with or anywhere else to go. They’d been stuck with one another, and only one another, for the rest of their lives. She sank deeper into the water and let the bubbles tickle her nose.

She was so glad to be home.

Chakotay spent a couple of hours wandering the corridors of Voyager, familiarising himself with the different departments and any changes that had occurred while he’d been away. It was also an opportunity to touch base with the crew to reassure and re-establish bonds.

He still couldn’t believe they were home. What a relief! He’d been just about ready to throttle her. Kathryn Janeway had to be the most exasperating and difficult woman to live with. He wasn’t sure if she’d gone out of her way to be so troublesome, but – he shook his head in resignation – she’d stretched the friendship to breaking point at times.

Here he was at last – deck three and home. He opened the doors to his quarters but remained in the corridor, savouring the moment as he looked into his starlit sanctuary. Stepping over the threshold, the doors quietly hissed shut behind him. “Computer, lights 100 percent.” Bright light filled his room, illuminating the shadows. He didn’t like shadows, he never had and Kathryn had insisted that the lighting only ever be at seventy-five percent or less. It wasn’t that he liked to quibble over something so seemingly unimportant, but he had his reasons, and he couldn’t see the problem. He’d even tried to explain, but she was so damned stubborn.

He looked around his room. It was as he’d left it, except for the medium sized cargo container that held all his belongings from New Earth. He wandered around his quarters, touching his desk and moving his computer console to the exact spot he liked it to be.

Prising the lid off the cargo container, he lifted out his throws, draping one neatly over the back of his chair and the other along the back of his couch. Much better. He pulled out his medicine bundle and placed it on the shelf where it belonged and moved back to the cargo container. Before he got there, he turned quickly to check that his medicine bundle was still where he’d left it. It may have seemed like a ridiculous thing to do but how many times had he put something in a specific spot in the shelter, only to turn around moments later to find she’d moved it? It had almost driven him mad. He would never have credited her with being so untidy and disorganised. When he wasn’t out collecting wood for furniture, or building things to make their life more comfortable, he was picking up after her. Coffee mugs, clothing, padds, specimen containers. Her desk was a study in what she liked to term, ‘semi-ordered chaos’. He didn’t know how she was able to function like that. He couldn’t, and it was more than a little difficult to live with.

Back at the cargo container again, he turned and checked once more. His medicine bundle was still there. Smiling to himself, he began unloading his books and stacking them back on the shelves. He found his incense burner and placed it on his coffee table. Taking a handful of leaves and incense, he lit it and watched as the aromatic cloud wafted around the room. The large bundle of clothes he carted into his bedroom, folded them and placed them in his drawers.

It took him an hour or so to unpack and when he was done, he had the empty container beamed back to the cargo bay. He stood in the middle of his room and surveyed his domain. Everything was now in its place. Heaving a satisfied sigh, he made his way to the replicator and ordered some mushroom soup and corn bread for his evening meal. He sat at his table and ate in solitary silence. After about five minutes of this deafening quiet, he asked the computer to play a music selection. With the soft strains of Debussy playing in the background, he finished his meal and recycled his dishes.

They’d been on New Earth for a little over eight weeks. It had seemed longer, but in many ways they’d accomplished a great deal in that short time. He’d taken to their new life like a ‘duck to water’, as Kathryn had said. It was not so different to the lifestyle he’d grown up with on Dorvan. A simple life, with simple needs. Kathryn, on the other hand, had fought their circumstances from the word go. She’d been doggedly determined to find a cure for the virus that had infected them, and resisted any of the changes he made for the better. Every time he did something to make their lives more pleasant, he’d see her hackles rise. She accused him of giving up – as though accepting what life had thrown at them was some sort of weakness or character flaw. He’d resented her implication and that had been the beginning of the slow deterioration of their relationship.

He shrugged. It wasn’t as if it was all bad. They’d had their fun too, but she was just so stubborn. Damn, she was stubborn! He’d never met anyone like her. Kathryn tilling the soil for her garden was a perfect example. He couldn’t help smiling as he remembered her trying to remove the tangled roots from a nearby tree from the garden bed. She dug around them, hacked at them, pulled and tugged at them, only stopping short of phasering them out of existence. He’d offered to help, but she’d looked at him with those steely eyes and he’d backed away with his hands raised in abeyance. He wasn’t about to argue. She’d triumphed in the end and vanquished the fibrous enemy, the tenacious roots finally succumbing to the pure pigheaded, cussedness of Kathryn Janeway. The woman was unbeatable and unbendable. Spirits, had he learned that about her over their time on the planet. They were admirable qualities in a leader, but could be more than a little difficult to tolerate in a cabin mate.

Chakotay wandered through his bedroom, to his bathroom. Indoor plumbing, now there was something that he’d missed, but his heart did this strange flutter when he thought of the bathtub he’d made for her. She’d loved it when he’d first shown it to her. Her face had lit with delight and genuine gratitude. He’d been so pleased and even offered to fetch the water for her but she’d been determined to do it on her own. Typical. It was no small feat to fill that monster of a bath, but she’d done it.

The problem was that she’d been so exhausted and cranky by the time it was filled that she’d snapped at him, berating him for not building the bath closer to the water supply. He’d pointed out to her that it was for her own safety. She needed to be close-by in case there was an emergency. The only alternative was that he accompanied her down to the spring to keep watch while she bathed. Sputtering her disbelief, she’d grudgingly acquiesced to his reasoning – especially after the surprise visit from their resident primate.

A familiar warmth began to spread through him as he remembered that night. He’d been sand painting while he chatted with her from the shelter. As usual, she was talking about something to do with her research when he heard her yell that there was something in the bushes. Panic had struck and he’d torn out the door of the shelter with a phaser and his simm light, to find it was only the damned monkey. In the urgency of the moment, he hadn’t noticed her lack of attire, but once the danger had passed, he certainly had – it was impossible to ignore. It was obvious that she’d leapt from the bath and hastily pulled a towel around herself, her mind on the situation at hand, not on her attire. The towel, clutched loosely to her naked body, left a tantalising glimpse of naked shoulders and cleavage and he’d had trouble dragging his eyes away from her.

Damn! He’d promised himself that he wasn’t going to think about her like that anymore. She’d made it perfectly clear that she didn’t have any feelings of that nature towards him. He’d told her his story – the thinly veiled overture – expressing his love and devotion, and she’d acknowledged it, been touched even, but she hadn’t reciprocated. It had left him with a rather battered heart and the memory of her slender fingers woven through his. Not much, considering he’d handed her his heart, his life and his soul to do with as she pleased.

Huffing out a breath, he shook the anger away then removed his uniform, tossing it into the corner of his bathroom. He stared at the haphazard pile of clothing and thought that he really should pick them up, but he couldn’t be bothered. Perhaps some of her bad habits had rubbed off on him. One corner of his mouth twisted into a smile. It felt rather good to bend the rules, even if they were self-imposed ones. Maybe that was why she was so untidy. So much of her life was controlled and it spoke to that contrary side of her nature. It probably wouldn’t do him any harm to loosen up a little bit. Perhaps he should start throwing caution to the wind – and his clothes around his quarters.

Before his thoughts became more bizarre, he swung around and stepped into the sonic shower. He let the rays clean the last remnants of New Earth from his body. Tempting as it was to have a water shower, he’d decided against it. A sonic shower was a quick and decisive reminder of where he was and what life had in store for him from now on. He stepped from the cubicle and spoke quietly to the computer. “Computer, cease music playback and transfer today’s water rations from Commander Chakotay’s account to the Captain’s.” She’d need them more than him. It was a small gesture, but it might be enough to set them back on the road to mending their strained relationship.

He took a deep breath and dimmed the lights. Casting a glance towards the wall that he shared with his captain, he smiled sadly and slid naked between the sheets of his immaculately made bed. The silence was deafening and sleep was a long way off, so he lay there, staring at the ceiling.

Her fingers were wrinkled and waterlogged, and her toes weren’t in much better shape when she finally dragged herself out of the bath. Grabbing a towel, she draped it loosely around herself and shook her hair free. On her way to her bedroom, she walked past the mirror and caught a glimpse of her reflection. She came to a dead stop and stared. Her hair was falling in loose curls around her face and she was rosy cheeked and flushed from the warm bath. Her eyes were clear blue and she looked relaxed and carefree. It was amazing what a two month ‘sabbatical’ could do for a person. As she was about to turn away, she noticed the rest of her body. Chakotay had seen her like this only a few weeks ago. No wonder he’d stared. She was almost naked and it didn’t take much of an imagination to see past the flimsy covering of the towel.

That night, when she’d leapt from the bath in fright, she’d given no thought to decorum; her instinct for survival had taken precedence. If she was about to be eaten by some previously undiscovered predator, she didn’t think it mattered if she was modestly covered or not. In a way, she supposed, it was lucky she’d covered up at all. If the noise had been much louder, she could very well have leapt from the bath, naked.

Staring at her bare shoulders, she wondered what would have happened if that had been the case.

Visions of a stormy-eyed Chakotay grabbing her and pushing her back against the edge of the bathtub came to mind, his hands rough and demanding on her bare, damp skin, his lips on hers, and his warm and spicy-scented body pressed into her. The errant thoughts sent an unwanted thrum through her body, and she watched, horrified, as a flush of sexual arousal worked its way up her chest and throat. She turned away from the mirror, thoroughly appalled at the direction her thoughts were taking but, even as she chastised herself for her lack of control, it was impossible not to notice the pleasant twinge in her groin and the heat in her belly. What the hell was wrong with her?

She stepped from the warm and steamy bathroom into the cooler air of her bedroom and hoped that the change in temperature would calm her body, and her thoughts, but unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect. Staring across the room to the wall she shared with his quarters, she wondered what he was doing. Was he thinking of her? Or was he so relieved to be away from her that he was doing cartwheels through his pristine quarters? She frowned as she bent down and picked up her jacket. Brushing the sleeves and picking a stray hair from the shoulder, she hung it in her cupboard, ready for shift tomorrow. It was time she made a concerted effort to be tidier. It would make life so much easier, and now that she didn’t have Chakotay there to keep her organised… Damn, that wasn’t quite what she wanted to think about either.

She ordered a coffee and, taking the steaming cup into the bedroom, she pulled on a pair of old sweat pants and a tee. After taking a long sip of her coffee, she took her towel into the bathroom, hung it up and did a quick tidy. With a huffed laugh, she looked around the spotless room and realised that a lot more of Chakotay had rubbed off on her than she’d given credit. She wondered if she should tell him and with a frown decided, no. The less they talked about their time on New Earth the better. It was going to take a lot of work on both their parts to get their command relationship back on an even keel. Reminding one another of the time together on their planet was not a good idea.

With her cup of coffee clutched between her hands, she wandered back out to the living area and plonked herself down on the couch again. How long had they been back? She checked the chronometer. Six hours and forty-three minutes… it seemed like forever – as if they’d never been gone. Kathryn swallowed hard. Why, all of a sudden, did she feel like crying? All she’d wanted to do from the moment they’d been stranded on that godforsaken planet was to get back to Voyager, and her wish had been granted. She was back. So where was the joy, the triumph, the smug self-satisfied relief? Those feelings had visited for a short while, in an initial rush, but they’d all faded now and the only feeling that remained was regret.

She missed him. Damn it all to hell! She slammed her cup on the table. The burn of tears forced her to blink rapidly. How dare he do this to her? It was supposed to be her ‘I told you so’ moment and he’d ruined it by making her need him. Shit! She stood up and wandered over to the wall. Pressing her hand as hard as she could against the bulkhead, she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to picture him. His eyes dark with desire as they’d raked over her wet, almost naked body, the simm light on his wrist casting his intense features into shadow. The warmth of his body pressed against her back, protecting her during the storm, while their home shattered into pieces around them. His warm hands massaging her shoulders, sliding gently from a friend’s to a lover’s touch as she melted under their spell. His eyes so earnest and filled with love as he sat across from her telling her that ridiculous story and finally, his look of deep despair as he’d stared at her in that final moment before they’d beamed back to the ship.

What had she done?

With her back against the wall, she slid to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest and let the tears tip over her lashes.

The ceiling seemed to be getting closer and, after a pointless attempt to find sleep, Chakotay tossed the crisp white sheets aside and slid from the bed. He looked back at the jumble of bedclothes and with a frustrated sigh, pulled on a pair of sweats and a tee, and marched out into the living area for a cup of tea. Staring across the room at his medicine bundle, he walked over and grabbed it from the shelf. With a decisive thud, he placed it on the table and moved his computer console so that it was slightly off-centre. With a smile, he sipped his tea.

He wondered what she was doing now. Probably tossing her gear all around the room. He wondered if she’d be able to find anything without him there to help. No doubt, she’d muddle through. After all, she’d managed for over forty years without his help – as she’d been so fond of reminding him, but he smiled anyway. It had always given him a sense of perverse pleasure when, after she’d been hunting for something for hours, he was able to produce it from the rubble. Her mouth would twist into that particular grin that would make his stomach clench and his heart beat that little bit faster.

He cast another glance towards the wall that separated them, and wondered if she was thinking of him as he was thinking of her. Probably not. She’d been so pleased to be coming ‘home’ to Voyager. It had been what she’d worked towards from the moment they’d been stranded. Her growing resentment towards him and his attempts to make a home for them had driven a wedge between them, but he understood – better than she realised. He knew her well. Control was something that Kathryn held dear to her heart. It was the lifeblood of the woman in charge. Without it, she felt she was weakened and with her inability to control what had happened to them, it had become a jealously guarded commodity in Kathryn’s eyes. His ability to accept their fate and hand over that control to the fickle will of circumstance infuriated her. He’d teased her at times and tormented her at others, but it had never been done to hurt, merely to highlight their differences and perhaps show her another option to deal with their predicament. Taking another sip of his tea, he smiled affectionately as he thought of her.

It was too quiet in his room, he suddenly realised. He’d become used to her being near, her talking, her off-tune humming and her sighing breaths. The silence echoed hollowly around the room. Why couldn’t he just admit it to himself? He missed her. For all her faults and irritating habits, he missed her company. Her presence, her scent, her chatter and most of all her laughter. Before New Earth he’d only heard it on rare occasions but during their time alone there, despite her determination to do otherwise, she’d mellowed and relaxed; the laughter had come more easily and more genuinely too. Damn! He’d promised himself he wouldn’t do this, but he couldn’t help it.

Tossing his empty cup into the recycler, he moved over to the wall that adjoined her quarters. He pressed his hand against the bulkhead, his fingers curling into a loose fist as he tried to remember the feel of her hand woven through his. With his eyes closed tightly, he tried to recall the memory, but it was fading, as was much of what they’d experienced together on that far away planet. Pulling his hand away from the wall, he fell back against it in resignation, and sliding to the floor, he let his head thud against the bulkhead. The sound was as hollow as his heart.

Kathryn opened her eyes at the sound. It was right next to her, but it couldn’t be. Turning slowly she stared at the wall, willing it to happen again, but there was nothing. Could he really be so close or was it only her imagination? Pulling her elbow back, she thudded it into the wall and waited.

He was leaning against the wall with his eyes closed, but they snapped open at the sound. It was right beside him. A thud coming from her side of the wall. It was probably a shoe or some other piece of detritus being flung from one side of the room to the other in her attempt to unpack, but it had been so close. He smiled and turned. Clenching his fist, he thumped the wall again and waited. Thud! There was an answering thump and he pressed his ear against the wall to see if he could hear her breathing. It was impossible, the bulkheads were thick enough to stifle the subtler sounds of life but the thump he’d heard was a deliberate answer to his. He hit the wall again.

She grinned. He was there. Right there beside her. An answering thud came through the wall and she hit it again, hard, with her elbow. How did he know she would be there? Had he known or was he there for the same reason as she – trying to get closer? Thud! Another answering hit against the wall. She stood, pressing her ear against the wall. What she wouldn’t do to be able to make the wall disappear and see him. She took a small step away from the wall. There was a way. She spun around and headed to the door. Without breaking stride, she marched out into the corridor on her way to find him.

He grinned. She was right there beside him, hitting the wall in answer to his close-fisted thumps. If the wall were not there, she would be a mere inch or two away from him. Closer than she’d ever been. If only he could reach through the barrier that separated them and tell her what he was feeling. Then it occurred to him, that if she was there thumping the wall, she was probably feeling it too. He took a step away and turning, looked towards his door. There was no hesitation now, with six long strides he was heading out his door on the way to her quarters.

Excitement churned in her middle, her breathing rapid and her pulse pounding in her ears. She rounded the corner and there he was, striding towards her. He stopped and so did she. They stood facing one another in the corridor halfway between their quarters. Kathryn felt that burn of tears again and his eyes looked suspiciously bright as well. She swallowed. Someone had to say something. She took a deep breath.

His heart was thundering like a drum in his chest. Spirits, she looked so beautiful, but that was no surprise. Didn’t she always? But she also looked a little lost. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, and the thought that she was unhappy made his eyes prickle and burn too. Taking a step forward, he lifted his hand to reach for her. “Kath…”

Taking a step towards him, she lifted her hand and spoke. “Chako…” They’d spoken simultaneously and he nodded that she should go first, but now she wasn’t sure what to say. Swallowing again, she decided it was time to be brave, time to take a risk. He’d already laid his heart on the line, now it was her turn. With more confidence than she felt, she marched up to him and took his hand, weaving her fingers through his. Looking into his eyes, she began to speak. “I have a story I want to tell you. A legend amongst my people…” His face broke into a broad smile, his eyes joyful. Kathryn knew he understood.

Chakotay’s heart swelled in his chest as she repeated his words. She tugged lightly on his hand and he found himself being led back to her quarters. Once inside she turned to him and grinned. “Computer, lights one hundred percent.”

He belayed that order with a squeeze of her hand. “Lights, fifty percent. Ambient.” It was strange, but all of a sudden, the shadows didn’t seem so forbidding. Kathryn looked at him questioningly and he shrugged. There would be time enough later to explain, but for now, all he wanted to do was hold her. This time he tugged on her hand and without hesitation, she stepped into his arms. Chakotay pulled her hard against him and their bodies aligned as if they’d done this a million times before. “I missed you.” His voice was gruff with emotion.

She laughed and hugged him closer. “I missed you too and it was the last thing I expected. I was so glad to be home, but something was missing. It took me a little while to figure it out, but once I knew what the problem was there was only one thing I could do.”

“Are you sure, Kathryn?” He wanted to kick himself for the asking the question, but he needed to know and for her to be certain. There would be no going back.

Kathryn couldn’t blame him for asking. She would have done the same had she been in his place. Considering her previous behaviour, it was hardly unwarranted. If only she could make him understand that all her doubts were gone. She hadn’t felt so certain about anything for a long time. Not since she’d made him her first officer.

She needed him, and above all else, she loved him. It felt good to admit that to herself and now it was time to tell him.

She pulled out of his arms and cupped his dear face between her hands. Smiling she leaned forward and touched her lips to his. “I love you. Does that answer your question?”

His eyes widened and then he grinned. “Yes, it does, and I love you, too.”

She returned his grin and nodded. “Well, what are we going to do now?”

Chakotay raised his eyebrows, giving her an incredulous look. “Is that a trick question?”

Kathryn shook her head, grinning broadly.

Chakotay eyed her suspiciously. “All right. Can I make a suggestion then?”

Kathryn caught his look, and the wicked gleam in his eye and nodded. “I think I have a fairly good idea what you have in mind, Commander and I’d like to state for the record that I … concur.”

“‘Concurring’ is close enough.”

“Close is good.” She turned towards her bedroom. “Are you with me, Chakotay?” Reaching back towards him, she met his eyes.

Without hesitation, he took her hand and looked at her intensely for several heartbeats. He’d never imagined that this would happen, let alone less than eight hours after leaving New Earth, however, he wasn’t about to argue with the way things had worked out. Love had triumphed and he and Kathryn had found their way to one another. That was the most important thing.

In answer to her question he gave her hand an answering squeeze and, stepping forward, whispered. “Always.”