The Waiting Game

by Dawn

Summary: Set immediately following Endgame. Kathryn is ready now. Is Chakotay?

Disclaimer: Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount.

Rating: PG

Voyager was home. After getting the crew started on packing their quarters and preparing a schedule for debriefings, Chakotay trudged into Kathryn’s quarters. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did!” She smiled brightly and rose from her table where she had been going through a stack of PADDs. She had taken off her jacket and was comfortably settled in her quarters for the night.

“Sorry that it took me so long to respond to your hail, but I was dealing with a few situations.”

“Oh?” She stepped close and placed her hand on his chest. “They didn’t start the party without us, did they?”

“No, no parties, just some tension running through the crew.”

“Tension?” She dipped her chin in surprise. “Over what?”

Chakotay stepped past her to look out the viewport at Earth. “Over that. The unknown brews anxiety, and there are quite a few who don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks or what’s waiting for them.”

She turned and looked at his back. “But they’ve talked to their families. Everyone should know what’s down there.”

Shaking his head, he said, “Knowing the status of loved ones doesn’t mean that they’re prepared to see them. The sudden change is breeding apprehension. Even though we’ve known for a couple days that we were going to make it home this time, it’s just starting to sink in with some.”

Her hand touched his back softly. “You’re not anxious, are you?”

“Me?” He glanced at her over his shoulder and then back at Earth. “A little. I don’t know what the reception will be for the Maquis.”

“Surely you don’t think Starfleet will pursue prosecution?”

He sighed. “No, the war is over. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be accepted with open arms, either.” Shrugging away from her, he continued. “But I don’t know that it matters. I’m ready to retire anyway.”

“Retire?” She watched him walk away.

“I’m just tired, Kathryn. Surely you can empathize with that?”

She smiled and followed him to the sitting area. “Of course I can.” Cozying up next to him, she said, “We’ll have a better outlook after a restful leave of absence. All of us.”

Chakotay looked at her skeptically. “You seem ready to take on the future already.”

“I am.” Kathryn hoped her high spirits would be contagious, but he looked so weary that it wasn’t having much of an affect on him. “I’ve been given a second chance at life, and I can physically feel an enormous weight being lifted away.”

“Even though we’ve still got debriefings to get through?”

She fingered his shoulder along the neckline of his jacket. “Hard to believe, I know, but all the communication I’ve received from Starfleet today has been nothing but positive. I have a good feeling that even with any questionable decisions that I’ve made, everything is going to be fine.”

“I hope so.” He rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Was there something you needed me for?”

Kathryn touched his chin and turned his to face her. “We’re home.”

“Yes, but…”

“But, we’re home.” She stretched up until her lips almost met his.

Before she had a chance to kiss him, he gently pushed her shoulders away. “Kathryn…”

“I wanted to kiss you that night before the slip-stream attempt, but I lost my nerve.”

Chakotay pulled away to put some space between them. “This is a bit unexpected.”

“It is?”

He shook his head in puzzlement. “We’re home and suddenly you want to kiss me?”

“Well, yes.” She raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been waiting years for this… hoping, dreaming of the day when we could be together.”

“I see.” He studied his hands for a moment before saying, “Kathryn, you mean a lot to me, and you’re probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had.” He paused. “I haven’t said anything about it because it’s still new, but I’m dating someone right now.”


He looked up quickly. “How’d you know?”

“My older self alluded to a relationship between you two, but since I hadn’t heard about it, I assumed it hadn’t begun yet.”

Chakotay nodded. “It has, and it’s going very well. She has developed into an incredible woman.”

“I know she’s amazing, but are you sure she’s what you want?”

“Yes, I’m sure. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and full of energy. She makes me feel… well, desirable again. I really want to give it a chance.”

Kathryn leaned back and crossed her arms. “You’re dating her because she makes you feel good about yourself?”

He jumped up and paced over to the viewport. “Look, Kathryn, I’m not going to dump her just because you crook your finger when it happens to fit within your schedule.”

“Excuse me?” She blinked slowly. “Crook my finger?”

“It’s not like you’ve shown any indication in the last few years that there was a future for us.”

Her voice deep and serious, she said, “I thought we had an understanding. I thought we knew we couldn’t pursue a relationship until we got home.”

“When did we say that? I don’t remember having that discussion.”

“I assumed…”

He interrupted. “You assumed wrong. I was in love with you for a long time, Kathryn, but it was clear that there was no hope for us. I can’t just turn my emotions back on like some kind of switch.”

“I didn’t realize…”

“No, you didn’t.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Look, I’m exhausted and I’m not saying the right things. Maybe we should talk about this in the morning.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve said exactly what you think.”

He covered his eyes with a hand. “It’s been a long time since you gave me even the slightest hint.”

“I thought it would be easier to fight temptation that way.” She looked out at Earth rotating slowly in the distance. “But obviously I didn’t take into account that you might move on.”

A long silence stretched between them. He sighed deeply and said, “These last few years have been very difficult. Just as you got your second wind after the void, I feel like I’ve been wrapped in a cloud of hopelessness.”

Trying to understand, she slowly walked over to him. “Each day sapping your strength and every morning when you wake up, wondering how you can possibly get up and face the day?”

He nodded. “An unending routine of reports, briefings, mundane crew issues, alien crises, repairs, scavenging for supplies, and trying to make ends meet.”

“I know exactly how you feel, and I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize that you were dealing with that.” She laid a hand on his arm. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice.”

His shoulders dropped with a sigh. “It was working for us. Things were efficient most of the time. We still had a lot of great moments and our friendship remained strong.”

“But you weren’t happy.”

He turned to her. “Since I’ve been with Seven, I’ve been feeling better. Suddenly, there’s someone who wants to hear what I have to say, who is happy to see me when I walk into a room, and who values me.”

“And I made you feel unwanted because I was trying to avoid showing you how much I wanted to be with you.”

Turning away, he said, “I need to pursue this with Seven.”

“Chakotay?” She took his hand. “Won’t you give me a chance to show you how much I love you?”

“I’m sorry, Kathryn. I meant it when I said that I got past those feelings years ago.”

She nodded, but as the tears welled in her eyes, she didn’t speak for fear of losing control over her emotions.

Chakotay squeezed her hand and let it go. “I promise that there will always be a place in my heart for your friendship. I don’t ever want to lose that.” He kissed her cheek and said, “Goodnight.”

After he left, Kathryn composed herself and looked at the door that had just closed behind him. She took a deep breath and said, “This isn’t over yet.”

Seven marched into Kathryn’s temporary quarters at Starfleet Headquarters. “Captain, I require your advice.”

Kathryn looked up from the PADD she was studying and said, “Good evening, Seven. Won’t you sit down?”

“I prefer to…” Seven rethought what she was going to say and took a seat. “Yes, thank you.”

“What can I do for you?” Kathryn set her PADD and coffee cup on the side table.

“It’s about Chakotay. I’ve learned from him that you know about our relationship.”

“Yes,” Kathryn nodded with a bit of trepidation. She was still formulating her plan to entice Chakotay away from this young lady, but hadn’t come up with anything solid yet.

“During the last few days, he has become very reserved and guarded. I don’t know if this is a normal fluctuation in his behavior or if I did something that upset him.”

While Kathryn’s heart leapt with joy, her face remained serious. “I see. Did you ask him about it?”

“Yes, and he said he was fatigued from the events of the past week. However, I don’t think he was being completely honest, and I don’t know how to proceed. I’ve considered initiating sexual relations, but I’m not sure if now is the right time. Since you know him well, I thought you might have some insight.”

Kathryn tried not to cringe. “I don’t believe that I’m the best person to ask.”

“Why is that?”

“Well…” She wasn’t sure what to say. This would be an opportunity to steer the situation as she wished, but it wasn’t fair to use Seven. A thought occurred to her. “I’ve recently realized that I’ve been negligent regarding my friendship with Chakotay, and I feel that I’ve lost touch with what he needs.” It was an honest answer.

“Relationships are perplexing.”

“Yes, they are.” Kathryn looked at the young woman who was so much like a daughter to her. “I will give you one piece of advice… and it pertains to any relationship you might find yourself in.”

“What’s that?”

“Trust is the key. If the relationship is going to work, you have to trust him as much as you want him to trust you.”

“I’ll remember that, Captain. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Seven. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.”

“Perhaps he is preoccupied with the stress of returning to the Alpha Quadrant.”

“Could be.” Kathryn walked the young woman to the door and said, “Goodnight, Seven.”

“Goodnight, Captain.”

After Seven left, Kathryn walked back to her couch while rubbing the tight muscles in her neck. The last week had been a blur of activity. Voyager had landed on Earth, she had been given a short day to see her family, and then she had begun debriefings. She had done her best to act natural and relaxed around Chakotay, but there was still a bit of strain between them. She wasn’t able to pinpoint whether that was a result of her advances or if he was self-conscious about admitting to a three-year depression. That had really shocked her, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that he was probably right.

She didn’t believe that his despair was completely her fault just for keeping him at arm’s length. He was a strong man and if he had wanted to assert himself as her first officer, he would have. But he had lost the drive, and she wondered what event might have triggered it. The deaths of all the Maquis in the Alpha Quadrant could have done it, or perhaps it was those few days when he imagined himself in a boxing match and thought he was going mad.

Seven’s questions gave her concern because it meant Chakotay was pulling away from both of them. She hoped that he was having second thoughts about his relationship with the former drone, but it could also indicate that he was withdrawing into himself. She knew from experience how easy that was to do – she had been extraordinarily good at it. It had been Chakotay who had drawn her out of it, and she loved him even more for the way he had managed it.

Kathryn made a promise to herself that starting with the meeting they had together the next morning, she would be as warm and affectionate to Chakotay as decorum allowed. She owed him a lot, and knew she’d do whatever it took to rekindle both their friendship and their love.

More than a week later, Kathryn felt like her friendship with Chakotay had been firmly re-established, but was sure that developing anything beyond that was a foolish dream. The debriefings had been so demanding of her time and energy that she wasn’t able to devote much attention to him. As each day went by, she felt like she was losing him as his relationship with Seven seemed to be progressing. Despite what Seven had mentioned in their conversation, it seemed that whenever Kathryn saw the couple together, Chakotay was very attentive and physically affectionate. It almost made her ill to watch it.

The debriefings were going well overall, but they were exhausting. Every first contact situation, alliance, and agreement that Voyager had entered into was examined with a fine-toothed comb. She was glad that Chakotay was with her for most of the meetings. However, late in the second week, she was asked to speak alone with a couple members of the admiralty so they could explain how she could have handled certain situations better.

Afterwards, Kathryn hurried through the building to her temporary quarters so that she could shake off the stress and tension that the meeting had caused. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead on her goal of much-needed solitude and did her best to drown out all conversation and activity around her.

When she finally had her door in sight, she was rudely snatched from her goal as a hand wrapped around her upper arm. Startled, she glared at the offending appendage and eventually up at its owner.

Chakotay asked, “Didn’t you hear me?”

“Hear you? No.”

He softened his hold on her, but didn’t let go. “Are you okay, Kathryn?”

The concern in his eyes melted her anger a bit. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it.” His hand dropped so that he was holding her wrist. “I was calling after you, but you didn’t hear me at all.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve just had a long day.”

He smiled warmly. “And there’s a giant mug of coffee waiting for you just behind that door.”

Nodding, Kathryn said, “Accompanied by a large bowl of ice cream and total silence.”

“That bad?”

She shrugged. “Nothing I didn’t deserve. I should have expected to be called on the carpet for a few decisions I made out there.”

“Decisions WE made, you mean.”

Shaking her head, she said, “No, this dressing down was just for those times when I really made a mess of things.”

“Equinox?” He tilted his head with compassion.

She nodded. “And the Devore, the Hirogen, the Borg.”

“Well, I helped you with that game we played with the Devore. And I definitely wasn’t opposed to giving the Hirogen the holo-technology.”

Relaxing further, she took a small step towards him. She had always found comfort in his presence, and even when she couldn’t touch him, she tried to be near him. “And the Borg, well… take your pick. So many encounters, so many risks. Can you believe they even called me on actions taken by my future self?”

He held both of her forearms gently. “You’d think that would be up to the time ship Relativity to deal with.”

She closed her eyes, enjoying his touch. “Thank goodness they don’t seem to be involved, or we might have found ourselves right back out there.”

“I know this is silly advice, but try not to take what the admiralty says personally. They weren’t out there and they have no idea what we, what you, have been through.”

She rolled her eyes slightly. “You’d think I’d been through enough unnerving situations to not let a simple dressing down get to me.”

Chakotay’s thumbs absently stroked across her arms. “Without a doubt. However, it can still hurt your pride.”

Kathryn’s lips curved into a half-smile. “I think my pride could stand to be taken down a notch or two.”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged and continued with a slight bit of sarcasm. “After what I said to you last week, I’m afraid that your ego might be irreparably damaged.”

“Oh?” She had to smile. “You believe I’m doomed to a life of despair just because I was rejected by a man?”

“Not just any man. Me.”

Glad to resume the banter of their friendship, she playfully stepped closer. “Now whose ego needs deflating?”

“Well,” he shrugged and moved his hands up to her shoulders. “A man can dream, can’t he?”

“I hope so.” She looked deep into his eyes. “I hope he is dreaming of possibilities… and perhaps second chances.”

He didn’t speak as he returned her intense gaze… barely breathing and lost in the moment.

It wasn’t until they heard Seven calling his name that the trance was broken. Startled, Chakotay abruptly let go of Kathryn and jumped back. He turned to the younger woman. “Seven?”

She replied, “I was calling your name, but you didn’t hear me.”

Kathryn said, “There seems to be a lot of that going around today.”

Chakotay and Seven didn’t act like they heard Kathryn, but he said, “I was, uh… we were talking…”

Seven looked suspiciously back and forth between the other two. “Yes, well, we had agreed to meet by the entrance, but when I saw you…”

He interrupted, “Yes, that’s fine. Shall we go?”

Kathryn tried not to show her amusement with Chakotay’s nervous anxiety. That was an intense moment that Seven had interrupted, and he was obviously feeling guilty about it. When Chakotay looked uneasily back at her, she said, “Go on to dinner, you two. I’ve got some reading to catch up on.”

Chakotay said, “All right, Captain. Perhaps we’ll see you tomorrow. Have a good evening.”

Kathryn waved them off. “You, too.” She shook her head as she finished walking back to her quarters. She realized that she probably didn’t need a plan to lure him back. She just needed to give it time.

Seven put her hand into the crook of Chakotay’s elbow, as she had been instructed to do in the Doctor’s social scenarios. It felt odd to hold his arm in such a pointless way, but it was expected when arriving at a party as a couple.

As they walked into the large reception room, he quickly glanced at her and gave her hand what she assumed was a reassuring pat. He was wearing his dress uniform and she was wearing a black pantsuit as the Doctor had suggested. The Doctor thought it might be time to change her wardrobe so that she would have a better chance at blending into Earth’s social atmosphere. It felt strange to wear something so loose, but the tight bodysuit underneath provided the dermal support that she needed.

As she scanned the room, she made note of the occupants and their locations. The north half of the room contained eighty-six members of Voyager’s crew and ten other individuals all wearing Starfleet uniforms. The south half contained the remaining Voyager crew in addition to seventeen persons wearing Starfleet uniforms and nine who were dressed in civilian attire. An instrumental ensemble was positioned in the center of the west wall with a vacant area in the middle of the room that she assumed was for dancing.

Chakotay led her to the south portion of the room where Captain Janeway was speaking to Admirals Harris and Nechayev. Seven assumed that they would be joining the conversation and began to recall what she knew about the two admirals. However, Chakotay paused at an empty table nine meters away. She asked, “Shall we sit down or mingle with the attendees?”

He looked at her absently for a moment before responding. “Oh, yes, I suppose we could. Would you like something to drink?”

She nodded, “I believe it would enable us to blend into the party atmosphere. I will accompany you to the beverage table.”

“In this situation, it’s called a bar.”

“Very well. I will accompany you to the bar.” Seven expected Chakotay to lead her directly to it, but instead, he moved in the wrong direction. She was about to correct this error when she realized that he was watching Captain Janeway. When the Captain glanced back at them, Chakotay pulled her closer to his side and changed direction to move towards the bar.

She thought his actions were puzzling and a bit irritating, and they had been since they arrived on Earth almost two weeks previous. Not only had he been more reserved around her emotionally, it seemed that he behaved exactly opposite of this when they were in public.

It had been three days since she had found him and Captain Janeway speaking intimately in the corridor. That evening during their meal, his thoughts had been occupied elsewhere and conversation was difficult. Since then, he had not made any social arrangements or initiated any personal contact other than attendance at this evening’s party.

Chakotay requested a glass of wine for himself and a club soda for her. She did not care for the beverage, but it appeared that it was a socially acceptable alternative to alcoholic cocktails. When she realized that Chakotay intended to return to the empty table near Janeway, she took the initiative to proceed instead to the area where Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres were presenting their infant for adoration.

“Seven! Chakotay!” Tom waved them over. “Did you two just arrive?”

She answered, “Yes, Lieutenant. Are you enjoying the party?”

Tom quickly scanned the room before answering. “Eh… It’s a typically dry Starfleet affair, but at least the food is good and it gives all of us Voyagers a chance to see each other again.”

“We’ve seen each other in the cafeteria every day since we arrived.”

He shrugged. “Every chance is a good chance as far as I’m concerned.”

Nodding, Seven said, “This event does seem to be somewhat unexciting.”

“Don’t worry, the Captain has asked me to organize a real party for us and our families before we all head in separate directions.”

Chakotay’s interested piqued at the mention of the Captain. “Oh? When will that be?”

Tom answered, “I don’t know. She just asked me about it tonight. You have some ideas?”

“No, not really. Just curious.” Chakotay looked back across the room to where the Captain was standing.

Tom and Seven followed his gaze and then looked back at each other. She believed that she read Tom’s expression as an interest in what was going on with Chakotay and Captain Janeway. She had the same interest herself.

The party continued at a similarly dull pace and Seven found that her date became increasingly distracted as the evening progressed. He was physically at her side, but his attention was divided between the conversation around them and the Captain’s activities.

After the dining portion of the evening concluded, the master of ceremonies, Admiral Jenkins, introduced the dignitaries in attendance and gave a speech regarding Voyager’s accomplishments. The crew rejoiced proudly as special commendations were given to every member of the crew.

When the honors concluded, the leader of the band requested that Captain Janeway choose a partner and begin the first dance. She shyly made her regrets until the crew whistled loudly enough that she complied by walking onto the dance floor. It appeared that Captain Janeway was going to choose to dance with Tuvok until the crew began chanting Chakotay’s name. It didn’t take long before he acquiesced and joined Captain Janeway on the floor.

Seven watched Captain Janeway with interest as Chakotay approached her. She couldn’t see Chakotay’s face, but she could clearly see Janeway’s eyes dilate and her respiration quicken. He took her into dance position and began moving slowly with the music. As Chakotay turned so that she could read his face, Seven noticed his reactions were similar to the captain’s and that his core body temperature had increased by one degree. Even without her enhanced Borg vision, it was obvious by the intensity of their focus on each other that Voyager’s Captain and First Officer were in love.

At that moment, she realized that there was no future for her new relationship. It occurred to her that she should be more distressed by the situation, but decided that would be illogical given the long-standing rumors regarding Chakotay’s romantic interest in Janeway. She thought perhaps she should have paid more attention to those rumors before becoming involved with him.

When the song ended, other couples began dancing and Seven watched as Chakotay reluctantly pulled away from Captain Janeway. She saw Janeway take a deep breath and straighten her shoulders before saying something to him and leaving him on the dance floor.

Chakotay’s expression was solemn as he walked back towards her, but he managed a smile while asking, “Would you like to dance, Seven?”

“No, I think you should continue dancing with Captain Janeway.” Everyone standing near them suddenly dissipated.

“Seven…” His eyebrows furrowed and concern filled his eyes. He took her hand and said, “It was just a celebratory dance, but I’m here with you.”

“No, Commander. It is clear that you’re in love with the Captain. You’ve been preoccupied with her all evening.”

Voice lowering, he said, “I’ve been right here with you all evening, and I’m not in love with her. I may have been at one time, but that was years ago.”

“Your physical reaction to her indicates otherwise. I made a mistake by getting involved with you, and I do not wish to come between you and her.”

“A mistake?”

“Yes, Commander. Therefore, I’m terminating our romantic relationship, and you may now continue to dance with her. I am confident that she will be pleased.”

“Seven… don’t rush into this. Let’s talk about it.”

She extracted her wrist from his hand and said, “There is nothing more to say. I will see you at the event that Lt. Paris is planning.” Seven left him standing alone and returned to the bar to order a different beverage. As she stood in line, she saw Chakotay turn and leave the room.

Seven searched the room for Captain Janeway and discovered that she had also seen Chakotay leave. Janeway was still looking at the door he had walked through and Seven could tell that her heart rate had quickened. Seven decided to put her Captain at ease by explaining what had happened.

She strode over to where Janeway was sitting. “Captain Janeway, may I speak with you privately?”

Janeway looked up in surprise before answering, “Of course, Seven.”

The two women walked away from the other guests and stood next to a wall. Seven said, “I have terminated my relationship with the Commander.”

“What? Why?” Janeway put her hand on Seven’s forearm.

“Tonight, I have finally realized why you said that you weren’t the best person to speak with about him. You’re in love with him.”

Janeway withdrew her hand and covered her mouth. “Seven… I didn’t…”

She interrupted. “It would be futile to attempt to gain his affection when he is clearly in love with you. After watching your reactions towards each other while dancing, I terminated our relationship so that you and he could enjoy the rest of the evening together. However, he chose to leave instead and I wanted you to know why.”

Rubbing the back of her neck, Janeway answered, “I don’t suppose you kept your observations to yourself?”

“My observations, Captain?”

“Did you tell him that you were breaking up with him because you thought he was in love with me?”

“Of course. I believed that giving him a reason was justified.”

Nodding, Janeway said, “Yes, but…” She looked at the younger woman. “Come talk to me before you terminate your next relationship, would you? There are more gentle ways to do it without embarrassing him at a public event.”

“I damaged his ego?” Seven asked.

“Yes, most likely.”

“Then perhaps I should follow him and bring him back.”

“No, Seven. Let him go. I’ll find him a little later when I can gracefully extract myself from this party.”

Seven nodded and was about to walk away when it occurred to her to ask, “I was correct, wasn’t I?”

Closing her eyes for a moment, Janeway replied, “It’s complicated.”

“Do you love him?”

Janeway was silent for a moment before answering, “Yes, but love has to go two ways, and I’m not sure it does in this case.”

“I’m sure of it.”

As she turned away, she heard Janeway ask, “Seven? Are you okay with this?”

Turning back, she answered, “Yes, I’ve noticed there are many attractive males on Earth and I’d like to pursue other options.”

Janeway smiled at the younger woman. “Let me know if you need anything, Seven. I’ll always be here for you.”

Seven said, “Thank you,” and left to explore some of those options.

Kathryn entered Chakotay’s dark quarters and found him sitting on the couch with his legs stretched out in front of him and his head resting on the cushion behind him.

He said, “If it was anyone but you, I would have said go away.”

“And I bet you were even considering saying it to me.” The door closed behind her.

“I’m afraid I won’t be very good company right now.”

She set a bottle of white wine and two glasses on the table in front of him. “Don’t worry, I’ve had enough idle small talk this evening to last me for years.”

He raised his head and looked at the bottle of alcohol. “What’s that for?”

As she shrugged off her dress coat and laid it across a chair, she said, “Thought you could use a drink.” She opened the bottle and filled the two glasses.

He sat up to take one. “Did you swipe this from the party?”

“I would never ‘swipe’ anything. I simply brought a little bit of the party up here.” She sat down next to him, a little closer than friendship dictated.

“Is it still going on?”

She laced her arm through his and answered while studying her wine glass. “I think it’ll go on for hours yet. After all the dignitaries leave, I have no doubt that our crew will keep it going for as long as possible.”

“I hope no one notices my absence.”

Taking a sip, she said, “Oh, they noticed. I told them you weren’t feeling well. The Doctor was ready to come up here and check on you.”

“Thanks for deterring him.”

“You’re welcome. I said I’d call him if it was serious.” She looked at him. “Is it?”

He closed his eyes and sighed. “Not enough to deal with the Doctor.”

“Broken heart?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Insulted heart, perhaps.”

“She came to talk to me after you left. I suggested that next time she ends a relationship, she should choose a more private moment.”

“I should have ended it before tonight, but my pride got in the way.”

Kathryn savored the next sip of wine as she let his statement sit for a moment. “Did you know that she asked for my advice regarding you a couple weeks ago?”

“She did?”

Kathryn nodded. “Two days after I tried to kiss you. She wanted to know how to handle the turbulent moods of a relationship. You had become reserved around her and she didn’t know what caused it.”

“Did you tell her?”

Chuckling, she answered, “I was tempted to, but no, I didn’t. I just told her to trust you and left it at that.”

“I’m impressed.” He shifted slightly to make it more comfortable for them to sit so close. “The great strategist that you are could have taken advantage of that opportunity.”

“I have to admit that I was tempted, but I hadn’t come up with a scheme yet to win your heart back.”

“And have you come up with one now?”

“Hmmmmm…” She stroked his arm with her fingertips while she thought. “If I had consulted a wiser person than myself, I suspect I would have been told to just give it time. It’ll happen if it’s meant to be.”

“And you think that will work?”

Shrugging one shoulder, she said, “Eh. It’s got more potential than anything else I’ve thought of.” After another sip of wine, she asked, “I hope I already know the answer, but why did you pull away from her so quickly?”

“It wasn’t intentional. Things were just happening so fast with her, with getting home, and then your little surprise. I just felt overwhelmed.”

“I was worried about you.”

Chakotay looked at her. “About me? I was worried about you.”

“You had just told me that you’d been depressed for several years, and then you withdrew emotionally from both me and your new girlfriend. It didn’t bode well.”

“Just for a few days.” He leaned forward to get the wine bottle and refilled their glasses.

“Thank you.” She settled against him as he leaned back again. “I was glad they put us together for so many of the debriefings. I think it helped.”

“Helped get through the debriefings or helped our friendship?” he asked.

“Both, actually. I was relieved when you finally relaxed around me again.”

He lifted his arm and put it around her back, bringing her closer to his side. “Well, that was one powerful snowball you hit me with. It caused quite an emotional avalanche.”

“Sorry about that.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Sure I am. Well, I’m at least sorry for keeping you in the dark for so long. We’re going to have to do a lot better at communicating. And I’m sorry that I hurt you. That’s the last thing I’d ever want to do.”

“I know. Sometimes I think I should have kissed some sense into you years ago. It would have saved us all a bit of heartache.”

She looked up at him. “You think I would have allowed that?”

“No, but it would have been worth the brig time.”

Laughing, she said, “I wouldn’t have thrown you into the brig.”

“Out an airlock then?” He winked at her.

“Never.” Resting her head on his arm behind her, she gazed up at him and touched his face with the back of her fingers. She studied the warmth and emotion in his eyes, trying to figure out what he was thinking. Finally, she said, “I want to kiss you, but I’m a little gun shy.”

“I’m surprised that you’re willing to give me a second chance after what I said to you and the way I carried on with Seven.”

She gave him a lop-sided smile. “Call me crazy, but I’m in love with you.”

“I see…” He set his wine glass on the side table and then placed hers next to it. After turning back to her, he pulled her close and let his fingertips graze her chin, bringing her face near enough that she felt his warm breath upon her cheek. “I think I know better than to turn you down twice.”

Kathryn forgot to breathe as his warm lips barely touched hers. She closed the distance with a gentle touch on his face, blending their lips together with loving tenderness.

Their eyes still closed, he whispered, “There’s something that I’ve discovered over the last two weeks.”

“What’s that?” She slowly looked up at him.

“I hadn’t buried my feelings for you quite as far as I had thought.” He took her hand. “Even though I tried to convince myself that I could have a relationship with Seven, which I was still trying to do tonight, every time I thought about you, or came near you, there was a sense of peace and warmth that settled over me. Tonight while we were dancing, I was both in heaven and in agony because I was in your arms, but thought I’d irreparably damaged our chance for a future together.”

She shook her head. “I had no intentions of letting you go that easily.”

Smiling down at her, he continued, “I realized that the other night after your bad day, and again tonight when we were dancing. I could see the love in your eyes, and I didn’t want to let go of you. Tonight, when I left, I hoped that you’d come after me.”

“I was worried about you again.”

“I wanted you to be.” He looked away. “That sounds foolish.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Squeezing his hand, she added, “It’s nice to have someone out there who cares enough to be concerned. I know that. I’ve counted on you to be that person for years. It’s what kept me going and made me want to survive to the next day.”

“You had an entire crew, and I think the whole of the alpha quadrant, concerned about you.”

“Not the way you were.”

He looked down at her again. “A few years ago when I thought I was going crazy in that weird nebula, I dreamed that you had come to sickbay and stayed with me during the worst moments.”

“I was there.”

“You were?” he asked with surprise.

“Except at the end when we were punching our way through, I tried to be with you as much as possible. You just weren’t lucid enough to realize it.” She brought his hand to her chest and held it close. “Whenever you were hurting, I always tried to be there. It’s when you recovered that I stayed away for fear of allowing those emotions to surface.”

He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. “I wish I had known.”

After a long moment of silence, she asked, “Chakotay?”

“Yes?” He looked down at her again.

“Where do we go from here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Would you like to start dating to see if we can make this work? Should we give each other some space to make sure this is right for both of us?”

His eyes wide, he asked, “Seriously?”

“I don’t want to push you…” She tried to sit up but he wouldn’t let her.

“You’re right about one thing. We definitely need to work on our communication skills.” He dropped her hand and cupped her cheek, forcing her to look at him directly. “Let me be very clear. I love you. I have loved you for almost seven years – I just buried those emotions for so long, that I didn’t know I still had them. I’ve made a mistake with Seven, but I have absolutely no doubt that I want you in my life… forever.”

The determination of his words and the intense love she saw in his eyes left no doubt in her mind either. “Very well, then. I’m yours. What are you going to do with me?”

His serious expression transformed into a wonderfully wicked gleam. “Everything.”

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