Disclaimer:  Paramount’s, now and always

Rating:  R

Notes:  This is a series of episode additions.  The third of the episodes, “Natural Law”, had not aired at the time of writing, so while the basic plot remains the same, i.e. Chakotay and Seven are stranded on a jungle planet, the series of events is probably different.  Obviously, the focus of the story is C/7 but for all the diehard J/C’ers, don’t give up.  I think you’ll like the last part.
 
 

LIFE DECISIONS
 

By Mary S.
 
 

Part 1:  Following “Workforce II”
 

           The evening after Voyager left Quarren, Commander Chakotay invited Captain Janeway to join him for dinner in his quarters.  He had observed her unusually quiet demeanor all day and hoped that a private meal, away from the speculative glances of the crew, would allow her to relax and talk about what was bothering her.  Although she accepted without hesitation, she remained pensive throughout the evening.

           She rose when he did, wandering over to stare out the viewport as he recycled their dishes and ordered her coffee.  He placed it on the table by the sofa, then went to stand just behind her.

           “Kathryn?” he called softly.

           She jumped, startled, and smiled apologetically.  “I’m sorry, Chakotay, I’m not very good company tonight.”

           “Want to talk about it?”

           “No – I, well maybe I do.  I…..it’s all such a jumble still, you know.  Memories on top of memories.  Feelings conflicting with duty, protocol, other feelings.  My mind is in such a muddle, nothing makes sense.”

           She looked at him rather helplessly.  Clearly, she was still upset over leaving Jaffen.

           “You can’t analyze love, Kathryn, you know that.  Or the pain it may bring.”

           She turned away, biting her lip, trying to hide the sudden tears.  Oh damn!  For once, her vaunted command control wasn’t working.  He remained behind her, wondering how best to help, when he heard a hastily swallowed sob.  Instinctively, he reached out, pulling her back against his chest, wrapping his arms around her, resting his chin on her head.

           “Oh god!  Chakotay!”  she cried, trying to gulp back her tears and failing utterly.

           “Let it out, Kathryn, don’t hold back.  Let it all out.  You’ll feel better.”

           She threw her head back on his shoulder, sobbing openly now, her grief pouring out. His heart twisted for her, sharing her anguish.

           After just a few minutes, she got herself under control and turned to face him, trying to smile an apology although her lip still trembled.

           “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to cry all over you.”

           He loosened his hold.  “It’s all right.  That’s what friends are for, isn’t it.”

           She stared into his eyes, seeing the concern, and burst into tears again, throwing her arms around him.  Her body shuddered and shook as she clutched him.  He held her tightly to him, kissing her hair, murmuring soothingly to her, not really aware of what he was saying.  Uppermost in his head was the same recurring thought – had she ever cried over him like this?  Would she?  He suspected the answer was no.

           As she continued to sob into his chest,  Chakotay faced a moment of truth.  Kathryn would never love him the way he wanted her to.  Her heart would never break for him as it did for Jaffen.  And somehow, he was going to have to accept that fact.  The realization drove like a knife straight through him, the pain so sharp it brought tears to his eyes.  ‘Oh Kathryn,’ he thought.  ‘If only you could feel that way for me.  But you don’t and you never will.’

           Kathryn became aware of his suddenly tense body and looked up to see his wet cheeks.  Startled, she reached up a hand to brush over his face.  He was crying!  Why?!

           “Chakotay?  What is it?  What’s wrong?”

           He stared down at her, emotions chasing each other across his face, with no idea how to answer her.

           “I….Kathryn, I….”  He took a deep breath.  “The truth.  The truth is – I love you, Kathryn, I’ve never stopped loving you.  I don’t know how to stop.  But I know you don’t love me, not like that anyway.  I only wish you could.  And…..when I see you crying over him, it hurts.”

           She stared at him, mouth agape.  At some level, she knew, had known for a long time, how he felt about her, but to have him verbalize his feelings so succinctly, almost brutally, left her in shock.  How to answer – she didn’t want to hurt him even more, but she couldn’t deny his statement either.

           “Chakotay,” she replied in a low voice.  “I’m sorry, I really wish I could.  I do care for you, very much, but…….” She stopped, at a loss for words.  “ I’m sorry,” she repeated.

           His face twisted a bit before he sighed and looked away.  He would try yet again to bury his pain under the guise of friendship.  He stepped away from her and sat down on the couch.  She joined him, picking up the now- tepid cup of coffee.  He leaned on his elbows and gazed down at his hands for a moment before seeming to come to a decision.  He turned to face her.

           “Kathryn, I don’t want you to feel guilty about me.  This….situation is not your fault.   After all, you didn’t ask me to fall in love with you.  But, being with you, like this, holding you when you need it, always at your side, it’s like…..like a sore that doesn’t heal because it’s constantly being irritated.  You’re there, but always just out of reach.  Do you understand?”

           She nodded and he continued.  “For my own sanity, I need to move on.  It won’t be easy, but I – can’t go on like this anymore.”

           She stopped him then.  “It’s all right, Chakotay, I do understand.  And you’re right.  For your sake, as well as the good of the crew, we will work for a more professional relationship.”

           Her words were brave but her eyes betrayed her sorrow.  She was losing her best friend.  She rose and started for the door, saying goodnight.  There would be no more private dinners.
 
 
 
 

Part 2:  After “Human Error”
 

           Commander Chakotay stood in the middle of holodeck two, staring around him in disbelief at the scenario currently running.  The captain had mentioned in passing that Seven had been putting in considerable time designing a new gravimetric array.  Although she had said it was not yet ready to implement, Janeway had asked him to check on her progress.  He had thought it a bit odd that Seven would encrypt the access codes for the program – but then, she had been acting strangely for several days.  Who knew what bee had gotten into her cortical node!

           But this wasn’t any gravimetric array!  These were quarters, hers apparently, although he couldn’t explain the dreamcatcher over the bed.  And on the couch sat a simulation of himself in casual clothing.  As the hologram started to rise, a very puzzled expression on its face, Chakotay barked.  “Computer!  Freeze program!”

           What the hell was going on here!  He debated whether to call the captain, but then thought better of it.  Best to go to the source.

           “Chakotay to Seven of Nine!”

           “Yes, Commander?”

           “Report to holodeck two!  At once!”

           The doctor broke in.  “Commander, I am in the middle of a delicate operation here, realigning Seven’s shoulder.  Can it wait?”

           “Very well.  Let me know when you’re done.  Chakotay out.”

           An hour later, when he still hadn‘t heard from the doctor, he went down to sickbay.

           “Doctor!  Where’s Seven?”

           “I sent her back to her alcove to regenerate.”

           “I asked you to let me know when you had finished!  Why didn’t you?!”  The commander was sounding more unhappy by the minute.

           “Seven asked me not to, at least not until I had a chance to talk to you first.”  He looked as uncomfortable as a hologram could.  “You see, Commander, I know why she was doing what she did.  And she thought perhaps I could explain it to you better than she could.  She is having trouble right now, trying to deal with ‘her humanity’.”

           Chakotay sighed and sat down.  “Very well, Doctor.  Explain.”

           “Let’s see.  Where to begin.  As you know, or maybe you don’t…”

           “Doctor!”

           “Yes.  Well, to put it bluntly, Seven has been exploring various aspects of human feelings.  And these last few days, her explorations have taken her into the area of intimate relationships.  Intimate physical relationships.”

           “You mean sex.”

           “Yes.”

           The commander was getting a very nasty feeling about this.  “Go on.”

           “She decided that you were the best person to teach her, so….she created a program complete with a first officer romantically attracted to her, and became involved with him.”

           Chakotay buried his head in his hands.  “Oh my god!”

           “Actually,” the doctor continued, “you should be flattered.  After all, she could have chosen anyone on the ship.”

           “I don’t feel flattered!  I feel – used!”

           “I don’t see why.  Commander, Seven is trying the best she knows how to fit in, to be part of the crew.  Maybe her methods leave a little to be desired, but her heart’s in the right place.”

           He turned away, muttering something more but Chakotay couldn’t make out the words.  He sat silent, trying to decide how best to handle a delicate situation.  It was so typical of Seven.  She couldn’t seem to get past that Borg habit of barging straight through people as if they didn’t exist.   He’d like to wring her neck, but knew that even if he could, she would have absolutely no idea why.

           Suddenly, the absurdity of the entire situation caught up with him and he started to chuckle.  No wonder she had been so awkward around him lately!  The doctor stared at him, puzzled but relieved that he was no longer angry.

           The commander rose to his feet.  The doctor looked alarmed.

           “What are you going to do?” he asked.

           “I haven’t decided yet.  Don’t worry, Doctor, I won’t kill her – not yet, anyway.”  He strode out of sickbay.

           As he walked to the turbolift, the doctor’s words came back to him.  ‘She could have chosen anyone.’  Well, that was true.  His steps slowed as he pondered her actions and his reaction. His initial anger had faded as amusement took its place.  Maybe, he should look at this differently.  He wanted to move on; obviously, she found him attractive; perhaps, she would be worth pursuing.  The more he thought about it, the more intrigued he became.

           He entered cargo bay two to find her regenerating in her alcove.  He pushed the appropriate sequence to bring her out of the cycle and stood back, waiting.  Her eyes opened, focusing on him, then widened.  A look of shock followed by shame flitted across her face before the mask fell into place.

           “Commander,” she said evenly.

           “Seven.”

           “How may I help you?”

           “You can start by explaining just what you were doing in holodeck two.  That’s no gravimetric array!”

           “No, I….,” she stopped, bowing her head, obviously unable to find the words.

           “The truth, Seven!”  he demanded.

           She stepped down to the floor, hands fidgeting, looking around, clearly ill-at-ease.  ‘Good lord!’ he thought. ‘I never thought I’d ever see a nervous Borg!’  He waited silently.  Finally, she turned to face him and lifted her chin.

           “I programmed a simulation of you in an attempt to explore my sexuality.”

           She held his gaze but her lip quivered just slightly, betraying her.

           “I see.  And were you not aware of Starfleet protocols regarding simulations of actual people?”

           “No.”

           Oh.  “I would suggest you familiarize yourself – in complete detail!”  His voice was hard.

           “Yes, Commander.”  She bowed her head submissively.

           He stared a moment longer, then stepped forward, close to her, lifting her chin with his forefinger.   She stared at him, almost mesmerized.

           “Why, Seven?  Why go to the trouble of creating such an elaborate program?  Why didn’t you just come to me instead?  I would have been glad to help you any way I could.”

           Her eyes were glued to his face.  “You….would?!”

           “Yes!  All you had to do was ask.”

           “I didn’t think you would agree to….do what I wanted.”

           “But you didn’t give me a choice, did you?”

           “No,” came in a soft voice, sounding very different from her usual strident tones.

           He dropped his hand and turned to pace the floor.

           “Do you find me attractive?” he asked bluntly.

           She nodded, then, gathering up her nerve, asked him the same question.

           “Yes,” he replied, “I do.”  He paused, then put the crucial question to her.  “Would you like me to help you….explore your feelings?”

           She looked at him, surprised, before nodding slowly, her expression changing to speculative.

           He straightened and started for the door.  “All right.  Be at my quarters for dinner tomorrow night, 1900 hours – and wear a dress!”

       ______________________________________________________
 

           Punctually at 1900 hours the following evening, Seven presented herself at Chakotay’s door.  When he opened it in response to her chime, his jaw nearly fell to the floor.  Implants or not, the woman was stunning!  Blonde hair fell in soft waves over her shoulders; she was clothed in an ice-blue sleeveless dress that subtly emphasized her cleavage without actually showing very much.  Over it she wore a matching jacket which she removed as soon as the door closed.  One eyebrow rose as he continued to stare.

           “Commander?”

           He shook his head to clear it.  “Seven, come in.  Sit down.  May I get you a glass of wine?”

           “Yes, please.”

           She let her eyes sweep over him as he turned to the table.  He was dressed very casually in black slacks and an open-necked long-sleeved white shirt.   The lack of colour suited him well, she decided, emphasizing the golden tone of his skin.  She smiled her thanks as he handed her a glass, and reminded herself yet again that, familiar as he seemed in this setting, this man was real, not a hologram.  There was no reset button.

           He sat next to her and raised his glass in a toast.  “To new possibilities.”

           She nodded appreciatively and sipped.

           Over dinner, Chakotay steered their conversation from one topic to another, careful to stay on subjects she was familiar with.  She found herself relaxing and even enjoying the banter.  He complimented her on her social skills, remarking how far she had come in nearly four years.  She replied that the doctor deserved much of the credit, encouraging her to experience myriad circumstances so she could learn the appropriate response for each situation.

           As they sat lingering over tea, he asked if she had learned to dance.  She replied yes, but had not liked it very much.

           “Who was your partner?”

           “First, Lieutenant Chapman, later the doctor.”

           Chakotay hid a smile, remembering now the rumours that had circulated a couple of years ago about Seven’s ‘date’.  The lieutenant in question had flatly refused to discuss the subject, which had led to some pretty wild speculation.

           He rose, stretching out a hand to her.  “Come.  Let’s see if you enjoy it more this time.”

           She stood and stepped up to him, placing her left hand on his shoulder as she had been taught.  Chakotay instructed the computer to play a lazy ballad and swung her into his arms.  Very quickly she discovered that dancing with him was quite unlike her previous experiences.  His arm around her back pulled her close against him, his face pressed into her hair.  She could feel his torso pushing against her breasts, their movement causing a slight friction.

           Her breathing became shallow as her body reacted to his close proximity.  She tensed, uncertain how to deal with the feelings of desire that were increasing exponentially.  He felt her stiffen and stopped.

           “Seven, what is it?”

           “I…..am not sure.  I feel…..warm, agitated.  I don’t know what to do.”

           He smiled gently.  “You’re becoming aroused.  It’s perfectly natural. So am I.”

           Her eyes grew bigger.  “Does this mean that we should attempt intercourse?”

           “No, not at all.  In fact, that would not be a good idea.  We can experience these feelings, enjoy them, without having to do anything about them.”

           “But if they keep growing?”

           “Well, we don’t let that happen, not yet anyway.  We have plenty of time, Seven.  We don’t need to rush.  Let’s take it slowly, let it develop gradually.  Does that make sense to you?”

           She pondered his words carefully, then looked at him.  “Yes, it does.”

           “Very well.  On that note, perhaps we should call it a night.”

           She nodded and stepped back, picking up her jacket.  As she slid it over her arms, she thanked him for a very pleasant evening.

           “The pleasure was mine.  Would you like to this again?”

           “Yes.”

           “I’ll let you know.”

           “Goodnight, Com….Chakotay.”

        _________________________________________________________
 

           Over the next couple of weeks, Seven spent three more evenings with Chakotay, each time in his quarters.  She learned to relax around him and enjoy his company.  For his part, he found that she had absolutely no expectations of him, but accepted him exactly as he was.  The relief that came with that realization led him to wonder if they could actually carry this relationship further than he had originally expected.

           As she held no assumptions about him, he had none about their liaison.  Initially, he had thought only to see what she would do in a private setting, perhaps find out what she had done with his holocharacter.  Now, though, he found himself speculating about a full-blown affair.  When he recalled their history, the idea seemed ludicrous, and yet – he was enjoying her company, appreciating her unique point of view.  If nothing else, she gave him something to think about besides his hopeless passion for Kathryn Janeway.  For that alone, he was very grateful.

           That thought led to another.  The next time they were together, he cautioned her not to discuss their dates with anyone.

           Seven was puzzled.  “Why not?”

           “For a long time, the crew wanted the captain and I to be together, personally as well as professionally.  They could well prove hostile towards you if it became known we’re dating.”

           “I understand.  Tell me, did you want that as well?”

           He lowered his eyes, hesitating.  “Yes.  But it’s not going to happen.”  His voice was wistful.

           “Why not?”

           He sighed.  “She doesn’t love me, Seven.  Not like that.”

           To her surprise, Seven found herself cheered by this information.  She paused, then asked the obvious question.

           “Do you still love her?”

           He raised his head to look her in the eye.  “Yes, I do.  And maybe I always will.  But I’m going to try to get past it, get on with my life.”  His voice took on an almost desperate note.  “I can’t let it encompass my very being anymore.”

           She gazed at him.  “Then perhaps I can help you, Chakotay, as you are helping me.”

           He smiled gently.  “Perhaps you can.”
 
 
 
 

Part 3:  Before and after “Natural Law”

           Over the next few weeks, Chakotay and Seven continued their relationship, gradually becoming closer.  Although they danced several more times, they were careful never to allow themselves any further intimacy.  As yet, they had exchanged no more than a hug and kiss on the cheek at the end of each evening.  And apparently, the crew with one exception were quite unaware of their off-duty activities.  The only one who did know was the doctor, but he was careful to respect their privacy and said nothing.

           Voyager was once again low on supplies. Long range scans determined two possible sources of both food and useful ores, but located in opposite directions.  The commander volunteered to take the Delta Flyer with Seven to explore the nearer system while the ship proceeded the other way to the farther.  They would rendezvous in three days.  The captain agreed and suggested they leave early the following morning.

           That night, Chakotay and Seven spent several hours first going over all reports and scans, then coordinating plans for the mission.  The most promising planet lay clustered with several others in an elliptical orbit around a G-type star.  Reaching it would require precision flying to skirt an asteroid belt and dodge several moons.  Finally, after working out a course that would allow the best chance of success, he rose and stretched.

           She followed suit, groaning slightly as she discovered how cramped her muscles had become.  As her arms dropped to her sides, Chakotay moved to stand behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders.  His fingers massaged her neck, digging deep, easing the knots she didn’t know were there.  Her eyes closed and she moaned softly, enjoying the feel of his touch, leaning back into his hands.

           He moved closer to breathe on her hair, rubbing her temples before angling her head to kiss her very gently.  She remained quite still, not at all sure how to react.  He turned her to face him, cupped her chin and bent to kiss her again, slowly, nibbling on her lip.  Lifting his head, he looked to find her staring at him, almost bemused.  He couldn’t know how closely his actions mirrored those of his counterpart on the holodeck all those weeks ago.

           She remembered how much she had enjoyed those kisses and reached for him, pulling down his head.  This time, the kiss was harder, more passionate as he moved over her lips.  She nearly jumped when he thrust his tongue into her mouth – the hologram hadn’t done that! – but quickly found she liked it.  Touching, exploring, twining around her, he was stimulating her relentlessly, stirring up passions that threatened to overtake them both.

           Unconsciously, she rubbed her hips against his.  He responded at once, pulling her tighter against him, pushing his erection into her stomach.  She gripped his back, feeling light-headed as he held her buttocks jammed against him with one hand and reached for her breast with the other.  Desire shot through her as he touched her nipple, teasing, manipulating, cupping.

           Suddenly, he pushed away from her, moving so abruptly she nearly lost her balance.  They stood apart, panting heavily, forcing down their instincts once more.

           “Seven, maybe you better leave before we go too far and do something we’ll regret.”

           She nodded almost sadly.  “I wouldn’t regret it at all.”  Then turned to exit.

           He stared at her, startled, then began to smile.  “Let’s see how we feel after the mission.”

           She looked at him as she stepped through the doorway, a slight smile playing across her mouth.  “Agreed.”

          __________________________________________________
 

           A day later, the Delta Flyer approached the system with the clustered planets.

           “Commander,” called Seven, all business while they were on duty, “I am detecting unusually strong gravitational forces emanating from the third planet.  We must exercise extreme caution.”

           “Understood.”

           Chakotay concentrated on the controls, easing the Flyer around the edge of the asteroid belt.  The little ship shook slightly as an eddy brushed the shields.  Their goal, the fourth planet, lay half-hidden behind the third.  He would need all his piloting skills to get them to it safely.

           “Gravitational forces increasing.  I am detecting a wave approaching off the starboard bow,” she reported.

           Chakotay slid over it, then increased speed in an effort to put the fourth planet between them and the waves.  Closer and closer they came.  Just a minute more would see them able to circle behind.  They almost made it.

           Another wave caught just the edge of one nacelle as the Flyer dived around the planet.  It was enough to throw the ship over on its side, out of control.  Both Chakotay and Seven were tossed across the cabin, briefly stunned unconscious.  By the time they came around, the Flyer was going down.

           Chakotay fell into the pilot’s seat, stabbing at the controls, trying to level out their trajectory.  Down and down they spun, but gradually he was able to pull up the nose just enough to make a controlled crash landing.  He sat there, trying to catch his breath, then turned to search for his companion.

           “Seven!  Are you all right?  Seven!”

           He was rewarded with a groan behind him.  Climbing out of his chair, he scrambled over debris to reach her just as she sat up, blinking.

           “Are you all right, Seven?”

           She was silent for a moment, then nodded.  “I believe so.”

           “Can you stand?”

           In answer, she rose to her feet.

           “Get your tricorder.  We need to have a look around.”

           They scrambled out the hatch to find themselves in a jungle.  Immediately, the heat and humidity hit them like an impenetrable wall.

           “Commander, I am reading several large creatures approaching our position.  Perhaps we would be safer in the Flyer.”

           “Agreed.”

           They slid back inside and slammed the hatch closed.  Several large, fanged animals appeared, stealthily inching closer and closer.  Chakotay initiated a low-level forcefield and waited.  He was reluctant to use more power than necessary until they had catalogued all the damage but he couldn’t let these creatures get too close.

           So far, so good.  The field seemed to be working.

           “Seven, have you established how badly damaged we are?”

           “Warp drive – offline, impulse – the same.  Thrusters – operational, but there may be damage I have not yet found.  Communications – erratic, life support – functional more or less.  Environmental – functional, sensors –short range only.”  She had saved the worst for last.  “Structural integrity – compromised.  There appear to be several microfractures in the hull.  I would need to make a detailed examination on the outside to determine the exact number.”

           He sighed.  “In a nutshell, we’re not going anywhere.”

           “Yes.”

           “What about power levels?”

           “Stable for now.  I will need to check again in half an hour to see if there has been any change.”

           “All right.  Let’s get started on repairs.  Can we launch a distress beacon?”

           “I already did.”

           “That’s my girl,” he smiled encouragingly.

          ____________________________________________________
 

           Over the course of the six days that they were stranded on the planet, Chakotay and Seven worked long and hard to repair the Flyer.  In the end, they were able to get most of the systems operational, but without the necessary equipment to seal the hull, they were stuck on the surface.  They were dirty and unkempt, and more than a little weary of each other’s company by the time Voyager found them.

           “Voyager to Delta Flyer.  Commander, can you respond?”

           “Chakotay here.  Are we ever glad to see you!”

           “Maintaining your record, Commander?” inquired Paris drily.

           “Don’t even start,” he snarled in reply.

           “Prepare for beamout,” interjected the captain.  “B’Elanna is assembling a team to retrieve the Flyer.”

           “Tell her to watch out for the local wildlife.  They have large, very sharp teeth.”

           “I’ll pass it on, Commander.  Voyager out.”

       _____________________________________________________
 

           Some hours later, after a sound sleep, Chakotay found Seven in the astrometrics lab.

           “I’ve been looking for you,” he began.  “I thought you would be regenerating.”

           “I was – for a while.  However, I wanted to enter our findings into the database as soon as possible.”  Her fingers continued to dance across the console as she spoke, not looking at him.  “What did you wish to see me about?”

           “I was wondering if you had given any more thought to ‘us’.”

           She pressed a few more pads on the control panel, then turned to face him.  “Yes, I have.”

           “And?”

           “I am uncertain what to do, what course to follow.  Perhaps we should separate.”

           “Is that what you want?”

           “I believe so.”

           She sounded very unsure, quite unlike her usual, confident self.

           “All right, I don’t want to push you.  Why don’t we pull back for a while – no more dates, see how it goes?”

           “That would be agreeable.”

           “I hope we can remain friends.”

           “I would like that, too.”

           He bade her goodnight and returned to his quarters, reflecting that he seemed to be back at square one.

          _____________________________________________________
 
 

           Nearly a week passed before the captain happened to encounter the commander in the turbolift just after shift one day, and asked point-blank if the latest rumours were true.

           “What rumours?” he inquired.

           “About you – and Seven.”

           He stared at her, completely at a loss.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied, a little more sharply than he’d intended.

           She tilted her head, peering up intently into his face.  “It has come to my attention that you are involved romantically with Seven.  Is that true?”

           She watched his reaction carefully – he knew he couldn’t just brush her off, as he had intended.  “Not now.”

           “But you were?”

           He sighed heavily as the doors opened.  “If you want to know – yes.”  And walked out, leaving her staring open-mouthed.  Only when the doors started to close did she remember to move.

           “Chakotay!  Wait!”

           He slowed, then stopped and turned, resignation plastered all over his face.  She saw it and suddenly realized she had no right to question him about anything.

           “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.  I know it’s none of my business.”

           They strolled slowly towards her quarters.  She went on.  “I was just so surprised, you see, and well – I wanted to know if it was true.”

           She stopped at her door, turning to face him.  “If you need to talk….” She left the sentence unfinished.

           “I…..there isn’t much to tell, really.  Just another failed attempt to get over you.”  The bitterness in his voice shocked her at the same time as a bolt of joy shot through from head to toe.  She entered the doorcode and reached for his hand.

           “Why don’t you come in?  We can’t talk out here.”

           He let her lead him into the room and sat down on the couch, leaning forward to prop up his head.  She went to the replicator, ordering tea, then returned with the cups and sat beside him.

           “Here,” she offered, “have some tea.  Then tell me.”  He took the cup, sipping slowly.  She didn’t like the defeated slump in his posture, as if he had given up.

           He sighed and put down the cup.  “Where to start?  I found Seven had been using a holoimage of me in a new program she designed to explore more….aspects of human interaction.”  Her eyebrow rose.  “In plain words, she wanted to experiment with sex.  That’s how she chose to do it.”

           “Good lord!  When was this?!”

           “Several weeks ago.  You remember the gravimetric array?”  She nodded.  “Never existed.”

           “What?!!  You mean she deliberately lied?!  Seven?!!”

           “Yes.  She was playing around with my holoimage instead.”

           Janeway shook her head in disbelief.  “I even offered to help her with it.  My god, Chakotay!  What was she thinking?!”

           “Actually, it makes sense if you think of her progress towards humanity.  This was simply another step.  Anyway, I confronted her when I found the program.  I was angry at first, but then I thought – why not?  I mean in a way, it was flattering that she had chosen me.”

           Kathryn had a sinking feeling.  “Can I ask how far your relationship progressed?”

           “You mean – did I sleep with her?”  His voice was hard.  “No, Kathryn, I did not.”

           “Sorry.”  She looked down, inwardly relieved to know he hadn’t gone that far.  The thought of him and Seven together had given her a nasty shock.

           “We had dinner several times – that was it.  We were taking it very slowly, for both our sakes and also because I didn’t want the crew to get wind of it.”  He looked at her straight on.  “I didn’t want her to be the butt of either jokes or hostility.  The doctor knows – he found out accidentally, but no one else.”

           “I understand.”  And she did.  She knew all about the crew’s hopes for her and Chakotay, the betting pools.  “What about these rumours then?  What do you want to do?”

           “Since we’ve ended our relationship, for now anyway, it will be easy for everyone to see that there’s no truth to them.”

           “Why did you?  Was it your decision or hers?”

           “Hers – but I didn’t push her on it.  She doesn’t really know what she wants so it seemed best to pull back.   And to tell the truth, I’m pretty ambivalent myself.  She’s a fascinating individual, but I’m not sure I’m the right person for her.  And I don’t want her hurt.”

           She patted his hand.  “How do you feel?”

           “In limbo at this point.”  He turned his hand under hers, then grasped her fingers.  “I’m trying, Kathryn, to get past you.  I don’t seem to be very successful.”

           “Chakotay, I…..I may have been a bit hasty.”

           He peered at her, eyes suddenly intent.  “What do you mean?”

           “I’ve missed you these last weeks.  I guess I was taking you for granted – again,” she smiled ruefully.  “I’m sorry for that.  I do it far too easily.  But, when you weren’t there, I….oh dear, Chakotay, I don’t know for sure, but…..I would like my friend back and I will promise to keep myself open to all possibilities.”  Her eyes were pleading.  “Could you live with that?”

           His face relaxed into a heartmelting smile.  “I could.  I’ve missed you, too.”
 
           She enclosed his hand between hers.  “You are too good to me, you know.  I don’t deserve you, but I’m damned glad you’re here.”

           With his free hand, he raised their clasped ones to his lips and gently kissed her fingers.  “I believe you’re right.”

           She laughed then and rose.  “How about dinner?  My treat.”

           “You’ve got a deal.  But I’m programming the replicator.  At least then we’ll be able to eat it…..”
 

Epilogue:
 

           Two months later, a wormhole opened up almost under Voyager’s bow.  A probe confirmed that it was starting to collapse, but did lead to the Alpha Quadrant.  If they were going to go, they had to do so immediately.  Janeway wasted no time.

           “All hands, this is the captain.  Prepare for a rough ride.  We’re going home.”

         __________________________________________________
 

           Three weeks after their triumphant return to Earth, Kathryn Janeway walked out of Starfleet headquarters, free at last to lay down the mantle of responsibility that she had carried for so long.  She had achieved her primary goals of complete pardons for all the Maquis including the former captain, official recognition of the doctor’s sentience – although that battle was not yet won, and the reintroduction of Annika Hansen as a Federation citizen – that had proved the easiest.
 
           She strode across the great plaza at her usual gait, but slowed as she came to the gardens, memories stirring of times past when she had bolted down these paths, feet barely touching the ground, in a hurry, always in a hurry.

           ‘Take time to smell the flowers, Katie J.’ echoed Boothby’s voice in her mind.  ‘You’re always rushing about.’

           She smiled to herself and deliberately slowed her steps, looking around, smelling the flowers.  Boothby was gone, she knew, yet his spirit lived on here, in the plants all about her.

           She was so engrossed in the past that she nearly tripped over a booted foot stretched out across the path.  She jumped, her eyes flying up to meet a pair of very familiar, laughing brown eyes.

           “Chakotay!  What a start you gave me!”

           “Well, you should watch where you’re going, you know.  You could have ended up with your face planted next to the petunias!”

           “Would have been all your fault if I had!  What are you doing here – besides scaring the life out of poor, unsuspecting captains?”

           “Waiting for you, actually.”

           “You were?  But how did you know when I’d be finished?”

           “I didn’t.”

           “You mean….?!  Just how long have you been here?”  Her hands were on her hips now, eyes suspicious.

           “Let’s see.  Is this Tuesday?”  She nodded.  “Since last Monday then.”

           “Over a week?!  Oh Chakotay!  I don’t …..”

           “….deserve me.  I know.  But I wanted to catch you before you disappeared somewhere.  And here was the best place to do that.”

           He stood then and held out his arm for her.  “Walk with me, Kathryn.  I want to talk to you without being interrupted.”

           “All right.”  She took his arm and they began to stroll slowly through the garden.

           He was silent momentarily, gathering his thoughts.  “Have you given much thought to the future?”

           “No.  Haven’t had time.  Too busy going over and over the past.”

           “Sitting out here has given me a chance to reflect on things.  It seems to me we’re at a crossroads here, a point where we can actually make a conscious decision to do this or that, go one way or another, and have a good idea where that road will lead.  It doesn’t happen often that you can actually project fairly accurately the consequences of a decision.”

           “Are you saying that you’ve made such a decision, Chakotay?”

           “Yes and no.”  He took a deep breath and stopped, turning her to face him.  “I’ve realized that no matter what I do, if I’m not with you, I won’t be happy.  So, whatever road you take, I’d like to be beside you.”  He paused, seeing her eyes widen as the full import of what he was saying sank in.  “Would you like that, too?”

           She stared up at him.  “Starfleet?”

           He shrugged.  “In or out, Kathryn, it doesn’t matter. If our relationship never develops any further than where it is right now, fine.  As long as I can be with you.”

           “Oh god, Chakotay!  I don’t deserve you!”  She looked ready to burst into tears.  He had completely disarmed her with his devotion and trust.  She reached up a hand to brush his cheek.  Her voice was tremulous.

           “I’d like to continue my journey together with you.  And I really don’t care if it’s not in Starfleet.  In fact, I probably should retire because I know I can’t kowtow to every admiral’s whim anymore.  I’ve been on my own too long.”

           He sighed deeply, then lifted her hands to kiss her fingers.  “Thank you.”  The words were simple but his eyes spoke volumes.

           On impulse, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him as hard as she could.  He felt good, solid, familiar, her anchor and strength.  He hugged her back then loosened his hold, but only so that he might bend his head and lightly kiss her.  The tip of his tongue just grazed her lips but she felt a jolt of pure desire blaze through her.  Her body stiffened as she tugged his head down, trying to deepen the contact.  He let her for an instant, then pulled back, aware as apparently she was not, of their exposed position.

           She moaned sadly and he grinned at her.  “Like that?”

           “Ohh yes!”

           “You can have more, but not here and not now.”

           She pouted.  “Tease.”

           “Not at all.  Realist, yes.”

           He tucked her hand back into his arm again and they resumed their meander.

           “You know, I think we’re going to have a great life, Kathryn.”

           “I know we are, Chakotay.  Now, how would you like to come home to Indiana…..?”

 
           THE END
 

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