Disclaimer:   All Paramount’s, same as usual

Rating:  PG-13

Notes:  This story is probably as close as I’ll ever get to writing J/P, a friendship I’ve always liked and wish we’d seen more of.   It’s set shortly after Voyager’s return to Earth as chronicled in “Endgame”.
 
 

A GOOD THING
 

By Mary S.
 
 

           Kathryn Janeway stood in front of the mirror in her brand new apartment, rearranging her hair for the third time.   Tonight was the main event – the official welcome home from the Federation.  All the bigwigs from the President on down would be present to honour her intrepid crew.   Starfleet was hosting a private dinner for the brass and those few of her senior staff who were on Earth, to be followed by a formal ball for the crew and their families where they would be feted and exalted as heroes.

           And she had absolutely no interest whatsoever in going.

           She sighed, pulling out her coiffure yet again.   Damn, damn, damn!  Even her stupid hair wouldn’t cooperate!   What she needed was a cup of coffee to settle her nerves.    What she needed was Chakotay… No, no!  Mustn’t go there!   Mustn’t think about him, about them!

           She plodded into the small kitchen and ordered coffee from the replicator, then wandered into the living room, curling up in an armchair and looking out the large picture window.   Oh hell!   She was supposed to be dancing with delight, delirious with joy!   Not moping about miserable and unhappy in her old bathrobe.    She sipped from the cup and debated whether to fake a sudden, preferably life-threatening illness which would both get her out of the ceremonies and bring her first officer rushing to her side.    Although, with her luck, instead it would be the EMH rushing to her side and letting her know in his usual acerbic tones exactly what he thought of her behaviour.   Well, maybe not too acerbic, she reflected.   After all, he had also been hurt pretty badly by Voyager’s newest romance.

           She sighed again and got to her feet, reminding herself for the umpteenth time that she was a Starfleet captain and, whether she liked it or not, at the moment Starfleet’s ‘golden girl’.

           She had to go.

           She glanced at her chronometer and gasped.   All this maundering had used up more time than she’d realized.   She better get moving or her chauffeur would be here before she was ready.

           She scrambled into her gown and conducted a quick hunt for shoes.   Her hair!  Oh damn!   Quickly she flew into the bathroom, stared at herself for a moment, then twisted it up into a soft French roll.   A bit of makeup, diamond earrings and matching pendant, and she was ready just as the doorchime sounded.

           She scurried down the hall and opened the door to find Tom Paris, very dashing in a tuxedo, grinning at her.   Her face broke into a joyous smile.

           “Tom!   What are you doing here?!”   She tried to peer behind him.  “Where’s B’Elanna?”

           “Now is that any way to greet your escort?” he chided her, as his eyes swept over her from head to toe.  “Hmm, very nice.   That colour suits you.”
He waggled his fingers.  “Turn around…”

           She obediently revolved slowly, her head twisted over her shoulder to see him.   He nodded appreciatively, enjoying the sight of his captain in formal evening wear, her dress a full-length sheath in deep blue brocade, with a slit up the side to well above the knee.   There was a bit of cleavage, nothing too dramatic, a V-shape leading into a wide band around the neck.  The back – oh that was good! – the back was deep-scooped nearly to the waist, showing lots of skin.

           “Lieutenant!” She called to him sharply.  “Stop staring and answer me!  Where’s B’Elanna?  And what do you mean, ‘my escort’?”

           His grin faded a bit as he followed her into the living room.   “B’Elanna has had a…bit of an upset, you might call it.   The last I heard there was no way in hell she’s going!   When Dad tried to remonstrate with her, pulling the ‘I’m the admiral, and you’ll follow my orders, young lady’ routine, she nearly took his head off!   As I left, she was backing him into a corner…he was actually looking rather nervous!”  He paused, obviously relishing the memory.  “I don’t think he’ll try that line again, at least not with her.”

           Kathryn stared at him in astonishment.  “But what on earth set her off?!   I’ve seen B’Elanna angry, but that sounds extreme even for her.”
 
           His face grew solemn, his gaze suddenly intent.   “Chakotay.”
 
           Her gaze fell to the floor as her face paled.  “Oh.”

           He reached out a hand and lifted her chin.   “I see you know.”

           Kathryn nodded.  “The admiral told me, on the ship.”

           “How are you feeling?”

           “I’m fine,” she began even as her face crumpled.   “Oh hell, Tom, I feel lousy!”   She covered her face with her hands, trying to force back the sudden tears.

           He moved closer and put his arms around her, patting her back and whispering soothingly to her.   “Easy now.   Take deep breaths.”

           She clutched his jacket with both hands, feeling very unsteady on her feet.   After a few minutes, she found she could breathe more easily and stepped back slightly.   He eased his grip but still held onto her arms, his eyes concerned.   “Are you okay?”

           She nodded.  “Yes, I…I’ll be fine.   It just sort of caught me unexpectedly.”   Two more big breaths and she was able to smile weakly.  “Tell me more about B’Elanna.   When did she find out?   She’s always been so close to Chakotay, I assumed she already knew.”

           “Nooo, she didn’t.  She found out this afternoon and to say she is furious is an understatement!    She called him immediately and tore a strip off him a mile wide!   I’m surprised the comm. unit didn’t burst into flames!  He couldn’t get a word in edgewise.  So then of course, he got mad!  You know Chakotay.   He’ll take a lot, but he has his limits.   I tried to warn her, but she wasn’t listening to anyone.   I think he may have broken his comm. unit because suddenly the connection was gone and there was a lot of static.”

           Kathryn stared at him, not sure whether to laugh or cry.   “Tom, this is awful!   We have to do something…!   Her voice trailed off helplessly as he held up his hands.

           “Believe me, the best thing we can do is stay out of the way until they’ve finished tearing each other apart, then move in to pick up the pieces.  I’ll be honest, Captain, I thought I’d seen B’Elanna at her worst when she fought Vorik, but even that wasn’t as bad as today.”

           He glanced at the chronometer.   “We should get going, you know, or we’ll be more than fashionably late.”

           Kathryn snatched up her evening bag and wrap as he opened the door, then took her arm.   A hovercar complete with driver waited just outside the building.   He handed her in, then settled himself beside her.

           By then, she’d had a bit of time to take in everything he’d told her and realized it still didn’t explain why he’d shown up on her doorstep.   When she demanded an explanation, he activated the privacy screen and finished the story.

           “After B’Elanna lost the connection, she informed me with a snarl that there was no way she was going anywhere near Chakotay or Seven!    If I wanted to go to the damned dinner and dance, I could, but she wouldn’t be with me!   And then she yelled that I should take you, because obviously no one else would!  It was at that point that Dad tried to intervene and I got the hell out of there!

           “Afterwards, it occurred to me that her idea made a lot of sense, so – here I am!   I guess we’ll find out if Dad’s still alive when we get to the dinner.”   He glanced over at her.  “I hope you don’t mind?”

           Kathryn gripped his hand tightly.  “Oh Tom, I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been dreading this all day!  I didn’t want to go either, but I knew I had to.   To have you beside me makes it all so much easier.”

           He lifted their hands and kissed her fingers gallantly.  “Then I’m glad to help.”

           His eyes began to gleam with mischief.  “I’ve got an idea.  How about we have some fun tonight?   See if we can set all the stuffed shirts on their ears when we walk in together.”

           She laughed at him, suddenly feeling much better than she would have believed possible an hour ago.    “Well, I don’t know.   How much ‘on their ears’ were you thinking of?”

           “Nothing very serious.   Only a little harmless flirting.  Besides, that dress just begs to be flirted with, doesn’t it?”   He was grinning knowingly.  “And if a certain first officer happens to be there, too, I’m quite willing to crank it up a notch or two.   Let him see what an idiot he is.”   His expression became serious.   “I may not blow up the way B’Elanna did, but I agree with her completely.   Chakotay’s being a damn fool.  He deserves to be shown up.”

           Kathryn bit her lip.   “It’s not all his fault, you know.   I had my chance, more than once, and I pushed him away.  I blame myself more than him.   I should have told him, said something…but I didn’t.”   She turned to look at Tom, not hiding the pain in her eyes.  “He couldn’t know how I felt if I wouldn’t tell him.”

           “Why didn’t you?   I know how much he loved you, the whole ship knew.”

           “I didn’t believe I should…break protocol.”  She took a deep breath.  “No, that’s the excuse.   The real reason – I was scared, terrified of my feelings for him.   I was afraid if I told him, gave him even the slightest hint, and we started a romance, I’d be lost in him.   I’d toss aside the crew, the ship, all of it, just to be with him.  I couldn’t let that happen.   I stranded us all out there, I had to get us home.   That was the bottom line.   Nothing else could be allowed to get in the way of that goal.   So I didn’t say anything, hoping that when we got back...”   She shrugged her shoulders.  “By then, it was too late.”

           Tom gazed down at her, his eyes warm with affection.   Then he slid one arm around her shoulders and hugged her tightly for a few seconds before releasing her.    “Thank you for telling me.   I wondered sometimes.”  He turned as the hovercar slowed.  “Looks like we’re here.”

           A minute later, the door opened and they both climbed out to stand at the main entrance to the great concert hall where the dinner would take place.    Later, they would move into the adjoining ballroom for the celebration dance.

           As they gazed around, members of the media rushed forward, holo-imagers raised to capture the arrival of the celebrated Captain Janeway.   Tom held out his arm, she took it and they started to walk slowly forward, as   questions were shouted out from all sides.

           “Captain!   Could you tell us how it feels to be back on Earth?”

           “What was it like to fight the Borg?”

           “What will happen to your ship?”

           And, as they began to ascend the wide staircase, “Where is Commander Chakotay?  Is it true you’re romantically involved…?”

           Her smile slipped a bit, but Tom held her steady, leading her through the huge double doors at the top of the steps.   He bent his head, whispering to her.   “Hang on, Captain, we’re almost there.”

           She squeezed his hand gratefully and leaned close to his ear.   “Under the circumstances, I think you better call me Kathryn.”

           He grinned down at her, eyes dancing.  “Yes, ma’am!”

           “It’s not crunch time…”

           “Oh yeah?  Look ahead of us.”

           She glanced where he was indicating to see a roomful of brass, all staring at her.   Her step slowed as she hesitated, then Tom saw her chin come up and felt her back stiffen.   “Lead on, Mr. Paris.  Let’s make an entrance.”

           He nearly burst out laughing.   What a woman!   God, Chakotay had to be crazy to let her slip away!

           As they swept forward, the entire room burst into applause.   Kathryn nodded graciously, her bearing regal.   Tom did his best to match her, although he suspected no one was looking at him.   His eyes ranged over the crowd until he found his father at one side.   His eyebrow went up in a question – the admiral actually smiled and then nodded slightly.   Tom breathed a sigh of relief.    Apparently, somehow, everything was all right.

           At that moment, they were engulfed by the High Command and assorted Important Personages.  He would have to wait until later to get a word with Owen.

           After finding their places, the commander-in-chief, Admiral Nechayev, opened the proceedings with a short welcoming speech.  Kathryn replied briefly, confining her remarks to grateful thanks to everyone who had contributed to their return, in particular Admiral Paris and Lieutenant Barclay.    The President of the Federation then got up and rambled on for some time, until Tom began to wonder if they would ever get any dinner.   In all the uproar today, somehow he’d missed lunch.

           He leaned over to whisper a rude remark about long-winded politicians in Kathryn’s ear.   She tried to reprove him with a severe look, but the twinkle in her eyes gave her away.   Encouraged, he decided to amuse them both, casually draping his arm over the back of her chair.   She glanced up at him again, as Admiral Hayes, on her other side, gave him a very stern glare.

           Tom smiled as sweetly as only he could, then pasted a rapt expression on his face as he returned his attention to the president.   Kathryn looked down at her hands, fighting to hold back a grin.   What a devil!   And he knew it too.

           His other hand came across to brush one of hers, then lifted it onto the table where he started to play absently with her fingers.    An outraged snort from beyond Kathryn confirmed that the admiral was watching.  She turned her hand over under his and gripped his fingers hard to make him stop.   He spared her a reproachful glance then looked back at the president, who was finally winding down.

           A moment later, and they were able to dutifully applaud before relaxing as the servers brought out the first course.    Kathryn leaned across Tom to answer a question from one of the Federation Council members, seated on his other side.   Hayes took the opportunity to reprimand him, but before he could splutter more than a few words, Tom got to his feet, saying he’d just remembered something he had to tell his father.

           The admiral was left speechless as he hurried away from the head table and across the room to where his parents were sitting.

           “Hi Mom.  I didn’t see you earlier.   How’s B’Elanna?   I guess she didn’t kill you, Dad, since you’re here.   Has she calmed down yet?”

           Dora Paris smiled affectionately at her son and patted his arm.   “She’s fine, son.   I think having the baby amid so much turmoil and upset, and then having to make so many adjustments right afterwards has left her feeling a little out of sorts.   Having a baby isn’t easy at the best of times, you know.  Why, I remember…”

           Tom interrupted.  “Uh, Mom, this is B’Elanna we’re talking about.  ‘Upset’ is her middle name.   I love her more than you can imagine, but life with her is always tumultuous.  That’s part and parcel of being married to a Klingon, goes with the territory.

           “However, I have never seen her as mad as she was today.  I’m glad it was Chakotay and not me.    Which reminds me.  I haven’t seen him or Seven, and they’re supposed to be here.”

           Owen grinned.  “I don’t know about Seven, but Chakotay’s at the house.”

           Tom gulped.  “Your house?!   With B’Elanna??!   Dad, that may not be wise.”

           “Don’t worry, son, neither had killed the other when we left.  In fact, they were talking quite rationally, weren’t they, dear?”

           “Oh yes.   But then they’re old friends, aren’t they?”

           “Uh, yeah.   So…what happened?!”

           But Owen was gesturing toward the head table.   “You better get back up there, son.   You’re missing the first course, and you are supposed to be with your captain after all.   We’ll talk later.”

           Tom sighed.  “Okay, but first chance we get….”

           He worked his way back to his seat, sliding into it just as the server started to remove the salad.   Kathryn raised an eyebrow.   “What was all that about?”

           “I was trying to get the latest news, but Dad told me I should be up here with you.  He did say that Chakotay is over at their house talking to B’Elanna.   And neither had killed the other when they left.”

           “Well, that’s good.”   She paused, her face puzzled.   “I’d love to know what they’re saying.”

           “You and me both!”

           “Did he say if Seven was there, too?”

           “He didn’t, but I wouldn’t think so.   B’Elanna wouldn’t hesitate to kill her!”

           “Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait,” she grinned up at him.  “You know, this evening is turning out a lot better than I thought it would.”

           “I’m glad to hear it.   So – want to flirt some more?”

           “Only if you promise not to try to make me laugh in the middle of the speeches.   Tom, that was awful!”

           “But fun, you have to admit.   Come on, Kathryn, loosen up.”

           His voice rose slightly, just enough to allow Hayes to overhear him.   The glare he turned on them both nearly rivaled Kathryn’s.   She grinned at him, quite unabashed.

           “Captain,” he started to fulminate.   “This behaviour with your pilot is most unseemly…”

           “Admiral,” she interrupted.   “With all due respect, sir, my pilot is a very dear friend who is married to my chief engineer, also a very dear friend.  He is merely trying to keep me entertained.    I’ll grant you his methods are a little unorthodox, but it’s all harmless fun.” She patted his arm encouragingly.  “Nothing to worry about.”

           Hayes didn’t look very reassured but said no more.

           Tom leaned over, whispering in her ear that she should have let him think the worst.   Kathryn couldn’t help but chuckle, admitting that the thought had crossed her mind, but he was an old friend of her father’s as well as his, and she couldn’t do it.

            Their interaction didn’t go unnoticed.  Around the room, quite a few eyebrows were raised as speculation spread about the precise nature of their relationship.    More than one person was heard to ask where Tom’s wife was, and if she was aware that her husband was openly flirting with their captain.  The elder Parises had to explain that their daughter-in-law had not been feeling well enough to attend the festivities, but that she and Tom were very happy together, and he was only escorting the captain out of duty.    Several dowagers were heard to retort that he didn’t look like a man just doing his duty.

           The dinner progressed without further interruption, and nearly two hours later, they were finally able to make their way to the ballroom.   With the tremendous press of people, Tom found it difficult staying close to Kathryn, never mind trying to find his parents.   She patted his arm, which she was holding on to tightly, reiterating that he would just have to be patient.

           Tom gave her another brilliant smile, which set more tongues wagging, and announced, as the orchestra struck up a tune, that he wanted the first dance.   She inclined her head and allowed him to lead her onto the floor.   All eyes were on them as he swept her into a waltz.

           Kathryn rested comfortably in his arms, her eyes sparkling.   She had decided tonight to have a good time and she was.    Tom was just the right escort, a good friend who knew her well and with whom she could relax and enjoy herself without having to worry.   At evening’s end, he would take her back to her apartment, then go home to B’Elanna.    The fact that he was a very handsome man with oodles of charm didn’t hurt either.

           She knew they had stirred up a lot of gossip this evening and decided she didn’t care.   For seven years, she had been the good little captain, dutifully adhering to protocol, and look where it had gotten her.   Precisely nowhere.    As far as she was concerned, she was entitled to kick up her heels for one night.   She knew B’Elanna would understand, probably better than anyone.  She laughed at the thought.   Not only would she understand, she’d encourage it.   B’Elanna knew she didn’t have to worry about Tom straying.

           The waltz ended and another began.   Tom and Kathryn stayed out on the floor, heads together, laughing at each other’s sallies.   Tom had rarely seen this side of his captain, certainly not in the last couple of years, and was enjoying her thoroughly.   His eyes danced as he teased her mercilessly about her shameless behaviour.   She wasn’t the shameless one, she retorted,   she was merely being polite.

           And so it went.   As more of the crew arrived, they had to stop to welcome each one and be introduced to husbands, wives, parents, children and so forth.    Tom found himself busy talking with his crewmates, catching up on all the news, and as a result, quite forgot to look for his parents.   When he did remember, they had disappeared.

           He wondered at that, but before he could inquire where they were, someone else came up to speak to him.

           It was nearly half an hour later, and he had just reached Kathryn’s side, intending to ask if she would like a drink, when there was a slight commotion by the door.   Heads turned and voices rose in welcome.   Neither Tom nor Kathryn could see at first who it was until suddenly the crowd parted, and there stood Chakotay with B’Elanna on his arm.

           He was dressed in a tuxedo, which accented his bronze skin and black hair, while she was wearing a stunning full-length strapless red satin dress, that clung to her figure in all the right places.   Draped over her arms was a matching stole of the same fabric while heavy gold earrings dangled from her ears.   Her hair was pinned up in an elaborate coiffure with just a few wisps hanging down on each side of her face.   They made a striking couple.

           B’Elanna’s eyes swept the crowd, her face breaking into a big smile as she found Tom.   She tugged on Chakotay’s arm, indicating where Tom and Kathryn stood.   His eyes had already found her and he was staring at her in awe.

           Kathryn felt Tom’s fingers press hers for a second and took a deep breath as her heart began to pound.

           They were coming towards them.

           B’Elanna grinned at Tom before addressing Kathryn.  “Captain, I believe I’ve found someone you lost.   I’ve brought him back to you.”

           Kathryn’s eyes widened as the implication sank in, then turned to face Chakotay.   He was smiling at her hopefully, if a little warily.   B’Elanna’s hand grasped hers, placed it in Chakotay’s and wrapped his fingers around it.   She patted their joined hands, then reached out to Tom.   He grinned down at her, then bent to kiss her.

           “Good for you,” he murmured.   “I see you made him come to his senses.”

           “Yes.   It took a while, but he finally saw the light.  What about her?”

           “Oh, I think she’s learned her lesson.   I doubt she’ll let him out of her sight anytime soon.”

           “Thank goodness!   Now maybe we can have a little peace and quiet!”

           Tom burst out laughing.   “B’Elanna, my love, you’re one of a kind.”  He glanced at the couple beside them.  “I think we can safely leave them.   And I really want to dance with my wife.”

           “Lead the way, flyboy.”

           As they moved onto the floor, his eyes swept over her appreciatively.  “God, you look good enough to eat!”

           Her eyes gleamed.  “I thought you’d like it.”

           He bent to whisper in her ear as he pulled her into his arms.  “Oh, believe me, I do!  And I’ll like getting you out of it even better!”

           She laughed at that, a happy smile on her face.    It faded a little as she took in the stunned faces around her.   “Tom, why are those people staring at us?”

           He looked up from nuzzling her neck.  “Huh?  Where…oh!  Well, uh, you see, I was trying to make Kath…the captain, feel better, she was so unhappy when I went to pick her up.  So I, uh, flirted with her a bit.   And I guess some people got the wrong idea.   Ignore them, they’re just a bunch of old tabbies!” he finished hurriedly.

           She stared up at him intently.  “Flirting?  With the captain?!” she growled.

           “Now B’Elanna, it was all quite harmless, you know that.   It was just to make her feel better.”

           She couldn’t pretend any longer to be angry.   “I know, and I’m glad you did.”

           Tom breathed a sigh of relief.  “Good.  I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

           “Just don’t do it again.”

           He glanced around, his eyes finding Kathryn and Chakotay, heads close together as they also danced slowly across the room.   “I have a feeling Chakotay won’t let me near her.   Look at them.”

           B’Elanna twisted to see where he was indicating.   “Ohh, that’s sweet!   And about time, too.   We’ve done a good thing tonight.”

           “Indeed we have, sweetheart, indeed we have.”

           On the other side of the floor, Kathryn relaxed contentedly in Chakotay’s arms.   Who would have believed a few short hours ago that things could turn out so well?   He hadn’t said much beyond the fact that Seven need no longer concern her.   She assumed that meant he had broken off their affair.   Her heart was soaring and, try as she might, she couldn’t keep a silly grin off her face.

           She inhaled deeply, breathing in his scent, reveling in the feel of his arms around her.   This was where she belonged, where she’d always belonged.   She would be a lot more careful of him in the future.   She gave a little moan of sheer joy.    Chakotay heard her and lifted his head slightly from where it rested against her hair.

           “Kathryn?” he murmured.

           “I’m fine.”

           His eyebrow went up at the familiar words, ones he’d heard too often when he knew she wasn’t fine.   She chuckled, knowing exactly what he was thinking.

           “Really, Chakotay, I mean it.  I’m fine.  More than fine, I’m absolutely wonderful!  How’s that?”

           He nuzzled her hair.   “Couldn’t be better.”

           The music ended and they were forced to step apart as more of the crew came up to greet them.   If she hadn’t known before, the happy faces of her crew told her how pleased they were to see her and Chakotay together.   More than one was heard to say that they had been waiting a long time for this night.

           They stood together, side by side as always, in constant contact with each other even as they conducted separate conversations.   Admiral Hayes appeared at one point, his eyes pointedly staring at Chakotay before he looked a question at Kathryn.   She smiled and, taking pity on him, explained that her first officer and her engineer had both been delayed for different reasons.   Therefore, it had seemed easiest to have Tom escort her and let Chakotay bring B’Elanna later.  The admiral had shaken his head, more than a little bemused, remarking only that he hoped Kathryn knew what she was doing.    She had chuckled and replied that yes, she did.

           Shortly after, Chakotay whispered in her ear that he was hoping they could leave soon so they could talk in private – there were some things he wanted to discuss with her.    She looked around and, noticing that the crowd had thinned, agreed they could probably go, as soon as they’d said a few goodbyes.    He nodded and began to steer her towards the door.

           As it happened, Tom and B’Elanna were also preparing to depart.   They all met at the door at the same time.   On impulse, Kathryn reached out to hug them both, whispering that she could never thank them enough for their help and support.   They hugged her back, saying that seeing her happy with Chakotay was more than enough thanks for them.

           “Goodnight, Kathryn,” grinned Tom cheekily, as Chakotay’s eyebrow went up in surprise.  “Any time you need someone to flirt with, let me know.”

           She waved at him as her driver came forward.  “Are you ready to go, ma’am?” he asked.

           Suddenly she didn’t want to be cooped up in the hovercar.   “Want to walk?” she asked.   “There’s a transport station not too far away.”

           “Sure,” he nodded, and spoke to the driver, dismissing him for the night.

           They set off down the road, enjoying the fresh air and exchanging a few comments on the festivities.   But as they continued in silence, Chakotay’s face fell into a frown.   His steps slowed, as he pondered Tom’s last flippant words.   Finally, he could stand it no longer.

           “Kathryn?” he growled.  “When did Paris start calling you by name and what did he mean by that last remark?”

           She shrugged her shoulders.  “I told him tonight he could call me Kathryn.  Well, it seemed sort of silly not to, when he was escorting me.”   She hesitated, not quite sure how to explain Tom’s idea of amusement without upsetting Chakotay.    She tucked her hand more snugly into his, sighing happily.   Maybe she could distract him enough that he would forget about it.

           She should have known better.

           “And?” he asked.

           “And what?”

           Now it was his turn to sigh, as he stopped to face her.   “Kathryn.   Did he flirt with you?”

           “A little.   Not very much.   You know Tom, he flirts with every woman he’s around.   It doesn’t mean anything.”

           He sighed again.  “Yes, I do know Tom.   Too well.   Don’t do it again.”

           She looked up at him from under her lashes, her voice dropping to a husky purr.  “Is that an order?”

           He started to smile, as he reached to pull her close to him, his mouth hovering over hers.   “Yes.”

           She trembled, feeling little spurts of desire shoot right through her.   That voice!  Those eyes!  He knew exactly what he was doing to her.   She tried to straighten up and back away, but his arms held her tight against him.  Somewhere behind them, they could hear voices approaching, forcing Chakotay to let her go.   Kathryn took a deep breath, willing her legs to hold her up as they began to walk down the street.

           Neither said a word until they reached the public transport station at the next intersection.   He asked her then for the coordinates nearest her apartment.   A minute later they materialized on the street outside her building and she led him in.

           Once inside her door, she headed for the kitchen to get coffee for her and tea for him, while Chakotay moved to look out the big window in the living room.   She found him admiring the view and handed him his cup, then settled onto the couch.    After another moment, he turned to look at her, then moved to sit beside her.   Both had the same sense of déjà vu.

           “In some ways, it seems like nothing’s changed, doesn’t it?” began Kathryn.  “You sitting with me over coffee.   Only we’re on Earth instead of the ship.”

           He nodded his head.   “Nothing and – everything.”  He put down his cup.  “Kathryn, I want to say this once and then not mention it again.   I’m sorry to have hurt you, I didn’t mean to.   I honestly didn’t think you cared about me except as a friend.   Otherwise I never would have even considered Seven’s offer.    I hope we can put it behind us and start again.”   He looked down at his hands for a moment, then reached for her chin, tilting it up so he could see her eyes.   “I’ve never stopped loving you and I never will.   I know that now, I guess I always have.   I just…forgot for a while.”

           She gazed up at him, knowing what it cost him to say those words.   He was laying himself open to her, making himself completely vulnerable.   If she chose, she could hurt him very badly indeed and he knew it.   But he was trusting her not to, trusting that she would finally admit her own feelings.   She had never loved him more than she did at that moment.

           Her hand came up to caress his cheek as she felt a tear run down her face and let it.    “A long time ago, I was told an ancient legend, about an angry warrior who could only find peace with his enemy.   And while sometimes it might have seemed that I’d forgotten it, in fact I never did.   You’ll never know how many times that legend kept me going, how your strength and love held me up and supported me when I thought I was going to fail.”

           She gripped his face in both hands.  “I have loved you for so long, Chakotay.   And I’m sorry I could never tell you.   I was afraid, afraid of me, of what I would do if I ever acknowledged what I felt for you.    I had to get them home.   That was my primary responsibility.   And until I could fulfil it, I had to push aside everything, and everyone, else.   It’s not you who should be asking for forgiveness, it’s me.”

           Chakotay grasped her hands, then turned his head to kiss each one in turn, before reaching to pull her close to him.   His arms wrapped tightly around her as he gazed into her eyes, savoring the moment.   Everything he’d ever wanted, all his dreams, were right here in front of him.   He dropped his head, just brushing his lips across hers, tasting her lightly.   She moaned very softly and slid her hands around his neck, pulling him closer.

           The kiss deepened, tongues slid into each other’s mouths, and bodies pressed together as passion exploded between them.   They broke apart gasping, shocked by the sudden intensity.

           “Kathryn,” his voice was low, intense, “I better go, because if I don’t leave now – I never will.”

           Her voice matched his.   “Do you want to go?”

           “No.”

           “Then don’t.”

           He stared deep into her soul.   “Are you sure?   There’s no turning back, you know.   Commit to me now and I’ll hold you to it for the rest of our lives and beyond.”

           “I want you to.”

           He seized her in his arms, almost crushing her in his need.  “Kathryn, Kathryn, I love you so much!”

           She laughed in joy and hugged him back just as tightly.   “It’s going to be good, our life.  In fact, it’s going to be great.”   She pushed him back and got to her feet, pulling him up with her.   “Let’s go get started on it.”

 
 
The End

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