Alone in her apartment, curled up in a very large, very comfortable armchair, Kathryn Janeway was staring into her mug of coffee as if it held the secrets of the universe. It certainly would have been very helpful if it did.
She was reflecting, as she had been for the past few days, on an interesting piece of information B'Elanna had shared with her. Her initial reaction had been one of incredible happiness, and not a small bit of relief. But as B'Elanna went on her feelings had changed to confusion, and to anger and to hurt.
Chakotay and Seven were no more. Chakotay was Chakotay and Seven was Seven, they were individual and single and not together. This had given rise to Kathryn's great happiness and relief - Chakotay was once again single. Perhaps now she might get her friend back. Perhaps finally they might become more than friends.
What had confused and angered and hurt was the fact that they had never really been. B'Elanna had told her, and this had come from Chakotay himself, that while they had dated, it had never been wholly serious for either of them.
After discovering Seven's holoprogram, the hologram of his own image, Chakotay had spoken with Seven. Their discussion had culminated with Chakotay offering to date Seven in order to make her more familiar with 'human dating rituals', as she had termed them. This was, of course, preferable to a holoprogram in that, while Chakotay was hardly an expert, he knew more than her limited fantasy.
And so they had 'dated'. And told no one so as for it to be real and sincere.
Kathryn and Chakotay's friendship had suffered as a result. He had someone else to occupy his time, and so he spent less time in Kathryn's company. Given that before he had spent any spare second he could in her company, this did not mean that they saw nothing of each other; only that the time spent together decreased.
But as Chakotay and Seven's relationship progressed, Kathryn had withdrawn into herself, making excuses not to meet him for dinner. And then as he spent still less time with her as a result of her protestations, she felt even more alone and dejected that she pushed him away further still. She was angry with him for not seeing through her excuses and staying regardless, and angry with herself for pushing him away.
It hurt her to see them together. To see him off duty and know that he had moved on while her heart still ached and loved him more than ever.
She felt as if she had been tossed aside. She tried to tell herself that he had a life too, and that he couldn't wait for her forever, and that he was allowed to spend time with other people. But the abrupt way in which it had happened, when only a week before he had been so intense and so sincere and so close, had hurt her.
She had been so very, very close to surrendering to him, to the feelings she tried to deny.
And then they had finally returned home. Not seeing Chakotay every day on the bridge, in morning briefings, in her ready room when he handed her reports, Kathryn had felt his absence still more. They passed in corridors, and she'd seen him at Starfleet Headquarters often enough, but it just wasn't the same. She was pleased when the entire Voyager crew had been housed in apartments near to Starfleet Headquarters; simple but adequate rooms, only temporary accommodation while the necessary interviews, hearings and trials were conducted. This close accommodation meant that she saw him still.
She had been most intrigued at the time that Seven and Chakotay had separate apartments. It made sense now.
Kathryn felt hurt that he hadn't told her that it was all a pretence. When she had made her excuses and pushed him away, if he had but told her. Their friendship would not have suffered for it; she would not have felt so very alone. Did he not trust her enough to tell her? Was her friendship worth that little to him?
Deep in her heart, there was a small flicker of hope that perhaps he did love her still.
That he wanted her friendship was not in question; despite her questionings of its worth to him, she knew, deep down that he treasured it. He was the one who made the overtures of friendship; it was she who pushed him away. He only relented, and let her increase the distance between them because he didn't want to pressure her and lose her even more.
She knew that he would come to her now, come and find her and try to explain himself, and offer that friendship once more. And she was determined to wait for him. Determined not to run to his apartment, pound on his door until she was admitted and then throw herself at him. He would come to her, and she would be cool and calm and collected.
The sound of her door chime echoing through the stillness of her apartment startled her from her musings.
Somehow she knew it would be him.
She uncurled herself and rose to her feet, placing her now empty mug on the low coffee table, and then proceeded to the door. Halfway there, it chimed again.
She smoothed down her jumper and shirt over her stomach and then smoothed her trousers over the tops of her thighs. With that she opened the door.
Sure enough, there he stood. Tall, and since she was without her Power Boots - his term - she was at a definite height disadvantage; his face as darkly handsome as always. His hair showing signs of grey here and there; his tattoo dark, crisp lines against his tanned skin; his eyes both expressive and masked all at once, his lips full and tempting.
He looked uncertain.
She stepped back, letting him know that he was welcome to enter. Stepping across the threshold, he walked past her so that she could close the door. She turned to see him hovering in the living area.
"Can I get you a drink?" she asked, finally breaking the silence.
Chakotay shook his head. "No, thank you."
Kathryn reclaimed her former seat, one leg curled beneath her, the other pulled up to her chest, her arms linked loosely around it just below the knee.
Chakotay sank down into the second armchair, his eyes never leaving her.
"Have you heard?" Now he averted his gaze.
Kathryn nodded, she wasn't going to make this easy for him; she was still hurting.
Kathryn's heart soared but her expression, through some Herculean effort on her part, remained unchanged.
"I know now that what I did was stupid. The way that I did it. In trying to help a friend I ended up ignoring another friend. My best friend, my closest friend. And I all but lost that friendship through my own sheer stupidity. I know that I hurt you.
"I miss you, Kathryn. And I apologise for hurting you and ignoring you."
During his speech, Kathryn's expression had gradually softened, eventually offering him a brilliant smile.
"Gods, I've missed your smile, Kathryn. Does that mean that smile mean that you might be entertaining the idea of forgiving me for being so awful to you?"
"To be honest, I think I'd already forgiven you," she told him. "Isn't that what friends do?" She paused, letting the full import of her words register. "But it's nice to hear an apology all the same."
He smiled at her then, relief flooding his features.
"And I'm sorry for pushing you away," she continued.
"That was understandable given my behaviour, Kathryn. There's nothing to forgive. I was wrong. I should have told you."
"You probably should have, yes."
They sat for a few moments simply smiling at each other, staring at each other; both enjoying the company and friendship of the other once more.
And there it was in his eyes. She could see it. Love. Love for her, flickering in the brown depths of his eyes.
Cool, calm and collected was rejected as an altogether bad plan.
"You really should have told me," she repeated.
"I should have, yes." His brow creased for a moment as he became aware of a deeper meaning to her statement. "Why?"
"Because," she said, rising from her seat and coming to stand in front of him, "Then I could have done this." She placed her hands on his arms where they rested on the arms of the chair and bent down to press her lips to his.
Thoroughly shocked, with a healthy dose of confusion thrown into the mix, Chakotay's eyes widened at the first soft pressure of her lips against his own, before his eyelids fluttered closed and he surrendered completely to the feeling of Kathryn kissing him at last.
He responded with enthusiasm to her lead, opening his mouth under hers and drawing her tongue into his mouth. His body was on fire, tendrils of heat extending throughout his entire being, erupting into flames at every point where she was touching him. It felt like heaven; her kiss a balm to his weary spirit like hot water to battered muscles; like the warmth of sunshine beating down from high above. Like a symphony, a beautiful rainbow, every colour existing in an infinitesimal moment and creating a beautiful, complex melody.
He tried to release his arms from under her hands, wanting to touch her, needing to touch her, to hold her closer to him, feel her body next to his. He felt the pressure of her lips lessen as she pulled away from him, her eyes searching his, but her hands stayed firm. He tried again to free his arms, the movement more of a suggestion than a fight, but she did not relent.
"If I move, I'll fall," she said by way of explanation.
"I don't have a problem with that." He smiled at her, a full dimpled smile.
Kathryn's lips quirked up into her trademark half smile. "I'm sure you wouldn't." She didn't sound averse to the idea herself, but still she stood.
Chakotay, now able to move his arms, leaned forward and took her hands in his, pulling her towards him. She took a step forward, standing in between his legs.
She looked down at him. "We need to talk about this."
Chakotay sighed, knowing that talking was inevitable, but all the while wanting to do something quite different. He had known before he had even set foot in her apartment that, if by some miracle he should get this far, she would want to talk and discuss and take things slowly; yet another test for his patience.
"But that can wait," Kathryn continued. "I think it's bedtime." Her tone was more than suggestive.
His eyes were wide as saucers, his jaw hung open and his entire countenance spoke of great confusion. Kathryn only smiled at him, winked and then she dropped his hands and stepped back, before walking past him towards her bedroom. Chakotay watched her go, his eyes not leaving her for a second. Knowing that she had his full attention, she pulled her jumper up and over her head before disappearing from sight.
Chakotay's brain seemed to have ceased to function. He must have misunderstood somehow. For, despite her simple words suggesting that she was tired and she retiring to bed, her tone and her actions definitely implied that he was to follow her, and that sleeping wasn't quite what was planned. That didn't leave a whole lot of margin for error. But, he rationalised, this was Kathryn. Kathryn was complex and confusing. Kathryn had spent seven years insisting that they didn't step beyond the bounds of friendship.
He pushed himself up from the chair, intending to ask her exactly what she meant. He didn't want to misunderstand her meaning and do something to offend her and that he'd later regret.
He poked his head around the door to Kathryn's bedroom, feeling, despite what she seemed to be implying, that he was trespassing somewhere he shouldn't be.
He looked around briefly - it was simply decorated, but comfortable, and very Kathryn. His eyes were drawn to where she stood in front of her dressing table. Kathryn had allowed her hair to grow out since they had returned to Earth two months ago, and she had pulled it back into a somewhat messy bun to keep it back off her face. She had fixed it simply to keep it out of her eyes, no thought had gone into the movements, it had been done almost unconsciously; to Chakotay, it was temptation given form. Her hair begged to be touched, to be released from its constraints.
And then she did just that, reaching up behind her to tug at the hair tie, her hair cascading down her back, reaching to the middle of her shoulder blades. She dropped the hair tie on the dressing table in front of her and reached up behind her neck to release the clasp on her necklace. She knew he was standing there. She could feel his presence. It also helped that she could see his reflection in the mirror in front of her.
As she removed the necklace and placed it alongside her hair tie, she turned to face him, eyebrows raised in question.
He still looked confused.
At this point, Chakotay realised that he had been staring and blinked to refocus his eyes. Her countenance told him that she was waiting for him to speak and he suddenly remember what he had intended to say.
"I...." he stopped and tried again. "Do you really...." Again he paused, forcing his mouth not to run away with him but to speak after consulting his brain. "I should go and get my pyjamas," he said finally. Evidently, his brain was as confused and shocked as he was since he still did not verbalise the intended question.
Kathryn amusement was clear on her face, her lips curling up into a wide grin, her eyes sparkling with mirth. "I don't think you'll be needing them," she managed, her voice betraying the fact that she was trying not to laugh.
His eyes widened even more, if it was possible, but he kept on as if she hadn't spoken. "And a toothbrush." As soon as the words left his lips he realised how stupid he sounded.
"I have one of those here," Kathryn still sounded very much amused.
She crossed the room to where he stood, placed a soft kiss on one cheek, and then slid past him, pressing far closer to his body than was necessary, and to her front door, where she locked the manual lock and activated her personal security lock.
Chakotay, watching her progress across the room, admiring her figure, the way she moved, the way her calf muscles contracted and relaxed. They subtle motion of her hair and the highlights picked out by the overhead lights. And then the precise, yet graceful movements of her hands as she turned the lock and keyed in the security code.
"So I'm a prisoner now?" He found his voice once more.
"Not at all." She was walking back towards him.
"You locked the door."
"And you are perfectly able to unlock it." The security code, while unknown to Chakotay, prevented others entering unbidden rather than preventing those inside from leaving. She was standing in front of him now. "You are free to go, if you wish."
Chakotay stepped to one side, and for one horrible moment she thought he was going to do just that, but instead he moved back over to one of the armchairs and sat down.
Kathryn looked at him curiously, but he only stared back at her. She began to unbutton her shirt, then she simply let it slip from her shoulders to fall in a heap on the floor, before disappearing back into the bedroom.
A moment later she appeared once more in the doorway. He was still sitting in the armchair, leaning forwards with his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands, staring at the floor between his feet.
"Chakotay?" she called to get his attention.
He turned to find her leaning casually against the doorframe, now wearing only a bra and panties.
"What do I have to do to make it any more obvious to you?" Kathryn asked, beginning to sound exasperated.
"Oh, you've made it obvious," Chakotay returned, his expression still startled, but lucidity was beginning to take a hold. "I'm just trying to take it in and convince myself I'm not dreaming."
"You're not dreaming." Her voice was husky. She straightened. "You can take it in tomorrow. Now get in here and make love to me."