Kathryn Janeway heaved a huge sigh of relief as she entered her quarters, dropping her bags by the door and then sinking down into an armchair - she didn't even have the energy to get a cup of coffee. It was late, very late; and she was tired, very tired.
She had just returned from a five-day away mission to conduct trade negotiations with a nearby planet, Cirella4. The Cirellians did not allow large ships within quarter of a light-year of their system, apart from their own, and so the entire quarter light-year radius was surrounded by a complex series of outposts and a sophisticated defence network.
Voyager had been forced to wait outside of the perimeter while the Delta Flyer gained permission to enter and visited the Cirellian home planet. Inside the perimeter there was a Warp 4 speed limit; forced to travel at such a slow speed it had taken Kathryn and her team - made up of Neelix, Harry Kim and Ensign Jaylia Halan - close to 22 hours to traverse the distance.
The first 2 hours had been the worst, for Kathryn at least. Neelix had been extra bubbly, and determined to cheer people up. Only when they started out they didn't need cheering up. They weren't feeling too bad, they weren't feeling cramped, and weren't beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic, and they didn't mind the company of the other members of the away team, and they weren't suppressing screams of frustration, or getting irritated at the smallest, stupidest little things. Even so Neelix had tried to lift spirits, and ended up annoying everyone, unintentionally quickening the onset of cabin fever.
Added to that, Jaylia was a little nervous. She knew Neelix well, everyone did. She knew Harry quite well - although he was a senior officer, and she wasn't sure how to relate to her friend in the situation she was in, since he was a friend, but also a superior, and the captain was there, but there were only four of them. She'd never been in this position before - her thoughts were confused and conflicting.
She didn't know Kathryn all that well at all. At the beginning of the journey home, Kathryn had interacted with the crew a lot, spent a lot of downtime socialising with them in big groups and in small groups, but as she had lost more and more of them, and as she herself had become more stressed, she had isolated herself. As a result, the crew had seen very little of Kathryn the woman who liked to laugh and joke and have fun; they had seen very little of Kathryn the Captain as well, for that matter.
Now Jaylia was faced with interacting with the Captain, in a very small group of people, who knew the Captain better than she did - which hardly helped. While Kathryn had been perfectly happy to kick back and relax, catching up on reports, reading and listening to music, all three of her companions had been sitting stiffly and properly, unsure as to how react around her. Neelix was the first to relax, then Harry, used to his Captain's behaviour after 7 years on the bridge, but it took Jaylia a while. Her anxiety and stiffness set Kathryn on edge and made her feel tenser.
They had not been gone from Voyager for five minutes before Kathryn missed Chakotay's presence by her side. She wished that she had caved to his requests - almost pleading, if she was honest - to go with her. He always knew just what to do or say to make her smile and laugh, and to make her feel relaxed, and to calm her down. He would have been the perfect mediator, finding just the right way to tell Jaylia to relax, and Neelix to calm down and stop fussing everyone without making anyone feel hurt or uncomfortable.
The ease and naturalness of their conversation would have helped both Kathryn relax, and it would have made life easier for the rest of the away team too; and if all else failed he could have given her a massage. Good god, she needed a massage right now. To feel his hands, warm and steady on her shoulders, massaging the worries and stresses away, easing the tense knots there. When her hair got in his way, he'd sweep it up, caressing it as a Ferengi would gold-pressed-latinum; and then when he realised that she realised that he was acting on his obsession with her hair he would pin it up, and then continue to massage her weary shoulders. She sighed as she imagined the scenario unfolding in her mind. He had only ever massaged her shoulders once, that time on New Earth after the storm, but in her mind he had done so many times since, and each time it was lot more than an innocent massage. Quite often she found the fantasy alone helped her to relax.
She had missed him like crazy. Quite a few times she had turned to share a joke with him, a secret smile, a laugh, and then realised that he wasn't there. She had insisted the he stay behind and take care of Voyager and that she could manage alone. Damn her stubbornness anyway. She could manage alone, but she could cope so much better with him there to support her, guide her, advise her. The five days had not been good, and she had missed Chakotay a lot more than she would care to admit to, even to herself.
"Chakotay to Janeway," came a voice over the comm system, rousing her from her sleepy contemplations. Kathryn checked her chronometer. 5 minutes since she had returned to her quarters - not bad. It was also very late, or very early depending on how you chose to view the hour, and she wondered just why Chakotay was up and awake and calling her. It wasn't that she wasn't pleased to hear from him: on the contrary, she was incredibly happy to hear his voice; but by all rights he should have been in bed, asleep.
Tuvok had the night watch, and when Kathryn had checked in she had been told that 'The Commander wished to speak with her as soon as possible'. Loosely translated, Chakotay had left orders with Tuvok to tell Kathryn to call him as soon as she got back, regardless of the time. Kathryn thanked Tuvok for relaying the message, and told him that she would speak with the Commander tomorrow.
"Janeway here," she responded sleepily, summoning up the energy to move her hand all the way to her commbadge to activate it.
"Are you asleep, Kathryn?" he asked her.
Damn, but it was good to hear his voice again. All of their conversations while she had been away had been hasty at best, a brief summary of key events with no time for a social chat, and most had not been private anyway. It had been five days since she had really spoken to Chakotay. Five days since she had heard him speak her name with such love and tenderness, despite his attempts to hide it. Five days since she had heard the smile in his voice as she teased him and when she said or did something that amused him.
Realising that Chakotay had asked her a question and was expecting an answer, she spoke. "Almost."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have disturbed you. Goodnight."
"Kathryn, you've had a hectic, stressful few days. You need sleep. I shouldn't have disturbed you; I should have known you'd be in bed already. I shouldn't have called. I'm sorry." Though left unsaid, Kathryn knew the real reason why he had called, despite his obvious arguments against. He had wanted to hear her voice, make sure that she really was back safely. It touched her deeply, and her face lit up in a broad, if tired, smile.
"I'm not in bed, Chakotay."
"You're not?" He sounded confused.
"No. I collapsed in an armchair the moment I got in. I'm glad you called or I would have fallen asleep right here in the chair; and while it's perfectly comfortable for sitting in, it's hell to sleep in." She realised then that that was not the only reason she was glad he had called, it was only a minor factor. Like him, she had wanted to hear his voice. Now that he was speaking to her she was reluctant to close the comm link.
"Sounds like you speak from experience."
She heard him chuckle and she could imagine the smile and dimples that accompanied the pleasant, happy sound.
"Why are you still awake? It's 2.30 in the morning. Tuvok's on bridge duty and I told him not to wake anyone - regardless of what orders and threats he had been given by certain people to notify them the minute I returned."
"Second, Kathryn. The second you returned."
"I stand corrected."
"I thought you were sitting."
"Besides, he didn't."
"I suspected that you might anticipate me - you know me far too well, Kathryn - so I rigged an alarm to notify me when you entered your quarters."
Devious bastard! "It would also seem that you also know me far too well, Chakotay."
"We're even then."
Kathryn laughed. "I suppose we are."
With considerable effort, Kathryn heaved her weary body out of the chair and padded through to the bathroom and turned on the taps. The Cirellians had provided adequate accommodations, but the showering facilities had been somewhat lacking, and Kathryn had barely had the time to eat and sleep, let alone bath or shower at her leisure. She usually took a shower every morning, unless she had bathed the evening before - something she did as often as she was able, but not as often as she would have liked.
Hot, grimy and tense, Kathryn longed for a long, hot, bubbly bath with plentiful amounts of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Once she had squirted liberal amounts of bubble bath into the filling tub, she wandered back through to her bedroom and sank with very little grace onto the edge of the bed. She bent over and tugged off her boots and socks, wiggling her freed toes with delight.
"Kathryn?" Came a voice over the comm system.
"Are you there?"
"No, I left an hour ago," Kathryn replied as she peeled off her jacket. She couldn't resist.
"Not funny, Kathryn."
"I thought it was."
"You would. I was checking that you hadn't fallen asleep on me."
"How could I fall asleep on you? I'm here, you're there."
"You're not here. I'm here. You're there."
Kathryn rolled her eyes, even though Chakotay couldn't see. "Anyway, I'm still awake." Her voice was slightly muffled as she pulled her jumper off over her head.
"Still not asleep." Again, her voice was muffled as her tank top was removed.
"Are you ok?" He sounded concerned.
"I'm fine. Why?"
"Your voice sounded odd - it wasn't clear, and it sounded almost distant."
Comprehension dawned. "Oh! I was just taking off my jumper." Kathryn could imagine Chakotay's head figuring it out. If she was taking off her jumper then that mean that her jacket was already off, so she was left only wearing her tank top.
"Oh." Did his voice sound a little higher than usual?
Kathryn was feeling brave. "And then my tank top." More calculation on Chakotay's part. That would leave her only in a bra.
"Oh, right. That explains it then." Oh yeah - his voice had definitely gone up an octave.
Kathryn giggled a very un-Captain like giggle and unbuttoned her pants. "And now, I'm taking off my pants," she told him, pushing them over her hips and then down her thighs until they fell in a heap on the floor, almost as if he were in the room watching her. She stepped out of them.
She heard Chakotay's breath quicken and felt immediately guilty. It wasn't fair to tease him like that, to flaunt so blatantly what he couldn't have. Whenever one of them went on a long away mission they flirted more than usual for a good few days afterwards. It was almost like a natural reaction to their prolonged separation; as if they had to make up for the flirting they had missed during their division.
They both enjoyed the flirtatious banter - it was the closest they came to crossing the line they so carefully walked. However, at the same time it served as a reminder of the fact that this was all it would ever be: two friends bantering back and forth, constrained by parameters and protocols - not two lovers as they both would rather it could be.
"Well," Chakotay said finally. "I'll let you get to bed now."
"No," Kathryn blurted out.
"Wait. I'm not going to bed yet. I really need a bath."
"Kathryn, you need sleep."
Kathryn shook her head; a futile gesture since Chakotay couldn't see it. "No, I've been promising myself a long hot bath since I left."
"But now, Kathryn?"
"I feel all dirty and horrible. I won't be able to sleep if I don't feel clean. Well," she amended, "I will sleep, but I'd rather have a bath first."
Chakotay laughed. "You are too much sometimes, Kathryn, you know that?"
Kathryn simply laughed in reply as she returned to her bath, shedding her bra and panties as she went, and turned the water off.
"Have a nice bath, Kathryn."
"I will do."
"Goodnight?" He was slow at times, Kathryn mused.
"Yes, generally that is what is said when you bid someone goodnight at the end of a conversation and wish to convey a desire that they have a pleasant evening and sleep well. I suppose 'good morning' might be more appropriate now though."
"I know what goodnight means, Chakotay," Kathryn said, dipping a cautious toe into the water.
"Why did you ask then?"
Kathryn lowered her leg into the bath, followed by the other and then she sank down into the hot water with a small mew of pleasure. "Oh this is good!" She was almost purring.
"Ok, Kathryn, I really am going this time. Goodni-"
"Because you're in the bath," Chakotay stated simply as if it were answer enough.
Kathryn wasn't satisfied. "But why?"
"Kathryn...." His voice took on a warning tone.
"Don't even start. I was plagued by Naomi yesterday; I swear she kept asking 'why?' for a full 10 minutes."
"Kathryn!" Chakotay tried to sound annoyed but the laugh escaped his lips regardless, causing Kathryn to laugh also. The water around her was lapping at the sides of the tub as her body shook as she laughed.
"I'm sorry," she apologised, amusement still evident in her voice, yet her apology sounded sincere. "I was merely intrigued as to your," she yawned a big yawn and went on. "As to your reasoning behind your answer."
"What's to explain? You're in the bath, Kathryn. If I was any decent sort of person I would have ended this conversation five minutes ago."
"You talked to me on New Earth. When I went out for a bath you'd sit and talk to me then. How is this any different?"
"We're not on New Earth anymore, Kathryn. Things have changed since then, and the situation is different now."
Kathryn knew what he meant, and she wasn't sure that now was the best time to reminisce about the 'good old days'. "Ok, I understand your reasoning," she said, steering the conversation back onto its original track. "I just don't agree with it."
"Well, I don't seem to be having much success with my line of reasoning - and I've lost count of how many times I've said goodbye to you already, so you win." She could hear the smile in his voice, and could tell by his tone that he was touched that she was comfortable talking to him while she bathed. Just like old times....
"Good," Kathryn declared. "I always win." She yawned again.
"You don't seem to be winning the fight against sleep."
"Oh shush, you! In fact, no, don't shush. Keep talking to me, and then I'll stay awake and won't go under. But be nice," she said, thus providing Chakotay with an important excuse to talk to her, so she would be ensured of continuing conversation.
Chakotay laughed. "Ok, Kathryn."
There was a pause and Kathryn remembered what Chakotay had said earlier. "What do you mean if you were 'any decent sort of person'? You are a very decent person, Chakotay. The kindest, sweetest - no, not sweet. Men aren't sweet. That's an insult. Last time I called a man sweet there was hell to pay."
Chakotay interrupted before she could go any further. "Sweet works fine, Kathryn."
She smiled. "Ok then, you are the kindest, sweetest, most trustworthy, most honourable and most decent person that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. So don't you go thinking otherwise!"
"Thank you, Kathryn. That means a lot coming from you; more than you'll ever know."
Kathryn smiled. "I have a fair idea."
There was another pause and so Kathryn took advantage of the opportunity to duck down under the water and wet her hair. "So I'm in the bath, what are you doing right now, Chakotay?" Kathryn asked, massaging shampoo into her hair.
"I'm half-sitting and half-lying on my couch."
"I thought you'd be lying in bed."
"When my alarm went off I got up and went to get a glass of water from the living area. I only got as far as the couch on my way back to bed."
Kathryn rinsed out the shampoo from her hair and then sat up again. "I can see it now. You're sitting in the middle of your couch and you've slid down low in the seat, your legs propped up on the coffee table, crossed at the ankles and with an empty glass nearby. Your head is on the back of the couch and your arms are resting across the back of the couch," she told him, whilst massaging in conditioner.
"You really know me far too well, Kathryn."
"I'm right then?"
"Ok, Kathryn, the ultimate test. You said my legs are crossed at the ankles - which leg is over which?"
Kathryn laughed again. "You're nuts, Chakotay."
"Just answer the question."
"Right over left."
"Was that a guess?"
"Would you believe me if I said no?"
"Then, yes, it was a guess. Am I right?"
"I'm good!" She laughed again. "Hold on, just got to rinse the conditioner out of my hair." She ducked under the water and rinsed her hair thoroughly then pushed herself back up again. "All done."
"So, tell me about this away mission of yours," Chakotay prompted her, wanting to know about her time away.
"It was long, boring, long, boring and long."
"And a bit boring too I would imagine," Chakotay teased. Kathryn could picture the dimpled smile that would accompany the jibe.
"But it was successful, wasn't it?"
"Yes, we got much more than we had anticipated."
"It was worth it then."
"Definitely. We were in desperate need of those dilithium crystals and we now have enough to last us for at least two years. It was just that the Cirellians were so pedantic about everything. They had rituals for every little thing - some were so long they should have had bathroom breaks in the middle."
Chakotay laughed. "I'm sure it wasn't that bad, Kathryn."
"You think I'm joking. Even you would have been bored."
"What do you mean 'even I would have been bored'?"
"You have the patience of a saint, Chakotay, and you find that sort of thing interesting. I think even you would have been climbing the walls."
"I wish I hade been there to judge for myself."
"And to laugh at me while I went slowly mad."
"Yes, now that you mention it."
"I'm glad my intense boredom is a source of amusement to you."
"I would have gone, Kathryn."
"I know." There was a pause. "I wish you had been there."
"I missed you too."
"Who said anything about missing you?" Kathryn teased.
"So you didn't miss me then?" Chakotay probed.
"Not for the first five minutes."
"A whole five minutes? I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted."
Kathryn laughed. "So, what did I miss while I was away? Any exciting news?"
"Not much, but I'm probably the wrong person to ask."
"Why is that?"
"I pulled quite a lot of double shifts, there was a lot of requests for a few days off among the crew and there were quite a few offers to cover extra shifts so that people can build up some leave time. I granted as many requests as I could and worked some of the extra shifts myself so I can take some leave at a later date."
"Oh god! You must have a duty shift tomorrow and I'm keeping you up. Now I feel guilty for forcing you to talk to me. Go to bed, get some sleep. I'll meet you for lunch tomor-"
"But you need..."
"Sleep. And I will sleep. You know all the leave I mentioned? Well, I'm taking a day tomorrow so I can sleep in."
Kathryn thought it was more than coincidence that Chakotay was taking a day off the same day she had time off after her long away mission but said nothing. "I still feel guilty for keeping you up."
"Well don't. I like talking to you."
"That's good. I've haven't finished my bath yet, I've only done my hair."
There was an intake of breath but no words followed. The pause dragged on and on; Kathryn waiting for Chakotay to say his piece, Chakotay not wanting to say what he had been about to say and hoping that Kathryn would fill the silence. She did, but not in the way that he had hoped.
"What were you going to say?"
Damn. "It's nothing."
"No, really, what were you going to say?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Why won't you tell me then?"
"It's really not important."
"Chakotay, please?" It was obvious that Kathryn wanted Chakotay to tell her, but at the same time she made it clear that if Chakotay didn't want to say then she wouldn't push him anymore; this was the last time she would ask.
There was another pause until eventually Chakotay spoke. "What are you doing right now? Tell me. Describe it to me."
Kathryn's mouth dropped open in shock. Chakotay had never been so bold before. A part of her, a very small part, was screaming at her to tell Chakotay that he had crossed the line and break the link. Another part, a much larger part, was urging her to continue to play. The larger part won. Kathryn Janeway always gave as good as she got - and he had asked.
Taking Kathryn's silence as a bad sign, Chakotay spoke once more. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked you. You don't have to tell me. You asked, so I told you but I don't expect you to...." he trailed off.
"Well, right now," Kathryn started, "I'm squeezing soap onto my body puff, and working it up into a lather."
Chakotay said nothing so she continued.
"An now I'm running it up my arm from my hand to my shoulder."
"Left. I really don't believe I'm doing this."
"Neither do I, but I'm not complaining." She could hear the smile in his voice.
"I didn't think you would somehow."
"Would what? That I'd believe you were doing it, or that I'd complain."
Chakotay laughed. "You're trying to change the subject, Kathryn," he remarked.
"Is it working?"
"It was, but not anymore. Keep going."
"Keep trying to change the subject?"
"No, keep describing."
"I can't, I'm done now - all clean."
"You are the Queen of changing the subject."
"Yes, you're doing so right now."
"No, I'm not. I changed the subject a while back, now I'm just making sure that it doesn't change back."
"What does it matter if you're done?"
"I guess it doesn't." She braced her arms on the side of the tub and stood. "I'm getting out now anyway."
"Well, if I don't get to hear you describe washing will you describe drying?"
"You wish!" She took a large fluffy white towel from the rail and wrapped it around herself, next taking a smaller towel for her hair.
"I do wish."
"You're very self-assured tonight."
"Am I? Sorry."
"Don't apologise. It's nice to talk to you without you guarding everything you say to me for fear that I'm going to turn and run."
"Is it that obvious?"
There was silence.
"You know, this must be the longest conversation we've ever had over a commline."
"I don't doubt it."
"You really are much more direct tonight, Chakotay. I don't know whether it's the late hour, or the fact that we're speaking over an open commline and not actually in the same room, or a combination of the two."
"It really must be remarkable for you to mention it twice, Kathryn. Is it such a bad thing?"
"It's not bad at all. As I said, it's nice to talk to you without you guarding everything you say."
"I didn't realise it bothered you so much. You should have said."
"It doesn't bother me. I just said it was nice, that's all. It really isn't necessary, you know."
"You know something, Kathryn?"
"You confuse the hell out of me."
"It's nice to know that I'm succeeding."
"I'm not kidding, Kathryn. You confuse me so much, I don't know whether I'm coming or going." His voice turned more serious. "I never know where I stand with you."
"I thought you were sitting on the couch," Kathryn bantered back as he had earlier, trying to buy herself some more time to think before she answered. She knew he wouldn't let her get away with that comment.
He didn't disappoint. "Kathryn, I mean it."
"I know you do, I'm sorry." Long since dry, she sat down on the edge of her bed and began to pick at the quilt cover. "I guess I'm not sure where you stand either. You seem to take two steps forward then take a step back again. To be honest, you confuse me sometimes too."
"At least it works both ways."
"I guess I don't want you to stand anywhere, a gradual progression forwards would be preferable, but it's not that easy."
"These things never are."
"Truer words have never been spoken."
"Let me get this straight, Kathryn. What exactly are you telling me? Because I don't want to misunderstand you and then do something I'll regret."
"By pushing the issue, pushing you into something you're not ready for and causing you to retreat, and distance yourself from me."
Kathryn was about to say that she would never do that to him, but she stopped herself in time. She would do that to him; she had already done so on numerous occasions, and often without Chakotay doing anything to trigger her retreat.
"So, what are you saying, Kathryn?" Chakotay asked again.
"I don't know, Chakotay. I don't know what I'm saying, or what I mean. It's so confusing. I wish I knew exactly what to do and what to say to make it right, and I wish I knew what I wanted, and how to communicate that to you, but I don't." She sounded close to tears, her voice high and shaky, and her breathing shallow.
"We don't have to discuss this now, Kathryn. Why don't you get some sleep, hmm?"
"We don't ever have to discuss this, Chakotay. There'll always be a better time, but we can't keep putting this off forever. I can't keep putting this off forever. Now that we're actually having this conversation, which is long over due, we should see it through."
"Ok." Chakotay drew the sound out, his voice measured and low.
There was silence again, and Chakotay wasn't completely sure that Kathryn hadn't bottled out and closed the commline.
"You still there?" he asked.
"You know, we were doing fine at this conversation until we realised that we were actually having this conversation and decided to keep having this conversation."
"What do you want, Kathryn?"
"I don't know." Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Well, you said you wanted a gradual progression forwards. What did you mean by that?"
"I don't know."
"Then why did you say it?"
"I don't know. I just don't know." She was beginning to sound upset again, and frustrated with her own inability to get things clear in her mind.
Chakotay remained silent, letting her calm down and gather her thoughts together, thinking it through to decide what she wanted to say.
Kathryn shivered and her skin broke out in goose pimples; she realised suddenly that she was still naked. She reached up her bed and felt under one pillow for her nightgown. Her fingers brushed against the soft, silky material and then curled around the fabric in a tight grasp and tugged. The nightgown slid effortlessly from under the pillow and she put it on, grateful for its warmth and softness.
She was now sat in the middle of her bed, once more picking at her quilt. If she held her breath and listened very carefully, she thought she could hear Chakotay breathing, his breath coming slow and even, reassuring her and calming her.
Eventually she spoke again. "I said it because I meant it. I do know what I mean, but it's more of a feeling that something that words can describe. I know how I feel about it, and I know what's right and what's wrong, but I'm not sure if I can verbalise it so that I can explain it to you to help you understand."
"I want to understand, Kathryn."
"I do too." She thumped the downy quilt she was sitting on with one tightly balled fist. "This is just so frustrating!"
"Sssh, Kathryn. Calm down." His voice was soft and warm, and that alone soothed her. He could have been reciting a complete list of Starfleet's protocols and she would have been none the wiser. "Just try your best, Kathryn. There's no rush."
"I don't want our relationship to simply stand still, like it seems to do at times. Our lives are constantly changing, and our relationship should reflect that, but it should move naturally, gradually changing as we change, flowing from step to the next; and constantly moving forwards, instead of all the sidestepping and back-tracking that our relationship seems to suffer. It should be natural, at a pace we both feel comfortable with."
"Kathryn, you have to give me an idea of that pace, here. I can't do that all by myself. I'm perfectly happy to go along with what you want, and if I feel uncomfortable then I'll tell you."
"That's exactly what I don't want." She heard a startled sound from Chakotay, and answered his unasked question. "I don't want to be the one who sets the pace all the time, dictating what we do and when we do it. I can't just say to you, 'Next week after dinner I'll let you kiss my cheek as you leave my quarters, and then after a month, lightly brush my lips,' because it doesn't work like that. Part of the fun of living is not knowing what to expect. It can't be planned like that."
"Kathryn, it wouldn't be like that."
"That's what it feels like sometimes. I may not say it to you directly but it's still there. It's always me who makes the first move - it was only after I asked you to dinner that our weekly dinners became a part of life, and it was only after I turned up in civvies one evening that you have since. It needs to be a gradual progression for both of us, not just for me. Am I making any sense to you at all?"
"I think so."
"It would just be nice sometime not to have to make the decision. You should know by now, Chakotay, that if I don't feel comfortable with something then I wouldn't do it. If you were to take the initiative for once," she told him honestly, "Instead of waiting for me to do it, then I would tell you if I wasn't happy. Chances are I wouldn't mind it anyway, I was ready but I just hadn't plucked up the courage to let you know that yet."
Kathryn was well aware that she was rambling, but she wanted to get her point across. Sit her in a room full of Starfleet admirals to present a report, or foreign ambassadors and leaders to propose trade agreements or a treaty or charter then she was a clear, coherent, logical speaker - confident, persuasive, concise and to the point. Yet when it came to affairs of the heart, Kathryn fell to pieces - her arguments dotted all over the place, her speech stilted, her thoughts a disorganised array of feelings.
"So if you walked in here right now and kissed me senseless," she paused for a second as she considered her response. "Well, I'd probably kiss you right back, but that's not the issue." Chakotay wasn't so sure, he felt that was exactly the issue, but he kept quiet. "I'd do what felt right. If I wasn't comfortable then I'd tell you."
Chakotay countered her honesty with some of his own. "But Kathryn, you wouldn't tell me. You'd push me away and tell me to leave or turn and bolt yourself, and then you'd avoid me for weeks."
"We always make up eventually, Chakotay."
"I know, but I hate it when I do something to make you feel uncomfortable - I miss you so much in those weeks before we settle back to normal again. I'm not sure quite what normal is for us, but you know what I mean."
Truth was, Kathryn bolted when she got scared; she would panic and then run. Each time Chakotay left her, let her go. He wouldn't follow her, or leave her to cool off for a short while then seek her out and force her to confront the issue, and so each time she would come to the conclusion that he had given up on her. Kathryn the woman was far from the confident Kathryn the captain when it came to feelings and relationships. She needed to know that he still felt the same, and his absence made her feel certain that she was too late and that he had moved on. Much as Kathryn wanted to go to Chakotay and make up, and get things back to normal, she found it hard to face him.
Chakotay, likewise, was scared that he had irrevocably harmed his relationship with Kathryn, and ruined any slim chance he had ever had. He didn't want to annoy her anymore, and push her even further away by forcing her to talk about it.
Eventually it was always Chakotay who broke first, offering an apology and smoothing the way for Kathryn to come back to him. He never made her speak of it again, never brought the subject up, and pretended like it didn't happen. This usually occurred after a number of weeks, and their relationship didn't truly recover for a few weeks more.
"I hate it too," Kathryn admitted. "I feel so lonely without you there."
"You can always come and talk to me, you know that."
"I know, and there have been times when I've been half way to your quarters before I turn back. You could always come and talk to me too - whether you leave it 3 hours, 3 days, or 3 weeks the outcome would still be the same. If you came to me quicker I wouldn't be so quick to bolt the next time."
"And if you didn't bolt I would come to you quicker."
"We're quite a pair, aren't we?" Kathryn slid off the bed and padded through to the bathroom to brush her teeth.
"That's one way of putting it, I guess."
Kathryn laughed. "I'm glad we had this conversation."
"Me too. I'm still not quite sure where I stand with you, but I think I understand you a little better."
"Ditto," Kathryn spoke around the toothbrush. "So, what do you plan to do with your day off tomorrow?" she asked him.
"Sleep, sleep and sleep. I won't bother to set an alarm. I was hoping that maybe I could meet you for lunch too," he told her. "You interested?"
"I'll do you a deal, Chakotay."
"I'll meet you for lunch if you'll join me for dinner."
"Oh, Kathryn, I don't know about," he chuckled. "I suppose that could be arranged," he teased her.
"It better be, Mister!"
Kathryn glanced at her chronometer. It was already 0330. "How about 1330 hours?"
"Sounds good to me."
Kathryn finished brushing her teeth and then fixed herself a glass of water for beside her bed; that done, she climbed under the covers and began to run a brush through her hair.
There was a pause as Chakotay considered asking his next question. "Would you really kiss me back if I were to walk in and kiss you right now."
There was a stunned silence for a moment. "Probably. Why? Are you going to try it?"
"I was thinking about it."
"Well, don't let me stop you."
"Is that an invitation?"
"That's up to you."
"And if I think it is?"
"Also up to you."
Her door chime sounded. No prizes for guessing who it was. Kathryn got out of bed and smoothed her nightgown and then ran her fingers through her hair, glad that she had brushed her teeth already.
Kathryn walked to the door and activated the opening mechanism manually. Chakotay was standing there, cautiously, nervously, dressed in loose pajama pants and an equally loose pajama shirt with only one button fastened so that it showed off a lovely amount of smooth, bronzed skin.
There was no awkwardness. They moved towards each other, and in one fluid motion Kathryn's arms were around Chakotay's neck, and his were wrapped around her small waist. Their lips met gently in a tender kiss, their mouths warm and soft, melding together. Chakotay pulled her even closer to him, her body now flush against his, and she threaded her fingers through his short dark hair.
Out of breath, they moved apart slowly, foreheads touching, and their eyes closed, just breathing and feeling.
Eventually Chakotay pulled back and looked briefly into Kathryn's eyes. "Goodnight, Kathryn," he said, planting a soft kiss on her forehead and turning to leave.
Kathryn caught Chakotay's hand and pulled him back to her, a small half-smile on her face. "Told you I wouldn't run," she said quietly, kissing his cheek. "Goodnight, Chakotay," she said, dropping his hand.
With that, Chakotay turned and left her quarters. Kathryn's hand came up to touch her forehead, then her lips. Her smile widened as she walked back through to her bedroom and got back into bed. She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. For the first time in a long time she found that she was looking forward to tomorrow.
A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.