By Stacy LaBounty
[ Reviews - 9]


Whistling as he walked, Commander Chakotay happily made his way back to his quarters. He had just come from Holodeck 1, where he had been spending the better part of the last two or three weeks. Every off-duty second that he had was spent on his new program. He had to get it just right. It had to be perfect for her. He wanted to let her know what she really meant to him. Sure, they were the best of friends, and he greatly appreciated that friendship, but he wanted more. He needed more. He was totally and completely in love with her. And he planned on telling her as soon as he was finished with his program. He only hoped that she would reciprocate his feelings, but with her, it was more of a matter of could she, rather than would she. He knew how she felt about their situation. She would never give up trying to get her ship and crew home. He knew she still felt that she was to blame for their predicament. She had told him once in passing, that as the Captain of a Starship, a relationship was a luxury that she could not afford. He only hoped that he could change her mind before it was too late for either of them.

Kathryn walked into the mess hall and smiled as she saw Chakotay sitting at their regular table by the viewport. She stopped at the counter to see if Neelix had anything edible to offer. As usual, there was a large assortment of --- Kathryn wasn’t really sure what most of it was, but it was rather colorful. She picked out a few things that looked safe and made her way to their table.

The command team had planned on meeting in the mess hall to discuss ship’s business before they began their duty shifts. Actually, Chakotay had charmed Kathryn into agreeing to meet him here. At least that way he could be sure she ate something more substantial than coffee. He told himself that he was only doing his duty as First Officer, but for him his duty to her went deeper. His feelings for her went deeper that those of a First Officer for his Captain.

Chakotay smiled as he saw Kathryn walking towards him. "Hello, Captain." he greeted her warmly.

"Hello yourself, Commander." Kathryn smiled back as she took a seat across from him.

They discussed crew rotations, ship’s systems, their ever present problems of dwindling supplies, and Chakotay even dared to bring up the idea of shore leave at the next M-class planet they encountered. After their business was taken care of, Chakotay decided now was the time to invite her to see his new program on the Holodeck. He had waited seven years for this, he only hoped that Kathryn was as ready as he was to take that next step in their relationship.

"I hope you don’t have any plans for tonight." Chakotay told her, smiling a little mischievously. "I’ve been working on a new Holodeck program and I would like you to check it out for me. Tell me what you think."

"I’d be delighted to look at it for you, Commander." Kathryn cheerfully replied, then asked, "What kind of program is it?"

"Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, now won’t you?" he insisted. "But I will tell you this, shoes are optional." Chakotay laughed, gracing her with the dimpled smile that always melted her heart.

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed, "What? Can’t you give me another hint? Just one little hint." she pleaded. "How am I supposed to go all day wondering? I won’t be able to keep my mind on my job."

Chakotay simply sat back in his chair, shaking his head and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Kathryn tried again, "That’s not really fair, Commander. Is that anyway to treat your commanding officer? I don’t think so. So come on, tell me."

"Just like a little kid, aren’t you?" Chakotay tried not to laugh at her futile interrogation attempts. "And trying to wheedle it out of me with threats won’t work either. Don’t forget, I used to be a Maquis, so I know how to deal with all your Starfleet tricks." he teasingly reminded her.

"You are a cruel man, Commander." she chuckled.

"You won’t think so after tonight." he told her, his eyes twinkling. "So, is it a date?" he asked, hoping that she wouldn’t notice his slip of the tongue, and at the same time, screaming to himself, "You Idiot! Why did you have to call it a date? What were you thinking? Do you want to scare her off?"

Kathryn pondered his invitation for a moment, noting his use of the word ‘date’. "Oh, go ahead, Kathryn. It’s just an innocent evening with your First Officer and best friend. Nothing more. It’s not like you haven’t spent the evening together before." she told herself, all the while trying hard to make herself believe it.

Ever since New Earth, Kathryn had been aware of Chakotay’s feelings for her. And though he had never done anything to push her or make her feel uncomfortable, she knew that he wanted more from their relationship. And if she were being truly honest with herself, she wanted more from their relationship. If only they had met under different circumstances, or had they still been in the Alpha Quadrant, there would be no problem starting a relationship with this man. He was the kindest, most gentle man she had ever met. She trusted him with her life. And besides that he was very good looking. Tall, dark, and handsome; those words hardly came close to doing justice to this man. Almost from the moment he first beamed aboard Voyager, Kathryn felt the attraction. Every time he entered the room, her heart seemed to speed up a bit. She was a Starfleet Captain, but she wasn’t dead. And she’d have to be blind not to see the effect he had on all the other female crewmembers, as well. But since she was the Captain, and since they were stranded thousands of light years from home, she kept telling herself that it would not be a good idea to get involved with her First Officer. Protocol would not allow it. She could not allow it. She could not allow herself a relationship when she had to concentrate on getting her ship and crew home. That had to be her first priority. The only problem was that her heart did not always listen to Protocol.

"Well, I guess there’s nothing really pressing right now. At least nothing too important that I can’t always just assign to my First Officer later." she told him with a smug grin.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chakotay smiled at her, "Then I’ll meet you at your quarters after your shift? I’ll even bring something to eat before we go to the Holodeck. How about 2000 hours?"

"I’ll be waiting." Kathryn replied. "That is barring any hostile aliens trying to take over Voyager between now and dinner time." she added as they both got up to take their trays to the recycler.

Chakotay unleashed both dimples as he smiled at her, "Don’t worry about a thing, Captain. I’ll just tell them that I have a very important evening planned for tonight, so any takeover attempts will have to be rescheduled."

Kathryn playfully swatted at his arm as they exited the Mess hall and headed for the bridge.

Chakotay took the time he had before he was expected to meet Kathryn to finalize his plans for their evening together. He had to check over his program just one more time to make sure it was running smoothly. By the time he got back to his quarters, his palms were sweating and his heart was going at least warp 9. While replicating their dinner, he thought to himself, "I can’t believe I’m actually nervous. This is Kathryn. It’s not like we’ve just met or anything. She’s my best friend." he thought out loud. "Yes, but therein lies the problem. She is my best friend. What happens tonight could very well end all that. She may not be ready to let me in. To love her the way I know she wants me to." Then another little voice in Chakotay’s head decided to speak up, "Come on, Old Man, you have to stop thinking like that. Don’t give up now. You’ve been waiting too long and you’ve worked too hard to start doubting yourself now."

At precisely 1950 hours, Chakotay exited his quarters and headed next door to Kathryn’s. After changing clothes countless times, he had decided on blue khakis, and a navy blue zippered sweatshirt over a beige tank top. Wiping his palms on his trousers, he rang her chime and straightened his clothes for the hundredth time that night. He heard her call for him to enter and the doors whooshed open, allowing him entrance.

"I’m just about ready, Chakotay." she called from her bedroom. "Help yourself to some tea from the replicator." she offered.

Placing their dinner on her table, Chakotay ordered his tea and then busied himself while he waited for her by looking at various pictures sitting on some shelves on the wall. His eyes fell on the picture of Kathryn and her mother, Gretchen Janeway. Chakotay closed his eyes and silently sent thanks to a woman he’d never met for giving him the incredible opportunity to know Kathryn.

"Well, how’d I do? Will this do for our little outing tonight?" Kathryn asked him while checking herself in the mirror that was hanging in her living room. She then noticed that he had not answered her and looked up to find him staring at her. "What?" she asked almost shyly, as a deep red blush spread over her from his intense scrutiny.

Chakotay couldn’t stop staring at the sight before him. Kathryn was wearing a light blue sleeveless cotton sundress that accentuated the color of her eyes. He noticed her hair was pulled back and clasped in the barrette that he had carved and given her as a symbol of their friendship. A pair of matching blue sandals completed her ensemble.

Shaking himself out of his daydreams, Chakotay stuttered, "I was just thinking that maybe you should wear that on the bridge sometime. Especially if we come across those hostile aliens you were worrying about."

"I don’t think this is exactly Starfleet issue, Chakotay." Kathryn reminded him.

"I can see that." Chakotay says, still admiring her. "They will be so enchanted by your beauty that they won’t even be able to think straight, let alone fire any weapons at us."

If she could have turned a brighter shade of red, Kathryn just did, "Oh, now I think you’re just trying to get in good with the Captain." she teased.

Chakotay chuckled, "Well, that, too." he admitted shyly, then becoming serious again, he added, "But you do look beautiful, Kathryn. I really mean it."

Kathryn smiled warmly at him, "Well, thank you for the compliment, Chakotay. You’re looking very nice tonight also." Then she added slyly, "What kind of program did you say we were going to be looking at?"

"I didn’t." he replied simply, smiling at the way her eyes lit up in suspense. Chakotay knew how much Kathryn loved surprises, that is, as long as she knew what they were in advance. He recalled their time on New Earth, when he had been making the bathtub for her. She had tried to wheedle the information out of him then, too. "Besides, I plan on feeding you properly before we go anywhere. Knowing you like I do, I am almost positive you didn’t take a break today. So, sit, eat. I replicated it myself." Chakotay made a grand bowing gesture then pulled out her chair for her.

"Always taking care of me, aren’t you?" she smiled at him, taking her seat.

"Just doing my job, ma’am." he responded graciously.

"Well, then let me commend you on going above and beyond the call of duty." Kathryn often complained about the way Chakotay was forever looking out for her, claiming she could take care of herself just fine. But secretly, just knowing that he was there and that he cared for her the way he did, made each day in the Delta Quadrant that much easier for Kathryn to deal with. She was beginning to realize that there was no way she would have made it as far as she did without him by her side, supporting her.

"As always, my pleasure. Now eat up, we have a big night ahead of us."

Standing in front of the Holodeck doors, Chakotay ordered the computer, "Activate program Chakotay Beta 5."

‘Program activated.’ responded the metallic voice of the computer. The doors whooshed open and Chakotay ushered Kathryn inside.

responded the metallic voice of the computer. The doors open and Chakotay ushered Kathryn inside.

The Holodeck had been transformed into a beautiful oceanfront scene. The sun was just getting ready to set over a dazzling turquoise expanse of rippling waves crashing thunderously onto the beach. The breeze wafting in was tinged with just the slightest hint of saltwater.

Chakotay and Kathryn walked along the water’s edge appreciating the changing colors of the sun setting in the sky, and simply enjoying each other’s company. Just as Kathryn was about to tell Chakotay that she was getting cold from the breeze, he reached out to gently clasp her hand within his. Every instinct in her was telling her she should pull her hand away, but his touch seemed to take the chill out of the night air, infusing her with his warmth. So, deciding to just enjoy the sensation, she kept her hand right where it was. After all, it was only for one night. Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow she could go back to being the Captain.

The sun had completely disappeared from the sky to be replaced by an intensely brilliant moon. Chakotay released her hand and gently turned her to look out at the water, "Tell me what you see." he instructed softly.

"Oh, its just lovely!" she exclaimed. "It looks like a thousand diamonds sparkling in the moonlight. Where did you find this program, Chakotay? I’ve never seen this in any of our Holodeck databases before."

"That’s because it’s new. I just finished programming it yesterday." he replied proudly.

"Whatever gave you the idea?" she asked, still staring out at the lovely expanse of deep blue water twinkling in the glow of the full moon hanging in a cloudless sky.

Chakotay gently turned Kathryn back around to face him and then cupped her face in his hands, "It’s what I see every time I look into your eyes." he almost whispered.

Kathryn suddenly couldn’t find her voice. She was overwhelmed by the love she saw in Chakotay’s eyes. He made this program just for her. Everything he did lately, it seemed, was just for her. She slowly exhaled the breath she didn’t even know she had been holding, "Oh, Chakotay. It’s so beautiful."

"And so are you, Kathryn." he breathed in a voice so soft she barely heard it.

They stared into each other’s eye for an eternity before either was willing to break the mood.

Kathryn spoke first, "I can’t believe you did this for me. I don’t know what to say."

"Don’t say anything. Just enjoy it. I only want you to be happy, Kathryn."

Trying to lighten the seriousness of the mood, Kathryn smiled at him and brought her hands up to grasp his wrists, "And you always know just how to do that, don’t you. You always seem to know just what it takes. I haven’t walked on a beach in years. I’ve forgotten how nice it is. Thank you, Chakotay. I really am enjoying myself."

"I’m glad. But I have to be honest with you. I didn’t bring you here just to show you my new program. I also have something I want to tell you." he confessed.

Kathryn could tell by the look in his eyes that things were about to get serious. She had hoped that they could just spend the evening together without getting too intense. She knew how he felt about her, but she had hoped that his intentions in asking her here were just friendly. "How could I have been so blind?" she wondered to herself. "Now how am I going to tell him without hurting him? Again. How do I make him understand that I love him but that I can’t love him?"

Chakotay gently began to stroke her cheeks with his thumbs, "Kathryn, I want you to know what you mean to me. You have been my best friend almost ever since I beamed aboard. You could have thrown me in the brig, but instead you made me part of your crew. A trusted member of your crew. Even before my loyalties were tested, you trusted me with your ship, your crew, and even your life. I want to tell you how much that means to me. Every time I look at your beautiful face, I think about how my life could have turned out. Everyday I give thanks that you came into my life and I want to spend the rest of it with you." Suddenly, Chakotay was down on one knee in front of her, holding her hand in his, "Will you marry me, Kathryn?"

Kathryn was stunned. She looked down at the man in front of her. She saw only love and adoration in his eyes. She also saw all of her dreams coming true. Everything she had ever wanted, she could have with him. And at the same time, she could never have those things with him. At least not while on board Voyager. "Chakotay, what are you doing?" she finally managed to choke out.

"I love you, Kathryn. I want you in my life. Totally and completely. I want to wake up every morning with you in my arms and I want to go to bed every night with you in my arms. I want you to be my wife, Kathryn."

Kathryn struggled to regain her composure, but nothing seemed to be working at the moment. "I…I…Oh, I just can’t." she stammered, then turned to run out of the Holodeck.

Chakotay ran after her and grabbed hold of her arm to stop her, "Don’t do this, Kathryn. You don’t have to do this. Please, Kathryn." he was practically begging her to stay.

"I have to go." she cried as she fled the Holodeck.

Chakotay could only stare after her in utter disbelief. "What just happened here? Where did it go wrong? Everything was so perfect. At least I thought it was. How could she do that to me?" he wondered angrily.

After what seemed like hours of just walking, just walking and thinking, Kathryn decided to head back to her quarters to see if she could get a couple hours of sleep before she was due on the bridge. She doubted very much that after tonight she would be getting any sleep, but she had to at least try. As soon as she turned the corner and headed down the corridor where her quarters were located, she saw him. He was leaning against her door, waiting for her. "I had hoped he had already gone to bed. I’m not ready to face him just yet." she muttered under her breath as she slowly closed the distance between them.

"Where did you run off to?" Chakotay asked, glaring at her.

"Chakotay, I’m really tired. Can we just do this tomorrow?" she asked wearily.

"I just need to know where you had to go in such a hurry." he asked pointedly, his voice becoming louder with each word, still blocking her from entering her quarters.

Kathryn sighed, "Can we at least go inside, I don’t want to do this out here?"

"Oh sure, whatever you want, Captain. Isn’t that how it always is?" Chakotay grudgingly moved aside so Kathryn could input her entry code.

Kathryn winced as she immediately noticed his use of her title rather than her first name. She ignored his question and walked into her quarters, heading immediately for the replicator, "Coffee, black. Would you like something to drink?" she offered without turning around.

Chakotay grit his teeth, "No, I don’t want anything to drink. I just want to know where you ran off to? What was so important that you had to run out on me?"

Kathryn moved to her sofa and sat down, slowly sipping her coffee. When she didn’t answer his question, he sat down next to her, just close enough that she couldn’t pretend he wasn’t there. They sat there for a few minutes, Kathryn letting her coffee get cold, Chakotay glaring intently at her, waiting for some kind of answer.

Chakotay was the first to break the silence, "I can sit here all night if I have to. But I’m not leaving until I get an answer from you." he reminded her.

"I just needed some air. I had some thinking to do." she answered quietly.

"What were you thinking about?" he demanded.

Kathryn looked up into his eyes for the first time, hating the fact that she was the cause of the pain and anger she saw there, "I was thinking that we can never have the kind of relationship that you want us to have. I was thinking that as much as I want to, my first priority has to be getting Voyager home. I was thinking that you would understand that after all this time. But I can see that you don’t."

"No, I don’t understand. I put everything into that program for you. I poured out my heart to you tonight. And for what?" he asked angrily.

"I know, Chakotay. And I am sorry." Kathryn responded, gently placing her hand on his arm.

"Oh, you’re sorry." he replied sarcastically, pulling away from her touch. "Is that supposed to make everything better? Well, this time it won’t work." Chakotay rose from the sofa to stand in front of Kathryn. Looking down at her, he continued, "You seem to forget that I have feelings, as well. You seem to forget that I have needs, too. You can’t just keep using me and then throwing me away like some piece of garbage."

Kathryn jumped up and stood right in front of him, eyes defiant, "That’s not what I’m doing. I am not using you."

"That’s exactly what you are doing, Captain. Every time you need someone to talk to, who do you look for? When you don’t feel like eating dinner alone, who do you ask to join you? Whenever you need support for one of your ideas that could get us all killed, who do you get to give it to you? You are always taking what I have to offer, my trust, my support, my loyalty, my friendship, my love, but you never give me anything of yourself. Sure, you’ve been my friend, but every time I try to get closer, you close yourself off to me." Chakotay’s eyes blazed with the fire of his emotions.

"That’s not true." she insisted vehemently.

"Yes it is, and you know it. You hide behind your Starfleet protocols and so-called regulations. You’ve got this wall built up around you that you hide behind whenever anybody tries to get close. Over the years, that wall has gotten pretty high and I’m just too tired to climb over it. I haven’t got the strength anymore. And I know it’s probably my fault in the first place. I’ve allowed it to continue this long. I was the one who kept hoping that there was something between us. Only to have you push me away once again. Well, I’m tired of it. I refuse to put up with it anymore. So after tonight, no more." Chakotay turned his back to her, trying to hide how much he was hurting.

"What are you saying?" she asked softly, turning him back around to face her.

"I’m saying that after tonight, we are nothing more than Captain and First Officer. But, that shouldn’t bother you too much. That’s how you’ve always wanted it anyway, right?" Chakotay accused, once again pulling away from her touch.

Kathryn was shocked by his words, "No, that’s not how I want it. I want us to be friends. Best friends. Like I thought we were. Please, I don’t want to lose what we have."

"What? What do we have, Kathryn? You using me whenever you need me, then pushing me away when I get too close. Don’t you see that I need you, too? I want to be with you so much that it hurts. I don’t want to be just your friend anymore. Can’t you see that I love you? I have loved you for so long. I want us to be more than friends. Don’t you realize how much I love you?" he implored beseechingly.

"But we can’t…" she began.

Chakotay angrily cut her off, "Fine, if that’s how you want it. You got it. So, as hard as this will be, as much as this is killing me, I’ll just have to accept the fact that I am nothing more than your First Officer. I only wish I had figured that out sooner, I could have saved myself a lot of sleepless nights and cold showers."

"You can’t be serious, Chakotay. You’re more than that. You’re my best friend. I need you as my friend. I can’t do this alone." Kathryn blinked back the tears that were threatening to spill over.

"You need me. Ha! Kathryn Janeway doesn’t need anybody." he heatedly retaliated. "What about my needs, Kathryn? Don’t you think that I need somebody, too? Or do you just expect me to be there whenever you need me? Only to be pushed away again. Well, I won’t let you use me anymore. I won’t. I can’t. I can’t be your friend, Kathryn. It hurts too much. It hurts to be so close to you and yet so far away. My heart can’t take it anymore. I can’t shut my feelings off as easily as you can." he snapped with barely controlled anger.

Kathryn’s eyes widened at his words, "NO!" she yelled at him. "Don’t you dare think that this is easy for me. I do care for you. A great deal. But I am the Captain of this ship, and as such do not have the luxury of always being able to separate that from just being Kathryn. In our situation, it is almost impossible for me to stop being the Captain for even one minute. I don’t have the luxury of indulging in a relationship with one of my officers." Kathryn paused and looked up into his eyes, with tears pouring out of her own, "And after all we’ve been through together, I can’t believe you would hurt me like this, Chakotay."

Chakotay shook his head sadly, "Oh, after what you did tonight, I don’t think you have any right to say that to me."

"So, now what? What happens tomorrow? You don’t want to be my friend anymore. Does that go for being my First Officer, as well?" Kathryn asked, fearing he wanted to have nothing more to do with her at all. Fearing that she had lost him for good this time.

Chakotay closed his eyes and took a deep breath, "I made a promise to you a long time ago. I promised that I would help you get this crew home. I don’t intend on going back on that promise, Captain. But tonight I am going to make one more promise. To myself. I am not going to follow you around like a lovesick puppy dog. I will no longer chase after something that I am obviously not going to find with you. Something that you are incapable of giving me."

"How dare you say that to me." Kathryn cried indignantly. "You think I am incapable of love? How dare you think that? Don’t you even realize what I go through every day of my life on this ship? Seeing the look of pain in each and every member of my crew. The pain of knowing that they may never see their homes again. Knowing that they may never see their loved ones again. Knowing that I put that pain there. I was the one who stranded all of them here. I have to live with that every day. I also made a promise, Chakotay. I made a promise to this crew. That I would get them home. And I can’t allow anything to get in the way of that promise. Not even my feelings for you. Now, I am sorry if you can’t understand that, but as I have told you before, this ship and crew must come first. I can’t sacrifice my duties to this crew just because I got a little lonely."

Chakotay clenched his fists, trying to control his temper, "And as I’ve told you before, I will not sacrifice the present for a future that may never come. I have not given up on the hope of our getting home, but I have to deal with reality. And that reality is that we may be out here for a very long time. And as you’ve pointed out, this is no ordinary mission. We cannot just go home when we want to, or transfer to another assignment. Voyager has become our home. And whether you choose to accept it or not, we have to go on with our lives. Aboard Voyager. I’m trying to make a life here, and I was hoping that I could share that life with the woman I love more than anything." Chakotay paused to collect his thoughts, "And what if we finally do get home, what then? I’ll probably be too old to enjoy any life I may have left. Is that how you want to end up? Bitter and alone? To know that we wasted the time we could have had together?"

Kathryn strongly reiterated, "I have to get this crew home. I promised them. And I don’t go back on my promises, either, Commander."

Grasping her shoulders, Chakotay almost shouted at her, "The crew knows you’re only human. They don’t blame you for our predicament. They see how hard you are trying and know that you are doing your best to get them home in an almost impossible situation. And I know that they appreciate it. But they also want to see you happy. Can’t you see that? And I can also tell you with 100% certainty that nobody expects you to stop living your life. The way I see it is the sooner you stop blaming yourself and torturing yourself for getting us stranded out here, the sooner we can all stop suffering."

Kathryn once again tried to reason with him, "Don’t you think that I want to be happy, too? To be able to give in to my feelings for you?"

Chakotay had become tired of arguing with her and held up his hands to silence her, "Well, when you make up your mind, you know where to find me. Goodbye, Kathryn."

There was such finality in his voice as he said goodbye. As Chakotay walked out of her quarters, and probably out of her life, Kathryn fell to her knees and let the tears come. Giving into the racking sobs of anguish that came from deep within her.

Chakotay knew that there was no way he was going to get any sleep tonight, so he decided to go back to the Holodeck. This time he ran his boxing program, with the safety protocols turned off. He needed something to release a little of the anger that was raging through his veins. The only problem was that his mind was not focused on the program. He kept thinking about Kathryn, and about their fight, so by the time he finally left the Holodeck, The Tattooed Terror, as he had once been known, walked out with a split lip, bloodied nose, and a black eye that was painfully swollen shut. He practically stumbled out into the corridor where he ended up running into Tom Paris.

"Whoa, did you get the number of the shuttle that hit you, Commander?" Tom quipped upon seeing the condition of his superior officer. "Here, let me help you get to sickbay." he offered, taking Chakotay’s arm.

"Take a hike, Lieutenant." Chakotay growled, pushing him away.

"Okay, okay. Geez, I was just trying to help." Tom held up both hands in mock surrender.

"Yeah, well I don’t need your help." he snarled. "At least the pain in my face might take my mind off the pain in my heart." he told himself.

"Fine, I won’t bother you anymore. Goodnight, Commander."

Then Chakotay realized that it wasn’t Tom’s fault. He was just another member of the crew. The crew. Her crew. Tom was just a reminder of one of the many things that was keeping the woman that he loved out of his reach. Her sense of duty to the crew. "No, Tom. I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you. I’ve just had a really bad night. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?" Chakotay offered.

"Yeah, sure, whatever." Tom walked away shaking his head, just slightly puzzled at what would cause his normally very level-headed Commander to act like that.

Morning came and Kathryn was still kneeling on the floor in front of her sofa. Her face still wet with tears that never seemed to stop. She was startled by the sound of her alarm, letting her know that she was due on the bridge in one hour. As she slowly eased herself to her feet, every joint and muscle protested in pain. She gingerly made her way to the replicator, "Coffee, black. And hot!" "Come on, Kathryn! Get a grip!" she scolded herself angrily. "What’s happened to you? When did you become so dependant on somebody that they could turn you into a whimpering pool of tears? I swore to myself that I would never let myself get hurt like this again. I have lost every man that I have ever loved. Every man that I have ever allowed into my life, and into my heart. Daddy, Justin, Mark, and now Chakotay. But, did I ever really let him into my life, let alone my heart. Not completely. But somehow he managed to sneak past all my defenses, slip through the carefully constructed force fields. And I’ve ended up losing him just the same." Just before the tears began again, Kathryn gulped down her coffee, ignoring its’ scalding temperature on her tongue and throat. Walking into her bedroom, she began to get ready for the day ahead.

Taking a deep cleansing breath, Kathryn stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge, "Report."

Tuvok answered, "All systems functioning normally, Captain."

"Thank you, Tuvok. You’re dismissed." Kathryn continued on to her chair, Harry and Tom both bidding her ‘Good Morning, Captain.’ Responding as cheerfully as she could, she took her seat and opened her computer console located between the command chairs. Looking slightly up towards Chakotay, she noticed that he is immersed in some report on a PADD, completely ignoring her. Kathryn cringed as memories of their fight came back to her.

The entire bridge crew noticed the tension in the air as Kathryn took her seat. There was no customary greeting from the Commander to the Captain. There was no crooked smile from the Captain to the Commander. Just strained silence. Even Tom was afraid to say anything. Two hours into their shifts, with nothing of any importance coming across on sensors, and there was none of the friendly banter between Captain and Commander or any of the other bridge officers that usually took the edge off one of their dull, boring, and rather uneventful shifts.

After sitting on the bridge in silence for far too long, Kathryn stood up to stretch her still stiff and aching muscles. "I can’t stand this silence. I think I’m going to go crazy if we don’t find some action soon. Where are the Borg when you need them?" Kathryn sullenly mused to herself, then turning to Harry, "Anything to report on sensors, Mr. Kim?"

"Negative, Captain." replied Harry.

Walking up behind Tom, placing her hand gently on his shoulder, "How are we doing, Mr. Paris? Anything to report?"

Tom turned slightly to look up at her, noticing the dark circles under her eyes, "Nothing of any interest, Captain. Clear skies and full speed ahead."

Kathryn then turned to go back to her chair when she noticed Chakotay. She hadn’t noticed his face before now. Sitting next to him on his right side, she hadn’t been able to see that the left side of his face was bruised and swollen. Not to mention the fact that he hadn’t even looked at her since she entered the bridge. Now, standing in front of the command chairs, Kathryn had a very clear view of his face. All at once, her emotions waged a war inside of her. She wanted to run to him and make sure he was all right. But, she knew he would never accept her concern after what he had told her last night. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for what she had to do.

"Commander, please report to my Ready Room, immediately. Tuvok, you have the bridge." Kathryn ordered, and without waiting for an answer, she turned and headed for her Ready Room.

"Yes, Ma’am." Chakotay mumbled under his breath at her retreating form.

Once inside her Ready Room, Chakotay stood at full attention, finding something to stare at just over Kathryn’s shoulder, never making eye contact with her.

Kathryn stared at him for a few very uncomfortable seconds, "Well, are you going to tell me what happened to your face, Chakotay?" she asked him calmly, using his name, trying to put this visit on a more personal level. Trying to salvage what she could of their friendship. They had been through too much to just give that up.

"It happened on my off-duty time. Nothing to worry about, Captain. And I can assure you that it won’t interfere with my duties." he explained, still looking over her shoulder.

"So this is how it was going to be with him from now on." she thought to herself sadly. "No more Chakotay, my friend. No more friendly conversations. Just business." "I wasn’t worried about your duties, Commander." she responded a little sharper than she meant to, then added more softly this time, "I was worried about…you." Kathryn waited a few seconds to judge his reaction. His face gave away nothing. No emotion. No feeling. "Well, if you don’t want to tell me how it happened, would you at least go see the Doctor? I won’t have my officers looking like they just crashed a shuttle."

she thought to herself sadly. "I wasn’t worried about your duties, Commander." she responded a little sharper than she meant to, then added more softly this time, "I was worried about…you." Kathryn waited a few seconds to judge his reaction. His face gave away nothing. No emotion. No feeling. "Well, if you don’t want to tell me how it happened, would you at least go see the Doctor? I won’t have my officers looking like they just crashed a shuttle."

"Captain, it’s nothing..." he began to protest.

"That’s an order, Commander." she insisted, stressing his title and making sure he knew she meant it.

Turning to leave her Ready Room, he was stopped by the sound of her voice, "I just have one more question, Commander."

Chakotay stopped, but remained with his back to her, waiting for her to continue.

"Is this the way you wanted it? Is this how you want things to be between us from now on?" she asked.

He slowly turned around to face his Captain and the only woman he had ever truly loved. Chakotay opened his mouth to answer her question, but then decided against it, simply asking, "Am I dismissed, Captain?"

Kathryn closed her eyes to keep the tears back, "Dismissed, Commander." was all she could get out before her voice started to crack. She watched as he left her Ready Room, then sighing heavily, slumped down into her chair. She picked up one of the many PADDs lying on her desk, but after reading the same sentence for the tenth time, slammed it back down. "I can’t work like this. I can’t concentrate. It feels as if we are further apart now, than when we first met." she told herself sadly.

The next morning, Kathryn had been called to Engineering to look over some diagnostics that B’Elanna was having trouble with, so it was 30 minutes into her shift when she finally made it to the bridge. Kathryn stepped out of the turbolift and started walking towards her chair. Along the way, she noticed the chair next to hers was empty. Turning to her Security Officer, she asked, "Tuvok, isn’t this your day off? I thought Commander Chakotay was on duty this morning."

Tuvok looked at his Captain with raised eyebrows, "I was under the impression that he had informed you of his plans. He asked me to trade duty shifts with him, so he could catch up on some business that he had to attend to. He also asked that I give you this weeks’ amended duty roster." Tuvok studied her as he held out the PADD.

Kathryn took the PADD from Tuvok, looking it over. ‘Amended?’ she thought to herself as she perused the data. Her eyes widened as she noticed the changes that Chakotay had made. He had arranged it so that they were working completely opposite shifts.

"Where is he now?" she asked as calmly as she could.

"He informed me that he would be in his office in case of an emergency, but not to disturb him otherwise."

Kathryn was seething. "Is that so? He’s in his office, you say?" She waited for Tuvok’s confirmation, then turned and stalked towards Chakotay’s office, mumbling under her breath, "Well, I can tell you that I’m going to do more than just disturb him."

Tuvok decided that saying nothing further to his obviously irate Captain was the prudent course of action.

Stepping behind Tuvok’s station, Kathryn entered the corridor leading to deck 2. Determinedly striding towards Chakotay’s office, muttering to herself, "Just who does he think he is? First he doesn’t want to be my friend. Now, he doesn’t even want to work with me. We’re supposed to be a team. How can we properly command the ship like this? I guess I’ll just have to remind him who’s really in charge around here."

Using her override, Kathryn entered his office to find him seated at his desk. He looked to be busy reading some reports.

Chakotay looked up at the sound of the doors whooshing open. Upon seeing who his visitor was, the smile faded from his face and he addressed her coldly, "Well, come in, Captain."

"What’s this?" she demanded, tossing the PADD onto his desk. Her tone was civil, but there was enough ice in it to send a chill across an entire Vulcan desert.

The PADD slid across his desk and ended up in his lap. Chakotay caught it just before it fell to the ground, "The last time I checked, this was a PADD. We use them for…"

She angrily cut him off, "I know what it is, Commander." she hissed. "I’m talking about what’s on it."

Chakotay studied the PADD for a few seconds, then realizing what it was, "It’s this weeks’ duty roster. I gave it to you last week for your approval." Then standing, he added, "So, what’s the problem?"

Kathryn snatched the PADD from his grasp, "Except that this is your ‘amended’ duty roster. And the problem, Commander, is that you made some changes and didn’t even bother to get my permission."

"I thought it would be better if we didn’t work together for awhile. I just figured you needed some time…" he started to explain before she interrupted him again.

"That, Commander, is your problem." stressing his title and waving the PADD in his face. "You are always assuming to know what I want or what I need. That is not your job."

Chakotay startled her by reaching out suddenly and grabbing her wrist, "Oh, but it is, Captain. It has been my job ever since the day you made me your First Officer. You just haven’t made it very easy for me to do that job."

She wrenched her hand from his, "From now on, make sure you get my permission before you make any more changes around here. Is that understood, Commander?"

"I will comply, Captain." he replied seriously.

"Oh, now you sound just like a Borg drone." she declared.

"Do I? Well, isn’t that what you want, Captain? Some mindless unfeeling automaton to obey your every wish and command. Close by when you need something, but never too close. And then when you’re through, you can just shut him off until you need him again." he accused.

"You have no idea what I want, Commander." she told him, then turned to leave but was stopped by the sound of his voice.

"I know exactly what you want, Kathryn. Now the only problem is, will you allow yourself to have it?" he asked her softly.

Not looking back, Kathryn walked out of his office, heading straight for her Ready Room. She stopped at Tuvok’s station long enough to inform him that he still was in charge of the bridge.

Reaching the comforting confines of her Ready Room, Kathryn fought to keep her tears at bay. "Oh, Chakotay. Why do we keep doing this to each other? Why can’t you just accept that I cannot allow myself to love you? I have to get this crew home. But, I also don’t want to lose you. What am I going to do?"

Kathryn made her way to the upper level of her Ready Room. Looking out the viewport at the stars had always helped her in the past. Whenever she was troubled, she always found solace in staring at the stars whizzing by. It helped her put her thoughts in perspective, making her realize just how small her problems really were when compared to the vastness of the universe around her. Feeling somewhat more relaxed, Kathryn went back to her desk and began working on the pile of reports that always seemed to grow larger each day. Several hours and many reports later, the silence is broken by her comm badge chirping.

"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway"

"Janeway here. Go ahead, Seven."

"Captain, have you forgotten about your appointment with me in Holodeck 1?"

Kathryn frowned, "Appointment? What appointment, Seven?"

"You agreed to a rematch of our Velocity game from last week. If I am correct, today is the day we decided upon. And you are currently twenty minutes late. Should we reschedule to a more appropriate time?"

Kathryn looked at her chronometer and noticed that her duty shift had indeed ended over twenty minutes ago. "Oh, no, you are correct, Seven. Today would be that day. No need to reschedule. I just wasn’t watching the time. I will be there shortly." "Why not? It sure beats going to my empty quarters, alone, again." she mused, thinking that only a week ago, it would have been Chakotay, and not Seven of Nine, calling her to let her know that she was late for one of their after work dinners that they shared on the pretense of discussing ships’ business.

"Very well." responded Seven. "I will await your presence."

Kathryn left her Ready Room and headed for the turbolift. Her eyes sweeping the bridge for Chakotay and finding no sign of him, she nodded to Harry, who now sat in the command chair, as she entered the lift and called out her destination to the computer, "Holodeck 1."

The next morning, Chakotay was getting breakfast in the mess hall, and spotting B’Elanna and Tom, he headed for their table, not wanting to eat alone. Just as he got close, he overheard part of their conversation, "…and it would have been funny if the Captain wasn’t in so much pain. Seven actually carried her all the way from the Holodeck. I think she was more embarrassed than anything."

Chakotay stopped dead in his tracks, the only words registering in his mind were ‘Captain’ and ‘pain’. Then quickly walking over to Tom, Chakotay asked, "What happened to the Captain?"

Tom jumped at the hand on his shoulder, then turning towards Chakotay, "Didn’t you hear? She had an accident on the Holodeck. The Doc had to perform surgery…" he didn’t get to finish his explanation because Chakotay had unceremoniously tossed his tray on the table and very nearly sprinted out of the mess hall.

Ignoring the perplexed looks he got by the crewmembers he ran past, Chakotay finally made it to Sickbay. The doors didn’t open fast enough for him as he pushed his way through. He entered just in time to hear the Captain cry out in pain as the doctor was examining her ankle. "Hey, watch it, Mister!" she scowled at him.

"I thought you said it didn’t hurt. So why are you so unwilling to follow my orders and stay off your feet for the next two days?" the Doctor taunted.

"Yeah, well…your hands are cold, that’s all." she lied.

"Oh, so that’s why you just about jumped off the bio-bed when I barely touched you?" he charged.

Kathryn only glared at him, hoping to intimidate him into leaving her alone. Her death glares never seemed to work on the Doctor, though. He simply glared back at her until Chakotay interrupted them.

"Captain, what happened? Are you hurt?" Chakotay asked, taking a hold of her arm.

Kathryn turned her glare on her First Officer, pulling her arm out of his grasp. "I’m fine. I was playing Velocity with Seven and I stepped wrong, twisting my ankle."

The Doctor snorted, "I assure you, Captain, you did a little more than simply twist your ankle. You managed to tear several of the tendons and ligaments." Then turning towards Chakotay, he continued, "I had to perform surgery last night to repair the damage. I kept her here overnight because I knew she had no intention of following my orders to stay off her feet." Then turning his gaze back to Kathryn, he told her pointedly, "And I am planning on keeping her here for at least two more days."

"Why wasn’t I informed?" Chakotay asked, looking at Kathryn, and then to the Doctor.

"I was ordered not to inform you, Commander." the Doctor told him, all the while glaring at Kathryn again.

"Why would you do that, Captain? I have every right to know if you are injured." Chakotay looked at Kathryn sitting on the bio-bed in her surgical gown. She looked so small and vulnerable. A huge contrast to the image she portrayed on the bridge of Voyager. Her command presence made him forget just how petite she really was. Looking down at her ankle, he noticed it was still swollen and slightly discolored from her injury. He wanted to tell her that there was nothing that he wouldn’t do to take the pain away.

Kathryn turned her head to look up at him, her eyes blazing, "No, you gave up that right three days ago, Commander. What happens to me when I am off-duty, let me remind you, is noneof yourbusiness. Now, unless you have something to report about the ship or the crew, you are dismissed."

Chakotay felt as if his heart was being ripped apart by her words. Inhaling deeply, he moved to stand closer to her, "Ok, fine, I guess I deserved that. But, hear me when I say this, Captain. You will be taking the next couple of days off, or however long it takes for you to heal completely. Now, that time can be spent either in Sickbay or in your quarters. That is up to you. And that…is the only choice you have in this matter." Chakotay’s face was mere inches from hers when he finished.

Kathryn opened her mouth to protest, but was silenced by the look in Chakotay’s eyes, "Don’t make me relieve you of duty, Captain. Because, and let me remind you, that is completely within my rights as First Officer."

The Doctor was flabbergasted at Chakotay’s tone, but at the same time pleased that maybe, just maybe, the Captain would be forced to follow his orders for once.

Kathryn looked helplessly between the two men, painfully aware that she had lost this battle. Then settling her gaze back on the Doctor, "Fine, you win. This time. But I want to go to my quarters."

"And just how do you think you are going to get there on that ankle, Captain?" the Doctor asked, sarcastically.

Chakotay stepped forward offering his assistance, but Kathryn ignored him. "I’ll just have to use the transporters." she said, carefully lowering herself off the bio-bed, then reaching up to activate her comm badge, "Janeway to Transporter Room 1."

"Ensign Smith here, Captain. What can I do for you?" came the voice over her comm badge.

came the voice over her comm badge.

"Lock onto my signal and transport me to my quarters, please."

"Aye, Captain."

Chakotay and the Doctor were treated, once again, to the famous Janeway Death Glare before she dematerialized from the room.

The next two days went extremely slow for the command team. Giving both time to think and reflect on what had brought them to this point in their lives.

The only thing that kept Kathryn from pacing a hole in her carpet was the pain in her ankle. That and the many visits from the Doctor, bringing pain medication and lecturing her on her health habits. "If only we weren’t stranded in this god-forsaken quadrant. If only I hadn’t gotten us stranded here. If only I wasn’t the Captain, responsible for maintaining Starfleet protocol and above all else, getting my crew home. If only…"

Chakotay had returned to his duty shift on the bridge and more than once was caught staring at Kathryn’s chair, daydreaming. "If only I had stayed in Starfleet, then maybe we would have met and then we could have been together like we are supposed to be. If only we hadn’t gotten stranded in the Delta Quadrant. If only…"

With her ankle feeling much better and it being her last night of Commander-imposed exile, Kathryn decided to visit Sandrine’s. She ordered a drink and then found a booth along the wall well hidden in the shadows, where nobody would see her. Not much in the mood for conversation, the only thing she wanted was to drown her sorrows in holographic synthehol. She didn’t have to worry about getting drunk on the Holodeck because there you can drink without consequence. As soon as you step outside the boundaries of the holoemitters, the synthehol disappears, as well as its effects. You can drink just enough to impair your senses and, as Kathryn was hoping, stop some of the pain that she was feeling in her heart. It was working. That was until she heard somebody slip into the booth just behind her.

Not wanting to be noticed, she slid deeper down into her seat. Then she heard the voice of her Chief Engineer. "Oh, just great. She’s probably here with Tom. Just what I need to hear tonight. Those two lovebirds." she muttered under her breath.

Then she heard his voice, "So, B’E, what’d you want to talk about?" That voice definitely did not belong to Tom.

"You know darn well what I want to talk about. Now spill it. What are you two fighting about now?"

Chakotay pretended he didn’t know what she was talking about, "Who says anybody’s fighting?"

"Oh, come on, Old Man. The whole ship knows you two had one of your ‘little spats’. And you should know by now that you can’t hide anything from me. I think I know you a little too well for that. She’s glaring at everybody and you’re acting moody. Not to mention the fact that you two hardly speak to each other anymore. So what was it this time? What’d you do?" she asked.

Chakotay looked at B’Elanna. She had been his best friend for a long time, even before he met Kathryn. There was no way B’Elanna was going to believe that there was nothing wrong. She did know him too well, and she was not about to let it go any further without doing something. Without trying to help her friend. Her friends. "Alright." he breathed in defeat. "Yes, we had an argument."

"I knew it!" she exclaimed, then added, "But you two have had arguments before. Some pretty heated ones, if I can remember. You’ve never let it go this far before. You’ve always been able to resolve the problems by the next day. And you’ve never carried it over to your duty shifts, especially on the bridge, in front of the crew. So what was it? Did you question her authority again?"

Chakotay hung his head as the memories of their argument came back to haunt him, "I think it might be a little more serious this time, B’E."

"What could be worse than questioning her authority. I know it’s your job, kinda, but she really hates that. I’ve seen the looks she gives you when you’ve dared to do it in the past."

Chakotay is silent for a moment more, "I asked her to marry me." he told her pointedly.

B’Elanna’s eyes widened in total shock, "You did what? Are you serious?"

"Very." he replied, finally making eye contact with her.

"What’d she say? No, you don’t need to tell me. I can probably guess what she said from the way you two have been acting towards one another."

"That’s the problem. She didn’t say anything. She just ran out. We were on the Holodeck and she just ran out."

"Oh, Chakotay, I’m so sorry." B’Elanna reached across the table and took his hands into hers, trying to comfort him somehow. "Hey," she began lightheartedly, "Do you want me to go knock some…uh, I mean, ‘talk’ some sense into her?"

Chakotay couldn’t help but laugh at his friends’ attempts to lighten the mood. "I don’t think that would be wise. You two would probably end up killing each other. Then I would have lost both of the women I love."

B’Elanna gripped his hands tighter, then she noticed the tears escaping the corners of his eyes. Her heart was breaking. She had never seen Chakotay in this much pain. "Oh, come on now. Don’t start that. You’re going to make me start. And you know Klingon women DO NOT cry." she almost pleaded with him.

"I’m sorry, B’E. I can’t help it. It just hurts so much." he admitted to her.

"Chakotay, I’ve never seen you this upset. Even before Voyager…" she began.

"That’s another problem, B’E. You know, I can’t even remember there ever being a time before Voyager. My life seems to have begun when I came aboard. When I met…" Chakotay was unable to finish the sentence, his voice breaking. Taking a deep breath, he added, "And I swore I would never let myself get hurt like this again. I mean after what the Cardassians did. They took away my home, my family, my friends, everything that ever mattered to me. I found some new friends, though, when I joined the Maquis," Chakotay gently squeezed B’Elanna’s hand. "But there was still a part of me that never healed. So I promised myself that I would never let myself want anything or need anything so much that I could get hurt again. I never wanted to feel that kind of pain again. And now I find myself in that exact situation. And I don’t know how to get out of it. I just don’t know how to stop feeling this way. I just can’t stop having feelings for her. Her, of all people. The very embodiment of Starfleet and everything that it stands for. Everything I had come to despise, especially after they made that treaty with the Cardassians."

"You really do love her, don’t you?" she asked softly, already knowing the answer.

"With everything that I am." he replied wholeheartedly, then began again, "Oh, B’E, I’ve been such a fool to think that she could ever love me. This whole ‘relationship’ has always been one-sided. How could I keep thinking that would ever change?"

"Now, come on, you know she cares about you." B’Elanna tried to reason with him.

"But nothing more. She cares about everyone on this ship. That’s her job, B’Elanna. She only cares because she has to, not because she wants to."

"You know that’s not true." she told him sternly. "You know the motto of a starship Captain. ‘Always go down with the ship.’ Captain Janeway would give her life to get this ship and crew home. And unfortunately, she’s not about to let anything… or… anybody … get in her way. Right now she sees you as more of a threat. A threat to her completing that mission. And you saw what happened when she took those three crewmen on that away mission. She almost died trying to give them the extra attention she felt they needed. That kind of caring is not just another job requirement for Kathryn Janeway."

"But why doesn’t she understand that I want to help her, not impede her progress? Why can’t she see that together we are stronger than we are apart?"

"That I don’t know. We’ll just have to convince her that we’re all here to help her, especially her best friend."

"Yeah, except that I told her I can’t be her friend anymore." he confessed.

"What’s that supposed to mean, Chakotay?" B’Elanna asked, frowning.

"Just what it sounds like, B’E. I told her I can’t be her friend anymore."

"Chakotay, you can’t be serious. You can’t just abandon her like that. You know better than anybody what this will do to her."

Chakotay’s face hardened, "She’s the one who keeps pushing me away, only to turn around and expect me to be there whenever she needs a shoulder to cry on. I didn’t come equipped with an on and off switch. I can’t just shut off my emotions to suit her. And I’m not abandoning anybody. I’m still her First Officer. That’s all she wants from me anyway."

"Oh, Chakotay. You don’t really believe that, do you? I mean I’ve seen the way she looks at you. Especially when she thinks nobody is looking. And what about at Neelix’s parties? Why is it that she always manages to go with you? And even when you two don’t come together, she always ends up with you."

"That’s just because she feels closer to me in command. Nothing more." Chakotay countered.

"Oh, I don’t think so. What about Tuvok? He’s nearly the same rank as you are. And she’s known him a lot longer. They’ve been close friends for over twenty years now, well, as close as you can get to a Vulcan." B’Elanna chuckled. "But, it’s you she chooses to be with. I wish I had somebody like that. But MY best friend chooses to spend all his time with the Captain." she teased, trying to lighten the mood.

"Well, now you can have me back." he offered sadly.

"I’d be willing to share. I hear she’s a pretty terrific woman. Strong, brave, very stubborn. Are you sure she’s not part Klingon?" she teased again.

"Yeah, I really know how to pick ‘em, huh? When will I ever learn?" he asked, thinking back to all his failed romances, and how not a single one of them had ever made him feel as complete as he felt by just simply being near Kathryn Janeway. Chakotay gulped down the rest of his drink, "Well, how about we finish up here, I have the early shift tomorrow and I don’t want to be late."

"You could always adjust the duty roster…" B’Elanna began.

"Somehow I don’t think that would be a good idea, Lieutenant." he said seriously, taking her arm and leading her out of the Holodeck.

Still hiding in the next booth, Kathryn sat up to watch them leave, "Oh, Chakotay, I’ve been the fool. I do love you. I just wish I had the courage to tell you." she whispered as he left the Holodeck. Then suddenly an idea began to formulate in her head.

"Computer, locate Commander Chakotay." she ordered hastily.

‘Commander Chakotay is in the mess hall.’

"He must have stopped there on his way to his quarters to get some of Neelix’s famous herbal tea to help him sleep. Good, that should just about give me enough time." she thought to herself, then aloud she called for the computer again, "Computer, initiate site-to-site transport and beam me directly to my quarters. Authorization Janeway Alpha One."

she thought to herself, then aloud she called for the computer again, "Computer, initiate site-to-site transport and beam me directly to my quarters. Authorization Janeway Alpha One."

‘Transport initiated.’

As soon as Kathryn materialized back in her quarters, she set about her plans to get her best friend back. She grabbed a blank PADD from her desk and sat down to write a memo to Chakotay, addressing it to ‘Commander Chakotay’ from ‘Captain Janeway’. That way he would think it was about ship’s business and not hesitate to read it. It was not an earth-shattering confession of her love, but it was a beginning. And all journeys must begin at the beginning. When the memo was completed, Kathryn accessed the coordinates of the Commander’s bedroom and arranged for the PADD to be beamed directly onto the middle of his bed, where he would be sure to find it. Now all she could do was wait and see if the friendship they had built up over the last seven years was strong enough to survive.

After stopping off at the mess hall for one of Neelix’s relaxing blends of herbal teas, Chakotay arrived at his quarters. Using the illumination of the stars shining through the viewport, he made his way to the bedroom, barely taking the time to strip off his uniform before falling into bed. "What’s this?" he wondered when he realized he was lying on something. Rolling off the bed to investigate, Chakotay saw the PADD lying there and reached over to pick it up. "Where did you come from?" he asked aloud, then noticing it was from the Captain, slowly sat back down on the bed to read it.

To: Commander Chakotay

From: Captain Janeway


The other day you told me you knew exactly what I want.
Well, I can tell you this, right now the only thing that I
really want is to have my best friend back. You see, I am
going through a difficult time right now trying to make a
decision that could very well affect the entire ship and crew.
I have come to rely on the strength and comfort that talking
to my best friend has always afforded me in the past. I could
sure use some of that right now. So, if you know where he is,
could you please tell him that I miss him dearly and would love
to talk with him?

Thank you,

Captain Kathryn Janeway

Chakotay laid back on his bed, clutching the PADD to his chest, as the tears slowly escaped. He cried for all the pain he was obviously causing her. He cried for all the pain she had caused him. He cried for all the lost time. He cried until he had no more tears to cry. Until slowly, he drifted into a fitful sleep, still holding the PADD close to his heart.

The next morning, Chakotay and B’Elanna were eating their breakfast in the mess hall. Just as they were getting ready to leave for the bridge, Kathryn entered and headed straight for Neelix.

Placing both her palms flat on his chest, making sure she had his full attention, "Neelix, I need coffee. Whatever you have. Just make sure it’s strong." Kathryn ordered.

"Well, good morning, Captain. It’s good to see you back on duty. What else can I get for you?" Neelix offered cheerfully.

"Nothing, thank you, Neelix. Just coffee this morning." she told him, turning and resting her elbows on the counter, pinching the bridge of her nose with her right hand. A gesture well known to her senior officers when their Captain was under stress.

"Oh, come now. You can’t survive on coffee alone. I’ll just go and pick out something that I’m sure you will enjoy." Neelix offered again.

Kathryn grabbed his arm suddenly, startling the little Talaxian, "Neelix!" she began a little louder than she meant to, "I only came here because I am out of replicator rations. Now, I would appreciate it if you could just get me some coffee. Black coffee. Nothing else, just coffee. Is that understood?"

"Y-yes, ma’am. Coffee, com--coming right up." Neelix stammered and then headed for the galley.

Chakotay, who had been watching the exchange, went to the replicator and ordered, "Coffee, black and hot." When the coffee materialized, he picked it up and walked over to Kathryn. Coming up just behind her, Chakotay cleared his throat to get her attention, "Here you go, Captain. Just like you like it."

Kathryn turned slowly at his voice. Seeing Chakotay standing there offering her the coffee, she could almost imagine that the last few days had not taken place. Everything was back to normal. He was her friend again. He was taking care of her needs again. Just as he had promised. Kathryn allowed a small smile to come to her lips, "You don’t have to waste your rations on me, Commander."

"Just looking out for the well being of the Captain, ma’am." he told her, almost shyly.

"Thank you." she said, taking the coffee from him. Kathryn was now surer than ever that their friendship was not lost. Looking into his eyes, she once again saw her best friend looking back. And she saw the man that she loved. The man that she could not live without. The man that she did not want to live without.

Walking onto the bridge, Kathryn chanced a glance in Chakotay’s direction before sitting in her chair. Feeling her eyes on him, he looked up and their eyes locked. His chocolate brown eyes softened as he gazed at her and Kathryn’s lips curled up into that lop-sided smile that made every day in the Delta Quadrant worth living for Chakotay. After a few moments, Kathryn turned from him and took her seat. And as she called for the morning report, she relaxed slightly, actually looking forward to the day ahead.

The command team had just settled into their respective chairs when the klaxons blared and the usually bright bridge lighting dimmed and was replaced by the eerie red glow of the flashing Red Alert lights.

"Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!" came the warning voice of the computer.

Kathryn and Chakotay both jumped to their feet as two aliens materialized on the bridge. The aliens flanked the command team, one on the upper command level, the other on the lower level. The alien closest to Kathryn was immediately stunned by phaser fire from Tuvok at his Tactical station. As everyone’s attention was diverted, the other alien lifted his weapon and aimed it straight at Kathryn.

"NO!" Chakotay screamed as he lunged in front of his Captain. Both Kathryn and Chakotay were thrown to the floor of the bridge. She, by the force of her First Officer’s body, and he, by the blast of the aliens’ weapon’s discharge hitting him squarely in the back. The two of them rolled a few feet before coming to a stop in front of Helm Control. Kathryn ended up flat on her back. Chakotay had ended up sprawled face down, directly on top of her.

Ensign Kim, acting quickly from his station at Ops, fired his phaser, but the alien somehow managed to beam himself off Voyager just in time.

With Tuvok taking charge, the rest of the bridge crew made sure there were no more intruders aboard. Kathryn, still lying beneath the body of her First Officer, yelled out, "Get us out of here, Tom. Maximum Warp!"

"Aye, Captain." Tom quickly responded, his fingers already dancing over his console.

"Ok, Commander, you can get up now. I’m quite safe. I think the coast is clear." she told him, feeling slightly embarrassed now, though everybody was too busy to even notice the command team.

Getting no response from Chakotay, Kathryn grabbed hold of his shoulders to gently shake him, "Commander." Still no response. She shook him a little harder and raised her voice slightly, "Chakotay, you can get up now." As she waited again for a response, Kathryn noticed the smell of burning flesh permeating the bridge. She struggled to extricate herself out from under his lifeless form and immediately noticed all the blood. Chakotay’s blood. "Oh my God! Chakotay!" she exclaimed as she slapped her comm badge, "Janeway to Sickbay. Medical emergency. Two to beam directly to Sickbay. Now!" Relief came in the form of the familiar tingling sensation of the transport beam.

Once the command team materialized in Sickbay, thanks to the bright lights, Kathryn was able to better ascertain the extent of the injuries to her First Officer. Chakotay’s uniform was charred and bloody. He had been hit between his shoulder blades, and the back of his head and neck were burned, as well.

The Doctor was by their side immediately after transport, "What happened?" he asked incredulously, then seeing the extent of the Commanders’ injuries, "Sickbay to Lieutenant Paris. I need you here now."

Kathryn could barely get the words out, "Intruders…on the bridge…they fired at me… Chakotay…he pushed me down…he saved my life…oh, Chakotay." she cried as the tears began to fall down her cheeks.

The Doctor was already in action scanning Chakotay and as soon as Tom entered Sickbay, he ordered, "Tom, help me get him onto a bio-bed."

Together they lifted his crumpled body to the nearest bed. Kathryn watched in horror as she saw the pool of blood that was left on the floor when they moved him. Quickly turning away from that awful scene, Kathryn still had the presence of mind to contact the bridge to see how her ship was. Taking a deep breath, trying to get her emotions under control, "Janeway to the bridge." she called into her comm badge.

"Kim here, Captain."

"Harry, status."

"The ship is secure, Captain. Both aliens have been neutralized. I think I shot one of them, but he was able to beam himself off Voyager. Tuvok stunned the other one and has transported him to the brig."

"Thank you, Harry. I will contact Tuvok for more details. You have the bridge until either he or I return."

"Understood, Captain." Harry replied confidently.

"Janeway to Tuvok."

"Tuvok here, Captain."

"Tuvok, what happened? Were you able to find out anything from our newest ‘friend’?"

"Unfortunately, our ‘friend’ died before I could complete my interrogation. I did, however, find out why they attacked us."

"What did you find out?"

"Apparently, we were in there space." came Tuvok’s stoic reply.

"That’s it?!?! That’s all they said. We were in their space. There has to be some other reason than that." Kathryn shouted back.

"Evidently these beings felt that that was enough to justify their actions." Tuvok reasoned calmly.

Kathryn sighed, "Well, I guess this is one First Contact we won’t follow up on. Thank you, Tuvok. I’ll be in Sickbay if you need me. Janeway out." Kathryn closed the signal, taking another deep breath before turning back to find the Doctor and Tom still working frantically over her First Officer, her best friend, and the man she loved more than anything in the universe.

After what seemed like several agonizingly long hours, the Doctor entered his office to find Kathryn seated in his chair with her head on his desk. She looked to be asleep, and as much as he hated to bother her, he needed to update her on Chakotay’s condition.

"Captain." he called softly.

Kathryn sat bolt upright at the sound of his voice, "How is he? Is he going to be okay?"

"I’ve repaired as much damage as I could, but I need to know what type of weapon was used, so that I can repair the damage done to his nervous system." he informed her.

Kathryn’s eyes lit up at the prospect of being able to do something, anything, to help Chakotay. Reaching up to her comm badge, "B’Elanna, meet me in the Science Lab. We have some tests to run."

"Captain?" came B’Elanna’s obviously puzzled voice through the comm badge.

"I’ll explain later. Please, we don’t have much time." Kathryn told her.

"On my way, Captain." B’Elanna returned.

Once they had retrieved the alien’s weapon from Tuvok, Kathryn and B’Elanna began studying every millimeter of it. The weapon was similar to Starfleet issue phasers, except there was no ‘stun’ setting. It sent out a type of neuro-electric pulse that disrupted both Chakotay’s autonomic and somatic nervous systems. Once they had their findings, they delivered them to the Doctor so he could devise a treatment for Chakotay.

That evening, B’Elanna entered Sickbay to find Kathryn seated on the bio-bed next to Chakotay.

"I just came to see how the big guy was doing." B’Elanna looked over at her Captain timidly, not wanting to disturb her.

Not taking her eyes off Chakotay, Kathryn responded quietly, "The Doctor won’t know for sure until he regains consciousness."

"Well, do you mind if I sit with you for a while?"

"Not at all, B’Elanna. Actually, I would enjoy the company." said Kathryn as she scooted over allowing B’Elanna room to sit down.

The two women sat in comfortable silence for a while, both lost in their own thoughts.

"I never meant for him to get hurt." Kathryn suddenly whispered to no one in particular.

B’Elanna turned to look at her Captain, noticing how tired she looked, "He was just doing his job, Captain. It wasn’t your fault." she assured her.

Kathryn looked over at Chakotay, "I wasn’t talking about the incident with the aliens."

B’Elanna could only stare at her Captain, questions running unasked across her face.

Kathryn turned back to face B’Elanna, then staring down at her own hands as if suddenly finding them very interesting, she admitted, "I heard the two of you talking in the Holodeck the other night. In Sandrine’s."

B’Elanna frowned, "I never saw you there."

Kathryn looked down at her hands again, "I know. I didn’t want to be seen. I went there to drown my sorrows in synthehol. It was working until you two showed up and sat in the next booth. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, really, I didn’t, but when I heard his voice, I just…"

B’Elanna interrupted, "Then you know how much he loves you. And you must know how much he is hurting. As I can imagine you are as well."

B’Elanna watched as the tears began to flow down her usually cool and composed Captain’s face, as she repeated, "I never meant to hurt him, B’Elanna."

"I’m sure you didn’t. And I’m sure he never meant to fall so deeply in love with you, either. It just happened. Neither of you had any control over the circumstances that brought the two of you together. And what they would lead to. But you do have some control over the way you handle things from here on. So, Captain, be honest with me. But more importantly, be honest with yourself. Do you love him?"

Lifting her head, she looked into B’Elanna’s eyes, "Yes, I do. So very much. But now I may never have the chance to tell him." she cried, looking over to Chakotay laying so still on the bio-bed.

B’Elanna jumped down from the bio-bed to stand in front of Kathryn, "NO! You can’t think like that. He’s a fighter. He’ll be just fine. He would never give up on any of us and we can’t give up on him. We just have to give him time to heal. That’s all. Time." B’Elanna tried to comfort her very upset Captain.

Kathryn sniffled back her tears, and smiled softly at B’Elanna, "I guess you’re right."

B’Elanna chuckled, softening her voice, "You keep forgetting, Captain, I’m always right. Isn’t that why you made me your Chief Engineer?"

Kathryn laughed with B’Elanna, wiping the tears from her eyes. "Look at me, bawling my eyes out like a child. I should be the one comforting you and the rest of the crew. He’s your best friend, too. He’s everybody’s friend. Not just mine."

"Captain, will you do me a big favor?" B’Elanna asked.

"What kind of favor?" Kathryn asked.

"Will you, for once, allow somebody to be there for you? Instead of you always trying to be there for us? Can you do that just this once? It can be me, in fact, I would like it to be me, or it can be anybody else on this ship that you choose. I’m sure there will be a line of volunteers a mile long if you just give us the chance."

Kathryn squeezed B’Elanna’s hand in a gesture of gratitude.

"You know, Captain, we’re not all that different, you and I. We’re both intelligent, independent women, headstrong and very stubborn. We both have wonderful men who love us very much, and that we couldn’t possibly live without. And we both either couldn’t see that or didn’t want to see that until it was almost too late. Now, I realize that I don’t have the responsibilities of command to deal with, I only had to deal with my Klingon side. Which, believe me, can be just as bad. For me, it took a close encounter with my own death to make me admit my feelings." B’Elanna was silent for a minute as she thought back to a day that had started out as the worst day of her life. A day that had actually turned out to be the beginning of the rest of her life. A life that she now had the pleasure of sharing with one Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris. "So, as I see it, this is simply another step in your relationship with Chakotay. When he wakes up, and he will wake up, you’ll confess your undying love and he’ll do the same, and then you’ll have all the time in the world together. After all, you are a scientist and an explorer, right?" Seeing Kathryn’s nod, B’Elanna continued, "Well, then, it’s your job as a scientist to thoroughly prove or disprove your theories before you can negate the facts. Right? So, go, explore a relationship with Chakotay."

"I don’t know if he’ll even listen to me anymore. He doesn’t even want to be my friend anymore." Kathryn said sadly, looking over at Chakotay.

"Oh, Captain, you know that’s not true. He just had to do something to get you to see the error of your ways. He never stopped loving you. I don’t think he ever could."

Kathryn blushed shyly, "I guess even Starfleet Captains can be wrong sometimes."

"But only the best can admit it." B’Elanna gently reminded her.

"Oh, B’Elanna, I do love him. I have loved him for so long. And I think I just might be ready to tell him that. But…" She paused and B’Elanna could see the emotions play across her face, "But what about the crew. What would the rest of the crew think of their Captain getting involved with her First Officer?"

B’Elanna smiled broadly, "Oh, I don’t think they would mind if you went on a little Away Mission of your own." Seeing the skepticism on her Captain’s face, B’Elanna continued, "Ok, I have to tell you something, but you can’t get mad or throw anybody in the brig. Promise?"

"That depends, Lieutenant, on what you have to tell me." Kathryn responded warily.

"Well, here goes, but I’ll deny it if confronted later."

"Lieutenant…" Kathryn warned, urging her to continue.

"Okay, okay. Do you remember last month, when you were ‘stuck’ in the turbolift?"

"Yes." Kathryn answered, wondering at her emphasis on the word ‘stuck’.

"And do you also remember the month before that? And a couple of weeks before that?"

"If my memory serves me correctly, and it usually does, I seem to recall that each of those times, I was not alone. It was the Commander and I that were ‘stuck’ in the turbolift." Kathryn said, using B’Elanna’s inflection on the word ‘stuck’.

"And have you ever wondered why it keeps happening to you? To the two of you? Together? Have you ever wondered why that hardly ever happens to anybody else on the ship? Even under the direst of Red Alert circumstances." B’Elanna hinted, trying not to laugh.

Kathryn narrowed her eyes, "I was beginning to think that I would have to replace a certain Chief Engineer of mine." she told her, realization slowly dawning as to what had really been happening. "Are you telling me that those lift incidents had nothing to do with problems in Engineering?"

B’Elanna only nodded her head affirmatively and smiled.

"You?" Kathryn asked, trying to sound surprised, but not putting it past her feisty Chief Engineer.

B’Elanna held up both her hands, "Now wait a minute. I would love to take all the credit, but I had help. In fact, it was their idea."

"Their idea? Whose idea?" Kathryn repeated. "You mean…the crew? My crew?" Kathryn was incredulous.

"Now don’t get mad. They only did it for you. For both of you. They just wanted you to be happy. I told them it was dangerous, but they were willing to risk brig time to get the two of you together."

Kathryn couldn’t help smiling at the thought of her crew doing something like that, in fact at the moment she was feeling rather proud of her crew’s ingenuity, that and the fact that they had done it for her. "And so you just helped them cover their tracks by claiming it was a problem in Engineering."

"Well, did it work? Did anything happen?" B’Elanna asked excitedly.

Kathryn just smiled enigmatically, "I’ll only tell you that it did get kind of hot in there."

B’Elanna frowned, shaking her head, "But we never did anything that would affect the environmental controls, Captain."

Kathryn’s smile became even wider, "Who said anything about Voyager’s temperature?"

Everyday, B’Elanna was amazed by the woman sitting in front of her. Just when she thought she had her Captain figured out, Kathryn would do something or say something that left B’Elanna rethinking everything she thought she knew about Kathryn Janeway. It was one of the things that kept their journey so exciting.

B’Elanna became serious again, "Captain, I’m sorry if I’ve overstepped my bounds, but as your friend, I just couldn’t stand back and watch the two of you waste your one opportunity at happiness. And out here in the Delta Quadrant, happiness is a luxury you cannot afford to waste."

Kathryn smiled at her Chief Engineer, and newfound confidante, "When did you get so smart?"

"Well, I’ve got this really great Captain. She’s the best, and really smart, too. I’ve really learned a lot from her. You should meet her. I’m sure you would love her as much as I do. As much as we all do."

Kathryn could feel the tears stinging her eyes, "She sounds like one lucky woman. To have the love and respect of her whole crew."

B’Elanna smiled fondly at her Captain, blinking back her own tears, "She just forgets that sometimes. She just forgets that we only want to see her happy. She forgets that she deserves it after all she has done for us. So, believe me when I tell you, you don’t have to worry about what the crew will think. They…we, would lay down our lives for you. We have and will follow you anywhere. So asking us to accept and be happy for you is really asking very little. You deserve this. And I’ve always heard that a happy Captain makes for a better Captain. In a way we all deserve this. You wouldn’t want to deprive your crew of what we rightfully deserve, would you?"

At the sound of muffled groans, both women jerked their heads in the direction of Chakotay’s bio-bed. "Can you two keep it down? I’m trying to sleep over here."

B’Elanna was the first to reach him, "Chakotay, you’re awake!"

"Yeah, thanks to you." Chakotay chuckled, and then regretted it immediately. "Oww, my head. What happened? Did I crash another shuttle?" he groaned in obvious pain.

B’Elanna was laughing and crying at the same time, "Don’t you remember? We were boarded by aliens. One of them shot you."

Chakotay closed his eyes as he tried to piece together all the fragmented memories swimming around in his head. Then suddenly, "The Captain!" he exclaimed, trying to sit up. "Is she alright?"

B’Elanna quickly grabbed hold of his shoulders, restraining him gently, "Hey, don’t try to get up. The Captain’s just fine. Thanks to you. You saved her life."

As B’Elanna was talking, Kathryn had stepped up into Chakotay’s line of vision. He visibly relaxed when he saw that she was indeed alive and well, then lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. Kathryn was just about to say something, but was interrupted by the Doctor.

"Ah, Commander. Nice of you to join us. How are you feeling?"

"I’ve never felt better, Doc." Chakotay answered sarcastically.

"Well, it’s good to know that you haven’t lost your sense of humor." the Doctor returned, biting back his own sarcasm.

"How soon can I go to my own quarters, Doc? No offense, but I just prefer my own quarters to sick bay."

"You can go as soon as I say you can. I have several tests and scans to perform before I can even think of releasing you. In the meantime I will do everything I can to make you comfortable. Now I need to rule out the possibility of any brain damage. Please tell me exactly what you can remember."

Chakotay snickered, "I remember that as many times as we’ve threatened to reprogram you, for some reason, we just never seem to get around to it."

At that, even Kathryn had to turn her head away to hide the silly grin she tried and failed to suppress.

The doctor simply glared at the Commander, "Well, I’ll be sure to report to Lieutenant Torres once I’m through examining you. But right now, I have to find out if you will have any lasting effects from your ordeal." Then he turned to Kathryn, "Captain, can you please order him to cooperate?"

Kathryn turned back to face him, still fighting the urge to laugh, "Hmmm, oh, sure, Doc." Then turning to face Chakotay, "Commander, the sooner you allow the Doctor to perform his tests, the sooner you will be released to your own quarters."

The Doctor was about to retort when Chakotay suddenly went stiff. Then his body was wracked by uncontrollable convulsions.

Kathryn cried out, "What’s wrong with him, Doctor? Help him, please! Do something!" Without meaning to, her last statement sounded as if she were issuing an order.

The next moments were a blur for Kathryn. She barely heard the Doctor yelling out orders to Tom for the cortical stimulator as she watched Chakotay’s body seizing and convulsing on the bio-bed. The monitors beeping incessantly, and his life slowly slipping away with each beep.

The next thing she knew, the Doctor was standing in front of her. He had obviously been trying for some time to get her attention, "Captain, are you alright? Captain?"

"What? Oh, yes, I’m fine, Doctor." Kathryn answered, then asked the question she wasn’t sure she wanted the answer for, "How’s Chakotay?"

The Doctor studied his Captain, not sure how much to tell her, "I’ve got him stabilized for the moment. His neurological system took quite a shock from the alien’s weapon. His synaptic relays have been badly damaged. All I can do now is wait and see if they repair themselves and he is able to regain consciousness. It would be better for him to wake up on his own. It may take longer to know the extent of his damages, but it will be better for the Commander in the long run."

"What exactly does that mean, Doctor?" Kathryn demanded.

"It means that we wait and see." he repeated, trying not to sound exasperated.

"Doctor, will he wake up?" Kathryn had to know, one way or the other.

"Captain, you need some rest. Why don’t you go…"

"Doctor." Kathryn warned. "Tell me what’s wrong with him. Please."

The Doctor knew she was going to find out sooner or later, so he decided to be blunt, "The Commander’s condition is very serious. His neurotransmitters are dangerously low and there is substantial swelling of the brain stem. The swelling is causing undue pressure on many of the nerves that are responsible for living a normal life."

Kathryn’s eyes widened in horror, "What are you saying, Doctor?"

"I’m saying that many of the functions of normal life are controlled by the brain stem and the nerves leading to and from it. Movement, respiration, and cardiovascular functions, to name a few. And I’m saying that we have to give the Commander time to heal. And right now, that’s the only thing that’s going to help. There’s nothing more I can do. Except monitor his condition, and watch for the swelling to go down. As soon as it does, I will be able to ascertain the extent of his damages. And then, and only then, will I be able to tell you if he will awake. Now, please, Captain, you must go, get some rest. You aren’t doing anybody any good by not taking care of yourself."

"And if the swelling doesn’t go down?" she challenged.

"Captain, I’ll be honest with you. If the swelling does not subside, the Commander could have lasting neurological effects ranging from severe mental retardation to complete paralysis. But, I won’t know for sure until he wakes up. So the best thing for you to do is go to your quarters and sleep. I will call you as soon as I know something. I promise."

Kathryn looked over to Chakotay’s bio-bed, her heart breaking into a million little pieces. Her very life was shattering before her eyes. "I won’t leave him. Not now."

"Captain, you must…" he began.

Kathryn protested forcefully, "No, I said I’m not leaving. I…"

Now it was the Doctor’s turn to interrupt. He grasped her shoulders to quiet her. And for the first time in his existence, he noticed fear in the eyes of his Captain. The woman who had faced down the Borg, the Hirogen, and Species 8472. The woman who had risked her own life countless times over to protect her crew and her ship. The woman who had gotten them all more than half way home. Now this very woman stood before him and she was afraid. Afraid of losing the one man she could not admit to anyone, let alone herself, she loved more than anything.

"Captain," he started, "Before you threaten to decompile my matrix if I order you out of here, please, listen to me. I will do everything in my power to help the Commander. I won’t deactivate myself until he is up and on his feet and ready to go back on duty. I promise you that. But you have to promise me something. If you go to your quarters…"

Again Kathryn opened her mouth to protest, but the Doctor took hold of her hands, "Let me finish," he said, holding up her hands to show her that she still had Chakotay’s blood on the sleeves of her uniform jacket, "If you go to your quarters, get cleaned up, get something to eat, and I don’t mean coffee, something healthy, something substantial, I will allow you to come back. Then you can stay here while I treat the Commander, provided you stay out of my way. I’ll even make up the bio-bed next to him for you." he smiled at his Captain, awaiting her answer.

Kathryn blinked back the tears, "Wherever did you learn to negotiate like that, Doctor?"

"Oh, it’s just one of the many things I’ve learned from my Captain. You’d probably like her. She’s an extraordinary woman." he told her, watching the tears fall down her cheeks.

"Well, how can I say ‘No’ to that? Alright, we have a deal. But I will be back." she told him.

"I have no doubt about that." the Doctor smiled smugly.

"Just take care of him. Please." she entreated.

"I will. Now, the sooner you go, the sooner you can come back." he intoned, echoing her words to Chakotay earlier on.

Kathryn headed for her quarters for a quick sonic shower and some food from her replicator. After changing into a fresh uniform, she stopped by the bridge to update Tuvok on the situation and asked him if he would mind covering her shifts for the next few days.

"Do not worry, Captain. Everything is under control." he assured her.

Kathryn placed her hand on his shoulder, "Thank you, my friend." Then she turned and headed back to Sickbay.

When Kathryn returned to Sickbay, the Doctor was in his office, going over some test results. Sickbay was eerily silent, too silent. She pulled a stool over and placed it next to Chakotay’s bio-bed. Making herself comfortable and taking his large hand in her smaller ones, she whispered, "Please, Chakotay. Don’t leave me now. I can’t do this without you. Please, I need you. And…I love you."

Awareness came slowly to him. He opened his eyes only to snap them shut again as the bright lights sent waves of blinding pain through his skull.

The Doctor was instantly at his side, "Ah, you’re awake, Commander. And how are we feeling today?"

"Well, I don’t know about you, Doc, but I feel like I just went ten rounds with the Kazon." Chakotay grumbled, squeezing his eyes shut. "My head is pounding and my chest hurts...I feel pressure when I breathe."

The Doctor smiled as he began his explanation, "The headache I can do something about. But as for the ‘pain’ on your chest, well, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for that." he said as he slowly looked towards Chakotay’s chest.

Chakotay opened his eyes, "What?" he began, then followed the direction of the Doctor’s eyes.

The vision that he encountered took his breath away. There was Kathryn, she had fallen asleep lying across his chest, her cheek laying just over his heart. "Oh, Kathryn." Chakotay breathed.

The Doctor held up his hand to quiet Chakotay, "If you don’t mind, I would rather we didn’t wake her just yet. This is the first real sleep she’s had since you arrived here."

"How long have I been here?" he asked, still gazing at his Captain and best friend.

"You were beamed in here two weeks ago. You gave us all quite a scare, Commander. But thanks to my superior abilities as a doctor, you will be just fine." he answered haughtily.

"And was she here the whole time?" he asked astonished.

"She did leave once. And that was to get me information on the alien’s weapon. But she’s been here ever since then. You know how stubborn our Captain can be."

"Yes, Doctor, I am painfully aware of how stubborn she can be." Chakotay said as he stroked back some strands of hair that had fallen in Kathryn’s face. "So what’s my prognosis?"

The Doctor smiled broadly, "You’re going to be fine, Commander. There is no sign of any lasting effects from your ordeal. You will require a few more days of rest, but I expect a full recovery." Then seeing the expression of love on Chakotay’s face as he was touching Kathryn prompted the Doctor to allow them some privacy, "Well, I have some more of your test results to study, so I’ll just let you rest."

"Thanks, Doc." Chakotay said, still stroking Kathryn’s hair.

Kathryn began to stir and then started to mumble something in her sleep. Chakotay distinctly heard her say, "Chakotay…love you." Then she settled herself more comfortably against his chest.

Chakotay closed his eyes, breathing deeply, "I love you to, Kathryn. I only hope that one of these days you will say that to me when you are awake."

Kathryn stirred again as she felt his caresses on her face. "Wha…what’s wrong? Doctor, is he okay." she called before she was fully awake. Then slowly sitting up, trying to remember where she was, Kathryn looked down and saw Chakotay smiling at her, "Oh…hi." she said a little self-consciously.

"Hi, yourself." he answered back, smiling softly at her.

"Computer, activate EM…" Kathryn began.

Chakotay interrupted her, "He’s in his office checking over my test results. I’ve already talked to him."

Kathryn looked at him quizzically, "When did you have a chance to speak with the Doctor?"

"While you were…um…sleeping." Chakotay chuckled as Kathryn blushed, trying to hide her embarrassment at being caught in such a compromising position.

"What did he say? Are you going to be okay." she asked anxiously, unable to keep the concern out of her voice.

"He said that I’m going to be just fine." he assured her with both dimples out in full force.

Kathryn slowly exhaled the breath she had been holding and smiled at Chakotay, "Well, I’ll go now so you can rest." she told him as she got up and headed for the exit.

Chakotay called out to her, "Don’t go."

Still heading for the door, she answered, "I have to get back to the bridge. I have a lot of work to catch up on."

"Kathryn…please." he called out again.

Kathryn stopped immediately at the sound of her name. Chakotay hadn’t used her first name for so long now, and she didn’t realize just how much she missed the sound of her name coming from him. He always had a way of saying it that was like music to her ears. So full of promise.

Slowly, Kathryn turned back to face him. The first thing he noticed were the tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Kathryn, please talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong." he implored.

Kathryn took a deep breath, "I just think…that I could really use…my best friend right now. That is…if you still want to be my friend."

Chakotay had to blink back his own tears at her confession. Painfully sitting up on the bio-bed, he studied her for a moment. There were so many emotions in her eyes, but the one that startled him the most was fear. Captain Kathryn Janeway was afraid of nothing. But the woman standing before him now wasn’t the Captain. The woman before him was Kathryn. His Kathryn. Slowly bringing his legs to hang over the side, Chakotay lowered himself down off the bio-bed, leaned back against it for support, then simply held out his arms to her.

Kathryn’s tears became more abundant as she willingly stepped into his embrace, savoring the warmth and strength of the comfort that only he could give her. His arms wrapped themselves around her, drawing her tightly to him, causing her to gasp as she allowed herself to drown in the liquid heat radiating from his body. Suddenly, Kathryn pulled back to look at him and their eyes locked, blue on brown. Then just as suddenly, she placed her hand on the back of Chakotay’s head pulling him to her. He was only momentarily stunned until he felt Kathryn’s warm lips on his. Then giving into his emotions, he pulled her closer to him and deepened their kiss. They were aware of nothing but the steadily increasing beating of their hearts until the Doctor made his presence known.

"Ahem…I should’ve known I couldn’t leave the two of you alone for long." The Doctor watched with an amused smile as the Command team abruptly broke their kiss, and as Kathryn tried to step away, Chakotay tightened his hold on her.

Kathryn stiffened involuntarily as she turned to look at the Doctor. As she looked into his eyes, she saw none of the judgment she had anticipated, only acceptance and – could it be – a smug expectation that she would end up in the arms of her First Officer, as if he had known all along, as if he had orchestrated the whole thing.

"Commander, I must insist that you remain calm and relaxed for the next 48 hours. You have to allow your nervous system time to heal. Captain, I will have to ask you to leave now. It appears it is your proximity to the Commander that is causing his rapid heartbeat."

Never taking his eyes off Kathryn, Chakotay responded, "I assure you, Doctor, that I will heal much faster if she remains right where she is." He smiled as he watched Kathryn blush noticeably.

"Alright, I’ll allow you to stay, but only for a while longer. Just until I have finished studying his test results." He smiled fondly at his commanding officers, two people who had become more than just his superior officers. They were his colleagues, his friends. Along with the rest of the crew, the Doctor would gladly give up his existence if it meant that they could be happy.

"Thank you, Doctor." the command team replied in unison.

Once the Doctor was back in his office, Chakotay looked down at Kathryn who had buried her face in his chest and had her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, "Kathryn, I think we have to talk."

Kathryn tightened her hold on him, her voice muffled in his chest, "Please, just hold me. I just need for you to hold me right now."

Chakotay ran his hands up and down her back, "There is nothing else in this universe that I would rather be doing than holding you in my arms, but right now I think you owe me an explanation. Please tell me what is going on in that pretty little head of yours. But please, I don’t want to hear anything about protocol or regulations."

Kathryn slowly pulled back and raised her face to look him in the eyes. "This isn’t about protocol. Okay, at first it was, at least that’s what I kept telling myself when I was pushing you away. But I realize that Starfleet Command didn’t have our situation in mind when they wrote those protocols. Out here, alone, we’ve practically had to write our own protocols."

Chakotay interrupted her, "Then tell me what it is. One minute we’re holding hands on the Holodeck, the next minute you’re running away from me, and then the next, you’re here in my arms, holding on for dear life. Please Kathryn, you owe me an explanation."

"Oh, Chakotay. I owe you so much more than that."

"You owe me the truth, Kathryn."

Kathryn brought her hands up to Chakotay’s face, gently stroking his cheek, "I was so afraid." she confessed tearfully.

"Can you please tell me what you are so afraid of?"

Kathryn pulled herself from his grasp and turned to lean heavily on the next bio-bed before she whispered, "You."

Chakotay closed the distance between them in an instant, "What? You’re afraid of me? Kathryn, you know I would never do anything to hurt you. I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anybody in this universe."

Kathryn turned back to face him, "I know that, and that’s what I’m afraid of. That’s why I can’t allow myself to love you."

Chakotay frowned, gently placing his hands on her shoulders, "Kathryn, you’re not making any sense."

"I know. But I don’t know how else to tell you. To make you understand." she cried.

"Just tell me. Whatever it is, we can deal with it together. My people have a saying— ‘On a long road, take small steps.’ Kathryn, we can take those steps together." he promised.

Turning away from him again, she sighed heavily, "This was so much easier all those times I rehearsed it in my Ready Room." she stated, talking more to herself than to him.

Chakotay slowly brought his hands down her arms, gently pulling her towards him, "What exactly was it that you were rehearsing?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into his embrace.

Kathryn allowed several seconds to pass, relishing the feel of his touch, then turned to face him, "All the ways I wanted to tell you how much I love you. All the ways I wanted to show you."

Chakotay smiled down at her, "So that’s what you were doing every time I’ve caught you staring out into space in your Ready Room. And here I thought that you had taken up stargazing for a hobby." he teased.

"Oh, Chakotay. I love you so much. I have loved you for so long." she finally admitted out loud. "And I think…no…I know that I love you more than I have ever loved any man in my life."

Chakotay closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as if trying to draw her words into his very soul, into his heart, where they belonged. He remained silent with his eyes closed for so long that Kathryn was not sure he had even heard her. "Chakotay?"

He slowly opened his eyes and Kathryn saw the tears forming in the corners, "Can you say that again? I’ve been playing this moment over and over in my head, but I think it sounds better coming straight from you."

Kathryn smiled sweetly at him, "It would be my pleasure. I love you, Chakotay." She studied him for a moment longer, "Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to tell you that? Do you have any idea how many times I’ve resented the fact that I’m the Captain. Do you have any idea how many M-class planets that we’ve come across, where I was ready to settle down and build a home…with you? Start a family with you. I’ve even drawn up plans for our house. A log cabin that we would build together with plenty of room for the kids. I even pictured a family pet."

Chakotay interjected, "A dog?"

Kathryn smiled as she answered, "No, a monkey."

They both laughed as they thought back to their time on New Earth. A time of great happiness as well as great sadness for both of them.

"Kathryn, how long have you felt like this?"

"It doesn’t matter how long. Don’t you see, none of that matters. As long as we’re in the Delta Quadrant, none of that matters. On this ship, Kathryn doesn’t exist, only the Captain. What Kathryn wants or needs doesn’t matter. Her feelings can’t matter." she countered.

"Oh, but I beg to differ. Kathryn does exist. And she matters a great deal to me. Whether we are in the Delta Quadrant or the Alpha Quadrant or in some other alternate universe or timeline, Kathryn Janeway matters to me." Chakotay insisted wholeheartedly.

"But I don’t know how to separate myself from the Captain anymore. I’ve been Captain Janeway for too long now. I’m not even sure Kathryn is in there anymore."

"I don’t want you to separate it. I want the whole package. I want you. I love you. Being the Captain is not just a job for you, Kathryn. It is who you are. It is in your blood. I don’t think you can separate it."

"But what if I can’t separate my feelings for you? My feelings for you as my First Officer and my feelings for you as Chakotay. What if have to choose between you and the ship? If I gave into my feelings for you, as Chakotay, I don’t know if I would be willing to sacrifice you for the good of the ship. What if I can’t choose? What if I have to send someone on a dangerous mission? And what if you were the only one who could do the job? Do I just disregard my feelings for you or do I disregard the safety of this crew and send somebody else?"

"Oh, Kathryn, the fact that we are even in the Delta Quadrant is testament to your ability to make a difficult decision. You will do what’s right. You always have, no matter the consequences. Your crew weren’t the only ones to make sacrifices when we became stranded here. You’ve made plenty of sacrifices yourself. You left behind your career, your home, your family, Mark, even Molly."

Kathryn thought fondly about her beloved Irish Setter back home with Mark and his new wife. She thought about how much she dearly missed her mother and younger sister, Phoebe. The prospect of losing Chakotay also only added to her misery. "But I don’t want to lose you. I have lost every man I have ever loved. And I don’t know if I can take that again. I don’t have my sister here to help me get back on my feet this time. I’ve worked so hard to keep from getting hurt. I worked so hard to keep from letting you into my life. But somehow, somehow you seemed to work your way in, past all my defenses and force fields that took me years to build up. And so inextricably that I can’t imagine you not being there. In fact, it feels so natural, so right, like you belong there. Like I’ve spent my whole life searching for you. I guess I just figured that if you were my friend, I would always have you in my life. But by pushing you away, I lost you as my friend. And then I almost lost you for good to those aliens. Oh, Chakotay, I was just so afraid."

"Kathryn, I wish I could guarantee you that nothing will ever happen to me. That we will always be together. But you know as well as I do that that’s just not possible. Even for the Great Captain Kathryn Janeway." he teased her, getting a small smile out of her before continuing, "Seven years ago, you were sent out to capture me. Well, Captain, your mission was a success because you not only captured me…you captured my heart as well. So it looks like you’re stuck with me. And for as long as I am able, I’m going to be right here by your side." Chakotay gently wiped away a tear that was sliding down Kathryn’s cheek, before asking, "But can you truthfully tell me that losing me as your best friend would be any easier that losing me as…say…your husband?"

"I don’t want to lose you. Period." she cried.

"So then you can understand that I have the same fears about losing you. Remember the time you made that alliance with the Borg. The reason I fought you so hard on that was because I was so scared of losing you. And then when you went to Unimatrix Zero and went up against the Borg Queen herself, I was going out of my mind knowing that, again, I might lose you. And all the other times in between when I almost lost you. You have no idea how scared I was, Kathryn. I don’t know if I would have been able to Captain this ship without you. Never knowing what we could have had together."

Kathryn smiled as the tears flowed freely down her cheeks, "I never knew you to be scared of anything, my Angry Warrior."

"With you, Kathryn, I feel so many things. And all at once. Happy. Scared. Excited. Calm. Lost. Found. But most of all, I feel peace. Just being near you has given me a peace I’ve never known or experienced before. I don’t ever want to lose that. And every second that we are apart seems like such a terrible waste. Life is a gift, Kathryn. Except when you are alone. Then mere hours can seem like an eternity. Don’t spend the rest of your life alone."

"Oh, Chakotay, I do love you so much. I just don’t know what I ever did to deserve you."

"Kathryn, you know I would never make you do anything that you are not ready for, so, whenever you are ready to take that first step, I’ll be here waiting for you."

"What if I’m not ready?" she asked fearfully.

The mischief twinkled in his eyes, "Okay, I’ll give you another day to think about it."

"This isn’t funny, Commander." she chided.

"I’m not trying to be funny, Kathryn. I’m serious. One more day, then I want an answer."

"And what if I don’t have the answer you want?" she queried.

Chakotay thought for a moment, then smiled broadly, "Then I’ll have to give you another day, and another, til I get the answer I want." His smile only succeeded in bringing more tears.

Kathryn reached up to stroke his cheek, "Oh, how I’ve missed these dimples of yours. And I’ve especially missed you. And to prove it, I think I’m ready to take that first step. I think I’d like to start by having you accompany me to Talent Night."

Chakotay tried to look shocked, "Why, Kathryn, are you asking me out on a date?"

Kathryn blushed and looked away, then slowly made eye contact again, "I guess I am. So, what do you say, Chakotay?"

"I would be honored, Kathryn." Chakotay beamed, then added, "But the Doctor told me that I was in Sickbay for almost two weeks. Aren’t we a little late for this year’s Talent Night?"

The smile that formed on Kathryn’s face was brighter than any pulsar Chakotay had ever seen. "I…uh…well…the crew…asked Neelix if we could postpone until you were on your feet again."

Chakotay’s heart was about to burst with his feelings of love for this woman. "Remind me to thank…the crew…for their thoughtfulness. So, what time should I pick you up?"

"How about I meet you there? I don’t know when I’ll be done with all those reports that have piled up on my desk. You see, my First Officer decided to take some time off and left me with all the work." she teased him and was rewarded with his dimples.

"I can wait. Or better yet, I’ll help you." he offered.

"No way, the Doctor would never let me hear the end of it. You are still recovering. I’ll just meet you there when I’m finished. I promise." Kathryn told him, then quieted any more of his protests with a kiss. A very passionate kiss that ended up with Kathryn and Chakotay laying on top of one another on the bio-bed, a bed that was originally built to hold only one person.

Suddenly Kathryn felt Chakotay’s hands pushing at her shoulders as he broke their kiss. Looking down at him, she saw him glance around the room several times, "What? What is it?" she asked breathlessly.

"The Doctor." he answered, looking around again. "If we keep this up, he’ll be out here any minute."

Kathryn just smiled down at Chakotay, "He wouldn’t dare. Not if he values his matrix. Because if he does, I will be forced to reprogram him."

"Promises, promises." he mumbled just as Kathryn captured his lips for another searing kiss.

As he waited for Kathryn, Chakotay thought back to the last time he had seen her. The feel of her in his arms, the taste of her lips, the words of love she spoke. Even when she wasn’t beside him or in his arms, those were the memories that would stay with him always, wrapped around his heart like a warm blanket.

"Where is she? She promised she would come." Chakotay asked, once again turning in his seat to look back at the cargo bay doors. And each time they opened, it was only another crewmember coming or going as their shifts allowed.

B’Elanna softly patted his arm, "Don’t worry, Chakotay. She’ll be here. Now turn around and stop fidgeting. You don’t want to miss anything do you?"

"The only thing I don’t want to miss is Kathryn walking through those doors the next time they open." Chakotay was getting very impatient. He had already sat through over an hour of Talent night and, so far, no sign of Kathryn.

First up was Tuvok’s rendition of ‘Vulcan Poetry Through The Ages’, complete with symbolic dance. And those who weren’t numbed into a state of catatonia were then treated to some lively music from Harry and The Kimtones, who then offered to take audience requests.

Chakotay turned to B’Elanna with an almost crazed look in his eyes, "I’m going to go look for her. Save my seat."

B’Elanna grabbed hold of his arm, "You’re not going anywhere." she told him, and then trying not to laugh at his obvious anxiety, assured him again, "She promised she’d be here, and she will."

Chakotay was just about to retort, but was interrupted by the clapping of the audience. And then Neelix took the stage once again, "Thank you, Harry, for that very uplifting music. And now it brings me great pleasure to introduce our final performer. You should all be pleasantly surprised since she has not graced us with her presence since her interpretation of ‘the dying swan’ a few years ago."

Knowing exactly who Neelix was talking about, Chakotay immediately turned to B’Elanna, "Did you know about this? Is that why she said she’d meet me here?"

B’Elanna only smiled knowingly and turned her attention back to the stage, as Neelix introduced the next performer.

A collective gasp echoed through the audience as Kathryn stepped out onto the stage. Tom looked over and noticed Harry, who was sitting there with his mouth hanging open, staring at his Captain. Slowly Tom reached over and closed his friends’ gaping jaw, teasing, "Geez Harry, you’d think you’ve never seen a beautiful woman before."

Harry turned to look at him, dumbfounded, "But that’s…that’s…that’s the Captain." he stuttered.

"Yeah," Tom agreed, "But under that uniform, she’s all woman!"

Kathryn had kept her performance a secret from everyone except B’Elanna, who had helped her get ready and gave her the support she so desperately needed. Kathryn had chosen an elegant blue silk gown with a fitted bodice and flowing skirt that ended just above her knees, and a pair of matching sandals with just the right amount of heel to accentuate her shapely legs. Kathryn and B’Elanna had even pooled their rations to replicate a stunning set of diamond stud earrings to finish off the look.

As soon as the clamor of the surprised crew died down, Kathryn ordered the computer to play her musical selection. She then stared directly into Chakotay’s eyes as she began singing.

Really thought that I could live without you
Really thought that I could make it on my own
Sent you away, yeah, I said I didn’t need you
I let you go, I let you go, I let you go
Now I’m so lost without you
Now you’re not here and now I know
Lonely is the night when I’m not with you
Lonely is the night, ain’t no light shining through
Til you’re in my arms, til you’re here by my side
Lonely am I
Never thought that I, that I would need you
Never thought that I, that I’d be missing you
Gotta get you back
I’ve just got to find a way now
To let you know, to let you know, to let you know
That I’m so lost without you
Now this world just ain’t right
Lonely is the night when I’m not with you
Lonely is the night, ain’t no light shining through
Til you’re in my arms, til you’re here by my side
Lonely am I
I can make it through the day
I can fake it okay
I just smile and pretend
And I tell myself I’ll be alright
But lonely is the night
Lonely is the night

As the instrumental part of the song played, Kathryn stepped down off the stage and began walking in front of her senior officers sitting in the first row. Coming to a stop in front of Harry, she smiled at him and then seductively ran her hand under his chin, causing him to turn beet red. Raising his face to hers and blowing him a kiss before she continued on her way. Winking at Tom and giving a ‘thumbs up’ gesture to B’Elanna, Kathryn finally came to a stop in front of a very wide-eyed Chakotay as she continued the song.

Now I’m so lost without you
Now you’re not here and now I know
Lonely is the night when I’m not with you
Lonely is the night, there’s no light shining through
Til you’re in my arms, til you’re here by my side
Lonely is the night
Lonely is the night when I’m not with you
Lonely is the night, there’s no light shining through
Til you’re in my arms, til you’re here by my side
Lonely is the night

As the song concluded, Kathryn was still staring into the eyes of her First Officer. Smiling, she held out her hand and when he took it, she pulled him up to stand in front of her. The music stopped and the whole crew held their breaths as their Captain began to speak, "Chakotay, you are my best friend. Until I met you, I never really had a best friend. Falling in love with you has been so easy, I don’t know why I fought it for so long. And so tonight I give you my love and our life together."

"Kathryn, what’s going on? What are you saying?" Chakotay asked quietly, but once he looked into her eyes, he knew that question was unnecessary. They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. And at that very moment, Kathryn’s eyes were telling him everything he wanted to know. The love he saw shining in her eyes was unlike any love he had ever known. A love so bright, it was like a beacon, leading him out of the darkness. Leading him straight to her.

"I’m saying that since you were willing to give your life to save mine, I think it’s only fair that I repay you in kind. So…I’m offering you my life, Chakotay. And if you’re willing, I want to spend the rest of it with you." Then she lowered herself down on one knee and took hold of both his hands, "Chakotay, will you marry me?"

Now it was Chakotay’s turn to be stunned. His mind was working at warp speed. ‘Am I dreaming again?’ he asked himself. "Oh, Kathryn! You have just made me the happiest man in the universe. Of course I’ll marry you!" he answered before scooping her up into his arms and leaning in to eagerly kiss her, ignoring the whoops and hollers of the entire crew.

After Kathryn had regained her composure and her breath, she stood back to look into his eyes, "Are you sure you still want me. I mean, you’ve probably noticed that I’m kind of high maintenance."

"Still? Are you kidding? Still and forever, Kathryn. I love you. And besides, I kinda like maintaining you." His eyes twinkled, as he hugged her to him. Then he pulled her back so that he could look into her eyes once again, "Have I ever told you what happened to the man who got everything he ever wanted?"

"I don’t think so. What happened to him?"

"He lived happily ever after."

Previous Talent Nights had been recorded and stored in Voyager’s database for posterity and to show to their family and friends when they arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant. This Talent Night, however, was special, and Kathryn had given Neelix the go-ahead to arrange for it to be displayed on various viewscreens throughout the ship, for the benefit of those who could not attend.

It was her way of telling the crew that all their scheming had paid off. It was also her way of telling Chakotay that she was through pushing him away. She was through hiding from her feelings for him. She loved him and she wanted everybody to know. It also let everybody know that if a love like theirs could exist in the hostile unknowns of the Delta Quadrant, then so to could hope. Hope that they would indeed reach the Alpha Quadrant within their lifetimes.

Harry had to push his way through the crowd that had converged on the command team, offering their best wishes and hopes of a happy future together. He grabbed hold of Chakotay’s hand to congratulate him, "Way to go, Commander." Then still grasping his hand, Harry leaned in closer and whispered, "Just be sure that you take care of her."

Chakotay smiled reassuringly, whispering back, "Don’t worry, Harry. I’d give my life to protect that woman."

After Harry had congratulated the woman who had become like a surrogate mother to him, Kathryn leaned over to Chakotay and whispered, "What was that all about? What did Harry say to you?"

Chakotay just smiled, pulling her into his embrace, "Oh, nothing. Just guy stuff."

The Doctor was next to offer his well wishes, "It would appear that congratulations are in order." Then turning to Chakotay, he added, "And might I add a ‘Thank you’ to that, Commander?"

Chakotay looked at the Doctor, puzzled, "Why’s that, Doctor?"

The Doctor simply smiled and looked at Kathryn, "Now that Captain Janeway will have a more active ‘personal’ life, she just might be inclined to visit Sickbay a little more often. I’m guessing…at least once a month." The Doctor’s smile became broader as he added, "If for nothing else but to keep her boosters up-to-date."

B’Elanna basically threw herself into Chakotay’s arms to congratulate him. "See, I told you it would all work out." Then she hugged Kathryn with as much enthusiasm, "Good show, Captain! Very good show!" When she pulled away, both women had tears running down their cheeks.

Kathryn pulled her to the side and whispered, "And I have you to thank for it, ‘Lana." she told her, wiping the tears from her face.

"I’m just glad I was able to help." B’Elanna replied, busily drying her own tears.

"I just hope I can count on your expertise in the future, as well. Especially where Chakotay is concerned. I might need to borrow your Klingon Pain Sticks once in a while." she whispered conspiratorially.

"Not a problem. As long as you return the favor and help me keep Helmboy in line."

"Deal." Kathryn replied, then both women began to giggle like two teenagers discussing boys at a slumber party.

Tom reached out his hand to Chakotay, "Congratulations, big guy. I guess all your years of patience and determination really paid off, huh? You finally got the girl."

"Yep, and I plan on keeping her." Chakotay told him, and then both men turned at the sound of Kathryn and B’Elanna giggling softly a few feet away.

Tom looked to Chakotay, "Should we be afraid?"

"You remember the Omega molecule?" Chakotay asked in a hushed voice.

"Yeah." Tom answered hesitantly, fear creeping into his eyes, remembering back to the time they had encountered the highly classified and extremely dangerous molecule. A lone molecule of Omega had the ability to destroy the very fabric of subspace and any chances of Voyager ever being able to attain warp speed again.

"Well, put those two together, and I can assure you they will be ten times more powerful than all the Omega molecules combined." Chakotay told him solemnly.

Tom paled visibly, "Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves?"

Chakotay thought for a moment, "Just be glad they’re on our side." he laughed, and then added, "Oh, and Tom, never turn your back on them." Just as he finished speaking, Kathryn had made her way back to him and once again insinuated herself into his embrace. Smiling up at him, she whispered in his ear, "I could definitely get used to this." He responded by gently kissing her on the lips.

Tuvok then stepped up to offer his congratulations, "Well, Captain, it seems that you were correct a few years ago."

Kathryn looked puzzled, "Correct about what, Tuvok?" she asked.

"You said that you would surprise me one of these days. I am pleased to inform you that your actions tonight have accomplished just that." Then extending his hand in the familiar Vulcan salute, he added, "May you both enjoy a long and prosperous future together."

Neelix was next to offer his congratulations and his assistance in the wedding and reception plans, "Just tell me the date, Captain, and I will take care of all the arrangements. The only thing you will have to worry about is getting there on time."

Seven, who had declined Harry’s invitation to join him, claiming that Talent Night and any such activities were just ‘pointless endeavors’, had nevertheless watched the whole evening on the viewscreen in Astrometrics. She decided it was only right that she also congratulate the happy couple, even though she felt she would never completely understand human nature. And she did not want to live up to the Doctor’s description of the Borg—‘The Delta Quadrant Party Poopers’

Seven walked purposely towards the command team in the center of the room, "Congratulations, Captain, Commander." Then looking at Chakotay with raised eyebrows, she added, "So, Commander, it would appear to be true."

"What’s that, Seven?" he asked.

"Resistance IS futile." she told him, all the while maintaining a serious expression.

Everyone within earshot became silent as they considered the fact that their resident Borg had just made a joke. And a funny one at that. Then suddenly, everybody burst into fits of giggles and all out gut-busting laughter.

As the crew was occupied with their glee, Chakotay glanced down at the woman in his arms, "What is it, Kathryn? You’re staring at me."

"I was just wondering how I could have missed it." she told him, lightly stroking his cheek.

"Missed what?" he asked.

"When we first met. That moment when I first looked into your eyes. How could I not have realized that I was looking into the eyes of the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with?"


The End

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