Disclaimer: Paramount own these chatracters, but the story is my own
It's at moments like these that I fall in love with her all over again.
They are not the big or loud moments. They are not about remarkable feats, extraordinary strength. They are moments when we have laughed quietly together, moments when we have shared sorrow and, if not quite cried together, then at least let the other know that we could offer comfort, solace - even if the offer is to be rejected. Such times are precious - each one startling in its clarity, and somehow set apart from the normal course of our lives. Not that anything much about our lives is normal - not out here. But still, they are times when the barriers between us fall, and our personas shift to encompass our whole selves - equals.
I know her well in some ways, and in others not at all; I think I can read her and then learn, often painfully, that I can not. I know when she is angry, can tell from the clenched fists, the tightened jaw and the slow deliberation of her words in a whisper of a voice when she is mad as hell. Other people shout when they are angry - not Kathryn and it's worse somehow, that she doesn't - deadly. I realised long ago that when she has to say something she dislikes one of her hands will unconsciously stray to the throat, as though she experiences physical pain in actually forcing the words out. I can tell when she is amused, know the difference between her stage smile and the quick quirky grin that is real. I know that when she is enthused her whole body bounces with energy and her remarks are often sly and clever, gently sarcastic.
Yet I don't know what ghosts haunt her, can only guess at the burdens she carries and the impact of their weight, will perhaps never know the true cost to her. These subjects are closed to me and the small glimpses that I catch of her pain only leave me wondering how she deals with it and what kind of scars it leaves. Every precious moment that I steal with her leaves me hungry for the next and fearful that there will never be another. I can't help thinking that something will take her from me, be it danger or her own resolve. I've seen her expression sometimes, watching me, it is guarded. As though she thinks we have become too close and that what she should do is put some distance between us. I don't want that to happen, but perhaps it would be better if it did. I can't go on like this, I want more than these brief interludes of happiness. I want a lifetime with her, and if that is not to be than perhaps I need to find a way to let her go.
As I glance at the woman sitting beside me, I know that today is not the right time to present her with that ultimatum. She is scrabbling happily in her bag for another pencil so she can resume her sketch of the waterfall we are seated next to. Our picnic lunch was finished an hour ago and now there is nothing left but a bottle of white wine and some fruit that bares a passing resemblance to apples. She is happy and relaxed; and for her those are such gifts that I would not dare take them from her.
My hand shakes a little as I steal a glance at him. He is looking far off into the distance, to the place where the land touches the sky, a half smile on his lips as he contemplates that eternal union. He looks quizzical but amused - an odd combination. My pencil moves swiftly over the page, translating his features onto the paper before me. He appears calm, often I think such an expression is, if not a pretence, then a mask he wears, one that suits him. Today I think it is genuine, he is relaxed and it is that I want to capture, hold somewhere safe. I wonder what he is smiling about.
There has not been much to be happy or relaxed about on Voyager of late. The Hirogen did more than damage a few systems. As I walk the corridors of my ship I see people who are hardened, jaded; I see it in myself, in him and I am sorry for that most of all. I am hoping that a few days of shore leave will help, lift our spirits. It isn't much in relation to what we have all been through, but it is the best we can do. It is a beautiful planet, uninhabited, off the main supply routes - as safe as anything gets in the Delta Quadrant. I feel better just sitting here with the sun warm of my skin. I hope I am not the only one.
I did start to sketch the waterfall - but Chakotay is a more tempting subject, tempting and intriguing. He looks tired, there are hollows under his eyes, his cheekbones stand out too much, he's lost weight over the last months. But when he turns his head to look at me his eyes are serene.
I close my eyes, raise my face to the sun and review this decision once again. The danger has passed, for now. It would be easy to forget the lessons that I learned when I feared we would not survive our next encounter with the Hirogen, but I have not forgotten, or repented of them. I know the risks, never want to forget them, since I hope this is what will prevent me from making a mistake. I have come to realise that deprivation is not an option that agrees with me.
I can remember each of the times I almost went to him over the last three months. In the midst of our conflict with the Hirogen standing alone, being the Captain Starfleet trained me to be, seemed much less important that being with someone I cared about, having his arms around me.
If I'd cared less it would have been all right. If all I'd wanted was a warm body to lull me to sleep then I would have made that journey along the corridor, to his bed. But it mattered too much to me to let it happen that way; because I was tired, worn down.
I wanted there to be joy.
She is concentrating on the sketch, intent, focussed; I've seen that look before and I know that when she gets like this nothing short of a full scale attack will distract her. But on this perfect day, with our troubles as far away as they will ever get I wanted her to look at me that way, if only for a moment.
'Yes.' One more glance at her drawing and then she looks up at me, a frown crinkling her brow as though something about it is not quite to her satisfaction. I don't know what to say to her, hadn't planned this far ahead, the words tumbling out before I had the chance to think about them.
'I'd like to talk about us, our relationship.' She doesn't react exactly as I expect, in fact she hardly reacts at all, leaving me to plough heedlessly onwards. 'I don't know where I stand with you, are we friends, colleagues, something more? I thought I made my feelings clear on New Earth, but then Voyager came back for us and there was nothing for us to do but go back to those roles. I understood that, I didn't see how we could do anything else, but I thought over time, we might be able to find a way to combine what we had then, with where we are now. But I'm beginning to realise that we can never go back. I don't mind, I don't want to go back, I want to move forward, I want a life, a future. I want to be with you; but if that's never going to happen, I think I need to know.'
I watch her face as I say my piece - see the frown deepen; brows drawn together, mouth a firm line, lips compressed. Then I see regret, compassion flood her features. I don't want her to feel sorry for me, I want her to admit that she feels as I do. She still hasn't looked at me and I imagine that she is carefully marshalling the arguments to placate me, trying to find a way to deliver the painful blow gently, even though she must know there is no such method.
As I am letting the anger and frustration boil inside me she moves slightly and places the sketch pad on the ground between us. She hasn't been drawing the waterfall at all. I gaze blankly at my own likeness - it's a good one, a neat pencil drawing of my staring off into the distance. My replica is wearing a slight smile, as though he is thinking of something mysterious but at the same time wonderful.
I am at a loss for words - possible meanings whirling around in my mind. 'I thought you were drawing the waterfall.' I stammer.
'I was - but I can draw a waterfall anytime on the holodeck, it wasn't sufficiently absorbing.' She blushes and I realise that my intent look is making her uncomfortable. I try to stop looking at her, but it isn't easy. 'It's my fault,' she whispers, 'I've been selfish, I should have told you weeks ago.'
'Told me what?' Even to my ears my voice sounds hoarse, heavy with emotion.
'I didn't want you to think it was because I was worn down by the Hirogen. I wanted to find a time when we weren't fighting, or running.'
'We're here now.' I point out, realising the significance of this location, the significance of her invitation to me to join her this afternoon. The Hirogen are behind us, when we depart from this Planet we will be well stocked with various useful minerals and fresh fruit and vegetables - out here things do not get much better.
'I know,' she replies, closing the remaining distance between us, moving into my arms as though she had done so hundreds of times. I smile at her with wonder and joy, how will I ever let her go?
I have changed my mind about this moment on more occasions than I care to remember. Now, finally, it is too late to turn back and even if I could, I wouldn't want to. The feel of his arms around me is solid, real a balm to my pounding pulse and scattered senses.
I look at him and decide all over again that, despite the feelings of some of the younger members of my crew (no names, no pack drill) he is not the most handsome of men. His face has character, it's a cauldron of expressions, even his poker face, his command mask is expressive. His lips are the most sensual things I've ever seen - apart from his eyes and they are lethal. The fact that he can make me feel weak just by his presence is due to who he is, not how he looks. The benefit of age and experience.
'You're shaking,' he whispers into my ear, pulling me close, wrapping his arms tightly around my back.
'Why do you think I've never let myself get this close to you?'
'I've got news for you, I have every intention of getting a great deal closer.' I was going to say something, really I was, I don't know what exactly. Instead I just looked into his eyes, knowing that I was falling and not caring enough to stop myself. Carefully I released the fingernails that were gripping the edge of my control - I knew he'd catch me.
For a moment I truly felt as though I was falling... and then he kissed me and I was flying instead, floating, soaring - exhileration merging with passion, giving me an incredible high, better than Klingon coffee. I am never going to be able to let him go, that's it, Tuvok can run the ship, I'm just going to lock myself away in my quarters and kiss Chakotay.. Maybe we'll come out for meals, maybe not.
He lies back on the ground, carrying me with him, still kissing. Still, and yet not still, we are frantic, urgent, devouring each other, as though we might not have another breath, another heartbeat. Half the crew are down here somewhere, any second a group of them could catch us like this. It wasn't part of my plans for the evening. 'Chakotay,' his mouth moves to my neck, his hands were doing wonderful things to my body, 'it's a beautiful setting and it would be a perfect place, but it isn't exactly private and we do need privacy.'
'You're right.' He stops - reluctantly, rolling away from me. 'I never thought I'd say this, but lets go back to the ship.'
We take our time gathering up our belongings, hampered by the need to look at each other; fingers straying across the small distance to touch, eyes and hands lingering until we find ourselves laughing together at our unexpected sentimentality. It serves to cross a bridge - a slight awkwardness at finding ourselves here and then I am pulling her up, grasping her hand firmly in mine as we begin to walk towards the beam in site. She does not pull away. SHE DOES NOT PULL AWAY! My heart may burst with joy at such a small gesture. How I might have taken it for granted if it were not so hard won. I see her sneak a glance at me, a small smile on her lips. 'Tell me what you're thinking.' I ask.
'I was just thinking that you look as though you've been given the answers to the mysteries of the Universe - either that or been hit on the head. I don't think I've ever seen anyone look happy and dazed at the same time.'
'You can hardly blame me. I was expecting to be rebuked for having dragged this particular demon out into the open and yet, here we are.' I glance down at our hands, woven together, a tight knot, a good fit. 'What made you change your mind?'
Her laugh is honest, heartfelt. 'I knew you'd ask that. It was everything and nothing, your persistence and certainty got me thinking and Mark's letter came along and gave me a push. But then there were the Hirogen and we were all so tired, so frayed. There was a day, I don't recall which especially, when everything was falling apart or being held together by a wing and a prayer. I looked across the Bridge at you and you smiled at me. If it had been a normal smile, of solidity and support, then I'm sure it would have had no particular impact. But it wasn't it was an outright grin for no reason at all and I just thought, "what am I doing? Who's in control of our lives, us, or a handful of Admirals in the Alpha Quadrant?" Your smile is devastating when you unleash it.'
'I remember that day.' It was true, surprisingly, I'd had no idea at the time that it would prove to have been so important. 'I remember because my attention had just wandered, I was thinking about how the lights on the Bridge caught your hair and when you looked at me you looked exactly as though you knew I was thinking about some piece of nonsense - amused disapproval. Gods, I wish you'd caught me day - dreaming about you months ago.
There is no one at the beam in site to see that we are holding hands, it makes it easier for me not to let him go. Not until the very last moment anyway. He smiles at me again just before the transporter beam caught us up, trying to keep his joy and delight from bubbling out, not entirely succeeding. I didn't care, this suited him so much better.
Our closeness is evident. I see the Transporter Chief's eyes widen as we step down from the platform. I tap my comm badge to let Tuvok know that I am back and he delivers a 'Captain you still have two hours of your shore leave left,' reprimand.
'I know, Commander Chakotay and I decided to return, we have a few matters to attend to.' He turned his laugh into a cough - I'm sure it fooled no one, least of all Tuvok, but again, I didn't care.
Tomorrow I will have to find a way to combine duty, protocol and command with this relationship. Tomorrow I will be all the things I was today and Chakotay's lover. Tomorrow we will leave his quarters together to make a journey to the Bridge, knowing that we have completed a pilgrimage of our own. For tonight I have the kiss of our bodies and the sound of our laughter to look forward to.
Joy is an underrated emotion. I intend for both of us to become very adept in it.