For Phamy in the VAMB Secret Summer exchange. She wanted J/C. NC17, preferably with angst and a happy ending. So I did my thing, what it is, and namely darker J/C. At least in the beginning. 








He finds her alone in the darkened mess hall.



“Checking up on me? How diligent of you, Commander.” Her throaty voice is exceptionally deep this evening. Its timbre lulls him into a false sense of security if he lets it. “Dare I ask why you aren’t in bed at this late hour?”



He shrugs, deciding to play her closed greeting casually. “It’s been a tough eight weeks.” His eyes dip over the bottle on the small side table beside her, at the half-full glass in her hand. Discarding the obvious question of why she would have brought hard liquor all the way down here to drink alone, if that bottle was opened tonight, it’s her second serving.



She swirls the glass around in her hand, staring deep into the amber liquid. “I wouldn’t call it that.”



His brow rises as he studies her. “Then what would you call it?”



“Enlightening.” One leg is thrown up casually against her chest as she raises her eyes expectantly. “If you’re hoping to have some kind of heart to heart that ends with me crying on your shoulder, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I’m in the mood for solitude tonight.”



“What if I’m not?” he counters lightly, slipping into the chair opposite hers, where he has a perfect view of the viewport behind her and is still fairly close to her. Close enough to reach out and put a friendly hand on her one extended knee if she’ll open up the way he hopes she will.  



“I appreciate the sentiment,” her flat expression indicates the opposite as she insists, “but it’s really not necessary.”



He isn’t one to give up so quickly. If he was, he’d never get anything out of her. “I’ll admit, that’s not exactly what I was hoping to hear.” 



“And why is that?” There’s a warning edge framing her entire posture, yet if not for the intensity of her stare, her tone would have him believing she’s bored with the conversation. With him, even.



He finds the thought neither comforting nor particularly bolstering. Especially after what he’s had to sit back and watch unfold between her and another man these past two months. But he has dealt with her in stubborn mindsets before and it’s a skill set that he prides himself on having fastidiously developed over the years. He draws on those skills now. “Because I like to think I know you pretty well–”



“Maybe I like to let you think it,” she cuts hard into his practiced rebuttal.



The breath escapes his lungs in a deflated huff. So this is how it’s going to be this evening. He scrubs weary hands over his face before edging forward in his seat. “You haven’t had enough mind games, Kathryn?” he asks, studiously bleak. “Is that it? You have to play them with me now that he’s gone?”



His carefully constructed disappointment, his weak attempt at chastisement rolls right over her. “No one’s playing games, Commander. Unless you are.” His mouth parts in objection, and her right index finger flexes at him around her glass. “You sought me out, not the other way around. As I told you before you invited yourself to sit down, I was content to drink in peace this evening.”



“In a public place,” he points out, to which she only raises a silent brow. He waits a beat. Regroups. “I came looking for you because I’ve been worried about you. Forgive me for thinking the past few weeks might not have been easy on you.”



“Because they weren’t easy on you, you mean?”



Sometimes… He keeps his cool. Somehow. And because he’s conserving energy for the fight he now sees she’s ready to pick, he admits it. “They haven’t been my favorite out here, no.”



“Because I slept with him?”



There’s nothing to say to that. Because she didn’t. In the entire sordid game she felt she had to play with their enemy, she has not made a single move he hasn’t tracked – and that was most certainly not one of them. Her attitude isn’t exactly inspiring him to enlighten her of his knowledge to the contrary. The cutting question was nothing but a cheap attempt to provoke him. She wins if he lets her. He can’t let her.


Chakotay simply continues to hold her gaze, to study her for clues as to her true emotional state. It’s something special for her to be digging at him the way that she seems to be, trying to deflect him with such underhanded tactics. She is clearly more affected by the past few months than he’d even suspected. Or so he insists to himself in order to keep his composure. 



It’s probably the fact that she opens up to him without any further tooth-pulling that puts him on full edge, however.



“He was dangerous.” Her eyes shine with recent memory, her gaze rooted somewhere else entirely. “Parts of him genuinely appealed to me. If not for the ship, I probably would have stayed away from him. Far, far away.”



“One could say it’s been the same with me,” he argues then almost winces.



Damn it. He’s had enough of the entire Kashyk situation, and now of the Kathryn situation, yes, but that was way too deep to wade. He should have checked the idea before it led to the thought, or that thought before it left his brain, let alone his lips. Must be the late hour, the stress of the past few months. Not to mention her infuriating, enigmatically difficult attitude tonight.



Surprisingly, she doesn’t seem fazed by the uncharted bluntness from him. Blue eyes glitter at him in streaking starlight: eyes that are most certainly seeing him and only him right now. “One could,” she acknowledges with a tip of her rising glass. She drinks slowly – deeply – eyes all the while on his.



His mouth falls open in surprise. “Are you admitting that it was the same with me?” Is she actually copping to this? Now, of all times and places?



She’s staring through him, deep and appraisingly into him. “Possibly,” she allows.



He isn’t sure how he feels about that. He might have said it first, but he shouldn’t have, and these aren’t waters they’ve dared to tread before.



When he entered the mess hall, this was the last turn he’d expected the late-evening conversation to take. He knows the majority of facets that comprise Kathryn Janeway, many of them so intimately that he can set his chronometer by her responses to any given situation. This is an unfamiliar shade of her, one he’s caught mere glimpses of in the past. It’s dangerous. This isn’t the woman he would lay back on some bed of roses and woo with promises of tomorrow. This woman is raw. She oozes potency, open challenge, has no intention of prevaricating with him or of backing down. Even if she should, by all known variables.



Did he make this part of her? Was she forged in the hotbed of deception she’s been sleeping in these past eight weeks? Or has it been there all along, just waiting to be recognized?



The questions burn him. It’s not the first time that she has had this effect on him. For four years, he has maintained himself, their relationship, by knowing when to hold his ground and especially when to walk away. Tonight, for some reason, is different. He isn’t sure how or why, and he can only blame the darkness shrouding them for not standing and bidding her good night right here. For letting his intrigue get the better of him.



He crosses one ankle over his knee, settling more of his weight against the cushioned side of the chair. “Why now then, Kathryn?”



She takes a sip of her drink, prompting him to remember that he’d ordered an herbal tea and that it’s still warm in his hands before she prods, “Why what?”



“Why all the sudden honesty? It’s been four years, and you’ve never once actively engaged a conversation about…us.” He takes a large drink of too-hot tea, maybe to wash down some of the strangeness of this entire encounter. 



She shrugs, apparently unconcerned, unaffected by the mood being set between them. “You started this,” she points out. “I only answered your question.”



Which is true. Damn her. This entire situation is somehow out of control.



“You shouldn’t have,” he says, thinking to pull back while they still can. “I shouldn’t have asked it in the first place – and we both know it.”



She nods, giving him that much. “Maybe.” 



Definitely. That could be the end of it – should be the end of it.



Apparently, it’s not. 



“Maybe I’m tired of all the deception, Chakotay,” she says cryptically. “Maybe I never realized before these past few months how much a part of my life that deception is.”



“I’m not sure I understand,” he frowns.



The half smile of hers, the quirk of red lips. He’s seen it many, many times. Yet rarely before has it hit him so powerfully, seemed so penetrating. She leans forward, sets her glass on the table beside her but makes no move to lean back again. Her eyes take in his entire seated form. The drop sweep of dark lashes against white cheekbones is almost demure – but for that smile. “Don’t you?” she asks, reestablishing eye contact that threatens to move him back in his chair. 



Chakotay slowly swallows the mouthful of drink he had forgotten taking. This, he’s slowly realizing, is the woman their enemy has been pursuing for the past two months. This is the woman he’d wanted but couldn’t control once he’d roused her. He’s beginning to understand. That other man didn’t make this part of her; he simply drew it out of her. This is all that she conceals, in self defense and in defense of others. Him. The ship. The crew. Friends, former lovers, all of them. She nurses this streak in secret, rarely lets it see the light of day because allowing that is simply too dangerous. He sees it all in these fleeting moments, in a way he never fully appreciated before.



It’s a powerful thing. It’s ravenous, ruthlessly predatory. Given the chance, it could do to him exactly what it did to Kashyk. Except for one thing. 



There is a counterpart of this raw, untempered id deep within him, too:  a part he has so carefully hidden aboard this ship that he’s almost forgotten it’s been there. She’s making him very aware of its existence. More, it’s stirring angrily now, a chained beast sensing the shaft of light that could mean freedom from bondage. Kathryn has no idea what she’s rousing, poking at so arrogantly. If she does, and if unleashing it is suddenly her aim, then she’s underestimating the strength of it. He thinks for an instant that he should warn her. Nothing in their recent history would have prepared either one of them for the consequences of feeding that which isn’t to be trusted. That which can’t be reigned in, and neatly controlled.



He recognizes its likeness in the woman seated so still across from him. She’s doing nothing to hide it; she practically radiates desire, hunger in its purest form. She looks at him like she could devour him, eat him whole. And she could – if he was any other man.



“Maybe I do,” Chakotay admits recklessly, too drawn into this unchecked part of her to withdraw from it now. “Maybe I do understand. And maybe I think Kashyk was a fool to think he had a chance of winning, playing this game with you.”



She smirks. It’s an expression he’s seen flit across her classic features so many times before, but never directed at him quite like this as she asks, “Are you saying you’re smart enough to know better?”



“No,” he maintains, unwilling to back down under the evolving circumstances. He very carefully sets his tea down beside him, turning to her only when he’s damned good and ready. “I’m saying he didn’t have a chance of winning. Not that I don’t.”



“Really, Chakotay?” Her brow rises the way his had several moments ago. But hers is a mocking gesture, a challenging one, as evidenced by her falsely sweet drawl. “Then you weren’t at all worried about how much time I spent alone with him.”



“Keep telling yourself that if you want. But you were never out of sight and you sure as hell were never really alone with him.” It’s out before he can check it. And he hadn’t meant to admit it but she insists on poking at him, at trying to rouse his temper – and she’s succeeding.



“Spying, were you?” She clucks her tongue, shifting so that her legs are under her, feet touching the floor. “Now I’m forced to wonder. Was it him you didn’t trust – or was it me?”  



Not a question she has any business asking him. Ever. Certainly not one he has any business answering. But she’s under his skin, too deep by now to stop.



“Maybe it was both,” he snaps back in full honesty.



“Now I’m hurt.” She doesn’t look it; in fact she’s all but laughing. She rolls forward off the edge of the couch, leaning into him, her hands bracing hot and flat on his knees, her red mouth coming so close to his. It’s slightly open. He can’t help noticing the tip of her pink tongue darting quickly over that painted lower lip, the arrogance of her small, crooked smile, and this is the instant that he realizes that it is a game for her. This whole thing. The entire conversation.



How far can she push him, how raw can she strip him? That’s all she wants to know.   



His teeth clench. Palming her shoulders, he forcefully shoves her back a pace, just to get her out of his space long enough to regroup: to regain control. She lets him, laughs at him as she withdraws under her own steam the rest of the way and straightens.



He sees red of another shade entirely.  “You think this is a game, Kathryn?” he hisses, incensed at the notion of being used as a cheap replacement, like some disposable toy she can take out to play with or discard at her leisure. “Is that really all I am to you? A game, like the one you played with him?”



Is that all he ever was?



She shrugs, undaunted by his mounting anger. “You said you were willing to play. I was only proving you wrong.”



Damn it. Damn her. Maybe he shouldn’t have intruded, should have backed off when she told him she wasn’t out for a deep conversation this evening. Maybe he should have let her drink herself stupid if she’d wanted to, and he certainly shouldn’t have dipped his toes in such forbidden waters, encouraged her dark indulgence or his own, but this is uncalled for.



This is war.



“I said I could play it. Not that I wanted to,” he snaps. The deep, ingrown fury of the past few months is swelling uncontrollably, making him shake. “You were out of line just now!”



He was too. He was just as out of line as her. He watched every increment of her approach, drank it in like a man dying of thirst. He could have stopped all of this from the first comment out of his mouth when he entered this room, and that’s probably what pisses him off the most: that he let her draw him into this in the first place. That she can strip him so unbelievably raw, so easily. So uncaringly. 



“Was I?” Her tone indicates her assessment of where to place the blame for his anger mirrors his. “My apologies. Chalk it up to a misunderstanding, then.” Of what kind of man you really are. Her amused expression says it for her; she doesn’t have to. She’s already turning away, that dark and faintly mocking smile twisting her lips at odd angles in streaking starlight. “You have nothing to worry about; I’m sure by morning I’ll be my normal cheerful self again. Good night, Chakotay.”



No she doesn’t. No the hell she does not.



She got to walk away from Kashyk. Fine. He’ll be damned if she’s going to do the same to him right now.  



He’s on his feet in a flash, his hand snaking out to stop her from leaving, from ending it this way – and it’s over. Later, she will tell herself that he made the first move, that his hand gripping her arm a shade too hard has her whirling back at him, slapping a hand at his chest in furious self defense. He will tell himself that slap forces him to pull her closer, to limit her range as she draws back, possibly to strike at him harder. Either way the harsh breathing that fills the air is laced with adrenaline, endorphins flying under cover of darkness and neither will remember who mashed their too-close lips against the other person’s. It only matters that it happens, that his already open mouth finds hers in the same condition and no one can deny the feral explosion of lust ignited by that contact. Without chance for thought or examination, hands are groping mindlessly, travelling, kneading and exploring, taking and learning. Stoking fires that might otherwise have been banked in some last, desperate attempt to stop what it’s too late to stop now.



“Lock the door,” she orders against his mouth, pushing his tongue out of the way just long enough to grit it out.



“Why? Not into an audience? You seemed to do just fine with it when it was Kashyk,” he growls then grunts as her teeth sink into his lower lip, actually drawing long flat beads of blood. His face tightens, eyes darkening until she soothes the hurt with her tongue, lapping apologetically at the wound.



It’s one of the more erotic things he’s ever witnessed, the look in the eyes that hold to his while she draws his injured lip between hers, gently suckling. It spurs the beast in him, saps at his control. He grinds out the requested command to the computer, and if Starfleet uniforms weren’t so damned well constructed, her shirts would rip with the force he uses to tear them over her head and throw them out of the way. In this mood, he’d far prefer the rips but the cloth slides off her pale skin so smoothly that he aches to watch it go. When he moves her, presses her back against the curved wall, he does it with compensatory speed and certainty.



She thrives on his force, his precision and certainty. Their lips and tongues battle above their never-stopping hands as clothing is ripped open, aside, or off in varying necessary degrees. He palms her breasts roughly through her bra, and she squeezes his bared erection just as ruthlessly. Thanks to their differing heights, the wall gets logistically limiting all too quickly. She shoves him away from her, backing him steadily toward the closest large table, thinking to shove him back on it until he pivots and lifts her, putting her down on top of it instead.



Her back is hot against the cool metal table, the ridges beneath it stimulating as his weight falls over her. His head buries between her legs, skilled mouth fanning flames of need, coaxing lubrication that doesn’t need coaxing as she eagerly presses his head closer, his tongue further into hot, welcoming pink flesh.



She needs damned little of it, can take very little of it. “Now,” she orders, pulling him up with a vicious grip in his broad, flexing shoulders.



He rises, seems to align himself obligingly but hangs back at the crucial moment. His hands smooth over puckered breasts, fingertips dragging torturously over eager, dark red peaks. “Is this what you want from me, Kathryn?” She nods impatiently, but it’s not enough. “Say it,” he demands, grinding his erection against her slick, swollen flesh. “Look me in the eye if this is what you want me from me. Tell me this is what you want from me.” No matter how far gone he is, he refuses to be some cheap replacement for a man she couldn’t have while she closes those blue, blue eyes of hers and conjures images of someone else. She will know this is him, that it’s them, or he won’t–



“Either do it or I will,” she growls back, ungiving, eyes flashing fury even as her lower body molds to his rhythm, accepting the stimulation to overly-sensitized nerves because it’s all there is at the moment.



He doesn’t want to give up the power his position affords, is too slow for her liking, and her control snaps. Quick as plasma lightening, her hand twists free of his hold, she’s pushing him over beside her, crawling over him, and then control is hers. It’s all the time she needs to reach down and guide him to where they both want him to be. She sinks down onto him without hesitation, without so much as pause for the difficultly of such sudden penetration, for such a close and difficult fit, a satisfied moaning echoing from her throat as he’s lodged deeply, even too firmly inside her.



It was no easy slide, has to hurt, he thinks. It almost hurts him, how little room there is for him at first. If anything, she embraces that initial pain, swallows it into her and rides him right through it. 



He feels her hot walls pulsating, squeezing around him, holding him fast and his instinct, his urge is to hold her still, above him at an angle where he can slam upwards against her at his own ravenous pace, but she rips his hands from her hips, slams them down on the table beside his head, leaning down and holding him immobile with her determined weight.



She sets a brutal pace, furious, unforgiving. Taking what she wants while he’s left to angle himself under her, to use only his own hips to buck up in counterpoint to her every thrust. Delicious traction of soft skin pulling against softer skin counters slick friction, pistoning heat. He’s only consoled by the frustration of being relegated to bottom by the fact that she makes no move which lets him think that he’s a stand-in for someone else, maintains the open connection he had wanted to forge with her at the outset of this frenzy. Her blue eyes are dark as his in starlight, locked to him and daring him to look away. Daring him not to fall into her, to let her take him over, and the counterpart within him rears up under her challenge. Her lips parted and sweat beading on her skin, the rhythm of her breasts rising and falling rapidly are mesmerizing. Maddening.



The darkness she’s marinated in clings to her body. She revels in the grit, he in the open lust of their joining. Low moans vibrating deep in her chest are half wild growls as his hands tear free of her grasp, find her hips again, dig in deep and hard and sure the way they want to. “Shh,” he reminds them both in a burst of remembrance, eyes darting to the door. She ignores him, her nails digging harder into his chest in response, taking out her muzzled vocal ability on his hide.



In the back of their minds, both realize this shouldn’t be so easy to lose themselves in. This should be harder, laced with guilt, shame, awkward restraint. But for her, this is too explosive to question in the moment, too powerful to argue, and for him…



The way she wants him, uses the angles of both their bodies to take what they both need only compounds his desire for her. The visual show she’s effecting while working against him, over him, is stunning. Mind-blowingly enticing. Hypnotizing. Only a few minutes of this, and he’s in danger of spilling his whole life into her far too quickly, yet Chakotay only finds himself grunting low words of encouragement, of praise and then curses when she starts teasing; he’s too far gone to exert self-restraint.



With one powerful exertion of muscle, he rolls back and launches them both off the too-hard table, tosses her bodily onto the couch where he’d originally found her. He gives her no time to shift, to rearrange, or to question what he wants. It’s too much, too far gone, too late to stop. He just wants more. More of this, more of them, and especially more of her. He wants to taste every part of her, to have her taste him. He wants it all – everything. His intention is to bury his head between her obligingly parted thighs again, longer this time, until her attention to his anatomy looming over her gives him agonizing pause. It’s all she needs. Her small hands wrap around him, one on his glistening erection and the other digging firmly into the flesh of one thigh, guiding him to her parted lips and eager tongue until the only thing left is to stand stock still and grunt his approval, his own fingers tangling in, combing through her disheveled hair as she sucks him almost boneless and unable to stand.



Just one moment of the delicious torture is too much. The eroticism of the image, her doing this would break him. If he wanted to come like this, under her control, no force in the galaxy would let him stop her but the beast in him is too proud, too hungry for everything to accept an ending that is anything but at least half controlled by him. He uses his superior strength without apology or hesitation to pry her off him and dives in between her thighs as he’d intended before she’d taken the upper hand yet again until she bucks under the control he exerts over her, a fierce and punishing grip in his hair dragging him up to cover her, aligning their bodies again. The sweet completion of penetration, made easier by previous activity, is mindless, primitive, hammering. It’s as if her body squeezing, rippling around him sucks the climax out of him, as if she does indeed devour him whole, but his last thought before unadulterated bliss melts his whole being into her is that, if being eaten alive feels this good, this right, then it’s the way he wants to go. 



Past her own star-exploding climax, she remembers at the last instant where they are, what this is, reaches up to cover his mouth with her hand, to stifle his groaned shout with the fingers that slip into his mouth, that he suckles as fervently as he had the rest of her in worship, his thrusts shallowing and faltering as her rippling muscles finish drawing his seed into the deepest parts of her that he can reach. When he collapses into the sticky mess they have become, it’s half off the narrow couch in a fading remembrance that she isn’t made to support the entirety of his weight.



Falling silence, dusted with gasps and heavy breathing, lacks the tension, the dark and focused need that has ruled their actions until now. The anger, the inexplicable fury has been worked out of both of them. It’s gone. The atmosphere is no longer alive with sparks ready to ignite at a single movement. Contented satiation, a lulling calm hovers over them now. Until it must be broken, that is.



And it must be.



“That wasn’t…what I expected,” she finally says, recovering her breathing before him.



He makes a grunt of agreement in the back of his throat, studying her until his breath returns. “You can say that again.”



“I’d always thought it would be…”



“Slower?” he supplies.



“Kinder,” she says.



“Are you hurt?” His grip had been hard at times, even borderline harsh, but he sees no bruises, didn’t think he’d come to that level of barbarity. He also hadn’t been in control in the beginning, when it would have been more likely to hurt her, but still. Restraint had not entered into the last few minutes by any stretch of the imagination.



“No. Not in any way that isn’t good.” She sits up in the pile of awkward limbs that they have become, eyeing his face. Smiles that half smile that seems uncharacteristically apprehensive this time. “Was I too rough with you?”



He smiles faintly back for her effort if nothing else, relieved that some of the familiar warmth is back in that signature smile at least. Whatever it was, whatever they had just done would seem to have worked it out for the time being. “It’s fine,” he says of his lip, which she’s looking at. “Superficial. Nothing a dermal regenerator won’t fix.”



The word superficial makes the room colder. It makes reality sharper, makes her look away. “We shouldn’t have done that,” she says. 



“Probably not,” he can’t deny.



“We can’t do it again. Not regularly.”



“I know.” He does know, better than anyone. Chakotay shifts, trying to get comfortable with her stretching out beside him on the narrow couch. Settling with her half over him, against him, he feels he has to ask, that it’s safe enough to ask, “How did you really feel about him?”



Her eyes scan back and forth across his face, looking for the motive behind his question. Whatever she finds there, she seems to decide to continue her honest policy of…before. “I wanted him,” she admits, a tinge of sadness in the words. “In some ways he freed me to explore parts of myself I’ve never been free to explore.”



If it still stings more than he expects to hear, Chakotay acknowledges that it’s not a surprise. Nor is he unaware of how she could feel this way, given his own conflicting attractions in the past. “But?” he prods, hearing the uncertain note she’d trailed off under.



“But mostly, I hate what he brought out in me. It isn’t…a nice part.”



He feels the burn of marks she must have left across his shoulders, chest and back while she’d dug into him for leverage, remembers the hard, unyielding honesty of their opening discussion. And murmurs thoughtlessly, “You can say that again.”



“I’m sorry–”



“Don’t be.” He hadn’t meant to make her feel guilty again. “I’m not. Not by a long shot.”



A beat of silence while she takes that in.



“What about me, then, Kathryn? How do you feel about me?” The last question that should be asked, yes, but now he needs to hear it answered. If he is to move forward after today, tuck this experience away while they continue serving together, he needs to know how to categorize it. “Is it really the same?”



She seems to understand his need; she doesn’t hedge at least. “In some ways. But in others, not at all. What scares me about you has never been the person I would I become so much as the choices I wouldn’t be free to make without confliction. In another set of circumstances, another place…I would embrace the person I could grow to be with you.”



“But it might not be the person who will ultimately get this ship home,” he realizes aloud. 



Exactly. If she relaxes her guard, distracts her primary focus, wavers by one iota in the ruthless single-mindedness that has seen her through this much of their journey…



No one knows what happens then. But the chance can’t be taken.



Even as her lingering tension recedes, she senses his relaxation under her, knows that her honesty is both appreciated and necessary, so she continues. “Until today, you were the road not travelled. But you were the one I most wanted to, Chakotay.”



It’s something. Maybe, it’s everything. It’s almost all he needs. He holds his breath. “After today?”



Her fingers trace his unmarked brow, the naked skin exposed to her. “If we get home…”



So that’s it. Her phrasing betrays the real core of the trouble he’d unknowingly barged into tonight, thinking to play the consummate friend and supporting shoulder.



Her belief, somehow, was shaken these past few weeks: her belief in herself. Kashyk had gotten to her in ways she had refused to show. She’d scared herself on some fundamental level while playing that dark game with him. Maybe because of how easily, and how well she’d been able to play. It came out sideways – and then some – but it often does with her, and he understands now.



He takes her hand, draws it down to her side so that he can pull her against his chest. Tucks her head into his shoulder, his fingertips stroking her hair. “When we get home,” he says pointedly. Her cheek slides over his chest so that her questioning gaze can find his. “If you won’t take it from experience, then take it from me. I’ve seen you, Kathryn – all of you. There are parts of you that may be darker than others, but they’re still part of you. They’re integral to who you are. And when the chips are down, it’s the sum of those parts that gives you the ability to stand against forces that would break most other people.”



She rolls her eyes to the ceiling, resisting the crucial sense he makes. “You can ask Neelix what flattery will get you, Commander.”



His smile flashes obligingly. “I’d say I’ve just taken the grand prize, wouldn’t you? There isn’t much left to strive for.” She pokes his chest, eyes narrowing playfully but he holds fast, keeping her against him. “I’m serious, Kathryn,” he says, striking a more somber note. “This ship needs you, and it needs all of you. If I didn’t believe you are the person who will get us home, I’d never have stood by and served under you in silence all these years. I wouldn’t still be doing it.”



“Is that what you call it?” Her brow arches. “As I recall, my ears have rung nicely for days under your ‘silence’ on occasion. And recently, in fact.”



“Giving you my differing opinion on a situational basis isn’t the same thing as not having complete faith in you,” he argues. “And I do have it. Always. Now answer my question, please.”



“Which question?” She’s forgotten what they were talking about earlier, a testament to how much his easy words have moved her. How reassuring, how needed they were.



“After we get home? What then?”



When we get home,” he relaxes at her deliberate revision of phrasing and especially under her following admission, “I intend to wear out that road with frequent travelling. Assuming, of course, the road is willing to be travelled so extensively.”



It’s his turn to reassure, to state his intentions. He does it with a full on grin that crinkles the corners of his dark eyes. “The road can’t wait, Kathryn.”



Something about his smiles has always been infectious, she thinks, not for the first time. “Well then.” She climbs her way atop his extended body, straddling him. Her hands smooth a wicked path down his bare chest, dancing lower. “I don’t suppose one more time is going to ruin our professional relationship any worse than we already have this evening?”



“One more time can’t hurt,” he agrees, already palming a bare breast with darkening eyes.



By the time they finish, it’s twice more, but there was no reason to disengage the lock on the doors any earlier if no one wandered in for a late night snack was there? They neither question nor press their luck. They dress swiftly, set the room to rights, and recycle their glasses in silence. Finally, there’s no reason to linger any further and their stolen interlude has come to a natural end.



“Thank you.” The words are simple, superficially inadequate-seeming, but filled with heavy meaning. Her faith is not yet fully restored, but it’s on its way there, thanks to him.



“Anytime.” He senses her intent to put physical distance between them and moves before she can. “Hey.” He catches her hand, holding her in position as he seeks her gaze. “Are we okay?”



The worry on his face is undeniable but somehow, she doesn’t share it. Which is odd. They have spent years avoiding the consequences of something like this, by all logic and reason should never have dared it. But it feels right, somehow. As if it hasn’t hurt their chances as badly as it could have.



“Well, it’ll be a while before I can look at that table again without grinning like an idiot. Like that,” she acknowledges, reaching up to swipe at the smear of red across his dimpling chin. “But yes. I think we are. More than okay, Chakotay.”



They head for the doors, ready to part ways for the evening. “Home,” he says, watching for her response as they reach the doors.



She nods, eyes shining promise in the darkness. “Home,” she agrees.



Somehow, it seems a little less far away than it had these past few months.