By Shayenne

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Paramount, the order of the words belongs to me.
Rated PG

Written as a VAMB Secret Santa gift for Camryn who requested a J/C story.


"One day, all this will be over." Kathryn muttered the words under her breath as she pushed through the murky thigh-deep water. It was cold, it was slimy, and there were strange swimming things that reminded her of-


The voice of her pilot penetrated her self-absorbed sulking. How could Tom sound so cheerful when he was balanced on one foot on a log, the other foot waving in front of him as he tried to pry the black suckered creature from the bare skin above his boot?

"Don't stop moving. They latch onto you if the water is still."

Kathryn had been thinking of taking a rest, but Tom's words were enough to force her feet onward through the slime.

"Do they come off easily?" Harry's worried words penetrated her musings.

"Not too diffic-" There was a howl and a splash as Tom overbalanced and fell flailing into the swamp.

He emerged with his hair plastered to his head and stood up, water streaming down his face.

"One moment, Tom." Her first officer splashed past. "There's something wriggling on your neck." He deftly retrieved the "leech" and flung it far away.

"Thanks." Tom grinned, apparently unperturbed. "I'd hate to explain to B'Elanna why I have a love bite on my neck."

"Can I go back to the ship now?" Harry's plaintive tones wafted back toward her. "This is possibly the worst away mission I've ever been on. I'm sure there's something wriggling in my trousers."

Tom gave a shout of laugher. "Your complaint is normally that nothing is wriggling its way into your pants." He shot an apologetic glance at Kathryn. "Sorry, Captain. I forgot you were there for a second."

Kathryn heaved a sigh. "I wish I weren't here for a second, too."

"Because of the leeches or because of what's in Harry's pants?"

"Both. I'm beginning to think that ration packs for an eternity would be better than this." She stopped to scan an overhanging piece of vegetation. "I haven't found one edible thing in this swamp."

"Does that mean we can go back to the ship?"

She stopped and jammed her hands on her hips. "I'm the captain. I can go back to the ship and leave the Commander in charge of the rest of you."

Chakotay circled around behind her. "Don't stop walking, Captain, or Tom's leeches will attack." He touched her lightly in the small of the back to move her forward.

She flashed him a smile over her shoulder. "Thank you. For saving the captain's blood, I'll take you back to the ship with me. Tom and Harry should be able to harvest whatever's edible here."

"Did I say something wrong?" wondered Tom out loud. "How come I get left with scaredy-cat Kim?"

"Minimum of two people on an away mission," replied Kathryn. "But you're in luck. We'll stay. The sooner we find edible foodstuffs, the sooner we can all go back."

"You might not want to stay when I tell you where a leech has just gone," said Chakotay. His voice held concern but there was a subtle edge of amusement.


"Down the back of your turtleneck."

"Nice try, Commander. But they're coming from the water, not-"

"The trees!" Harry looked distinctly green around the gills. "They're dropping out of the trees. Tom, you have one in your hair."

"And you really do have one down your turtleneck."

"The trouble is you don't feel them," complained Tom as he yanked off the long black creature. "I wonder if they're edible?" He ran the tricorder over it. "Nope. It's harmless and annoying but not edible."

"Just like Neelix," whispered Chakotay.

He was so close she could feel the moist puffs of breath on her neck.

"I'd rather starve than eat one of these things," complained Harry. "Just the look of them is enough to turn my stomach."

"You ate the snails in Sandrine's," said Tom. "Gobbled them up and asked for more."

"Snails?" Harry looked positively queasy. "I thought they were some sort of seafood."

Chakotay moved closer and his voice was quiet in her ear. "Want me to get that leech from your back?"

She wriggled, trying to sense where it could be. But even reaching behind her and sweeping across her upper back, she couldn't locate it.

"Let me." Chakotay's fingers rested lightly on her lower back for a moment before burrowing underneath her jacket, pulling her turtleneck out of her pants.

Warm fingers, feathering across her skin. She fought to control her breathing, to keep it slow and steady, but the sweep of his touch across her back was like a warm and flowing caress. Her feet slowed.

"Keep moving or the leeches will latch on."

She shuffled forward again, the water cool around her thighs. His fingers crept higher on her bare skin, their warmth a contrast to the clammy air of the swamp.

"Ah!" His voice was muffled.

She could imagine him bent over, trying to free the creature. His breath on her neck, his hands on her body.

He straightened, holding the engorged thing in his fingers. "You're bleeding a little."

Flinging it away, he picked up the pace again. Side by side, they trudged, tricorders scanning all vegetation and the occasional swimming life form.

"Did you mean it?" he asked. "When you said you couldn't wait for this to be over?"

"Absolutely. I want my quarters, a real water shower and a cup of coffee. Not necessarily in that order."

The other two were out of sight, but Tom's cheerful bantering and Harry's nervous responses drifted back to her. She and Chakotay were alone.

"I didn't mean that, Kathryn." Disregarding the threat of leech attack, he stopped. "I meant this journey. Voyager's journey."

She frowned. "You know I do. We all do, don't we?"

"I don't." He looked earnest, his hair damp from the dripping moisture, a streak of mud on his tunic. "I would be happy for our journey to go on forever."

Something in his voice made her pause her shuffle. He sounded wistful. There was longing in his voice as if he were thinking of joyous times, happy times that would soon be over. She turned to look at him. He was standing still, the dank water over his knees, his eyes unguarded and open. Secrets he usually hid were laid open for her to inspect, to pick over, to take those she wanted and to disregard the rest.

"Kathryn." His voice was low.

She didn't try to pretend she didn't understand his meaning. "Why now, Chakotay? There have been dozens of times you could have said something. Why now?"

Somewhere in the background, she heard Harry's agonized shriek and Tom's laughter. But they were unimportant. She was here, in murky dark waters where a dozen blood sucking creatures were doubtless attaching to her skin, and she didn't care. She was drowning, drowning in the deep dark eyes of her first officer, who had picked the damndest time to show her how much he cared.

His mouth twisted. "I heard you mutter that you wished this was over. I don't want it to be over. Even now, in this stinking swamp, I'm glad I'm here, because I'm here with you."

Chakotay raised a hand to tuck a wayward strand of her hair behind her ear. His fingers grazed her skin and she shivered. So strange to be reacting like this to him. He touched her most days, a press of his fingers on the back of her hand or on her arm to gain attention. His hand on the small of her back to escort her into an official function. Occasional friendly hugs when she was in need of comfort. Then his arms would enclose her briefly, and his male smell would fill her nose, and the warm solidity of his body in her arms would give reassurance and comfort. And if Kathryn had wondered, alone in her quarters late at night, what it would be like to be more than his friend, she'd put those thoughts out of her head. They were dangerous thoughts, not to be entertained, certainly not out here in the Delta Quadrant where she could only ever be his captain and friend.

Or could she? Here, in the most unlikeliest of times and places, the parameters showed their weakness. There were cracks in the barrier she'd erected around her heart.

His hand fell back to his side and his eyes gained a veneer of wariness.

He was expecting her to chastise him, she realized, to push him firmly back into his place as first officer.

She opened her mouth to do just that, but the words wedged in her throat, heavy and glutinous, and she was unable to force them out.

He must have misunderstood her hesitation, for he laid a finger over her lips. "Don't say anything." He smiled, but it was the smile of a man before his heart breaks. "Let me keep some hope. Please."

"Get it off me!" Harry's frantic howl barely penetrated the static in her head.

She was at a crossroads, and for once the path wasn't clear and defined. For although the captain's course was as clear as the shooting light of warp drive, that wasn't the way she wanted to go. There was a second choice, a narrow, winding route that beckoned, one that trod a cautious path through the tangled mess of fraternization and compromise. Could she walk that path and make it through?

The water moved around her legs, a sluggish slow current. Even now, she realized, he was making her life easier. He must be moving his feet sufficiently to keep the water moving. Caring for her. Taking care of the little things so that her path was easier. He didn't have to-independent and capable were her middle names-but he did.

Friends looked out for each other too. She thought briefly of Tom and Harry. Tom was no doubt removing the leech from Harry, probably with lots of ribbing and laughter, but he was doing it for his friend. But the things that Chakotay did for her went far beyond friendship.

Would it be so hard to take that friendship and transmute it into something more? What Chakotay was offering was a precious thing, not something that came along every day. They'd been in the Delta Quadrant for six years now, and in that time she'd had precious little romance: some holodeck encounters, a couple of kisses, the occasional shore-leave fling. Nothing that could remotely be called love.

"One day, all this will be over." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them.

Chakotay's face shuttered, smoothed of all expression and emotion. "I apologize, Captain, if I've embarrassed you."

She caught his arm, stopping him as he would have turned away. "You haven't. But one day, all of this will be over, and then where will I be? Where will we be?" She sought his hand. It was wet with swamp water, but uncaring, she raised it to her lips briefly. Her fingers entwined with his and she drew them to her chest. "If I wait for 'one day' I will have missed out on so much. I won't get this back. We won't get these days back again."

He untangled their fingers and spread his palm on her chest, just above her left breast. "Your heart is racing."

"This isn't easy for me. I need a safety net for relationships, and there isn't one for us. We fly or fall on our own doing."

"I think we can fly." He moved closer, and his fingers trailed over her cheek.

She turned her head, caught his passing fingers with her lips, and watched a shudder, like a flicker of flame, move over his face.

"We can fly," she echoed.

He drew her to him then, one hand encircling her shoulders. His face filled her vision as she gazed up at him. They had come to this, after all this time, and the rightness of what they were about to do suffused her. She could taste his breath and she wanted to feel his lips on hers. He was close, so close his face was a blur, just before she closed her eyes. His lips were warm, the gentlest of butterfly touches, once, twice, a third time before they settled more firmly on hers and the kiss began in earnest.

"Captain! Commander! We've found something edible!" Tom's voice, too close.

She moved back half a pace and put a respectable distance between them. Chakotay's fingers squeezed hers before he let go.

Tom splashed into view, some sort of lichen in his hands. "This grows on the trees farther on. It's edible, and tastes like almonds." He stopped. "Do you know you've got leeches on your tunic?"

"Let me, Captain." Chakotay flicked the creatures one by one from her shoulders and arms.

"You're lucky they're only on your tunic," said Tom. "Harry got one on his-"

"Tom!" Harry's shout came from ahead. "Get it off me, please!"

Tom turned to splash away. "Harry's lucky I'm his friend."

Kathryn smiled. "Wait, Tom. I think we can beam back to the ship. Take those lichen samples, we'll send a second away team down to gather more." She tapped her combadge, calling for the ensign manning the transporter to beam four back to the ship, and to program the transporters specifically to exclude any alien life forms.

"Thanks, Captain." Tom's gusty sigh stirred the hanging vegetation in front of his face. "This planet is definitely forgettable."

"One day, all this will be over." She smiled at her pilot. "But I think I will always remember this planet."

She grasped her first officer's fingers as the transporter took them away.


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