BUILDING BRIDGES

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything but I doubt they want this.

Rated G

For Brianna -- Happy Birthday! And once again, thanks for your insightful beta input!!

"The Alpha Quadrant." Janeway's voice was curiously flat. "We did it."

Chakotay saw her look around for a moment, then her hand reached out and withdrew. No one was there to take it; he wasn't in his command chair next to hers, he was at the console next to Seven.

He punched buttons, rerouted power, assessed the damage Voyager had taken, all without looking at the people who meant the most to him. Around him, the unnatural calm of the bridge gave way to the exaltation and euphoria of homecoming. Harry hugged Tom, congratulating him, as Miral Paris' determined voice echoed over the comm. Tom was a father, and they were back in the Alpha Quadrant. So much they had to celebrate.

Yet Chakotay felt as flat as Janeway's voice.

He looked at the back of her head. She squeezed Tom's shoulder, patted Harry's arm. Making the rounds of the bridge, the consummate captain congratulating her crew.

She had nearly reached him when the hail came from Starfleet, and she spun away, returning to her seat to answer it.

"I'll be in my ready room." Still her voice was flat. "You have the bridge, Commander."

He moved away from Seven to take the center chair. Sitting there, punching buttons on the console, it hit him - he wouldn't be doing this much longer. Maybe this was the last time. The last time he would command a Starfleet vessel, the last time he would see this bridge, this crew, his captain. His breath caught on the exhale. So different. It was all so different from his imaginings. Then, the Alpha Quadrant had signaled the promise that Kathryn would come to him. Now... and Chakotay paused, his fingers stilling on the console.

"I want to be in transporter range of you." His words, said not to Kathryn but to Seven.

Kathryn, who he once loved; Seven, who he now loved. Closing his eyes he wondered, when had it all changed? He glanced towards the ready room door, firmly closed. Kathryn, his friend, was in there, no doubt doing exactly as she had once sworn, negotiating the release and exoneration of her Maquis crewmembers. . The impulse to go to her was in his head before he consciously thought about it. He found himself on his feet, moving decisively towards the ready room door. He could feel the eyes of the bridge crew on him; Harry, no doubt incredulous that he would dare to disturb the captain at a time like this, Seven, coolly assessing, and Tuvok... He was definitely imagining things if he sensed approval from the Vulcan.

He didn't knock, didn't wait for a summons, simply used his override code to enter. After all, he justified to himself, even as he denied another ulterior motive, if she was discussing the fate of the Maquis then he should be there. The door opened and he saw her, rimmed by the starlight. She was at her desk, the console turned towards her, but it was turned off.

"Chakotay." She didn't look up. "What can I do for you?"

Although she used his name, her tone was formal; not his friend, not his captain, just something in between, as if she didn't know where the boundary was anymore..

"I came to congratulate you." Even to his ears, the words sounded flat and forced. Not the happy spontaneity of friends, yet not the formality of a first officer.

Kathryn looked up at him, and her expression was cool. "Us," she said. "Don't congratulate me -- save them for the crew at the party.For the pardons and promotions that will follow."

His surprise must have been evident. "You've already talked to Starfleet? Or is that wishful thinking?"

"No," she said, and her voice was dull. "It's fact. You and the other Maquis will be free men and women when you step down from this ship. You can go off to your new life with a clear conscience."

Chakotay caught the flash of something undefinable in her voice, and for the first time he caught the subtext behind her words. The admiral had obviously told her about him and Seven. He paused, caught in a maelstrom of indecision. Kathryn was his friend, once his love, almost his lover. He couldn't let her stay in here alone, with the anticlimax of achievement crashing down on her.

"Kathryn." He took her hand, about to pull her to her feet for a hug. "We did it. That counts for a lot. Against the odds, we survived, we did it, we've come home to roost."

She turned to him, and he caught the unnaturally bright glitter of her eyes. "We did it, Chakotay. But we didn't survive."

He opened his mouth to protest -- Joe Carey, Ensign Ballard, Staadi, Cavit...others. Not forgotten, never forgotten, but she was continuing. "We didn't survive."

And then he caught the stress on the first word, and the regret crashed through him. Their promises made, too little said, too long ago. To wait for each other, to keep the flame alive, that which they had kindled on New Earth all those years ago. He wanted to say to her that he still loved her, that he had waited faithfully for her, but they both knew that it wasn't true. He hadn't waited, and now there was Seven, who he thought he loved, and there was Kathryn, who he knew -- with a sudden and blinding insight -- that he still felt... what he felt he didn't know.

She was watching him, with a quietness that was unnerving. Maybe, he thought, with a stab of pain, she was waiting for him to say that he loved her. And it came to him that he did love her - Kathryn. his captain. But he also loved the other her, the blonde her, the Borg her. Commander Chakotay, who could make instant life and death decisions, who had condemned people to die when rescue missions had to be aborted, found he couldn't answer Kathryn. Not truthfully, anyway.

"Kathryn, I..." And his throat closed over, as he saw the flicker of hope in her eyes extinguished. "Come here." A hug, a kiss, he could give her this, give them a single memory. If she would accept it.

She moved into his arms with a willingness that surprised him, and they rocked together for long moments. "It's all right, Chakotay."

He felt, rather than heard the words, they vibrated on his skin, as she turned and pressed her lips to his neck.

"You don't have to explain, I know about Seven." She reached up blindly with her mouth, questing, searching for his.

Finally, he claimed her lips, after so long, so many misunderstandings, false hopes and partings. He kissed her slowly, feeling her come alive under his mouth, tasting her sweetness, feeling her body warm and vibrant under his hands, as they ran slowly over her back, up to her shoulders, to push into her hair, to anchor her to him, to bind her to him. For it was still there, he realized, all the love, all the passion, all the long suppressed desire, all the needing, all the wanting, all the belonging. Kathryn Janeway was his, and she still held his heart.

Her lips opened in a long sigh under his, and he sensed she felt it too. It was long moments before either of them raised their heads.

"What do we do now?" she asked him, even as her hands ran over his shoulders, down to his hips, seeking skin under the uniform.

When her fingers touched the soft skin of his waist all final doubts fled. His Kathryn, there was no one else for him. He would be hurting Seven, that he knew, but what he and Kathryn shared had already waited too long to come to fruition. It would be difficult, it would be painful, he would surely wound Seven, but he would do it. He would break Seven's heart over and over if it meant that his Kathryn was happy. As long as Kathryn held him, as long as she loved him, then anything was possible.

"We'll work it out," he said, "you and me together." And in that moment, his future was sealed.

Her eyes glittered again, but this time with life and hope. "We will," she said. "I promise." She touched his cheek, and drew his mouth down to hers again.

Feedback? Please. Shayenne

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