ONE SMALL SHIFT

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: The usual. Characters aren't mine, blah, blah, Paramount, blah, blah.

Rated PG-13

A coda coda.

Kathryn knew she needed to heal emotionally, but only later, looking back, did she realize that there were others too, who had also needed that same healing.

She had been close to death; that much she knew from her fractured memories of events on the planet after the shuttle crash. It had been difficult at first to separate the alien-induced hallucinations from reality in her mind - there were so many snippets and dreams. Chakotay, holding her in his arms and sobbing into her hair. The doctor, informing her in a flat voice that euthanasia was the only option. B'Elanna and Harry's grief at her memorial service. And the alien, in her father's shape, telling her it was time to cross over.

At Chakotay's suggestion, she had read his report, as well as the medical records. Those detailed the actual reality, and had somewhat pulled together the exact sequence of events for her. But some details--like the temporal loop--simply didn't make sense. Chakotay's report chronicled, in precise Starfleet language, how he had attempted to revive her, but made no mention of the emotions she had seen flickering in his eyes as he had helped her over to the shuttle to return to Voyager. Kathryn remembered his solid arm around her waist, and the real and warm feel of his body supporting her.

Later, much later, after the doctor had discharged her, she and Chakotay had gone sailing on Lake George. She had talked, even cried a little as she related to him what had happened. Her words had faded and died, as she had tried to explain about her father, the face of the dead, appearing corporeally to her. And how she had finally realized that what she had seen was an illusion.

Chakotay hadn't answered her in words; he had simply drawn her close to his big body and offered her the platonic comfort of his embrace, rocking with her as the boat rocked them on the choppy water. Then, in the way of the scientist, she had put the emotion behind her and continued on.

A week passed, then another, and caught up in the day-to-day routine of a starship, she vaguely attributed his pallor to the heavy workload. Her own disquieting dreams muted and finally faded away, and her father's face returned to the distant corner of her mind where it normally dwelled. Distant, but not forgotten, a beloved face of memory, not as immediate or as important as the faces of the Voyager family that surrounded her.

She awoke one night from a dreamless sleep to the disquieting certainty that someone was in her quarters. There was no noise, simply the aura of another's presence. Deliberately, she kept her breathing calm and even, feigning sleep as she rolled over onto her back, letting her hand casually drop down to the floor where her communicator pin lay. As she grasped it, preparing to roll, drop to the floor and alert security, she heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps receding into her living area. Cautiously, she sat up, and saw the broad back of her first officer leaving her quarters.

The door closed behind him, leaving Kathryn to wonder if he was just another phantasm.

*   *  *

Kathryn never mentioned to Chakotay that she had seen him; she didn't know how to raise the subject, and wasn't even totally sure if he had really been there. But several days later, she awoke again, knowing that someone was watching her. This time, she propped up on her elbow, pulling the bedclothes up to her shoulders. He was standing there, just inside the entrance to her bedroom, swaying slightly on the balls of his feet. His hands were clenched into fists at his side.

For long moments, they simply watched each other. Then Chakotay shifted forward, breaking the spell.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn." His words were low and she had to strain to hear them. "I didn't mean to intrude, I only needed to know that you were all right, that the alien hadn't returned while you were sleeping..." His words trailed off, and he moved, shuffling on awkward feet, preparing to leave.

His quiet words permeated into her. She tried and failed to imagine Tuvok, her oldest friend, watching her out of concern as she slept. Tuvok cared for her, in his stoic Vulcan way, but Tuvok didn't love her as Chakotay did. And never was it more obvious, or immediate, than it was now.

"Come here." Before she could reconsider, or talk herself out of it, she moved over in the bed, throwing the covers back in invitation. "Sleep here tonight."

For a moment longer, he hesitated, still poised to leave. Then with a rustling sigh, he paced over to the vacant side of the bed. Sitting heavily, he slipped off his shoes, then clad in sweatpants and tee shirt, he shifted so that he could lie next to her.

She regarded him for a moment, lying on his back, his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He seemed to recognize her invitation for what it was--comfort, reassurance, friendship--and he made no move to touch her. But the moment was charged with the possibilities that had always hung between them, the unspoken knowledge that they would become lovers if only one of them made the first move. The tension shimmered for a moment in the warm air of her quarters. It was there, a tangible thing, she just had to reach out and touch it, wind it through her fingers, and draw him toward her with the skeins of wanting. But tonight was for comfort and reassurance, so she turned on her side, away from him. The bed dipped as he too rolled over, and she felt his hand on her hip, warm, even through the thin cover. Closing her eyes, she slept.

*   *  *

Kathryn woke before the alarm. There was a warmth in the bed, a radiant heat that was more than just Chakotay's physical presence. They had drawn closer in the night, pulled in by the unseen strings that bound them. She lay on her side, her cheek pressed to the soft fabric that covered his chest. One arm lay across his stomach and her thigh draped over his. Chakotay held her close, his face turned toward her. His heart beat strongly under her cheek, and the rhythmic tide of his breathing stirred her hair. She lay still, unwilling to move and break the connection. The comfort of another's presence in her bed was something she had missed keenly. Shifting slightly, she freed her hand from where it was trapped between them and moved even closer, absorbing the warm sleep-smell of him, unwilling for the moment to end.

He stirred slightly, and then she felt the slow growing press of his arousal against her thigh. His breathing changed, lightened, and then caught; suddenly it was shallow and fast. For long moments neither of them moved. Their breathing seemed unnaturally loud in the silence, and his heartbeat sped up under her cheek. So easy to move, so easy to turn into him further, shift her thigh higher, press deliberately against his erection and raise her mouth to his. So natural to turn this moment into more. To take that final irrevocable step, to translate their friendship into physical love. Such a small shift, that was all it would take. A small fraction of movement to push against his erection, a couple of centimeters to acknowledge his pressure. And a tilt of her chin to take his mouth.

His hand tightened on her shoulder, shifted, moved down mere centimeters; a shudder of his fingers was the asking caress. The definitive move was hers, she realized, he would not take advantage of being here, in her bed, pressed close to her. Heat and arousal coiled through her; the welcome liquid heat in her belly, the flutter of anticipation, of need, of wanting. It had been so long...

Her thigh twitched, an involuntary movement. So easy to roll closer into him. He would turn too, and they would be pressed together, her thighs spread around his body, the hot, heavy weight of him pressed close to her core, separated only by cloth. And their bodies would align, chest to breast, heart to heart. She would raise her mouth, and he would kiss her, and it would be so right, and it had been so long, and the incandescent heat of their joining would scald her, mark her, and she would be forever his, and there would be no going back. All it would take was that first, small movement.

He was very still, waiting. She sensed his restraint, felt his longing and his need. One, tiny shift. Her pulse thundered in her ears as she contemplated, poised on the edge of the precipice.

The time is 0600. The time is 0600.

The smooth tones of the computer broke into the tension. She hadn't known she was holding her breath until it left her in a long draft, and then she was gulping air. There wasn't enough oxygen in the space between them, and her pulse thundered in her head - or was it his heartbeat under her ear?

The time is 0600. The time is 0600.

"Computer, reset alarm twenty-four hours." It took two tries to get the words out through her dry mouth.

The precipice receded, the hung tension dissipated like a dream, and she was once again the captain, lying in the comforting embrace of her first officer. She had to move. Gently, she retreated away from him, over to the edge of the bed. Sitting up, she put her head in her hands for a moment, searching for composure. Any words said now would surely be wrong. Kathryn left the bed, hearing his quiet exhalation as she moved toward the bathroom.

*   *  *

She spent the day in her ready room. If she was honest, what had happened that morning was not unexpected. Kathryn had known--they had both known--that if ever the proximity barrier was broken, that something like this was a foregone conclusion. If the wake up call had come five minutes later, the barrier would have been shattered, they would have been spiraling down the path to become lovers, and no computer call could have stopped them.

Chakotay had not asked for anything. He had come to her quarters purely for the reassurance that she was living, breathing, safe and unharmed. She had taken him into her bed as her friend--her best friend--to give him the comfort he sought, but she should have known it wouldn't be enough.

When she encountered him on the bridge early that morning, she had seen his expression. Helpless, as if his life was out of his control. As if he had been given something precious, only to have it snatched away. He was expecting to be summoned into the ready room, she realized, expecting her to redefine parameters, re-erect the barrier, the one that had crumbled to dust in her bed.

For a moment, she relived once again, the feel of him pressed against her. Her resolve strengthened.

Kathryn hit her comm badge. "Chakotay, can you come to my ready room for a moment, please?"

He was trying very hard to be professional. His face was smooth, yet she caught the wariness behind his eyes, steeling himself for what she had to say.

With a wave of her hand, she indicated the couch next to her. "Chakotay, about this morning."

His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. He took her hand, picking it up from her thigh and winding his fingers tightly through hers. "It's all right, Kathryn. You don't have to explain, or feel uncomfortable. Last night you gave a friend the comfort he sought. Nothing's changed."

For a moment she was silent; the enormity of his unselfish gesture stifling the words she wanted to say. She fumbled for her courage. The words would not be easy; she was a private person, not given to expressing her feelings, but she wanted--needed--to say this. And then, once said, they could go forward.

"Things nearly changed," she said. "If the computer call had come only a couple of minutes later, this would be irrelevant. We would be lovers." Glancing down at their clasped hands, she drew courage from the gentle movement of his thumb over the back of her hand.

He nodded; he must have known that too.

"It would have been so easy to drift into that level. Yet, I don't want that."

His fingers tightened, the expected words said out loud.

Shifting closer to him on the couch, she disentangled her hands from his. Gently, she laid her palm against his cheek. "Chakotay, when we become lovers, I want you to know that it's not just because of a moment of physical weakness, not just because you're there, and circumstances are pushing us together. I want you to know that it's because I want it more than anything, and that it's a decision I've weighed, and considered. And that once we take that step, there's no going back."

He raised his own hand to cover hers, where it lay against his face. "I know, Kathryn." His expression was still somber, but his hand burned hot on her own. "I'll wait for you. As long as it takes."

It was as if the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. He was offering her a devotion she didn't deserve, and he still didn't know her decision. No more waiting.

"Tonight," she said. "Stay with me again tonight. And all the other nights to come, for as long as we both live."

He drew her fingers down from his face, cupping them carefully in his large hands. Drawing them up, he pressed his lips to her palm. His answer scorched through her skin. "Yes, Kathryn. Tonight and every night."

The rightness of the decision permeated through her. Together, they would be strong. Together they would align their lives. She moved into his arms and raised her mouth to claim the kiss that would seal them together.

(((FIN)))

Feedback? Please. Shayenne

There is now a sequel to this story. Continue to "Shine", rated NC-17
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