A MOMENT OF KNOWLEDGE

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything but I doubt they want this. Pairings: Janeway/Crusher, Janeway and Chakotay friendship, Picard and Crusher friendship
Rated NC17

Written for Oparu in VAMB's secret santa exchange. Oparu requested "Kathryn/Beverly something. Wallpaper, icons, video, fic (yay fic!) Anything with the two of them together. They can be friends, but I'd rather they were in a relationship. (any supporting characters you want to have are great!) I'm an absolute sucker for babyfic."

This is the NC17 version of the story. The PG version is here

Voyager's First Reunion

It's a gorgeous dress and it's utterly wasted.

Kathryn grimaces at her reflection in the full length mirror. The midnight blue dress caresses her body in the right places, slithers and drapes its way over her skin. She looks beautiful.

This is a dress for a lover, she thinks. It begs for a possessive hand to slide from nape to lower back in a light touch, before coming to rest in a curve around her waist.

Oh, she knows she'll receive compliments. Chakotay will smile, and tell her she looks beautiful, but a dress like this deserves an involuntary indrawn breath and the intimate glance from a lover which says "Later. Later, when I get you alone, we'll dance, you and I, and then I'll slide that oh-so-beautiful dress from your body and make love to you." An automatic compliment from your best friend is never the same.

Her crew will notice in an absent fashion, but while she knows they care for her, love her even, it's the vague, respectful sort of love one feels for a parent who always comes home late for dinner, never really a part of one's life. The dress won't register with them, except in a passing "Oh, the admiral's out of uniform" sort of way.

Her chime rings, and she whirls, picks up her wrap and lets Chakotay into her apartment.

"You look beautiful," he says, and she thinks, with an inward smile, how totally predictable he is.

"So do you," she replies, and she means it, as the crisp whiteness of his dress shirt and night-black suit set off his golden skin.

We're a handsome couple, she thinks, not for the first time, and slides her hand through the arm he offers.

It would have been so much easier for both of them if they had loved each other, but passionate, heartfelt love does not spring from the bed of friendship - at least not for her.

She's pleased, though, that he's escorting her to this, the first official Voyager reunion. There's someone in his life, someone new, not from the Voyager crew, but instead of his new lover, he's chosen to escort his friend and former captain. A true measure of friendship. She squeezes his arm and is rewarded by his smile.

There was no lover she wished to invite, and it's too complicated to attend alone. Maybe next year there will be someone, she thinks, somewhat wistfully.

There's no red carpet outside the hotel staging the event, but that doesn't stop the Federation Press Corps, who wave holocameras and insist they pose together on the steps to the foyer. The headlines tomorrow will doubtless proclaim the romance between the beautiful ex-captain and her dashing former first officer - exactly as the headlines have been doing after every event since Voyager's return. An imp of mischief makes her reach up to press a kiss on Chakotay's smooth cheek, and the deluge of flashlights turns night briefly into day.

"What did you do that for?" he murmurs, as they enter the foyer. "Not that I mind, but it's something we've avoided since we've been back."

She sighs in return, and smoothes her hand over the hip of her dress. How to explain to him that, just this once, she wants to pretend there's someone special in her life. Not him; it could never be him, but an imaginary someone, who would take her hand and wind their fingers through hers and lead her into the ballroom, where they would dance close together under spangled lights.

"Kathryn?" Chakotay asks, and his brow crinkles in confusion. "Are you feeling okay? You look a little strange."

So much for romance.

"I'm sorry," she says, instead of answering his last question. "I shouldn't have done that. Will Nadia be worried when she sees the papers?"

"Nadia will be fine. She trusts me, and she knows you."

His girlfriend is a sensible woman, she thinks, not for the first time. "You're well matched."

It's his turn to squeeze her arm in gratitude. "Thank you. I hope so. I hope..." and his voice trails off into pensiveness.

The lights of the ballroom beckon them onward and they pass into the room, into the welcome embrace and comfort of their crew. There will be dancing, and speeches, endless bloody speeches, and then dinner (and probably more speeches), then more dancing. Kathryn switches on her diplomat's smile, gracefully separates from Chakotay and starts on a tour of the room.

She stops to speak to some of her crew, accepts their compliments on how well she looks, automatic compliments, none that speak from the heart. Except for Tom Paris, who runs a daring finger down the curve of her spine and whispers in her ear how fantastic she looks, before B'Elanna slaps his hand away as it dares to curve around her waist.

Harry and Celes, a couple now. Tom and B'Elanna. Even Gerron and Dalby. Couples all, forging ahead with their lives back on Earth. Or back in space, in Starfleet with promotions and a career path, and the uncertainty life outside an office brings.

She's starting to make her way back to Chakotay's side, when she sees a woman. The woman's back is toward her, but she's wearing a sheath of a dress in a dark emerald green with a back that dips as low as Kathryn's dress does. Kathryn smiles to herself as she sees a strong hand curve around the woman's waist. Someone is appreciating the dress as it should be appreciated. She wonders vaguely who it is; the wearer's male companion, half in profile, seems familiar. Kathryn changes her mind about finding Chakotay and on impulse, starts toward the couple.

The woman turns and it's as if all the brightness in the room coalesces into one shining sword edge of energy. Blue-gray eyes pierce Kathryn, and she has to fight not to show a reaction. For there's a connection between them forged in that single instant, a single bright-spun thread of attraction, of knowing, of desire. Kathryn's fingers grip her champagne glass so hard her knuckles turn white.

She wants to cry out with the wonder of it all, but she knows if she does, Chakotay will be once again at her side, and she doesn't want him here with his solicitousness and concern, not now, not when something like this has finally happened.

And then the woman and her partner are approaching. Kathryn draws a breath. She knows who this is. Of course she does. Her old friend Jean-Luc and, if the rumors are true, his soon to be wife, Beverly Crusher.

She stretches her mouth into a smile and greets Jean-Luc with affection, accepting the kiss he presses to her cheek, gripping his hands with genuine warmth.

She turns to his companion. "You must be Dr Crusher," she says, and is amazed the words come out steady and even, "I've heard so much of you."

"Beverly, please," is the reply, and her handshake is warm and lingering, more than a professional greeting, but less, far less, than Kathryn would like it to be.

"And you must call me Kathryn."

Strange how their paths have never crossed before. But the Delta Quadrant interrupted the smooth course of life, of friendships that would have been made, of lovers. Lovers. Where has that thought come from? Kathryn grips the stem of her champagne glass tighter and focuses instead on Jean-Luc.

He is looking away, at an admiral on the far side of the room. "Kathryn, my dear," and his gaze swings back to her, "I'm so sorry to talk business at your celebration, but I must speak with Admiral Downey as a matter of urgency. I'll see you later." And he's gone, swinging through the crowd which parts in front of his square shoulders and confident stride.

Which leaves Kathryn with Beverly.

And Kathryn is uncharacteristically struck dumb. She who can converse with the most alien of diplomats, she who can always find a word for the timid and shy among her crew, she who has a word for every occasion, of comfort, humor, a wisecrack. A reassuring touch and the right words -- these are her trademarks. But now, in front of the woman whom Kathryn knows instinctively and with certainty could be the love of her life, she has nothing to say.

Instead she takes a sip of champagne and waits for Beverly to open the conversation.

"I've heard a lot about you too, of course," says Beverly. "From Jean-Luc, from Deanna, who handled the counseling for many of your crew. I'm very happy to meet you." Blue eyes examine Kathryn with directness.

She's taller than Kathryn, a few years older maybe, and both have the same willowy build. I would fit under her arm, thinks Kathryn, and an image of her curved close to Beverly's side springs into her head, of Beverly's hand smoothing a path down her exposed spine to stroke her waist.

There is a silence, but not an uncomfortable one.

"That's a beautiful dress," says Beverly. "It suits your skin."

"I was thinking the same of yours," says Kathryn.

Beverly's eyes crinkle in amusement. "They're pretty similar."

"We have good taste." Kathryn takes another sip of champagne, dimly aware she mustn't drink too much as she will have to make The Speech later, and too much champagne could have a disastrous effect. But sipping her drink gives her something to do with her hands and occupies her mouth.

"Jean-Luc was telling me it was a dress for a lover," says Beverly, and Kathryn jerks, startled, at hearing her own thoughts spoken back to her.

"He must appreciate it," says Kathryn, and gives in to impulse and licks the spilt drop of champagne from the back of her hand.

Beverly's eyes follow the movement. "Jean-Luc?" she says in puzzlement, then, "Oh. No." A small blush. "He's a friend. A good friend, but he's not my lover."

A strange conversation to be having with someone you've just met. But it's as if conventions are gone. Kathryn can sense Beverly is sounding her out, just as she is doing to Beverly. And still, the connection shimmers between them, as fine-spun and subtle as cobwebs, but building in strength and intensity.

"And you and Chakotay?" asks Beverly, and Kathryn doesn't bother to hide her smile in her glass.

"Are you asking if we're lovers?" she says. "You want me to tell you what I haven't told the Federation News Service in over a year?"

They're flirting. Subtly, steadily; it's there in their movements, in the way their bodies angle slightly toward each other. It's there in how their eyes catch and hold. Kathryn can see Beverly's pupils, wide and black, in her slatey eyes. Kathryn briefly wonders at the suddenness of their attraction, but not for long. Life is short, you take your pleasures where you can. She learned that in the Delta Quadrant, from lovers chosen, taken, loved, and left, sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with relief. She learned on Voyager that when something fine and true comes along, that you seize it with both hands, clutch it to you for however long it lasts. That's how she made Chakotay her first officer, then her friend. That's how B'Elanna became her engineer, and finally her friend. And then the more indulgent pleasures, not necessarily her finest moments- Kashyk, Seth, and other lovers.

"Chakotay is my friend," she says at last. "His heart is taken elsewhere, whatever the Federation News Service likes to think."

There's a moment of silence and Kathryn wonders if Beverly is absorbing the information they've both given, just as she is. Both of them are free and available.

"It's hard, on long missions," says Beverly. "The temptation to clutch onto that friend and make them into more. Even though you know it's a mistake, you convince yourself that friendship can become passion."

"Is that what happened to you and Jean-Luc?"

Beverly meets her eyes directly. "We tried. It didn't work. You?"

"No. I couldn't do that in our situation. There wasn't the option of transferring him to another ship and I didn't know if I could be strong enough if it went wrong."

"That's not an issue back on Earth."

And Kathryn realizes Beverly is still tentative, wondering if something will develop between the Starfleet personality of the moment and her handsome first officer, as the newsreels would have the public believe.

"No. We… It could have been, once." An image of herself, lying in the dirt tending tomato seedlings springs into her head. Laughter, warmth, friendship, the promise of something more. "But it's better this way." And she nods firmly to show she's not carrying a torch for someone else, that her heart is free and hers to give.

There's a chord, and the band launches into a jazzy dance number. Kathryn is both relieved and annoyed. Annoyed, because she wants this conversation to continue, to waltz through the preliminaries, to canter to its conclusion, but relieved as well. It's so fast. She's never been one to fall for someone in an instant. She doesn't believe in soul mates, or the notion there's only one person she could love. But this connection with Beverly - she doesn't want to brush it off. She wants to explore it, build upon it, see where it will take her. Take them.

Beverly smiles. "I'm taking too much of your time. It was lovely to meet you, Kathryn, and I hope we can continue this conversation later."

Later. The word sends frissons of warmth down to her stomach, awaking something heady and languorous. An image of the two of them, wrapped around each other on her big wide bed, the window open to bring in the ocean breeze and the taste of salt. Later.

She's happy to know that Beverly too, wants to continue this.

Kathryn nods. "Definitely. I'll make sure of it." And she turns gracefully to Harry, who is hovering at her elbow, and accepts the hand he offers and lets him lead her onto the dance floor.

Later isn't much later after all. She dances with many of her crew. She is inwardly amused at how reverently Harry holds her, wickedly delighted at how close Tom dances, his lean thighs rubbing hers, and she sinks gratefully into Chakotay's warm embrace. When the dinner gong goes, she and Chakotay turn and they enter the dining room and find their places. They are sharing a table with some random admirals, a diplomat from Betazoid, a minor theatrical celebrity, Jean-Luc, and Beverly. Beverly is seated on Chakotay's other side. Kathryn wonders if she can ask him to swap seats with her, but that would be too obvious, and she's not ready to explain why she wants that.

Throughout the entree, she chats with the diplomat from Betazoid, and the theatrical celebrity who only wants to talk about himself. He regales anyone within earshot with tales from the set of his latest play. Kathryn smiles and turns away, wondering if she can attract Beverly's attention. But Beverly is talking with Jean-Luc and the admiral seated on his other side. Kathryn admires the graceful swoop of her spine in the dress that is so like her own. In desperation to escape the actor, she pays a visit to the restroom, and on her return, she finds Chakotay has taken her seat and is chatting with apparent enthusiasm with the diplomat and the actor.

How did he know? she wonders, but she slips into his vacant seat and squeezes his hand under the table. He squeezes back in acknowledgement, but doesn't interrupt his conversation.

"Kathryn, I'm so sorry for running out on you earlier." Jean-Luc leans across, his handsome face creasing into a smile.

"Don't worry," she replies, "Beverly and I had an interesting chat. Tell me," she changes the subject deftly, "What is the Enterprise doing at the moment?" She's aware she should know, admirals are supposed to keep a mental chart of every ship in the fleet, but she doesn't think Jean-Luc will mind her ignorance.

"Right now she's having an overhaul of her engines, hence our availability to attend tonight. I talked Beverly into coming with me." He places his hand over Beverly's, his long fingers enveloping her hand.

Kathryn looks anywhere but at their joined hands. She tamps down a surge of something she hasn't felt in a long, long time; since Kashyk, since the knotting of guts that told her he was being less than honest with her. And oh, how she had wanted him to be honest.

Beverly isn't like that, she tells herself, and part of her wonders at her thinking. She already believes Beverly is hers, that they are lovers and partners.

To calm herself, to force her mind back on the logical, deliberate path, she takes a sip of wine. Beverly's watching her, a half smile on her face. Her hair falls over one eye, not as red as Kathryn's, but a glowing shade of strawberry blonde.

She's aware she's drifted, that the conversation has lapsed, but Jean-Luc fills the gap, launching into a story from the Enterprise, about Riker and La Forge and a planet far from here. And all the while Beverly twirls the stem of her wine glass and remains silent.

Beverly's waiting, Kathryn realizes, and with a jolt she knows Beverly is waiting for this to be over, for Kathryn's speech to be done, so she can relax and they can... They can what? Kathryn isn't sure she's ready for them to leave together, for dancing even. For a moment she panics; it's been so long since she was with a lover, even longer since that lover was a woman.

Her chaotic thoughts are cut short by the tinkling of silverware on glass and Admiral Paris rises to his feet and introduces the first speaker. Kathryn pastes the appropriate expression of interest on her face and let her thoughts roam, to her airy apartment overlooking the beach, and her wide bed with the striped sheets. Her own speech comes and goes (she thinks she was interesting, certainly there were a few laughs, led by the irrepressible Tom Paris) and then the band strikes up and people take to the floor with relief. Kathryn dances with Admiral Paris, with Ken Dalby, with Chakotay, even takes a stately turn around the room with Admiral Necheyev, but her thoughts are with one person and how she will feel in her arms.

Kathryn realizes she's being silly. She's danced with so many people, what is one more? Especially when that "one more" is sitting by herself at their table, her chin propped on her hand, watching the dancers, watching her.

Kathryn approaches her and extends her hand. "Will you do me the pleasure?"

It should be an innocuous request, but her heart is thundering, an unsteady one-two, out of time with the stately music of an old-fashioned waltz. She wants to remember this moment, this moment that is special, that will be recounted time and time again as they tell their friends how first they met. Their children even? Kathryn swallows; she's not ready to go there, but all great journeys start with a tiny step.

She doesn't let herself think about who might be watching, who might be cataloging and analyzing her choice of partner. That's paranoid thinking, she knows, yet she's suffered enough with the media dogging her footsteps and running titillating headlines about her and Chakotay. That she could cope with, because it didn't matter, but this.... Kathryn knows, with a bone-deep certainty, that this matters.

Beverly's smile as she rises gracefully and takes Kathryn's outstretched hand. Her fingers are surprisingly soft for one so practical. Kathryn swallows hard and leads her to the dance floor.

The band is still playing the waltz, and they blend with the dancers in a gracious one-two-three, one-two-three. Kathryn's feet are on automatic; she savors the firm touch of Beverly's hand on her shoulder, hers on Beverly's waist, feeling her heat through the thin silk of her dress. Beverly's not touching her skin; she's holding her with the same propriety Harry did, but Kathryn's so achingly aware of Beverly's touch that her breath is caught in her chest and can only come in shallow puffs.

The music pauses, then launches into a faster tune, a jazzy number. Kathryn wishes they could have remained in the sedate clasp of the waltz for longer, but Beverly has spun out of her grasp and is shimmying and stamping to the old tune. Her laughing eyes encourage Kathryn to follow, and Kathryn realizes Beverly is no stranger to the dance floor. Clumsily, she tries to imitate, but she's that half step behind, her feet that bit too slow. Beverly grasps her hand as she whirls around and suddenly she knows what to do, everything comes together and her feet pick up the rhythm.

At the end of the number, Kathryn wants to ask if Beverly would like to step outside for a moment. It's stuffy in the ballroom, but that's not the real reason. Kathryn wants to see the stars-needs to see them-and she wants a moment of peace. But mostly, she wants to say words she hopes don't need to be said. Words like "Would you like to meet me for coffee tomorrow morning?" Or dinner, or the night, or breakfast, or the rest of her life. But the music slides into a smooth, romantic number. People slow down, come together, arms sliding around waists, heads coming to rest on shoulders. Kathryn sees B'Elanna, her face unusually soft, as she winds her arms around Tom's neck and presses a kiss to his skin. The sight makes her ache deep in her belly with longing for such a love.

Beverly doesn't ask, she simply grasps Kathryn's hand, tugs her closer. Kathryn stumbles a little, but Beverly's arms slide around her waist, and suddenly they are dancing pressed together, breast to breast, thigh to thigh. Beverly is pliant in her arms, with soft skin covering lean muscle. She sighs a little into Kathryn's hair.

Kathryn closes her eyes, leans into the moment. She doesn't care about the Federation News teams - let them have their shots. She certainly doesn't care what anyone else thinks, certainly not her crew - they will be happy for her, she knows. She can almost feel Chakotay's approving gaze enveloping the pair of them.

The ballroom fades, its background noise, the colorful lights, the decorations. They all went when she closed her eyes. There's only her and Beverly, dancing so slowly their feet are barely moving. Beverly's cheek rests against her own, and her scent envelopes her. A clean, almost clinical scent, something sharp, like citrus. Kathryn's hand twitches; she wants to move it from the safe zone of Beverly's waist, to trace it up her spine, following the pathways laid out for her by that dress.

A dress for a lover. Like her own.

Beverly sighs, a small sound, muffled by Kathryn's hair. And then her hand starts a careful path, down from Kathryn's shoulder, down to trace her shoulder blade, then over to her spine, where she strums a delicate path along her vertebrae.

Kathryn shivers with the delight of it, with the feel of Beverly's fingers inching across her skin. Maybe, after all, her dress will be appreciated as it was meant to be.

"Kathryn." A sigh of her name into her hair.

Again, a little more forcefully. "Kathryn. I would like to leave now. Will you come with me?"

Kathryn raises her head to see the expression on Beverly's face. It's one of softness, of longing, and yes... of lust, her glittering eyes and dilated pupils make that obvious.

"I know a place for coffee," Kathryn says.

"Then let's go."

Beverly doesn't wait for an answer. She takes Kathryn's hand in her own and leads her from the dance floor. Kathryn bobs along in her wake. Dimly she's aware she should make her farewells-she's the guest of honor after all-but the thought of polite goodbyes to stuffy admirals fills her with horror. She's aware of being watched. Out of the corner of her eye she can see the faces of some of her crew - mainly approving, she thinks. There are a few admirals who don't appear to realize Kathryn is leaving and won't be back. As they reach the edge of the dance floor, Beverly clasps Kathryn's hand more firmly in her own and starts to lead her toward the exit. There's a tap on her shoulder and Chakotay is there, Kathryn's wrap in his hands.

"Enjoy your evening," he says as he places it around her shoulders and drops a kiss on her hair.

Out through the bright lights of the foyer, out into San Francisco's dimly lit street, out into the night. There are few people about - even the press are absent; the ball was supposed to go on for hours yet.

"Let's walk," says Kathryn, and she turns her feet in the direction of The Night Owl.

Their feet beat the pavement in rhythm, and the moist air beads upon her hair. This is how it will be from now on, thinks Kathryn. The two of us together. In step, often quiet, but in accord.

The Night Owl is a scant two blocks away; she can see its brightly lit front as they approach.

And then Beverly stops. "Wait a moment," she says.

Her hand links tightly with Kathryn's and she leads her a couple of steps to a shop doorway. There are no lights here; the night and the soft mist envelop them in secrecy.

Beverly lifts a hand to Kathryn's cheek. Kathryn leans into her palm for a moment, then, daringly, turns to press her lips to the warm palm and is rewarded by Beverly's shiver.

"What's happening to us?" she asks quietly. "This is not like me. If I were on Voyager, I'd have the doctor scan me for alien influence."

Beverly chuckles, a low sound. "I think-"

Kathryn completes her sentence. "I think we're falling in love."

There's a silence and Kathryn wonders if she's misread this after all. Maybe it's not love, maybe it's just a crackling physical connection for Beverly. Maybe she planned a quick seduction after coffee before transporting back to the Enterprise.

"Maybe we are," Beverly says, softly.

"It's never happened to me before like this," Kathryn says. "Oh, I don't mean lust. That's happened, of course. I mean-"

"Knowing it's more than lust." This time it's Beverly who completes the sentence.

Kathryn nods, not trusting her voice.

"Does it scare you?"

"A little. I've been so controlled for seven years, and this past year, there's been no time. Friendships have sustained me."

"Sometimes you have to let that control go. Take what's offered."

Their breath mingles in the small space between them. Kathryn watches Beverly's lips, wonders what they will feel like on hers. And then she wonders no more, as Beverly leans into her, or did she lean into Beverly? Kathryn doesn't know who made the first small move, but suddenly they are kissing.

It's a soft kiss, one of exploration, but Kathryn doesn't want to rush it. She's content to let the kiss slide slowly into something more, a soft progression that somehow has become a kiss of passion. There are tongues, moisture, soft noises of passion, and a heady feeling of being in too deep. Beverly's hand is in Kathryn's hair, disarranging her careful style, and then her other hand traces Kathryn's spine, down to where the scoop of the dress swoops to a stop, in the small of her back.

Kathryn is liquid with the wanting. She wishes for a personal transporter, one that would take them from this doorway back to her apartment overlooking the ocean. She doesn't want coffee anymore. She wants this kiss to go on for ever, and she wants it to progress into something deeper, something needier, something more intimate.

She's not sure who breaks the kiss, but they are back in each other's arms again. Kathryn's head rests on Beverly's shoulder and she takes a deep gulping breath to calm herself.

Beverly strokes her back. "Say something."

"I don't want coffee."

"Me neither."

"I want to take you home and see where this will go. I want to make love with you."

"You look beautiful in that dress, but I want to slide it from your body."

The words warm Kathryn's heart. "It's a dress for a lover. I thought it was wasted when I put it on."

"It's definitely appreciated."

The air is thick with mist and promises. "There's a transporter pad down the street."

"First, I want to kiss you again."

This time Kathryn pours her soul into the kiss; her body thrums with pleasure and desire and the knowledge of what will happen soon. When Beverly breaks the kiss, Kathryn takes her hand and with their fingers entwined they walk briskly down the street to the transporter station.

Luckily the transporter station is only a five minute walk from Kathryn's apartment. Kathryn links her fingers more firmly into Beverly's and they walk toward Kathryn's apartment. She has always savored the short walk, enjoyed the moments of solitude in the midst of crowds, but tonight the walk is interminably long.

There are plenty of people on the hilly streets. It's still before midnight, and here, out of the mist and San Francisco dampness, the night is clear and cool. Kathryn leads Beverly along the winding street that leads up the bluff. Part of her wants to amble slowly, a pace and a kiss at a time. To savor the journey as well as the conclusion. To pause halfway up the hill to wish upon a star. But Kathryn has never been one for patience and the universe will still be there tomorrow.

Her apartment occupies half of a rambling house. It's modern and airy, full of the light and space she so missed on Voyager. Kathryn watches Beverly glance around, sees how her gaze flits over Kathryn's meager possessions. There has been little time for shopping since her return, and truth be told, she has little interest. She has the apartment, and she has the ocean and the stars, and that is enough.

"Would you like coffee?" Her voice seems rusty, as if she hasn't used it for a while.

"I thought you didn't want coffee?"

Kathryn smiles. "I don't. I just thought-"

Beverly moves closer and her clear eyes are direct. "No pretence, Kathryn. Not with me. Tell me what you want."

Kathryn stares down at her hands. How long has it been since someone has asked her what she wants? She's the captain; she's the person who gets things done for others.

"Actually, I do want coffee," she says, and watches Beverly's eyes flicker in confusion.

"In the morning. Out on the patio, listening to the ocean and the seabirds, with you next to me."

"I'm not going anywhere."

The drumbeat of need intensifies and the pulse of blood in her veins takes on a compelling urgency. Kathryn's breath comes in shallow tides and the ache of need moves lower, settling firmly in her belly, fingers of desire spreading tendrils down to her sex.

She reaches up and pushes her fingers into Beverly's hair, massaging her scalp. Their second kiss is different from their first one. Because this time, they know where it will lead and there is no need to hold back.

Kathryn sinks into the kiss, gives herself up to the control of another. She may have initiated the kiss, but Beverly is the master, directing the slant of their mouths, tongues, lips, meshing and sliding over each other. Kathryn ignites from the touch, from the glide of Beverly's tongue over her own, from the tiny noises Beverly's making - not a hum, not a gasp, but something in between, something low and urgent.

When Beverly's mouth moves to her neck and then her shoulder, Kathryn angles her head the better to allow her access. Beverly's lips are hot and wicked on her skin. Kathryn closes her eyes and can see in her mind how those lips will soon move over other, more intimate parts of her body.

When Beverly straightens and whispers, "Where's your bed?" Kathryn realizes she's been taking, taking Beverly's passion and kisses and she's been absorbing the sensations Beverly's stirring in her without giving back.

This will not do at all.

Instead of answering, she takes a step toward the bedroom.

Beverly follows.

Kathryn sheds her wrap, lets it drop from her hand onto the floor. She turns so that her back is toward Beverly. Reaching behind her, she loosens the topmost fastening of her dress, the fastening that sits below the small of her back, just above the curve of her buttocks. She can't see Beverly's reaction, but she hears the indrawn breath that Beverly can't-or doesn't want-to suppress.

Another step, and Kathryn reaches up and loosens the clips that restrain her hair. It cascades down to her shoulders, the styled ends gently brushing the straps of her dress. She casts a glance over her shoulder. Beverly is standing there, unmoving, but her eyes are fixed on the undulations of Kathryn's body.

Kathryn takes another step. Another fastening. Now the dress gapes slightly, pulling away from her body. Beverly must be able to see the top of her panties. Practical panties, sheer and clinging, but ones that go from waist to thigh top, designed for a smooth silhouette under the clinging dress, not for seduction. For a moment, Kathryn wishes she had worn something more sophisticated, something sexier, something she would be proud to pose and show off in.

But it's too late for that now, and Beverly doesn't look as if she minds.

"Aren't you coming?" Kathryn murmurs over her shoulder.

She hears the hollowness of a footstep on the wooden floor. Kathryn gives into temptation and turns, so she can see what Beverly will do. Beverly's fingers move to the shoulder straps of her own dress. She tilts her head, smiles slightly and the shoulder strap slides in a slow descent down her upper arm.

Kathryn watches the gradual reveal, the upper swell of a pale breast exposed slowly, like the moonrise.

Impatiently, Beverly shrugs out of the strap so that it dangles by her side. She's not wearing a bra -- indeed, how could she in a dress like that. Then the other strap, and her dress falls in waves to her waist, exposing her breasts to Kathryn's gaze.

She wants to touch them, to explore their softness, feel how they fit into her palms, how the nipples peak against her lips. Kathryn takes another step back, to the doorway of her bedroom, and the final fastening comes free. It's her turn to loosen the straps of her dress so they slide down her arms, down further and the dress falls in a jeweled pool at her feet.

Dressed only in her panties, Kathryn saunters into the bedroom as if she had all the time in the world.

The drapes are open and the moon is rising over the sea in a serene arc. From her bed, she can see the waves, sense the tides, watch the seabirds wheel and dip in flight. She can see the life she missed on Voyager. She sits on the bed and holds out her hand.

Beverly is looking out the window. "It's beautiful," she breathes. "So natural and free." Her gaze swings to Kathryn. "Like you."

And then the bed dips under the weight of the two of them, and somehow they are laying back, their arms around each other, their faces together, and they are kissing once more, kissing without restraint or hesitation, kissing with passion, and ardor, and all the longing and anticipation that the evening has brought.

Beverly is soft under Kathryn's lips and Kathryn feels she could keep kissing her, keep exploring, pouring out all her new, raw feelings into her lover. But the need to move forward consumes her. Sliding down, her lips caress the side of Beverly's neck.

Beverly's back arches and her neck muscles cord into relief. Kathryn follows this path down to her collarbone. A kiss and a press of her tongue to the hollow above and then she's moving on, ever downward, following the temptation of her breasts.

Beverly's hands are clenched into the sheets on either side of her and her breath comes in soft pants.

Kathryn slows as her lips move softly across the upper swell of pale breast. The hard jut of nipple nudges her chin, and although she wants to suckle and nip and enjoy, she's in no hurry. Instead, her lips meander a circular path around Beverly's breast, spiraling to her goal. One hand moves down, over her stomach, firm, with only a slight roll of excess flesh. Kathryn cups the small curve, stroking softly, feeling the muscles underneath clenched tight with desire.

And then her hand creeps down further. Beverly's dress is rucked to her knees by their drop to the bed. Kathryn traces the slim line of calf, and her fingers strum a dancing path along the curving muscle. Kathryn finds the tender pocket underneath one knee and Beverly jerks.

"Ticklish?" Kathryn's words are murmured into the other woman's breast.

"Just... Please..." The words are said on a sigh, a long smooth word of longing.

Kathryn smiles into her skin and finally her lips close over a nipple. It puckers in her mouth, a hard sweet bud. Beverly jerks and her back arches as she pushes her breast further into Kathryn's mouth. Her hands uncurl from the sheets and she grips Kathryn's shoulder, her fingers digging into her skin with an intensity on the edge of pain.

Doctor's fingers, strong as steel.

Even though there's a part of her that wants to sink into Beverly and take her own pleasure, she's content to wait. She knows her turn will come. She tamps down the flame of desire in her belly and concentrates on Beverly. She wants, with an intensity that surprises her, for this to be good. More than good. She wants it to be perfect, but she knows that the first time with a new lover seldom has that perfection.

Her fingers continue their slow, meandering path up Beverly's leg; past her knee, onto her inner thigh. Beverly's thighs tense, then relax, dropping into openness. Kathryn is hampered by the long skirt of the dress. She bunches it up awkwardly, the silky folds escaping her grip, but she persists and is rewarded by a long, slim length of thigh. Her breath catches; Beverly is beautiful. Not in a pretty simpering way, but the kind of beauty that comes from strength and experience. The beauty and glow that comes with confidence, with maturity. Yes, there are small lines on her face, and curves of flesh on her body which mean that perfection is impossible, but Kathryn doesn't care. Indeed, who is she to think differently? Her own body bears the marks and scars of a hard life, well lived.

Kathryn moves lower, pressing her lips to the silvery lines she finds there, lines of pregnancy, lines of love. She wonders briefly why Beverly hasn't had these removed, but it's a fleeting thought. She thinks if she had loved someone enough to give birth to them, then she too would keep these lines of love and honor.

Her fingertips reach their destination, and for a moment she rests, with her fingers resting lightly on simple panties. Plain white cotton, as unseductive as her own practical underwear. She smiles as she thinks neither of them expected this moment of white heat.

Bending, she traces a freckle on Beverly's inner thigh with her tongue.

Beverly jumps and Kathryn soothes her down with stroking fingers before kissing a second freckle and then another, leaping in a chain of kisses up Beverly's legs.

"I don't think I can do this." The words come from above her head, tight and needy. "Please, Kathryn, don't make me wait. I want to touch you too."

The words delight Kathryn, a core-deep frisson of pleasure that this will be a mutual thing - not that she'd doubted it.

"Later," she murmurs. "We have all the time in the world."

Her fingers hook into the top of Beverly's panties and the other woman lifts her hips to allow Kathryn to drag them down. She's clumsy in her haste and the cotton bunches and turns over on itself, rolling in a wad that is not easily removed.

"Impatience!" There's a hum in Beverly's voice. She sits up, dislodging Kathryn from her place between her thighs and removes them herself, kicking them from her foot so they puddle on the wooden floor.

Kathryn looks up over her body, at the disarranged hair and gray eyes, wide with passion. Slowly, deliberately, her gaze drifts lower, over the peaked breasts, down over her stomach, to where the beautiful dress is now bunched, a band of deep emerald against white skin. And below the dress, crinkly blond hairs cover glistening pussy lips. Kathryn rests her hand on Beverly's mound, feeling the heat.

"Let me…" she says, and even though the drumbeat of urgency is increasing in her own sex, she wants to give pleasure before she receives it.

It must be love, she thinks as she settles once more between parted slim thighs. Because love is about giving, love is about sharing, not taking, and the need to take her own pleasure first is absent.

She touches lightly, delighting in the feel of soft hair under her fingertips. Natural, like the woman herself. Softly she strokes, using Beverly's sighs and murmurs as a guide. How quickly her fingers remember the pathways and movements to please a woman.

The room is warm, and Beverly's scent surrounds her, strong and female. Kathryn gives in to temptation and bends to touch her lips to the shining cleft in front of her. Her fingers part Beverly's lips and she uses her tongue in soft sweeping strokes as she herself likes, then follows the signals and increases the pressure, flickering hard and fast.

Closing her eyes, she lets the sensations surround her. Soft sheets underneath her body, warm thigh underneath her cheek. Female musk in her nose and the harmony of crashing surf and Beverly's moans in her ears. Beverly's close, she realizes, her bucking hips and breathy sighs and tight, tight muscles show she's nearing her peak. Kathryn redoubles her efforts, wanting it to be good, wanting it to be perfect. And then in a crescendo of sound, Beverly is coming, her hips rising off the bed, her sex pressed to Kathryn's mouth.

For a moment, there's stillness and silence in the room, broken only by the crashing of waves far below the bluff. Kathryn waits, in anticipation of her own pleasure, which she knows will not be far away.

And then Beverly's sitting up, pulling Kathryn into her embrace. Her hair is disarranged, and her eyes are soft and slumberous with pleasure.

"My darling, my dear," she whispers, and kisses Kathryn, a deep kiss full of gratitude and love. To Kathryn, it feels like coming home.

Suddenly, the mood changes. The languor dissipates from Beverly's eyes and there's a glint of silver there.

"Payback time," she says. In a swift movement she strips the impeding dress from her body so she is naked. But there is no time for Kathryn to admire the unfettered access, as Beverly is lying back on the bed, lifting Kathryn up and over her body with strong hands. Kathryn straddles Beverly's hips and she can feel the dampness of her own desire pooling and moistening the crotch of her panties. Beverly reaches up with slender fingers and touches her breasts, small breasts she used to wish were bigger, more womanly. That is until now, as the look in Beverly's eyes tells her they're perfect just the way they are. Kathryn leans forward, onto all fours so Beverly can reach up to taste. Her nipple puckers as the air touches it, as Beverly lifts her mouth from one to settle on the other.

Beverly's in no rush. Her mouth kisses and laves, her hands trace the outline of Kathryn's body, from shoulder to hip, touching lightly over her stomach, alone the line of the unflattering panties. Still, she doesn't touch Kathryn where she most wants to be touched, where she aches to be caressed. Her hair falls forward, brushing her face, clinging to her mouth, obscuring her view. She puffs impatiently and it drifts away. Now she can see Beverly, see her intent concentration as she kisses Kathryn's nipple.

She's waited long enough. She raises herself up, enough that she can lower the clinging panties. They pull tight over her spread thighs and she swings around, shucks them impatiently. She turns back to her lover and finds her watching, hunger in her eyes.

Beverly tugs Kathryn's hips, settling her back astride her body. But this time she's urging Kathryn up, until she's hovering over her face. Kathryn's thighs quiver - whether from anticipation or muscle tremors she doesn't know. But Beverly's intent is obvious and Kathryn will not move, not yet, maybe not ever. She grips the tubular headboard with both hands and waits.

Beverly's hands slide up Kathryn's thighs, around to cup her buttocks. And then she urges Kathryn forward, pulling her sex onto her mouth. A thrill runs through her, urgent and intense and she cries out with the unbelievable rightness of it. The first touch of Beverly's mouth sends shivers into her belly, making her thighs tremble as her focus leaves her body and the awkward position to concentrate in her sex. A kiss, an open mouthed kiss, on her most intimate part. Kathryn pants and her thighs shiver with sudden weakness. And then Beverly is there, her lips open on Kathryn's sex, and she's not leaving. She's working her up with mouth and tongue, and oh god, her teeth grazing lightly over Kathryn's clit, shocking her with the edge of pain. But it's right, oh so right, and Kathryn knows she won't last long. She's teetering on the edge of tumult, and her knuckles whiten on the bed head.

Just when she thinks she can't take any more, when her belly is so tight with anticipation she thinks she might snap, a finger pushes into her sex, one finger, sliding in deep, then another. It all comes to an intense point, so fine and shining and right, and Kathryn takes a gulping breath and then forgets to breathe again as the spasms start, the ripples of sensation widen and she thinks she might shatter, and fly apart into a billion tiny pieces, her atoms spiraling out of the window into the universe of stars.

Her legs sag, and Beverly shifts, coaxing Kathryn down so they're lying together. Beverly presses a kiss to Kathryn's forehead, her tongue lapping at the salty tracks of tears Kathryn didn't know she'd shed.

"My darling," says Beverly, and there's tenderness and satisfaction in her voice.

Kathryn embraces her, sliding closer, so she can slide a leg between Beverly's thighs. She rests her head on Beverly's shoulder, thinking in absent minded satisfaction how well they fit.

"Coffee," says Beverly. "And sesame bagels with cream cheese. Do you have tomatoes?"

"You're hungry? You'll be lucky to find anything in my kitchen apart from coffee. You'll have to replicate it."

Beverly chuckles. "No. I'm not wanting food now." She kisses Kathryn's hair. "I'm planning breakfast. It sounds as if we'll have to go grocery shopping."

"We'll have to work up an appetite first," replies Kathryn, and turning to her lover she leads her once more into the slow slide into passion.

Voyager's Second Reunion

There is fewer of the Federation Press Corp outside the hotel this year. Voyager is old news now; she's back in space under the command of Captain Chakotay. Admiral Janeway is not the celebrity Captain Janeway was.

Kathryn enters alone, leaves her wrap with the concierge, enters the main ballroom and looks around. Chakotay is there, his arm around Nadia, chatting with Tom and B'Elanna. She moves to join them and he smiles at her, kissing her cheek.

"You look beautiful."

His compliment is sincere and she smiles. "Thank you."

She knows she looks beautiful; after all, this is the same dress she wore to Voyager's first reunion.

"You're alone, admiral?" Tom's eyes are as appreciative of her dress as they were a year ago.

"Not for long." The warmth and anticipation in her stomach builds. The Enterprise is in orbit. There will only be a few procedures to complete before Beverly is free to join her. She has promised.

The words are barely out of her mouth when she sees Tom's smile widen. Chakotay's gaze switches to the far side of the room and he starts to move away, taking Nadia with him. "If you'll excuse us," he says to no one in particular.

Kathryn would have known who has arrived, even without the tactful withdrawal of her former crew. A hand slides around her waist, warm and familiar.

"Miss me?"

Kathryn turns and kisses the smiling lips, and although they're in a ballroom surrounded by friends, family, the press, and various members of the admiralty, she feels the current between her and Beverly stretch shining and electric between them.

"You wore it," she murmurs. And indeed, Beverly is wearing the same dress as she did a year ago, the dress so like Kathryn's.

"Of course."

Kathryn gives into impulse and kisses her lover once more, tasting toothpaste and anticipation on her breath.

Together they turn, link hands and move off into the ballroom to greet the rest of Voyager's crew.

(((FIN)))

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