By Shayenne

Disclaimer: Characters: Paramount's. Story: mine.

Rated PG-13

Thank you to the Alpha Quadrant's Best Betas: Brianna and Mary S. I don't thank you nearly enough, but you always put in so much time and effort fixing my bloopers, and it is greatly appreciated!

"I'm sorry, Tom. I didn't mean to intrude but the office door was open. I thought I'd escape the crowd - do you mind if I come in for a while?

"Thanks. It's late and they're starting to disperse, but there are still enough people around that it's hard to think. I just wanted some quiet time to mourn Owen in my own way, without the need for polite conversation. Is that what you're doing too?

"Sure I'll join you, Tom, if you don't think you should be getting back to your guests? As you're offering, I'd love a shot of that whiskey - it's Owen's best, I recognize it. I've had it once before.

"That's the trouble with any official Starfleet function; so much pomposity and politeness. Why should a funeral be any different? Owen would have laughed, I think, if he were here now. He'd shake his head in disbelief at those stuffy eulogies, and he'd certainly chuckle at Nechayev pretending to be upset. Stop smiling, Tom. You're not to tell anyone what the respected Admiral Janeway was talking about over Owen's finest whiskey after his funeral.

"Yes, he had a good life. It's a trite thing to say, but it's true. He was a staunch believer in the neutral zone treaty, and don't forget he was instrumental in the release of the Maquis when Voyager returned. Don't snort like that; it wasn't a given. Your own release was a certainty, but if Owen hadn't kept the media firmly focused on how well the Maquis had integrated into Voyager's crew, and kept repeating over and over how we simply couldn't have managed without them, then they might have been shuffled off to a Cardassian prison. And no one knew better than Owen what that's like.

"I did what I could, of course, but remember that my word carried little weight then. I was still the renegade Captain Janeway, and they didn't know whether to promote me or prosecute me. You have Owen to thank for B'Elanna's and the others' release.

"I spoke to Miral this evening. She's a fine young woman, Tom. You and B'Elanna must be so proud of her. She told me she was in the top five percent of her graduating year, and she wants to be as good an engineer as her mother. She's got a tough act to follow. Her commission should come through any day now.

"No, I'm not going to tell you which ship, so stop asking me. Miral should be the first to know, no matter how much her father badgers. All right, nearly the first, as Owen found out before he died--he hounded the committee until they told him--and he was very proud of her. Nearly as proud as he was of you; and don't look at me like that, you know it's true.

"I often wonder what sort of life Miral would have had if Voyager hadn't got home when she did. Plenty of people grow up on a starship--freighters, traders, deep space missions--but I still think Voyager was different. That we were different. The edge of danger we all constantly lived under took its toll. After all, in seven years the only wedding was yours, and the only two children born were Miral and Naomi. And few relationships attained any level of permanence. You and B'Elanna... Harry and Mike Ayala... a few others. But the majority of couples stumbled and faltered, finding it easier to move on.

"Chakotay and me? On Voyager? I can't believe you've waited over twenty years to ask me that question! Surely your betting pool isn't still active?

"Well, why not? I think we could both use the distraction tonight and it's not like Starfleet can come after me so many years later. Finally, they're letting me be, allowing me to pursue my projects unhindered. No doubt counting the days until my retirement.

"It's quieter out in the reception area now, I think many of the guests have departed. Pour me another couple of fingers of Owen's whiskey and I'll tell you our story. Maybe it's about time it was fully told.

"Thanks. To answer your question, Chakotay and I were together on Voyager, but it's almost certainly not how you think. And then we were apart.

"From the start, there was something between us. I know, 'something' is such a vague definition, an excuse not to put it into real words, to have to label it, but that's as close as I can come. Chakotay's a complex person. He radiates serenity, warmth, harshness, sexuality, justice... and which layer is outermost, which one is seen by those outside, really depends on what he wants you to see. But he's never been less than honest with me, and from the beginning, my gut reaction was to trust him implicitly. And so I did, despite Tuvok's caution. I felt he would never let me down, that his word really was his bond. And he repaid that trust. Oh, there were moments when he felt he betrayed me... over Riley, Seska's defection, even over the Equinox, but he never truly took away his support. Even when he had every good reason to.

"No. Seven was not a betrayal. But he was never truly in love with her, it was more complex than that, and we weren't together at that time.

"I appreciate your support, Tom, but spacing Seven out of the airlock wasn't really a practical solution. But I'll come to her later...

"I'm sure your betting pool thought we were lovers on New Earth. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but we weren't. Oh yes, we both were aware of the attraction. On a purely physical level, I had wanted Chakotay almost from the start. And he had wanted me. But we didn't act upon it, because of the dangers if it went wrong. We had to be strong, had to present a united front, and I don't think we could have done that successfully if we were lovers at that time.

"He propositioned me once. It was inevitable that he would, given the sheer strength of desire between us. He came to my quarters, one night before shore leave. He stood so close that I could feel the heat from his body, and touched my face with gentle fingers. 'I know we can't be together on Voyager,' he said, 'but tomorrow, on shore leave, we can be whoever we want to be.'

"Of course, I knew what he was asking, and I wavered for a moment. The temptation was there to lean in, let him take my lips, and give in to what we both wanted so much. I burned for him. I forgot Mark, the crew, the ship. At that moment, my world condensed to that room, that man, one single shining moment.

"And then the door chime rang, and Tuvok interrupted, and the time was gone. I hadn't given Chakotay my answer, but he knew. He knew me so well. He never directly asked me again, not even on New Earth.

"I fell in love with him on New Earth. We thought we were going to be there forever, and the crushing disappointment of being left behind slowly slid away under Chakotay's care. He nurtured me, teased and flirted with me. And it was on New Earth he told me he loved me. We had started along the road toward intimacy; the touching, the glances that didn't break, the awareness that it would happen, were all there. I'm sure you know that feeling; the moment when you know that this person is important to you, that you are bound to them in some way, and that it is inevitable that you will be lovers. The sweetest of times.

"But then Voyager came back, and we had to be the command team again. Had to forget what nearly happened, and find some way to forge the transition from lovers in all but body, back to friends. Somehow, we managed to keep alive the knowledge and belief that we would be together someday. We did it by becoming the closest of friends. Dinners, confidences, small touches and hugs sometimes, when the world was too dark a place.

"I know he took lovers. And he knew that I did too, although not as many as he.

"I didn't allow myself to mind, does that answer your question? And neither of us ever took a lover from the crew; instead we both became masters of the transitory affair. Some people would find that hard, consider it a betrayal, but I truly felt, and I think Chakotay did too, that we needed that contact, that basic affirmation of life. Humans are not solitary creatures by nature; we seek the reassurance of skin to skin. Sex satisfies that.

"So we went on through the years, together but apart. Loving but not lovers. Of course, we couldn't sustain each other indefinitely. In truth, we never asked the other to wait; how could we? So inevitably the urgency became blurred and muted down to a comfortable friendship. We still hugged occasionally, supported each other, provided a shoulder to rest a head upon, talked out our differences, our insecurities. But the wanting, the need to touch skin and meld our bodies together - that dissipated. I became ever more the captain. Chakotay retreated to his spirit guide. We were alone together.

"Yes, Tom. We did physically become lovers on Voyager, although the circumstances were... unusual, and it was just the once. It was during our final year in the Delta Quadrant. You remember when Tuvok received a message, embedded in his son's letter, from that Bajoran fanatic, Teero? Of course you do--the Maquis mutinied. Chakotay shot you, and B'Elanna laughed as she locked you in the brig. Well, Chakotay made Tuvok shoot me with a phaser to prove his loyalty.

"What's that? No, you wouldn't have known -- we left it out of our reports. By then, I already knew that the Maquis were going to have a tough time of it when we made it back to the Alpha Quadrant and I wasn't going to give Starfleet any more ammunition.

"The phaser malfunctioned. Chakotay refused to tell me if he knew ahead of time that it was a dud. But I knew. The phaser was in working order and it was simply pure luck it didn't fire. Tuvok could have killed me under Chakotay's orders.

"That night, after your holodeck simulation of the movie theater, I went to bed early. Logically and intellectually, I knew that Chakotay had no control over his actions. Had Tuvok killed me, it wouldn't have been right to blame Chakotay. Yes, he had given the order, but he would have been innocent of murder. Not that Starfleet would have bought that, of course. I lay in bed, and I thought of Chakotay. The image of his face was burned into my mind - never had he seemed so cold, so totally indifferent to me. I'd seen him in most moods, but never before had he turned away from me so completely. And I was scared. Scared for what we might have lost.

"By then, I knew that our chance for love was past. That even if we returned to the Alpha Quadrant tomorrow, what we might have had was long gone, what we could have built together would never happen. Chakotay had withdrawn from me, and the comfort and love we felt in each other's company was now only that of friends.

"But then he rang my chime. I knew it was him, who else came to the captain's quarters unannounced and late at night? No one did, Tom, no one. I pulled on a robe and let him in.

"He was pale, a sort of weak pallor under his normal dark complexion. For a minute he didn't say anything, then he reached for my hands with a strange desperation. I remember him clasping them so tightly that my bones grated on each other. He was shaking. 'I'm sorry, Kathryn,' he mumbled. 'I have no excuse.' The words poured out of him, apologies, self-recrimination, but never excuses. He didn't try to explain away his actions, he simply wanted, desperately, to make it right between us again.

"But instead of calming and reassuring me, his words angered me. Suddenly, I was irritated by his apologies. This man had sworn to stand by me, support me. What had happened to us wasn't his fault, there was no reason for him to behave like a traitor. It wasn't my place to absolve him - self worth comes from within. I wanted--needed--my friend back. I wanted for him to find his own acceptance of what had happened. And groveling to his captain--his friend--was not going to do it.

"I stalked up to him, so close that I could smell his desperation, and knotted my fists into the front of his uniform. His head jerked back automatically. I think he feared I would strike him. 'Chakotay, stop this now.' I said, jerking hard on the material bunched in my hands for emphasis. 'I'm not blaming you. It will not go in any report. I just want you to stop torturing yourself with what might have been. Absolve yourself, and for once take what you want without guilt.'

"I remember those words, exactly. Because when I said them, Chakotay went still. I'd meant for him simply to lay the blame at Teero's feet, where it belonged, but once said, the words took on a life of their own. And the possibilities of more between us once again shimmered in the air; it was there in his fast breathing, in the way my hands were white-knuckled against his chest.

"Because I truly had believed we would forever be only friends, I too, was shocked into stillness. I didn't move away, I couldn't. And the thought twisted around in my head that we needed this. Chakotay needed the reassurance that only I could give him. And I needed the comfort that he still cared for me, in spite of everything.

"We stood close together, frozen for another moment. When Chakotay finally spoke, it was quietly, with a dangerous intensity in his voice that I'd seldom heard. This was an unleashed man talking, the driven Maquis, not the supportive first officer. 'Aye, Kathryn,' he said, and the words were low, quietly spoken. 'I will take.' His hands, which had been clenched into fists by his side rose, and enclosed me, pulling me closer toward him, so that his body brushed along my full length.

"I shivered; his fiercely reined passion, the curl of his lip reminded me more of the brainwashed automaton of earlier. There seemed little trace of Chakotay, my friend. I felt his breath puff fast on my face and the heat from his skin warmed me through his uniform and my robe. His hands rose, hovered for a moment, then descended to palm each side of my face. I was caught, hypnotized by his mouth, descending, moving closer to me. 'Try and stop me now, Kathryn,' he said. 'If you want to. If you can.'

"I said nothing, and I doubt that a red alert would have pulled me away from him. When the waiting became too intense, I reached up, and pulled his face down to me, and finally, finally, we kissed...

"He wasn't gentle. It was as if small traces of the man he had been under Teero's control still lingered, and he needed to exorcise them. He took. But in his taking, he gave back to me fourfold, and each fierce kiss, each pushing back of the barriers between us, made the passion burn brighter and hotter. And in a minute or two, kissing simply wasn't enough and we were tearing at each other's clothes, trying to touch skin, and then our incalescent passion exploded and he was inside me.

"It was over in minutes, of course. All those years of wanting came together in a single moment. I remember crying. Not because he'd hurt me, but because the relief was so great. He still wanted me, I still wanted him, and the perfection of our union made me regret that I hadn't tried harder to hold on to what we'd had from the start. We slept together in my bed, and made love again in the night, and the second time it was the gentle merging that I had imagined it would be with him.

"Thanks, Tom, just a little more whiskey would be good. No, that was the only time we were together on Voyager. In the morning, of course, reality intruded. I gave him my captain's speech - I'm sure you can guess what it said; this was wonderful, but it can't happen again. Chakotay tried to argue. We were lovers, he said, and that could never be undone, and he didn't want to return to waiting. There was an edge of ultimatum in his words, but I didn't take him seriously - not until much later, when he started seeing Seven.

"If Quarra hadn't happened, I think we would have come to some arrangement. That sounds very controlled, very clinical, but a full blown relationship simply wasn't possible on Voyager. Maybe I would finally have agreed to his shore leave suggestion, maybe we would have taken holodeck time every so often when we could be together, I don't know. But we were both unhappy, wanting more, but unable to resolve it, and in the middle of that dilemma, I was brainwashed and taken to Quarra. My affair with Jaffen destroyed what I could have had with Chakotay.

"Yes, I did fall in love with Jaffen. I've thought about that often. There I was, finally trying to find a way in which Chakotay and I could have something together, some fragment of a relationship that allowed us to express what we really meant to each other, and I go and fall in love with someone else. I wonder, when we fall in love, is it simply that it's the right time, and we're open and receptive to the idea, and so we suddenly find ourselves 'in love' with the first person who meets our needs? I didn't used to think that, but how else can I explain how I fell for Jaffen so quickly? Do you have any thoughts on that, Tom?

"I didn't ask him to stay on board, although I know the crew thought I had. But when my memories returned, I found I had two lovers taking up space in my head, two men whom I loved, and wanted, and could be happy with. And Jaffen was different to my other casual encounters, for I'd lived with him, loved him, was building a life with him. So the captain kicked in again, and I evaded the issue, and Voyager departed, leaving Jaffen behind.

"Chakotay found that hard. He considered it a betrayal of everything we were. Our one night as lovers had given him a possessiveness he hadn't previously allowed himself. His head understood about the brainwashing--he'd counciled enough couples on board whose relationships were foundering as a result--but his heart found it hard to forgive. And I was to blame too, as I didn't reach out to him or try to explain. It was easier to pretend it wasn't his concern. You are B'Elanna were very lucky your relationship wasn't affected.

"I think you know, or have pieced together the rest of the story, Tom. Chakotay retreated from me, and Seven picked that exact time to further explore her humanity. Why she chose Chakotay, rather than the Doctor, or Neelix, is beyond me. Chakotay was flattered, of course, but he told me afterwards, when it was all over, that he'd thought if I could fall in love so easily with Jaffen, then maybe it would work for him too. And he made himself fall in love.

"And then we were home. The Maquis were freed - thanks to Owen. The crew went their separate ways, and Chakotay and Seven had a very high-profile split when she took the research post on Vulcan. Their private split had occurred before that, although not many people knew.

"I can't believe we've drunk so much of Owen's whiskey. Still, I think Owen would have approved of us enjoying his best drop. And I must have bored you to tears; I'm sorry, Tom, I didn't mean to ramble for so long.

"There's not much left to tell. After Chakotay and Seven parted company, he and I started spending time together again. It was hard at first, there were so many layers of emotion between us that had to be peeled away one by one. So much had been left unspoken over the years, and there were festering pockets of resentment that had to be brought out into the light, examined, and thrown to the wind. A friend lent us a small cabin by the beach in Mexico, and we spent a week trying to find out what we really meant to each other, as people, with no barriers, no Starfleet, and no preconceptions or assumptions.

"We became lovers on the third day. No, I'm not going to tell you what that was like--some moments should stay private--but I'll tell you that we both cried, and that we both knew then that somehow we would work it out. And we did. We've been together from that day on.

"You know, Tom, back on Voyager I was aware that the crew wanted us to be a couple, that they felt we both deserved some happiness. But in retrospect, I'm glad we didn't get together then, because I don't think we could have made it work. And if we had tried and failed, the repercussions could have been far reaching. I truly believe that Chakotay and I are meant to be, but I also know we needed the fullness of time, and a greater depth of understanding to reach this point.

"Here's Chakotay now. I wondered how long it would take you to find me, love. Tom and I have been reminiscing... Well, I've been reminiscing, he's been listening and drinking.

"Yes, we were talking about Owen, but mainly I was telling him our story. Don't look so shocked, I've kept most of our secrets. And now we should take our remaining ones, and depart, before I spill them too. Goodnight, Tom. Give me a hug, and thank you for listening. I hope I haven't shattered too many illusions you might have been harboring about me.

"Owen already knew most of this story. No, he didn't know it because he was the admiral in charge of Voyager's debriefing, he knew it because he was a friend, a very dear friend, and he let me talk. He hoped that Chakotay and I could work it out -- in fact, who do you think it was that lent us the cabin in Mexico?

"Goodbye, Tom. We hope to see you and B'Elanna on Dorvan again soon.

"Now, Chakotay, my love, take me home."


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