Summary: Another year and Voyager is still out there.
Disclaimer: paramount gets the money, I get to have fun!
Rated: PG-13


Janeway looked more chagrined than surprised when she entered astrometrics. She was very gracious, obviously touched by the sentiment behind the party, but she wished they would just ignore her birthday. To her, it confirmed the fact that yet another year had passed without achieving her goal; to return Voyager to Earth, to reunite her crew with friends and loved ones.

Chakotay knew as soon as he saw her face she was not surprised. It was so damn hard to keep anything from her. She always knew everything that was going on the ship.

He could see a myriad of emotions fleeting across her face. The others missed the nuances, deceived by the smiles, but Chakotay saw her true feelings revealed in her eyes; eyes that communicated her disappointment.

Why can’t she just accept things the way they are? No one blamed her for their predicament, now in the seventh year of their journey. Each would have made the same decision, maybe not as decisively, or quickly...but that was why Janeway was the captain. She could make the tough decisions. Regretfully, she was finding it difficult to live with those decisions and as much as the commander reassured her that she did the right thing, the only thing she could do under dire circumstances, still she was riddled with guilt. He wanted to help her, make her burden lighter, but she kept her own council.

“Well?” the commander said, sidling up to his captain, hands behind his back, “how do like your surprise party so far?”

“It’s wonderful,” Janeway said, gazing around the room, truly enjoying seeing the crew so happy. “Don’t tell anyone, OK,” she said looking back at him, enjoying those beautiful dimples the commander had deployed, “but it was definitely not a surprise. You are all so predictable,” she smiled crookedly, “and, I might add, surprisingly inept at clandestine ops.”

Chakotay chuckled as he held out a small package to her.

She opened it carefully, trying to preserve the handmade wrapping. Her breath caught in her chest as she opened the tiny box. Janeway was deeply touched. The hand crafted broach he had obviously labored over for weeks was indeed beautiful.

“Oh, Chakotay,” she exclaimed. “It’s lovely.”

He knew she would love it. He knew his captain very well. “Happy Birthday, Kathryn.”

She was suddenly hugging him, giggling like a schoolgirl.

Chakotay was more than surprised at her swift embrace. He threw his arms around her in a bear hug. His body immediately reacted to her proximity. He was mortified. She was suddenly extracting herself from his arms, struggling to put some distance between herself and his suddenly feverish body.

“I’m sorry,” he stammered, embarrassed.

“Don’t be,” she admonished. “It was quite flattering.”

Janeway knew as soon as the words left her mouth, it was the wrong thing to say.

Chakotay just looked at her, more than stunned. He wore his heart on his sleeve most days. He loved her ever since he had beamed to her bridge the day they formed their alliance. And she was... flattered? Of all the things she could have said, none hurt as much as her unthinking retort.

I’ll show you flattered, Chakotay thought to himself. He was definitely not thinking straight. He took Janeway in his arms, kissing her soundly, letting her feel his body, its response to her. She was astonished at his breach of protocol; and equally astonished at her own reaction; she was incredibly aroused.

Chakotay dropped his arms, spun on his heels and departed the party in haste.

Janeway reached for the control console, now doubling as a buffet table, to steady herself as she watched her first officer stalk out of the lab. She turned to the dumbfounded crew members, standing motionless, mouths agape. “Now that,” she said, bemused, “is what I call a surprise!”

Her eyes caught B’lana’s. She saw the pleading in them, followed her gaze to the closed doors. She knew B’lana wanted her to follow him.

B’lana was obviously feeling a great deal of anxiety for her old friend and former captain. She knew the commander loved the captain desperately.

Janeway just looked at the crew. She had to do... say something. “Well,” she said finally, calmly, “thank you for the gifts, the party. If you will excuse me.”

B’lana could not read the Captain’s emotions. Was she seeking out Chakotay to apologize, or did she intend to reprimand her First Officer for an unforgivable breach of protocol. Either way, she knew something had shifted in their relationship. The Commander had been uncharacteristically, unimaginably aggressive. Janeway must have said something, something that infuriated him beyond his ability to control himself. B’lana knew Chakotay had an almost Vulcan control when it came to hiding his love, his emotions where the captain was concerned. Oh boy, she thought as she watched Janeway stride out of the door, the shit is really about to hit the fan now!

Tom appeared at her side as she watched the doors close after the captain exited. He whistled low. “Wow,” he said “Chakotay had better man the torpedoes...incoming!”

“Pig,” B’lanna spit out. “Don’t you realize what just happened. Didn’t you feel the ship lurch. I don’t think even the mighty Captain Janeway can pretend there is nothing between the her and the Commander anymore.” B’lana looked deep into Tom’s eyes, willing him to be sincere. “I’m really frightened for him, Tom. He would never do something like that. She must have really pissed him off for him to lose it like that.”

“B’el, it’s going to be all right, he’s going to be all right, because when all is said and done... she loves him. And if it comes down to hurting him again or reconciling, I think she will choose the latter.”

B’lana just looked at him. He couldn’t be that naive. This was Kathryn Janeway they were talking about. She was more than capable of hurting someone if she thought they were interfering with the running of the ship, more than capable of inflicting a great deal of pain where Chakotay was concerned. B’lana had picked up the pieces more times than she wanted to think about after the captain had unthinkingly hurt Chakotay.

Janeway stepped through the doors of the lab, got a bare ten feet down the corridor before  she just stopped, sagged against the wall, her breathing shallow, rapid. Just what the hell did she intend to say to Chakotay when she finally caught up to him. She had no idea. At least the nagging question that had hounded her for almost a year was now answered. Chakotay obviously still had strong feelings for her. He hid it well. She had pushed the wrong buttons tonight. She was usually so guarded in her responses to him, but she had been happy, delighted with his thoughtful, beautiful gift, and of course the crew was present. She had let down her guard, and the end result was she had hurt him, again. How much could one man take? Well, she was about to find out.

Feeling a little calmer, she hit her communicator.  “Computer, locate Commander Chakotay.”

“Commander Chakotay is in the First Officer quarters.”

Janeway made her way to his quarters. Thankfully, the halls were empty, with the crew either on duty or at her party. Oh, my God, the crew, she thought to herself. What must they think? She remembered B’lana’s expression, her apprehension for her former captain etched plainly on her face. Janeway knew the moment she looked at B’lana, the commander must have confided in her, commiserated with her. B’lana knows, she was a confirmation of the commander’s love for her...she had read it on his loyal friend’s face.

She arrived at the Commander’s quarters. She was amazed that the blood was rushing through her veins so crushingly fast even now; she felt alternately giddy, dizzy; definitely not in the right frame of mind to reinstate parameters. She couldn’t seem to control her heartbeat. All the biofeedback training she had endured at command school had not prepared her for an emotional confrontation with her first officer. She could not dispel the fluttering in her stomach and the heat in her face. She dreaded facing him. But she needed to get the situation under control; it would escalate, fester, explode, if she could not repair their relationship.

She buzzed his quarters repeatedly. He was either not answering, which she thought was unlikely, or not in his quarters; which meant he had removed his com badge and would now be almost impossible to trace without consulting the main computer creating a digital trail for anyone knowledgeable to access. And Janeway knew just who possessed that knowledge; Voyager’s chief engineer and Chakotay most loyal crewman and friend.

Well, she couldn’t very well careen from one deck to the other tracking down her missing first officer.  She over-rode the security lockout and entered his quarters. The com badge was thrown on the floor, along with Chakotay’s uniform jacket. Janeway frantically searched for his command insignia, heaving a sigh of relief to find it was not discarded along with the other items on the floor. He was hurt, infuriated; but he knew his place on the ship, knew he was vital to their survival. Janeway didn’t know how to feel about that. He was as much a captive on the ship as if she had imprisoned him seven years ago when he had been forced to relocate crew and loyalty to Voyager.

Biting her lip, she made a decision. She would use every resource at her command to locate him and have it out, once and for all; she would redefine the parameters of their relationship so this would never happen again. Oh, God...she was still reacting like a captain, when what the commander needed right now was a friend. Could she play the part of dear friend when there was obviously so much more going on between them.

The memory of his kiss, his fevered body rose unbiddingly in her mind. She could feel the heat rising from her chest, flushing her cheeks a deep red; she felt the familiar longing in her abdomen.

It was quite simple, really. She loved him. He loved her. They both knew it. Most days she could control it, but looking into his face, those dimples, she had lost it. She wanted to feel his arms around her, needed to feel his arms around her. She was human, she reminded herself, and as much as she tried to bury those needs, they often bubbled to the surface when she let down her guard. It wasn’t until she actually saw the stricken look on Chakotay’s face, she realized she had said something very wrong. How could she be so cruel, treating him as if he were an ensign with a crush on his captain. She was ashamed, confused. How would she ever face him. God, no wonder he is so upset with me, she thought to herself, I’m just infuriating.

Nothing, nil. The computer search was hopeless. Chakotay had found some way to over-ride even the highest security access codes. He had masked his bio-signs. He was not a master criminal for all those years without learning some tricks of the trade. If he did not want to be found, technology was not going to work.

Janeway would have to use her intimate knowledge of him to find him. Suddenly, she walked out of his quarters, setting out deliberately to the hydroponics bay. Chakotay loved it there, the peace, the serenity, the illusion of growing, thriving life that she knew calmed him, buoyed his spirits when he was down. That’s where her angry warrior would go to reconnect with his inner lick his wounds, she thought regretfully.

She found him. He was here. She could sense his presence. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She searched silently, not wanting to alert him to her presence.

Almost scaring her to death, he stepped out suddenly in front of her. He knew she would come to him here, knew she was here, could sense her presence just as she could sense his. He had been crying. Janeway could see the puffiness around the beautiful brown eyes.

“Chakotay,” she breathed, her heart racing. He had surprised her, unnerved her even though she knew he was here. He had the most annoying habit of throwing her off balance. Janeway was used to being in control. She had little control where her handsome first officer was concerned.

“Captain,” he said, coolly. They regarded each other silently.

He was ready for her, expected her. He was ready to reinstate those damn parameters. He was disgustingly calm, she fretted. That wasn’t good. She wanted him to be upset, as disconcerted as was she. His coolness, aloofness was unexpected. He was going to let her off the hook...again. She was allowed to show her feelings, but as soon as he reciprocated, he was slapped down, hard. How many times could he rebound from her thoughtlessness. She did not want to find out.

“Chakotay....” she noticed the insignia, still attached to a gray starfleet issue sleeveless turtleneck . His arms, dark and muscular, stood out in the bright light of the hydroponics bay. The soft, spandex shirt did little to hide the muscular chest. She couldn’t seem to stop looking at his body. She so seldom saw his assets so blatantly on display. She was growing dizzy again.

She lifted her eyes to catch a feral smile, which he masked immediately. He liked her this way, off balance, dizzy...breathy. He had no intention of apologizing. If that is why she sought him out, she would be exceedingly disappointed.

She looked away, unable to stare him down. That had to be a first. Janeway was no shrinking violet. She could stare down a Klingon targ, while coolly planning her next move.

She walked over to the nearest bench and sat down, alleviating the shaking in her legs somewhat.

Chakotay sat down rigidly, several feet away and waited.

He wasn’t going to make this easy, she thought to herself.

“OK...I know I’m insensitive,” she admitted. Gods, this was not any way to spend a birthday. She could feel unpleasant constricting muscles tightening, closing her throat, a condition that seemed to accompany all her emotional confrontations, as well as the steely metallic taste of panic. She was not good at this!

Chakotay sat silently, acknowledged nothing.

“You just took me by surprise.” Now that was an understatement! What she really wanted to say, was that she was absolutely floored.

Still he did not respond.

Now she was growing angry. She had come to apologize...and it was just making things worse. “Shit! Chakotay,” she said. “For just a few seconds, I wanted to feel your arms around me. Do you know what it is like to go day after day with no one to hold... with no one to hold me?”

That was definitely the wrong question. She could see the answer in his eyes.

He knew only too well what that was like, foregoing intimacy so he would be unencumbered by a relationship when she finally came to him. He was living like a monk, for Spirit’s sake.

Oh yes, she thought to herself, you know too well what it is like. What was I thinking?

“What do you want from me, Chakotay?” She breathed, exasperated. “Do you want me to tell you I’m madly in love with you?” She hesitated for only a second “OK...I’m madly in love with you,” she admitted. “What the hell difference does it make? You knew that before...known it for a long time. And how does my saying it change anything? We are still Captain and First Officer...still have a duty to crew and ship that negates these feelings.”

Chakotay just looked at her. Had she just told him she loved him. He thought he knew, but having it confirmed was like experiencing the sun coming out after a dreadful, frightening, seemingly unending storm. He could not help but smile.

Janeway's breath caught, constricting her chest. He was a beautiful man, and when he smiled, it was as if a fire was ignited in her heart. She gasped a little. How could he not know, not be certain of her love. She had hidden it, buried it, but now allowed it to resurface, to see the light of day...and to her surprise, it was not so frightening as she had imagined. It was as if admitting she loved him had miraculously reinstated their friendship.

“Chakotay,” she said, somewhat relieved, “I never meant to hurt you...never mean to hurt you,” she corrected, stumbling over the words.

“I know, Kathryn. Just as I never intend to hurt you.” He thought for a few minutes, trying to organize his thoughts, treading carefully, not wanting to frighten her off now that she was at least allowing herself to experience her feelings. “It seems to be our alternately comfort and hurt each other.  If that is all this relationship can be for now, I can accept that.” He turned deadly serious. “But I want you to know, if for any reason, our circumstances change; if we should arrive home tomorrow, or be stranded alone again on some god forsaken planet, I will not be willing to take “no” for an answer any more.”

Kathryn smiled for the first time. He would wait for her. Suddenly her smile faded. What kind of person would cause such pain in someone she loved. “I’m afraid that’s not  acceptable, Chakotay.” she said finally. “It’s not fair to expect you to wait for me forever.”

He was about to object, when she placed her fingers against his lips to silence him.

“And besides,” she said sheepishly, “you know how much I hate uncertainty. I’m a scientist. I like things very clear, concise...and our relationship up to this point has been, well, it’s messy, ambiguous.

“Not parameters again,” he groaned.

“I’m afraid so, Commander.”

“Kathryn, I’ve told you...I will wait for you. What more do you want from me; a signed affidavit which promises I will not demonstrate how I feel day after day. I thought we already established that I can do that. I do have a seven year track record, unblemished, until today,” he said with chagrin.

Janeway just looked at him. He had loved her for seven years. Just about the same length of time that she loved him.

“I was thinking more in terms of a contract,” she speculated.

“You do want me to sign something!” he said, surprised.

“You know, Chakotay,” she said carefully, “contracts are useful, defining.”

His eyes narrowed. What was she up to? “Some kind of restraining order?” he ventured, disheartened.

“I was thinking more along the lines of a marriage contract,” she smiled crookedly.

Slowly the realization of what she was offering was dawning on him. She had just proposed to him. Vintage Janeway, he thought to himself. God, he loved this woman. She still had the capacity to knock him flat on his ass.

“Let’s go back to the party,” she said rising, taking his hand in hers. “I have an announcement, one that requires my first officer at my side.”

Chakotay stood, took her in his arms. “Kathryn,” he sighed, kissing her tenderly. “I love you, have loved you ever since I met you. If I had known that this would happen, I would have kissed you much sooner than I did.”

“I think we both know, Chakotay, I wasn’t ready to accept this. It has taken a long time for give myself permission to love you!”

Chakotay shook his head in acknowledgment. “I know,” he said. “I do know what it is like to be afraid. I’m certain of my feelings for you, and still this scares me half to death, it’s overwhelming, confusing...wonderful,” he concluded.

He understood, understands me so well, Janeway admitted. He is the other half of my soul. Enough! She would have him, and all of Starfleet, the Delta Quadrant, even those members of the crew who disapproved, could go directly to hell.

She kissed him, passionately, freely, with an abandon that held a promise of what was to come. She took his breath away.

Together they strode out of the bay, embarking on a journey destined to last a lifetime...a journey without boundaries...or destinations.