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"Days Of Wine And Roses"
by GillyH


My answer to an old JetC17 challenge piece: write a story where a book of some sort figures in the plot. In typical Gilly fashion, I think I misunderstood the challenge when I chose to use Chakotay's private journal, but hey-ho. Many, many thanks to my good friend and inspiration, Ghostwriter, who gave me encouragement after I'd kirbed my keyboard - and to everyone else who nagged me to keep going and finish this story.

Setting: Season 4, before "Retrospect"

Rating: PG13 for now

Disclaimer: Paramount and the Viaborg own all the characters taking part, but the story is mine. I'm not making any money out of this - just having some fun with my fav characters.

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Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate ;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson, 1867-1900




"Captain's log: Supplemental It's the end of our second day in orbit of Chaeraa. The Chaeraans are indeed a delightful, gentle race and richly deserve their reputation for kindness, generosity and hospitality. As already noted, they are a warp-capable humanoid species. They remind me very much of Earth's Polynesian peoples ; skin-tone ranges from a pale coffee to a dark bronze and hair is uniformly long, straight and blue-black. Their day-to-day dress is very bright and colourful, with both males and females favouring bold, swirling colours on black, white or gold cloth for short sarongs or short trousers. Both sexes also love to adorn themselves with the indiginous tropical flowers, fashioning them into simple head-dresses, bracelets or neck leis. If it weren't for their large and startlingly beautiful green eyes and their delicate facial ridges, it would be very easy to imagine that the people and islands of Chaeraa were part of an island-chain in Earth's own Pacific ocean.

"In exchange for medical technology and supplies, our own supply requests have been more than met. It's a huge relief to sit here at my window, watch the Chaeraan cargo ships zip back and forth to Voyager, and know that our stasis-bins will soon be full of all manner of strange and wonderful grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and that our Dilithium stores will be replenished. Neelix assures me that if we're careful, the food supplies will last us at least a year. Lieutenant Torres, while very grateful for the Dilithium, wishes it were of a higher grade, or that there was more of it. But, as Lieutenant Paris pointed out with his usual pithy candour, 'Beggars can't be choosers'.

The Chaeraan liason Ambassador Mysol has also offered us the gift of shoreleave on some of the smaller, most southern islands and I've gratefully accepted. The crew have been informed that we'll remain in orbit until everyone has taken at least three consecutive days of R and R."

**************************************


"Mind if I hide in here for a while?"

Chakotay almost jumped out of his skin as he looked up to find the object of his thoughts in his office. More than a little flustered, he quickly put down his pen, closed the book he'd been writing in and slipped it into his desk drawer. "Hide, Captain... from whom?"

Kathryn scowled and rolled her eyes as she crossed the room to perch on the edge of his desk. "Our very own roving Ambassador. He's driven me out of my own Ready room, I daren't go anywhere near the Mess hall or my quarters and I'm sure he's got my Bridge-chair wired to set off an alarm as soon as I sit in it. So, I thought as I'm not getting much work done, I'd hide in here for a while and bother the hell out of you. That is, if you're free to be bothered.... join me for coffee?"

Her face softened into a slow smile as she leaned in close to whisper her question, and for one deliciously charged, achey moment, he thought she was going to kiss him. Something - the gods only knew what - allowed him to cope with her nearness and his disappointment when she didn't.

"You never bother me, Kathryn," he smiled, realising that this was a visit from his friend and not his Captain. "You shock the hell out of me sometimes, but I think I'm getting used to it. I take it that you're out of credits again and I'm buying?"

She nodded guiltily and chewed her bottom lip ; a beguiling combination that always knocked him sideways. When she followed through with the wry, lop-sided grin, he realised it was time to move. Clearing his throat, he got up and turned to the replicator, talking as he went. "Have a seat. How do you want it... black or with cream?"

She settled herself on the couch under the viewport and idly plucked at the corner of a small cushion. "Strong, with cream and sugar, please. I need the energy boost. I seem to have spent most of the day trying to stay ahead of Neelix and catch-up on the stack of reports I missed while I was on the surface, yesterday."

While his back was still turned she glanced curiously at his desk and wondered about his flustered reaction to looking up and finding her watching him. It was odd for him to be writing in an old-fashioned book, too, she mused. With his talent for spilling drinks and mislaying things, he much preferred their interchangeable, indestructable PADD's. She suddenly realised that he was on his way back with a steaming cup in each hand and that he'd said something. "I'm sorry, Chakotay... what did you say?"

He sat down on her left side and grinned as he handed her a cup. "I said, that'll teach you to pull rank on me and jump ship to paradise."

With her cup poised halfway to her lips, she had the grace to look guilty for a moment. "I know and I'm sorry, but I saw sun, sea and sand on the viewscreen and that was that - my feet started to itch." She sipped her coffee then let her head fall back against the top of the couch with a sigh. "I didn't get to any of the beaches, but what I did see was dazzling. The people, the colours, the sunshine warm on your skin. It's so beautiful. The feelings of peace and contentment that come over you are indescribeable. I was only in the capital city for one morning, but I feel better than I have in ages." Sitting up again, she patted his knee. "Besides, you've got three whole days of R and R to look forward to. No schedules, no meetings and no bossy, grumpy Captain breathing down your neck demanding reports."

"Three whole days without her. How will I cope?"

His tone was teasing, but she was half tempted to tell him that it would be the same for her left behind on the ship for three days while he was gone, then three days R & R of her own. Six days in total. "Oh, I'm sure you'll do fine, my friend." She raised a hand and looked off into the distance, visualising the scene, "I can see you now, stretched out on a beach surrounded by green-eyed tropical blossoms, all doing their very best to help you forget about your grumpy Captain before the ice melts in your first drink."

"Oh, I don't know about that," he laughed. "Besides, I was hoping you'd join me." Leaning forward, he placed his cup on the coffee-table and picked up a PADD. "Looking at the roster, it would be easy to overlap your first day with my last, that is if you don't already have other plans? We could dive the island's submerged reefs together. The Chaeraan database says that the surrounding waters are full of coral and swarming with shoals of colourful fish."

Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "What about large, drab fish with dorsal fins and rows of very sharp teeth?"

"Those too - or something very similar." At her alarmed double-take he added, "Don't worry. They're kept away by barriers and sonic devices that surround the islands."

She placed a hand over his in a lingering, affectionate squeeze. "Thank you, Chakotay. That's very kind of you... I'd love to join you. I was going to suggest that we meet up for a quiet dinner on your last evening anyway, but a day diving the reefs before hand sounds wonderful. Why don't you go ahead and overlap our leave allocation," she leaned closer in a conspiratorial way again, almost close enough to kiss him. "And I'll break the news to Tuvok."

Even as the light scent of the vanilla soap she favoured filled his nostrils, Tuvok's name was like an incantation that re-invoked the spectre of protocol. Their eyes met and locked for a charged moment before Kathryn withdrew, quickly sitting forward to place her cup beside his.

They both knew it for what it was ; a simple, but effective tactic for putting a proper distance back between them, but it was Chakotay who struggled hardest with disapointment and the all-too-familiar impulse to ask why she needed to invade his personal space or touch him so often these days. She'd always touched him, of course. Brief, simple touches to his chest, shoulders and arms, but more and more, those casual touches lingered longer than was necessary, especially when they were alone, and especially after those times when pressure of work or away missions had kept them apart for any real length of time. He understood that on one level it was a way to reassure and reacquaint herself, and at first he'd found it endearing, but he didn't know how much longer he could stand the uncertainty and the mixed signals. Did she really only see him as a dear friend and comrade at arms? He didn't think so, but he couldn't be sure because everything was always so ambiguous. If it were anyone else of course, things wouldn't be so complicated. He could respond to a touch and either be accepted or refused - no big deal, no ramifications. Why did everything have to be so complicated when it came to his love-life? It was at times like this he wished it were as easy to stop loving someone as it was to start.

Swallowing his disappointment at yet another confusing near-miss, he smiled and said, "So, tell me... exactly why is Neelix hot on your trail?"

Kathryn paused a moment to gather her own wayward thoughts before looking up and returning his smile. "His ambassadorial uniform." On safer ground again, she rolled her eyes and tutted softly even as her smile became quirky. "He and Ambassador Mysol have hit it off really well - so well, that Mysol's invited him to observe the Chaeraan government in session and attend an official function. So, Ambassador Neelix has suddenly decided that he needs a formal dress-uniform. He's even done design sketches, some with sashes and little hats, some without."

Chakotay couldn't help laughing and she gave him her best, 'This isn't funny, Commander' glare, before giving in to laughter herself.

They soon quieted and sipped their drinks until Kathryn continued in an exasperated voice, "Honestly, Chakotay, the colours he's chosen are blinding. They'd glow in the dark! On top of that, he's pencilled in enough gold braid to bring a 'Fleet Admiral to his knees. I don't want to hurt his feelings and I've tried making subtle, tactful suggestions, but...."

"But, it's difficult to get a word in edgways and he's totally impervious to subtlety and tact, right?" he finished for her.

"Right." She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Before Kes left us, I had no trouble pulling him up short when he got like this. I'd just bark out a Captain Janeway, 'No!' and that would be that - end of discussion."

"And now?"

"Now, he looks at me, he grins that hopeful, cheeky grin and I turn into a puddle of spineless mush. After everything we've been through recently, the Borg, Species 8472, the Hirogen, making contact with home and then losing it - not forgetting his own death and resurrection - he's been worn to a frazzle trying to keep morale high. It's good to see him excited about something for himself again and I just can't knock him down."

"You're telling me that an aesthetically-challenged Talaxian chef found a weakness where millions of Borg failed? Ow!" He glared at her as he rubbed his shoulder. "Captain's aren't allowed to punch their First Officers anymore, you know. There was a memo about it."

Her eyes widened, innocently, "You don't say? I must have missed that one."

"Yeah, right!"

"So, you'll speak to him for me."

"Now, wait just a minute... I don't remember offering __"

"__No, but you were about to."

Before he could respond the door chime rang out and she quickly handed him her cup and stood up. "Oh, dear, it looks like our Ambassador has tracked me down again. Sorry, but I've got a meeting in Engineering to get to, so he's all yours, Commander." With a cheeky grin and a wink, she turned and moved towards the door.

Chakotay swore under his breath. Set up. Hooked and reeled-in like some green, first year cadet. He hadn't felt so, 'had' since his first day at the Academy when Old Sneezy had sent him to the stores for a left-handed phase-adjuster. Grinning inspite of himself, he called after her, "I won't forget this, Kathryn. Not this time. This one's going down on your tab."

She laughed outloud ; a rich, throaty sound that he loved to hear and turned back briefly to point a finger at him, "Gotcha good, didn't I... and no, I didn't intend for our day together to be part of my little set up."

"I know that," he smiled back, "Go on, hurry or you'll be late for Engineering."

Just as Kathryn reached the door, it swished open to reveal a subdued looking Neelix who perked up the instant he saw her.

"Ah! Captain! There you are! I've been looking all over for you, but the computer wouldn't tell me where you were until a few minutes ago. I have my finished sketches. Are you ready to help me choose a formal uniform?"

Hands clasped behind her back, Kathryn strode-on through the open door talking a-mile-a-minute. "I'm so sorry, Neelix. Something just came up, but you know, the Commander has a fine eye for colour and a real flair for design." She disappeared from view, but her voice drifted back to them along the corridor. "I'm sure he'll help you decide on something stylish."

Neelix immediately turned a beaming face towards Chakotay and stepped through the door - already pulling sheets of paper from his art folder. "Just wait until you see my designs, Commander. They'll take your breath away!"

Already resigned to his fate, Chakotay sighed and smiled, warmly. "So I've been told, Neelix. So I've been told."

***********************************


Two days later, Kathryn sat at her ready room desk face-to-face with her personal nemesis ; the monthly fuel consumption analysis and projections. She'd spent most of the morning trying to juggle the figures, but no matter which way she looked at them, no matter how many times she switched the power allocations, things looked grim. They were running low on good quality dilithium, and even with what the Chaeraan's had been able to spare them, it wouldn't be long - two months at most - before they were at critical levels. When they left the peace of Chaeraa, their top priority would have to be finding a source of high-grade dilithium crystals.

Giving-up on the figures, she got up and walked over to the viewport to gaze out at Chaeraa, suspended like a blue and white marble below her. It looked so much like Earth and each time she saw it, a wave of regret and home-sickness engulfed her. This time, she folded her arms across her chest, hugging and insulating herself against those feelings, forcing herself to think of tomorrow and the day she and Chakotay had planned instead. He was down there now - somewhere on the southernmost island. He'd only been gone for two days, but the ship felt empty, subdued and much too quiet without him. It wasn't really something she could put into words or explain to anyone, but she felt that the ship itself missed him and it wouldn't really feel safe and secure until his return. But then, where did the ship end and she begin?

Rolling her eyes at her fanciful thoughts she tutted to herself. Oh, did she have it bad! All this time, all this denial, and her heart was still no closer to being able to let him go. What the hell was she going to do about this? Over two years had passed since New Earth ; two years since rescue had prevented the inevitable and she'd had to insist that Chakotay stop carrying a torch for what couldn't be, and move on with his life. At the time, she'd struggled with her own heartache, but believed it was the right thing to do for both their sakes and for the sake of the ship and their crew. She'd also believed that Command protocols would serve and protect her as they always had, once they were back on the ship. Chakotay had tried to change her mind several times, but she'd stuck to her resolve, telling him that she needed a best friend and a focused First Officer more than she needed a lover, and that she wanted him to have a life because how would she cope with the guilt if he didn't? Eventually he'd done as she asked and moved on, and if the growing list of statuesque blondes from various planets was anything to go by, he was enjoying himself immensely. Now, if she could just follow her own advice and move on herself, everything would be tickety-boo, as Neelix would say.

But, just how did one go about falling out of love with someone you saw constantly, especially when you had no other options open to you? Unlike Chakotay, she'd never been one for throw-away sexual encounters and they were never in one area of space long enough for her to get to know someone she might take to her bed. This might be the 24th Century, but the old adage still held true for her ; a woman needs a reason to make love, a man just needs a place. Not for the first time, she sighed and cursed those tiny midges from New Earth. The heartache and trouble they'd caused her was on an epic scale compared to their size. The emotional consequences of those weeks she and Chakotay had spent together in paradise just kept on growing.

She stood there for quite a while wool-gathering and gazing at the planet until her door chime rang out. It was Tom Paris. He entered and came towards her with easy, confident strides, his face neutral - though as usual, his bright blue eyes were full of humour.

"Hello, Tom. What can I do for you this morning?"

He came to stand just in front of her, on the lower level. "Do you have Hickman's Birthday card, Captain? B'Elanna told me to keep track of it and to make sure everyone signs it before they go on shoreleave. She doesn't want any last minute signings to hold things up."

"Sorry, Tom. I signed it and gave it straight back to Chakotay before he left. I'm sure he would have passed it on or left it somewhere safe, though. Have you tried his office?"

"Not yet, I thought I'd see if you had it first."

"Well, I'm not getting much work done at the moment," She stepped past him and headed for the Bridge, "I'll come with you, just to keep an eye on you."

"Captain, you wound me!"

"Are you trying to tell me you wouldn't take this opportunity to cause some sort of mischief, Mister Paris?"

"Well, when The Big Guy's away...." Tom muttered under his breath before following her out of the Ready-room and across the Bridge to Chakotay's office. They entered and Kathryn moved around to the other side of the desk, sat down in Chakotay's chair and entered her code into the drawer's keypad. Nothing happened. Surprised, she raised an eyebrow and tried again. Still nothing. The drawer remained locked. After a puzzled glance at Tom she tried once more, taking care to enter her command over-ride code slowly and precisely. It made no difference. She was beginning to get annoyed. Her over-ride code was supposed to grant her access to everything on the ship. Just as she considered phasering the thing open, Tom cleared his throat and leaned on the front of the desk.

"Uh, Captain, if I might make a suggestion, off the record?"

Kathryn looked up at him and nodded.

"Chakotay's private access codes... his personal ones, they aren't standard Starfleet alpha-numeric codes because he knows any Maquis worth their salt could crack those code-types in seconds flat. He tends to re-programe his personal security keypads to accept unique passwords instead."

"I see. And you would know this how, exactly?"

Tom flushed slightly and rubbed at his chin with one hand. "This is still off the record, right?" At her nod, he turned sideways and sat on the desk - leaning towards her like a little kid with a secret burning a hole in his top pocket. "Harry and I tried to break into Chakotay's quarters to play a practical joke on him, but we just couldn't crack the door code. To cut a long story short, we talked Seven into getting the code for us. She hid a little way down the corridor and used her optical implant's zoom-cam to see what he was entering." He grinned and waggled his eyebrows, looking immensely pleased with himself. "We've got it all set. I just hope you're back from shore-leave in time for the fun."

Kathryn tried to look stern, but she couldn't help grinning up at him. Back in the Alpha quadrant, practical jokes played on a senior commanding officer would be unheard of, but stuck out here in the DQ they were often a way of lifting crew morale. Laughter was a great stress reliever and had done much to strengthen the bonds between them. Most of the senior staff had been targeted at one time or another. Even Tuvok. He'd almost blown a gasket at the constant, 'Live Long And Prosper' message that haunted him for days, appearing on every console he touched, and she still couldn't believe how easily she'd fallen for the one they'd played on her ; 'The Giant Elisiian Moon-flower Mystery' was still a guaranteed way to raise a laugh on a dull Bridge shift - and it was usually Chakotay who delighted in reminding everyone about it.

On the floor of her Ready room just behind her desk, she kept a tub of delicate Elisiian moon-flower plants - very similar to Terran cyclamen. When in bloom, the plants needed to be watered daily, so, she got into the habit of tipping any cold, left-over coffee into the tub at the end of her shift. It was a simple way of remembering to keep the soil moist and made her feel a little better about her coffee habit. One day, she noticed that the plants seemed to be getting bigger - much bigger than they were supposed to. They grew at an alarming rate, forcing her to transplant them into larger and larger containers over several weeks. Feeling very pleased with herself, her green thumb and her ingenuity in putting the coffee to good use, she'd proudly shown the Alpha and Beta Bridge-crews her giant moon-flower plants, telling them that her secret was extra strong Klingon coffee. Eventually, Chakotay had taken pity on her and spilled the beans. Messrs. Paris and Kim had been slipping into her Ready room at least once a week to pour a generous dose of growth hormone over her moon-flowers.

Grinning, she winked at Paris and made a mental note that she still owed them a return match for that one. "I'll try to be back for it , Tom, but don't delay it just for me. I'll have my fun teasing him about it, later." She turned her attention back to the drawer's key-pad. "So, any ideas on how we get this open?"

Tom got up and took a turn around the desk, scratching at the side of his chin as he thought about it. "Well, the door to his quarters was 'blue-eyes-alpha-one', so I'd say it has to be something along those lines. Try that, just in case."

Kathryn tried 'blue-eyes-a1', but the drawer didn't budge. She slapped her hand down on the desk in frustration. "Ach, it could be anything! We could be here all day."

"Maybe not." Without warning, Tom swung the chair around and peered into her face. "Hmmm... Pert nose...? Nah. Redhead...? Maybe. Stubborn, 'Take your best shot' Irish chin...?"

"Don't push it, Mister Paris."

"Creamy skin... a few freckles...freckles? Freckles-alpha-one! Try it, Captain."

Shooting him a disbelieving look, she shook off a feeling of unease, shrugged her shoulders and carefully entered 'Freckles-a1' into the keypad. The drawer opened with a traitorous click.

Paris punched the air and crowed, "Yes! Am I good, or am I good?!"

Kathryn couldn't believe it. "This is ridiculous! Who the hell has security codes like that?!" Only Chakotay, and only in this damned quadrant. How long had he had these codes? Were they simply old codes he hadn't gotten around to changing? Her feelings of unease were growing into something more akin to embarrassment - which in turn was irritating the hell out of her. Give it a week and this would be all over the ship, unless she could nip it in the bud here and now.

Meanwhile, Paris was oblivious to her misgivings and in full flow. "You see, luck is fine on it's own, but you need to be an observer of people and I'm an observer of people. What else would The Big Guy pick but something he sees everyday - on someone he also happens to like a lot... a whole lot."

"That'll be all, thank-you, Mister Paris!" Kathryn stood, drawing herself up to her full height as she held his attention with a beady glare and the Janeway two-finger point. "This is to go no further. Is that understood?"

His cheesey grin was insufferable. "Oh, sure. Understood, Captain. So, are you flattered?"

She closed her eyes and sighed, heavily. "Yes, I'm flattered. Annoyed, but flattered." She studied his face for a long moment. "Tom, I mean it. This isn't to go any further - not even as far as B'Elanna. The rumour mill is doing fine on its own. It doesn't need any help from Chakotay."

"You have my word, Captain. " He sat down on the edge of the desk again and folded his arms across his chest. "So?" His tone was wheedling.

"What?"

"So, even without this little development, it's always been pretty obvious to me how The Big Guy feels about you. As this is still off the record, do you feel the same way about him? Come-on, Captain - give."

She was about to tell him to mind his own business when the need to confide in someone completely overwhelmed her and took control of her tongue. "He's my heart. He's also my best friend and my First Officer and we have a ship to run. It's complicated, Tom. It's just so damned complicated." Immediately regretting her foolishness, she eyed the edge of the desk and waited for some typically smart Tom Paris quip. When he still hadn't spoken, she looked up expecting to see him grinning from ear to ear after her quiet confession. He was smiling alright, but there was nothing teasing or wolfish about his smile now ; it was a wistful smile, maybe even a little regretful. "Tom?"

His smile grew a little, but it still didn't quite reach his eyes; He was blushing and he couldn't seem to look her in the eye as he spoke. "I can imagine, Captain. Really, I can. Complicated doesn't even begin to cover it."

Kathryn was a little surprised at his muted reaction to what had to be front-page news for Voyager's chief betting-pool organiser. But, of all her crew, she'd always thought Tom would be the most open to a relationship between herself and Chakotay, and that he'd be the last person to begrudge her a personal life. "But...?"

He shrugged his shoulders and chuckled, "But, nothing. Well, I suppose I can tell you this now, now that B'Elanna and I are together, and now that you and Chakotay might one day...." his voice trailed off and he cleared his throat before blurting out, "I just had one hell of a crush on you for a while, that's all. One of those 'older woman' things I never had time for as a kid." he glanced at her from under his lashes, blushing more deeply as he continued, his fair complexion letting him down. "While my friends were all sighing over Mrs. Lacey in gym class, my head was full of ancient sailing ships, rusty old cars, bad movies, comic books, and getting into the Academy Pilot program. By the time I looked up and realised what all the fuss was about, Mrs Lacey announced that she was leaving to take up another teaching post and she was gone. You're very like her, in lots of ways," he finished a little lamely.

Kathryn's voice was a little husky when she spoke, but she was smiling, softly. "I never knew... no, that's a lie. I suspected, I just chose to pretend that I didn't, but in hindsight, I've probably let you get away with blue murder because of it. Well, I'll be damned." Pursing her lips, she glanced away down at her hands. "You're an incorrigible flirt, Thomas Eugene Paris. Has anyone ever told you that?"

"Oh, all the time," he shot back, winking at her. "But come-on, be fair, a female Captain - a beautiful, blue-eyed redhead - that was just too much fun to pass up, wasn't it?"

"You're doing it again, Tom."

"Would you like me to stop?"

They eyed each other for a moment, both acknowledging the very real, very warm affection that had grown for the other over the years, and in Kathryn's case, experiencing a deep satisfaction and pride at the way this insecure man-child had finally grown into himself under a flipant exterior shield. Swallowing past a sudden tightness in her throat, she shook her head and murmured, "No, I don't want you to stop."

"Ever?"

"Ever," she smiled.

Tom gave her a small, mock salute and his biggest, cheekiest grin. "Aye, Captain." Coughing to clear his throat he continued, briskly, "I think we'd better find that card before B'Elanna slams in here to rip me a new ___, I mean to rip my head off. Chakotay really hates it when he comes home to bloodstains on the carpet."

"Nice recovery, Tom."

"Thank you."

Silently, smothering persistant grins, they turned their attention back to the drawer and began pulling things out - PADDs, a holo-camera, a tri-corder, old-fashioned pens, pencils, and inks, a small crystal paperweight in the shape of a soaring eagle, a bag of Neelix's homemade fudge, and then finally, an old-fashioned journal with a black cover. Kathryn recognised the book just as she popped a piece of fudge into her mouth, but Tom beat her to pulling it from the bottom of the drawer.

"Here we go, Captain. I'll bet he slipped it in here to keep it flat." Opening the front cover, he carefully fanned the inner pages against his thumb, expecting to find Hickman's birthday card safe and sound.

Thanks to a mouthful of delicious fudge, Kathryn couldn't say anything about it being rude to read someone's journal without their permission before Tom stopped fanning the pages and said, "Whoa! Will you look at that!"

He eagerly passed her one half of the book, but held on to the other half as they both gazed at a delicate pastel sketch of Kathryn, head bowed over a PADD, smiling slightly as she read - almost as if she knew she were observed.

Kathryn's reaction to the sketch was pure delight. So much so, she forgot to question the propriety of what she and Tom were doing. To see herself through someone else's eyes, to see such obvious, deep affection translated into such a delicate piece was wonderful, and strangely humbling. She had always known that she was attractive in the broadest, most obvious sense thanks to her colouring and delicate bone structure. Her face had pleasing classical lines, with a well-defined jaw and her skin was good - barring the smattering of freckles over her nose - but she wasn't in any way vain enough to feel that she actually looked as she did here. A luminous beauty shone out of the drawing before her ; the hand that had drawn these images belonged to someone who had clearly observed her often, and through the eyes of love.

With a last, lingering look at the beautiful sketch, she reached past Tom and turned the page, eager to see if there were any more. What followed were pages of romantic poetry and haikus, scribbled notes about funny things she'd said or done, and many more pencil sketches showing her from every angle, in every conceivable mood. Two pages in particular caught her eye and stayed her hand ; tucked into the spine of those two pages were six faded rose petals and the label from a bottle of champagne. Her hands trembled as the muted fragrance of a long-forgotten rose wafted into the air, bringing with it powerful memories of senseless death, the agony of watching Chakotay cry for her, then moonlit dark water, strong, supporting arms and the comforting words he'd spoken into her hair.

With a gasp, she blinked back the sting of tears as her fingers traced over a small charcoal sketch of her kneeling at the prow of a sailboat. She'd just tugged something loose from her hair and was laughing into the wind as it whipped around her, lifting her hair and pulling at her dress. Next to the sketch there was a poem she knew very well, written out in Chakotay's firm, flowing hand ; 'Vitae Summa Brevis'.

"Captain, are you alright?"

"Sorry, Tom... what?"

"I asked if you were alright. You look like you saw a ghost or something."

Feeling unsteady on her feet, she swallowed hard. "I think I did." Taking the book from him she closed it, held it tightly to her chest and sat down in Chakotay's chair before she fell down. "Tom, would you excuse me, please. I'd like some time to look at these by myself. If I find the card, I promise I'll get it to you or B'Elanna."

"Captain?" Tom's face and voice were full of concern as he took a half-step towards her.

"I'm fine, Lieutenant." She smiled as she used his rank, a gentle rebuff to give herself a chance to regain her composure.

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure," she placed the book on the desk in front of her and slowly smoothed her hands over the front cover, "I'd just like to be alone with this for a while if you don't mind."

"Alright, then." Still looking a little worried and doubtful, Tom turned to leave. "I'll ask the Doc about the card just in case you don't find it. He was going to be my next stop, anyway."

"Tom...."

Guessing what she was about to ask, he turned back at the door. "Don't worry, Captain. My lips are sealed tighter than a Ferengi's pockets. And, if you suddenly have a crazy notion to jump ship, I'll be sure to save two pieces of birthday cake." After a warm, understanding smile and a cheeky wink, he left.

Kathryn gazed at the door for a long time after it had closed behind him. Less than a year ago, she'd have doubted his ability to carry a secret as far as the next turbo-lift, but now... now things were different. She knew that she could trust him.

Turning her attention back to the book she took a slow, deep breath and opened it. It really was a remarkable insight into how Chakotay saw her. Such beautiful individual drawings, but together the whole was almost a pictorial record of her day-to-day life in the Delta quadrant. The physical changes she'd gone through were easy to see of course - the style and length of her hair being the most evident - but he'd also managed to capture her changing moods, showing her tiredness and despondancy, joy and hope, anger and fear, wonder and curiosity, loss and regret. He'd even captured her stubborn bloody-mindedness in several of them with a few deft sweeps of a pencil or charcoal.

Moving quickly past the pages holding the rose petals and the champagne label because they were just too painful and affecting, she found pages of scribbled reminders - the biggest, most heavily starred and underscored reading,

***Don't forget!***
***Kathryn's birthday!
***

Underneath that, there were design sketches for what looked like an old fashioned time-piece on a chain. Strange, in the all the time they'd been out here, he'd never given her anything like that as a birthday gift. Flowers, sand-paintings, a dream-catcher, a day on the holodeck while he covered her duty shift, a delicious home-made dinner here and there, yes, but never a time-piece. Unless... maybe it was what he was planning to give her this year. Smiling softly she turned the page, making a mental note to look surprised if and when he presented it to her.

After a page filled with doodled question marks around a rather dark, disconsolate sketch of B'Elanna with flat, emotionless eyes, there were several pages filled with drawings of men and women Kathryn didn't recognise. Most of them were clearly Bajoran - some even wore the familiar Bajoran pagh earring - but the others were a mixed bag of Humans, Bolians and Betazoids. In stark contrast to the sketch of B'Elanna, these people were all shown smiling, some shyly, but most with dazzling smiles or heads thrown back in merry laughter. The detail on their faces was superb, the best she'd ever seen. She'd always considered herself a fair artist, but she was more comfortable with inanimate objects, scenic landscapes or space phenomenon in watercolours and oils. To her dismay, faces - particularly moods and expressions - had always eluded her. Were these the other members of Chakotay's Maquis cell? He had never spoken about them - at least not to her - even after Tuvok had quietly informed her of certain chilling rumours circulating the ship regarding their fate. She'd tried to talk to Chakotay about the rumours, but he'd always abrubtly changed the subject, making it clear that he wasn't ready to talk. These drawings were probably his way of remembering his friends while working through his grief, she mused. She'd just have to continue to be patient and believe that he'd come to her when he was ready to talk about them.

Eventually she found herself at the last of the used pages, these filled with funny, accurate caricatures of Voyager's crew, including one of their Captain - left hand on her hip, a hugely out of proportion coffee-cup raised in her right hand, and captioned, "I beat the Borg with it!" Oh, he was going to pay for that when she caught up with him, tomorrow.

Tomorrow?

Leaning back in the chair, she gazed out of the viewport as she turned that over in her mind. Why wait until tomorrow? Maybe Tom was right. Maybe acting on impulse - on a crazy notion - was what she needed to do. Images of a sun-drenched beach flash-framed before her mind's eye ; waves rolling in to shore and leafy palm trees swaying in a light breeze while she sat on the sand, wrapped in the arms of someone who loved her, someone who had cared about her for a very long time, asking for nothing more than what she was willing to give ; her friendship and her laughter. Oh, yes... humour had always played a large part in their friendship She teased him, he teased her - it was what they did. Only she'd been so busy laughing with him, she'd misread the true depth and nature of his enduring feelings.

He hadn't moved on at all. He hadn't given up on her and settled for their close, abiding friendship. If the drawings and entries in his journal told her anything, it was that he still loved her. He was still deeply in love with her.

She'd been wrong to think that his teasing was just banter between good friends, or a First Officer doing his best to amuse his lonely Captain. He'd fooled her into thinking that he'd done as she asked, when in fact he wasn't going anywhere fast. But then, neither was she.

She closed the book carefully. If she looked at it long enough she'd probably talk herself out of the impluse and find hundreds of excuses, but not a single reason. They needed to talk and the sooner the better. They were both adults, weren't they? They should be able to admit their feelings for one another and discuss this properly, once and for all?

Her mind made-up, she tapped her commbadge and asked Tuvok to join her in Chakotay's office.





On To Part Two