"Days Of Wine And Roses"
see part 1 for summary & disclaimers
Half an hour later, after an unusual meeting with Tuvok, some fast talking and even faster packing, Kathryn was on Chaeraa. The transporter beam deposited her at the co-ordinates Chakotay had left her and she lifted a hand to shade her eyes against the brilliant sunlight, smiling broadly as she scanned the most beautiful beach she'd ever seen.
It was absolutely perfect ; a breathtaking backdrop of mountains and lush vegetation giving out onto white, crescent-shaped sands, emerald-green shallows and dark-blue deep water, all topped off by a vast, azure sky complete with soaring seabirds. Off to her left, at the far end of the beach a low, wooden beach house - the only visible sign of habitation - shimmered in the heat haze and she guessed that that was where she'd find Chakotay.
After the subdued lighting of Voyager, the brightness of the late-morning sun hurt her eyes so she moved into the shade offered by nearby trees until her eyes adjusted. Slipping the carry-strap of her 'Fleet issue satchel off her shoulder and letting it fall to the sand, she unzipped her uniform jacket, tugging it off before sitting down to pull off her boots and her socks. Tucking both socks into the top of one boot, she rolled up her trouser legs and wiggled her toes deep into the sand, enjoying the warm, silky feel of it between her toes. With a contented sigh and a murmured, "I think I could get used to this." she hugged her knees to her chest and closed her eyes as she tried to let go of all her concerns, her petty worries and the familiar, nagging tension that had made a home at the back of her neck.
Inhaling and exhaling slowly, tasting the tang of salt and ozone on her tongue, she opened her eyes to the shifting colours of the ocean and her soul to the total peace ; absorbing the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the here and now for those times when she couldn't seem to find five minutes of solitude, or take six steps down a corridor without being stopped by a questioning crewman, a call to this department or that emergency. Taking some time to acclimatise herself and wind-down from Command-mode before she went to find Chakotay was a good idea too, she decided. He'd been here for a day and a half now, and no doubt he'd be rested, relaxed and if it were possible, even more 'laid back' than usual. At least, she hoped he was. Tutting softly, she reminded herself that time was passing and that it was pointless worrying about something she'd already made up her mind to do. She'd use this time as something for her and her alone. Her confession - and Chakotay - could wait just a little longer. A tiny, sing-song voice mocked her cowardice, but she stubbornly ignored it, focusing instead on the soothing sounds of the ocean and the beauty of the beach.
Later, unsure of exactly how much time had passed, Kathryn felt more relaxed, but she was also hot, sticky with perspiration, and very thirsty.
Standing, she stretched languidly as she gazed at the blue-green sea and seriously considered stripping down to her underwear and diving into the cool swell of the rolling breakers that hovered over deep water. It really wasn't that far to the beach house, she mused. She could easily swim there. But then, what would she do with her satchel and her clothes? The thought of coming all the way back up the beach for them later didn't appeal, not in the full heat of the afternoon sun. Besides, emerging from the surf in non-regulation underwear - possibly in full view of her stunned First Officer - might be considered a tad unprofessional, too.
Grinning broadly at the thought of the look on Chakotay's face if she did that, she brushed some sand off the seat of her pants, grabbed up her disguarded jacket, boots and satchel and set off for the distant beach house.
She arrived to find Chakotay sitting cross-legged on the sand in front of shaded verandah steps, sipping a lurid orange drink. Barefoot, wearing just a pair of Navy-blue shorts he looked as handsome as sin. Toned and annoyingly healthy, he'd already caught the sun and his normally tan skin now glowed a rich bronze against the white of the sand and the green of the sea. As expected, he also looked at ease and at one with his surroundings while she again regretted her pale, freckle-prone skin and her fitted uniform. No matter. The important thing had been to throw together what she needed and get off the ship before something happened to weaken her resolve or some ship's problem could wreck her plans, but still, she couldn't help feeling that no one had a right to look that handsome - or that cool.
When he glanced up and saw her strolling towards him, Chakotay called out in surprise, "Kathryn! You're a day early!"
Kathryn's mouth and throat were too parched to answer, so she only smiled and waved. Flopping down onto the sand in front of him, she mutely held out her hand to ask for his drink.
He gladly passed it to her and watched as she drained the glass.
"Better?" he asked, as she finished the last drop.
"Much better," she exhaled deeply and moistened her lips, briefly holding the glass up to her forehead to enjoy it's frosted coolness. "I really should have worn something lighter and cooler, but Tuvok chased me off the ship before I could even change my clothes?"
"Oh? Well, good for Tuvok. I'll have to remember to thank him."
"I thanked him enough for both of us. You know what it's like up there - the usual procedures for me to get mired in. Tuvok logically pointed out that if I didn't leave immediately they'd only multiply ten-fold and I'd never get away." Rolling her eyes in mock exasperation, she handed back the empty glass. "He insisted on escorting me to the Transporter room, dismissed Ensign Lin and beamed me here, himself - mid effusive gush. I should know better after all these years. I keep forgetting that a single, 'thank you' really is sufficient for a Vulcan."
They exchanged knowing smiles until Chakotay looked away down at the empty glass. He didn't say anything right away, he just rolled the glass back n forth between the palms of his hands for a few moments before laying it off to one side. "So, what made you come down a day early, and in such a rush?"
Kathryn paused to steal a glance at her satchel, picturing his journal carefully wrapped-up in a lilac towel inside. She'd planned to show it to him as soon as she arrived and explain how she found it, then tell him that they needed to have a long overdue conversation. But now that she was actually here, facing him knee to knee across the sand, where to begin?
"Give me a moment, I'm dithering."
"What's there to dither about? Just tell me. Have you changed your mind about spending the day together, is that it? "
She couldn't miss the wary tone to his voice as he asked the question. Knowing him as she did, she could guess what he was thinking. He probably thought she regretted agreeing to join him and fly in the face of protocol and propriety, and that she was here to tell him she was going to have to cancel their day together. Poor man. It wouldn't be the first time she'd done that as she struggled with her feelings for him and her worries for their Command.
Wanting to reassure him, she gave in to a rush of tenderness and reached out to caress his face ; trailing her fingers from the inked skin at his temple to the rougher, shadowed edge of his jaw. She was just thinking that he'd need to shave soon when she noticed that his eyes were shut tight and that he wasn't breathing. With an exasperated click of her tongue, she withdrew her hand. "I haven't changed my mind, Chakotay. I'm a day early because I need to talk to you about us, and about your journal or diary or whatever it is."
His eyes snapped open as soon as he heard the word, 'journal' .
"You found my journal? You've read it?! Wait a minute, I locked it away in my office drawer, how did you ___"
"That's not important," she interrupted.
"The hell it isn't! You've been through my private things, read my private thoughts. You've seen my drawings."
"Yes, and I think they're beautiful, some of the loveliest drawings I've ever seen. I'm very flattered."
"You are?" His indignation subsided somewhat as he realised she wasn't mortified or offended. He just knew there was another heavy lecture about personal relationships, duty, and Command Protocol coming, but he could handle that. As he relaxed, he tugged at an earlobe and smiled. "I can only draw what's there in front of me, you know."
"I see," she said, dryly. "That would certainly explain, 'I beat the Borg with it!'"
With a bark of laughter that had more to do with his relief at her acceptance than her quip, he went to take her hands in his, but she held him off.
"All these years, Chakotay. Why didn't you tell me you still felt this way? Why did I have to find out from your journal?"
"You know why."
"Yes, but for all this time you've let me believe that you were over this. I thought you'd moved on years ago. All those passing blondes ____"
"____ Were a means to an end," he interrupted.
Leaning back on her hands she glared at him, her eyes filled with quiet accusation. "Is that what they're calling it these days?"
The look he gave her was incredulous. "You're jealous?"
"Damn straight, but that's not the issue here."
"So help me, Kathryn, if you don't start making sense soon I'll have The Doctor examine you for alien possession."
The shock must be making him unusually dense, she decided. Either that, or he'd been out in the sun too long. "I've just told you. I read your journal. I've seen your heart laid bare in every line, on every page."
Bewildered confusion radiated off him in waves. "And?"
"And, now that I know you still feel the way you did on New Earth and are likely to feel that way no matter what I say, short of leaving you here and resuming course at warp nine, I'm going to have to do something about it."
He looked crestfallen for a moment before his chin came up and he stared at her steadily. "If you're here to demote me, don't. I'll save you the trouble and resign."
"I'm not talking about demoting you, you idiot! I'm talking about making a confession of my own and since I can't draw worth a damn and since I don't have a hardback journal of my own to confess in, I have to tell you." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as the fingers of her right hand pinched the bridge of her nose. This had all seemed so straightforward when she was back on this ship. She reached for his hands and pulled them into her lap, rubbing her thumbs over the backs of his hands until she felt able to speak. "I don't want to do this journey of a lifetime without you by my side, Chakotay. I doubt I could and keep a hold on my sanity for very long if you weren't there. You're my best friend... my rock... my guide." A slight hitch crept in to her voice, but she forged on. "Every time we make it through another brush with disaster - every time we get through any of that stuff and find the time to just be, to just breathe, the only person I want to be with is you."
"As your friend," he said quietly, his confusion clearing as he realised he'd guessed right the first time. She was here to let him down gently, again. She was going to tell him next that she needed his support and his friendship more than she needed a lover.
She was just muddying the waters, Kathryn realised. From his point of view everything she'd just said could easily be explained away by her need for their close, abiding friendship, especially given her previous firm stance on protocol, and best friends could certainly be jealous of time spent with other people. She should just say it and put them both out of their misery. "No, not just as my friend. I want to be with you. I want us to be there for one another because I love you, too."
Chakotay blinked and opened his mouth to respond, but he was so dumbfounded the words wouldn't string themselves together properly in his head. He could only sit and stare at her in disbelief as the sounds of the ocean, the keening seabirds overhead, the picturesque beach - everything except her - receded. "Say that again," he managed, his voice a strained whisper.
She'd always adored the stunned, wild-eyed expression he was wearing now. It was the same one she caught him wearing whenever she up and rashly punched her way through a situation without warning him first. Her smile widened, blossoming into a smile that lit up her whole face. "I love you, too. I can say it now... seeing your journal made me realise that you won't ever____"
Whatever else she'd been about to say was lost as he leaned forward, cradled her face in his hands and kissed her on the mouth. His hands were warm and strong, his fingers a little rough to her soft skin, his lips slightly parted and firm as they moved over hers, stroking and nudging until she could barely breathe. Eager to taste him, she opened her mouth, humming softly as her tongue discovered silken heat, the sharp, fresh taste of citrus and salt, and the unmistakable texture and scent of male skin. As his hands left her face to pull her into his arms and down onto the sand with him, ripples of liquid heat and pleasure filled the tracks his fingers made along her spine and she just knew that if she didn't end the kiss now, she'd never be able to say what she had to say, and then it would be too late.
She broke the kiss with a low moan, surprised to find that she was trembling from head to toe. God help her, if he could do this to her with just a kiss.... Laying her forehead against his jaw, she stroked her hands over his back and gathered her breath to speak the words against his throat. "I do love you, I do, but please... we need to talk about this."
Deja Vu crashed over Chakotay like ice-water and he groaned in disbelief. "Not again, Kathryn. Not now. If we love each other, then that's all that matters."
Draping her forearms across his bare chest, she propped herself up until she was looking down at him. "I know that, but you have to understand what I can offer you, and I have to know what you're willing to live with. And then there's Starfleet to consider. How are they going to take this if they find out? You have to know there's not much that gets past our crew."
He tore his eyes from hers to stare up at the sky, muttering darkly under his breath. He released her and sat up, pulling on a pair of canvas deck-shoes and a white T-shirt from the sand beside him. "We're thousands of light years away from Starfleet. You finally admit that you love me, and you still need to set parameters?!"
"One of us has to." Sitting up, she took his face in both hands, asking him to look at her again. "We have responsibilities you and I, and mine have been a part of me far longer than you have. I used to consider myself a clear, focused thinker before I met you and all this... " she waved a hand back and forth in the air between them, "began. Now, I constantly second-guess myself where you're concerned, and we're not even in a romantic relationship yet. Before we do this, I need to know what you expect from me - from us - because there are going to be times when you need me and I can't be with you, not just because of an emergency, but because of something mundane or trivial. Will the time I can give you be enough? How much time is enough for you? And what about children - do you want children of your own? Because as Captain, I don't know if I do or if I can even consider it - at least not whilst we're in the DQ. That's why we have to talk about this now."
Chakotay watched her face as she spoke, absorbing and considering her words. She was right of course ; right about their responsibility to the crew and to Starfleet constantly coming between them, right about the questions they both needed to ask and have answered before they went any further. He'd just never imagined that their first kiss would be followed by a strategy meeting. Snorting softly, he shook his head and smiled in spite of himself. He should have known better - this was Kathryn Janeway, Captain of the U.S.S. Voyager after all - but he couldn't help it. On too-quiet sleepless nights his fantasies about their first kiss and subsequent love-making had always conveniently glossed-over unpleasant realities like Command responsiblity. It was amazing how quickly long-term illusion became delusion. His fault, not hers.
He looked away, up at the cloudless blue sky as he let go of the last of his frustration and embraced the joy he'd felt at her confession.
As he tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear and lightly stroked her cheek, he smiled and said, "They were passing blondes for a reason, you know. Mutual satisfaction with no strings, no expectations. It's you I want, Kathryn. It's you I love, and it's you that I think about at all hours of the day and night. You drive me crazy! You drive me crazy when I'm with you, and so help me, you even manage to drive me crazy when we're apart. But, alright... we'll play it your way - for now. I want this to work as much as you do."
As he spoke, Kathryn silently rejoiced and watched his lips move, still a little caught up in the spell of the kiss they'd shared. She could still taste him on her tongue, could still feel the warm, firm pressure of those lips. Her heart fluttered in her chest and her skin flushed as she stared at his mouth. The heat of the beach suddenly became oppressive and she felt a little spaced-out and giddy, even as she wondered if one more kiss would be alright, just to be going on with, and just to show him that she understood his need for female company and that there was nothing to forgive. As her face drifted closer to his again, his mouth curved into a deeper smile and she realised that he knew exactly what she was thinking. With a start she went to pull away, but then his hand was on the back of her neck holding her in place.
"Like I said, you drive me crazy," he whispered, so close that his breath tickled her nose and her mouth, making her shiver. "You're telling me one thing and asking for another. Which is it to be, Kathryn?"
She blinked, shook herself and gave him a rueful smile. "I'm sorry. It's been a while and I'm so out of practice. That was quite a kiss, you know."
He smiled, his ego buoyed by knowing how much the kiss had affected her. "Then, how about that drink...? Why don't you freshen up and change into something cooler while I see what I can find in the kitchen?"
"If it's something alcoholic and chilled, in a large glass, you're on."
"We're on shore-leave aren't we? I don't see the point in bothering with small glasses."
"I knew I liked you, even before I kissed you."
Grinning, they helped each other up off the sand, gathered their things and climbed the verandah steps hand in hand.
On To Part Three