The doors swooshed open.
"Hi," she said softly.
"Hi," he said, momentarily stunned by the sight of her. Then his arms pulled her tightly into his chest while his hands supported her head and back. His body pressed against hers enough to bend her back and she gasped at the feel of his erection against her belly. Her gasp allowed his tongue to take possession of her mouth and Kathryn felt the control she had maintained all week starting to crack. Her mouth was full of his taste, her nose was full with his smell, and her ears heard her own moan that was now starting in at the back of her throat.
And then he drew away, kissing her softly on her mouth and jaw and neck, whispering "it's all right" over and over while making tiny shushing sounds. Slowly she stopped shuddering and relaxed in his embrace.
"I just had to know that you were okay. I had to feel that you were okay. I'm sorry," he murmured.
"Please don't apologise," she whispered. "And please don't stop - it was thoughts of this that kept me going."
Kathryn brought her mouth up to his neck and kissed him, taking all the time in the world to luxuriate in the strong arms that made her feel so safe. She finally pulled herself away. "I'm okay, Chakotay, I'm really okay. Now that I'm here with you."
Slowly they turned towards the couch and walked to it, arms around each other. She saw the champagne bottle and flutes.
"I hope you don't mind," said Chakotay. "Over the months it's always seemed that we had champagne each time we took another step forward. I just hoped this could be another one of those times."
"I don't mind at all. Why don't you pour?" They both sat down on the couch and Chakotay started unwinding the wire over the stopper.
"Tuvok brought me up to speed when I finally got back to Voyager. He said the doctor had examined you and taken care of most of your...physical injuries." He looked at her and whispered softly, "Spirits, Kathryn..."
She turned into him and slid a hand onto his thigh and squeezed. "Please don't, Chakotay. I'm all right now, I'm going to be fine - the doctor said so." Her voice was so low that he could barely hear her. "How about you?"
He shrugged sadly. "I'm okay. Don't forget, I'm used to situations like this - today was just another day dropped into my life from five months ago." He stopped talking and concentrated on pushing the stopper out with his thumbs. It came out cleanly and they both watched the smoke-like release waft away.
"That makes me think of Godorf's branding iron.." she said dreamily.
"Kathryn! Stop it!" He put the bottle down and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Snap out of it - you're safe now. You're home!"
Her eyes began to re-focus and she turned to him. "Yes. Yes, I am, thanks to you and the crew. I've put a commendation on your official record regarding your performance this past week, Chakotay. I know it doesn't mean much in the greater scheme of things but it means a lot to me. I wouldn't be alive today if it hadn't been for you; you planned and executed my rescue flawlessly. I'll never worry again about the possibility of me not being the one to lead our crew home."
He didn't know how to respond so he poured the champagne. He'd dreaded what he knew he had to tell her, but he couldn't put it off any longer. Offering a glass to her he hesitated, using his own to point across the room.
"My report is on my desk, Kathryn. When you've read it I'll understand if you feel you must remove my commendation. But please keep the general crew commendation and the individual ones on the record, they were just following my orders."
"I'll read it with interest, Chakotay. But Tuvok briefed me in sickbay and I don't think I'll have any problems with your report."
"How can you say that, Kathryn? I didn't use Starfleet policies and procedures out there and I pretty much broke every standing rule you've ever made. I just wanted to get you back before those bastards killed you and I didn't care how. And, Kathryn, I'll do it again if I have to."
"And this doesn't disturb you?" he said in amazement.
"No. Tuvok's pretty calm about it, too."
Chakotay drained his glass and lay his head on couch's back, closing his eyes as if in pain. She watched as his face worked and his hands clenched and unclenched. Finally, without opening his eyes, he said softly, "That used to be me."
"You were never like them. Did you ever use hot irons to get information?"
"Specifically, no. But, Kathryn, I was a Maquis captain and a cell leader - I did what had to be done. And five months ago I could have been the one...questioning you..... if you'd been my source of information."
"I don't like thinking about you doing anything like that to anyone."
"Kathryn, what did you think you were getting when you made me First Officer? You said you read all the intelligence files."
"I did, but that's not what I meant."
"What did you mean, then? You must have known what I was like."
"That's just it, I do know what you're like. Doing...what had to be done..... is against everything you believe in. It must have twisted your guts out and shattered your soul to have to do it. Maybe that's why the fates ultimately shot us 70 years away from the Alpha Quadrant - to save a good man. And you are good, you know, Chakotay, you don't have to doubt that anymore. I certainly don't."
"No, I mean it. For five months you've been afraid of yourself and what you can do, I can see that now. You've actually thought yourself unworthy to wear the Starfleet uniform. I'm telling you now that you're probably the most worthy man I've ever known."
He remained silent but then sat up again and looked at her. "I think you'd better read the report, Kathryn."
"I know all about it, Chakotay. I know you killed them."
Chakotay's face drained of colour. "And you still think I should wear a Starfleet uniform, Kathryn? We'd already rescued you - I took it upon myself to stay behind and tie up loose ends."
Kathryn shifted over to him and looked up into his eyes. "Chakotay, five months ago I had this ridiculous idea that your crew would just gratefully melt into mine and be wearing our uniform within the week. I realise now that could never have happened, even in the worst holonovel. Your crewmembers are some of the best people I've ever worked with, and their captain is probably the most courageous and honourable man I've ever met. Who else could have made the transformation to a Starfleet First Officer in one day? Your service on board this ship has been exemplary and if this week you relied on old tactical procedures to protect Voyager and her captain, I'm afraid I just can't fault you for that. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't happened before now."
"But it's not Starfleet."
"It's as Starfleet as we can be with one third of us still learning. I'm tired of being the Starfleet model of perfection. We'll get better and, if you're an example, I think we'll have the best damned Starfleet ship in the Federation before very long."
"I guess this means that Tuvok and I will have to start giving more lessons in protocol and procedure."
She laughed. "Just don't give him too much of a hard time, Chakotay, he's sensitive under all that Vulcan training. He'll never tell you this but he stayed behind in case you needed help while you tied up those loose ends."
Chakotay stared at her. "What!? I ordered everyone back to the ship!"
"He didn't think it was logical to leave you alone to deal with four men, but he didn't want to get in your way either. When he saw that you had the situation well under control he beamed up before you realised he was there."
"I don't believe it."
"You're not the only free thinker on board this ship and he served under you for three months, remember. He has a very high regard for you, both as a leader and as a man, and he would never desert you in a situation like that."
Chakotay drew in a large breath and exhaled it slowly. "The integration of our crew is happening much faster than I expected, Kathryn. I doubt that most of the former Maquis even have much of an objection anymore to putting on the uniform to serve beside their Starfleet shipmates."
"You know, I realised something today when I was in sickbay. It's been weeks since I saw someone in the corridors or the messhall and mentally labeled them as yours or mine. They really are ours now, and I'm proud of all of them."
He slowly drew her into his lap and cuddled her like a child. "You know you're the reason for that, don't you? I knew that first day that, if given half a chance, I'd follow you anywhere."
She rested her head on his shoulder. "Fair enough. Because, if it had been Voyager who was sacrificed and Liberty who now sheltered us, I would have done the same for you. Between you, me, and the replicator, I love leather."
Chakotay burst out laughing for the first time in a week. "Well now, I'm glad you told me that. I saw the specs for this little leather bustier..."
She gently put her hand over his mouth and kissed his neck. "All in good time, Chakotay, all in good time. And what were you searching for when those specs came up, anyway?"
He kissed the top of her head. "Never you mind. So, tell me about your injuries, both internal and external. I don't know how strong you are right now."
"Basically, I'm fine but the doctor is extending my recuperation period due to the cause of my injuries. The burns are healing now. Inside I'm pretty good, just the usual day or two of taking it easy. The bone regeneration isn't completely finished yet, but the doctor just said I can't go dancing for a week. Same with the arms, although this time he said no tennis. He's really starting to develop a sense of humour - bad, but humour nonetheless."
"Well, if we can't dance and we can't play tennis, what would you like to do?
"I'd like you to put on your uniform"
"I beg your pardon?"
"But we have to make sure it's done right, and that might take all night."
"Oh. This is starting to sound interesting - is this a Starfleet ritual that I missed out the first time I joined?"
"I think this is the last step of the integration of our crew, Commander."
"Mmmmmm, that sounds nice. How do we go about doing this?"
"Well, I'll start first." Slowly Kathryn stood up, pulling him up with her. "One piece of Maquis clothing and one kiss." She dropped his vest to the floor and looked up at him, sliding her arms around his neck. "I'm still weak, Chakotay, so you have to do your part. I'll get you ready for the uniform and you do what you think has to be done."
He didn't have to think hard. His mouth found hers just as he scooped her up into his arms. Kathryn, completely consumed by his kiss, didn't even notice that they were in his bedroom until he gently slid her to her feet. She looked around.
"I knew you were dangerous from the moment I laid my eyes on you."
He smiled into those eyes. "Look who's talking, I've been crazy for you since day one. I can't even imagine going through the years leaving our feelings unresolved - it would be impossible. Even the crew would eventually break with the tension. And I don't think it's much of a secret to them how we feel about each other - Paris has even started a betting pool on us."
"He has, has he? Well then, we're going to have to cash in on that little bookie."
"Not just now," he whispered. He reached down and gathered her hem in his hands. Slowly he raised her dress, stopping for a moment to gaze at her tummy and panties. Then the dress continued its upward journey until her breasts became visible.
"Spirits, Kathryn, no brassiere?" he asked as his mouth descended onto a rosy nipple, hard and waiting for only him. He slid his one arm around her waist while the other one whisked the dress over her head before coming back to support her.
Kathryn moaned and said, "I can't afford the replicator rations." She wrapped a leg around his thigh.
Without removing his mouth from her breast, Chakotay murmured, "What do you mean?" His hand started to slide down her belly, fingertips seeking the elastic of her panties.
She gasped and jerked so hard that he had to grab her to steady her. Her voice was shaky. "I finally figured it out. It took a couple of days but I finally realised that you took my brassiere from my quarters that night. You did, didn't you?"
His mouth slid up to her neck and then he pulled away to look at her. That dimpled smile appeared full force and her one knee buckled, forcing him to hold her tighter. "Busted. But you have absolutely no idea what it felt like to feel that little piece of lace in my pocket when you were railing on at a meeting or in your ready room." His dimples grew deeper, if that was possible.
Kathryn's eyes were wide and then a crooked smile appeared. "You pervert, come here." She spread her fingers through his hair and then jumped. There was a crackle and her fingers had to pull away from a couple of locks that seemed glued to her fingers. She looked up at him and raised her eyebrow.
"Don't worry, that's just the proof in the old corn pudding. I was pretty sure about us right from the beginning, but that test in your ready room proved it for me. Our connection is more than just mental and spiritual, Kathryn, there's a physical element to it, too. I knew then that there would never be another woman for me for the rest of my life - you were the one my soul was searching for."
And then their game was over. Kathryn looked into those beautiful brown eyes, black with desire for her, and realised that he would hold back his hunger if that was what she wanted. He would lay beside her sleeping body and protect her throughout the night from the nightmares that would surely come and be grateful just to hold her fragile body. Well, she thought, not again and not any more. Kathryn ripped open Chakotay's shirt and between them both his pants landed near the bathroom door. He pulled down the blankets of his bed and gently helped the last lover he would ever have into it. The integration of their crew was complete.
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