Summary: Time, that great leveller, had transmuted them from ambiguous possibilities into the security of best-friendship, and contact that once would have been dangerous was now safe.
A Christmas gift for @supernovacoffee and @emmikamikatze.
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway, Paris
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Kathryn’s voice was muffled and all Chakotay could see was her feet sticking out from under the bed – one shod, one bare. “I’m sure I saw my other shoe under here just last ni- Ha!”
She backed out, hair mussed and a triumphant grin on her face as she waggled the errant shoe, then beckoned him over.
“Hold still,” she ordered, hand on his shoulder for balance.
“No problem, Cinderella.” Chakotay smiled at her. “Although maybe losing that shoe was a blessing. How do you walk in those things?”
“Years of practice.”
He tried not to look as she twisted to buckle the ankle-strap, but the view down the bodice of her dress was just too tempting, and Chakotay barely managed to avert his eyes when she straightened up.
Kathryn didn’t notice.
She never noticed. Not anymore.
“Zip me up?” She had her back turned and was holding her hair out of the way with one hand, looking at him expectantly over her shoulder. “Chakotay? We’re going to be late.”
“Sure,” he said. “Of course.”
He could see the band of her bra through the gaping back of her dress, inky-black against her white skin. Once, years ago now, he’d have been almost rigid with need at the sight, would have fumbled with the zipper, maybe brushed his fingers against her skin by accident and had to close his eyes at the contact. Once, then, she might have trembled too, might have caught her breath and held it, trapped between propriety and desire.
But then, years ago, she’d never have asked him to zip up the back of her dress. He’d never have been in her bedroom waiting while she got ready for a party he was escorting her to, as friends. Just two old friends, familiar and comfortable as a favourite old sweater.
Chakotay zipped up her dress with steady fingers.
“Thanks.” Kathryn treated him to the lopsided grin that used to make his heart clutch. “We’d better go.”
Frenetic music wafted through the holodeck doors as they entered, almost drowned out by the hum of conversation. Holographic flames crackled in a fireplace, and Chakotay could smell pine from the huge, decorated tree in the corner and nutmeg from the hot drinks Neelix was handing around. He spotted B’Elanna on the dance floor, breathless with laughter, cheeks shining as Tom spun her showily into a pirouette.
He bent to speak in Kathryn’s ear. “Looks like they started without us.”
She wasn’t listening. She was watching the couple on the dance floor, the way they smiled into each other’s eyes, the way Tom’s hands wrapped around B’Elanna’s waist.
“Yes?” She turned her face up to him. For a moment he thought he read something wistful in her eyes, but she blinked and it was gone.
“Would you like to dance?”
A few years earlier she would have refused him, citing protocol or crew expectations or just sore feet – any excuse, really – and so he’d never asked. But everything was different now. Time, that great leveller, had transmuted them from ambiguous possibilities into the security of best-friendship, and contact that once would have been dangerous was now safe.
And he knew how she loved to dance.
“I would, actually,” she admitted, sounding faintly surprised. She curved a hand through his outstretched elbow. “Promise you won’t step on my nice new shoes?”
“Promise you’ll let me lead?” he countered.
Her answer was a chuckle. Chakotay tugged her into the centre of the floor and turned to take her in his arms. There was a moment of awkwardness when he wasn’t sure just how firmly to hold her, how close to pull her body against him, but it passed. Just as those moments always did.
“This is nice,” Kathryn commented, her fingers playing lightly against the back of his neck. “Why haven’t we ever done this before?”
He mumbled something that could have been ‘I don’t know’ or ‘why the hell do you think?’
“It feels like forever since I danced with someone.” There was that wistful note in her voice again. “You’re good at this, Chakotay. I’m so glad you asked me.”
Chakotay flattened his hand on the base of her back, drawing her closer, and Kathryn rested her cheek against his shoulder. In her heels she was tall enough that her breath wafted over his neck. He found himself turning his hips away from her slightly, tension creeping into his muscles.
She might be his best friend, but she was still an attractive woman. Even though he wasn’t allowed to look at her that way, think of her that way … he wasn’t completely dead inside.
“You okay?” Kathryn raised her head to read his eyes. “You tensed up.”
“It’s nothing.” Chakotay gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, forcing himself to relax. Mentally reciting the ingredients of Neelix’s angla’bosque helped. Running through the minutia of Tuvok’s latest security report helped even more.
He’d gotten pretty good at distraction techniques over the years.
The music wound down and in the brief silence between songs, they stepped apart. Kathryn excused herself to talk to B'Elanna and Chakotay went to the drinks table. He was perched on a stool and nursing a mug of hot chocolate when Tom slouched over, a dirty grin on his face.
“That’s something I never thought I’d see, Commander.”
“What’s that, Paris?” Chakotay’s tone was good-humoured, but undercut with the warning he found himself unable to suppress whenever Tom Paris was around.
“You finally convincing the captain to let her hair down – metaphorically speaking, of course,” he nodded his chin toward the woman in question. “Some days I still wish she hadn’t cut it short.”
The humour was no longer present in Chakotay’s reply. “What makes you think you have the right to an opinion?”
“Hey, easy, Chakotay.” Tom sipped his drink, something green and frothy that Chakotay thought smelled like wet carpet. “She may be the captain, but I’m not blind to how gorgeous she is. Even if you are.”
It so closely echoed Chakotay’s own recent thoughts that he choked on his cocoa.
Tom slapped him heartily on the back. “Something I said?” he asked slyly.
“Shut up, Paris.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom said smartly, pushing off his stool. “I’ll just go take my girlfriend for another spin around the floor.” He paused, then added, “Not that you’ll be interested, but see that little sprig of mistletoe over there? You know the tradition, right? Just in case you happen to find yourself standing underneath it with a beautiful redhead…”
“I’m going, I’m going.” Tom beat a hasty retreat, and Chakotay subsided onto his stool.
He watched from across the room as Kathryn laughed at something B'Elanna said. That rich, throaty chuckle of hers – he couldn’t help his own answering smile. She glanced in his direction and her smile widened.
He felt a pang, the kind he thought he’d stopped feeling years ago, and dropped his gaze. When he dared to look up again, Kathryn was walking toward him.
“Hi.” She hopped up onto the stool beside him. “Are you all right? You’re quiet tonight.”
“It’s nothing,” he deflected. “Just thinking.”
“About what?” She leaned in close, her hand resting on his knee, and he tried not to breathe in the honeyed scent of her hair.
Chakotay shook his head. “Nothing important. Let me get you a drink.”
“I’m fine.” Her fingers curled over his thigh, just above the knee, and he tensed again. “Sit here and talk to me for a minute. We’ve been so busy lately I’ve hardly seen you outside of ship’s business.” She smiled up at him. “And I miss my friend.”
“Okay,” he said. “What do you want to talk about?”
Kathryn leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “I was hoping you could fill me in on the gossip. Is it true what I hear about Baytart dating Culhane?”
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” he admitted, then tilted his head. “Why is it that you always seem to know who’s dating whom before I do?”
“Maybe I’m just more observant than you are,” she teased.
“Maybe you have romance on the brain,” he shot back, then cringed. What in the hell had made him say something like that?
Her face fell momentarily, but she mustered up a smile. “That’s hardly likely,” she replied, her tone aiming for light but falling slightly short. “What’s the point in thinking about something you can’t have?”
“Who says you can’t have it?”
Instantly, Chakotay wanted to shove his fist into his mouth to shut himself up. What was wrong with him tonight?
Kathryn pulled her hand away from his knee and twined her fingers together in her lap. “I don’t think I’m cut out for romance anyway,” she said, forcing a laugh. “Besides, who needs all that when I have you?”
Chakotay stared at her.
Realising what she’d said, she looked up, slightly horrified. “That didn’t – I meant – we’re not –”
“Relax, Kathryn.” His voice was tinged with a sourness he couldn’t quite hide. “I know what you meant.”
Her eyes were intense and very blue.
“Of course,” he answered, deliberately softening his tone. “We spend almost all our waking hours together. We lend each other books. We have inside jokes and we know each other’s stories, and I’ve never known a friend like you before.”
She smiled and slipped her hand inside the crook of his elbow. “I feel the same way, Chakotay.”
I escort you to crew parties and diplomatic functions, he thought but didn’t say. I cook for you, bring you coffee in the mornings, rub your feet when you’re tired. I bring you roses and tell you you’re beautiful.
No wonder she thought she didn’t need romance in her life. He was giving her all the hearts and flowers she could possibly want, and for anything else, she had the holodeck.
“Hey,” she said suddenly. “I know it’s early, but do you feel like skipping the rest of the party? I have a bottle of Banean wine I’ve been saving in my quarters. And I have a Christmas gift for you, too.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything,” he protested. “Christmas isn’t really a tradition I celebrate.”
“It’s not about Christmas,” she said. “Well, not in a religious sense. But this time of year reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for, and you’re at the top of that list.” She slid off her stool, hand held out to him. “The crew will probably be relieved to see the captain leave them to their fun, anyway. What do you say we have our own private celebration?”
He almost choked, not only at her suggestive phrasing but at the curl-corner smile she paired it with. But he was used to this from her. She flirted with him mercilessly – she always had. He was, after all, safe.
And he was okay with that. Really, after those early years, when his heart would expand whenever she touched him and one smile from her could fuel his daydreams for weeks, he was okay with the steady, dependable friendship they’d built.
“Sure,” he answered her, taking her hand with an easy grin. “If a beautiful woman wants to take me to her quarters and ply me with fine wine, who am I to argue?”
Kathryn’s eyes widened momentarily and he felt her fingers go still in his own. Chakotay wondered if he’d taken it too far – usually she was the one who teased, while he bore it in stoic, smiling silence – but eventually she laughed, even if it was a little high and forced.
“Let’s go, then, Commander, before the wine goes bad.”
She was lounging on the couch, half-empty glass of wine dangling from her fingers, ankles propped on Chakotay’s thighs. The torturous shoes had long since been abandoned, and after the third time she’d wiggled her toes, he’d taken the hint and used one hand to start massaging her feet. Her happy sigh encouraged him to put down his own wine and apply himself diligently to the task.
“This is so much better than standing around in those heels, trying to pretend I’m enjoying Neelix’s cooking,” Kathryn remarked, stretching to place her wineglass on the coffee table. “Not that I didn’t enjoy the dancing.”
“We could dance some more,” Chakotay invited, trailing his fingertips along her sole and making her twitch and giggle. “You don’t need shoes for that.”
“But I’m so comfortable,” Kathryn half-protested.
“Just one,” he promised, lifting her feet away and rising. “Computer, play music selection Chakotay beta five.”
He offered a hand, bending in a half-mocking bow.
“All right.” Kathryn let him pull her to her feet, moving into his arms as though they’d danced together a hundred times before. She tucked her head under his chin, one arm sliding around his neck, the other hand clasped lightly in his. He felt warm and solid against her, and they fit together as though they’d been made that way. She smiled at the thought. Such opposites they were, in so many ways, and yet so perfectly complementary in talent and temperament. She was so lucky to have this man as her first officer, and as her friend.
“What a difference a pair of heels makes,” Chakotay smirked.
Kathryn tilted her head back to arch an eyebrow at him. “Are you calling me short, Commander?”
“Not at all,” he teased, fingers spreading warmly on the curve of her waist. She shivered involuntarily. “You’re petite. Diminutive. A pocket rocket.”
“Watch it,” she pretended to growl, and couldn’t help smiling at the sensation of his laughter. She turned her face to press her cheek against the soft cotton of his shirt. The beat of his heart lulled her into closing her eyes, and a sigh gusted from her lips.
“You okay?” he murmured.
She shifted closer, enjoying the way his hand moved from her waist to spread across her lower back. “Couldn’t be better.”
They swayed, Chakotay moving them slowly around the room, and Kathryn gave herself over to his skilful guidance. At some point he pressed his cheek to her hair, his arm around her waist drawing her closer, and she let herself lean into him further. Her fingers curled into the soft hair at the back of his head.
She felt an unexpected swell of emotion – affection, contentment, something she couldn’t or didn’t want to put a name to – tightening her chest, and she drew in a breath to quell it. Ever attuned to her moods, Chakotay eased away from her, creating the distance she hadn’t known she needed.
“Are you sure you’re all right, Kathryn?”
For an instant she was on the verge of tears, but she shook her head to clear it and made herself smile up at him. “Absolutely. Oh, I almost forgot – your present.”
Pushing herself away from him, she moved quickly into her bedroom, using the solitude to gather her equilibrium, then rummaged in her dresser drawer. By the time she returned to the living room where Chakotay stood, looking slightly ill at ease, her smile was genuine.
“Merry Christmas,” she offered, holding the wrapped gift out to him. “Or whatever occasion is appropriate to your customs.”
Grinning, he unwound the paper to reveal a small brown book. “Pablo Neruda?” he asked, dimples denting. “Kathryn, I wouldn’t have thought he was your style.”
“Well,” he paused, “his poems are so … sensual.”
Kathryn opened her mouth to object, realised she had no idea what to say, and closed it.
Chakotay opened the book. “I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair,” he read. “Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets …”
His gaze flickered to hers, and she flushed.
“I hunger for your sleek laugh, your hands the colour of a savage harvest,” he continued, and she couldn’t help but notice that his voice had dipped half an octave, silken and rich, “hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails … I want to eat your skin like a whole almond…”
His recitation trailed off. Kathryn didn’t know where to look.
“Thank you,” he said in a voice like honey.
She coughed, the spell broken, and hurried to the coffee table for her glass of wine. “You’re welcome,” she mumbled when she’d drained it.
Chakotay had flipped to the front page of the book. “To my dearest friend Chakotay,” he read aloud. “Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you'll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life. Thank you for always bringing me my happiest hours.” He closed the book, smiling at her. “Kathryn, I don’t know what to say.”
“You’ve already said it.” She refilled their wineglasses and held one out to him, still finding it difficult to meet his eyes.
He took the glass from her and caught her free hand in his, nudging her toward the couch. “I’m sorry I haven’t got you a gift,” he said, pulling her feet into his lap. “I’ll make it up to you.”
As his fingers gently kneaded her ankles, she let her head tilt against the back of the couch and moaned in pleasure. “It’s a shame you already have a full-time job, Chakotay, otherwise I might enslave you and keep you in my quarters for the sole purpose of rubbing my feet after a hard day’s work.”
“I’m pretty good with shoulders, too,” he teased.
She smiled with her eyes closed. “I remember.”
The motion of his hands paused briefly, and she felt a low thrum of tension in the shifting of his stance. Kathryn bit her lip. However easy the friendship they shared, there were some topics they had never – probably would never – discuss. His hands on her shoulders, sifting through her hair, the sudden blooming of arousal she’d sensed from him, and shared – and the conversation that had followed – that was one of them.
She debated apologising, but that would simply draw even more attention to the dark shapes moving below the surface of their friendship. Yet she could feel the disquiet radiating from him, could feel her own response. Get ahold of yourself, she thought sternly. This is not what you are, and that’s a good thing. It’s easier this way.
Chakotay’s hands began to move again, his thumbs pressing into the balls of her feet. “So, tell me more about Baytart and Culhane.”
His voice sounded easy and natural, so much so that she wondered if she’d imagined the tension after all. Kathryn hoped her own voice didn’t betray her turbulent thoughts. “All I heard was that they’ve been spending a lot of holodeck hours together, and I don’t mean in flight simulations. Of course, I heard it from Tom Paris, so …”
“So it could be complete garbage.”
“Exactly.” She finally felt confident to open her eyes. Chakotay was watching her face, a fond smile curving his lips. “It’s getting late,” she blurted. “Maybe we should call it a night.”
He took his hands away from her feet and she couldn’t help sighing; they felt cold without his touch. Swinging them to the floor, she wriggled her toes into the carpet, watching as Chakotay gathered their half-empty glasses and deposited them in the replicator. A wave of affection swelled inside her. He was always so thoughtful. Always doing whatever he could to make her life easier, no matter how trivial or enormous the task.
She watched his easy movements – so graceful for a man his size – and couldn’t help appreciating him. He always had been easy on the eye, even if she wasn’t supposed to look at him that way.
“Good night, Kathryn,” he said, turning to face her. She found that she was standing closer to him than she’d intended, close enough to feel the warmth of his skin.
She was no stranger to touching him – a hand on the chest or the arm, sometimes on his cheek – and he’d been known to squeeze her shoulder occasionally, but usually their goodnights were said from a distance. Maybe it was the wine, or the gratitude she was feeling. Maybe it was the close physical contact they’d already shared during the dance. Whatever the reason, Kathryn tiptoed up onto the balls of her feet to close her arms around Chakotay’s neck, enjoying the way his arms came around to embrace her in return.
“Thank you for the book,” he murmured, smiling against her hair.
“Thanks for dancing with me.” She enveloped him tightly, pressing close. Taking the impulse even further, she turned her head just enough to press her lips to his cheek. But he’d turned toward her at the same moment, and her lips brushed the corner of his mouth.
He gave a gasp of surprise, and as she felt his breath against her, her own lips parted in shock, both at her action and his response. A shiver rippled through her. She felt his hands tighten on her waist.
Chakotay pulled back a fraction, just far enough to meet her wide, shocked eyes.
They stared at each other. Kathryn’s heart began to thump in her chest.
And then, just as she was gathering her wits enough to step away, just as she began to stammer out an apology, Chakotay dipped his head and kissed her.
There was nothing chaste or timid in the way he captured her mouth, and her response was fierce and instantaneous. Fire licked through her as his tongue stroked into her mouth. She couldn’t stifle the moan that ripped out of her throat. At the sound of it his hands spread up over her ribcage and his thighs tangled with hers as he backed her up against the bulkhead. She was pliant with shock and undeniable desire, heart pounding, her entire being centred on his delicious kiss and the way his fingers were stroking upward. Chakotay cupped her breasts and she shuddered, her head falling backward as she sucked in great gulps of air, and he took advantage of the exposed length of her throat to latch his lips onto it.
“God,” she gasped, “Chakotay.”
“Kathryn,” he answered, and then, as though the sound of their names had broken the spell, he pulled back. His hands were still on her breasts, his hair mussed from where her fingers had clutched it.
She blinked at him.
“What are we doing?” His eyes were wide. “We’re not supposed to – this isn’t …” He trailed off, finishing lamely, “But we’re just friends.”
She was blindsided by the fierce wave of anguish his words produced. “Just friends?”
“Yes…” Slowly he removed his hands from her body, closing his eyes briefly as she caught her breath at the loss of contact. He stepped backward deliberately. “We are, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” she replied automatically. “Of course we’re friends.”
“So this was…?”
She couldn’t answer. All she could do was shrug helplessly and flatten her hands on the wall behind her, dipping her head to avoid his eyes.
But Chakotay, usually so willing to back off, wasn’t letting her avoid the issue this time. “Kathryn, look at me.”
Reluctant, she raised her head.
“Just friends,” he repeated. “That’s the way you wanted it. At least, I always thought so. We never talked about it.”
“I know,” she said.
He pressed his lips together, and she wondered if he was angry, but his sigh was merely frustrated. “Maybe we should.”
Kathryn nodded, and Chakotay gestured toward the couch. She followed him slowly, sitting with her legs folded under her.
When it became clear she wasn’t going to speak, he shoved a hand through his hair and said quickly, “Look, Kathryn, I know it’s been a while since either of us” – he paused, obviously trying to come up with a delicate way to phrase it – “had, uh, physical contact with someone. Maybe that’s all this was. We’ve both had a few drinks, and we were dancing, and it just happened. If you want to, we can just forget –”
“Shut up,” she burst out. Her eyes widened; she hadn’t even known she was going to speak, but now that she’d broken her silence she couldn’t stop. “It wasn’t the drinks or the dancing. At least, that’s not all it was.”
“What do you mean?” Chakotay was on the edge of his seat, his gaze fixed on her intently. She had the impression that the next words she spoke were of vital importance to him. She knew she’d have to weigh them carefully, think about what she should say –
“I love you.”
Silence, then, “What?” he asked faintly.
Mortified, she screwed her eyes shut. “That … I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Do you mean it?”
Again she opened her mouth to prevaricate, but what came out was, “Yes.”
More silence. She felt like she was going to be sick.
“Kathryn, look at me.”
It was the bubbling joy in his voice that made her find the courage to open her eyes. Chakotay was grinning widely. He reached for her hands.
“Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited to hear you say that?”
She scowled at him, at the unabashed delight in his voice, at the way his thumb was stroking rhythmically over the inside of her wrist. “I’m so pleased I could accommodate you, Commander.”
Chakotay barked out a laugh, let go of her hands and pulled her into his arms. She struggled briefly but he wouldn’t let go, simply buried his face in her hair and held her tight, and after a few moments she wondered why on earth she was resisting, anyway. It wasn’t as though she had anywhere better to be, even if he was laughing at her.
But, she soon realised, he wasn’t laughing anymore. His hands had spread across her back, one sliding up into her hair, the other dipping low. She squirmed as he caressed her and felt him catch his breath. His mouth moved to her neck, pressing light, luscious kisses that made her tremble. She found herself softening, pressing closer, her thighs spreading around his.
Then his fingers were catching at the zipper of her dress, inching it downward. She felt the straps slip over her shoulders, his hands coming up to unfasten her bra as his mouth moved deliciously over her throat, and then his lips were on hers again and his hands were on her skin.
Soft, needy little sounds were being pulled from her throat against her will as he touched her, his fingers deft and sure. She sagged against him, felt him shift them on the couch until he was lying over her with her legs wrapped around his hips. Her body was shaking, arching up into his hands. She slid her own hand downward over his stomach, wrapped her fingers around him, heard him groan.
“Chakotay,” she mumbled against his lips, “just so we’re clear, is this just –”
“I love you,” he cut her off, then grinned. “Wow. You have no idea what a relief that is ... I love you. I lo-”
“Then shut up and show me,” she blurted, and pulled him down to her again.