I tried to give you up, but I'm addicted
Summary: Tumblr prompt: “First day at a new job and oh fuck my boss is the person I drunkenly hooked up with last night.”
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: Characters are Paramount’s. No infringement intended.
Shit, what was his name again? Kathryn wonders as her back slams into the wall and his hands work their way under her skirt, but then his mouth is tasting her neck, his lips sucking deliciously at her pulse point and she stops caring what his name is, or, for that matter, what her name is.
All she cares about is that he keeps doing exactly what he’s doing with those lips and those hands.
Fortunately, he seems to have no intention of stopping.
She can’t remember quite how they ended up here, or exactly where ‘here’ is, although she assumes it’s his place. She remembers that the club was very loud and that she’d had more than she usually has to drink, and that she was dancing without a care when a pair of strong hands curved onto her hips and she turned to find this gorgeous specimen of manhood grinning down at her. She remembers dancing with him for what seemed like hours, remembers him kissing her and her arms winding around his neck, remembers him taking her hand and leading her out of the club and into a taxi. She remembers making out with him in the back of the cab like a couple of hormone-fuelled teenagers, stumbling up a steep set of stairs as he fumbled for his key, remembers him kicking the door shut behind them as she ripped open his shirt and latched onto his neck with her teeth.
And now here they are, just inside the door, and he has her up against the wall, her blouse and bra off and his fingers dragging her panties off her hips, and she’s so desperate for him she can’t wait one second longer to have him inside her.
Apparently he feels the same, because he’s barely pulled off her underwear and unbuttoned his jeans and rolled on a condom with expert ease before he’s lifting her with strong hands under her ass and the head of his cock is nudging inside her.
This is some welcome back to home soil, she thinks deliriously as he pushes into her and she gasps in delight, the brief moment of pain caused by her long abstinence immediately replaced by a pleasure winding her so tight she knows an explosion of nuclear force is about to rapidly overtake her in three… two… one…
She screams, her body writhing and thighs trembling, nails digging into his shoulders as he thrusts hard and deep and groans, his face dropping into the crook of her neck as he shakes with the force of his own orgasm.
For a moment they’re both still, and then he pulls back just enough to let her trembling legs drop to the floor and starts to laugh. “Wow,” he says, and she grins back at him, her breath still coming in abbreviated gasps.
“Wow,” she agrees.
He dips his head to capture her mouth in a slow, languid kiss and she moans low in her throat as it sets off small aftershocks inside her.
“Want to do it again?” he murmurs.
“Oh, yes,” she breathes, then shrieks as he swings her up in his arms and carries her down the hall to his bedroom.
Her head is jackhammering as she tiptoes around the bedroom, finding her skirt draped over the lampshade, one shoe under the bed, the other incongruously dangling from the bedpost. She shimmies into the skirt, remembers the rest of her clothes and her purse must be still in the hallway. She checks her watch; it’s barely six a.m. She’ll have enough time to get home, shower, and drink an enormous beaker of coffee before she has to be at work.
She takes a moment to gaze at the sleeping man in the bed. He lies on his back, the sheet bunched around his hips, one arm flung over his head. His face is turned slightly in her direction. Unbelievably – for she vaguely remembers this feeling of morning-after regret from her long-ago student days, and it’s usually accompanied by what was I thinking picking up this toad – he looks even better than he did in the dark club last night. There’s a tattoo above his left eye, a design she’s never seen before in strong dark lines. His skin is a warm golden tone, his body deliciously sculpted, and his slightly-parted lips are full. She remembers what those lips did to her body and shivers. For half a moment she’s tempted to take off her skirt and crawl back into bed with him.
Then she catches sight of herself in the mirror and her eyes widen in horror. If anyone is going to wake up with morning-after regret, it’s him.
Running her fingers through her tangled mess of hair, Kathryn creeps out of the bedroom, pulls on her shirt and panties, casts desperately around for her bra, decides it’s worth leaving it behind in favour of a quick exit, and opens the door to freedom.
“What happened to you last night?”
Kathryn glances up from her desk. Her new assistant, B’Elanna, lounges in the doorway to her office smirking at her.
“What?” Kathryn asks absently, trying to find the CV she’s looking for under the precarious piles of paperwork on her desk.
“One minute you’re on the dance floor raising the roof and the next you’re gone,” B’Elanna answers, coming into the office and plunking herself in the chair opposite Kathryn’s. “Did your disappearance have anything to do with the ridiculously good-looking guy you were dancing with?”
Kathryn stops searching for the CV and groans. “You saw that? Who else saw me?”
“Nah, just me. Everyone else had pretty much called it a night by then.”
Kathryn sighs in relief. She’s tried to keep her work and personal lives separate ever since the Justin Tighe debacle years ago, and starting off this new job with her entire staff watching her drunkenly hook up with a stranger is not the way to continue that very sensible policy. She’s not exactly happy that B’Elanna saw it, but then, B’Elanna has made it clear that she isn’t just going to be some yes-ma’am assistant, and has somehow, since they first met less than three weeks ago, become a friend.
Kathryn hides a smile, recalling her first day on the job when she’d asked B’Elanna to bring her a coffee and had been told in no uncertain terms that she could either take a break and accompany B’Elanna to the café, or buy a damn coffee machine for her damn office.
“So, are you going to fill me in?” B’Elanna quirks an eyebrow at her. “You did go home with him, right? Because if you didn’t, I’m going to have you certified. That man was smoking hot.”
Despite herself, Kathryn laughs. “No need to call in the men in white coats.”
“Ooh, you little minx.” B’Elanna’s grin widens. “Did he live up to his promise?”
“Repeatedly,” Kathryn assures her. “And that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
She starts sifting through the paperwork on her desk again.
“What are you looking for?”
“The personnel file for the new anthropologist. You did put it on my desk, right?”
“Yup, two weeks ago when he called to accept the job.”
“Well, he’s due to come in at nine and I want to review his CV before he gets here.”
B’Elanna snags a thin file from one of the towering stacks of paper. “Here you go.”
“What would I do without you?” Kathryn says gratefully. She scans the brief CV and the meticulously handwritten post-interview notes attached by her predecessor, Dr Tuvok. “Okay, Dr Chakotay, formerly of the University of Arizona, led a number of digs around Tusayan and Mesa Grande, considered a expert in petroglyphs. Took this job because he misses teaching and wants the chance to engage with a future generation of scientists. According to Tuvok, he’s personable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.” She glances up. “Did you meet him?”
“Chakotay? No, Tuvok hired him while I was on vacation.” B’Elanna checks her watch and stands up. “He should be here any minute. I’ll show him in when he arrives.”
“Thanks,” Kathryn says absently, already turning back to her work. “Oh, and B’Elanna?”
“Do you happen to have any aspirin?”
“Uh, Kathryn?” B’Elanna pokes her head around the office door.
“Is he here?” Kathryn stands, smooths her skirt and comes around the desk.
“Ye-es…” B’Elanna bites her lip; she seems to be trying not to laugh. “I should probably warn you…”
“Let’s just say you’ve actually met him before,” B’Elanna says, then disappears before Kathryn can question her.
The door opens fully a moment later. “Dr Chakotay,” B’Elanna introduces, “this is Dr Kathryn Janeway, the new Head of Earth Sciences and Research.”
Dr Chakotay strides in with a hand held out. “Nice to meet –” he falters, stopping short just inside the doorway.
Kathryn stares in horror at the height, the shoulders, the golden skin, the tattoo.
She clears her throat.
B’Elanna ducks out and closes the door.
“I, ah, I thought Dr Tuvok was the department head,” Chakotay stammers.
“He’s taken a leave of absence to write a book,” Kathryn answers automatically.
“Well.” Chakotay shifts his feet. “Uh, this is awkward.”
“To say the least,” Kathryn mutters, then mentally gives herself a shake. “Look, Dr Chakotay, this is obviously not the best way to begin a working relationship, so why don’t we just agree that last night never happened? I’m sure we can keep things professional.”
He studies her in silence until she starts to squirm.
“Is there going to be a problem?” she asks sharply.
“No.” Chakotay looks down. “But if you wouldn’t mind, can I ask you one thing?”
Kathryn steels herself. “Shoot.”
“Why did you leave?”
“This morning.” He meets her gaze. “I woke up and you were gone. What was it – was I terrible?”
She can feel the colour rising on her cheeks. “Uh, no. Not at all.”
“Are you married?” he asks, eyes widening in horror.
“No!” She twists her hands together. “It’s just – I don’t do things like that.”
“You don’t have amazing, bed-rattling sex?”
Kathryn glares at him. “I don’t get drunk, pick up strangers and have amazing, bed-rattling sex. As a rule.”
The corner of his mouth twitches. “Well, then I guess I’m honoured to be the exception.”
She wishes he wouldn’t smile. She hadn’t noticed the dimples last night. And his dark eyes are very warm. Kathryn looks away. “Can we agree to move on now?”
He hesitates, then offers his hand again. She takes it gingerly, ignoring the tingling rush in her fingers, and he smiles again. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr Janeway.”
“Likewise,” she mutters, and thinks, I am in serious trouble.
Under normal circumstances, Kathryn would be the one to take her new subordinate on a tour of the museum, show him the labs, settle him into his new office. But she can’t seem to regain her professional distance right now – a fact she attributes to her pounding headache and is sure has nothing to do with his soft, mellow voice or his dimples or the distraction of his very fine ass as he ambles down the corridor ahead of her. So she fumbles out an excuse about a phone conference she’s due to attend and rushes back to her office to ask B’Elanna to take over escort duties.
“He is seriously gorgeous,” B’Elanna sighs on her return, looking a little starry-eyed. “And so nice, too. He’s certainly going to liven things up around here.”
“Don’t let Tom Paris catch you lusting after him,” Kathryn teases.
“Ugh.” B’Elanna rolls her eyes. “It’s none of Tom Paris’ business who I lust after.”
“I’m pretty sure he’d like to make it his business,” Kathryn grins. “How many times has he asked you out now? Five, six?”
“He could ask me out five hundred times and the answer would still be no. Tom Paris is an idiot.”
“Tom Paris has two degrees in cosmology. He’s hardly an idiot.”
“There’s book-learning and then there’s common sense.” B’Elanna props her feet on Kathryn’s desk, then quickly removes them at Kathryn’s pointed look. “Did I tell you the ridiculous line he used on me last time? He said my eyes outshine the brightest stars in the planetarium.”
“Well, he should know,” Kathryn snickers.
B’Elanna snorts. “Anyway, I invited Chakotay to join us for after-work drinks on Friday.”
“Sure. I’ll get the whole team to come along. It’s only polite to go for drinks to welcome the new boy, isn’t it?”
“Oh, B’Elanna, I don’t know –”
“Don’t even think about making an excuse. Just be there.” B’Elanna gets to her feet, heading for the office door. “Think of it as a team-building exercise,” she adds over her shoulder, then closes the door behind her.
Team-building, Kathryn snorts to herself as she quickly freshens her makeup in the bathroom mirror, purposely not thinking about why she cares how she looks. She stands back and checks her reflection. Knee-length skirt, silky white blouse buttoned up to the neck, tailored jacket.
B’Elanna raises an eyebrow at her from where she’s leaning patiently against the wall. “If I can make a suggestion?”
“What is it?”
Instead of answering, B’Elanna comes over and tugs Kathryn’s jacket off her shoulders, flips open the top two buttons on her blouse, hesitates, then opens one more. “Better,” she declares.
Kathryn stares at her.
“Trust me,” B’Elanna winks. “Let’s go.”
The rest of the Earth Sciences team is already at the bar when they arrive, along with a few ring-ins from Astronomy, including Tom Paris, who predictably makes a beeline for B’Elanna. “Buy you ladies a drink?”
Kathryn asks for a white wine. B’Elanna orders a tequila slammer, at which Tom grins and declares he’ll join her in a few of those. Chuckling, Kathryn waves them off and takes a seat at the table next to petite, wide-eyed Dr Kes from the Oceanography department.
“I’ve just met your new recruit,” Kes whispers in Kathryn’s ear, flicking a glance at Chakotay, who’s laughing and playing pool with three of Kathryn’s colleagues. “He’s lovely, isn’t he? You must be very pleased to have him on your team.”
Kathryn shifts uncomfortably. Truth be told, she’s been deliberately avoiding Chakotay all week. It’s been fortunate that she’s had a lot of work to keep her busy – she’s pretty new to the job, after all, and they run things differently here than they did at the London Museum of Natural History - and that Chakotay seems to be finding his feet without requiring much at all in the way of guidance.
“He seems to be settling in well,” she answers evasively.
Tom places her chardonnay in front of her and drops into the next chair. “So, Kathryn, are we going to team up for a game of pool? Looks like the new boy just wiped the floor with the competition. Fancy giving him a run for his money?”
Kathryn looks over to the pool table. Chakotay and Harry Kim, victorious, are shaking hands with the losing team. “Who’s up for a challenge?” Harry calls.
Tom slurps his drink and stand up, grabbing Kathryn by the elbow. “We’ll take you on,” he calls.
“Oh, Tom, I was just planning on staying for a quick drink,” Kathryn protests.
“Then stay for a quick game of pool as well,” Tom grins. “Come on, you know we’ll slaughter them.”
Somehow, a quick game of pool turns into a full-throttle competition, and a quick glass of wine turns into a bottle. By the time Kathryn realises all her colleagues have left except for Tom, Harry and B’Elanna, she’s flush-faced and laughing. And she’s started noticing that when she bends to play a shot, Chakotay’s gaze drops to the cleavage her barely-buttoned blouse reveals, and that she doesn’t actually mind.
“Okay, that’s it for me,” Harry declares when Tom and Kathryn win their fourth game. “Libby will kill me if I don’t get home soon.”
“Oh come on,” Tom exclaims. “You have to stay for the tie-breaker, Harry.”
“Nope, sorry.” Harry slaps him on the back. “Gotta go.”
“B’Elanna, take over for him,” Tom wheedles.
“Pool really isn’t my game,” B’Elanna answers, her eyes moving from Kathryn to Chakotay. “Besides, I think it’s time you took me somewhere for coffee.”
“It is?” Tom puts down his cue. “Really?”
“Shut up, Astro-Boy,” she says, grabbing his hand. “It’s your lucky night.”
“Well,” Kathryn says when they’ve gone. “I guess I should call it a night, too.”
Chakotay leans against the table, chalking his cue. “One last game?”
“Um…” She knows she should leave, but really, would it be so bad to stay for one last innocent game of pool? “All right. Just one game, then.”
Chakotay breaks, sinking three stripes. Kathryn briefly studies the table then moves around it, potting four solids before she misses a difficult cut shot.
“Nice,” Chakotay says approvingly. She leans back on a stool, admiring the way his chiselled brown forearms contrast with the rolled-up sleeves of his white shirt. He moves in front of her to pot his sixth ball. Kathryn allows herself to take in the view as he bends over the table. He misses, straightens up, and catches her looking.
“You’re up,” he says, dimples showing.
Blushing, she misses her next shot.
Chakotay pots his next two, but misses the black.
“Thanks,” she says drily, surveying the table. “You haven’t left me much of a shot.”
She stalks around the table and finally decides on a tricky jump shot. Hitching her skirt up around her thighs, she rests one knee on the edge of the table and leans over as far as she can.
She misses the shot.
What she doesn’t miss is the blatant hunger in his eyes when she lowers herself to the ground and realises Chakotay is standing directly behind her, and must have had an unrestricted view of exactly what kind of panties she’s wearing.
Kathryn loosens her grip on the cue and it clatters to the floor.
Chakotay takes a step forward, slides one hand onto her hip and the other under her hair, and pulls her into a kiss so hot with longing she feels she might burst into flame.
“Oh God,” she manages to gasp as his lips travel down her neck, scorching her skin with every touch, “not here…”
“Where?” he mumbles against her throat.
“My place. Now.”
Kathryn blinks open her eyes and squints at the sunlight pouring through her open blinds and setting off a pounding ache in her skull. I am never drinking again, she swears.
Why hadn’t she closed the blinds when she came home last night?
How had she got home?
And why wasn’t she wearing pyjamas?
Drunk, she thinks. Team-building. Bar. Pool. Cab…
A warm, heavy arm settles over her waist, and a large brown hand curls possessively around her naked breast.
“Fuck,” she says involuntarily.
“Okay,” says a sleep-roughened male voice from behind her. “Just give me a couple of minutes to wake up first.”
Kathryn lets out a horrified squeak and scrambles off the bed.
Chakotay blinks up at her from her tangled sheets, golden-skinned and gloriously naked in the early-morning sunlight, and with an impressively burgeoning erection, which grows even as she stares at it.
His amused tone makes her flick her gaze quickly back to his face. His eyes are fully open now, and he’s looking at her with amusement, and desire, and fondness.
“Shit, shit, shit,” she mutters. “Shit. What have I done? What did we do?”
“Well, I could recap it for you, but I’d rather just re-enact it.”
His gaze is travelling over her lazily, lingering on her kiss-bitten breasts, her sticky inner thighs, and Kathryn flushes both from embarrassment and from a sharp, unwanted tug of lust. She grabs her robe from the chair beside her bed and belts it on tightly.
“You have to go,” she states, willing her voice not to shake. “We should never have done this. I can’t believe we did this…” She closes her eyes, trying to breathe deeply.
Chakotay uncurls himself from the bed and stands in front of her, gently taking her hands. “Kathryn, slow down. It’s okay. Neither of us planned this. It just happened.”
“Twice,” she snaps, averting her eyes from that gorgeous expanse of chest. “I cannot have a sexual relationship with someone who works for me. It’s completely inappropriate.”
Sighing, Chakotay lets go of her hands, bends to pick up his pants from the floor and starts pulling them on. “Look, we clearly need to talk about this. Why don’t we sit down and have some coffee, and maybe some breakfast, and discuss it? This doesn’t have to be a problem.”
“I am not having breakfast with you!” Kathryn turns her back, willing him to dress quickly and leave.
“Why not?” he asks, very close behind her.
Her spine tingles. “You just have to go. Please.”
“Kathryn, please turn around.” He pauses. “I’m decent.”
Warily, she turns. He’s fully dressed, thankfully. She refuses to acknowledge her pang of disappointment at the sight.
“Why are you so upset about this?” His voice is gentle. “People who work together have relationships all the time. It’s not exactly scandalous.”
Sometimes it is, she thinks darkly.
He takes a small step closer. “If you’re worried about what your team will think, don’t be. It’s none of their business.” Carefully, he catches hold of her hand. “I like you, Kathryn, and other people’s opinions don’t matter. I only care about your opinion.”
His fingers twine gently into hers and he raises their joined hands to her cheek. She feels her eyes drifting shut, his other arm circling her waist, his lips touching hers, gently, a question.
She parts her lips, her breath shuddering out, her tongue seeking his. He pulls her closer and her pulse picks up. She realises her free hand has curled into the hair at the back of his head, that she’s standing on tiptoe to press herself against him, that the need she should have fully expunged with the acrobatic and enthusiastic sex they’d had last night and well into the morning is returning with frightening force…
“No,” she says, and pushes him away. “This can’t happen. Please leave, and I don’t ever want to speak about this again. Otherwise I’ll be forced to conclude that we’re unable to work together, and you’ll be looking for a new job.”
There’s a long pause.
“You’re the boss,” he finally says without inflection, and she hears his footsteps walking away. The sound of her front door closing behind him feels like the click of a padlock around her heart.
“Care to tell me what happened last Friday night after we all left the bar?” B’Elanna asks when she drags Kathryn to the café the following Wednesday.
Kathryn shrugs, turning her coffee cup round and round in its saucer.
“Okay then,” B’Elanna drawls. “In that case, why don’t you tell me why you and Chakotay are barely on speaking terms?”
“There’s no rule that says you have to be friendly with everyone you work with.”
“Noooo,” says B’Elanna. “But you two were getting along extremely well Friday night, and now you’re barely even civil to each other.”
“Leave it, B’Elanna.” Kathryn sips her coffee. “Why don’t you tell me what happened with Tom?”
To her surprise, B’Elanna blushes.
“Oh, really?” Kathryn can’t help smiling. “I guess he’s not such an idiot after all.”
“I may have overstated his idiocy,” B’Elanna concedes.
“Are you going to see him again?”
“Well, considering we haven’t actually left my apartment for the past five days except to go to work, I’d say there’s a strong possibility.”
Kathryn raises her eyebrows. “It’s serious then?”
“You know, I think it might be.” B’Elanna can’t stop smiling.
Kathryn smothers a pang of envy.
“It’s good to see you happy,” she says instead.
Over the next few weeks, she and Chakotay avoid speaking directly to each other whenever possible. They manage to avoid being in the same room except for staff meetings and the occasional museum function. They communicate, when required, only by email. It takes a while, but eventually B’Elanna stops pestering Kathryn to talk about it.
Occasionally she catches sight of him, smiling as he patiently conducts tours of the museum for schoolchildren and senior citizens, and she allows her gaze to rest on his handsome face for as long as she dares. She sees him in the café once or twice, joking around with his lab partners, and his laughter makes her smile. Once, as she enters the racquetball court at the gym next door, she spots him coming off a game with Harry in the next room. He has his shirt off and is rumpled and sweaty, and it takes all of her willpower not to stare.
A couple of months after that Friday night at the bar, B’Elanna and Tom announce their engagement and invite all of their colleagues to the party.
Kathryn hovers in a corner of the courtyard, nursing a half-full glass of champagne. The happy couple have hired out the museum’s function space and it’s warm enough for the guests to spill out onto the terrace, a fact she’s taking advantage of. She’s really not in the mood for socialising – not that she’s been in the mood for much at all, this past few months – but there’s no way she could have begged off attending tonight.
She wanders out onto the low-lit path through the lotus garden and moves into the shadows, resting her back against the stucco wall outside the dining room, letting her mind drift. She almost doesn’t hear the soft footfalls until Chakotay comes into view.
He braces his hands on the low garden wall, head bowed, breath gusting out as though he needs to release some tension. His shoulders are slumped. She wonders why he looks so despondent. Has something happened?
“Are you all right?” she asks before she can think better of it.
He jerks upright and she watches as his face smooths out and he straightens his posture. “Sorry, Dr Janeway. I didn’t realise you were there.”
“You can call me Kathryn,” she says, a little taken aback.
“Can I?” She can’t miss the bitterness in his voice. “You’ve made it pretty clear you want nothing to do with me, so I thought a level of formality would be appropriate.”
She can’t help drawing back, and she can’t think of a thing to say.
“Well, excuse me,” he mutters. “You obviously want to be alone, so I’ll leave you to it.”
He stops, his back to her.
Kathryn steps hesitantly out of the shadows. “I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable,” she says. “It’s just – I have a pretty strict policy of not getting involved with people I work with.”
“So you’ve mentioned,” he says, but he’s facing her now and his tone sounds less cold.
“But there’s no reason we can’t be friends.” She realises there’s an almost pleading tone in her voice, and she isn’t sure why it’s so important to her that he doesn’t hate her. “That is, if you want to.”
She rests a hand on his forearm, trying to read his expression.
“You want to be friends,” he repeats. He looks down at her hand, resting on his arm, and then up at her eyes.
“Yes. Maybe we could, I don’t know, go for lunch sometime next week?” She bites her lip, waiting for his answer.
“All right, Kathryn,” he says, softer. “I’m free on Tuesday.”
She tries to stop her smile from spreading too wide across her face, but when he smiles in response and those dimples appear, she doesn’t care anymore. “Tuesday,” she says, a little breathlessly.
Lunch begins a little awkwardly, a little strained, but Chakotay is clearly not one to hold a grudge, and he’s naturally gregarious and genuinely interested in people, and pretty soon Kathryn finds the conversation is flowing naturally. At the end of the hour he asks if she’d like to have lunch on Friday, and she finds herself agreeing without hesitation.
They meet for lunch on Friday, and the following Monday, and once more that week, and three times the following week until after a month, Kathryn realises she’s begun to expect the quick phone call or email around eleven a.m. asking if she’d like to catch up in a couple of hours. After two months, they’ve somehow fallen into lunching together every day, unless one of them has an immovable appointment elsewhere.
She’s never laughed so hard or talked so much in anyone else’s company; never found another person so endlessly fascinating. B’Elanna wisely refrains from commenting when Kathryn’s speech becomes peppered with ‘Chakotay says’ and ‘Chakotay thinks’. She does, however, encourage Kathryn to tag along when the rest of the team goes out for drinks or dinner, and she allows herself the occasional smirk when she notices how Kathryn and Chakotay gravitate to each other.
It feels natural.
Eventually, on an ordinary Thursday, Kathryn glances at her watch and realises it’s almost twelve and she hasn’t heard from Chakotay. She picks up her desk phone to tease him about being forgetful, but he sounds a little awkward when he apologises and explains that he can’t make lunch today because he has a date.
Kathryn tells herself the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach is due to something she ate. She works through lunch and leaves the museum an hour early. When she gets home, she lies down on her bed in her darkened room and bursts into wrenching, horrifying, unexpected tears.
“You’re quiet today,” Chakotay comments at lunch the following day. “Feeling okay?”
They’ve taken a picnic to the local park, as they sometimes do just to get off the museum grounds, and Kathryn takes advantage of the bright weather to hide behind her sunglasses.
“I’m fine,” she answers, picking at her salad roll.
“Okay,” he says easily.
She manages to choke down a few mouthfuls, and when he’s finished eating they pack up the picnic blanket and walk slowly through the park.
“How was your date yesterday?” she asks as they stroll, the words turning to ashes in her mouth.
Chakotay shrugs uncomfortably. “Uh, we didn’t really hit it off. Annika’s a nice person, but we didn’t find we had much in common.”
“Oh.” She tries to ignore the lightness in her heart. “I’m sorry.”
Chakotay stops under a broad palm tree and looks at her. “Are you?” he asks quietly.
“What do you mean?” Her voice is tight, shaky.
He reaches over and takes off her sunglasses, searching her eyes. “Kathryn, I have to tell you something, and I’m not sure you’re going to want to hear it.”
“What is it?” she almost whispers.
Her phone beeps twice, and she closes her eyes in frustration. “I have a two o’clock board meeting.”
“You’d better go,” he says, stepping back.
“Come over tonight,” she says impulsively. “I’ll order takeout and we can watch stupid movies and, and talk.”
He blinks. As friendly as they are during work hours, at work functions, neither has been inside the other’s house since their nights of indiscretion.
“Okay,” he says. “Seven-thirty?”
“It’s a date,” she says without thinking, and then blushes from her collar to the roots of her hair.
It takes her an hour to decide what to wear.
Her bedroom is strewn with almost every piece of clothing she owns by the time she finally throws up her hands in despair, realising he’ll be here any minute, and settles on the jeans and V-necked cardigan that were the first things she tried on. The doorbell rings and she goes to answer it barefoot, quickly pulling her hair into a ponytail.
“I brought wine,” he says, holding it up like a talisman. He looks nervous.
“I ordered Italian,” she answers, a helpless smile spreading across her face.
He looks so good she can barely restrain herself from touching him, especially when he, a little awkwardly, bends forward to give her a peck on the cheek.
“Do you want to eat at the table?” she asks. “The food’s just warming in the oven.”
“Actually,” he hesitates, “do you think we could talk for a minute first?”
She pours the wine, hands him a glass, leads him to the sitting area. She takes a large gulp of her wine, but Chakotay puts his on the coffee table without drinking.
“Kathryn,” he begins, and she realises he’s nervously drumming his fingers on his knee, “the last thing I want is to jeopardise our friendship. You know that, right?”
She starts to get a sinking feeling in her stomach. “This sounds like bad news.”
He looks at her quickly. “I hope not,” he says. “It’s just that I don’t know how you’re going to take what I have to say.”
Kathryn takes another long swallow of wine, puts down her glass and sits up straight, fingers clenched on her knees. “Go ahead.”
Chakotay takes a breath, then shifts closer to her on the couch and picks up her hands. Looking into her eyes, he says in a rush, “I’ve fallen for you. I tried not to, because I know you don’t do office romances, but I can’t help it, and it’s not fair to hide it from you anymore.”
Recognising shock in her eyes, he looks down at their joined hands. “I’m sorry, Kathryn. I know this isn’t what you wanted, and if you want me to, I’ll find another job. I don’t want to make you uncomf-“
“Chakotay,” she says, softly. “Please stop.”
He stops, staring at their hands.
“I’ve never talked about this before,” Kathryn says slowly, “but I’m going to tell you the reason I don’t get involved with people at work.”
“Okay,” he says, dully.
She squeezes his fingers. “Please don’t make any assumptions until you’ve heard me out,” she says urgently, then takes a deep breath. “About ten years ago I worked at a university on the east coast. I got involved with my boss, Justin. He was, uh, he was married.”
Chakotay looks up at her, but she’s looking away.
“I loved him,” she says, sadly. “I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t stop. And then I found out I was pregnant.”
She lets go of Chakotay’s hands in favour of getting up to pace, finding it too difficult to face him.
“Justin’s wife was the daughter of the chair of the university board. She, uh, caught us in the act. She told her father, who had me sacked from the university. She gave Justin an ultimatum and he chose to stay with her.”
She bites her lip.
“About a week later I miscarried the baby.”
“Oh, Kathryn,” he says.
“It was a huge scandal. We lived in a small town, and they closed ranks on me. I couldn’t get a job in a supermarket. I had to leave town, and even then, it was very difficult to find work for a very long time. It almost ruined my career. And the miscarriage devastated me. I’ve found it hard to trust people ever since, and I haven’t really had any relationships in all this time. I especially never would have considered a relationship with someone I met through work. It’s been pretty much my one rule to live by for a decade.”
“No,” she says, facing him, “you don’t. I never would have considered it until now.”
Chakotay stands up, hope lighting his face.
She opens her mouth, closes it, laughs.
“I love you,” she says, simply. “So you’d better come over here and kiss me.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” he says, and then he takes her face in his hands and kisses her until her knees are too weak to hold her. So he sweeps her up in his arms and lays her on her clothing-strewn bed, and proceeds to make her very, very happy about breaking the rules.