Summary: Secrets are remembered, a deception is revealed, and Kathryn Janeway learns the consequences of sacrifice.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Tuvok, Kim, Torres, Kes, Neelix, EMH, Seska, O. Paris, Original Characters, VOY crew
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Paris, Kim/Torres
Disclaimer: Most characters and some dialogue and situations belong to Paramount, with a bit of cherry-picking from Jeri Taylor’s Mosaic. Any dubious science or technobabble is entirely my responsibility.
Notes: Book 4 of the Parallels series. Related episodes: Message in a Bottle, Hunters.
Warning: Depictions of violence and non-consensual sex, as well as the consensual variety.
4. Past Perfect
- August, 2361 -
“How’s it going?”
Kathryn looked up as Chakotay entered the lab, making his way over to lean on her desk. “May I?” He took the PADD gently from her fingers.
“Be my guest.” She snaked a hand round the back of her neck and sighed, absently rubbing away the tension. “The hard part’s over, I guess I’m just so tired I can’t think straight. I should’ve had this finished hours ago.”
Chakotay watched her over the top of the PADD. Her hair was in disarray, her uniform crumpled, her lipstick had worn off and she’d loosened her collar. She looked exhausted, fragile. Beautiful, he thought, not for the first time. “You should get some sleep.”
She shook her head. “The Captain wants me to present my analysis of the Vaultera Nebula in the briefing room at 0900, before he meets with the reps from the Bolian Science Academy.”
“Then let me help.”
She gave him her crooked smile. “Aren’t you tired too?”
“Not that tired.” There was an unexpected richness to his tone and she met his gaze in surprise. His chocolate eyes were warm. She felt a flush creeping along her throat and hoped her voice was steady as she said, “Thanks, I’d love some help.”
They worked steadily for the next couple of hours. As always, he helped her focus, helped her puzzle out the problems she’d been bashing her head against on her own. They were done long before she’d have completed the analysis alone. She leaned back in her chair and beamed at him as she copied the final report to Commander Marshall’s mailbox and keyed off the PADD. Chakotay grinned back at her. “We did good.”
She agreed. “Want a drink to celebrate?”
“Sure. Where? The mess hall?”
“No,” she said before she’d thought about it, then realised her second reaction was as strong as her first. “No, let’s go somewhere less ... public.”
Chakotay tilted his head a little to one side. She could feel him studying her, sensing something different, trying to puzzle out her meaning. “Okay,” he said evenly. “The arboretum?”
She looked unenthusiastic. “It’s just that I don’t feel like making small talk with anybody else. But if you’d rather be around other people...”
“No,” he said as quickly as she had before. “No. I just didn’t want you to think I was being presumptuous.”
She looked a question at him.
“Inviting you up to see my etchings,” he clarified, and grinned at her.
Kathryn couldn’t stop the blush creeping along her cheekbones. “Your quarters?”
“Unless Maisie’s moved out of yours.”
“Unfortunately, no.” She didn’t know why she was blushing. It wasn’t as if she’d never been in his quarters before. “Yours it is.”
For some reason, as she rode the turbolift in silence with him, a bubble of anticipation rose in her chest. She squashed it firmly. She would have one drink – maybe two, talk to her friend, and get some sleep. She told herself the anticipation was for tomorrow’s presentation to the captain.
Chakotay keyed in the access code to his quarters. “Lights, sixty percent.” He went to the replicator. “Denobulan Starburst?” She nodded and he headed back to her with her black-hearted cocktail and his Risan beer. “Come take a seat,” he invited. “Computer, play last music selection.”
Something unfamiliar, something dark and seductive filled her ears and she sipped at the heady liquor, sighing with pleasure. Chakotay sat beside her and she kicked off her boots, tucking her feet beneath her on the squashy couch. She rubbed at the back of her neck.
“Have you eaten recently?” Chakotay asked.
“I ate lunch, I think,” she said vaguely.
He was up immediately. “It’s after midnight, Kate. You have to start looking after yourself.”
“Yes, Mother,” she mocked.
“Hey, you’ll thank me when you remember how synthehol affects empty stomachs. Here, eat this.” Chakotay thrust a bowl of soup into her hands. Despite herself, her stomach growled and she’d spooned up half the bowl before she realised Chakotay’s eyes were dancing with barely suppressed amusement. She decided to brazen it out. “Delicious.” With both hands, she raised the bowl to her lips and drank her fill, wiped her hand across her mouth and handed him the empty bowl with an innocent grin. Chakotay laughed out loud.
Kathryn sipped her drink and watched him surreptitiously as he settled back on the couch. She raised her hand to pinch and rub at the tense muscles at the back of her neck and was startled by his voice. “You keep doing that.”
She hadn’t realised he’d been watching her too.
“Your neck hurts?”
Kathryn nodded. “I sit in one position too long. I forget to take breaks.”
“I can help.”
She stared at him. “Help?”
He rolled his eyes. “Turn around, will you?” When she didn’t move, he took the drink from her hand and set it on the table, then, gently and with no obvious sign of effort, placed his hands on her ribs and turned her so her back was toward him. Before she had time to squawk, her drink was back in her grasp and he was smoothing her braid over one shoulder, and then his fingers probed at the tight knots in her nape and she forgot about protesting.
“That’s good,” she exclaimed.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” he grinned. “I’ve had practice.”
She stiffened; was that a boast?
“My mother suffered migraines all her life,” he explained. “A neck rub was the only thing that helped.”
Kathryn relaxed against his hand.
“You know,” he said after a minute or two, “this would be a lot easier if you took off your jacket.”
She giggled, and cursed herself immediately. “Trying to seduce me, Lieutenant?” She was going for arch and knowing, but he stiffened and pulled away.
“I didn’t mean anything inappropriate,” he was beginning when she cut him off. “Sorry, Chakotay, it was a dumb joke. Here,” and, placing her drink on the coffee table, she raised her hands to her jacket and unfastened it, a little jerkily. She hesitated a moment, and then she pushed it briskly from her shoulders. The jacket landed on the carpet and she turned her back to him again. He could see her shoulderblades through the soft cotton of her tank, delicate, like the wings of a bird. She was shivering a little. “Computer, raise room temperature by two degrees,” he said absently and then raised his hands to her skin.
He couldn’t help a small exhalation of breath as he flattened his hands along her spine. He felt her quiver and saw the tiny hairs raised on the nape of her neck. “You’re still cold?” he asked.
“No.” She struggled to sound normal. His strong fingers began to soothe her aching shoulders. Despite herself she slowly relaxed into his touch, her eyes fluttering closed. The tension in her muscles eased, and she gave a soft involuntary moan.
Chakotay’s hands paused and she murmured in protest. She heard a quick intake of breath, and then his thumbs resumed circling her shoulderblades, fingers spanning her narrow ribcage. The rhythm of his fingers was hypnotic; she could feel her whole body loosening into an almost liquid state. She eased her head to one side, stretching her neck, and he moved his hand upward to stroke his palm along the line from her ear to her shoulder. She sighed, almost purred, in pleasure, her back arching. His hand stilled again.
Then she felt the whisper of breath on the exposed line of her neck, the barest touch of lips on her skin.
She didn’t dare move, couldn’t make a sound, but she was sure he could hear her heart hammering. As though he’d taken her silence for permission, she felt his mouth touch just below her ear, and his hands slipped around to flatten against her belly. She held as still as she could, barely breathing, as his lips traced a path along the line of her neck and his hands slid upward, fingers curving around her breasts.
The heat of his fingers seared her skin through the thin fabric of her tank top. She couldn’t help it any longer. Trembling, she pressed herself tentatively into his hands, growing bolder as her heartrate increased. She heard him exhale, felt him bite gently at her neck, his hands tightening on her body. “God, Kate,” he murmured, his words in direct opposition to what his hands were telling her, “we can’t do this.”
She was speaking before she realised it, her voice sounding husky and unfamiliar. “Why can’t we?”
“Because we’re friends, and this would complicate it,” he murmured. “And you’re practically just out of the Academy. You’d want to have adventures and – and not get tied down,” he trailed off.
She managed to gulp out a laugh. “Do you think I spent every minute of my cadetship with my nose in a PADD? I’m not as naive as you seem to think, Chakotay.” Swallowing, she gathered her courage and twisted in his arms, her hands flattening against his chest.
“I’ve had lovers,” she went on, sliding her hands upward to curl into the hair at the back of his head. “I’ve had adventures. I know what I want. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. We can handle this.” She could hardly believe it was Kathryn Janeway’s mouth forming those words, yet she couldn’t seem to stop. She bent to touch her lips to the pulse in his throat and his hands slid onto her hips, lifting her onto him. Her heart was thundering. She curved her hips into him, felt him hard and ready against the juncture of her thighs. If they weren’t clothed, she realised, they’d be making love right now.
Making love. Kathryn stopped with a jolt. She couldn’t think of it that way. It would be sex, pure and simple. To expect, to even dream of more would only lead to heartache.
She licked at the pulse in his throat, let her lips and tongue travel upward to his jaw, and finally he began to respond. His hands on her hips pulled her closer, harder against him, moved upward over her ribcage, his thumbs brushing her nipples. She couldn’t help whimpering; she clutched his wrist with one hand and tugged at it, pulling it onto her breast, her head thrown back in pleasure as he followed her lead, his thumb lightly circling her nipple.
It wasn’t enough. She reached for the hem of her tank top and pulled it over her head.
She watched as Chakotay took in the sight of her, then bent forward to take her nipple in his mouth, his hand on her other breast. “God,” she gasped, almost collapsing onto him as her entire body thrummed with pleasure. She felt his hands move up to her face, felt his lips trailing up the column of her throat, and finally, meeting her own.
Her lips parted eagerly and her hands rose to tangle in his hair as she nibbled at his lips, her tongue exploring the shape of his mouth. Chakotay slid a hand between them, his fingers working to unfasten her uniform pants, pushing under the layers of clothing, two long fingers delving past her defences and curling unerringly inside her. She cried out, a sharp animal sound, and Chakotay tried to pull away. “Did I hurt you?”
She tightened her thighs around his hand and pushed down on his fingers, the electricity rising as he penetrated her further. She could only hope she didn’t die before she could have him inside her instead of this substitute. “You didn’t hurt me,” she whispered. “But if you don’t fuck me soon I might spontaneously combust.”
The last of Chakotay’s reservations vanished and he managed to grin against her throat. “Then I think I’ll move this to the bedroom,” he murmured. He gathered her smoothly into his arms, his mouth finding hers again, so that she was so lost in his kiss she had no idea when he laid her gently on the bed, or when he slipped off the last of their clothing, or exactly when he finally lay between her legs, no barriers between them. She slid her hands up to his shoulders, opening her thighs, inviting him to enter her without delay. To her surprise he held back, held apart from her, their only points of contact her grip on him and his intoxicating kiss. She blinked up at him, asking a question with her eyes.
The force of the desire in his dark eyes shocked her; it was adult, primitive, almost frightening. “I’m not going anywhere, Kate,” he told her, and she thrilled at the rough edge in his voice. “But I am going to make you crazy before I come inside you.”
A warm mouth was trailing over her bare shoulder, a hand slipping under the covers to smooth a path along her hip. She murmured in pleasure, unwilling to open her eyes. If this was a dream, it was the nicest one she’d had in a while.
“Kate, wake up.”
“No,” she pleaded, and then she felt his fingers dip between her legs and she gasped into wakefulness, turning into a kiss that stole her breath.
“Good morning,” he whispered when he finally pulled away. She blinked up at him. His fingers moved slowly inside her and she moaned. She felt pleasantly sore, delightfully liquid, and deliciously fucked. And ready for more.
“What time is it?” she mumbled through kiss-bitten lips.
“0600 hours,” he murmured, and then he grinned at her. Those damn dimples, she thought distractedly, they’re a lethal weapon. “We have plenty of time.”
“Oh, good,” she whispered. “Then let’s make the most of it…”
As she hurtled down the corridor to the turbolift at 0857, praying like hell she’d make it to the briefing room on time, Kathryn couldn’t keep the smile off her face. Images from the past six hours were on constant replay in her memory. She leaned against the wall of the turbolift, trying to calm her breathing. It’s just sex, she reminded herself, trying to stop her wayward heart from climbing through her chest. But damn, if it wasn’t the best sex of my life.
She wasn’t really sure where they’d go from here. She had been the one to declare that this was just a bit of fun between friends, nothing more complicated than that, but she had to admit that she’d never actually had an arrangement like that before. How did they work? Was sex now to be expected every time they were alone, or would they still talk and laugh and play pranks and go to the mess hall together? And how would she know when she was supposed to be his friend, and when his lover? More to the point, how was she supposed to keep her hands off him now that she’d kissed him, tasted him, felt the indescribable things he could do to her body? Kathryn moaned and scrubbed her face with her hands, trying to focus. It was 0859 and she was presenting her analysis of the Vaultera Nebula to the senior staff in one minute.
Get a grip, she told herself fiercely as she requested entrance to the briefing room. And whatever you do, when you’re giving that presentation in there, do not look at Chakotay.
She fumbled her way through a speech that left the Captain raising eyebrows at her, Lieutenant O’Day glaring and tapping an impatient foot, and Commander Marshall compressing her lips, though with displeasure or amusement, Kathryn couldn’t say. It wasn’t that she didn’t know her topic, or that she hadn’t prepared, it was that she couldn’t seem to string a coherent sentence together. When she finally wound down, Captain Paris said, “Thank you, Ensign, for that thought-provoking dissertation. I’m sure we all feel sufficiently educated regarding the properties of the nebula, although I might suggest you spend some time refining your presentation skills. Dismissed.”
Mortified, she stumbled out of the room, unable to restrain herself from glancing quickly at Chakotay on her way out. He appeared perfectly composed, his attention on the Captain.
It was only when she was back in the Astrometrics lab that it occurred to her. What if he had no intention of continuing their … arrangement?
She was suddenly certain that this was the case. Last night had been a once-off; he’d never intended to do it again. She had been spinning fantasies in her mind. You’re an idiot, Janeway, she rebuked herself. Now forget it ever happened, and let things go back to normal.
Despite her intentions, she couldn’t quite bring herself to resume ‘normal’ immediately, and for the next few days she found herself avoiding him. She threw herself into her work, spending long hours in the lab, walking quickly away with a scrubbed-blank face on the rare occasion she saw him in the mess hall or the corridors of the ship. But then, when she returned from a late lunch one day, Ensign Zorok mentioned that Chakotay had stopped by the lab to see her, and she suddenly realised how much she missed him. So that evening, she changed out of her uniform, brushed out her hair and stiffened her backbone, and she went to see him in his quarters.
He opened the door and treated her to that heart-stopping, cursed-dimpled smile. “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever planning to speak to me again.”
“I’m sorry,” she confessed as he led her to the couch and handed her a drink. “I guess I needed a little time to think about things.”
She took a gulp of her drink and set it on the table. “I don’t know … I guess I’d like to hear what you think.”
His dark eyes regarded her; she wished she could read them. “I think it was a night to remember.”
She flushed. “So … one memorable night, then? We go back to normal?”
“Is that what you want?”
“I don’t know,” she stammered. “What do you want?”
“I know I don’t want to lose you as a friend,” he answered. “You’re too important to me.”
“You’re important to me, too,” she said hastily. “But …”
She felt her face redden. “But it was a very memorable night.”
Chakotay smiled slowly, and she felt a tingle start low in her belly, felt her pulse begin to heat up. She swallowed. “Maybe it’s not a good idea to repeat it.”
“Maybe it would get too complicated,” he agreed.
“Maybe it would.” She couldn’t stop falling into his gaze. Was he moving closer, or was it her imagination?
“Maybe we shouldn’t do it again.” As if he had no control over it, his hand lifted, and she felt his fingers skating over her cheekbone, tangling in the soft hair behind her ear.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” she whispered, as his lips met her own. And for a while, at least, there were no more maybes.
After they’d finished their analysis of the Vaultera Nebula, the Al-Batani moved on to study proto-star formation in the Tendaras Cluster near Betazed. Kathryn, Ensign Zorok and the other science officers spent a fair amount of their time in shuttles with Chakotay or one of the other helm officers, cruising through the stellar nursery and taking as many scans and readings as they could.
Kathryn would remember it later as one of the happiest and simplest times in her career. Every few days she was lucky enough to go out into space and meander through a stellar field of the most astonishing beauty. The Cluster contained an amazing array of different phenomena and she sometimes felt as though she could drink in the knowledge it was serving up to her and still never have her fill.
She was out in the shuttle with Chakotay one day telling him excitedly about the triple-star system forming in the Bok globule they were investigating when she realised he was smiling at her. “What?” she asked, trailing off.
“I understood about one word in ten of that,” he admitted.
“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I guess these aren’t exactly the missions you imagined when you were a kid, dreaming of becoming a Starfleet pilot.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he answered seriously. “It’s a privilege to fly you out here and watch you do what you do.”
Kathryn tried not to pay any attention to the way his words made her feel so warm inside.
“I didn’t actually dream of being a Starfleet pilot,” he said, eventually.
“No.” He grinned at her. “I dreamed of commanding my own starship.”
She laughed. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? I’m betting you’ll be a captain before you’re thirty-five.”
“I’d better get on with it then,” he teased her. “What about you? What’s Kathryn Janeway’s lofty ambition?”
Before she could answer, the shuttle lurched sickeningly and without warning, and the power went out. Emergency backup power had kicked in before Kathryn could catch her breath. “What was that?” she gasped.
Chakotay was already querying the helm. “Something interrupted the power flow to the impulse engines. Sub-light drive is offline. There are fluctuations in the plasma relays.”
“What caused them?”
“Unknown.” Chakotay’s face was tense. “There’s an overload in the primary power grid. If it cascades, we’re in big trouble. I’ll try stabilising it by –”
He was cut off by the explosion of the console to his left. The force of the blast threw him out of his chair, and he was slammed sideways into the shuttle wall. He crumpled to the floor.
“Chakotay!” She leapt out of her chair, searching for a medkit, finding one under her station. “Computer, what is the status of the power grid?” she demanded while her shaking fingers opened the medical tricorder.
~Warning. Power grid containment fluctuating. Impending cascade failure to primary EPS conduits.~
“That much I knew,” she muttered, checking the med scan and realising with relief that Chakotay was suffering from a fractured shoulder and a vicious-looking bump on the head that had knocked him unconscious, but nothing life-threatening. She addressed the computer again. “How long until cascade failure begins?”
~Three minutes, twenty-five seconds.~
Kathryn bolted to the engineering station. “Computer, postulate cause of cascade failure?”
“You’re no help, you self-satisfied robot!” she shouted in frustration. She pulled up a schematic of the shuttle’s power grid and traced the fluctuation to a plasma relay behind the transporter control unit. “Computer, open a channel to the Al-Batani.”
~Communications system is offline.~
Fear gripped her and she almost gave in to the accompanying wave of nausea, but she forced herself to shake it off. “Get a grip,” she told herself harshly. “What could interrupt plasma flow to the impulse drive and the transporter control unit simultaneously?”
~That information is not available.~
“I wasn’t asking you,” she muttered. She bent over the engineering console. “Wait a minute. It wasn’t simultaneous.” She tracked the course of the power overload, realising it had started in the transporter unit, travelled to the impulse drive through a series of EPS conduits, and had begun to spread throughout other systems. Communications, transporters, shields, impulse drive: all had failed. External sensors and navigation were still online, but failing. The only systems unaffected were life support and warp drive, which ran on segregated power sources.
“Okay,” Kathryn said aloud. “So something happened to the power relay behind the transporter console. Computer, was there an internal malfunction in that power relay?”
“So if it wasn’t internal, it must have been external.” She tapped her fingers on the console for a moment, then spun back to the science station. “Accessing external sensor log … Oh, my God.”
She stared at her console display.
A fraction of a second before the shuttle’s power grid had failed, the external sensors had picked up a random shower of neutrino particles from the trinary star cluster they’d been scanning. The particles had passed through the shuttle’s hull and impacted with the plasma relay powering the transporter control unit, triggering a power surge.
~Warning. Cascade failure to primary EPS conduits. Main power grid overload estimated within four minutes.~
In other words, in four minutes the shuttle would explode and scatter her atoms, and Chakotay’s, over this segment of space. Shoving her rising panic aside, she tried to figure out what Chakotay had been intending to do to stabilise the cascade. Normally, shunting the excess power in the affected relay to various backup relays would be the first step, but it was too late for that; the overload had already cascaded and was gaining intensity. Her next option was to bolster containment of the EPS manifolds controlling the affected power conduits to try to stop the overload in its tracks, but given the catastrophic systems failure occurring, it was unlikely she’d be able to tap enough power to stabilise the manifolds. If only there was a way to access one of the segregated systems…
~Warning. Overload in two minutes.~
But of course there was.
There were two systems unaffected by the plasma overload: life support, and the warp core. If she could bridge one of them to the main power grid she might be able to stabilise the plasma containment field and stop the cascade. Taking power from life support was a last resort. Kathryn pulled up the shuttle’s design schematics; somewhere, there would be an EPS tap she could reconfigure to shunt power from the warp plasma manifolds to the main grid’s containment field. “There you are,” she muttered. Carefully, she realigned the plasma transfer relays – it wouldn’t do to accidentally dump terawatts of raw energy into the already straining impulse fusion reactor – and slowly, gradually, redirected warp plasma through the conduits that fed the containment grid. “Come on,” she pleaded.
~Power overload decreasing,~ reported the computer. ~Containment grid stable. Main power has been restored.~
Slumping back in her chair, adrenaline coursing, Kathryn began to shake. “Computer, open a channel to the Al-Batani,” she ordered unsteadily, and at the computer’s chirp of acknowledgement, she reported to Captain Paris that she was coming home, and bringing wounded.
“For consistently outstanding performance, and for your recent bravery and exceptionally quick thinking, it’s my pleasure to grant you the rank of lieutenant, junior grade.”
She stood proud, trying not to blush, as Owen Paris fixed the shiny new black-centred pip to her collar. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Janeway,” he said, shaking her hand. “Your father will be proud. And so am I.”
“Thank you, sir,” she glowed.
“Take a seat,” he invited, and she sat opposite him at his desk. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to discuss with you.”
“A captain isn’t supposed to have favourites, Katie,” he told her, then broke into a grin. “But what can I say? I’m human, and you’re the daughter of one of my oldest friends. So forgive me if I seem a little overbearing here, but I’m a little more interested in your future than I am the other junior officers’ on the ship.”
She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. “Captain?”
“You’re a promising scientist,” he went on. “And if that’s your chosen career path, who am I to argue? But I think you might be missing an opportunity.” He leaned forward a little. “Have you ever thought about switching to the command track?”
“You. You’re smart, you find unconventional solutions, and you keep your head in a crisis. Those are some of the key qualities Starfleet looks for in its command officers.”
She blinked. “I, ah, I’ve never really considered it, sir. The promise of scientific exploration was the reason I decided to join the fleet.”
“Well, fortunately, Starfleet captains get to do a fair bit of exploring in the name of science, too,” he reminded her. “I’m not giving you an order here, Katie. I’m just asking you to think about it. And if you do decide to switch tracks, you’ll have my full support.”
“I will think about it, Captain,” she replied slowly. “Thank you.”
For six months, Kathryn Janeway had been falling deeper and harder in love, and for six months she’d been trying to fool herself that she wasn’t.
On the surface, she told herself, nothing had changed. Everyone who knew them saw them as just close friends. Nobody, she was certain, knew that there were times when they were alone – not every time, but many - and they would look at each other and know that now, yes, now …
The trouble was, she was finding it ever harder to draw the line of separation between these two disparate halves of their relationship. She had been content at first with Chakotay her friend and Chakotay her lover. Now, she realised with no small sense of dismay, what she wanted was Chakotay. All of him, with no divide, no barrier between them.
She knew she had to tell him. They couldn’t continue as they were with him ignorant of her feelings; it wasn’t fair to either of them. She was terrified at how much she stood to lose, but she couldn’t help hoping that perhaps there was just as much to gain.
Heart in hands, she stepped up to his door and pressed the keypad to request entry.
“Kate!” Chakotay was clearly shocked when he opened the door to her. “How did you hear so fast? The orders only came through half an hour ago.”
Behind him, she saw a carry bag and small piles of his possessions on surfaces.
“Come in,” he said, taking her hand. “I was just starting to pack.”
She stumbled into the room. “Pack?” she repeated blankly. “Orders?”
Chakotay stopped. “So you haven’t heard?”
She stared at him dumbly.
“I’ve been promoted,” he explained, his voice softening. “Executive officer on the Yamaguchi. It’s a much smaller ship than the Al-Batani, only seventy crew, but it’s a step closer to my own command.”
She felt her heart, which had been so light, so full of hope, begin to splinter.
“You’re leaving?” It was all she could force out through the harsh ache in her throat.
“Tomorrow,” he confirmed, regret in his eyes as he looked at her. “Kate …”
She straightened her spine and made herself meet his eyes. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander,” she said, and although her lips were stiff, she knew her voice held the appropriate warmth. “You deserve this.”
“Thank you,” he smiled, then the smile faded slowly. “I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” she managed, and then he drew her toward him and she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him with the depth of all the feelings she’d never had the chance to express. He led her to the bed and tenderly, with great care, kissed her and touched her until she opened for him, trembling with need. As he moved inside her for what she supposed would be the very last time, she bit into her own hand to muffle the tears that threatened to choke her.