Desperate Measures

Summary: They’re home… but it’s not what they hoped for. Estranged by circumstance and misunderstanding and kept apart by devious design, Voyager’s former command team are drawn into a world of danger, deception and political intrigue that could end up costing their lives.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Seven, Kim, Tuvok, Torres, Paris, Sekaya, Original Female Characters, Original Male Characters

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/Other, Chakotay/Seven, Kim/Seven

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Warning: Non-consensual sex depicted.

Rated E

But you didn't have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don't even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
– Gotye, Somebody That I Used To Know

===0===

 

Chapter Five: False Steps
October, 2378



Chakotay’s reconnaissance mission to Midrian was less than fruitful.

Jonah Miles wanted him to make himself visible to the Entera Coalition in the hope they’d recruit him, which directly conflicted with Starfleet Intelligence’s expectation that he would lay low and provide covert support to his undercover team. For the first week he divided his time between his dingy hotel room in Midrian’s capital city and conspicuous contact with T’Char, the Klingon intelligence agent he had arranged to meet.

During his second week there he began venturing out to the local bars. He ordered the local brews and was amenable to conversations. Federation politics was a common topic in the region, and Chakotay was asked more than once for his opinion on President Zife and his recent trade agreement with Midrian. Uncertain where Entera’s interests lay on the matter, he glossed over it and took the opportunity to complain about the Orion Syndicate’s stranglehold on the region instead.

On his third night frequenting the bar scene he started noticing eyes sliding away from him when he turned on his stool.

But nobody approached him, and Lieutenant Davis conveyed, via Kelar, that she’d made only minimal headway in infiltrating any of the trade consortiums in the region. A single human shuttle pilot, she reported, was not important enough to stir much interest and was viewed with suspicion-tinged disdain.

A corruptible Starfleet captain, Chakotay conceded, might offer a more tempting target, but he’d have to play it exactly right. He’d laid the bait, and now he would have to let it lie.

He headed back to Earth.

The air in his apartment felt stale. He showered and changed, then, still shaking off the restless solitude of Midrian, commed Seven to see if she was free for dinner.

She wasn’t; she was fine-tuning the Borg-enhanced sensors in the Mehit’s astrometrics lab and expected to be working all night. There was an apologetic note in her voice, but his slightly annoyed suggestion that after three weeks’ separation she should be more enthused about spending time with him only seemed to irritate her.

~I’m very busy,~ she told him, a frown creasing her brow. ~Lieutenant Kim and I have been testing a new gravimetric sensor configuration that will allow us to more easily detect subspace instabilities, and I believe we’re about to make a breakthrough.~

“Harry’s there with you, huh?” Chakotay kept his tone even.

~Of course.~ Seven’s face softened slightly. ~However, I’ve been invited to a celebratory function at the Palace Hotel this Friday night. Would you accompany me?~

“What kind of celebration?”

~Fleet Admiral Shanthi will be publicly announcing a new line of science and exploratory vessels, to be fitted with the enhanced astrometrics array Lieutenant Kim and I have devised. I’m told some of the Voyager crew will be in attendance.~

“Then I wouldn’t miss it.”

She offered him a full-lipped smile and signed off, and Chakotay sighed and resigned himself to another night alone.

 

===0===


Ryan,” hissed Kathryn as his fingers drifted over her ribcage again. “We’re at an official function.”

“Can I help it if you look so fucking sexy that I can’t stop touching you?” he murmured in her ear.

Kathryn moved the wandering hand again. “Try,” she deadpanned. “I’d rather not give Kjogo any more reason to chastise me.”

But she couldn’t stifle a small smile as Ryan grumblingly moved his hand away from her exposed side and onto the fabric that covered her hip. After seven years as the chaste captain of a starship, it was a stimulating change to be with someone so insatiable for her.

She just wished this night was over so they could go home and do something about it.

Ryan’s fingers glided upward again, tucking into the low-cut side of her dress and circling dangerously close to her barely-covered breast, making her shiver and bite her lip.

“Think anyone would notice if we ducked into the cloakroom for a quickie?” Ryan murmured.

“Don’t tempt me,” she sighed, then snapped upright as Fleet Admiral Shanthi approached. Ryan’s hand slipped onto the small of her back and Kathryn pasted on her best professional smile.

“Good evening, Kathryn, Mr Austin.” Taela Shanthi smiled at her. “I’m pleased you could make it tonight.”

As if I had a choice, Kathryn thought. Nyla Kjogo had ordered her to attend; the press would be out in force. Naturally.

“I’m honoured to have been invited, Admiral.”

“Well, I’d think you wouldn’t miss it, considering two of your former crew are part of the reason we’re all here.” Shanthi laughed.

“I beg your pardon?”

“We wouldn’t be installing these astrometrics arrays on ships of the line without Lieutenant Kim and Seven of Nine. They’ve been instrumental in designing these sensors for the Hawking-class starships. Those two are quite a pair.”

Kathryn had gone still. “Yes, they are,” she answered woodenly. Her eyes darted over Shanthi’s shoulder and her throat closed over. There was Harry, looking dashing in his dinner suit, and beside him was Seven, statuesque in a shimmering violet dress.

Following her gaze, Admiral Shanthi turned and gestured to the pair. Kim’s face lit up at the sight of his former captain and he bounded over. “Cap- Admiral! It’s so good to see you,” he enthused, taking her hand in both of his.

“Hello, Harry.” Kathryn squeezed his hands in return, her smile unfurling at the sight of him. But she couldn’t help her gaze straying to Harry’s companion.

“Admiral,” Seven said warmly. “You look well.”

Oh Seven, how I’ve missed you, Kathryn thought, and hard on its heels, please tell me you didn’t bring a date.

Squaring her shoulders, she forced her smile to brighten.

 “You too, Seven.” Kathryn released Harry’s hands, clasping her own behind her back. “I understand you and Harry have become quite the asset to Starfleet.”

Harry slung an arm over Seven’s shoulder, grinning. “Let’s hear it for Borg ingenuity.”

Kathryn noticed that Seven’s cheekbones coloured a little as Harry pulled her against his side. “Your contribution was equally important, Lieutenant Kim.”

Harry,” the man in question emphasised, rolling his eyes.

“Well, congratulations,” Kathryn offered. “If I was captaining a ship of exploration I’d want one with sensors designed by you two.” She couldn’t help the wistful note in her voice.  

“Speaking of captains…” Harry turned to crane his neck over the crowd, then raised a hand in the air. “Here he is.”

Oh, God, Kathryn thought as Chakotay shouldered his way through the crowd and she realised she was about to see him in person for the first time in nine months.

He looked so good. The jacket fitted his broad shoulders perfectly and her fingers itched to straighten his slightly-askew bow tie. Kathryn dug deep to find her most impenetrable mask, knowing she’d need it to get through this.

Chakotay emerged on Harry’s other side, saying, “Seven, I’m sorry, I got waylaid talking to –”

Then he saw her and the words died on his lips.

 

===0===


Chakotay barely stopped himself from swearing aloud.

There she was. Her hair was caught loosely at her nape, her lithe body was clothed in something black, silky and – he tried hard to close his mouth – far more revealing than anything he’d ever seen her in before, and she looked so beautiful he had to fight not to reach out and touch her.

And she was looking at him with absolutely no expression at all.

“Captain Chakotay,” Admiral Shanthi said when it became clear that nobody else was planning to speak, an amused undercurrent in her voice. “I’m sure you remember Admiral Janeway.”

Kathryn inclined her head. “Captain. Congratulations on your promotion.”

A cold fist gripped Chakotay’s spine. Nine months, and she hadn’t mellowed toward him at all? No wonder she hadn’t returned any of his messages.

“Admiral,” he answered quietly, concentrating on keeping his voice even. “Congratulations on yours too.”

Some insane impulse made him hold out a hand. She stared at it. Silence expanded to fill the space between them.

Then the man standing beside Kathryn, whom Chakotay hadn’t even noticed, shifted his feet and asked, “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Kathryn?”

She seemed to have forgotten his presence as well; she started when he spoke. “Of course,” she said swiftly. “Ryan Austin, this is Captain Chakotay, Lieutenant Harry Kim and Seven of Nine.”

“Your former crew.” Ryan shook Harry’s hand with a smile, clasped Seven’s fingers for a moment then turned to Chakotay, hand out. “So you were Kathryn’s right hand man?”

Chakotay gripped the other man’s hand and was less than surprised to feel Ryan’s crushing pressure. He returned it in spades. “You could say that.”

They sized each other up, knuckles whitening.

“I’m surprised we haven’t met before,” Ryan returned. “Seven years in exile, I’d have thought you two were close friends.”

Chakotay’s gaze flickered toward Kathryn. “The closest,” he said softly.

“Things change, huh?”

The snide undertone in Austin’s voice made Chakotay’s eyes narrow. He turned his attention back to the other man, assessing him.

“I guess they do,” he drawled, disrespect clear in his tone.

Kathryn’s furious glare encompassed them both.

Taela Shanthi snorted out loud. “Save it for pistols at dawn, gentlemen. Seven, Lieutenant Kim, I’d like you to accompany me to the stage. It must be almost time for the ribbon-cutting.”

Chakotay released Austin’s hand and let his gaze slide back over to Kathryn. She was livid, her spine straight and her colour high; it was clear she longed to verbally lash at him and was only holding back out of decorum.

He didn’t want decorum. He wanted everyone else to melt away into nothing. He wanted to be somewhere else, in a silent room with nobody but her, to talk and listen and look at her. He wanted to touch her.

He wanted the impossible.

“It was good to see you again, Admiral,” Chakotay said politely. He slipped his arm around Seven’s waist and they walked away into the crowd.

 

===0===


“So that was him, huh?”

“That was whom?” Kathryn turned icy-grey eyes on her date.

Ryan tilted his chin in the direction of Chakotay’s back. “The famous first officer.”

“That was him.” Kathryn shifted to face the stage as Admiral Shanthi tapped the microphone, drawing the crowd’s attention. The chatter and clink of glasses died away as Shanthi launched into her speech praising the Hawking-class scout vessels and their groundbreaking astrometric sensor arrays, and Kathryn kept her chin raised and her back straight and didn’t hear a word.

Her head ached. She longed for quiet and solitude, but the evening had barely begun and she still had hours of polite smiles and stifling conversation ahead. Absently she rubbed at the knots gathering at the back of her neck, and felt Ryan’s palm clasping her nape warmly, the ball of his thumb soothing her tightened muscles. Her tension headache eased almost immediately and she leaned her back against his chest, humming her approval.

After the applause had died down, Ryan leaned in close and spoke softly in her ear. “Kathryn.”

She arched an eyebrow at him and he reached down to twine his fingers into hers, his thumb stroking her palm and sending delightful flutters along her nerve-endings. “Come with me.”

“Where?”

He tugged her hand and she let him lead her out of the banquet hall.

It seemed like he was heading for the exit, and Kathryn knew she’d have hell to pay if they left before Kjogo got her publicity shots. “Ryan, where are we going?”

He glanced around, opened a door and pulled her inside.

“Really?” She gave him a mild glare. “I thought you were joking about the cloakroom.”

He crowded her up against the wall and she sucked in a breath as his hands slid into the sides of her dress and onto her bare skin.

“Tell me about him.” His tone was teasing and light, but Kathryn heard the challenge in it.

“Who?” she stalled.

“Your stalwart second-in-command. The tattooed terrorist.” Ryan dipped his head, his lips brushing lightly over her neck. “The infamous Maquis rebel who captured your heart.”

“You need to stop reading the tabloids.” Unconsciously, she tilted her head to allow him better access, wondering fleetingly why the hell she wasn’t pushing him away. But it felt so good…

“Not everything they print is bullshit.”

“Ryan …”

“He’s a good-looking guy.” Ryan’s tongue snaked out and curled around her earlobe and Kathryn shivered. “Seven years, day after day… you must’ve got pretty close.”

“If there’s something you want to ask me…” she trailed off on a gasp as he thumbed her nipple, “just ask.”

He ground his hips into her and her head tipped backward.

“Did you fuck him?”

“No.”

His hands slid under her skirt and he tugged her panties down her thighs. “Never?”

She wanted to hit him, but those hands, those lips… She fumbled to unzip his pants. “Never.”

Ryan lifted her and pressed her against the wall, and Kathryn locked her legs around him, feeling him push slightly inside her. “Did you want to?”

She bit her lip, squirming against him. “Does it matter?”

He held her still, teasing her with tiny bites along her collarbone. “You tell me.”

“We didn’t have that kind of –” she groaned, feeling herself stretch around him as he inched further inside her, “– relationship.”

He thrust into her hard and she tried not to whimper, twining her arms around his neck. I’m a Starfleet admiral, she thought briefly, and I’m having cloakroom sex with my date at an official banquet. What the hell is wrong with me?

But then Ryan shifted his angle and hit exactly the right spot and she didn’t care about anything else but the dazzling climax she knew he was about to wring from her.

It was only after the room stopped spinning and her feet drifted to the floor that she realised she was furious.

She yanked her panties back up her thighs as Ryan fastened his pants, tried to smooth down the hair that had escaped from her chignon and glared at him. “What the hell was that about?”

There was a look in his eyes – satiation, yes, but she read smugness as well. “I didn’t hear you complaining.”

“My mistake.” Kathryn straightened her dress and yanked open the door. Glancing over her shoulder, she snapped, “Don’t come over tonight. I need some time alone.”

Standing in the empty corridor, she thought about going back inside the banquet hall, smiling and posing for photos and making polite conversation, all while she pretended not to notice the only man in the room whose presence she never had been able to ignore.

With a rare display of gratitude toward Admiral Kjogo for her insistence on Kathryn’s personal safety, she activated her portable transport device and, within a matter of seconds, was sinking gratefully onto the couch in her apartment.

 

===0===


He tried not to watch her – tried to focus on Seven, elegant and poised onstage as Shanthi talked up her and Harry’s contribution to the new ships of the line – but his gaze kept sliding over to Kathryn. He watched as she rubbed at the tension he could all but see gathering at the back of her neck and his fingers twitched, remembering the way he once used to ease it for her.

He watched as her date rested his hand there, as the other man’s fingers and thumb rubbed at tense muscles, as Kathryn smiled gratefully up at him. As she leaned into his body the way she had never, not once, leaned into Chakotay’s.

Then they were leaving, and Chakotay had to forcibly plant his feet on the floor to stop himself from going after her.

Fifteen minutes later Austin was back, ruffled and scowling, and Kathryn was nowhere to be seen.

Trouble in paradise? Chakotay unstuck his feet and made his way over to Austin.

“Jilted?” he asked the other man with mock sympathy.

Austin’s eyes narrowed. “If you must know, Kathryn wasn’t feeling well.”

Chakotay smiled. “She used to get headaches on Voyager. I always found a neck rub was the best way to ward them off.”

He watched the other man’s jaw clench.

“So, Mr Austin, what is it you do?”

“I run an interstellar courier company.” Austin’s blue eyes held a challenge. “Trans-Quadrant Express. Maybe you’ve heard of us?”

Chakotay tried not to show his intense, sudden interest. “Your company generally uses the trade routes across the Borderlands, am I right? What do you trade?”

“We mostly offer mercy runs to planets in need. Medical supplies, essential minerals and the like.”

“How charitable of you. Much profit in it?”

“I get by,” Austin said flatly.

Chakotay tilted his head. “Must be challenging these days, what with all the new competition.”

“Is there something you want to ask me, Captain?”

“Just making conversation,” Chakotay said lightly. He glanced over Austin’s shoulder and saw Seven making her way in their direction. “Excuse me. Give my regards to Kathryn.”

“Captain.”

Chakotay turned back. “Yes?”

“She’s never once mentioned your name. Any idea why that is?”

He felt a muscle jump in his temple. “No idea,” he grated.

The other man folded his arms. “Whatever you did to her, I intend to make sure you never get the opportunity to do it again.”

“Meaning?”

“Stay out of her life, Captain.” Austin smiled without humour. “Or I’ll make sure you regret it.”

Chakotay stared after him as Austin walked away.

 

===0===


“Kathryn, I’m sorry. I had an alpha male moment.”

She’d let him in after he showed up the following morning, wearing a shamefaced expression and holding a bunch of Vulcan daisies. As she arranged the flowers in a vase she kept her back to him.

“Kathryn?”

“I don’t appreciate being treated like a sex object,” she said coolly, finally turning to face him. “And thanks to you, I’ve already received the expected call from Admiral Kjogo haranguing me for failing to pose for the media last night.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated, taking a tentative step toward her.

She folded her arms, unaccountably glad she was buttoned up in uniform. “What was that all about, anyway?”

“What?”

“You and Chakotay, behaving like a pair of targs in rut.”

Ryan pushed a hand through his hair. “I was jealous.”

“Whatever for?”

“He’s in love with you,” he said flatly.

Kathryn’s jaw dropped. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she managed faintly.

Ryan raised a hand to her face, his voice soft. “Trust me, Kathryn, I know what a man looks like when he’s in love with you.”

Her eyes widened.

“I see that look in the mirror every day,” he murmured, and bent to touch his lips to hers.

For a moment she was so shocked she didn’t respond. But then he deepened the kiss, and fire raced through her the way it always did when he touched her. His other hand tugged at the fastening of her jacket and she couldn’t suppress a moan, and then her clothes were sliding to the floor and his hands were on her and he was lifting her onto the counter and sinking to his knees between her parted thighs.

Afterward, he stood, wrapping his arms around her still-shaking body and pulling her close.

“I mean it, you know.”

She pulled back to read his eyes.

“I love you, Kathryn.” His voice echoed sincerity. “Stay with me.”

 

===0===


When he woke, Seven was arched up on one elbow, watching him with troubled eyes.

“This isn’t working.”

Chakotay rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “What?”

A lock of hair slid down over her cheek and he thought about how if it was Kathryn lying there, rumpled from lovemaking and soft with sleep, he’d have wanted to smooth it back into place.

“Our relationship is unsatisfactory,” Seven said bluntly.

He pushed his torso upright, suddenly wide awake. “What are you talking about?”

Seven twitched a shoulder. “We’re sexually compatible. But our interests are too divergent and conversation is … unnatural between us.” She hesitated. “When we are apart, I don’t find myself distracted by thoughts of you. And I don’t believe you miss me when I’m absent, either.”

“Seven, where is this coming from?”

To his surprise she ducked her head to hide the flush on her cheeks, then met his eyes directly. “I… have developed feelings for someone else.”

“Harry Kim,” he guessed.

“How did you...” Seven bit her lip.

“I’m not blind,” he gave her a small, but honest smile.

Seven slipped out of the bed and pulled on her robe, and he decided he’d rather be on his feet for this conversation too. They faced each other.

“I don’t love you, Chakotay, and you don’t love me,” she said gently. “That much was evident at the banquet last night.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“When Admiral Janeway was in your vicinity, your respiration increased, blood flowed to the capillaries in your face and your pheromone output was heightened. You also behaved in a combative manner toward her date, indicating that you view him as a rival for her affections. I had observed these reactions on Voyager, but it was only when you were in her presence last night that I finally understood the reason behind it.”

Chakotay tugged furiously on his ear. “So I’m attracted to her. She’s a beautiful woman. It doesn’t mean I’m in love with her.”

“Are you?”

His mouth opened, then closed. “Seven…”

She nodded. “As I suspected. I’m sorry, Chakotay. I should have known. If I’d been more adept in reading human emotions, I’d never have initiated a relationship with you.”

“Are you saying this – us – was a mistake?”

“No.” She rested a hand on his arm. “I’ve enjoyed our time together very much. You are an attractive and considerate mate, and I’ve learned a lot from you about human partnerships. But I don’t believe we have a long-term future together, and I would prefer we part now as friends than attempt to continue a relationship under these circumstances.”

Chakotay looked into her eyes and read sincerity.

“How did you turn out so wise?” he asked, smiling.

“I had a good teacher,” she answered, moving into his arms for a brief but heartfelt hug.

 

===0===


“Kathryn.”

She turned at the sound of her name and suppressed a sigh; Nyla Kjogo was striding toward her across the gardens.

“I understand you’re meeting Owen Paris for lunch,” Kjogo stated. “Why?”

Kathryn stared at her. “He’s an old friend. Do I need a reason, Admiral?”

Kjogo ignored the question, gesturing for her to walk alongside. “Owen is taking his new role as Chief of Intelligence very seriously, and I hear he’s sent a covert team into the Borderlands on reconnaissance.”

“Admiral, you shouldn’t be telling me about active Starfleet Intel investigations,” Kathryn protested. “How do you even know about it?”

“I know a lot of things, Kathryn. And I want you to learn more.”

Kathryn came to a halt. “Are you asking me to spy on Admiral Paris?”

“Nothing so cloak and dagger, Kathryn. Just find out if he’s likely to cause any problems with the Midrian trade agreement. You’ve been working so hard, I’d hate it to be delayed or derailed over some over-zealous ensign’s reports.”

“Admiral…” Kathryn didn’t know where to start. “If the trade agreement could be derailed by information Starfleet Intelligence brings to light, surely it deserves to be held up to further scrutiny. And,” she hesitated, “you outrank Owen. Can’t you order him to divulge whatever reports you’re concerned about?”

“I may outrank him, but he’s a cagey character and we don’t see eye to eye. He trusts you. Find out what he’s up to.” Kjogo rested a hand on her shoulder and smiled with all her teeth. “Be a good girl, Kathryn.”

Or I’ll make you pay for it, Kathryn heard. “Understood,” she muttered, watching as Kjogo’s long legs carried her in the opposite direction.

“Katie, over here,” she heard as she entered the restaurant. Owen Paris was waving at her from a table by the window. She smiled, weaving through the tables toward him.

“Hello, Owen.” She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek before sliding into the chair opposite.

“So, tell me about this new man of yours,” he began when they’d ordered their meals. “Austin, isn’t it? Is he treating you right?”

There’s a loaded question, Kathryn thought, fiddling with the stem of her water glass. “We’ve only been dating for a few months,” she demurred.

“Well, you look good together.” Paris grinned at her. “In fact, you look good, period. Nyla Kjogo might be working you hard, but it suits you.”

“I’ve never been afraid of hard work.” Kathryn smiled back, then leaned forward, lowering her voice. “It’s the busy-work I can’t stand. Thank God she’s seen fit to give me something useful to do lately.”

“Ah, yes.” Owen gave her a canny look. “The Midrian trade deal. I suppose she’s sent you here to find out what I know about the Borderlands.”

Kathryn sat back, flushing. “She … did request something along those lines, yes.”

“It’s classified, Kathryn,” he answered. “But I will tell you that one of my teams is investigating reports of a potential emerging threat to Federation security, backed by a conglomerate based in the Borderlands. Midrian features fairly heavily in that investigation.”

Kathryn sipped her water. “Admiral Kjogo is concerned that your investigation might delay the signing of the trade agreement.”

Owen raised his eyebrows. “What’s in it for her?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve known Nyla for thirty years,” Paris answered. “She’s intelligent, resourceful and incredibly ambitious. If she wants this deal to go through, you can bet she’s benefiting from it in some way.”

“Are you suggesting she’s involved in something underhanded?”

“I’m not suggesting anything.” Paris looked at her evenly. “What you choose to infer is up to you.”

He changed the subject then, and the conversation turned to less contentious topics. After lunch they walked back to Headquarters, and as they waited for their respective turbolifts he laid a hand on her arm.

“This Austin fellow of yours – I know you’re not one to talk about your personal life, but you’ve barely said a word about him. I meant what I said before – I hope he’s being good to you. You deserve some happiness in your life.”

Her eyes filled with unexpected tears and she ducked her head, pressing her lips together. Owen patted her arm.

She was trying to think of something to say past the lump in her throat when she felt Owen straighten up beside her. “Look who it is. Heading back to the office, Captain?”

Footsteps came to a halt beside them and the voice that for seven years had invoked her most visceral reactions replied, “Admiral. Yes, I’m due at a meeting.”

Kathryn raised her head and found Chakotay’s eyes burning into hers.

“Admiral Janeway,” he said expressionlessly. “How are you?”

He hates me, she realised suddenly, and it’s no wonder, considering the way I’ve treated him.

Swallowing hard, she forced down the prickling at the back of her throat. “I’m fine, thank you, Captain.”

He nodded, never looking away as he addressed Paris. “Excuse me, sir. I don’t want to be late.”

She tried not to watch him as he walked away, but looking into Owen Paris’ understanding eyes was almost worse.

 

===0===


“You’re late,” Ryan greeted her cheerfully as she dragged her overtired, over-punished body through the apartment door.

Why did I give him an access code? Kathryn berated herself silently. All she wanted was peace, solitude and a long, hot bath.

She tried to smile at him. “Long day, topped off by a particularly fiendish workout. Is that dinner I smell?”

“It is. I found your mother’s biryani recipe in your replicator records. Why don’t you take a shower and I’ll serve up when you’re ready?”

“Ryan…” She stopped talking as he came over and pulled her into his arms, pressing his lips to her forehead.

“You’re exhausted,” he said, gently kneading her tense shoulders. “Let me take care of you.”

Kathryn couldn’t deny the appeal of that idea. “Okay,” she acquiesced, letting him lead her into the bedroom. He ducked into the ensuite to fill the tub and came back to help her out of her jacket and turtleneck, pressing kisses along her spine as he knelt behind her and unfastened her pants. As his mouth moved lower, she couldn’t suppress a shiver.

Ryan turned her around with hands on her hips and swirled his tongue into her navel as his thumbs hooked over the band of her panties and dragged downward, his lips following their progress.

“Ryan, stop.” She rested a hand on his head, fingers threading into his hair.

“What’s up?” He looked up at her, thumbs rubbing the thin skin of her hips.

Kathryn sucked in a breath. “I’m just not in the mood.”

He dipped his head to place a long, slow lick over her clitoris and she couldn’t stifle a moan. “Sure about that?” he mumbled from between her legs.

She was sure. Mentally, emotionally, she didn’t want to be touched right now. The way her body reacted to him was becoming more than remarkable. It was… unnerving.

Kathryn forced herself to step back, holding him firmly away from her. “I’m sure.”

“Okay.” He stood, cupping her face briefly. “Take your bath. Dinner will be waiting when you’re done.”

She took a novel in with her and diligently forced her full attention to it, firmly avoiding all thoughts of annoying admirals, adoring boyfriends and tattooed captains. When she emerged half an hour later she’d managed to calm her disordered thoughts enough to muster up a genuine smile of appreciation as Ryan set a plate in front of her.

“This looks delicious. You’ve done my mom proud.”

She couldn’t eat much, as tasty as it was. Chakotay’s stony face had crept forefront in her mind again, the memory tinged bitter with regret. Seven years of close friendship – and whatever else they might have been – and it was over. All of it.

“Kathryn?”

She stopped playing with her fork and looked up at Ryan.

He ran a hand through his hair, blue eyes intense on hers. “There’s something I want to ask you.”

Kathryn straightened up. “Go ahead.”

Ryan left his chair and came over to her, dropping to one knee and taking her hand. Surprised, she frowned at him.

“Marry me,” he blurted.

“What?”

“I love you.” He stood, bringing her with him, one hand raising to cradle her face. “Marry me.”

Her lips parted. “I don’t – I – this is so sudden –“

He cut her off with a kiss that scorched her lips. “Marry me,” he repeated as they broke apart, then kissed her again, only pulling away when she started to tremble and clutch at him. “Say yes.”

His thumb rubbed gently under her jaw, his other hand leaving hers to trace the delicate knobs of her spine. Kathryn felt her body melting, and with it her resistance.

Why the hell not? she thought defiantly. He’s a good man and he loves me. And I’m so tired of being lonely.

“Yes,” she said, and laughed as he whooped and spun her around.
 

© 2021 by Mia Cooper