Something Stronger

Summary: Chakotay is forced to get in touch with his inner warrior to save Janeway’s life when they get caught up in a civil rebellion. It has consequences.

 

Characters: Chakotay, Janeway

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

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

Notes: A post-Repression AU. Written for the Prixin Prompt Comp 2017, to the following three prompts (yes, I'm greedy):

 

Prompt #5: Chakotay keeps watch over Kathryn on a hostile planet. She is injured and probably won’t make it back to Voyager, but he refuses to leave her side despite the fact that he might make it out alive if he does so.

 

Prompt #8: "You always do this. You always try to be the one who loses, who sacrifices. I'd have waited the whole seventy years for you, if you'd asked me to."

"I already asked so much of you. I couldn't do that."

 

Prompt #10: "I'm fine."

"You're always fine! Just - for once give me a real answer!"

Rated T

“You have to leave me.”

“No.”

She’s barely conscious, her face white with pain, but she still manages to turn that glare on me. “Chakotay … you can’t stay here. They’ll … find you.”

“I’m not leaving you, Kathryn. Stop talking. You need to save your strength.”

Predictably, she opens her mouth to protest, but then there’s an explosion perilously close to the window and I throw myself over her as the building shakes. Chunks of rubble rain down, one striking a glancing blow on my shoulder. I hear her coughing weakly and raise my head. There’s dust in her hair and blood on her lips.

She doesn’t have much time.

Outside I hear shouting in an alien language, the popping of projectile weapons, the pounding of feet on the stairs.

They’re coming.

 

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Four of us beamed down to Caratha at the end of Alpha shift: Neelix, Rollins, the captain and me. It was supposed to be just a formality, the finalisation of the trades we’d worked out with the Carathans over the previous few days. We wore dress uniform and – except for Rollins, the sole security officer – forwent our sidearms. After all, the Carathans had proven themselves friendly.

We were welcomed by Ravin Oppo, the Minister for Trade, in the imposing entry hall of the Ubo Presidential Palace and escorted to the chamber where the president waited, seated on a gilded, opulent throne that made Kathryn’s eyebrow twitch.

After we’d signed the papers there was a feast. Rollins and Neelix went back to the ship. I sat beside Kathryn at the enormous, carved-wood table as platters of food were passed down to us and our glasses were kept filled with a mild-tasting wine that packed a surprising punch. She spent the meal picking at her food and conversing with Oppo, on her other side, and barely spared me a word.

Not that I expected her to. She’s hardly spoken to me in weeks.

The attack came without warning. One moment we were making polite conversation with our alien hosts, and the next, the ceiling was caving in. By the time I’d shaken off my shock the dust hung thick in the air. People were screaming. I tried to contact Voyager but my commbadge produced only a low buzz.

There was a pile of rubble where Kathryn had been sitting. Frantic, I began digging through chunks of rock and concrete, shouting her name. She was half-buried beneath it. She wasn’t moving and her eyes were closed.

My fingers were trembling as I felt for her pulse: weak, thready, but there. “Kathryn,” I called to her urgently, checking her over. Her femur was broken and there was a bruise on her cheek. I was afraid to move her, but suddenly people started pouring into the chamber armed with vicious-looking weapons, rounding up the stunned and injured dignitaries, and I knew we couldn’t stay there.

There was a hole blasted in one of the chamber’s walls, and as far as I could tell through the thick, choking dust, it was unguarded. I lifted Kathryn in my arms and bolted for freedom.

 

_____________________________



“Chakotay,” she says weakly.

“You’re awake.” Thank the spirits.

“What happened?”

“There was an attack.” I brush the hair from her face, carefully checking the bruise that mars her cheekbone. “Your leg’s broken,” I add as she shifts and groans in pain. “Try to keep still.”

“Where are we?”

“An alleyway in the north of the city. The palace was practically levelled – I needed to get you out of there.”

Her hand moves to her chest. “My commbadge?”

I shake my head. “It must’ve fallen off when you got buried under a pile of rock.” I try to inject humour into my voice and she manages a faint smile in return.

Voyager?”

“I can’t reach the ship.”

Her eyes close to hide the desperate worry.

“I doubt they’re under attack,” I try to reassure her. “From what I saw, the aggressors were armed with fairly primitive weapons. I’d be surprised if they could launch an extraterrestrial attack.”

“But you don’t know,” she says softly.

I dip my head to concede the point. “Our immediate priorities are to get you to safety and try to contact Voyager.”

I glance around the alley. There’s a sturdy piece of wood a few metres away, probably fallen from a broken window ledge. I shrug off my jacket and start tearing it into strips.

“I need to splint your leg,” I tell her. “This is probably going to hurt. I’m sorry.”

Kathryn nods, clenching her teeth as I work as quickly as possible. Perspiration dots her pale forehead by the time I finish.

“Okay?”

“Fine.”

“Does anything else hurt? Your head?”

“I said I was fine. Commander, we need to find communications equipment and somewhere to hide, preferably in that order. Have you seen any likely buildings? How far are we from the palace?”

“Not far enough, and no, nothing. We should move west – I remember from our scans of the planet that there’s a communications centre in that direction.”

“How far?”

I shrug. “Thirty minutes under normal circumstances, but with you injured …”

Kathryn nods decisively. “Then leave me here and go.”

“That’s not happening,” I say flatly.

That glare turns on me. “I can’t walk, and you can’t carry me all that way –”

“Yes, I can.”

“I’m giving you an order, Commander.”

“And I’m refusing it.” I forestall any further conversation by gathering her in my arms and striding toward the alley’s exit.

She winces as the movement jolts her leg. “Commander, I said –”

“I know what you said. Sorry, Kathryn, but I’m not abandoning you …”

My retort trails off as the sounds of shouting and weapons fire erupt barely twenty metres away. Edging closer to the wall, I hold Kathryn close to my chest as I poke my head around the corner. A man in scuffed brown leather raises his weapon and fires at another man in blue and gold finery, who thuds to the ground, blood pooling onto the cobbled street. I hear a scream and see a woman being dragged, struggling, by two men. One pushes her against the rough wall of a building and begins stripping her as the other holds a knife to her throat. I duck back into the alley, breathing hard.

“We have to get out of here,” I mutter.

“What is it? What did you see?”

“Nothing we want to get involved in,” I answer grimly.

“What the hell is going on?” Kathryn’s grip loosens on my neck. “The president assured us this was a peaceful society. Who are these people?”

“I don’t know, but I’m guessing there’s a whole lot going on in this society that the president wasn’t telling us. From what I saw, I’d say this is some kind of rebellion.” I move further into the shadows of the alley, searching for a way out; there is none. “We’ll need to wait here until they pass.”

“Put me down.”

Reluctantly I lower her to the ground, keeping my arm around her waist for support as she balances on her uninjured leg. We press our backs to the wall as a group of rebels streams past the alley entrance. One stops, glances in, but thankfully doesn’t see us. We wait until their shouts fade into the distance.

Kathryn opens her mouth but I forestall her. “If you’re going to tell me to leave you here again, you can forget it.”

Anger banks in her eyes, but I stare back at her, unmoved, and finally she nods. I scoop her up, and we creep to the edge of the alley. The street is clear.

“Let’s go.”

 

_____________________________



Kathryn’s reaction to being overruled has always been predictable: tell the lady she can’t have what she wants, and she’s even more determined to get it. I like to think I’m one of the few whose opinions she’ll actually listen to, and sometimes even be swayed by. At least, I was.

Until Teero.

I tried again and again to get her to talk to me after the mind-controlled mutiny. It was like trying to catch quicksilver. She was always on her way somewhere – Engineering, Astrometrics – anywhere she could escape me. She would dismiss me – briskly, politely, but with finality. When I finally managed to pin her down for five minutes, she assured me she didn’t hold it against me, that she knew it wasn’t my fault. But I knew under the surface she was devastated and so, so angry.

I remember all of it. The implacable, all-pervading intent to get back to the fight, a need that seemed perfectly logical. The knowledge that she was standing in my way, an obstacle to be removed. I remembered what she meant to me, how I’d felt about her. It just didn’t matter any more.

It had occurred to me to kill her. It would be simpler, less trouble than finding an M-class planet for her and her crew. I’m still not sure why I didn’t. Maybe because even at my most desperate back in the Alpha quadrant, commanding my shipful of terrorists, I’d avoided killing if there was another way. Maybe because somewhere, buried deep inside me, I still felt something for her.

Whatever she felt for me, whatever faint vestiges of affection she might have still harboured after six years of arguments and miscommunications, it was all gone after Teero. And I could even have lived with that; it was a fit punishment for what I did to her. What I can’t live with was the loss of her trust.

She forgave Tuvok. Not just for unwittingly starting the whole rebellion, but for firing that phaser at her in her own ready room. I know why. Somehow she reached him, the part of him she could trust, buried under Teero’s control. But she couldn’t reach me. And for that, I don’t think she’ll ever forgive me.

 

_____________________________



For close to an hour I slink from building to building using any available cover, Kathryn clinging to my neck. We’re forced to hide from three more groups of armed rebels, but fortunately for us, it seems they’re more interested in causing wanton damage to streetfronts than looking for the escaped off-worlders.

We make it almost to the communications building before our luck runs out.

“There! The aliens. Stop them!”

I spin in the direction of the shout. Three Carathans in dusty leathers are pounding toward us. One raises his weapon as I hoist Kathryn higher in my arms and take off running. Shots ricochet off the wall beside my head and I duck into the nearest doorway. Kicking in the door, I take the stairs two at a time.

At the first-floor landing, doors open and close in my face as the occupants sum up the situation at a glance and decide not to get involved. Swearing, I shoulder my way through the only door that doesn’t shut fast enough. A woman screams and bolts further into her apartment.

I hear the boom of an explosion. The building shudders.

“Looks like they’ve brought in the heavy artillery,” I mutter between laboured breaths. I cast desperately around for cover, a weapon, anything. The apartment is small and sparsely furnished. There’s a window onto the street; as I move toward it, something shatters the glass from the outside and I duck to avoid the shards.

There are two doors leading off the main room – one, firmly shut, behind which the lady of the house has escaped, the other opening onto a bathroom. There’s nowhere to hide.

“Any ideas, Kathryn?”

She doesn’t reply.

I look down at her and realise her head is lolling on her neck, her face drained of colour. “Shit! Kathryn?”

I lay her gently on the couch and check her pulse; it’s fluttering like a small frightened bird and her breathing is shallow and uneven. There’s blood seeping through her jacket. Carefully I pull it open and suck in a sharp breath.

There’s a deep, welling wound across her abdomen and the surrounding skin is mottled and bruised. Cursing, I yank my turtleneck over my head and press the cloth to her open wound as gently as I can. She moans, her eyes barely opening.

“God damn it, Kathryn! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Nothing … you could do,” she barely breathes. “Told you to … leave me.”

“You said you were fine,” I hiss at her. “I asked you if anything else hurt. Why can’t you just once give me an honest answer?”

She shakes her head infinitesimally. “Go see … if there’s any comm equipment here.”

“I need to keep pressure on this. You could have organ damage.”

“You need … to get out of here. You have … to leave me.”

“No.”

She turns her head to glare at me and I wish she hadn’t – I can see how much it’s costing her. “You can’t stay here.”

I tell her to stop talking, and I can see she’s mustering her remaining strength to blast me again, but some kind of bomb explodes just below the window and the entire building groans and shakes on its foundations. There’s weapons fire – close – and the thudding of feet on the stairs, coming our way.

I turn to her. She’s wheezing, blood staining her lips, and my heart seizes. She needs medical attention. Right now.

But there’s pounding on the doors along the corridor, and I know there won’t be any help for Kathryn unless I can fight our way out of this first.

 

_____________________________



Consider this a test of your loyalty. It’s set to kill.

The expression in her eyes still haunts me. Outrage, disbelief. A flicker of fear; quickly-masked, but there if you knew what to look for, and I know her. Mostly, though, it was the pain of betrayal.

You said you wouldn’t hurt anyone.

I betrayed her.

I think she might even have accepted it more easily if Tuvok had been in command of the mutiny. Vulcan logic, unencumbered by emotion and driven by the subliminal ambitions of a madman, could rationalise any action. She’d have known that. And if Tuvok had been the one to hand me a phaser and tell me to shoot her, I think she’d have rationalised it too. I think she’d have forgiven him.

But me, she can’t forgive. Because she may not know the full extent of the violence I’ve committed in years past, but she knows how hard I’ve worked to make peace with it, to accept the things I’ve done without excusing them.

And because she knows I love her.

 

_____________________________



I grab the couch Kathryn is lying on and swing it around so the back of it faces the doorway; it’s the only protection I can give her, next to useless as it is. I barely have time to grab an iron poker from the fireplace and conceal myself before they bully through the apartment door – three of them, armed with guns and knives – and I take the first one down thanks to a well-aimed swing with the poker. The second is so surprised his grip loosens on his weapon and I kick it out of his hand. It skitters under the couch.

The third assailant is either more experienced at combat or has had enough time to regroup. He’s on me before I can take his measure, an arm around my neck from behind and a blade digging into my side. I drop the poker.

“Where’s the woman?”

I shrug my shoulders, testing the strength of his grip. “We split up. I have no idea where she is.”

“He’s lying,” the first guy says as he picks himself up from the floor.

The second man moves over to the couch to retrieve his weapon.

“Wait,” I yell. He stops. The arm around my neck tightens.

Now what? I flounder slightly.

“She must have got back to our ship,” I improvise. “She said she was going to find communications equipment. I don’t know which way she went – she ordered me to keep you off her tail.”

The man behind me snorts. “Forget the woman. Tenkit, get your gun. We’ll bring this one back for collateral.”

Tenkit skirts the corner of the couch. Shit.

I don’t think twice. A roar explodes from my chest and I flip Knife Man over my shoulder. He lands hard on his back, winded, and I charge the first man, who raises his weapon. A gunshot barks, but I don’t flinch. I’m going to take these bastards down with me before I die.

But I don’t die.

The next few moments flash before me like freeze-frames: Second Guy, weapon half-raised, staring down at the bloody hole in his chest; Tenkit, crouched by the sofa, his face a mask of disbelief; and Kathryn, kneeling on the couch, pale hand shaking but her aim true, weapon trained on its owner.

Time slows.

Knife Man flips up from the floor in a move I’d have admired in the boxing ring. He’s still armed, and it’s clear this one is no amateur.

“You don’t look well,” he addresses Kathryn with deceptive calm. “In fact, I’d wager I could throw this knife into your comrade’s heart before you can get off another shot.”

“Don’t … count on it,” Kathryn grits her teeth and raises her other hand, supporting the wavering one that’s holding the gun.

But Knife Man is right. She’s barely hanging onto consciousness, and if it’s a waiting game, time is not on our side.

I need to even the score.

I dive for the poker, grabbing onto it and twisting my body in one straining lunge. As I bring it up before me, Knife Man’s blade is already whistling through the air on its way to my chest. I throw myself sideways and the knife embeds itself in my upper arm. It hurts like a bitch. I continue my roll and spring to my feet. My opponent is balanced and dancing on his toes, hands up in defensive position.

If I were in the ring, I’d take my time, feint a few jabs, study his movements. But I can see from the corner of my eye that Kathryn’s hands are shaking, her shoulders sinking below the back of the couch. So instead I rush him.

He sidesteps me just as I’d expected, and I immediately spin around and smash the poker into the side of his head. He staggers. I can’t waste my advantage. Gritting my teeth on a yell, I bring up the sharp end of the poker and drive it as hard as I can into his throat.

He gives a thick, choked gurgle, and when I yank the poker out of his throat he plummets to the floor like a sack of rice.

Chakotay!”

I turn. Kathryn’s gun is pointed at Tenkit, its muzzle wavering. Her eyes are half-closed, her face ash-white.

“Put it down, lady,” Tenkit is saying soothingly. “I won’t hurt you –”

The weapon begins to slip out of Kathryn’s hands. Tenkit snatches it, flips it into his grasp and aims it at Kathryn’s chest. With a yell I don’t even recognise as human, I raise the poker over my head and lash it down on his outstretched arm. He hollers in pain, dropping the gun.

I grab for it, bring it up and shoot him. Not once or twice or even three times. I riddle him with bullets, roaring, and I don’t stop pulling the trigger until the chamber clicks empty over and over again. I want to obliterate him, erase him from history. Like I want to erase from history the wrongs I committed in the Maquis. The wrongs I committed under Teero’s control.

Chakotay, stop!”

I turn to Kathryn. Her eyes are fixed on my face and the primary emotion in them is revulsion. I drop the gun.

She swallows, tears her eyes from mine. I watch her gaze fall to my bicep.

‘Are you … all right?”

I’d forgotten about the knife. It’s gone pretty deep; pulling it out isn’t an option without immediate access to medical care. I ignore it. “I’m fine. Kathryn, you need to lie down.”

She nods faintly, her eyes darting everywhere but my face. I move closer and she shrinks back.

She’s afraid of me.

The knowledge roots me to the spot, but before I can even begin to consider what that means for me, for us, her eyes roll back in her head, and Voyager catches us both in a transporter beam.
 

_____________________________



The Doctor repaired Kathryn’s fractured leg, reduced her cranial swelling and operated on her damaged spleen and ruptured internal muscles. When I explained how she’d been injured he said she was lucky to be alive. As if that was news to me.

She spent three days in Sickbay and was unconscious for the first twenty-four hours. I should have been by her bedside when she woke, as I always was when she’d pulled off yet another escape from the grasp of death. But the Carathan president – who’d miraculously survived the rebellion – had asked for Voyager’s assistance, and I was busy coordinating the aid effort. I refused him weapons, of course, but agreed to sending medical relief.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about the way she’d looked at me after I killed those Carathan rebels. I didn’t ever want to see that look on her face again, and I was afraid that was exactly what I’d see when she opened her eyes.

As it happened, the first person Kathryn saw when she woke was Tuvok. I know this because he came to see me in the ready room afterwards. In his stiff Vulcan way, he informed me that the captain had requested I send her my daily reports via messenger, and that she would meet with me when she’d recovered.

In other words – although Tuvok, in a rare display of empathy, declined to spell it out – she didn’t want me anywhere near her until she was strong enough to cope with it.

 

_____________________________



“Come in.”

Three days after I killed two men to save her life, Kathryn steps into my quarters. She’s in uniform, pips straight and hair smooth. The lights are low in here – I’ve just finished meditating – and her eyes are in shadow, but perhaps that’s a good thing. This way I can’t look for the fear in them.

I rise from the couch but don’t move any closer.

“How are you feeling?” I force myself to ask when the silence stretches between us.

“Fine –” She stops, presses her lips together, then takes three steps toward me. There’s distance between us, but I can see her eyes now. There’s no fear there, but there is … something. “Physically, I’m fine,” she concedes.

“And otherwise?” I hold my breath; I’d expected more dissembling, but she appears to want to cut to the heart of the matter.

Another step closer. “Not so good,” she says quietly.

She seems to be searching my face for something. I’m not sure what she wants.

“Can I get you a drink?”

She nods.

“Coffee?”

“No.” She takes another half-step. “I think I’d like something stronger.”

Dutch courage. I indicate the couch and she sits, carefully, perched on the edge with her hands linked on her lap. There are several bottles to choose from in my bureau. Wine – not enough, not for tonight. Antarian cider – no; that’s for happier times. Vulcan brandy – God, no; it’s what I drank with Tuvok after I ordered him to kill her.

I select a Risan whiskey and two tumblers and bring them back to the coffee table.

“Thanks,” she says, sipping from her glass. Her throat works as she swallows the heady liquor. I drag my gaze away.

She rests her glass on her knee, fingers clasped loosely around it, staring down into the amber liquid. And now I want to see her eyes. I place one finger under her chin and tip her face upward.

“Talk to me.”

“All right.” She tilts her head and my finger slides away. Her eyes are clouded, locked on mine. “What you did down on that planet, Chakotay – I didn’t recognise you. You didn’t just kill that man. You annihilated him.”

I stay silent. She hasn’t asked me for my defence. And anyway, I don’t have one.

“Do you know who I did recognise?” she almost whispers.

I shake my head.

“I recognised myself, Chakotay. With Noah Lessing in the cargo bay. He told me what I intended to do to him was murder, and I called it poetic justice.”

“No,” I can’t help bursting out. “It’s not the same thing. You were trying to save the ship –”

“And you were trying to save me.”

That strikes me dumb.

“I can’t condone what you did,” she goes on. “Just as you couldn’t stand by what I tried to do to Lessing. I understand now how badly I scared you then, because it was the same way you scared me down on Caratha.”

I remember her fear then and have to look away, but she grips my jaw and forces me to look at her.

“You scared me,” she repeats, quieter, letting her hand drop. “And after what happened a few weeks ago…”

“You don’t know if you can trust me anymore.”

She inhales sharply, but her eyes never waver. “Can you blame me?”

“No.”

“What happened with Teero – I know it wasn’t your fault. But I couldn’t reach you, Chakotay. I looked right into your eyes and –” Her breath hitches. “You knew exactly who I was, exactly who we used to be. And I could see it meant nothing to you anymore.”

Words tumble and trip through my mind, but before I can speak –

I meant nothing to you.”

Now I can read the expression in her eyes. It’s anguish.

“Whatever we had before – the friendship, the trust – it’s gone, hasn’t it? We let it go.” Tears blur her eyes. “So what do we do now, Chakotay? We still need to command a ship together, even if we don’t trust each other anymore. How do we move on from this?”

The ache in my throat threatens to choke me and I can hardly force the words out, but she needs to know. “You’re wrong, Kathryn.”

She frowns, her head tipped to one side.

“It’s not gone. Not for me. It’s always been there. And you mean everything to me.”

“But Lessing,” she protests. “Ransom.”

“So you’ve been known to get vengeful. So what? No matter what this quadrant has done to you over these six years, you’re still human. I’ve never lost faith in that, and neither should you.”

“It’s not enough,” she fires back at me. “God knows we’ve tried, but –”

“So we can’t have what we used to have.” I’m talking fast now, trying desperately to make the words come out right. “It hasn’t worked because we’ve turned away from each other. We’ve let events define us, Kathryn. But we don’t need to scrap it and move on. We need to remember what we have, and use it to build something stronger.”

Her eyes are almost devouring mine, a crease between her brows as she tries to understand. I step forward, raising my hands to cradle her face between my palms.

“We’re never going to survive the rest of this journey if we hold ourselves apart. I told you once that I would always be here for you, and I meant it. All you need to do is let me keep that promise,” I take a deep breath and plough on, “for as long as we both live.”

Comprehension blossoms in her eyes, and the tears almost spill over. “I’ve already asked so much of you, Chakotay. I can’t ask that.”

“You’re not asking.” I try to smile at her. “Don’t you understand, Kathryn? This is what gets me out of bed every morning. This is why I put on that uniform and do my job to the best of my ability, day after day. It’s my reason for being.”

“But you can’t wait forever,” she whispers. “You can’t sacrifice that for me. It’s not fair to you.”

“Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” I answer vehemently. “Why do you always have to be the one who sacrifices? Whatever penance you still believe you owe, you paid it long ago, Kathryn. You don’t have to do this alone. It’s time to let me take some of the burden.”

She stares at me as though I’m brand new, her beloved face framed in my hands. I’m holding my breath, waiting. She might give me a tentative nod, telling me she’ll try. She might shake her head and slip away from me forever.

She does neither of those things.

A smile blossoms across her face – a wide, beautiful, unrestrained smile, the likes of which I haven’t seen in too many years – and she laughs, suddenly breathless.

“You’re right,” she says softly. Her voice is light and rich with awe. “All this time I’ve kept myself apart from you because I thought it made me stronger, and all this time, you’ve been right there with me. I can’t believe I’ve been so blind …” She shakes her head. “No. I’m done castigating myself. You were right, Chakotay.”

Then her hand is on the back of my neck, tugging me down toward her as she reaches up on tiptoe and touches her mouth to mine.

 

_____________________________



There should be a sunrise painting fingers of gold over the pale, naked curves of the woman sleeping in my arms. An event so momentous, so longed-for, should always be accompanied by the dawn of a new day.

But this is ship’s morning, so instead she’s silvered by starlight, and no less beautiful for it. I kiss the freckled arc of her shoulder and she stirs, softly-curled fingers twitching slightly on the pillow. My hand curves possessively over her breast and she sips in a breath, her eyes opening wide as her nipple hardens against my palm.

“Good morning,” I whisper close to her ear, watching in fascination as she shivers.

Her mouth quirks up at one corner. “Is it morning already?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Does that mean we have to get up?” She presses back against me and it’s my turn to suck in air.

“We have time,” I murmur as she turns over to face me and our lips meet in a light, lazy kiss.

Kathryn pulls back, her hand coming up to trace the lines of my temple. Her eyes are soft. “We have time,” she repeats. “Who’d have thought it?”

I did, I want to tell her as I bend to take her lips with mine. I always believed we’d end up here. I had to.

“We could have lost this so easily,” she sighs, winding her arms around me as I urge her gently onto her back. “If you hadn’t got through to me –”

“All I did was remind you that you aren’t alone.” I brush my thumbs over her cheekbones, gazing down into her clear blue eyes. “You never were, Kathryn. I was always here.”

“Yes, you were,” she whispers, her breath catching as I shift into the cradle of her thighs, “and now we’re here together.”

© 2021 by Mia Cooper