A Conditional Fondness
by Suz suzvoy@tesco.net

Disclaimer - Paramount own 'em.

Yet another 'what happens when they get home?' challenge response.


God, this was maddening! They'd been in here for two hours waiting to be seen, without so much as an offer of coffee.

No one kept her waiting.

No one would dare to forget to offer her coffee.

How could he stay so calm?!

Attempting to lower her stress levels, she exhaled and closed her eyes. She knew, of course. Knew exactly how he kept so calm. If there was a word that described Chakotay perfectly, it was 'patient'. Unbelievably patient. Ridiculously patient. Sickeningly-

This was getting her nowhere.

She needed to focus her energy, needed to do something instead of pacing back and forth in a way that under any other circumstances would have made him smile. He would have sat there, relaxed, displaying that dimple simply because he knew she liked it.

He was sitting. He was relaxed. He wasn't smiling.

Sighing, she sat down next to him, angrily crossing her arms over her chest. She really should try and take a leaf out of his book. Closing her eyes, she let the tension out of her body and breathed deeply in and out...even his very presence next to her helped her to relax, somewhat.

Kathryn's eyes opened and she studied him quietly. What would she do without that presence? She'd survive, of course, had survived without out it for many days aboard Voyager. Still, it was...nice.

He noticed her scrutiny, and a vague smile appeared as he swivelled his head to look at her. "What is it?"

She was frowning, curious. "Will you think of me fondly?"

Chakotay sat up, looking somewhere between being uncomfortable and surprised. "Sorry?"

"Will you think of me fondly?" Kathryn repeated quietly.

Now he was frowning. "You've never been one to care what anyone thinks of you. Why do you want to know now?"

She shrugged, trying to act as if it didn't matter. "It's the end of an era, Chakotay. I probably won't see most of what were once my crew very often - if ever again. I suppose I'd just like to know..." Pausing, she smiled. "I don't expect an unconditional...fondness, Chakotay. I know better than that. I know we've clashed too many times, but...it would make me feel better. Especially since those idiots won't even give me a cup of coffee to drown myself in." Pleased at her own humour, her back became straighter.

He still regarded her seriously. "If it's a conditional fondness you're looking for, Kathryn, you'll have that from the entire crew. You were their *Captain*. A certain fondness usually comes with the territory."

Reassured - a little - she smiled deeply and allowed a single nod of thanks. That was something, wasn't it? 100 plus people regarding her with some kind of fondness? That was good to know. It wasn't something she needed, but it was good to know.

She wasn't allowing herself to dwell on why she felt disappointed.

Once more she closed her eyes, and she rested her back against the wall and slowly, slowly, she began to relax.

After...seconds?..minutes..?...she heard the sound of movement. Opening her eyes, she blinked several times when she saw Chakotay smiling at her. She began to ask him what he wanted, but he spoke first.

"Whatever the outcome of this situation; whether I'm in prison, free, wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, whoever I'm with...every single time I see a cup of coffee - every single time - I will always, always think of you. And I will smile."

Her words were inadequate to convey anything approaching an acknowledgement or a thank you, but he probably wouldn't have taken one anyway. All she could do, finally, was to touch his hand and tell him, "You are not going to end up in prison. Do you understand me?"

"Only when the moon is in alignment with the fifth planet of the sixth system-"

"Don't," She warned him, sorry to see his smile fade a little but needing it too. "I am serious. You. Will. Not. End. Up. In. Pri-"

"I understand," Chakotay murmured, a tiny smirk on his face. "And thank you."

Nodding decisively, she turned away but did not remove her hand from his.

Three hours later, when someone finally opened the door and allowed them to emerge, they were still holding hands.


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