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Chakotay paused his work as the door to his quarters beeped. Placing the tool down and looking up from the table he was sitting next to on the floor, he called for his visitor to enter.
The Captain appeared as the doors slid open.
Moving immediately he began to get up, only stopping when she stepped in and raised a hand. "No need to get up Commander. This isn't an official visit."
Settling back down and resting his weight against the front of the sofa, he pondered over the various reasons she could be here. Gods, he hoped she wasn't here to talk about Seska...he needed to deal with that himself, couldn't burden anyone else with what he was feeling about...that woman.
Diverting his thoughts from that individual, he attempted a smile. "Well then Captain, how can I help you?"
She actually started pacing. For all of two seconds. Before she turned towards him and placed her hands on her hips. "Commander, do you have a few replicator rations you could spare?"
That was it? That was as melodramatic as it got?
Thanking the Universe for small favours, he pulled himself up. "Of course Captain. May I ask what for?"
Her elbows quivered a bit, but she maintained the stance. She seemed to force the word out. "Coffee."
The Captain nodded. "Coffee." Then sighing, she removed her hands from their resting place to wave them about aimlessly. "You have to understand Commander; I don't like to show weakness. You must understand. You were a Captain yourself."
Of course he was. Of course he did. But that didn't mean he wasn't going to take a little perverse pleasure out of the situation. "All too well, Captain. So your one weakness is coffee? I shall have to remember that." Smirking at her glare he walked to the replicator and - after turning back to study her expression for a few seconds - replicated the strongest, nastiest cup of coffee that the computer had in its database. Picking up the cup with a brief nose wrinkle of disgust, he betrayed no other emotions as he began to hand it to her...
...and she snatched it from him rather greedily. Surprised, he rose his eyebrows as she brought the cup up to under her nostrils and inhaled deeply, an expression of absolute ecstasy passing over her face.
The kind of thoughts he was having were amazingly inappropriate for their amazingly unique situation.
Trying his damnedest not to clear his throat, he quickly sat back down next to the table and stared at anything but her.
The moment apparently passing, the Captain returned to some state of coherency. "Thank you Mr Chakotay. You'll be reimbursed in full, of course. I always seem to run out just before I'm due my next allocation of rations."
That he could understand. She was used to the Federation and its large resources; out here they had to live more of a Maquis lifestyle. Harder work, but probably more worth it. Forcing himself to look up at her, he nodded although he didn't really believe her. "That's okay Captain. Whenever you get around to it."
Smiling and nodding, she walked towards the exit...and paused as something caught her eye. Changing direction she walked back towards the table, frowning in interest. "May I ask what you're doing?"
Shrugging, he held the stone he had been carving in his hand, feeling its smooth surface. "Just a hobby of mine."
"Is that...is that the stone from your medicine bundle?"
He smiled at her nervousness. "No. I'm carving a different design into this one."
"May I..?" She asked carefully, extending the hand that wasn't holding her coffee.
Handing it to her he murmured "Of course," and watched as she studied it intently, tracing the design with her thumb.
"What does it mean?"
Damn. Trust him to get caught. Too late to lie now though. "It's a emblem of union. I was...considering giving it to you, as a sign of respect, trust, understanding. I'm not sure now, to be honest with you. It seems a little presumptuous of me."
"It's perfect," She whispered. "I'd like to have it."
Taking it back from her, he looked down at it, strangely moved by the moment. "Perhaps some day. When it's finished."
"Of course," The Captain answered, chugging down a gulp of her coffee in what he thought was a rather obvious way to dispel the moment. "Well I'd better be going. Again, thank you."
"You're welcome Captain."
Smiling, she turned away and stepped out of the room.
Chakotay remained where he was, his thumb idly rubbing over the carving on the stone.
Chakotay wasn't surprised when she stepped into his quarters. It was an infrequent occurrence that he found himself getting used to, and even looking forward to. Every three months or so she would appear, pleading for a cup of coffee to ease her suffering.
He had a feeling that she was getting so melodramatic over it entirely for his benefit. It did make him smile.
"Captain," He grinned, standing from the sofa and immediately walking over the replicator. "Coffee: hot and black."
The requested drink appeared and - smiling - he picked it up and handed it to her.
Taking it from him willingly, the Captain pursed her lips. "I must be getting entirely too predictable."
"Yes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's good to have a few familiar rituals so far from where we came. Builds connections, brings people together. I think it's something this crew lacks sometimes."
She looked troubled, grasping the cup with both hands. "Do you think that's my fault?"
Suddenly realising her mistaken interpretation, he spoke. "No, not at all. You have a wide, divergent and - although frequently squabbling - wonderful crew, Captain Janeway. There are always going to be disagreements simply because we're so different."
Shaking her head, she tightened her hold on the cup. "I know this sounds naive of me, but it shouldn't have to be that way."
"No," He agreed simply "It shouldn't. But it is. The best we can hope to do is maintain little rituals, try to understand when we used to judge so quickly, and respect all those we come into contact with."
She was silent, for a moment. "Even Tom?"
He chuckled. "Especially Tom. I think he needs understanding more than most. I may not show it at times..."
"You certainly don't," She snorted.
"...but I understand him."
Her expression changed suddenly from amusement to the sudden realisation of something awful. "I should go Commander."
Frowning, he spoke as she turned to leave. "Captain? Is everything all right?"
The Captain remained still for a few seconds before finally saying "Everything will be," and walking out of his quarters.
Confused, Chakotay fell back onto the sofa.
She was a strange one.
"Come in!" He yelled, hastily tying his robe together so that whoever the caller was wouldn't get a view they weren't expecting. Although it would probably settle some of the bets that he knew were circulating around the ship at the moment.
Emerging from the bathroom he paused when he saw who it was. Of course.
Unaware of his presence she crept towards the replicator and spoke in a quiet voice, ordering her drink.
Smirking, Chakotay crossed his arms and leant again the edge of the doorway.
"Computer," she whispered "Transfer this drink to the replicator in my quarters." Acknowledging the command, the drink vanished upon which she quickly ordered another. This one she picked up and held comfortably in her hands.
Retreating silently, Chakotay then made a big fuss about walking into the room, attracting as much attention as possible. "Sorry to keep you waiting," He declared "I was just taking a sonic shower."
Blinking at the way he was dressed, Kathryn quickly produced a carefree smile. "That's quite all right Chakotay. I hope you don't mind, but I made use of your replicator." She held up her hands slightly, indicating the drink.
"Don't be silly Kathryn," he grinned "You're welcome to anytime. We both know how you can't get through the day without at least two cups of coffee."
Frowning, she attempted to smile at the same time. "Yes. Quite." Rapidly changing the subject she cleared her throat. "Is your schedule still free to go on the shuttle survey with me tomorrow?"
"Of course, wouldn't miss it for anything. Speaking of which..." He looked at her pointedly. "Shouldn't you be in costume?"
"Oh don't you start..."
"When do any of us ever stop, Kathryn?"
"I swear," She groaned "Even Tuvok is teasing me about it."
"It's your own fault Kathryn. If you hadn't agreed to do it then they wouldn't be teasing you."
She regarded him with one eyebrow raised. "That's your philosophy?"
"That's the one I'm sticking with."
Chuckling, she took a sip of her coffee and sighed happily. "I suppose I should get ready."
"Nervous?" Chakotay asked seriously.
Kathryn stared down at the blackness of her coffee. "A little. It's been several decades since I've worn a ballerina outfit."
"You'll do fine," He told her, taking a step closer. "When has Kathryn Janeway ever failed? Besides, there are going to be several crew members there enjoying the view."
"Well it's true!"
"But you didn't have to say it! God I'll be paranoid all night now..."
Reaching out, he covered her hands around the cup with his own. "You will do absolute fine," He stated clearly. "You will be wonderful, and the crew will be awed by your performance."
"You say that with such conviction."
"Conviction is the easy part, Kathryn. The hard part is when you lose it."
Closing her eyes for a second, she then smiled and pulled away. "Thank you Chakotay. I'll see you in a few hours."
"I'll be there," He assured her "Enjoying the view. And Kathryn..."
"If you need more than one cup of coffee all you need to do is ask."
"And does the ballerina outfit come with a tutu? If so, I happen to know that it will look absolutely *charming* on Neelix."
"Do you miss her?"
It wasn't an odd question at all, considering recent events. It was rather sudden. Kathryn had come into his quarters looking for the obligatory cup of coffee but before leaving, had asked him the question.
Of course he did. "Of course. She had a calming, almost meditative effect on everyone. She was so sure of herself."
Kathryn studied his expression, sitting next to him on the sofa. "You're a lot like her."
She nodded absently, as if recalling something specific. "Sometimes when I'm at my most stressed you just have to say hello. And you're so calm and so sure that instantly everything seems easier. It's a magnificent gift, Chakotay."
Gods, how did she still manage to surprise him like that? She usually kept herself so closed, so distant. To say that things had been strained since the Borg was a huge understatement. There had been days where they couldn't even look at each other.
But if that was one gift that he had given her, it paled next to the numerous gifts she had given him over the past two and a half years. "Thank you Kathryn."
With a nod of her head, she stared at a wall. "You're welcome Chakotay."
He knew why they still did, why he still let her have the rations when he had yet to receive any back. Why he still replicated her a coffee when they barely looked at each other and rarely spoke each others name without making it sound like a profanity.
That's all it was, now.
That's all he could let it be. Too much had happened, too much had changed for him to hope otherwise.
But the traditions were important.
And after all this time - *all* this time - he still couldn't watch her without feeling something.
"Did he hurt you?" Chakotay asked, overstepping the boundaries that had been set several months ago.
"No," She answered instantly, instinctively.
"Liar," He retorted, enjoying the way she tried to cover up the lie with no doubt another one she was concocting in her mind right now. She was a deceptive thing when she wanted to be.
"I have to go," was all she eventually said.
"Of course you do." Of course she did.
Lying on his front on the bed with his arms folded under his chin, Chakotay stared out of the viewport. The normal comforting blackness of space was gone, replaced by the vivid blue distortions of the worm hole.
This was it. This was going to be it.
He really should have been on the bridge with the rest of the senior staff, but his presence wasn't required. He'd go there later when the 'big moment' was only a few minutes away, but that wasn't for two hours yet. He needed time to be by himself, needed time to just be.
She entered his quarters without beeping, and Chakotay listened as her soft footsteps approached. Trust her to turn up now.
Feeling the bed move he realised that she was sitting down next to him. He continued looking through the viewport, gaze only moving when a PADD was placed next to him.
"What's this?" He asked, studying the object with a frown.
"Four hundred and ninety eight replicator rations."
Chakotay tried to imagine where she had come up with that many and could only think of one word: Tom.
He heard her sigh. "I didn't want there to be anything left unfinished between us when we got home."
Did she choose that wording deliberately, or was it merely coincidence?
"Do you really believe that replicator rations are important?"
"No. Not really. It just seemed appropriate. God I don't know what to do, Chakotay. We're almost home. Shouldn't I feel more excited?"
Too many let downs. Too many false hopes. Too many missed opportunities.
"Open the drawer," He said, indicating the small table next to the bed.
Frowning, she bent over and opened the drawer to pull out the object inside.
"I want you to have that," Chakotay told her. "It's been sitting there for five years now. I think it's about time it had a new owner."
Shifting further onto the bed, she lay down with her back towards him. Clasping the stone in her hands, she listened as he continued.
"When we get back to Earth...you'll go your way and I'll go mine." He smirked, still looking out of the viewport. "I think I'll go back to Dorvan for a while."
"Thank you. For the stone. It'll help me to remember. But what about..?"
"Me?" He chuckled mirthlessly. "I'll always have the PADD."
They made the rest of the journey home mostly in silence, the first noise coming from the moment when he turned towards her, she turned towards him and they simply studied each other.
"Might have been nice."
"Might have been."
She smiled and he frowned.
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