Flying Without a Safety Net

FLYING WITHOUT A SAFETY NET (NC-17)

Summary: Chakotay consoles Janeway after she receives a “Dear John” letter
from Mark. (“Hunters” epilogue)

— “Delta Story” , February 1998

Janeway and Chakotay walked into the mess hall, her arm still
linked through his, her fingers lightly clasping the top of his
hand. The tone of the room was one of mixed emotions, although it
was obvious that euphoria had the upper hand. Voices and glasses
were raised, with words and liquids competing for the attention
of the mouths of Voyager’s crew. The two senior officers stopped
as they entered, surveying their gathered family.

Neelix, true to his word, was spreading joy in the form of food
and libation as quickly as he could. Several crew had joined in
helping him, impatient in getting the party to a full tilt as
quickly as possible. In the background, barely audible strains
of music struggled to be heard. A few of the younger people were
dancing in the far left part of the room, where they had pushed
back interfering tables and chairs; the movements of their
carefree bodies mimicked the inhibition of their spirits, knowing
that they were not forgotten.

The biggest smiles and most shining eyes belonged to those who
had received heartwarming letters from family and friends who
vowed not to rest until Voyager’s return. Others were smiling,
but without the spark of their more fortunate shipmates. They
had to be content to imagine that somewhere, along the disrupted
array, were the remains of messages for them, too. The hope of
that possibility, of the dreams of what such letters held, gave
them the ability to join in the celebration.

Neelix suddenly was in front of the captain and first officer,
winking at them as he handed them each glasses of what he stated
was *the real thing*… a pale beige liquid full of bubbles and
effervescence. “I’ve been saving this for you,” he stated in a
tone as sparkling as the liquid.

“Thank you, Neelix,” said Janeway as she accepted his offering.
Smiling at her, Chakotay silently took his glass, his expression
full of secret anticipation.

Neelix proffered a spoon to her. “Captain, I think a few words
are in order, don’t you?” he prompted her. She grinned at him,
with her look thanking him for his ever-diplomatic thoughts. She
followed through on his not-so-subtle hint, and as she firmly hit
her glass with the metal utensil he had given her, producing its
expected attention-getting effect. The raucous room suddenly
fell quiet, as all eyes turned to their captain.

“My fellow Voyagers,” she began, her voice strong and positive,
“today we have tangible proof that we are not forgotten in our
journey the Delta Quadrant. Many of you have received messages
from friends and…” she paused… a slight crack the only
evidence that the next words were going to be difficult,”…and
loved ones. Be assured that they have shared with others the
truth that we are very much alive and well. Although the link
has been lost…” she paused, searching for just the right words,
“… we *will* make every effort to reestablish contact, so that
we may find all of the other messages that remain. In the
meantime, there is a lengthy communiqué‚ from Starfleet which we
will be decoding, and hopefully with those words, we will find
ourselves closer to… home.”

She again hesitated momentarily, her eyes briefly looking
downward, as if to summon an inward strength, and then quickly
gazed into the deep dark pools of Chakotay’s comforting eyes.
“For some of us, the news has not been what we expected, but we
rejoice with the hope that our lives may someday soon rejoin
those of our families and friends, and that we may resume our
lives with them in the Alpha Quadrant. Here’s to that day… and
to the valiant people of this indomitable ship… here’s to
Voyager and her crew!”

She raised her glass high, and the rest of the room did likewise.
Shouts of “Here, here” rang out; cries of thanks to Janeway and
others for seeing them thorough thus far… mumbled prayers in
remembrance of those who were now gone from them… the soft
“ssss” sound of Kes’ name (and her *gift* to them) being
remembered. The musical sound of glasses hitting one another in
a cacophony of toasts. One hundred and forty some odd beings…
survivors in a strange universe, struggling to remain united and
confident in the face of insurmountable odds… quixotic…
determined.

Once more Janeway and Chakotay looked at each other. The
experience of four years of having worked side by side allowed
them the luxury of being able to speak to each other silently,
their eyes alone relaying their communication. They each started
walking to different sections of the room, concerned senior
officers interested in talking with their crew in more private
conversations, offering their support in whatever way they could.
Each knew the importance of this valuable time, to further
strengthen the ties that bound this wayfaring group… this band
of survivors… this team of incomparable valor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Two hours had passed; the crew were now beginning to come off of
their adrenaline highs, and the reality of duty once more called
them. Some wandered off to posts that had been deserted; others
to quarters where sleep was needed before they relieved their
colleagues. Neelix and his staff were gathering up the remains
of the celebration and taking them to the recyclers.

The captain and her first officer once more stood together in the
center of the room, cheerfully bidding good-byes to the departing
stragglers. Soon, it was only them, Neelix and a couple of
diligent crewman scurrying about who remained in the deafeningly
quiet room.

The captain made her way over to the ever-ebullient Talaxian.
“Neelix, as always, you have managed perfect timing with your
social gathering. Thank you for being so cognizant of the needs
of the crew. I’m afraid I was rather negligent in acknowledging
their need for such a celebration.”

The small man took her hands between his thick, hairy ones.
“Captain, I think that you, above all, needed to have this
release. Although I don’t know what your letter contained, it
has been evident that… the news was not pleasant. Perhaps
there are other messages to you that will rectify the situation.”

Her eyes became glazed with a thin film of tears, her forced
crooked grin failing to hide her inward sorrow. “Thank you,
Neelix. I appreciate your concern. My news was… not
unexpected… but a shock, nonetheless.” She took a deep breath,
and straightened her shoulders. “However,” and her smile assumed
a hint of hope, “perhaps the contents of that letter will allow
me… a new freedom.” Her face turned from that of her Delta
Quadrant friend to that of Chakotay. His somber appearance
brightened, as his dimples deepened; her eyes were firmly locked
onto his. “Perhaps we must allow certain windows to be closed in
order for us to appreciate what we have around us.”

The wise Talaxian comprehended what he saw before him, and
discreetly started to take his leave. “I’m sure you are correct,
Captain. Sometimes we don’t recognize the treasures that have
been around us all along.” He winked at the couple as he
scurried off, humming an odd melody under his breath.

The clean-up crew had now dimmed the lights in the now-empty
room. Kathryn Janeway let out a sigh.

“We really should be getting back to our posts; after all, it
*is* only 1400 hours.”

Chakotay looked down on the petite woman. “You’re the captain,”
he said, his eyes glimmering with a mischief that she knew was
ultimately going to be her downfall. “But… don’t you think you
deserve an afternoon off?” He decided to continue on his roll.
“Don’t you think I do, too?”

“Do you have something in mind, Commander?” she hesitatingly
asked.

He knew how vulnerable she was right now, and that he shouldn’t
push too hard.

“Oh… I don’t know. We could call up your Lake George program
and go out in a boat for awhile…”

Her eyes lit up. “Now *that’s* a wonderful idea, Chakotay.
Yes.. let’s play *hookie* for the afternoon. I’m sure that Tuvok
and Tom can handle anything right now…”

She leaned into him in a conspiratory fashion, and quickly sought
a change of subject. “Can you believe that Tuvok is a
grandfather? Why, I think I saw him almost smile when he told me
his news!”

Chakotay laughed. “He’s about ready to burst through his uniform;
tradition is very important to him as a Vulcan.”

He quickly felt her mood turn somber. “Kathryn, if you feel
uncomfortable about this, you’re allowed to renege.”

“No, I mean it. This is the best thing for me to do. And you
are the one for me to be with right now. There is no one else on
board who can begin to understand how I feel…”

He glanced around them, and seeing no one, he gently took her by
the shoulders and pulled her close. Even though her body was
tense next to his, he whispered into her soft hair, “Thank you,
Kathryn.”

The warmth and comfort of his body soothed her, and in spite of
herself, she felt her nerve-tensed muscles begin to relax. He
just felt… so good! As she was about to succumb to the
overwhelming comfort of his embrace, she summoned up the
realization that she had to turn over the bridge. She reticently
pulled away, and hit her comm badge.

“Captain to Tuvok. Commander, you have the bridge. Commander
Chakotay and I…” she paused and looked at him. “… have some
business to which we must attend. Contact me only in an
emergency.”

Chakotay silently laughed at his conspiring superior. *Would
Tuvok ‘buy’ that story?*

“Let’s go,” he said, as he gently pushed her towards the door of
the mess hall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The program that had last been called up over a year ago was as
inviting as it had been before. Set at the height of a spring
afternoon in upstate New York on Earth, the air was light and
bright and full of the anticipation of the season. The deep blue
waters were crystal clear, narrow and deep. A weathered rowboat,
with two oars, was pulled up on the shallow beach.

“Just as we left it,” she announced. The couple had stopped by
their quarters and changed from their constricting uniforms into
clothing more apropos to an afternoon on the lake. “I’ll race
you to the water,” she yelled, as she took off with girlish glee.

His more solid body took off after hers, his speed quickly
overtaking her. His weight threw him off-balance as he reached
out towards her. Just as he grabbed for her swiveling body, he
fell, taking both of them down into the shifting sand beneath
their feet. They rolled, laughing and giggling in their stolen
freedom from duty.

For several moments, their laughter continued, signaling a
release from the tension of so many weeks and months. As their
motion reached a state of equilibrium, they found themselves on
their sides, locked tightly in each others arms. Suddenly
realizing the state in which they found themselves, they
embarrassingly broke their contact and hurriedly sat up.

“Well, that was a surprise,” Kathryn said, brushing the sand off
of her arms and legs. “But… I do feel a lot better,” she
smiled.

He hurriedly got up and offered her his hand, pulling her to a
standing position.

“I think you slowed down on purpose,” he smiled at her.

“But I still fell,” she laughed.

“Yes, you did. But, this time…” he paused. “…this time you
fell… without a safety net.” His eyes conveyed a deeper meaning
than his words expressed.

“Perhaps…” she said, taking a deep breath and breaking their
mesmerizing eye contact. She quickly turned and walked over to
the boat, grabbing ahold of its rough-hewn sides, its grayish-
green paint peeling. “Now… I wonder who’s going to handle the
oars…”

He laughed. “I rowed last time; it’s your turn!”

Kathryn pushed up the sleeves of her tunic. “All right. But,
just remember, if we capsize, *this* time the captain does not go
down with the ship; it’s women and children first!” She was
laughing as she climbed over the hull and positioned herself in
the helm. Chakotay pushed the boat into the azure waters before
hopping into the seat in the stern of the boat.

Kathryn faced him, her arms flexing with the maneuvering to get
the boat away from the shore. Chakotay was leaning forward,
grinning at her efforts.

“It takes a little more energy than ordering *full impulse* on a
starship, doesn’t it?” he grinned.

She leered back at him. “Maybe… but… I have a lot more
control here!”

They were silent as she took them out from the shore. The clear
air was brisk with the sweet scents of spring. The echoes of
birds sang in an antiphon from either shore. With the
combination of the invigorating surroundings and the physical
exertion, Kathryn became more relaxed than she had been in weeks.

“There’s a little island about a mile downstream that I saw last
time. Let’s go see what it has to offer,” Chakotay suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” was Janeway’s response, her arms now in a
rhythm that was moving them along at a smooth, steady pace.
Chakotay leaned back onto the stern of the boat, welcoming the
warmth of the holographic sunshine. Kathryn silently took them
towards their destination.

About twenty minutes later, the long island came into view.

“Land ho, Captain,” said Chakotay, sitting up and shifting the
rudder. Kathryn turned around, and saw the longitudinal form off
to the port bow.

“All right,” she said with excitement in her voice. “Let’s see
what this place has to offer.”

She steered the small vessel onto the sand bar extending from the
island. Chakotay hopped out, and pulled the bow up onto the
land. She pulled the oars inside the boat, locking them into
position, and then took his outstretched hand.

“Shall we do some exploring?” he smiled at her.

“My pleasure,” she answered back, keeping her hand in the
comforting confines of his.

They walked along the beach of the narrow island. A few trees
arose form the center of the land; but most of the small island
away from the beach was covered with a down of tender young grass
and Virginia bluebells, enjoying their brief season in the sun.

Kathryn reached down and picked up a small shell. “Why, this is a
shell of an apple snail. I haven’t seen one since before the
Academy. Look…” she picked up the convoluted shell, and
showed him the intricate markings on the brownish-pink shell.

He looked at her, mesmerized by her interest. Even now, in
“down” time, she was intrigued with the fascinating world around
her. Her features softened as she became entranced in her
discovery. She slowly turned the carbonate case over in her
hands, enjoying it for its beauty as well as it scientific
representation.

“Kathryn,” he said softly.

She looked up at him, her eyes torn between the innocent thrill
of the shell and the tempestuous yearning that she had been
harboring for so long.

“Yes?” she asked, her heart now beating in a rhythm that she had
only known before in her subconscious.

He took her face between his hands and lowered his to hers. His
eyes closed, as their message quickly moved to his lips. She did
not move, petrified at what she knew was coming. She was
falling… and there was no net. But, she was not afraid. She
knew that he would break her fall, and that she would survive.

Their lips met, welcoming each other as long-lost friends,
comforting and warm in their recognition of each other. His
hands swiftly moved lower, embracing her shoulders. She
responded by pulling him closer to her, willing his body to
encompass hers. His warmth encircled her… filled her.

Their entwined bodies lowered themselves in tandem to the grass-
covered surface at their feet. Hands which had before shied away
from each other now reached out in a freedom that they had never
known. He once more traced the contours of her face, marveling
now at the softness of her skin… reading volumes in the fine
lines that carved their stories in her countenance… drowning in
the waters of her liquid eyes.

She raised her hands to the jet black threads of his hair,
pulling it aside and noting the gray that had appeared over the
last four years. How much of that gray was due to Voyager… how
much of it was because of her? She closed her eyes, thinking
with horror at the times that they had been at odds about
decisions… how his support was *always* there, no matter how
strongly the words reverberated… even when he had *disobeyed*
her.

His mouth once more eagerly sought hers, finding her as hungry as
he was. A brief thought flickered through his mind, as he was
rapidly becoming lost in the need of several years… was this
too soon? Was this just a rebound reaction to her news? Would
she regret her actions? But her ravenous demands quickly erased
his anxious questions. Instead, he found himself now starting a
journey of her body with his impatient hands, wanting to travel
roads that had so long been closed to him. Down her arms they
went, stopping only long enough to tease the soft under flesh of
her upper arms. Her head very slightly moved back with the
sensation his fingers created.

Her lips opened to the gentle urging of his tongue, allowing them
to taste the salty sweetness of each other’s mouths, exploring
the moist warmth of their inner selves. Each of them offered
groaning sighs of appreciation for the new-found sensations.
Finally, gasping for breath to control the escalating emotions,
they broke apart.

Chakotay finally summoned the energy to speak. “Kathryn… this
is… too fast. You may be rushing… we may doing something
that…”

She would not let him finish. “Chakotay, I know now that I was
hiding under a facade. For so long, I used… Mark… as a
shield against what I knew was true. Now, I have nothing left to
protect me from what has been inside me for so long. I know now
that our places are meant to be together, both in command and in
our hearts. Earlier, we both agreed that there is plenty of
time. But there has also been too much time lost… so much time
to make up for; to live for. My only regret is… in waiting so
long to admit this to you.”

His answer to her was the brightness of his smile, which quickly
buried itself once more on her lips, and began a frenzied trip
around her face… her neck… her shoulders… wanting to taste
ever more of her. Her desires matched his, and together they
reached out and pulled the encasing cloth of their tunics over
their heads. The “sunshine” warmed their now-bare upper bodies,
glistening with a patina of kindled emotions. Hands and lips
flip-flopped in trading places as they continued to cradle and
consume flesh and souls. Before either of them realized it,
there was nothing between them but the fine down of their exposed
bodies… their defenseless passions.

A warning light blinked on in the back of Kathryn’s mind, not
about what was happening to them, but as a reminder to struggle
to call out, “Privacy lock,” to the unseeing womb of the
holodeck. A barely audible “click” assured them that their
tumultuous actions would remain theirs alone. Not a move, not a
nuance was missed in the progression of their slow dance of
fulfillment.

His hands had found the ready access of her desire; there was
little need for him to further prepare her. Her long years of
denial welcomed him with warmth and wetness. He sighed at the
joy of her acceptance and readiness as he entered her… as she
wound her legs around him and invited him to transport both of
them to the far edges of their existence… beyond the confines
of Voyager… of the Delta Quadrant… the galaxy… the
universe. They both reached the outer limits of their beings
within seconds of each other, crying out and transporting
themselves into another reality… another cosmos. Time and
space and being ceased to exist; only love and peace remained.

She was the first to regain sensibility. She reached out to his
perspiration-drenched face which was laying on her chest. She
brushed back the thick dark hair clinging to his face, and,
leaning down, kissed the top of his head and sighed with a
satisfaction that she had long denied herself.

“Why did I refuse to recognize this for so long? Every day, I
have seen it in your face; with every argument, I have felt it in
your concern.”

Chakotay stirred out of his grogginess, and languidly traced her
lips with his right forefinger. “Because you feared a loss of
yourself, my dear Kathryn. Only when you finally admitted that
that loss would not be the end of your individuality would you
understand. You will always be you, and I will always be me, but
together we will be us. Just as the sun and rain work to bring
forth productive life, so are we meant to be together to bring a
new spirit to Voyager. This I firmly believe is our destiny.”

She smiled at his profoundly philosophical interpretation of
their long-delayed union.

“Or, it could be,” she said as she pulled him close to her once
more, “it’s just because… we’re *good* together!”

His rich smile broke into a tender laugh, as they both felt their
bodies again warming to each other.

“That’s what I’ve always loved about you, Kathryn… your ability
to cut right to the heart of the matter.”

Their bodies were rapidly ascending the emotional scale again.
Messages from Earth were good, but the truth for them was here
… for here, in a hologram of their imaginations and thousands
of light years away from Earth, their souls had found the reality
of their love.

******** Sometimes we have to lose love to gain it. *********

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