New River

NewRiver parts one through five

NewRiver: Discovery
by VoyWriter

Disclaimers: Paramount owns the rights to StarTrek except what is spinning
about in my head. Please feel free to distribute this electronically with all
comments and disclaimers in place and without revision. Not to be collected or
anthologized or prepared in hard copy without author’s written permission.

e-mail to VoyWriter@aol.com – authors love to hear from you

Kathryn Janeway savored her first sip of morning tea, padding barefoot across her
quarters still in gown and robe, to curl up at the end of the couch for a few
moments of solitude before the rush of the day.

She took a deep breath and rolled another swallow of the tea across her tongue. It
was the sweetthorn mixture Chakotay had introduced her to, made with herbs
from Kes’s garden. She had come to associate the flavor with serenity and needed
the calming influence that morning.

The day before had been a blur of reports and staff meetings and a seemingly
endless list of minor problems to be resolved. Chakotay had been helping
B’Elanna and Harry to correct a problem with the displays in stellar cartography
so she’d had to manage the grievances on her own. She hadn’t realized or
remembered how many petty details Chakotay had to deal with every day. It was
amazing he could maintain anything resembling calm or sanity. Janeway had
wanted to lock her door after the fourth complaint starting “my roommate.”

No wonder Chakotay had been so willing to assist engineering, she thought, an
amused smile tipping her lips. Fortunately the display was repaired now and back
in service. She thought she might have to go up there to fix it herself and send
Chakotay back down to man her ready room.

It still struck her as incredible that she and Chakotay had meshed so well. They
made a fine command team, each drawing on and complementing the strengths of
the other.

She knew her optimistic nature was a balm to his battle weary soul. And for her,
his ability to center himself kept her grounded even in the most difficult of times.
It gave her a sense that together they could weather Voyager through any storm –
except, she thought dryly, bringing herself back to the day at hand – another shift
listening to complaints from irate roommates.

She pushed herself resolutely off the couch and carried her tea to her desk. calling
up her schedule for the day.

It was daunting as usual. It seemed everyone wanted a piece of her time.

Sciences was asking for her opinion on phase shift time travel as a means to
speed their journey home. That sounded more esoteric than practical.

Neelix wanted to go over the menus for the coming week and to review the
supplies situation – she’d let Chakotay handle that one.

B’Elanna advised she had some new theories on engine efficiency to discuss, but
what she really wanted was permission to take the engines off line for half a day –
Janeway messaged her approval and took that item off of her schedule.

She’d also planned an hour with Ensign Kobal to review the progress of his
dissertation. She was advising him through his PhD thesis on the affects of cross
culture pollination of unrelated species. The young man was earnest and diligent,
but his work was unremarkable at best.

She sighed and turned away from the terminal without acknowledging any of the
commitments and only B’Elanna’s request handled. It was not a promising day.

She rose to refill her tea. One more cup while she dressed.

She was just pinning up her hair and draining the last of the mug when Chakotay’s
pleasing baritone chimed in on the comm.

“Chakotay to Janeway.”

“Janeway here, Commander,” she acknowledged, pushing a final pin into her bun
and examining her work in the mirror.

“Captain, do you think you could clear your schedule for the day? There’s
something I’d like you to see.”

Bless you, Chakotay, she thought, and she said, “I think I can do that,
Commander,” hoping he did not catch the note of relieved pleasure in her voice.

“I’ll meet you at holodeck 2 in fifteen minutes then.”

Ah…a new holodeck program, she thought. Now this could be interesting.

“Oh, and Captain,” Chakotay came back, “dress casual.”

“Fifteen minutes and casual dress. I’ll be there Commander.” Now her interest
was truly piqued.

She reached up and began to tug the pins from her hair.

Chakotay was waiting outside the holodeck. He nodded approvingly at the light
dress and sandals she had chosen. And although he didn’t comment, he was
pleased to see her hair down. It fit with his surprise.

He was wearing shirt, vest and dark pants, a belt snugging the shirt to his waist,
the sleeves rolled up and the neck open. Janeway recognized the clothes from
New Earth.

Chakotay smiled and greeted her. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” she returned the greeting and the grin. “So what’s this all about,
Commander?” she asked, nosing at the holodeck program he had entered. It said
only Chakotay 6:New River.

“Ready?” he asked, deliberately ignoring her question.

“Let’s go,” she nodded, her eyes bright with curiosity.

Her enthusiasm was infectious and Chakotay chuckled.

The holodeck doors parted at his command and they stepped inside.

“I think you may need this,” Chakotay told her, handing her a wide brimmed
straw hat as the doors slid shut behind them, cutting off the reality of the ship in
exchange for the scene before them.

Janeway was mesmerized. A canopy of forest awaited, the greens punctuated with
dappled sunlight and a soft breeze cooling the midday air.

She accepted the hat. “This is lovely,” she breathed.

Chakotay touched her elbow and guided her down the small rise into a clearing
and from there toward what she had already identified as softly singing water – a
river.

A shallow flat bottom boat awaited them, pulled partially onto the shore. She
could see a pack and provisions peeking promisingly from the top.

“You said you wanted to explore the river,” Chakotay reminded her gently.

She touched his arm. “You did all this?” She was stunned, delighted, moved.

“With a little help,” he grinned. “With a lot of help actually,” he corrected.
“Tuvok downloaded all his scans from New Earth and Harry helped with the
display projections based on Tuvok’s data. B’Elanna reworked the holodeck
powergrid so it could process and adapt to our responses.”

Janeway nodded. She knew that usually only people on a holodeck were
responsive, not the environment.

“Tom set up the river navigation patterns,” Chakotay continued, “and I built the
boat.”

“So there was nothing really wrong with the displays in stellar cartography,”
Janeway realized.

Chakotay shrugged. “We needed an excuse to finish this up without you
becoming suspicious. Oh,” his eyes twinkled with merriment, “and I arranged for
a few of the crew to keep you busy yesterday.”

She pushed a finger into his chest. “That you will pay for,” she said sternly, but
her grin and the glow in her eyes let him know she was teasing – at least a little.

“Ready?” he asked.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” And it was. To see her so delighted was a joy.

“Now it’s muddy here,” he told her. “I’m afraid you have a choice of getting your
feet wet, or…”

She made a face and he laughed and took it as permission to scoop her up and
carry her to the boat, setting her directly on the front seat.

“It’s fairly stable, but I’d stay put,” he warned.

“Aye, Captain,” she rejoined, tapping her hat onto her head.

Chakotay pushed the boat into the river and jumped in, using the oars to move it
out into the water.

The river was wide at first with grassy banks and then tree-lined stretches where
it narrowed and gained speed.

“There’s a tricorder in that pack,” Chakotay gestured, “if you’re a mind to work a
bit.”

She retrieved the device and noticed a wrapped packet beneath.

“Lunch?” she queried. She never had eaten breakfast.

Chakotay nodded. “I used a few replicator rations,” he told her. “But Neelix
insisted on supplying the lemonade so that I can’t vouch for.”

“Did everyone help with this?” she marveled.

“The doctor even sent insect repellent,” Chakotay teased, “but these are safe
bugs,” he assured her quickly.

“And Kes?”

“Kes brought it to my attention that our Captain needed a break,” Chakotay told
her, expertly paddling around a fallen tree. “I should have noticed. I’m sorry I
didn’t.”

Janeway brushed off the apology. “This is marvelous,” she told him, extending
the tricorder.

“There’s a lot to be discovered here,” he said.

She had a padd full of readings by the time they stopped for lunch in a sunny
glade at water’s edge.

Chakotay reclined on the blanket, leaning back on one elbow as he watched
Janeway delightedly open the food bundles.

He had included a soft spreadable cheese she was partial to, a large round of hard
crusted bread, a couple of star fruit Neelix had found on Gamma Six, and a sharp
corn relish to top the bread and cheese.

They ate greedily, sharing ship’s gossip and companionable silence with equal
pleasure.

In the warm sun Kathryn grew lazy. “This is lovely. Truly.”

“I’m glad you like it, Kathryn. It’s adaptive so we can visit as many times as we
like and the river will continue inland with us. We could even hike the trails and
camp.”

She made a face and groaned and he laughed.

“I forget, you’re a true product of the twenty-fourth century -” he remembered.

She offered him a section of star fruit, sitting cross-legged, her braid slipped
forward over one shoulder.

She looked totally at ease and absolutely enchanting. Chakotay busied himself
with the fruit lest she see the look of utter captivation on his face and what lay
beyond that in his eyes.

The day before, B’Elanna had said that he was bewitched by Janeway and then
had offered her approval. “She’s good for you, Chakotay,” Torres had insisted.
“She gives you heart.”

And looking at Kathryn so alive and vibrant in the sun-dappled clearing, he knew
it was true.

“What do you want from life?” she asked suddenly. tossing another section of star
fruit across the blanket.

He raised an eyebrow while neatly catching the fruit. “I’m not sure I came
prepared to answer that today,” he told her, keeping his voice light and bantering.

She laughed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so dramatic,” she apologized, “but
surely you must have thought past the Maquis.”

“It seemed difficult to imagine a time when the Maquis could be disbanded,” he
told her. “Why the question, Kathryn?” he wondered.

“Hmm?” She stretched out her legs and leaned back on her hands, glancing
around the clearing. “I don’t know. I guess I never considered any life other than
Starfleet. I really never thought much about choices until New Earth. This place
brings that all back.”

She rolled over onto her stomach and finished the last of the star fruit, gazing at
the river. “It is so lovely here,” she sighed.

Chakotay watched her with a gaze so tender, she might have been embarrassed
had she seen it. It was not his intent that she would.

“How about a swim?” he asked suddenly, pushing the remainder of his meal aside
and jumping to his feet.

“You swim,” she told him lazily. “I’m going to sleep.” She folded her arms
beneath her head and tucked her hat down so it shaded her eyes.

She heard the splash of water as Chakotay waded and then dived into the river,
and then the warmth of the day, the satisfaction of the meal and the pleasure of
the company lulled her to sleep.

She awoke to find Chakotay packing up the remains of the lunch. His hair was
wet and he was barefoot. She belatedly wondered what he had done for swim
trunks. Her face flushed. She hoped the heat of the sun covered it.

“We should be getting back,” he told her.

She nodded and gracefully sat up, reaching over to collect their plates at the same
moment he did, brushing his hand.

He pulled back instantly, but not before she slipped her fingers into his hand.

“Chakotay.” Her voice was ever so slightly rough, whether from sleep or
circumstances.

He stopped, kneeling before her, and met her gaze.

She knew better, but couldn’t resist. She traced the lines of his tattoo with her
fingers, the pads sensitive to the scarring beneath them.

“Did this hurt?” She had never asked.

“It was a ritual,” he answered. “My mind and body were in different places.” Then
he took her hand and drew it away. “Time to go, Kathryn,” he repeated.

She hesitated, and then nodded.

The trip back was faster. They were headed downstream now, and they spoke
little, just an occasional comment about a tree, or a clearing, or a bird overhead.

Chakotay was trying very hard to maintain a respectable distance – both
physically and emotionally – it was damned hard.

As for Kathryn, she was alternately questioning the wisdom of the trip and the
wisdom of their decision on New Earth to maintain their relationship as strictly
professional.

They reached the original landing and Chakotay pulled the boat up out of the
water and then lifted her out, carefully setting her on her feet well up from the
muddy shore.

She stopped him then, slipping her hand up to his cheek and then her fingertips to
his lips.

He inhaled audibly and shook his head. “Kathryn.”

He closed his eyes and uttered her name as a plea or a benediction, she couldn’t
distinguish which, but either way, the depth of it rocked her.

“We were wrong,” she told him softly.

He opened his eyes, meeting her gaze, startled and pleased to find an open
invitation there, though he also saw trepidation.

“Computer, save adaptations and end program Chakotay 6:New River,” he called
out.

The scene dissolved into a black and yellow grid – the real world.

Kathryn glanced about. “You don’t pull any punches,” she grimaced, stepping
back from him.

“I just wanted you to know that I had no ulterior motives today, Kathryn. This was
not some elaborate scheme to convince you to rethink the decisions we made on
New Earth.”

“And if I were to tell you that I had – that I thought we made a mistake trying to
separate that time from our lives…”

He did not answer for a moment, and then, “I would tell you to be very sure this
time, because there’s no going back, Kathryn,” he warned gently, his breath warm
on her face.

She met his gaze and then nodded and looked away. He was right. She still had
doubts, uncertainties, issues to be resolved, but the journey had begun.

“Thank you for today,” she said, “and I’m glad you saved the program. “I’m not
ready quite yet, but I think one of these days I’d like to venture a bit further
upstream.”

“I know an expert Indian guide,” he teased, touching his lips to her hair. It was
soft and silken and scented with the sun and the river. He closed his eyes, lost in
it.

“It was a wonderful gift,” she told him.

“There are many types of gifts, Kathryn,” came the soft reply.

New River2: Explorations

Kathryn Janeway signed off on the engineering log and tabbed her computer off,
pushing away from her desk in her ready room and stretching. That was it – her
last official act of this duty shift. She was now on her own time.

She checked her chronometer as she left the room and headed toward her quarters
– still time for a bath before she was to meet Chakotay at the holodeck. He had
finally gotten her to agree to a camping trip – one night, but camping nonetheless.
They were going to use the New River holoprogram he’d set up and take the boat
upstream to a spot just past where they had picnicked – had it been a month ago?
They would camp at the edge of the forest between the water and the trees.

She discarded her clothes as she made her way to the bathroom and settled into a
tub of hot water, luxuriating for a few moments, soaking away the day.

Although the idea of camping was certainly not hers, she was looking forward to
a break from command and, frankly, to spending time alone with Chakotay.
Ship’s duties had prevented more than a chance meal together in the past weeks
and she was discovering that wasn’t enough. The bond they had forged on New
Earth lay filled with promise – unfamiliar territory that transitioned friendship
into something more. She was ready, at least, to explore that uncharted water and
she knew Chakotay was as well, patiently deferring to her in this, his own needs
set aside. She had been unfair to him, she realized. Unfair to them both.

It was time to rethink, to renew. She determined this trip would do just that.

Chakotay had the boat nearly packed when she arrived. He was wearing
customary pants, short and vest, the colors tawny and golden, like his skin.
Janeway allowed herself a moment’s possessive pleasure in just watching him
before she called out a greeting.

He smiled to see her and hurried up the sandy shore.

“Hello Kathryn,” he greeted her. “All ready?” he asked, taking her light pack and
stowing it in the boat.

He noted with approval that she had dropped her hair into a casual braid and wore
a long comfortable tunic over light tights, low boots on her feet. She was bathed
in rosy coral hues, warm and inviting. She carried the hat he had given her their
last outing, a braided cord tied around the crown. He recognized it as the result of
her knot tying lesson on New Earth. She had been a diligent student. It pleased
him that she had saved it and brought it today – connecting those times with this
one.

Without asking permission he scooped her up and carried her to the boat. She was
already feeling reckless and his unexpected act made her laugh.

To hear that throaty response was as if one small piece of his burden was relieved
and Chakotay swung her into the boat, onto the front seat, with a dizzying motion
that made her laugh again.

It was afternoon this visit so they wouldn’t stop until the campsite. Kathryn turned
in her seat to watch Chakotay’s strong shoulders push the oars against the river’s
current, taking them inland. She trailed her fingers in the water beside the boat
and then impishly flicked water onto his face.

He grinned. “You’ll regret that, Kathryn,” he promised, eyes merry.

“Will I?” She deliberately repeated the action, laughing with such absolute delight
that the sound was seductive.

“Once more and you’re cooking,” he warned, neatly paddling around a sand bar
the shifting river had deposited since their first visit.

“Now you know my cooking would punish both of us,” she grinned. She had tried
cooking on New Earth. Chakotay had bravely suffered through several of her
inventions until his stomach rebelled. After that, he’d taken over the cooking
chores completely and they’d eaten well.

She realized how many things he took care of for her. And it wasn’t simply the
stronger protecting the weak or helpless – for lord knows she was far from
helpless or weak. Nor was it some odd form of servitude playing out. No, it was
simply that he had a made a decision to lighten her load and help her with her
burdens.

“Thanks you,” she told him.

He raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t actually camped yet,” he teased. “Be careful
you’re not preemptive in your praise.”

She shook her head, smiling softly. “I may or may not end up thanking you for the
camping experience,” she told him dryly, “but I do recognize what you do for me –
every day and with an amazing grace. And I want you to know that it makes a
difference. A tremendous difference.”

“I’m glad, Kathryn,” he said simply. “I know you bear a heavy burden. I’ll help you
however I can for as long as you want me to.”

She was almost embarrassed by his generosity, so genuine and pure it seemed.
She told him so.

“Enjoy the day,” Kathryn,” was his soft reply.

They reached the camp site with several hours still to go before dark. Together
they dispatched the bundles from the boat and set up a rough camp – cooking ring,
supplies store, latrine and sleeping space. Chakotay cut some downy branches to
soften the ground and they opened their sleeping bags to air and warm in the sun.
It was a satisfactory camp, if not a comfortable one.

“I’m for a swim,” Chakotay announced when they were set up. It was a cooler day
then their last visit, but the sun kept any real chill from the air.

“Sounds good,” Kathryn agreed. She’d anticipated a swim this time and had her
suit on beneath her tights and tunic. As Chakotay peeled off his clothes, she saw
he’d worn trunks as well.

Ready first, he headed into the river and watched her unobtrusively from the
water as she undressed and neatly folded her clothes. She wore a plain black
one-piece suit, cut a bit higher in the leg and lower in the bag than he might have
expected, velvet against a firm, smooth body. She waded out and then dove in,
purposely splashing him.

He retaliated instantly, precipitating a water fight that ended when both were
laughing too hard to continue.

“I’ll race you across,” he challenged. “Loser cleans up dinner dishes.”

“Deal,” she agreed.

They found a starting point and raced across. Chakotay beat her by a full length
with a vicious, perfect backstroke. She realized she’d been thoroughly set up.

“I’m done,” he gasped, shaking the water from his face and slicking it from his
close-cropped hair.

“I’m beat,” she agreed.

They crawled up onto a large flat rock hear the shore to dry. Chakotay lay on his
back, one arm crooked beneath his head, one leg bent at the knee and was asleep
in moments, baking in the sun. Janeway lay on her stomach, watching him, until
she too was asleep. She awoke to find him watching her now, shifted onto his
side, his eyes revealing more than he had planned.

He stared at her hungrily, but with an aching tenderness, momentarily unable to
draw back the feelings.

She closed her eyes. “Am I doing this to you?” she asked softly, her voice slightly
rough.

He touched his fingertips to her mouth. “Shush. You’re a beautiful woman,
Kathryn. I see your soul in your face while you’re sleeping.”

She heard a soft splash and opened her eyes again. He was already approaching
the shore. She pressed her own fingers to her lips. Her hand was trembling.

By the time she reached the shore, toweled off and dressed, he was busy making
dinner. At pot already steamed on the cooking ring, it’s contents bubbling. She
peeked inside as she rubbed her hair, loose about her face. She’d forgotten a
bathing cap and it would be wet for hours.

“What’s for dinner?” she nosed.

“One of my favorite soups,” he grinned. “Rice, beans, corn, tomatoes. It’s-”

“An old Indian custom,” she finished with a wicked smile.

“I was going to say it’s best when it’s cooked for an hour or so,” he countered. “If
you sit by the fire here,” I’ll do that for you while it’s heating.” He gestured to her
wet hair, brush and towel.

She drew in her breath. “We need to talk, Chakotay,” she said, but she handed
him the brush and towel and sat down on one of the folded blankets they had set
near the fire to warm. (4)

“Talk, Kathryn,” he replied, running his fingers through the thick strands to
loosen the snarls.

“Do you ever get scared?” she asked, hugging her knees to her chest.

“I’m scared all the time.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” she said dryly. “What scares you?”

He considered, pausing and then gently working the brush through her hair. “The
usual, I guess – things that go bump in the night…”

“Now you’re teasing.”

He grinned and then his expression grew serious. “I was afraid my parents would
die,” he said softly.

“But that was inevitable.”

“Sometimes the inevitable is the most terrifying. You have the least control over
it.”

“Were you scared in the Maquis?” she wondered. “You faced the enemy each and
every day.”

“It was routine in a way. Expect the unexpected. The way I felt, the way I reacted,
that scared the hell out of me. The Cardassians, the possibility of capture or
death, was not frightening.”

“It should have been,” she said flatly.

“I know you were captured by the Cardassians,” he said, and he felt her stiffen.
“It’s in your service record.”

“I had nightmares for months.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I thought nothing could terrify me more than that, but I was wrong. When I gave
the order to destroy the array, I felt more fear than at the hand of any Cardassian.
I still feel it – everyday.”

“I know.” He stopped brushing and rested his hands lightly on her shoulders. “You
don’t need to be strong for me, Kathryn,” he said. “In front of the crew, on the
bridge, maybe even to face your own demons, you need to be strong, but not for
me. Trust me. Trust what you feel for me.”

She leaned back against him, against his solid, safe, undemanding, unyielding
presence. He wrapped his arms around her and they sat.

The soup was delicious, a bit spicy and plenty filling without any
accompaniment. After the meal they sat before the fire, finishing with honeyed
tea and a tin of gingersnaps they passed back and forth.

“I may get used to this camping business,” Janeway decided, munching on a
cookie.

“Don’t forget who’s doing dishes,” Chakotay reminded her, propped comfortably
on one elbow, legs stretched out toward the fire. (5)

“How could I?” she sniffed. “You’ve reminded me twice. Next time remind me
not the may any swimming bets with you. Where did you learn that mean
backstroke?”

“At the Academy,” he revealed. “Look in the holologs for my class. I captained
the team. I’ve been swimming with Tom every morning to keep in shape.”

“Our Tom?” she shot out in disbelief. “What else don’t I know about?”

Chakotay grinned. “A little friendly competition is healthy. It works out the
tensions. Resolves issues.”

“Ever make Tom do dishes?” she asked dryly, picking up their bowls and
dropping them in the pan of steaming water that sat at the edge of the fire ring.

“Tom wouldn’t have taken that bet,” Chakotay laughed, tossing out the rest of his
tea.

Kathryn watched the fluid motion of his arm, the way the firelight warmed his
skin, the absolute lack of tension in his body. She was captivated and she rocked
back on her heels to simply watch him for a moment.

He flushed, whether from the fire or the attention. “I thought you were doing
dishes.”

She smiled. “Aye, Commander,” and stuck her hand in the dishwater to retrieve a
bowl. The water was boiling hot. “Damn!” she cursed, jerking her hand away and
trying to examine it in the firelight.

Chakotay reacted immediately, jumping to his feet. He grabbed her hand and
propelled her to the river, pulling her down to her knees and immersing her hand
in the cool water.

“Somehow I knew you’d get out of dishes,” he told her, holding the hand down
even as the water began to chill it. “All right,” he decided after a few moments,
“let’s have a look.” He pulled her hand from the water and leaned back so the
brightness from the fire reflected some light.

“My mother used to kiss it and make it better,” Janeway said absently, trying to
see for herself. It looked a bit red, but none the worse for wear. She realized
belatedly what she had said, and that her hand still rested in Chakotay’s strong
brown ones.

She slipped her hand away and raised it to his cheek. He turned his face into it,
his mouth soft on the palm, and then he took it in his hand, caressed the knuckles
with his lips, lightly kissed the palm.

Kathryn reached her other hand to touch the indent at his neck where his collar
lay open and his collarbone began. Her hand curled around his neck, her fingers
soft against his skin, and she traced the line of his ear, his jaw, the outline of his
tattoo.

She was exploring the feel of him as she had explored his likes and dislikes, fears
and goals. He knelt unmoving, allowing her this freedom without pressure,
without obligation.

Now her other hand joined the first, slipped down his chest to the buttons on his
shirt, opened one, then the next and the next, pushed the shirt from his shoulders,
touched the lines of his muscles. She felt him tremble and she stopped.

He took her hands in his, kissed them, retrieved his shirt and shrugged it back on/
She carefully buttoned the buttons and allowed him to help her to her feet. They
walked hand in hand back to the camp, silently did the dishes, shut down the
camp for the night and crawled into their separate bed rolls.

“Goodnight, Kathryn,” Chakotay called across the short distance. The fire lay
between them, still crackling and glowing through he had banked it for the night.

“Chakotay,” she said softly.

“Yes, Kathryn.”

“I know I have to make some decisions. This isn’t fair to you.”

“You’ll make them when you’re ready. Goodnight, Kathryn,” he replied.

“Goodnight.”

She awoke in the morning to the smell of fresh biscuits and a bowl of wild
berries. Chakotay was not in the camp. A mug of steaming tea sat next to the
plate by biscuits, warming by the fire.

She looked at her hand in the light of day. It was only ever so slightly red. She
remembered the feel of his skin beneath her palm and blushed at her boldness.
She would need to make decisions, she knew. Both her mind and her body were
demanding it now. But she still had to reconcile Captain and Kathryn and she still
had the crew to consider – a crew that seemed far more real in the stark light of
day.

It always came to this – obligations and duty taking first priority – but somehow
she felt closer to a balancing them against her own needs and desires, to
balancing the need for protocol and authority against the example of a loving and
dignified relationship.

She heard whistling and looked up to see Chakotay returning to camp. He waved
and grinned.

“Good morning,” she called, returning the smile. She saw he had a small bundle
under one arm and a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand. The flowers he gallantly
presented to her. The bundle, she saw, was his medicine bundle. He must have
been meditating. She wondered if he found any answers, but did not intrude on
that private rite.

“Thank you, these are lovely,” she told him burying her nose in the flowers. “How
long have you been up?”

He laughed. “Long enough for a swim, a walk and to make breakfast. Did you
sleep well?”

“I did,” she realized.

“Good. What do you want to do today?”

She picked up the mug of tea, examined the steaming brew, then met his gaze. “I
think I’d like to do some exploring,” she said.

NewRiver3: Journey

Kathryn Janeway initiated the New River holoprogram and stepped in – alone. It
was the first time she had come alone, the first time in uniform, but it was the
only refuge she could think of.

Chakotay lay badly injured in sickbay, the result of her decision to send a shuttle
through an active plasma storm to a deuterium rich planet below.

B’elanna had suffered a broken leg and collarbone, Harry severe lacerations, and
Chakotay the multiple injuries that now threatened his life, when the storm
suddenly grew in intensity and plummeted the small ship to the planet’s surface.

It had taken Voyager two days to be able to mount a rescue effort – to allow the
storm to subside so they could safely send another shuttle down. Two days during
which she had not slept or eaten, despite Tuvok’s admonitions, instead retreating
to her ready room and an impenetrable command posture.

B’elanna and Harry had ridden out the crash in stasis jackets. Chakotay had stayed
in the pilot’s seat. His crumpled body was thrown from the wreck, propelled
through the front window of the shattered shuttle onto the rocky crash site.

She hadn’t gone down to the planet with the rescue party. There was no
justification for the Captain to leave the ship, especially with the First Officer
injured, perhaps mortally. Her place was on the bridge, waiting with the others.

Chakotay was breathing, barely, when Tom Paris and his rescue team finally
reached the shuttle and located all it’s occupants, including a severely battered
First Officer some 10 meters away.

Tom sank to his knees in the rock, fumbled with his tricorder, gently turned
Chakotay over. “God.” Tom closed his eyes, opened them again.

“Janeway to Paris, report.”

Tom took a deep breath. “It’s bad, Captain, real bad,” came his unguarded reply.
“B’Elanna and Harry were strapped in – they’re hurt, but they’ll be ok. Commander
Chakotay…” Paris hesitated.

Janeway could sense his indecision, knew he was trying to spare her. She wanted
her bad news straight up, always had.

“Report, Lieutenant.” She was standing before her chair on the bridge, eyes
forward, shoulders straight, back stiff, braced.

“Well, he’s alive,” Tom answered at last.

Dear God. That was the best he could say? Still, the alternative…

“Captain, I’m not sure about moving him,” Tom continued, now finding some
control. “I’m going to have to rig a stasis board. I’ll need help. Can you patch me
through to sickbay?”

Janeway turned to Perry, filling in at Harry’s station. “Do it, Mr. Perry.”

Perry complied immediately, nodded.

“Link established,” Janeway informed Paris.

“And Captain, when we get within transporter range…”

“Understood Mr. Paris. We’ll be ready. Janeway out.” It was that bad then. Even
the few minutes to dock the shuttle might be critical.

They beamed Chakotay directly to sickbay and Janeway was there waiting. She
stood in the background while they took him from the transporter pad and
performed the immediate triage the doctor deemed necessary to preserve his life.

B’Elanna and Harry were brought in on stretchers and Janeway saw to them. Both
were conscious, though sedated. Harry was in shock, B’Elanna exhausted from
fighting the pain.

That done, Janeway crossed to where the doctor had begun a more detailed
survey of Chakotay’s injuries. They had cut away his uniform, draped him with a
thermal blanket to ward off chills and shock.

She stepped to Chakotay’s side. She was prepared for severe injuries, but not for
the damage the crash had inflicted on his face. A deep laceration ran from
forehead to cheek to jaw, tearing through his tattoo, exposing fine cheekbone,
rendering skin and flesh to pulp, though mercifully sparing his eye. His face was
torn, discolored, swollen, not his own.

Janeway gripped the edge of the bed, allowing herself a moment to acclimate, to
accept, then she reached out her hand, and with eyes and touch as tender as a
lover, caressed the side of his face that yet remained whole.

“Chakotay,” she said softly.

“I’m afraid he can’t hear you, Captain,” Kes said softly. “I’m sorry.” It was an all
encompassing statement.

Janeway met her gaze. “I’m not giving up on him yet, Kes. Don’t you either,” she
said softly.

Janeway turned to the doctor. “What can you tell me about the Commander’s
condition, Doctor?”

The doctor looked up from his padd. “Severe trauma to the head. Concussion
leading to present comatose state. Damaged liver. Left renal failure. Multiple
fractures in both legs and left arm. Extensive lacerations. That is my preliminary
report,” he said, pressing a hypospray to Chakotay’s neck, then a second, then
scanning his medical tricorder before injecting a third.

“Prognosis?” Janeway demanded.

“Indeterminate,” came the doctor’s clipped reply. And then to Kes. “Prepare for
surgery. I want Tom Paris to assist us as well. We’ll begin as soon as I have
handled Torres and Kim.” He turned back to Janeway. “It will be several hours.”

She nodded, accepting the information and the dismissal. “Understood, doctor.
Please keep me advised of any changes.”

Janeway made her way to the holodeck then. Stopped a moment to advise Tuvok
of her whereabouts and initiated the program.

Now she stepped down the muddy shore to the boat, pushed it into the river,
jumping in at the last minute.

She took up the oars. Chakotay had given her a lesson in rowing when they
camped several weeks earlier. She could manage, although her motions were not
as strong and fluid, not as naturally graceful as his. She headed into the current,
up stream, toward their campsite. It was a journey she would face alone.

The weather was chilly, the adaptive program had counted the weeks since her
last visit – since the camping trip – and begun the transition from summer to fall.
She and Chakotay had discussed another trip – more camping – but hadn’t gotten
free to come back.

The unfamiliar exercise of the rowing made her shoulders and back ache. She
pressed on. The mild pain was diverting.

She reached the campsite at dusk and found a new lean-to, a woodpile, some
non-perishable provisions – tea, beans, gingersnaps – blankets. He had been there
then, getting things ready.

She made a fire, found the blankets, draped one over her shoulders, sat on another
before the fire, then slowly reached up and pulled the pins from her hair, letting it
fall softly around her face. She was no longer on the bridge, no longer Captain. In
this place she was Kathryn, though she recognized that the events of the past days
had blurred the line between Captain and Kathryn beyond retrieval.

It had come to this then – she had sent him out in the normal course of duty and
he had not come back whole. She had weighed personal safety against
responsibility, and obligation had won. And she had made the decision without
qualms. She would make it again. She refused to let doubt undermine her
convictions or erode her confidence.

What was left was to find a balance she could live with – to understand how
Kathryn and Captain could work in concert. It had come time to serve two
masters – both the ship and herself.

She fell asleep before the fire, her head resting on her knees. She slept the
dreamless sleep of the exhausted for several hours, awakening to the insistent
chirp of her comm badge.

“Doctor to Janeway.”

She focused immediately. “Janeway here.”

“The Commander is out of surgery. We were able to repair most of the damage.
Fortunately he is strong and in good physical condition. It is possible he may
suffer some impairment of his left leg – the damage was more severe than first
observed. Regardless, he will require extensive physical therapy. I was able to
relieve the pressure on his brain,” the doctor continued. “But he has not yet
regained consciousness. He is presently in a regeneration chamber. I will advise
you in the morning when you can see him. Lt. Torres and Ensign Kim are resting
comfortably under precautionary observation. After a day or two of rest, they will
be fit for light duty.”

The doctor sounded tired – Janeway wondered if that was possible for a
holoprogram.

“Thank you, doctor,” she said softly. “I know you did your best. Please continue to
keep me advised. Janeway out.”

The fire ring was still glowing. She stirred the embers and brought it back to
flame, staring at it a moment, allowing relief to wash over her, to rinse away
some of the terrible tension. It wasn’t over yet, she knew, but they’d come a step
closer. And she would take another, for herself and Chakotay.

She recalled the stiff, almost hostile nature of their relationship in the early days.
Defiant Maquis commander. Polished Starfleet officer. And she could trace the
subtle changes since then that had brought them to respect, to friendship, and to
commitment beyond that.

It was time to accept and acknowledge – for the Captain to give Kathryn
permission to have a life beyond obligation, a lover beyond duty.

NewRiver4: Renewal

“This is Kathryn Janeway,” began the announcement on the ship’s comm. “I want
to let you know of some plans I have made. I am taking a short personal leave to
assist Commander Chakotay in his recovery. I will still be here, of course, and if
there is an emergency, I will certainly resume my duties, but barring that, Lt.
Tuvok will handle day to day operations of the ship. I trust you will give him your
complete cooperation. Both Commander Chakotay and I thank you for granting
us this time. Janeway out.”

She turned to Chakotay who stood at her side, just within the doors of the
holodeck, a cane in hand for balance. “Ready?” she asked.

He nodded. “Although I’m not sure I’m ready for your rowing and cooking,” he
teased, his sense of humor firmly back in place.

“Who said I was cooking?” she retorted. “You have to earn your keep somehow.”
“Computer, initiate program, Chakotay/Janeway6:New River.”

The familiar setting appeared, the boat ready at the shore. Janeway started down
the path to the boat. Chakotay followed, his halting steps neither graceless nor
effortless, but a challenge met.

He had finally won release from sickbay that morning, a full 10 days after the
shuttle accident. He had awakened two days after the surgery to a world changed
for him – legs that would not hold him steady, a face marked beyond the tattoo,
and in balance, Kathryn at his side.

He had reacted to his injuries with uncharacteristically graceless anger which had
quickly transformed into a driving stubborn determination to regain his health.
Still, it gave Janeway a glimpse, however, brief, of a different, darker, Chakotay –
the angry warrior, the renegade Maquis commander. That side could no more be
separated from his being than dedicated Captain from hers.

He had reacted to her presence by questioning her motives – wondering just how
far her sense of guilt over the accident might drive her.

But Kathryn dispelled any such absurd notions with only a raised eyebrow and a
few words. “I’m here to stay, my love,” she advised him. “You don’t get off that
easy.” And her declaration had carried across sickbay to where Tom Paris visited
Harry, and from there throughout the ship faster than a red alert.

Kathryn offered an arm as Chakotay slowly lowered himself into the boat, bracing
his weight as he sat, favoring his weakened left leg. It was a reversal of roles – her
strength now, a calm presence in an unfamiliar world.

Chakotay accepted it with the same easy dignity that had accompanied his steady
support of her these past months, secure enough not to feel threatened by this
assistance any more than her Captaincy. It was simply not an issue.

Janeway stepped into the boat and pushed off, finding the oars and directing the
boat upstream. It was warm, the sky bright, an idyllic day.

She had spent the week getting her affairs in order – meeting with her senior staff,
with Tuvok, passing along command codes and access verifications – transferring
authority.

And she had spent time at the camp as well, laying in supplies, making the
necessary adaptations to the program to accommodate a less mobile man than had
designed it originally. She had adjusted the weather as well – taking the chill of
fall from the air when the doctor advised warmer temperatures would be kinder to
freshly knit bones.

“You’ve made changes,” Chakotay observed. “It should be fall.”

“Just a slight delay,” she told him.

“The sun feels good,” he said, lifting his face to the warmth. She had brought him
the tawny off-duty clothing of their last trip, and save the tearing interruption in
his scar, he looked much the same as that day, though his eyes shadowed his
ordeal.

Kathryn got them to the camp just before lunch. She came in with his back to it,
deliberately, tugged the boat to shore and helped him stand and step up to the
bank.

“I made some changes here, too,” she told him, matching his slow stride as they
walked up to the site.

The lean-to was larger, tented sides rolled up. A rustic bed and pair of rockers
were visible inside on the hard packed earthen floor. Sleeping on the ground was
not an option for Chakotay at this point and the rockers could be pulled to the fire
ring at night.

On a table near the provisions hut were woodworking tools and Chakotay’s
medicine bundle. He made his way to the table, touched the tools, let his hand
rest on the bundle.

“I thought you might want that,” she said, slipping her hand beneath his vest to
rest on his back and then circling both arms around his broad chest before
stepping back and taking his hand.

He wordlessly nodded his gratitude.

“There’s more, but I’ll let you discover it for yourself,” she said. “What I would
like now is a swim.”

The water was an equalizer. He was fluid again, whole, strong. He erupted beside
her. “Race?” his eyes twinkled. “Loser does dishes.”

She prodded him in the chest and shook her head. “Not this time,” she laughed.
“But I will make lunch – just this once,” she warned. “I’ll call you,” she said,
heading for the shore.

As she set out the simple meal of cheese and fruit she watched him test himself,
swimming the width of the river twice, pushing, focused. It was what he needed –
time to heal in his own way, at his own pace. It was the gift she was offering, that
and her heart, unconstricted now by obligation.

They ate lunch around the work table, rockers pulled up tight, the sun baking bare
arms and backs. He knew enough to rest afterward, easing back in the rocker as
she cleaned up, puttered with a few experiments she’d brought to fill her time.
Just watching her was a balm.

And when evening came and dinner was done and the fire banked for the night,
they found themselves next to each other in the bed, hips touching, hands
intertwined, his face turned and buried in her hair. They slept. There would be
more, both knew, before their time here was over, but not yet, not this night.

Kathryn woke first, pressed her lips to his temple, dressed quickly and sat on the
shore and watched the sun rise. The day was already warm. She wore a light dress
and sandals. The straw hat he had given her sat at her side.

Chakotay joined her not long after, had found the clothes she’d packed for him,
picked loose pants, a light shirt which he didn’t bother to button, left his feet bare.

“Good morning,” he said, easing down beside her on the shore, stretching out his
left leg and then slipping close to her back, wrapping his arms around her slight
form.

She smiled, leaned back against him. “Good morning,” she returned.

“Thank you, Kathryn,” he said, pressing his mouth into her hair. For making this
transition easy. For helping me to get well. For giving me the space I need to heal
mind and body. They were thoughts he did not need to vocalize.

She turned now into his arms and touched his cheek and his lips with her fingers,
speaking her heart with her touch.

They sat entwined until his stomach growled a voracious demand for breakfast.

“Your turn to cook,” she advised him. “And I’ll warn you, I have high
expectations.”

They spent two weeks at the camp while he regained his strength and they
defined their relationship. The loving came as they had know it would and it was
as tender and passionate and unrestrained as their hearts. The words of love came,
too, simple declarations binding flesh and spirit, a private ceremony that would
be repeated in a public service when they returned to the reality of their life on
the ship – among friends and crew.

They would go back tomorrow. She had already advised Tuvok. This night was
their last in the camp.

Chakotay sat before the fire – cross-legged now – that improved. Kathryn knelt
before him, a small needle tipped laser in hand. He closed his eyes and nodded.
She firmly gripped the tool and lifted it to his forehead, rebuilding, redefining, his
tattoo. He did not move and she was deliberate and quick.

She turned off the laser and pressed a cool gel pack against his skin. He shrugged
it off, took her hand, kissed the inside of her wrist, the small single feather that
matched the larger version on his face. Her uniform sleeve would hide it, but she
could touch it, connect when she needed to, to these days of renewal when
Kathryn and Captain had at last become one.

finis – part four

NewRiver5: Discovery

NewRiver 5 takes place near the end of Janeway and Chakotay’s stay at NewRiver
(sometime near the end of part 4 of the series). It tells the story of how they
became lovers plus a bit more.

I wrote this for all the fans who insisted the story be told. I hope it doesn’t
disappoint. It has far more sex than I intended, but don’t blame me – blame
Kathryn and Chakotay.

The two line quote below is from America by Paul Simon. I love the invitation.

Let us be lovers.
We’ll marry our fortunes together.

part 1 – Affirmation

Kathryn Janeway woke up slowly, felt the weight of Chakotay’s body curled
around her. She was cradled in his arms, his chest strong against her back, his
thighs warm against her legs, his mouth pressed to her neck, even in sleep.

The cool night air was already giving way to the warmth of morning although the
sun had been out for barely an hour. The river sounds were the first awakening.

She looked down at the tan hand which curled in relaxed sleep against her bare
stomach, traced the fingers, saw the golden color against her fair skin.

She could hear his soft breathing. She would listen for that now. Always. When
she had woken in the night she had heard it, been reassured. Such a short time ago
he had been so close to death. Her doing. Not her fault, but her doing. Almost her
undoing. Then her salvation – of a sorts.

He shifted, stretched against her. She felt his erection press against her,
involuntary reaction – his – and hers. She turned into him and heard his low
chuckle, answered with her own throaty response, slid a hand up his hip, felt one
return down her thigh. One of them moaned. Another involuntary reaction. Like
their attraction to one another. Federation Captain. Renegade Maquis
Commander. Officer. Felon. Lovers now.

The sun had risen another hour before they left the bed, slipped into the river for a
swim.

They sunned themselves dry on the large flat rock at the river’s edge until both
were hungrier for food than love.

Chakotay rose, swam to shore, stomach grumbling in protest as he paused to dress
before putting the tea and cereal to heat on the fire ring.

Kathryn languished on the rock, laying on her stomach as he had lain on his back,
the sun a companion.

He wondered what she would do if the cool water hit her bare bottom, but
decided not to tempt fate – the breakfast would burn if he went to her once more.

Instead he called to her. Told her to get dressed. Promised spiced tea. Exacted a
promise of his own.

They sat cross-legged on blankets before the fire ring and ate.

“Do you care what we do today?” Chakotay asked, setting his empty bowl aside
and reaching for his tea.

“I might. What did you have in mind?”

“There’s something I’d like to do before we leave. We’ll have to go up river a bit
more, then leave the boat and walk. I’d rather not wait until the last day.”

The last day. Two days from then. They had already agreed.

“How much walking? I plan to be lazy today.”

He laughed. “Not much. I think you’re up for it.”

“How about you? You had a busy day yesterday.”

“I’m fine.”

He had been walking every day to strengthen his leg and it was stronger now – not
fully recovered from the shuttle crash, but the injury no longer limited him. For
now that was enough.

Kathryn tossed the rest of her tea in the fire. “Let me braid my hair and I’ll be
ready.”

“Bring your brush,” he told her. “I’ll do it for you.”

He loved the feel of her hair against his hands, the way she could fall asleep
resting against him as he ran the brush repeatedly through it’s lengths.

She touched a finger to his jaw. “If I let you do it, love, we won’t even go near the
boat.”

He took her hand. Pressed her palm to his mouth. “I thought you wanted to be
lazy. The boat can wait.”

Would her heart always race when he touched her? Would she always feel this
heat? In 10 years? In 40? In the 70 it might take them to get back to earth?

Seventy years.

“We’re going to grow old together.” For some reason she hadn’t made the
connection until that moment. She would grow old at this man’s side. He at hers.
She might live to see his death. He, hers.

They would grow old together.

“I think that’s the idea,” he said and he tugged her against him, pulling her
buttocks tight between his legs, wrapping his arms around her. He savored the
feel of her as she relaxed against him. And her smell. Fresh. A bit of the river in
her hair. The warmth of the sun on her skin.

“Think you can deal with me for that long?” he teased.

She leaned back against him, rested her hands on his arms, breathed in the scent
of him. Felt his hunger. Felt her own rise again.

“We’ve been lovers for what – ten hours?” she wondered.

“Something like that.” His hands slipped beneath her shirt. His shirt. Hers now.
He’d been amused when she’d adopted it earlier in the week. Then enchanted by
her wearing it. There was something so sensual about his clothing against her
bare skin. She’d belted it at the waist using the braided cord from her hat. The
shirt was long enough, and lightweight in the heat.

Her breath caught as his fingers teased along her ribs. Found places already
familiar but still untried. So new. They were so new together. Raw. Pure. Strong.

Who would she see, and love, and know in seventy years? This man at her side
now? Or some new person he had not yet become; some new person she would
help make and they would discover together. Creation and journey. And they had
just started.

His hands slid down her hips, touched her thighs – traced along the outside. The
inside. She tried to turn to him.

“Stay,” he whispered against her hair.

The belt was slipped off. The buttons on the shirt were undone. The shirt was
parted, but was not removed. Fresh from her swim and in a hurry for breakfast,
she wore nothing underneath. She pushed off her own sandals.

Her back arched against his touch. Chakotay was not her first lover, but they had
never been lovers together before last night. That was the gift.

He was patient, slow, demanding. She cried out her release and he held her until
her trembling gentled into small soft breaths.

“You should have let me brush your hair,” he said, smiling against her cheek.

“Now you tell me.”

He laughed and stood, pulling her up to face him. His fingers worked the buttons
closed on her shirt. He reached for the belt, buckled it around her slim waist.
Collected her sandals, slipped them on her feet, lending her his arm for balance.

Her pulse was still racing. The dressing was almost more unbearable than the
undressing. She’d done the same to him the night before. He’d called it exquisite
pleasure. She understood now.

“Still up for the boat trip?” he asked, tipping a bucket of sand onto the fire to
quench it.

“I think you’ve guaranteed my co-operation for the rest of the day,” she told him
dryly.

“So it worked,” he rejoined. “I’ll have to try that when you give me a hard time on
the bridge.”

“Payback is hell, Chakotay.”

The river met high bluffs as it worked its way inland. There were spots along the
way they could have stopped – breaches in the bluffs that let in the woods – but
they continued on.

“You’ve been down here before,” she realized.

“I have.” He pushed the oars against the water, glad to feel his own strength again,
welcoming the press of muscle, the resistance of the oars as they dipped into the
river.

“When I first set up the camp I came upstream. I went a little beyond where we’re
going today. And I came back yesterday. It’s not much farther.”

She pulled her off her hat and set it on the seat beside her. She wanted to feel the
sun against her skin. Her braid hung over one shoulder and she pushed it back and
lifted her face to the warm brightness.

Chakotay paused in the rowing and let the boat drift a moment as he turned to
look at her – her eyes were half closed against the light, her lips slightly parted.
The sun brushed her skin with a golden glow. He wavered between love and lust,
between agony and amazement.

“Kathryn…” Her name escaped his lips, a groan more than a fully formed word.

She opened her eyes, raised a hand against the brightness. She smiled to find him
looking at her. She recognized his expression – already. It was something between
hopelessly lost and utterly captivated. That she was responsible was a source of
delight and amusement.

“You’re the one who wanted to go up river,” she reminded him. “I was all for just
lazing on the shore. What do you have planned, anyway?” she asked, suddenly
curious and not just a little suspicious.

He laughed out loud and picked the oars back up. In the span of a blink she had
gone from wanton to winsome. He could not possibly tire of her – she wasn’t the
same woman for more than a moment.

There was a sandy spit of land which reached out into the river near the higher
bluffs. Chakotay pulled the small boat in, tugging it on shore. He lifted Kathryn
out of the boat with one fluid motion and set her on the shore, past the waterline.

“We’ll be walking in sand a while, you might want to carry your shoes and go
barefoot.”

“Just where is it we’re going?” she wondered, slipping out of the sandals and
pushing her bare feet into the sand. The surface was warm from the sun, but cool
beneath her feet.

Chakotay hefted the pack out of the boat and secured the oars before pointing.
“Up there.”

She followed the direction of his finger toward the bluffs, raising her hand to her
eyes to cut the glare. “Up there?”

He nodded and adjusted the pack across his back. It was cumbersome more than
heavy. He still was supposed to be taking it easy, though his idea of moderate
activity was light years apart from the holodoctor’s instructions.

Kathryn draped her hands on her hips, her weight shifting to one leg. Unconscious
posing. Unconsciously Captain.

“I think we have a little confusion about just what’s expected here,” she told him.
He almost heard the ‘commander,’ at the end of the sentence, nearly saw the red
and black of her uniform.

He swatted her rear playfully, more a caress. “At ease, Kathryn,” he reminded her.

She shook her head. “Sorry.” And offered a shrugged smile. “I’m afraid you’re
stuck with us both.”

Odd. As much as she had been separated before – Captain and Kathryn – she was
integrated now. It was as if she had somehow been made whole – either answered
for the other. She had to get used to her new self.

Chakotay’s hand was still on her rear. Proprietary. Possessive.

“We’re not going to get anywhere if you start that,” she advised him.

He cupped her to him and she ran a caressing hand from chest to thigh and around
his buttocks. Touching. Tasting with their hands. Reacquainting themselves with
the feel of one another since the passing of an hour, maybe less. But it was all still
so remarkably new as to remain unfamiliar territory, and both wanted that tactile
reminder of their exploration.

Chakotay broke away first, with a groan, and a grin. He heard her echoed groan.

“You do realize we have to figure out a way to control this,” she told him with a
wry smile.

“Not today.”

“No, not today.”

He adjusted his pack and took her hand, starting down the narrow beach.
“Ready?”

She studied his face. The intensity of his look. She would see this face every day
for the rest of her life if the gods were kind. See reflections of herself in his dark
eyes. Catch a glint of humor, a challenge of passion.

Raising a hand to shield her eyes she looked up the bluff sight again. There was a
long path curving gently around the hillside. She could see it wind in and out of
the woods. She guessed it was 2 or 3 kilometers to the top.

“It’s a long way up,” she said pointedly. “Will you carry me if I’m tired?”

“I’ll carry you even if you’re not, Kathryn,” he replied, and he held out his hand.

Chakotay had been up the trail before, but now as he saw lush woods through
Kathryn’s eyes, he realized he had not experienced it all.

Her delight was infectious as she moved with hungry curiosity from one new
discovery to the next. Calling him to smell a spicy flower, touch a felt-rough leaf,
feel the softness of spongy moss, she slipped gracefully through the forest like a
nymph come home. He gave up trying to keep up with her and simply watched,
walking a few paces as she moved onward, collecting her samples and prizes in
his pack.

They were a little further inland, a little higher than their camp and the ecology
had altered accordingly. The path was a wonder of flora and fauna. Long soft
spread ferns rowed the trailside intermixed with tiny white flowers arching from
long stems and scrubby leaves. Shafts of sunlight found their way to cast a sparkle
on peacock blue crescents of wildly blooming shrubbery.

Kathryn found a small patch of berries, got approval from the tricorder and filled
her pocket and Chakotay’s mouth, tasting them herself when he passed one back
across his tongue through her open lips.

They were a little tart, tasted like blueberries, though they looked like
strawberries, albeit smaller.

“My mother used to make wonderful pies,” she reminisced. “I never appreciated it
at the time.”

“I thought we’d have lunch at the top if you can wait,” he told her as they paused
for drinks from the thermos. “It’s not much farther.”

“This is lovely. And I have absolutely no idea where we are. For all I know we’re
walking back to camp. You could leave me here and I would be lost.”

“Then I would come find you,” he said simply. He capped the bottle and pushed it
into his pack. “Ready?”

“I am.” She slipped her arm through his and felt the drowning warmth of contact.

“Ever made love in the woods?” she teased as they made their way up the last bit
of path before the bluffs.

“Is that an offer?”

“It might be. It’s your trip though. I think I’ll just wait to see what you have in
mind.”

He laughed. “I think you know exactly what I have in mind. And yes, I have. Have
you?”

“Does a corn field count?”

“It might.”

“Then yes for me, too. I was 18, just on my way to the Academy. It was a good
send off. You?”

“A bit younger – sixteen – there aren’t the taboos among my people, although it
might not be a bad idea. At sixteen it’s not much of an experience, more reflexive
than anything. Watch that branch.”

She pushed aside the low hanging branch and stepped from sand to solid stone.
They were at the bluffside. She stepped further out onto the ledge and drew in the
vision of their world that the vista afforded them, turning 360 degrees to get a
fuller view.

The river wove though the narrowed valley below, blue and white motion against
the red duskiness of the bluffs. To the distance there were step hills rising to
higher mountains, greens giving way to grays and browns. In the nearer view she
thought she made out the outline of their camp, the whiteness of sand leading to
the outlines of structures.

It was a rich palette of color and texture, so tactile as to nearly feel rough and soft
to the touch of her eyes.

Chakotay stepped up behind her, drew his hands about her waist and pulled her
back against him. His lips nuzzled her hair.

“We could have had this, Chakotay.” There was a touch of regret in her voice.

“We do have this, Kathryn,” he said simply. It was incredible fortune. That he had
come seventy light years to find his future and could see it stretch before him
with such clarity. The distances visible from the bluff were nothing compared to
the lifetime he could envision before him – with her. His arms tightened. “I owe
you a great debt.”

She rested her head back against his solid chest for a moment, acknowledging his
words with the weight of her body against his. There were debts on both sides.

“I’ll consider last night partial payment,” she said after a moment, a low chuckle
following teasing words. “But I’m afraid you’re going to have to make further
reparations.”

“I haven’t heard a final price.”

“I’ll get back to you on that.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of, Kathryn.”

She grinned. “Smart man. Let’s eat lunch, Chakotay.”

The ledge extended nearly 40 meters in all directions, folding into the forest
along the back and dropping several kilometers to the river at it’s face. They made
their lunch near the tree line, still in the sun, the broad view still within their
eyesight, but the softer sandy ground kinder than the rock face.

Chakotay unpacked the simple meal. He had brought soft corn shells, rolled
around corn and rice and beans along with two apples and a handful of the ginger
cookies they both had become partial too.

Kathryn sat cross-legged on the blanket. He lay on his side, head propped on his
arm, eating and watching her, the lunch spread between them. She pulled off a
piece of the tortilla and pushed it into her mouth with one finger. It was
unbelievably sensual, though he knew she was absolutely unaware of the effect.
He was neither unaware nor immune.

He reached across and captured the finger, drew it to his mouth, cleaned the last
bit of filling from it with his tongue and then slowly gave the hand back.

She forced her breathing to be even, willed her racing pulse to slow.

“Is that an invitation?” she asked, her eyes slightly narrowed.

He raised an eyebrow. “Would you toss me one of those apples?”

“I am not Eve,” she said dryly, pushing one of the apples his way. “And if this is
the Garden of Eden, aren’t there supposed to be snakes?”

“I don’t think I should answer that.”

Her eyes flickered across the length of his body and the unmistakable bulge in his
pants. “I thought you said it was reflexive at sixteen.” she observed dryly. “You’re
a bit past that now.”

“It wasn’t a mutually exclusive statement.”

He tossed away the half eaten apple and tugged her across the blanket into his
arms, slipping a hand beneath her dress to touch her bare thigh. He just wanted
the contact, the feel of her flesh against his in the warmth of the day, the luxury of
not letting go. It was another kind of making love. A kind of worship, maybe.

“You’d think we’d get enough of this,” she murmured, softening into his embrace,
molding against his side as he eased them to the ground. “We’ve barely taken a
breath in two days.”

“Who walked naked into the river?” he teased.

She groaned in mock dismay. “Is that all it took? I wish I would have known. I
could have done that a week ago.”

***********

part 2:Creation
(2 days earlier, at the camp site)

Kathryn pulled a piece of star fruit from the rind and tossed it across the blanket
to Chakotay. Then she peeled away another section for herself. It came away
from the rind easily, the separation intentional. It was designed to be eaten in
pieces. Only the peel kept it whole.

“Have you given any thought to what happens if we get back?” she asked
Chakotay. “We could be drawn in very different directions.”

“I have thought of that. And to be honest, I doubt I would wear this uniform for
anyone else, Kathryn. I have no desire to return to Starfleet. My issues with the
Federation are unchanged.”

“And the Maquis?”

“I’m not sure if that was ever my fight, but if the wars are still going on, I would
have to give it some consideration. If nothing else, I’d have to see my crew home.
Those who wanted to go back.”

It was a fair statement and she told him so. She would have the same obligation
with her crew.

“Of course that’s assuming StarFleet doesn’t arrest us the moment we reenter the
Alpha Quadrant,” he added.

“It could happen,” she allowed. “But they’d have hell to pay to get you off my
ship.”

“It’s not a position I’d care to put you in.”

“Afraid to test my loyalties?”

“Not at all. But it would force you to compromise something you’ve given your
life to. You’re a damn fine Starfleet officer, Kathryn.”

“It’s one big package, Chakotay. What’s best for me doesn’t change because I’m
wearing a uniform. Starfleet will just have to deal with that.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then they can keep the uniform.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“I’m not going to allow StarFleet to dictate how I go about my business. Their
business, fine. Not mine. It is simple.”

“Not easy, though.”

“Let’s worry about one problem at a time.”

She stretched and stood. “Right now my problem is how to get out of doing our
lunch dishes.” She jerked her head toward the river. “Want to race?”

He laughed. “I’ll do the dishes. Go ahead and swim. I’m going to walk a bit
afterwards if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t. And I’ll make it up to you for the dishes.”

“Swim without your suit. I’ll take that as payment.”

“You are an audacious bastard,” she laughed. But as she walked toward the shore
she slowly shed every bit of clothing, leaving a trail scattered from their camp.

Chakotay grinned and watched appreciatively. Audacity was in no short supply.

She was sunning herself on the flat rock in the river when he returned from his
walk. She lay on her back, one leg crooked, her arm thrown over her eyes. She
must have gone in and out of the water a couple of times because she hadn’t
burned.

He slipped out of his clothes and waded quietly into the water then swam over to
the rock with sure long strokes. She turned onto her stomach as he got near, rolled
over, but apparently had not noticed him.

Cupping a handful of water, he trickled it down her back to her buttocks, just a
few drops at a time. The river was warm from the long days of sun and she
shivered at the tickling, but not the temperature. He repeated the action, grinning
as her buttocks and thigh muscles quivered, tightened and released.

“Enjoying yourself?” She opened one eye and peered up at him.

“I couldn’t resist.” He smoothed a hand down her back, pushing aside the droplets,
then continued the motion down her rear. She arched a little. Spread her legs a
little. He bent down and placed at kiss at the base of her spine. She moaned
involuntarily and snorted a soft breath.

They had been touching. They had been sleeping together. He slept nude. She
wore something, not much. But there had been no rush to make contact. They did
not feel pressed to consummate the love or turn it into lust. That would come
soon enough. This tentative exploring was a gentle entre.

She rolled over toward him and sat up, allowed his hand to hold the fullness of
her breasts. His fingers tipped the nipples. She watched his expression. And she
saw him grow hard with desire for her. She recognized her own power.

Her hand contacted his chest. She drew a line with her finger from his shoulder
down to his flat stomach, splayed her hand across the hardness of his chest. Made
him groan. Her fingernails traced the outline of his nipples, scraped a bit. His
breathing grew ragged. He threw his head back and leaned back on his hands for
support. She bent down and touched her lips to his erection, then drew away.

He had closed his eyes. He opened them now. He was a little stunned. Like a deer
in the headlights. Uncertain. Questioning.

“I don’t intend to make love to you for the first time on a rock in the river,
Chakotay.”

“You came damned close to having no choice, Kathryn.” His voice was rough.

“That’s why I stopped.”

Kathryn walked up to the fire ring and crouched down beside it, pulling the lid
from a simmering pot.

“Smells good,” she told Chakotay over her shoulder. “No meat I suppose?”

“You’ll have to get used to that.”

“I’m from Indiana, Chakotay. Vegetarian is still a dirty word there. I can always
use the replicator if I get desperate.”

“Not with my replicator rations.”

She rose and walked to his side. He was putting together some fresh fruit to
accompany the stew. He had been teasing about the rations, she knew, but it
brought up a new issue.

“We are going to have to figure out how to share things,” she told him, stealing a
piece of banana from the bowl.

“Looks like you’re doing fine.”

She ignored the comment and continued her train of thought. “I don’t intend to
sleep in separate quarters.”

“Fine. Yours are larger. I’ll move there. You’ll have to make me room in the closet
and cupboard, though. I don’t intend to just share your bed.”

“It’s been a long time since I shared quarters. I may not be the best roommate,”
she warned.

“Better than Seska,” he said without thinking. Then he caught his words.

“Seska and Mark both existed in our lives. We can’t ignore them, Chakotay.
Though frankly I’d prefer to deal with them now than have them in bed with us.”

“Is there something to deal with?”

She considered then shook her head. “I think I would have left Mark regardless
when we returned from the badlands. We just grew apart. He was a great friend
when I needed one and I hope he’s gone on with his life. I think I can leave it at
that.”

Chakotay nodded. “Fair enough. I’m afraid I don’t have quite the same perspective
with Seska, though. She put me through hell. I’m still a little embarrassed by it all.
By what it cost you – and Voyager.”

“Any debt you owed me for Seska is long paid. Your ego may still be a bit
bruised, but it will heal. If you still feel obligated, I’m sure we can work out some
terms.”

“Maybe I could just cook all of your meals for the next 70 years.”

“I would accept that deal. How about the bathroom? I hate sharing the bathroom
in the morning.”

“I’m an early riser. I’ve been up before you every day here.”

“All right. I’ll take that as a promise.” She perched on the edge of the woodpile
which was stacked next to where he was working.

“Have you given any thought to where you would work? I think your quarters
should be offered to Samantha – it’s the biggest cabin after mine and she needs the
space with the baby. You have your office, office, of course, but that’s not always
convenient. It’s not practical to share my desk. I have confidential materials
there.”

“We may have to share it. You just may have to trust me. Maybe we can arrange
some sort of schedule.” He looked over at her. “Anything else?”

“You can’t call me Kathryn on the bridge.”

“Can I call you Captain in the bedroom?”

“That depends if you’re in the mood to take orders.”

This brought a laugh. “I haven’t noticed I’ve had much choice in the matter.”

“We haven’t been in the bedroom yet. How about you?”

Chakotay stopped and set down the knife and piece of fruit. “I want a
commitment, Kathryn. It doesn’t have to be marriage, but I want some sort of
ceremony to mark a committed relationship.”

“I hadn’t thought about marriage. What did you have in mind?”

“Nothing specific, although I would like some part of it to reflect my traditions
and heritage.”

She sat in thoughtful silence a moment. “I committed to you publicly, Chakotay,
when I announced I was taking a leave of absence to help in your recovery. I think
I can go a little further. And I think it would be good for the crew to understand
this is no casual relationship. I suggest we think about what we might want and
come back to it. We still have a couple of days to make plans before we go back.
Although I think it should be sooner rather than later if we’re trying to make a
point to the crew.”

He nodded. “Fine. I’ll give some thought to it.”

“And I will as well. One thing though…”

He cocked his head expectantly, lifting a dark eyebrow.

“I won’t promise to obey.”

The dinner was good. They ate unhurriedly and then spent the last few hours of
sunlight with projects around the camp. Chakotay did some light chores – cleaned
up the boat, restacked the woodpile, fixed a loose latch on the shed. Kathryn put
her notes together on the plant specimens she had collected. They had agreed to
meet at the hot tub before bed. It had become something of an evening ritual. A
way to wash away the day and relax before sleeping.

The round wooden tub was their one real luxury. Kathryn had refused to spend
two weeks camping without a tub and the doctor had encouraged the hot water as
therapy for Chakotay’s leg. It was powered by dilithium batteries – cheating a bit
for the campsite, but at least not intrusive.

Chakotay was already soaking when she finished her work and crossed to the
sheltered clearing where the tub was set up.

He lay with his head resting against the tub wall, his eyes closed.
She watched him for a moment. Envied his tranquillity, but knew what he had
suffered to find it. His arms were draped across the edges of the tub, his hands
resting loosely on top. The water swelled up to mid chest, revealing golden hues
in the waning light.

She could not help but touch him. She traced a finger around his nipples, her light
skin against his darker tones. Then she spread her palm against his stomach,
beneath the water line. Her own breath quickened with the contact and she drew
back.

He opened an eye. Questioning.

“I’m coming in,” she said in answer. “Here,” she tapped his hand with the tea cup.
“I brought you tea.”

She set her own mug on the tub ledge and quickly stripped off her clothes and
stepped in. The water was warm and gently swirling. He shifted to make room for
her, drew her under his arm, against his chest.

She recovered her tea and took a sip before relaxing into his embrace.

“Mmm. You feel good.”

“Glad I could be of service.”

She rested her head against his shoulder. “You were busy tonight. How’s the leg?”

“It’s fine. I was careful.”

“Like hell. You overdid all day today.”

“I’m thinking of taking the boat out tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that asking for trouble? Your leg’s still mending even if you don’t think so.”

“I could do without the lecture.”

“I’m bossy. Get used to it.”

“I don’t want to argue, Kathryn.”

“You know we’re going to disagree about a lot bigger things than this. I suspect
we could have some hellacious arguments. We’re both stubborn, passionate.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Not at all. I’d worry if you didn’t give a damn.”

“So far you’re safe.”

“You know Mark and I never argued. We didn’t always agree, but we just agreed
to disagree. It was very congenial. Civilized.”

“Is that what you’d prefer?”

“Actually, no. It isn’t. I think I’d rather have it out. There’s no point in carrying
around a lot of unspent anger. It’s not productive. It’s not honest either.”

“Be careful what you wish for Kathryn.”

“Maybe I should make myself clear. I’ll knock you back in a second if you
challenge my authority on the bridge, but when it’s just the two of us? I’ll damn
well expect it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“So you’re taking the boat out tomorrow?”

“I am.”

“You’re on your own, then. I’ve warned you.”

“You’ve warned me. Are we through talking?”

“We can be.”

“Put your mug aside.”

She took a final swallow and set it on the ledge before he pulled her around onto
his lap, her legs straddling his. She could feel his erection beneath her and she
pressed herself against it.

He caught his breath. “That could be dangerous.”

“I might be in the mood to live dangerously.”

“Drowning included?”

She laughed. “I hadn’t considered that.”

“How about if I wash your back? Turn around and hand me the soap.”

Slipping from his lap she collected the soap and returned, straddling him the other
direction now, her back to his chest.

He lathered the soap and slowly slid his hands down her back, across her
shoulders, down her sides. She softened and stretched into him. She could feel his
erection against her buttocks now. It gave her an odd sense of power – that she
had brought him to this state of arousal.

His hands slipped around to the front of her, cupping her breasts, smoothing
against her stomach, pressing lower. She spread her legs and arched against his
touch, moaning softly, cries almost. Her hand guided his a bit lower, directed the
motion for a moment until he followed on his own.

“Oh..gods.. Chakotay..” The words were whispered, but she came hard with an
almost vicious force. It had been long. Very long since that. Since someone else
had given her release. She sagged against him, curled onto his lap, and he held
her, pressing his mouth to her hair, whispering his love.

She might have fallen asleep had she not felt him strong beneath her. He was still
needy.

Her hand slipped between them, found his erection, paced the length of it,
measured the fullness of it. Her other hand cupped his testicles, touched the
muscle at the base, kneaded softly.

“Stand up,” she whispered huskily.

He gripped the sides of the tub and rose up, the water sheeting off of him. She
knelt before him, took him in her hand, licked away the droplets of water. She
could feel him expand, extend. There had been so much foreplay. He was very
close.

Her mouth moved over him, drew him in, sucked and tongued and caressed. Her
hands kneaded his buttocks and gripped his thighs.

“Ahhhh. I can’t… Kath….” He was gasping. Ragged. She took her mouth away and
pressed him between her breasts, felt the warmth of his orgasm against her skin,
held him when he collapsed to his knees and panted against her.

How strange that she could draw the strength from him and leave him weak
within her arms. Any power that was granted by the red and black of the uniform
and the thrust of a starship was dwarfed by this.

They slept side by side in the bed, sated, drained, perhaps a little shaken by the
intensity of the contact, the intensity of their individual and combined responses.

Chakotay awoke before her as was his custom. Cleaned up. Started the fire.
Began breakfast. The smell of hot cereal and coffee woke her, that and his hand
on her thigh, trailing up her hip.

She stretched lazily, savored the tingling warmth in her thighs, in her belly. Mark
had never taken her to that edge. Held her at that precipice. Pulled her over with
such force.

“I may be no good at all to you today,” she teased, capturing his hand and drawing
the fingers to her lips.

He chuckled and patted her knee. “I’m taking the boat out. Your breakfast is
waiting. I’ve eaten.”

“Want some company?”

“Would you mind if I didn’t?”

“Not at all. Will you be back for lunch?” She sat up and pulled her robe over her
shoulders.

“Afraid you might have to cook?”

“Wondering when to start worrying.”

“Don’t. What are your plans?”

“I have some more cataloging to do. I can keep busy.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I am. What about this afternoon?”

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Let me plan something. I’ll leave you some time after lunch to take a nap and
then we’ll go off.”

He nodded, kissed her and walked over to his worktable, collecting his medicine
bundle and a light pack. She could see the water bottle peeking out of the side.
She understood his need for solitude and although she did not mind her own
company, she preferred when she could share it. It was something else she would
have to adjust to. Changes. Compromise.

He returned as promised and they ended up sharing a light lunch and then napping
together at the river’s edge on the blanket where they had eaten.

Chakotay fell asleep almost immediately after the meal. He had pushed himself
hard on his short trip, deliberately, to test himself. He had been satisfied with his
efforts.

Kathryn watched the steady rise and fall of his chest beneath the loose shirt,
noticed the curve of his hand resting on his stomach, mentally catalogued the
lines of his body, the discord of his tattoo – unfinished now, since the accident,
spaces between the markings. A work in progress. A promise to be finished.

And then there was the fullness of his mouth. His mouth attracted her. It had from
the first. Not like the eyes which had drawn her immediately with their
compassion and intelligence, but on a more base level. She knew now the feel of
that mouth on her skin, on her breasts. Leaning over him, she traced her tongue
along his lips. He stirred, but did not waken.

Her hand moved down his chest, lower, touched him and she felt him grow hard
just from the feel of her palm through his pants. She undid the belt, drew down
the fastening, slipped her hand beneath his briefs. He still slept, though he
groaned and pressed against her hand.

There was an issue of control here. Hers. His. She knew she was not violating
him, that he would willingly participate if awakened, but she chose not to. It was
a test – of one of them – or both.

Slowly her fingers undid the buttons on his shirt and pushed it aside. She got to
her knees and bent down to press her mouth to his skin, trailing wetness down his
stomach. She pushed the briefs down a bit and then tipped her tongue into the
cleft in his erection, rounding the head, savoring.

She felt his hands slide into her hair and push her down. He was awake, then. She
resisted the pressure. This was her exploration.

He understood somehow, cooperating as she removed his clothes. He lay naked
before her now and she straddled him, fully clothed, rubbing against him, testing
his stamina, his control.

His eyes were closed, his face pulled in fierce concentration.

“Let go,” she whispered.

He opened his eyes. “Pull your dress up,” he implored hoarsely, his hands sliding
up her thighs as he half sat, shifting her tighter onto his lap.

She pulled the hem of the dress from beneath her, but did not remove it, nor her
panties. She was wet against him, felt her own power and desire. His hands pulled
at buttons the front of her dress, pushed it open so it rode down to her hips. He
lifted and shifted her so she was on her knees, still straddling him, and he was
fully sitting. He pulled her back to him and slid his hands beneath her dress,
baring her buttocks to his hands, to his erection.

Now her hand reached down between them and grasped him in so fluid a motion
that he came with silent convulsive shudders, falling back upon his hands for
support. His wetness mixed with hers.

Wrapping his arms around her, he slowly rolled them both onto to their sides,
held her and caressed her breasts and back and buttocks while she found her own
release and cried his name as she fell against him.

After a moment her breathing softened and she pulled herself up. She was sticky
with both their fluids and he was wet with them as well.

“Here’s where we lose the romance,” she said wryly, grabbing up his shirt as a
makeshift towel. “There’s no damned elegant way to do this,” she observed as she
swiped at herself and then him, cleaning up the worst of it.

“That’s two of my shirts, Kathryn,” he told her, laying back in the sand, his hand
covering his eyes. She had taken one to wear and now this one was unwearable
unless one of them wanted to do laundry. Neither did.

“I’ll buy you a new one.” She stepped out of the dress and panties and tossed them
aside with the shirt. “I’m going for a swim.”

“Ok if I sleep now?”

She shrugged. “I’m through with you,” she told him irreverently as she waded into
the river. “Be my guest.”

A laugh started in his belly and filled him and he bounded after her, pulling her
down in the water. She grabbed for his legs, found one and tumbled him. Dodging
his grabbing hands, she laughingly pulled away, treading water.

He would be wonderful with children, she realized. He still loved to play. He
knew the way of it; met it with enthusiasm and unabashed delight. They had not
talked about children, Not since the business with Seska, and then that had been a
different matter entirely.

“You ready to talk some more?” she asked.

“I can.”

“Not here. Let’s get dressed. Have some lemonade. I wanted to take a walk
anyway if you’re up to it.”

“I’m fine.”

She followed his long strokes back to shore.

Kathryn had found this path by accident one day while collecting plant specimens
in a nearby glade. It looked like an old stream bed. It was sandy and just a bit
below grade.

“I’m just curious to see where it comes from,” she told him, stopping to remove
her sandals for easier footing in the sand.

Chakotay was already barefoot. He only wore shoes when he had to. She had
learned that about him. And that he slept nude. Liked to move around the camp in
the morning with little or nothing on. Preferred to drink his morning tea in
silence. Actually preferred to roam a bit before eating breakfast. Snored. Just a
little.

Mark had not snored. She had thought she preferred that until she realized that
the sound could be a comfort. That it was a reassurance of a presence at your
side. She still made these little comparisons, counted the differences. It was more
a curiosity than anything. Idle thoughts. Inevitable, she supposed.

Chakotay preferred the spiritual to the scientific. That challenged her. Gave her a
balance as well. Annoyed the hell out of her sometimes.

He was a better swimmer than she was. Better marksman. Better tracker. Better
cook. Vegetarian. That wouldn’t have played well at home. Did not drink. She
liked a beer now and then, or some brandy in her tea.

It was an inventory that was slowly being assembled. An index and table of
contents under construction which grew with each new discovery.

Likes and dislikes. Emotional. Physical. There was more to be learned there. The
backs of his thighs were sensitive. And his nipples. She could draw them out with
a flick of her tongue.

“You’re very quiet.” Chakotay took her hand.

“I was cataloging your idiocinracies.”

“Anything I need to know about?”

“I’ll let you know. I’m still collecting data.”

“I’ll try not to do anything out of character.”

She laughed. “I think you’re more of a conformist than you let on. It’s just a
different set of standards.”

“I was never a true revolutionary, just a bit contrary.”

“My point exactly.” She picked her way over a bed of rounded stones and
crouched to gather up a handful of tiny shells that had pooled behind the stones.
They were unremarkable. Typical of fresh water streams even on earth.

Rising, she tucked a couple of the shells in the pocket of her tunic and left the rest
behind. “Where do you think this stream begins?”

“There’s a range of step hills in the distance. That would be my guess. It may be
active only in the spring when there’s run off from the winter melt.”

“That would explain some of the debris we’re seeing.”

“Still want to go on?”

“For a bit. I would like a couple of species of ferns to study. If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t.”

They walked along in companionable silence for a few moments. The weather
was warm, the sun screened by the canopy of trees. The old stream bed narrowed,
twisted, widened.

Chakotay stopped occasionally to pick up an odd object – a seedpod similar to a
pinecone, a feather, a twig of dried berries. Kathryn found several new varieties
of wild orchid – or what she called an orchid for lack of a better name.

“Between my plants and your little collection we’re going to denude this place,”
Kathryn chuckled as they stepped out into a small glade. “Break?”

“I wouldn’t mind.”

They dropped to the soft grass and passed the water bottle back and forth a couple
of times. Chakotay had stowed some dried fruit in his pack and they shared that
as well.

“It’s lovely here,” she said with a contented sigh. “Now I’m ready for that nap.”

“I’m available as a pillow.” He was leaning against a tree, his legs bent. He looked
more like part of the setting than a pillow, but she was willing to take the leap of
faith if it meant somewhere soft to lay her head.

“I just might take you up on that,” she told him.

“As far as I know, we’re in no hurry to get back.” He extended his hand and drew
her in between his knees.

She lay her head back on his shoulder. “How about a bedtime story? I always
loved your stories.”

“Did you have something specific in mind?”

“Know any more about that angry warrior?” she asked settling into his arms.”

“I might.”

He considered. “I can tell you what happens to the warrior and the woman leader
after they have come to live and work together.”

“That sounds perfect. I always liked them.”

Chakotay found Kathryn’s hands and paired them with his own, intertwining his
fingers and lacing their palms together. “Ready?”

She relaxed into his warmth even more. “Ready.”

“The warrior had met all the tests of his new life,” Chakotay began in a soft
melodic voice. “He had learned his way among his new people. He had sought
and found his spirit guide in new surroundings. He had chosen his new path and
learned his different name and place. Yet still his greatest wish was to win the
hand of the woman leader of their tribe, for her bravery and kindness were
unrivaled, and he knew her heart alone would fill his life and complete his soul.”

“For many months, he waited, and through it all, he learned to love her more and
more, but still he would not speak his heart. At night his arms would ache from
loneliness, and when he saw her his heart would soar. Yet, he said nothing of his
feelings for he knew she traveled her own journey, leaving what had been behind,
and seeking out her new own path.”

“Then one day it came to pass that they were lost together, alone in a strange and
unfamiliar place, far from their tribe and depending only on the other. This
closeness gave the warrior new grown courage and one night he found the bravery
to tell her of his love.”

“His heart was pounding as he spoke, and when he finished with his story, he
waited in humbled silence for her to give or take his heart. As she slowly offered
up her hand, touching palm to palm, it felt to him as if her hand was touching
right upon his heart. He felt his spirit rise and soar and knew their souls would
never spend another day apart.”

“You’ve loved me that long?” Kathryn spoke softly, her voice a whisper, emotion
pressing it to quiet.

He pressed his mouth against her hair and drew her closer yet. “I may have always
loved you, Kathryn, no matter who or when I was.”

She awoke in the glade to the sensation of a feather tickling her rib cage, tipping
just below her breast. Her tunic was unbuttoned – not all the way, just enough to
give him access to the roundness of her breasts.

Peeking out from one eye, she offered a dry look to match her tone.

“Bored?”

“I thought I would see what all the excitement is about.”

“And?”

He pressed his lips against her neck, drew her hair away and kissed the nape
below.

“I think I can see the appeal.”

“Are we going to do this all day?”

“Hush Kathryn. Just listen and let the woods fill you.”

He combed and smoothed her hair with his fingers as the sounds of the forest
settled about them – the call of the birds, the wave of trees high upon the wind,
small scurrying noises in the brush. His arm drew around her and his hand slipped
inside her tunic, cupping her breast. They sat entwined, glorying in the day.

“Chakotay?” she asked softly after bit. “Have you thought about children?”

“Do I need to?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Does it have to be decided today?

“Not decided. But I’d like to know how you feel.”

“How do you feel?”

“I never considered it before. But frankly I can’t imagine running Voyager at
anything resembling a professional level and still having the time or energy to
devote to raising a child. Let alone going through morning sickness or 9 months
of pregnancy. How about you?”

“I wouldn’t have the morning sickness.”

“I can see this is going to be a worthwhile discussion.” She made a mental note to
add one hell of dry, sarcastic sense of humor to that list she was compiling.

“I’m not sure how I feel, Kathryn,” he answered finally.

“You went through this with Seska. Surely you must have sorted out your
feelings.”

“With Seska I had no choice.”

“True,” she agreed. “But you did go through the exercise all the same. It might
help me if you shared what you learned. Why did you decide to go after the
child?”

“Do you disagree with the decision?”

“Not at all.”

He was silent a moment, shifting her in his arms so she was resting against his
thigh and he could see her face. He traced his finger from her collarbone down
between her breasts and rested his hand on her flat stomach.

“Kathryn, I will fill you with children, if that’s what you want.”

“I don’t know that it is. At least not under our present circumstances. Maybe
never.”

“Then that’s fine, too.”

“That’s a lot of ambivalence about a fairly significant topic.”

“Would you prefer indifference?”

“You know I wouldn’t, but I’d like to know how you feel about it. If you expect
children. If you want them.”

“Unless you intend on getting pregnant today, I think we have some time to come
to a decision on this.”

“In other words you’re done discussing the subject.”

“Do you have other issues?”

“I want to understand your issues.”

“I’m not sure I even understand them, Kathryn,” he told her candidly. “To be
honest, I would like to see you pregnant with my child. But it has more to do with
you than the child. I’m just not sure I want to disrupt my life for it. I’m not sure I
want to share you with anything else.”

“That’s honest.”

“You asked.”

“I didn’t intend it as criticism. It may make more sense than a lot of reasons. I can
understand it at least. And frankly I think I’d like to carry your child. See my eyes
peering out from your face. I just don’t want to pay the price right now. I’m not
ready to give up my command and I don’t think I could do both well.”

“So we keep up our shots.”

“We keep up our shots,” she nodded. “But I’d like to reserve the right to change
my mind. One day our circumstances may be different. I may step down from
command at some point. I’d like to keep my options open a while longer.”

“Captain’s prerogative?”

“Kathryn’s prerogative,” she corrected. “Yours, too.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Ready to head back?” She stretched and began to rebutton her top, kissing the
tips of his fingers as she lifted his hand from her breast.

“Done walking?”

“Done talking.”

“Am I passing?”

She raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Your tests,” he clarified, pulling his pack together.

A chuckle escaped her lips and she shook her head in amusement. “You’re doing
just fine. Ready for graduation, in fact. Maybe we’ll hold the commencement
exercises tonight,” she quipped, standing and tugging him up after her.

“Cap off the week long festivities?”

“Something like that.” She slid a hand down his back to his buttocks, felt the
muscles tighten. “I want to watch you toss your hat in the air, Commander. See if
I can catch it.”

He drew her to his chest. “I’ll try not to disappoint.”

“I’m counting on that.”

***********

part 3:Pilgrimage
continuing part 2

They sat facing one another, on their knees on the blanket near the fire. Both still
wore swim suits. Chakotay had thrown on a shirt, unbuttoned. Kathryn wore just
the suit.

The air around them was charged with anticipation, tinged with apprehension,
warmed with affirmation.

They would be lovers this night. Lovers beyond the touching and caressing that
had framed their recent days. Beyond hands and mouths. Beyond even the fit of
one inside another they had yet to share. That their bodies would join was
incidental to the melding of their souls. There was something spiritual, something
nearly sacred, one celebrant to another, about what lay ahead.

Chakotay began the joining. His hand to her face. He touched her with a caressing
stroke that found its start at her temple and continued to her cheek. She turned
into his hand and pressed her mouth to his palm. Her lips were soft against his
roughened skin, her eyes closed.

The firelight flickered warming light and deepening shadows, caught the tawny
golds of his skin in contrast with her fairness and blended and muted them into
one.

With a soft stroking motion he smoothed backed her hair and then entwined his
fingers into the soft thick strands, combing through the lengths, tasting the
richness with his hands.

She dropped her head back and his fingers traced the fine lines of her neck. It was
the barest touch, feather light, yet it sent a rocking pulse through her that touched
her core and made her softly moan.

She would have moved, had she been willing or able to break the spell of his
hands against her flesh. She was not. He could touch and hold and glory. She
would seek him in her turn.

His hand experimented with the feel of her flesh beneath them. Texture. Heat.
Muscle. Bone. He slipped the straps of her bathing suit from her shoulders,
pushed the fabric down her arms, bared her breasts, lost his breath a moment.
Found it again, unsteady, insubstantial.

He splayed his fingers across her chest, took her breasts within them, circled the
nipples, teased them taut, made her cry out in quiet exaltation.

Now her back, and arms, and sensitive sides, and the curve beneath her arms were
his as well, and he lifted her as he knelt and peeled the cloth from her until she
was vulnerable in her nudity. Then he stripped himself and brought her back to
her knees before him, as exposed within as without. As was he. His eyes framed a
window to his heart and soul.

Where his hands had been, his mouth now visited. Another kind of tasting. The
hollow spot within her neck. The bend of her arm. The joining of her hand and
wrist. The dark round tipping of her breasts. She moaned now and leaned her
hands on his shoulders to support her unsteadiness.

He laid her down, smoothed legs and arms and caught her mouth with his, slowly,
pacing his lips across her lips, his tongue finding her tongue, her teeth, the
softness beneath her tongue. And he lifted her, pressing a hand beneath her
buttocks, kneading them, caressing them, finally leaving them for hip and thigh.

He parted her legs and ran his hands down their length, cupping knees and ankles,
pressing tongue to toes, sucking, causing her to writhe as all sensitivity soared.

Moving on knees to within her knees, he cupped golden curls and felt her wetness
hot on his hands. He stroked with a slow softness, deftly. Stopped. Treasured her
taste with his tongue.

Now her hands directed his mouth as she rose and bucked to meet his lips. She
enforced her own desires. He pulled back again and slipped a finger within her,
then another and drew them out, pressing them to her own lips so she could taste
her passion.

He sat and pulled her up to join him. She straddled his hips, sitting, legs around
his legs, his waist encircled, gripping. He held her close within a warm embrace,
one arm solid around her back.

He reached between them, touched her wet warmth and to his stunned surprise,
he came from just the contact, a fierce unexpected sob dragging from his throat,
sagging against her even as she waited for her own release. When his breath and
heart and mind found an even level, he lay her back down and took her hand and
pressed it down between her legs. With his own atop it, he guided her from
moans to cries to whimpers with long and solid strokes, an echo of himself in the
moments past.

They lay trembling together, foreheads touching, eyes closed, finishing the prayer.
Resting. Sleeping for a while.

At last, she reached across the distance between them and began her own sacred
pilgrimage of his soul and body. She traced the familiar unfamiliarity of his hip
and measured the length of hard muscled leg, returning the distance to challenge
arm and elbow.

He was hard again, his erection taut between them, but she did little more than
acknowledge this response, intent on exploration.

She scratched a soft pattern around his nipples with her fingernails and drew a
pattern down his chest, stopping to tease the scattering of hairs around his
nipples. He lay back, one arm across his face, more naked in his expression than
in body, both stripped bare.

Straddling his width, she pressed her wetness to his chest and lay down upon him
and slid the length of his chest until he was coated with her and with himself,
with the fluid he had spilled on her which lingered yet. He trembled, quivered,
made his own cries as she pressed her tongue to clean what she had spread.

He came again, hard pulsing wetness against her buttocks and she turned and took
him in her mouth as he finished, sipping of him, swallowing his flavor, savoring
his richness. He arched his back and bent his legs and pressed into her even as he
softened and became flaccid in her mouth. Still it was not over.

Wetting her finger from between her own legs she shifted and knelt between his
thighs and laved between his buttocks until he was spread open to her. She
pressed a finger in, slowly, gently, pulsing, tickling until she made him hard
again. He sat with a singularly graceful fluidity and pulled her tight to him, his
hardness nearly painful beneath her rear.

Her hands found his face, her tongue his eyes and ears and finally his mouth. She
tugged at his tongue with her teeth, sucking and biting until he gasped for air and
cried for relief. And still she had yet to taste his neck, to press his head beneath
her breasts, to bring hands to furred thighs and hard muscled stomach.

Finally she guided his hand to himself and urged it up and down along his length,
her hands kneading testicles and thighs, one finger back within buttocks, his legs
spread wide as he claimed his own release and spilled forth against her waiting
breasts.

They were spent, and slept, curled together, sticky with themselves and one
another. He awoke once, stroked her arousal to sleepy soft cries, folding her leg
across his thigh.

It was well before dawn when they wakened again. First her. Then him, alerted by
her stirring. They had cried and screamed and whispered impassioned words of
love and now they tested them and found their strength unchanged.

The fire ring had kept burning, but the wood was consumed. She slipped first into
the river while he pushed some logs onto the fire and then joined her – two
acolytes taking yet another baptism together under the fullness of the moon.

They bathed themselves and one another and did not linger. She claimed his shirt
and wrapped herself and then dressed him, tugging his now dry suit up lean hard
legs, smoothing it over hip and thigh, arranging and challenging. It was exquisite
pleasure and he told her so in whispers that grew hoarse and weak as her mouth
nipped the fabric of the suit where it was tight against his renewed erection.

“I need to be inside you,” he breathed, pulling her from her knees into his arms.

Her gentle responsive laugh both broke and renewed the mood. “I thought you’d
never ask.” she replied, her voice husky and compelling.

He stripped the blanket from the bed and pushed the sheets toward the bottom.
They wanted the softness of the mattress as cushion to their passion, but needed
nothing else to bind or entwine them save their feelings for each other.

There was a lantern near the bed and she lit it. This would be no dark unseen act.
She would know his eyes and face and trace the path to his heart and mind.

They stripped one another, dropped the clothes carelessly on the floor and
crawled together into each other’s arms, spooned and cradled, chest to chest. Her
breasts pressed against his arm muscle. His erection sought the softness between
her legs of it’s own accord.

She draped a leg across his hip, opening herself, and he stroked her and captured
her wetness and slicked it against himself. Their mouths were slow on one
another. She traced his lips, full, strong, sensual. Her tongue. Her finger. Her own
lips. She captured his mouth and sucked. His tongue probed and tipped against
the soft edges of her mouth.

Slowly they rocked together, arms entwined, mouths softly mixing, breathing
matched in uneven pacing as he entered her, finally. He guarded his movement,
so close to climax that even the smell of her heat and wetness nearly drove him to
come. She raised herself against him, widened to allow fuller entry, but did not
press, did not want the end yet either.

She held and stroked his back as he pulsed slowly in and out of her, raised on
strong arms above her, his eyes half lidded, concentration, passion, lust, flickering
within. Gently she edged him into rolling over and he pulled her with him, onto
him.

Pressing her weight against her knees she raised and lowered herself, finding his
hand and guiding it to between her legs, to touch her as she was filled by his
length and breadth.

His body trembled and she drew away and rolled onto her stomach, bracing her
knees and lifting herself so he could enter her, his body rising above hers, his
chest against her back, his knees paired beside her own.

He could press himself fully within her now and it was more than he could bear.
He shoved his length deep, thrusting hard, gripping her hips, pulling her against
him. She tightened and loosened deliberately, found his hand and pushed it in
slow circles against her own hard softness until her trembling gave way to his
steady rhythm. She came with a scream that was primal and shook with his name.

Her scent and sound and motion brought him past the edge. He cried her name as
a benediction, in praise and prayer. He rocked with the pulses of the orgasm, his
fluids released within her, hers against his hand.

They shook on hand and knee, his chest against her back, until he rocked back on
his heels and drew her with him, kneeling now, her back still pressed against his
chest. He wrapped his arms around her and she gripped them, eyes closed.

“Whatever I was, Kathryn, I am yours now,” he whispered. Her tears fell on his
hands, and his mingled in her hair. The affirmation was complete.

***********

part 4:Benediction
(on the cliffs, the day after, continuing part 1)

Chakotay led Kathryn by the hand along the back of the bluff toward a slight
opening in the trees. She was curious, but said nothing, confident in the warm
grip of his hand against hers. It was his surprise. She was content to wait and let it
be so.

“It’s steep here,” he warned, choosing his steps with a bit more care than on the
top of the bluff, “and it might be a little slippery.”

“I’m fine.”

The path led quickly down, tightly hugging the rock side of the bluff, the border
of trees falling away and finally becoming rock themselves until they were
contained within a stairway of sorts leading toward the base of the cliffs. The air
was cool and damp, and she could hear a rushing sound in the distance, louder as
they moved lower. The fall of water.

“*Is* there?” she asked, stopping him with the pull of her hand so she could hear
beyond their footfalls.

He nodded. “I found it when I came before. By accident, really. I was just walking
and happened upon it. I felt immediately that it had a special spirit. I wanted to
share it with you.”

The falls dropped about 60 meters from the cliff’s edge to the pool before them.
From that, a rushing stream cascaded toward the river, another 20 meters below.

A flat rock wall formed the half circle base of the falls, and Kathryn could see
there were markings along the edge, well defined at eye level.

Kathryn crossed immediately over to investigate. Her fingers traced the lines of
images – a man, a hand, a symbol she recognized as the tattoo Chakotay wore.
And then beyond that a second line – a woman, a ship that was clearly Voyager,
however primitive the art. In the last line there was a boat and a two people – man
and woman.

“You put these here,” she said, turning to Chakotay. “I’ve seen these before. In
Ohio. I was visiting with some friends and there is a site there. And another in
Canada on Lake Superior. I remember it was right at the waterline. My mother
was scared to death I was going to be swept away, but I had to see them.”

“Pictographs,” Chakotay said, filling in the word she’d been struggling for.

“Yes. The symbols each mean something, don’t they? I never learned the
meanings. Do you know them?”

“Some of them. The simple ones.”

“That’s your actual hand print,” she realized, peering at the palm print on the
rockside.

“I marked it when I was here the first time. I called the spirits and asked them to
purify the site.”

“And did they?”

“Yes. They did.”

“And the other images?”

“When I took the boat out yesterday I came back here.”

“In wondered where you were off to.”

She touched the rock face, her fingers playing across the designs.
“What does it say?” she asked him. “Tell me what message you put here.”

He traced the first image of the man. “This represents me,” he began. “It tells you
it will be my story.”

His fingers moved to the palm print. “The open palm represents an offering.”

“And the tattoo – your heritage?” she guessed.

He nodded “It tells that I honor the traditions and the old ways.” He touched the
symbol of his tattoo upon the wall.

“And is this me?” Kathryn wondered, pointing to the next line and the stick figure
of the woman.

“It is.” Chakotay nodded. “And this the home and life you gave to me,” he told
her, tracing the rough outline of their ship.

She continued to the third line of images, touching the figures of the man and
woman, and the boat. “So then this is us, and our journey up the river, our journey
to find each other…” She looked to Chakotay for confirmation and he smiled
softly and nodded again.

“It’s lovely,” she sighed. “Is this what you brought me here to see?”

“In part,” he nodded. “I wanted you to see how I had marked our presence here.

“And the rest of it?”

He held out his hand and smiled. “Ever swim beneath a waterfall, Kathryn.?”

The falls was cooler than the river, but not cold. They splashed and played in the
wide shallow pool under the raining water, using up stored energy and releasing
their inhibitions to become childlike and silly until at last panting with laughter,
Chakotay pulled her beneath the falls, kissed her with delight and passion and
brought her by the hand back to shore

They had no towels, so they pulled dress and pants and shirt atop wet skin. The
sun would dry both cloth and flesh.

“I’d like to do one more thing before we go, Kathryn,” he told her, pushing their
shoes into the pack, and then rising and offering his hand.

He crossed them to the pictographs, touched his hand to the empty space. “There’s
something I’d like to add to this. To show we were here together.”

He pressed their entwined hands to the rock, one upon the other.

“What do we mark it with?”

“I brought some of the dye. I made it this morning from the leaves and bark I
collected along your stream bed,” he replied, reaching into the pack and drawing
out a flat container. He opened up the seal.

Kathryn could see some kind of brownish dye inside. Another container held a
cleansing soap.

“You did this before? When you made the original pictures?”

He nodded and rose with the dye container in hand. “It’s not complicated. Ready?”

She nodded, and flattened her hand into the dye. Chakotay followed suit and
gestured for her to make her imprint first.

Kathryn pressed her hand against the cool hard surface of the wall, wriggled it a
moment, then released. Chakotay followed, just a bit aside of hers. Ten fingers.
Two palms. Merged in dye upon the cliff for all eternity. One spirit looked back
out at them.

***********

part 5:Rites of Passage
some from NewRiver part 4)

It was their last night in the camp.

They had spent the day cleaning up, rearranging, packing. Getting the camp ready
for the coming fall and winter when they hoped to come again.

Chakotay topped the woodpile, gathered tools and projects and set them all away
within the shed. Kathryn bundled up her notes and tests and put the case beside
his things. A promise to return.

In many ways the day was very ordinary. In more ways it was not. Both knew that
no matter when they would come back, it would never be the same. This
innocence. This exploration. This stage along their journey.

Chakotay sat before the fire, the flickering light warm upon already warm-hued
skin. Kathryn knelt before him, a small needle tipped laser in her hand. He closed
his eyes and nodded. She firmly gripped the tool and lifted it to his forehead,
rebuilding, redefining, his tattoo. He did not move and she was deliberate, quick
and deft with her touch. Marking him. Remaking him, the same and yet her own.
His image with her hand.

She turned the laser off and pressed a cool gel pack against his skin. He shrugged
it off, took her hand, kissed the inside of her wrist, the small single feather that
matched the larger version on his face. Her uniform sleeve would hide it, but she
could touch it, connect to it and to these days of rebirth and renewal. Recall the
time she become one within herself – when Kathryn and the Captain had found
peace with one another.

***********

part 6:Ceremony

Tom Paris rose from his seat at the round table and raised his glass, tapping it
with a spoon to signal quiet.

“I’ve been asked by the crew to propose a toast,” he announced, glancing about
the assembly.

They had turned one of the holodecks into a banquet room. The largest meeting
room on Voyager was not spacious enough to accommodate all the crew who
wanted to witness this day, but the holodeck served well, bedecked with flowers
and linens and candles and the air rich with flavors and spices.

Neelix had outdone himself with the preparations, despite the one day notice and
the gift from the crew had been enough donated replicator rations for a real buffet
– comfort food, party food, specialties from all the homeworlds represented on the
ship. Enough cause by itself for rejoicing even without this joining.

There had been music and wine and dancing with the banquet. It was a party, a
celebration, an affirmation of the future.

Kathryn and Chakotay rose at Tom’s instance and faced the group, the second
time that day. The first had been before the meal when they spoke their simple
vows and marked commitment and communion, shared their joy and passion with
the crew.

Chakotay’s hand rested possessively against the small of Kathryn’s back. A narrow
silver band encircled the third finger of his left hand. Her wish. Her gift. Her link
to where she came from. A memory of her father and the wedding band he wore.

Kathryn’s hands were bare. Her wish as well, but a gentle cascade of small white
feathers, each a promise and a prayer, laced down her back against the looseness
of hair. His traditions, his heritage, his benedictions shared with her.

Tom raised his glass a little higher and began his toast.

Here was another turn upon the river, another bend, another pulling of the
current, the journey was the only destination.

finis

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