NOTE: This story was written for the VAMB Secret Santa 2013 exchange. My request, from malezita, was for a J/C story based on a poem by Mario Benedetti, which you will find below. There was more to the request, but I don't want to give too much away so I'll append the rest of it to the end of the last part. :-) Enjoy.

"Tactics and Strategy"

Mario Benedetti

My tactic is to look at you

To learn how you are

Love you as you are

My tactic is to talk to you

And listen to you

And construct with words

An indestructible bridge

My tactic is to stay in your memory,

I don't know how

Nor with what pretext

But stay within you

My tactic is to be honest

And know you are too

And that we don't sell each other illusions

So that between us there is no curtain or abyss

My strategy instead is

Deeper and simpler.

My strategy is that some day

I don't know how, nor with what pretext

That finally you need me.

- Mario Benedetti (translated by Chris Kraul)

NEITHER CURTAIN NOR CHASM

Part One

For weeks, he watches and waits.

In the quiet of his Academy office, he spends the months of February and March staring at the HQ building, hopeful for a glimpse of her. He requested his second-floor office entirely for its south-facing windows, which allow him the perfect vantage point. A check of the HQ directory has told him that when her post-mission leave is up and she finally goes back on active duty, she will occupy the northwest corner office on the fifth floor of her building. He gazes up at it for minutes at a time, hours at time, without seeing her at all.

The weeks pass, but still he watches and waits, alone in his office. Most of their crew have scattered across the quadrant. Tom and B'Elanna have settled on Jupiter Station. Mike Ayala has gone back to Trebus to help with the rebuilding. Harry, newly promoted, is off on a new deep-space mission. Tuvok is still recovering on Vulcan. Very few of his friends have stayed on Earth, and none he sees regularly. Sometimes, the loneliness and loss threaten to overwhelm him. Meditation and exercise and long hours in his office help to keep the feelings at bay…most of the time.

On a stormy April Monday he glances out his window and discovers that every office on the fifth floor is lit up except hers. Bored with waiting and anxious to make contact again, he wonders if perhaps he should just call her; maybe she's having difficulty readjusting to life in the Alpha Quadrant and could use a friend. But their relationship was so strained by the end that he fears she might not call him "friend" anymore. His ill-fated relationship with Seven is a troubling aberration he'll need to explain, too, as soon as he finds the right words. He sighs and begins to turn away from the window, but then a lone figure scurrying across the quad catches his eye. The sight, so welcome after all this time, makes his heart flutter against his ribs.

Her quick, light strides falter when a gust of wind catches in her red umbrella, but she yanks the handle close to her body and hurries on. When she takes the steps up to the building two at a time, no small task for someone so short, he almost smiles. She disappears into the building and his gaze moves up to the northwest corner of the fifth floor where, a moment later, her office lights flick on. He holds his breath when she steps up to the window and leans against it, coffee in hand. He's seen her do this hundreds of times on Voyager, but never from this position, never where he could see her face so well. Even from this distance he can see that her expression is pensive on this, her first day back on duty after the end of their seven-year journey. He wonders if she is melancholy, if she misses Voyager as much as he does, or if she's relieved to be home again and looking forward to the next phase of her career.

He wonders if she has thought about him at all in the months they've been apart.

Minutes pass. She sips her coffee and stares out into the rain while he sits and watches, transfixed by his first sight of her in weeks. When she turns away from the window and disappears into the office, he opens his desk drawer and pulls out a small black field notebook and an old-fashioned ink pen.

Monday, April 2, 2379, he writes in neat, blocky letters. 0800. Coffee.

He slips the notebook and pen into the inside pocket of his uniform jacket and gathers up the PADDs he will need for his first class. Before he leaves, he casts one last glance up at the warm light from her window and smiles.

=/\=

He can't say when this, his attempt to bridge the months-long gap between himself and Kathryn, becomes a strategic exercise, but soon all the observations he's scrawled into the ever-present notebook add up to a record of her routine – or as much of her routine as he can glean while still teaching a roster of full classes himself. By the end of April he knows the pattern of her daily arrivals – 0800 Monday and Tuesday, an hour earlier the rest of the week – and departures – 1700 most days, much earlier on Fridays. He knows which days she's most likely to stay in her office and which days she's most likely to go out. He knows where she goes to lunch and with whom she dines, although usually she goes alone.

Over a weekend in the middle of April, she installs curtains on all her office windows, probably to shut out the glare of the sun on the Pacific Ocean. The presence of the curtains bothers him for most of that week, until she begins leaving the ones on the north-facing windows open all day. Even when the west curtains are closed against the bright afternoon light, he can still look up and peer into her office.

He does not want curtains between them. He does not want anything between them now that they are home.

On a Wednesday in late April, he leans against the lectern in his classroom as his students file out. He consults his notebook and glances over the entries for the previous three Wednesdays:

Wednesday, April 4. Arrived at 0655 with coffee. Left office during Anthropology lecture. Returned at 1145. Lunch in office. Meetings in office all afternoon. Left at 1700.

Wednesday, April 11. Arrived at 0656 with coffee. Gone at 1100. Returned at 1145. Lunch in office. Meetings. Left at 1715.

Wednesday, April 18. Arrived at 0725, no coffee.

Chakotay smiles, remembering the exasperation he could see on her face, even so far away, when she realized she was not only running late, she'd also forgotten her coffee.

He reads on.

Returned 0740 with coffee. Gone by 1100. Returned at 1140. Lunch in office. Meetings. Left at 1730.

He glances at the clock in the empty classroom: 1125. He slips the notebook back into the inside pocket of his uniform jacket, gathers his things and leaves the classroom building, headed to the air tram station and the transport that will take him away from the training grounds and across the Golden Gate to the Presidio.

Today's the day.

On a page at the back of the notebook, he's scribbled a tentative strategy for making contact with her and beginning to rebuild their friendship. Today, April 25, is the day he has decided to try to speak to her, maybe even offer to take her to lunch if she seems glad to see him.

The air tram seems to take forever.

Back at the Presidio, he jogs toward the open space between his Academy office building and her HQ building.

At the corner of the quad he pauses and watches for her. On Wednesdays she always returns to her office via the cobblestone path opposite him, probably from a standing conference in the Engineering building. He plans to set out across the quad as soon as he sees her turn the corner so that their meeting will seem as natural as possible. He shakes his head at himself, picturing her indignation if she knew he'd been effectively stalking her for almost a month, but then he sees her sail around the corner and holds his breath.

The late April sun catches her full in the face as she enters the quad, glinting off the red-gold highlights in her hair. She stops and squints against the brightness, but instead of raising her hand to shield herself from the sun she smiles and turns her face up to it. His heart melts as he watches her. He's done the same thing dozens of times since their return, enjoying the feel of the Terran sun on his skin after so many years away.

He doubts that the expression on his own face is ever as rapturous as hers is right now, or as quietly beautiful.

When she resumes her trek across the quad, he takes a deep breath and starts toward her. His hands, one curled around a stack of PADDs, the other clenched into a fist at his side, are sweaty.

Before he can call to her, she notices him walking along the path toward her. "Chakotay?" she gasps, and then, "Chakotay! My god!"

As she darts toward him, her hands outstretched, he feigns surprise. "Kathryn?" He takes three quick steps and reaches out to clasp her fingers in his empty hand, but she shocks him by folding him in an embrace, her arms wrapped around his body. As affectionate as their friendship once was, this is the first time she's ever hugged him this way. He suppresses a gasp of wonder and pulls her close, his nose buried in her soft hair. "It's so good to see you," he murmurs. "So good, Kathryn."

She steps back from him and takes his hand, as he'd expected her to all along. "It's good to see you, too." She searches his face, her brows knit together, then she smiles and pats his shoulder. "The gray suits you."

He wonders if she's referring to his Academy uniform, which, like hers, is gray and black with a red turtleneck underneath, or his hair, which is finally going natural after five years of efforts to keep it dark. Then she reaches up and brushes her fingertips over the top of his ear. "Very distinguished."

At her touch, a warm little frisson of desire runs through his whole body, but he refuses to let it show in his face. "It suits you, too," he says. "The uniform, I mean. Brings out the blue in your eyes."

She blushes. "Thank you."

With a squeeze of her hand, still clasped in his, he pulls her to an empty bench at the edge of the cobblestone path. "Are you back on full-time duty?"

"Yes, about a month ago." She points to the office building opposite them. "My office is in that building. Fifth floor, northwest corner."

He peers at it, pretending to count up and over. "You must have a good view of the Pacific."

She nods. "How about you?"

He hooks a thumb toward the squat building behind them. "Second floor, fifth window from the left."

With a start, she turns and squints. "You're right across the quad! Which one?"

He points. "Fifth from the left," he repeats.

She shakes her head and turns back to him. "It's a wonder we haven't run into each other before now, since you're right there."

He hums a vague agreement. "I'm sure you've been very busy."

"Not especially," she sighs. "Nothing like Voyager, anyway. Just a lot of meetings and administrative work. I'm assured that all of this will soon lead to more responsibility and more interesting assignments, but for now…" She gives her head a little shake. "I've become a deskbound bureaucrat, Chakotay."

"Are you managing to avoid the worst of the paperwork, at least?"

She elbows him in the ribs. "Sadly, no. My aide isn't nearly as effective as my former First Officer at deflecting those PADDs from my sight."

With a soft chuckle, he leans toward her. "I had seven years to perfect the art. Give your aide some time; I'm sure she'll get the hang of it."

"Maybe you could drop by and give her some pointers someday."

"And divulge my secrets? Never."

She gives him a sidelong glance and laughs, and the sound of it warms him even more than the spring sun. "How are your classes?" she asks after a moment. "Students treating you well? What's your schedule like?"

"Full, but manageable," he replies. "I just came from my Introductory Anthropology lecture. That's Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 0900. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have Beginning Tactics lectures at 0830, and then an Advanced practicum at 1400 for two and a half hours."

She groans in sympathy. "That must be exhausting."

He nods. "It is. When I finally get home on those days, I usually just sit down with a drink and a book, and wind up falling asleep in front of the fireplace with Smoke."

She cocks her head to one side. "Need someone to check your chimney, Commander?"

He laughs out loud. "Smoke is my cat, Kathryn. But thanks for the offer."

She rolls her eyes but grins that crooked grin he's missed so much. "You know what I meant. You must be very settled in, if you got a cat."

"Actually, she came with the house." Kathryn quirks an eyebrow at him, and he shrugs. "A couple days after I moved in, she just showed up on my doorstep. I asked all the neighbors to see if maybe she was lost, but no one claimed her. And once I started feeding her…" He smiles. "I guess she claimed me, in a way."

She shakes her head at him. "I might have known you'd turn out to be a cat person."

He chuckles. "I don't know that I'm a 'cat person' so much as I am a 'collects strays' person. I've always been that way."

With a nod, she squeezes his hand. "We both are."

They sit for a moment, both gazing out across the quad. Thinking of the notebook in his pocket and all his careful planning, he casts about for the right words to ask her to lunch, but she clears her throat and speaks again before he can extend the invitation.

"So if it's Wednesday, you must have the afternoon free?"

He nods. "I usually sit office hours on Wednesdays at 1400, but I'm free until then."

With a wide, happy smile, she stands up and drags him behind her. "Lunch? There's a little Thai restaurant on Lombard Street I've been wanting to try. Plenty of vegetarian food on the menu. How about it? Are you game?"

He can't help it; he grins at her enthusiasm, and the fact that she has effortlessly upended his strategy for this reunion. He offers her his arm, just like old times. "Of course. Lead on, Admiral."

They walk through the grounds and take a public monorail from the Presidio over to Lombard Street, just east of HQ. On the monorail, they both reflexively smile at the civilians who recognize them. Thankfully, some months removed from their sudden return to the Alpha Quadrant, no one stops them to chat.

The Thai restaurant is crowded, but they find a table for two in a secluded corner. Over their meals – Gai Himparn with chicken for her, spicy Tom Kah Pak with tofu for him – they continue to catch each other up on their work of the last few months, the health of their families, the news they've received from their far-flung crew. He's encouraged by the ease of their talk, given the months they've spent apart and the stress and estrangement of their last year or so together.

She offers to split a dessert of fried bananas with honey, but he winds up eating almost all of it while she watches him, her eyes amused over the rim of her coffee cup.

"I see you haven't lost your sweet tooth."

He grins. "Never."

"So you're living on Earth now? I thought you might go back to Trebus."

He shakes his head. "I visited, but it's not home. It never really was, to be honest."

"What about your sister?"

He gives a half-hearted shrug. "As desperate as things are there, Trebus is her home. She'll stay and help with the rebuilding, no matter what it takes."

Kathryn reaches across the table and lays her hand on his forearm. "Did she want you to stay?"

He grips his fork hard. "She did. She tried to convince me. They all did. But it didn't take me long to remember why I left there when I was fifteen. If it hadn't been for the Cardassians I never would have regretted it."

"I'm sorry, Chakotay. The decision to leave had to have been difficult for you."

He shrugs again. "It's in the past now."

"Were you able to mend fences with Sekaya?"

He looks up quickly. "Oh, yes, things are fine between us. She's planning to visit me in Sausalito this summer."

Kathryn gives him a relieved smile. "I'm glad. I'd hate to think you had come home to a strained relationship with the only family you have left." She sips her coffee. "Sausalito. That must be very convenient for you."

He nods around a mouthful of sweet banana. "I'm within walking distance of the training grounds and classroom buildings, although I usually start the day in my office anyway. My house is just north of Dunphy Park, about a block away from the monorail stop. From there it's a short ride to the air tram station and across the Golden Gate."

"And you have a cat named Smoke."

He smiles. "A cat, a lot of books, a gorgeous view and a kayak."

Her eyes light up with interest. "A kayak?"

"Ocean kayaking. Some of my Advanced students talked me into it. I'd seen them out on the water a few times and decided to give it a try." He licks his fork clean and lays it on the table. "I could show you sometime, if you're willing," he offers, as nonchalantly as possible.

"I'd like that."

"Some weekend when you're free. But give me a day's warning so I can borrow a tandem craft."

He pays the bill over her protests. The day is brisk but pleasant for April, and they decide to walk the couple of kilometers back to HQ. As before, he offers her his arm and she takes it with a smile.

"So where are you living these days?" he asks, even though he knows. The address is scrawled in his notebook, along with her home comm code and the address of her mother's house in Indiana.

"Hmmm? Oh, I have a townhouse just south of HQ, on Clay Street."

"Also convenient," he says.

"Very. Although I beam to Indiana and spend most weekends with my mother and sister."

"Have you gotten to do any of the traveling you talked about back on Voyager?"

"Some. I spent a week in Venice in January, and I joined my family for a weekend in Lake George earlier this month." She sighs. "I'd like to go to Paris sometime, but for something other than a briefing with the diplomatic corps."

He chuckles. "I suppose it's hard to see the sights when you're working."

Back on the Starfleet grounds, they stand awkwardly on the steps in front of her building. He does not want to say good-bye. "I enjoyed this, Kathryn," he says. Mentally, he scans through the back page of his tactical notebook. Make a standing lunch date is on there somewhere; he's sure of it. He shuffles his feet and prepares to ask if she'll meet him again next Wednesday, but once again, she beats him to the punch.

"Will you be free again next week for lunch? Are Wednesdays good for you?"

He can't stop the wide, happy grin that emerges. "Wednesdays are perfect. Meet at the bench again?"

She nods. "Unless it's raining. Then just come on up to my office at 1145 or so. Fifth floor -"

"Northwest corner. I'll remember. See you next week, Kathryn."

"Next week." With a final pat of his shoulder, she turns and bounds up the steps and into the building. He waits until she appears at her window, waves up to her, and returns to his desk to prepare for the Cadets who will soon begin turning up for his office hours.

The next morning, he hangs a stained-glass dragonfly in his window. He hopes it will help her find his office when she looks down from hers, and remember that he is there.

=/\=

They return to the Thai restaurant on the first two Wednesdays in May. They linger over lunch a little longer each time, chatting about work and family and how much they both miss their far-flung crew. On May 2, she slips her hand into his as they walk back to her building. On May 9, she bids him good-bye with a kiss on his cheek.

When he scrawls this into his notebook, his hands shake.

On a Friday in mid-May, he talks one of his students into letting him borrow a tandem kayak. He spends the following Saturday on the bay with her, teaching her the art of handling the craft while learning firsthand what it's like to have all her attention focused on him and him alone. On Voyager her focus was always split. She always kept one eye open for her ship, one ear cocked for her crew. So did he, to a lesser extent. But now, post-Voyager, she is fixated on him and his every word, his every move.

He's intoxicated by this.

And tenderly, deliciously aroused.

The days pass by in a blur.

The balance of his spring semester is filled with projects to grade and practicums to supervise. At the request of his Cadets he sits extra pre-finals office hours whenever he can spare the time – even Saturdays, when he'd rather be out on the water with Kathryn.

But he reserves lunch on Wednesdays just for her.

The Wednesday after the kayaking excursion, they lunch at an Italian restaurant that was a favorite when he was a Cadet. They're both mortified to find that the place has changed hands since his Academy days, and is now more of a caricature of an Italian restaurant. It's run by Bolians and bizarrely decorated like a Tuscan vineyard crossed with an ancient Roman monument, complete with dusty fake greenery and stone columns. Chakotay can barely see Kathryn around the oversized chandelier hanging over their table, but every time he shifts in his seat to get a better view, a cluster of plastic grapes collides with the side of his head.

They eat their meal quickly, hardly daring to look at each other. The food is decent, but when their tiramisu dessert arrives in a large wooden gondola, delivered by a singing Bolian in a straw hat and too-tight striped T-shirt, they've both had enough. Chakotay hurriedly pays the bill while she places the tiramisu in a small stasis box.

When they finally stumble out on to the sidewalk, they both give in to their suppressed laughter. She collapses against him, gasping for breath.

"That place would have embarrassed even Neelix!" she crows.

He wraps his arm around her, enjoying the feel of her body against his, and steers her back toward the monorail station. "Actually, if he were ever to open an Italian restaurant, I imagine it would be exactly like that."

"Except the food wouldn't be as good."

"Ah, but it would have one hundred percent more-"

"Leola root!" she finishes. "That's what it needed! More leola root!"

He laughs. "I'm sorry about that, Kathryn," he offers, "even if it was entertaining."

She turns and places her palm on his cheek. "Oh, I don't mind. The meal was edible, and it broke up my week. I have a meeting with Nechayev this afternoon that'll seem like nothing compared to a Bolian gondolier."

"A singing Bolian gondolier at that." He covers the hand on his cheek with his own. "So you didn't mind?"

"Not at all. It was fun. We always have fun together." When he lets go of her hand, she brushes her fingertips against the graying hair at his temple. "I look forward to my Wednesday lunches with you all week."

He visualizes the page at the back of his notebook. "I'm glad you enjoyed it. But I still want to make this up to you, if you'll let me."

She drops her hand. "Chakotay…"

"Hear me out," he says, and offers his arm. "If I remember correctly, you have a birthday coming up in a few days."

"Hmmm. Do I?"

He chuckles. "I'm going to assume you have plans with your family for the weekend," he begins, and continues at her nod. "So I'd like to take you to dinner Friday night."

"This Friday?"

He nods. "Friday the 18th, two days before your birthday. The neighbors told me about a restaurant in Sausalito at the end of Spinnaker Drive. They say the food is great, and the view of the bay is spectacular."

She walks along beside him, her head tilted to one side. "What kind of food?"

"Seafood, mostly."

Concerned, she glances up at him. "Will you get enough to eat?"

He smiles at her consideration. "I can make a meal of most anything. And this is for you, Kathryn. For your birthday. Fresh seafood, a good bottle of wine, and a beautiful view."

"And good company."

His heart swells at her words. "I'm honored that you think so."

She is silent for a long moment. He glances down at her from time to time as they stroll along. It occurs to him that she might wonder if he's asking her for a date, and that particular entry in the back of his notebook is still at least two weeks away – and there's still the matter of Seven that needs to be addressed before he'll feel completely comfortable moving forward with Kathryn. But while he's searching for words to put her at ease, she speaks again. "Chakotay," she murmurs, "would this be just a birthday dinner with a friend, or something more?"

It amazes him that she can so casually and consistently undermine all his strategizing. Perhaps he should sit in her office and deal with Starfleet bureaucracy, and she should teach his tactics classes. He tries to keep his voice as light as possible when he answers her, even though his heart is hammering in his chest. "Any dinner I have with you will always be dinner with my best friend," he begins, and smiles when he sees her expression falter. "But someday I'd like it to be dinner with my best friend…and something more. If you want that, too, of course."

"Of course," she echoes, and favors him with the crooked smile he's adored since the first time he saw it almost eight years ago.

He grins down at her. "'Of course' what? Of course you want that too, or of course it'll only be something more if you say it is?"

She stops walking and turns to face him. "Of course you're putting the matter back in my hands, even after you've told me, in your own roundabout way, that you want more from me than you'd ever dare to ask for outright."

The amusement drains from him. "Kathryn, I didn't mean-"

She places her hand on his chest. "I know. You didn't mean to push. And you're not pushing, Chakotay. You're just…" She bites her lip and blinks up at him. "You're just being you. Kind and considerate." She gazes at the hand on his chest. "Good-hearted. It's one of the things I counted on out there, one of the things that kept me grounded. Your good heart that always puts others first…that always puts me first. But I think maybe it's time for you to stop doing that."

He shoves his shaking hands in his pockets, terrified that he's misread her, that all his careful planning and all his hopes, buried for so long and just recently allowed to surface, mean nothing. "What are you saying, Kathryn? And please be very specific. This is much too important for misunderstandings."

She sighs and stares down at the container of tiramisu in her free hand. "I'm not as good with words as you are, Chakotay, so forgive me if this comes out wrong. All right?" He nods, even though he doubts that anything she could say to him now won't hurt like hell no matter how she says it. "For a long time, we've danced around each other like this. We didn't really have a choice out there, but there were a few times when we came very close to crossing a barrier we both knew we shouldn't." She looks up at him with the crooked smile again, and he relaxes just a little. "A slightly tipsy sail on Lake George comes to mind," she continues. "And a man who was very bothered that Q wanted to mate with me."

In spite of himself, he chuckles. "I wanted to hit him so badly. You have no idea."

"I wanted to leap across the desk and throw my arms around you for feeling that way."

His eyes widen. "You did?"

"There's a fine line between chivalry and chauvinism. You were skirting it that day. You were also on the verge of blowing all my Starfleet protocols and personal parameters right out an airlock. I should have been furious. I wanted to be furious, but in reality I adored you for it." Speechless, he stares down at her. She bites her lip. "And you didn't know, did you?"

He shakes his head slowly.

She pats his chest. "This is exactly what I mean, Chakotay. We've gotten so good at hiding our feelings from each other that maybe we can't be honest and direct anymore. It's something we'll need to work on if-"

"I love you," he blurts out, mentally ripping up every page in his tactics notebook. "I've loved you almost from the minute I saw you on my viewscreen eight years ago, and even though we've been through some difficult times I've never stopped. Never. I won't lie; I've been with other women, both out there and since we've been back. But it was you I was thinking of every time. It's always been you. It'll always be you. I love you, Kathryn. Just you, just as you are."

Her mouth falls open, but before she can respond he forges ahead. "You want me to be direct? How's this for direct?" He steps toward her, wraps one arm around her waist and pulls her body flush against his, where there can be no mistaking his intentions. She gasps. "At 1900 hours on Friday night, I'm going to pick you up at your townhouse on Clay Street. We'll take my hovercar – it's state of the art, you won't be able to keep your hands off it – we'll drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito to the restaurant at the end of Spinnaker Drive. You'll have lobster dripping with butter sauce, and every bite that passes your luscious lips will be agony for me. Agony. By the end of the meal I'll be squirming in my seat, desperate to get you home and into my bed."

"Chakotay!" she huffs, eyes wide.

"I'll risk life and limb, driving at top speed the few blocks from the restaurant to my house in Sausalito. Once we're finally inside I'll have you up against the door so fast you won't know what happened. I'll kiss you until neither of us can breathe, until your gorgeous body is wrapped around me and I'm so hard I'm in pain."

She quirks an eyebrow and presses her soft belly against him. "Like now?" There's challenge in her eyes, but he's gratified that her voice is shaky and breathless.

He lowers his head to growl in her ear. "This is nothing, Kathryn. Nothing. We haven't even kissed yet, and this is what you've done to me. Imagine what Friday will be like."

She exhales against his neck, long and slow, and he pulls her even more snugly against his eager body. "I'll have you begging by 2200 hours, Kathryn, and screaming by midnight."

With her hand on his chest, she pushes him slightly away from her. "Screaming?"

"Screaming out my name. Over and over again."

She nods once. "That's fine. You're going to need the reminder anyway."

He blinks in confusion. "Reminder?"

"Of your name." She extricates herself from his grasp and saunters away from him, hips swaying. "Because somewhere around 2300 hours, I intend to make you forget it."

He laughs, low and dark, eyes fixed on her lush backside. "I take it I was direct enough for you, Admiral?" he calls.

"Very much so, Commander," she tosses over her shoulder.

"And that barrier we knew we shouldn't cross?"

"Obliterated with a tricobalt grenade."

He takes a hasty step toward her, then another. "Don't you want me to walk you back to your office?"

She raises a hand to stop his progress. "I'm already late for my weekly meeting with Nechayev. But if you walk me back to my office, I'll not only be late, I might just decide to skip it altogether."

"Friday at 1900 hours, Kathryn. Don't forget."

"Not a chance, Chakotay. You've made sure of that."

He leans against a building and watches her walk away from him. His heart is pounding so hard he's half afraid it'll leap right out of his chest.

=/\=

Friday, May 18, dawns clear and warm. He goes about his daily business with a pleasant hum of eager anticipation in the back of his mind. His 0900 students are more fidgety than usual – young people with a bad case of spring fever, he decides, and lets them go half an hour earlier than usual. When they look up at him with surprise, he finds himself smiling at them. "Go take a walk," he tells them. "Go down to the gardens and smell the flowers. Slow down for a while and enjoy the day."

He chuckles to himself when he hears the echo of old Boothby in his words, and resolves to tell Kathryn about it later.

Kathryn.

Just the presence of her name in the back of his mind threatens to turn his anticipation into something far more urgent.

Back on the HQ side of the Golden Gate, he strolls through the Presidio with quick, confident steps. Out of habit, he glances up at her window.

Her curtains are drawn for the first time in weeks. He frowns up at them and makes his way up to his office.

Before he can fully puzzle out the significance of the closed curtains, his comm badge chirps. "Janeway to Chakotay."

He smiles and picks up the box with her birthday gift – a simple emerald pendant on a delicate silver chain – and turns it over in his fingertips. "Chakotay here. I was just thinking about you, Kathryn."

There's a cold silence on the other end of the comm. "I'm afraid I can't have dinner with you this evening."

He grips the box, staring at her drawn curtains. "What? Why?"

Another silence. "I just don't think it would be a good idea, Commander."

"Has something come up? Are you going to be working?"

"No, not at all. I'll just be going home, as usual."

He darts out of the office. "Kathryn, what-"

"And I don't think we should meet for lunch anymore, either," she continues.

"Wait, Kathryn," he says, racing into the lift at the end of his hallway. "Tell me what's happened. What's going on?"

"Nothing, Commander. I just…" She sighs. "We can't see each other anymore. I'm sorry."

As the lift doors open on the ground floor lobby, he's desperately trying to figure out why she's suddenly changed her mind about taking their relationship further. "Did someone say something?" he asks. "Did Admiral Nechayev-"

"No, not Nechayev."

"But someone said something. Who?" he demands, rounding the corner and emerging into the quad at a jog. "Who said…"

He stops in his tracks.

Seven of Nine is descending the stairs from Kathryn's building.

She's not supposed to be here. She's supposed to be on Vulcan.

A nervous knot forms in the pit of his stomach as Seven crosses the quad in the opposite direction and disappears around the corner.

"I'm coming up, Kathryn."

"No."

"Yes. We need to talk." He takes the steps up to her building two at a time and dashes into a lift just as the doors slide closed. "I'm coming up right now."

"I don't want to talk to you. Not yet. Just…stay away until I can sort this out for myself."

"Too late. I'm on your floor now. I'm almost there."

"Don't, Chakotay. Don't do this."

"Is that an order?" He doesn't bother to ring her office chime and blows past her bewildered aide without a glance. The inner office door opens when he approaches. "Because you can make it an order, Kathryn, but I don't think I can obey it."

She's seated at her desk, outwardly calm, but he knows her well enough to see the signs of agitation in the way she fingers the items on her desk. "This is inappropriate, Commander," she snarls.

"I don't care."

She raises her chin at him. "I could have you removed."

"You could." He seats himself in the chair opposite her desk. "But we'd still need to talk about this. Now seems to be as good a time as any."

She starts to turn away from him. "Sit there as long as you like, Commander. I don't intend to-"

"She was here, wasn't she?" Kathryn's head snaps around again. "Seven? She was here. I saw her leaving the building."

Kathryn nods once. "Yes. She heard through the grapevine that we'd been spending a lot of time together. You can imagine what we talked about."

He shrugs. "I can imagine, yes. I'd rather you just told me so I can explain it from my point of view."

She gives a humorless little chuckle. "I don't think it would matter, Chakotay. What you did to her was unconscionable."

He draws back in surprise. "I'll grant you that the breakup was messy, but I hardly think 'unconscionable' is accurate."

"Isn't it? A girl barely half your age, Chakotay. Inexperienced, naïve… You're hardly the first man to chase after-"

"Now wait just a damn minute," he thunders. "I never chased anybody. I don't know what you think you know, but she initiated everything. And she may be young, but she's an adult and fully capable of making her own decisions."

"Barely."

"You don't give her enough credit."

"And you give her too much, Chakotay," Kathryn snaps. "She wasn't ready for a relationship."

"Relationship?" He fights not to laugh out loud. "It was a handful of lunch dates on the ship, a couple of dinner dates here."

"A couple? She says it was five."

"All right, five," he barks. "We went out to dinner five times between the day we got back and the end of January, when we called it off."

She regards him with a cool, calculating expression that he hasn't seen directed at him since the early days of their journey. "So the decision to stop seeing each other was mutual?"

"Yes. Completely." He leans toward her in his chair, holding her eyes. "I don't know what she told you, Kathryn, but I didn't just dump her. We agreed together that it wasn't working, and we shouldn't see each other romantically anymore."

She narrows her eyes at him. "Why wasn't it working?"

He grinds his teeth, staring at her. For the first time since he barged in the door, he suspects that Seven has revealed more than she should, more than he wanted her to, and he regrets his attempt to move forward without addressing the matter with Kathryn. He should have adhered to his strategy. "What did she tell you?" he asks, as calmly as he can. "What did she say?"

Kathryn stares at him for a long, uncomfortable moment, then quirks an eyebrow at him. "She said something happened on the night of the fifth dinner date. Something that made her think you weren't in love with her."

"I'm not."

"But she got a very sudden, very visceral demonstration of that fact," Kathryn says in a low voice. "Didn't she?"

A trickle of sweat runs down his back. He refuses to answer.

Kathryn stands up behind her desk, looming over him. "Didn't she, Chakotay?"

He licks his lips. "Yes. She did."

"Damn it, Chakotay," Kathryn spits at him. "How could you? How could you start seeing someone else while you had that girl hanging on your every word?"

Startled, he stands up opposite her so quickly the chair tips and scrapes partway across the office. "What? I wasn't seeing anyone else!"

"But she claims you… Seven said…" She stops, unable to say the words.

He's going to have to tell her. Chakotay knows it now; he thinks maybe he's known it all along. He retrieves the chair and sinks into it, hands clenched in his lap, forcing an outward calm he doesn't feel. "I called out someone else's name," he says. "I did. We weren't even in bed yet. We were just…she was…" He swallows hard, unable to meet her eyes. "I looked down at her and I told her I loved her, and then I said the wrong name." He grips the arms of the chair. "It's the most inconsiderate thing I've ever done to a woman. We were both horrified. I tried to explain, to apologize. But we both knew then that it was over. We talked for a few minutes longer and agreed that it probably never should have started in the first place. Then she grabbed her things and left. I tried to contact her a few times after that to offer her a more rational apology, but she wouldn't take my calls. Then she went to Vulcan. I didn't even know she was back until today." He lets out a long, slow breath and glances up at her. "I hurt her, didn't I?"

"Hurt?" Kathryn explodes. Her shout echoes off the windows of her office, and Chakotay winces at her tone. "You didn't hurt her, you broke her goddamn heart!"

"And you broke mine!" he bellows back, completely unable to control his anger anymore. Unable and unwilling. He rises and only keeps himself from lunging across the desk at her with difficulty. "You broke mine, Kathryn, over and over again. I knew why we couldn't be together the way I wanted to be. But you even pushed my friendship aside because of duty or protocol or whatever it was that let you sleep at night, and every time you did it, I wanted to die. By the end, I was praying for death because I just couldn't take it anymore. So when Seven let me know she was interested, I jumped at the idea. Maybe I could finally be with someone who could love me back. I would try to forget how I felt about you. I really thought I had succeeded, too." He spreads his hands flat on the desk between them and leans toward her. "Until we got back. Until that night, when her lips tore your name from my throat, and it all came crashing down."

At the sound of her startled gasp, he leans even further toward her over the desk, invading her space. "She didn't tell you that part of it, did she, Kathryn? She didn't tell you that when she wrapped her mouth around me, I groaned and looked into her eyes and said, 'I love you, Kathryn. I love you.'"

She shakes her head at him, once, slowly, her fingertips pressed to her lips.

"Now you know." He takes a step back from her desk. "I've tried to apologize to her, but she won't listen. That's her prerogative. And I am sorry, truly sorry, that I hurt her. But I'm not sorry for dating her, and I'm not sorry for trying to save myself. I'm only sorry for the timing." He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out the wrapped package he'd planned to present to her at dinner. "Happy birthday, Kathryn."

Then he turns and stalks from her office without a backward glance.

On Monday, he notices that her curtains are closed.

They stay that way for weeks, taunting him every time he glances up at them.

After a while, he stops looking at them altogether.

-END Part 1-