Disclaimer: the character are obviously not mine

AN: A little birthday present for northernexposure. Here's wishing her a heavenly day (not a year of hell, honest). Un-beta-ed Season Four JC fluff.

Reckless Persistence

Native American birthday blessing

May your spirit soar gracefully

on the whispering breeze.

May your joy run strong

as the deepest seas.

May your soul reach out

to embrace the sky.

May your heart guide you truly

as the years go by.

Year of Hell: Day 207

"The gravitational plating in this room has buckled," Janeway reports back to Neelix, who is following close behind, noting down her pragmatic pronouncements.

"Chakotay's quarters," he states quietly.

The dogged tenacity that has kept her striding straight-backed through the devastation drains away and she stops dead. Kathryn can't believe she didn't recognise his room immediately. Then again, the ship is so disfigured at this point that she really shouldn't be surprised, and she hasn't been near his quarters since he and Paris were abducted months ago.

The Captain's shoulders sag a little as they enter and she begins to scan the wreckage that was once her first officer's living space. Kathryn had always felt so utterly secure in this room that it's hard to believe they are really standing in the same spot. Part of his thick woven blanket with the striking symmetrical pattern hangs askew over what's left of his armchair, like the tatters of a battle ensign on a shipwreck.

As she picks her way through the charred chaos the tricorder bleeps. Metal. Silver. She bends down to investigate, and tucked away beneath the rubble she finds it. The watch.

Her heart thumps heavily in her chest. "You disobeyed orders," she whispers as her fingers brush the debris from the glass face of the chronometer. Unlikely as it seems, given the level of devastation in this room, the timepiece is completely unscathed. If she winds it, perhaps the mechanical hands will begin to mark the graduations around their closed circuit again, counting the minutes until Chakotay returns.

As she squats there, her mind is thrown back to the look on his face when she refused to accept this gift, and something pulls the tear in her heart open a little further. But only for a moment, since close on its tail comes a second memory - so much more potent – and it all but cancels out the guilt she feels about the first.

XxX

5 months earlier

Day 65, 21.00hrs (May 20th)

Kathryn looks up to see Chakotay enter the ready room. "Did you see Tuvok and Seven?" she asks.

"Yes. And Tuvok has just sent the word around. For the next five minutes all remaining power is going to be diverted to astrometrics - to get it back on line long enough for Seven to plot the safest course."

"Good," she replies, tossing another piece of rubble unceremoniously into the corner as she continues to try to clear what's left of her desk. If the Krenim's torpedoes keep blasting holes in this section of the ship at the rate they have lately, it won't be long before they have to abandon this room completely.

Just as she's considering the benefits of setting up the command centre now in a more protected location like engineering, rather than waiting for the Krenim to dictate the timing, she takes in the fact that Chakotay is still standing there. She notices what he has in his hands – a small white candle and an empty bottle with an upturned glass balanced over the stopper.

She frowns. "If that's dinner, then thanks, but I think I'll stick to emergency ration bar no 3."

He holds up the candle. "It's possible the emergency lighting may go off too while they divert power. But this is really for you to blow out, so you can make a birthday wish."

She puts her hands on her hips and tilts her head to one side. "And they say I'm stubborn… You don't give up easily, do you, Commander?"

He wags the candle at her. "I've found that persistence is a quality my commanding officer understands."

"Don't you think our situation may have gone a little beyond the scope of a birthday wish?"

He shrugs. "Can't hurt to give it a try."

Moving past her, he kneels on the steps. Repositioning some chunks of the wreckage strewn across the floor of the upper level, he anchors the candle so it stands erect, a tiny lighthouse in the sea of rubble. He lights it with the multi-function tool that he, like many others, has started wearing attached to the front of his uniform. You never know when you may need one these days.

Then, as if on cue, the room is suddenly plunged into darkness as the emergency lighting goes off. Kathryn's eyes begin to adjust. The only remaining illumination is the dim, intermittent glow coming down from a large hole in the ceiling, and the slender flame of this one small candle.

She doesn't bother reach for the flashlight on her desk, but resigns herself to indulging him this time.

Following his lead, she sits down next to him at the top of the steps, angling herself towards the little lighted candle. The sofa is no more. It has been punctured by two large sections of the ceiling that came down in an attack a few weeks back, exposing the veins and arteries of the ship. These vast pieces of debris rest where they fell, sticking out of the cushions they impaled at unlikely angles like giant splinters, too painful to pull out. Overhead, areas of the internal architecture and twisting circuitry flash indecently, but mercifully, since the flickering light is evidence of a continuing power supply.

Only a few seconds after sitting down, she realises it's a mistake. Once the weight is off her feet, it's far harder to ignore just how bone-crushingly tired she is. A lesser woman would probably be wondering how she's ever going to stand up again.

Kathryn inhales deeply and forces herself to focus on Chakotay. "What else have you got there?" she asks, wondering about the bottle that looked empty.

"Scotch. All that's left of your first officer's drinks cabinet, I'm afraid. I found it intact at the back of a storage unit. It has two shots' worth left in the bottom."

"Only one glass?" She quirks a challenging eyebrow.

"We can share," he replies, as he carefully pours the remaining contents of the bottle into the glass.

His features seem less familiar, cast in so much shadow. She shifts a little closer so that she can see him more clearly. The lines of his ancestors blend into the dirt smudged over much of his skin, and the dirt blends into his dark stubble - from the looks of him, wherever he's been working must have been pretty hands-on again today. This new rugged look is strikingly at odds with his usual well-groomed appearance.

Passing her the glass of Scotch, he quietly offers his toast. "Happy Birthday, Kathryn."

"Thank you," she replies, and lifts it to her lips to take a sip, making sure to leave at least half. The liquid hits the back of her throat with a welcome burn and then she hands the glass back to him. He slowly drains the last of it. Watching him swallow she can almost taste it again vicariously. It's good. Almost unbearably good.

"Here's hoping my next birthday finds us back in the Alpha Quadrant and the only decision I have to make is whether or not to have another glass of champagne."

He smiles. "I'll drink to that." The tiny candle's flickering flame is reflected in his eyes as he puts the empty glass down next to the equally empty bottle and raises a resigned eyebrow. "Or I would…"

Forcing herself not to look away, she says, "About this morning, I hope you understand why I couldn't accept the watch. It was a-"

"I have something else for you," he cuts her off. "And before you ask, no, it can't be recycled."

He shifts closer still, until his thigh is flush against hers. Then he places his left hand on the floor immediately behind her, so she is effectively leaning back against his arm. She's instantly unnerved, and wonders what on earth he's doing. Then, as his other hand comes up, taking hold of her chin to turn her face towards him, her body anticipates the second half of this gift.

He leans in and presses a gentle, chaste kiss to her lips – lips that, for a split second, willingly receive his soft and intoxicating touch. After lagging behind incredulous, her mind suddenly catches up. Immediately it does, she brings her hand up to his chest, grabs a handful of his uniform and pushes back hard against him. "Chakotay!" she rasps, stunned. "What are you doing?"

Apparently undeterred, he studies her face calmly as he speaks. "My people have a birthday blessing. It's quite long, so I'll summarise. Basically, it's important for your spirit that your joy runs strong today. So I intend to make sure it does. If only for a few minutes."

Well I'll be…Damned cheek!

"Look, this is hardly the time for-"

"I disagree," he cuts her off again. "This is exactly the right time," and he takes her chin firmly once more.

Immediately, she can smell the whisky fumes again as his mouth moves over hers – but this time the kiss is less chaste. He kisses her bottom lip, the corner of her mouth, her top lip, the other corner... and it's… it's insistent. He's demanding a response. He lets go of her chin and slides his hand around to cup the back of her neck.

He's never been like this with her before and she's in shock – still struggling to believe this can really be happening. He's never once tried to push her. For four years he's always followed every single unspoken cue that she's ever given him. But clearly something has changed. For some reason that is beyond her, he seems to have decided to ignore her objections, bypass her mind and make his appeal directly to her body, and it's infuriating!

Although Kathryn would have to concede it's working.

His hold his firm, but nowhere near so firm that she couldn't pull away if she really wanted to. But his relentlessly tantalising mouth is reminding her that somewhere beneath all the dirt, sweat and disaster, she is a woman, in a woman's body. A body that is already leaning into him – already betraying how long its craving for his touch has gone unanswered.

She realises she's still holding a handful of his jacket and she uses it to push him away again – but with less conviction this time – creating only a tiny distance between them. He rests his forehead against hers.

"I can still have you thrown in the brig," she husks, still not letting go.

"That might be a little difficult right now," he murmurs, low, before he moves back in.

She tightens her fist around the bunched material and then suddenly, something gives way inside. The heady sensation of his soft stubborn lips repeatedly planting kisses on and around her mouth and his hand massaging the back of her neck are making her forget that she's his captain and they shouldn't do this. She's starting to forget that she's exhausted and desperate. He's asking her to let go of it all for just this one moment in the near darkness. All of the fear, the hunger, the defeats and the losses of the last two months.

Does this mean he thinks that Voyager won't withstand the next attack? Has he given up believing that we'll ever have a future in which we could explore...

But these thoughts dissolve into oblivion because it seems that while they were occupying some part of her spinning mind, her body had already decided to give him his answer. Her hand has clamped itself around the back of his neck, holding on for dear life, and her lips part, inviting him in.

The instant his tongue finds hers, it sends a potent thrill right to her core – a thrill which intensifies as she hears and feels the shudder of a deep groan from somewhere in the back of his throat. Her other hand comes up and her fingers curl around his cheekbone. The stubble on his jaw feels exactly right somehow, rough against her skin, and she decides she likes this new, bolder Chakotay. In fact, he might well be exactly what she needs right now.

For the next two minutes she relinquishes control completely and they fuse together in an explosive release of days and days of leftover adrenaline, and four years of unacknowledged possibilities. They devour each other with an intensity that is utterly unfamiliar to her.

She's vaguely aware of him brushing aside rubble behind her with one hand, and then she feels herself being lowered backwards. He prizes her fingers from his neck and pins her bent arms above her head. Then, taking most of his weight on his forearms, he leans across to cover her upper body with his. Relishing the insistent pressure of him pushing down on her, she finds herself arching slightly. Her breasts crush against his chest and this seems to send a shudder of tension through his body, and for a moment it's as if she can feel the full force of all that he's holding back.

Now that his unexpected persistence has bypassed her defences, she wants him so badly she begins to experience it as need. One tiny slither of her mind is still dimly aware of the fact that she should probably be alarmed and appalled that her softly spoken, honey bear of a first officer has her pinned down in the rubble on the ready room floor and is kissing her like there's no tomorrow. And yet apparently she isn't. Aroused, oh yes. But alarmed, appalled? No. Not today, thank you.

Far too soon, she feels him slow the pace of their reckless exploration and he pulls back slightly. The break in contact causes her to open her eyes a fraction and she realises the emergency lighting has come back on. She begins to move, when his improbably soft lips find hers again. She closes her eyes once more.

Their final kiss is exquisite. She can feel that he isn't going to be hurried. She relishes the slow sensual intensity of their give and take, as together they create the rhythm and the syntax of their new intimate language. She delights in the wonderful feeling of interdependence – the paradoxical sense of freedom it brings her – because in this arena he's every bit her equal. For a moment his tongue teases her and he almost withdraws. He holds himself over her with a deeply erotic confidence as his warm lips, just barely grazing hers, challenge her to reach up a fraction and demand more. When she does, he delves back into her mouth with an unprecedented instinct for what excites her, triggering a strong pulse in her core. Nerve endings alight, she remembers what it is to feel pure white-hot pleasure – and joy, soul deep. What it is to fully embrace and inhabit her own physicality.

Then, lips parted only a fraction, he presses his mouth to hers again one last time to bring them back from the brink of where they can't go now. A transitional kiss – impossibly tender – laced with an unmistakable promise of so much more. And there's something else alive in the connection between them – something quite new. This feeling floors her even more, because she's been in love before, and-

Finally, he pulls back. Without letting go of her hands he helps her manoeuvre herself back up so they are sitting. Then he brushes the dirt and dust from her back.

Several seconds pass as they sit side-by-side, thighs touching, eyes on the floor in front of them, one of her hands still held captive between his.

Kathryn is shell-shocked. It's all she can do to keep her shaky breathing under control. And then suddenly, she feels incredibly self-conscious and she wonders what on earth she must look like. Her appearance has been about the last possible thing on her mind in recent weeks. She combs her fingers quickly through the underneath of her hair, then smoothes the top down a little.

Eventually, she tilts her head towards him. Given his boldness just moments ago, she is surprised to find that he avoids eye contact. Perhaps he is embarrassed now. For some reason, seeing him like this gives her the courage to break the silence.

"Well, I can honestly say I wasn't expecting that," she confesses.

He studies her face for a moment. "Then perhaps you don't know me as well as you think you do," he replies quietly, with no hint of an apology, and he begins to trace the outline of her hand with his fingers.

"Perhaps. Although I always knew you had a reckless streak," she remarks, transfixed by the feather-light touch of his fingers on hers.

His eyes downcast and distant now, his fingers move with an absent-minded proprietary caress, as if he does this all the time. The moment stretches out until Kathryn forces herself to reclaim her hand and she turns to face him again.

She raises her chin a fraction and cocks her head his way. "Guess I should have accepted the watch."

Looking up, he laughs, and some of the tension dissipates. "Maybe," he replies. "You know what they say about looking a gift horse in the mouth."

He moistens his lips and she has to look away. Then he slowly gets up to stand in front of her, pulling his battered uniform jacket straight.

She studies her filthy fingernails.

"You haven't blown out your candle and made a wish," he points out, and they both look towards the tiny forgotten flame which continues to flicker a short distance back from the clearing in the rubble he'd made for them.

Kathryn leans towards the flame and closes her eyes. She extinguishes it with a single puff.

She stands and squares up to him. When she speaks her voice comes out a little lower and huskier than usual. "Well… Power's back on now and we have a lot to do."

He dips his head and gives a small nod of acknowledgment. He pauses a moment, as if he's debating something with himself. Then he gently clasps her shoulders. "One solitary wish may not be enough to put the ship back together, Kathryn, but we'll do it, eventually. We always do."

"Yes," she replies, holding his gaze. "We will."

He gives her shoulders a light squeeze before releasing her and making for the door.

"Chakotay."

Her voice stops him and he turns back to face her.

"Thank you." She smiles. Self-conscious once more, she looks to the floor, before forcing herself to meet his gaze again. "You can rest easy. You more than delivered on the birthday blessing."

The last memory she has of this scene is a freeze-frame of his face just before he leaves. His dark eyes crinkle and he cracks a beautiful unrestrained smile – silent sabotage that undoes her a little again.

The rough stubble and the moustache suited him. Such an effortlessly handsome man.

After he'd been abducted, when she reflected on their coming together in the near darkness, she found it hard to recognise herself in the memory. She'd never imagined she was capable of losing herself so completely in the moment or in another person. It upset what little remained of her equilibrium. But that wasn't to say she regretted it. In fact she had already decided she would allow herself to cherish that memory until they got him back. And once all this was over, she would demand that Chakotay deliver on everything their final kiss had promised.

XxX

"Captain?" Neelix's voice brings her back to the present, and she realises she's been silent for a while. She holds the watch up for him to see.

"Chakotay gave this to me five months ago. A birthday gift. I ordered him to…" She feels her eyes fill and she inhales deeply. The feelings wash over her again for a moment and she waits for the swell to subside.

Then she wonders how many other times her first officer has quietly flouted her orders, knowing full well she's mistaken his silence for compliance. It's becoming increasingly clear that she still has a lot to learn about the man. Perhaps his acting skills are a little better developed than she'd realised… There will be plenty to talk about when they get him back, that's for sure.

She stands slowly and uses the silver chain to secure the chronometer at hip level to what's left of her uniform, finally turning to Neelix for approval.

"What do you think?"

"Handsome." He offers her a small smile.

"Come on," Janeway replies, renewed once more.

Leaving the destruction in Chakotay's quarters behind, they carry on together down the corridor.

[The End]