It had been an uneventful day on Voyager and Kathryn was restless. She had asked Chakotay to dinner in her quarters but he had politely declined saying he had made other plans. After replicating herself something to eat she found herself still with nothing to do. Even reading didn't appeal to her for it required sitting still. "Computer, are both the holodecks currently in use?" she asked. "Affirmative." the computer answered. "Damn." she whispered, then turned and left her quarters thinking a walk around the ship was better than nothing.
"I'll see you, and raise you ten." Tom said, sliding chips toward a pile in the middle of the table. Chakotay glanced at him, shook his head and placed his cards face down on the table.
"I'm out." he said as he crossed his arms.
"Harry?" Tom said with a twinkle in his eye.
Harry tried to read Tom for a moment then exhaled loudly. "Out." he said, annoyed.
Neelix was holding a replicated potato chip, turning it over and over as if it was the strangest thing he'd ever seen. "What did you say these are?" he asked.
"Potato chips," Tom said, "are you in or out?"
Without hesitation Neelix added coins to the pile. Tom grinned and spread out his hand. Neelix frowned and tossed his cards on the table. As Tom chuckled and raked the pile of coins toward him the cargo doors opened and their captain walked in. They all stood so quickly they almost upset the table. She broke into an amused grin as she approached, gesturing for them to sit down. Only Chakotay remained standing, looking embarrassed.
"You declined my dinner invitation to play..." she glanced at Tom for an answer.
"Poker." he said, gathering the cards and beginning to shuffle.
"to play Poker, Commander?" she finished, grinning at him.
"Yes, Ma'am." he answered with a sly smile, knowing how she hated the term. Kathryn looked at the large pile of coins in front of Tom.
"I take it Mr. Paris is winning?" she said, resting a hand on Harry's shoulder.
"Correct, Captain." Neelix said. Chakotay sat down as Tom began dealing the cards. There was an uncomfortable pause while Kathryn lingered. Chakotay and Harry exchanged glances while Tom and Neelix concentrated on their cards a little too intently. Chakotay slowly looked up at her and gave in.
"Would you like to join us, Captain?" he said, ignoring the look from Tom. She immediately looked around for a small storage container to sit on. Neelix got up and moved it to the table for her as Harry and Chakotay made room for her between them. Tom dealt another hand.
"Try the potato chips, Captain." Neelix said as he sat down and slid the bowl toward her.
"No thank you, Neelix." she said as she picked up her cards and began moving them around to suit her.
"Captain," Tom said, "you're familiar with Poker?" She nodded not taking her eyes from the cards. "But you didn't know what we were playing." he added.
"Poker isn't the only card game played with chips, Mr. Paris." she said as she held her cards close to her chest. "Who's bid?"
Chakotay rolled his eyes and picked up his cards. He was remembering the time on the holodeck in Sandrine's when she had asked for his 'stick' then beat him playing pool.
When Kathryn had wond three hands, Tom feigned a yawn and stood. "That's it for me. I think I'll hit the sack."
Kathryn looked disappointed. Neelix also stood and said that he had to check supplies for breakfast.
"Gentlemen, I'm sorry I crashed your game." she said as she placed her cards down and started to stand.
"I'm not going anywhere." Chakotay said , reaching to gather the cards.
Harry was waiting to be dealt a hand until he caught Tom's expression then stood and said, "I guess I'll turn in too."
"Goodnight, Captain." Tom said as he went to stand by her. "Oh, and I'll expect a chance to win some of that back."
She looked at him and smiled widely. "You're on, Leutenant."
Chakotay laughed and shuffled cards. The three left chatting among themselves and Kathryn looked at Chakotay who was still smiling. She put an elbow on the table, rested her chin in her palm and continued to look at him.
"What?" he said innocently as he dealt the cards.
"Would all men rather spend an evening playing cards than have dinner with a woman?" she asked, trying not to smile.
Chakotay thought on it for a moment and decided to turn the tables on her. As he picked up his cards and moved them around in his hand, he said, "Well, I'd say that would depend on whether it was a woman, or if it was his captain." With this he folded the cards in his hand and looked at her.
"I see." she said, making no move to pick up her cards. She seemed to want to say more but was holding back. Chakotay put his cards down and smiled.
"We get together every few weeks." he said.
"Guys only, huh?"
"Actually, no. B'Elanna has joined us a few times." he answered. "When you came in, at first I thought it might be her."
"I came to go through an old locker." she said.
"And stumbled on our game." he finished for her. When he saw her expression change he thought he knew why and his smile faded. "We never invited you because we didn't think you'd accept."
"But the subject did come up?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound needy.
"Of course." he said quickly.
"Well, now you know different." Kathryn said with a slight smile. She glanced at the cards still in a pile before her. "Still, I feel like I broke up the game tonight."
"Not at all." Chakotay said as he leaned toward her a bit. "As you saw, I was losing. I should thank you."
Kathryn crossed her arms on the table still looking at the cards. "May I ask you something, Chakotay?" She looked up at him. "Do you ever get lonely?"
Chakotay was surprised but did not let it show. He seemed to be thinking it over when in reality the answer in his mind had been an immediate, emphatic 'yes!'.
"I do," he said, "even though there's almost always someone around, you know?"
"Yes." she said. They were, after all, among 150 people more or less trapped within the confines of a starship. "But I've found I feel lonliness even when I'm surrounded by people." She was now staring at a point somewhere past his shoulder, her expression almost sad.
"I never knew you felt that too." he said gently. Her eyes met his. In that split second, something happened between them and they had both felt it.
"For quite some time." she admitted, now feeling a bit uncomfortable. A voice in her head that she had fought off for years seemed to be making a stand.
"I wish you would've felt you could talk to me about it." he said sincerely.
"That's just it," she said, "I knew I could but chose not to."
"Isn't it obvious?" she said barely above a whisper. Realization at what she was saying spread across his face as he prayed he was hearing what he thought he was hearing. He reached out and covered her hand with his. She looked down at his hand, waiting for him to speak. This was scaring the hell out of her and she began to wonder why she had opened this book.
"This is not at all how I'd imagined it would be." he said quietly.
"What do you mean?" she asked, making herself look at him.
"Many scenes have played out in my mind," he said shyly, "but not one of them happened in a cargo bay."
Kathryn smiled and dropped her head for a moment. There was a definate twinkle in her eyes when she looked back at him. "What do we do now?" she asked.
Chakotay grinned. "Well, for one, I won't be turning down any more dinner invitations to play cards with the guys." They both laughed, relieving the tension. He gently squeezed her hand. "On a more serious note, what took you so long."
"You know the answer to that." she answered.
"Alright then, what changed your mind?"
She took his hand and held it in both hers while she chose her words carefully. "A few weeks ago when your shuttle disappeared off sensors, my first thought was that I might never get a chance to tell you how I felt." She looked up at him. "And then when you came back safely I tried to put it out of my mind, only this time I couldn't." Her voice trailed off.
"I'm glad." he said.
"What about you?" she asked, "Why didn't you ever say something?"
Chakotay wondered how she could ask that question yet he answered, "Every time I thought I was ready I ended up talking myself out of it. Or you and I would have a difference of opinion and I'd back up, or I'd convince myself that you didn't feel anything more than friendship for me. You have no idea how many times I came so close. but..."
"We've both been foolish." she said. He looked at her with such tenderness that she felt her heart skip a beat. Chakotay had gotten glimpses of Kathryn Janeway's rare moments of vulnerability over the years, and each time he'd wanted to protect her, make her feel safe again. This time he wanted desperately to kiss her, yet he did not want their first kiss to be in a cargo bay.
"Let's go to my quarters." she said. Though she had not meant it that way, she was immediately aware of what her words implied and quickly added, "So we can talk without the chance of someone walking in." To hide her embarrassment, she stood and began to clear the table. Chakotay fought down a smile and helped her.
Their walk down the corridor was in silence. In the turbolift they stared straight ahead until Kathryn smiled up at him. "Look at us." she said then broke into laughter.
"We look like we're headed for a firing squad." he said and joined her laughter.
The turbolift halted and before they could compose themselves, the doors slid open. Before them stood Tuvok who merely raised an eyebrow then stepped aside so they could exit.
"I don't suppose you'd like to hear the joke." Chakotay said to Tuvok as he entered the turbolift. Before Tuvok could respond the doors closed and Chakotay turned to Kathryn who was staring at him in wonder.
"Good cover." she whispered, amazed. They dissloved into laughter as they continued down the corridor.
As soon as the doors to Kathryn's quarters closed behind them Chakotay spun her around to face him. As he looked into her eyes, she could not help herself and trying not to smile, asked him "Is this more like one of those scenes in your head?" He smiled and leaned in to rest his forehead against hers. "If you'll be quiet," he said, "we'll see when it plays out."
"Are you telling your captain to be quiet?" she asked, looking at his lips.
"Make me." she teased, but he wasn't smiling now.
Just before he kissed her, he said, "Gladly."