Voyager and its characters are the property of Paramount

Kathryn entered cargo bay two and glanced around making sure no one was present then went to sit on a storage container. She took a deep breath then lifted the padd in her hand and once more read the letter from Mark. It was only slightly less painful the second time. Slowly she lowered it to her lap as she pressed the delete button, staring straight ahead and trying to ease the reeling emotions that would not allow her to sleep. She did not hear the cargo bay doors open or Chakotay approach. It wasn't until he put his hand gently on her shoulder that she looked up. For a moment her expression was one of deep sadness then she forced herself to shake it off and smiled slightly.

"How did you find me?" she asked.

"I went to your quarters first," he said softly, "then I had the computer locate you." He took a seat beside her.

Kathryn nodded and looked down at the padd, her expression blank.

"Bad news?" he asked. She had been very distracted all afternoon and though he had tried more than once, he could not engage her in conversation. He had guessed that the letter she had recieved had not held happy sentiment.

She took a deep breath. "Mark has moved on with his life as I knew he eventually would." Looking into his eyes, she added. "He was married four months ago."

There was great sympathy in his eyes as he covered her hand with his. "I'm sorry, Kathryn." Her eyes went from his to a distant point past his shoulder as she went on.

"I think I knew all along..." she began, then closed her eyes for a moment willing the tears not to come. "I't just so final."

Taking a chance that she needed contact, Chakotay put an arm around her shoulders and gave them a gentle squeeze. No words seemed to fit the moment so they remained quiet for several moments. When Kathryn sat up straighter Chakotay removed his arm but kept his place beside her.

"It's a good thing though." she said as she stood and took a step forward, fingering the padd. "Now I can finally let go and move on with my life as well." She looked upward and sighed. "As well as I can move on aboard a ship in the Delta Quadrant, decades from home..."

"Kathryn," Chakotay interrupted, waiting until she turned to look at him, "don't." She smiled and went back to sit by him and lay her hand on his knee for a moment.

"You're right." she said, "I'm a big girl. I'll get through it."

"Of course you will."

"I'm footloose and fancy free." she said. When his eyes met hers, they both began to laugh.

Chakotay stood and offered his arm. "May I buy you a cup of coffee?"

"You may." she answered as she stood and took his arm. She looked down at the padd in her hand then placed it on the storage container and looked up at him. He understood and smiled as they made their way from the cargo bay.

Kathryn removed her arm from his when they had traveled a short distance in the corridor. "What about you, Chakotay?" she asked as they made their way to the messhall. "How are you handling your news?" They stopped and faced each other. "B'Elanna told me." she added softly.

He looked pained. "It was quite a shock."

Kathryn put a hand on his forearm and looked at him with great tenderness. "I'm very sorry."

That's just like her, he thought, so quick to forget her own troubles and sorrows when someone else is in need.

"I appreciate that." he said softly. Without further words they turned and continued down the corridor.

"Captain! Commander!" Neelix said as they entered . "What a pleasant surprise. The kitchen's closed, but I can still rustle something up for you."

"Two coffees, please, Mr. Neelix." Kathryn said as she moved to a table near one of the viewports. Chakotay followed and they sat down, both looking out at the stars streaking by. "I didn't realize it was so late." she said, interlacing her fingers and resting her arms on the table.

"Maybe we should have decaf." he joked.

Neelix brought their coffees and placed them on the table. "Are you sure I can't get you anything else?" he offered as he stepped back and placed his palms together.

"No thank you, Neelix." Kathryn said, "Don't let us keep you. We'll lock up when we leave." she added with a wink.

"I left a fresh pot for you," Neelix said, "and there are some nice pastries if you are so inclined. I'll say goodnight then."

Chakotay and Kathryn told him goodnight then looked at each other for a moment. Kathryn wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. "We'd be lost without him."

"Agreed." Chakotay said. Again they gazed out the viewport in silence.

"Aren't we a pair?" Kathryn said as she looked at him with a little smile.

"How do you mean?" he asked, leaning toward her a bit.

"Sitting in here all alone, crying in our beer, or coffee as it were."

"I see two friends sharing their sorrows, leaning on each other." he said. His smile slowly faded.

"Chakotay," she said as she exhaled, "I do lean on you, probably too much." He just shook his head. "I honestly don't know what I would do without you." she said, surprising them both.

"Hopefully, you won't ever find out." he said with his dimpled grin. "And for the record, I feel the same way."

Kathryn rested an elbow on the table then put her chin in her palm. She looked at him and seemed to be gaging whether the time was right. "May I ask you something?"

"Of course." he answered, mirroring her seriousness.

"Have you ever wondered if the crew speculates about us?"

Chakotay couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "I don't have to wonder. I know they do."

Kathryn's jaw dropped and it was several moments before she found her voice again. "What?"

"You really didn't know?" he asked.

"Well, obviously it's crossed my mind. I guess I was just hoping it was my imagination." she said quietly, her eyes darting around now. Suddenly her eyes locked on his and her brows lowered with feigned menace. "What do you know?"

Chakotay chuckled and leaned back in his chair. He was enjoying this too much to suit Kathryn and she knew he had the upper hand for once. "I've overheard little things now and then."

"For how long?" she asked as she leaned back and crossed her arms.

"Well, let's see.." he said, tilting his head back as if thinking about it. When he looked back at her he couldn't help but smile as he said "Since you put me in this uniform."

Kathryn closed her eyes and gripped the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. "This is not good."

"It's harmless." Chakotay said as he picked up his cup. "You know how rumors are on a ship."

Kathryn dropped her hands to her lap and looked at him. He obviously was not concerned in the least and it irked her more than she cared to admit. "Doesn't it bother you?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"Not at all." he said honestly.

"May I ask why?"

Chakotay sipped his coffee then put the cup down. "Why should it?" he said, "You and I know the truth. Isn't that all that matters?"

She leaned forward and almost whispered. "I don't want this crew discussing my...our private lives."

He looked at her for a moment. This was really bothering her therefore he would take it more seriously. "Kathryn," he said calmly, "how do you intend to stop it?"

Behind her eyes wheels were turning, then she sighed, defeated. "You're right," she said, "but I don't like it."

"Why does it bother you so?" Chakotay asked. Something in his tone made her stop and look at him. "Is is that far from your realm of thinking? I'm not such a bad guy." He smiled slightly and she knew he was kidding, yet the question was real.

Kathryn smiled despite herself. "It's not that at all," she said, "it's just that, our personal lives are private. Private."

"Yes," he said, "they are. And they'll continue to be. They are just, as you said, speculating."

"I don't understand why. We've never given any indication that we had anything other than a professional relationship, and a friendship, of course." She was trying to convince herself and he let her talk. "Yes, we have dinners together, and we occasionally share holodeck time. You often escort me to...ship...functions." Her voice trailed off and her eyes widened as the realization came. Chakotay went to get the coffee carafe to give himself an out before he laughed aloud. That had been rich. He topped off their cups then put the carafe aside and sat back down. "Kathryn, look at me." He waited for her eyes to meet his. "Let them think what they will. It doesn't matter. Besides, speaking for myself, I think it's quite flattering."

Kathryn smiled and lowered her head for a moment. "I would be lucky to have someone like you." she said.

Chakotay's eyes softened as he reached out to take her hand. "You know," he said with a sly smile, "we could put all these rumors to an end, by turning them into truth."

Kathryn laughed lightly and withdrew her hand. "I've barely been unattached a day."

"What's your point?"

Kathryn again lowered her head. "I have to say that it's not a good idea."

"I'm listening."

"You already know why." she said as she forced herself to look at him. "We had this discussion a long time ago."

"Yes, I know. But somehow, I feel your views may have softened a bit." Spirits, let me be right.

Kathryn maintained eye contact as she inhaled deeply then exhaled. "I suppose they have."

"I must note this in my log. Today's date, 0200 hours..." he said with a smile, "I finally have a chance." They were silent as they looked into each other's eyes, yet volumes were spoken.

"We really should get some sleep." Kathryn finally said. Chakotay stood and extended his arm.

"I'll see you home."

Kathryn slowly smiled, stood and put her hand lightly in the crook of his elbow. He covered her hand with his, thinking she had never looked more beautiful. With a lump in his throat he smiled tenderly down at her then they turned and left the messhall.

end