Ripening by Djinn

On most worlds, there was a moment when the light started to fade and the day was suddenly over, sunshine and clouds giving way to night's dark beauty. Sometimes night was harkened by a beautiful sunset, other times there was just a gradual fading from light to ebony. Daylight skies could vary considerably in color, but night only ever seemed to fall in shades of inky blue or black. On Canelphia, the night fell with a perceivable hush. Birds and monkey-like creatures went silent for a moment as the sun set and the sky turned to indigo.

Chakotay closed his eyes, enjoying the tranquility, feeling the temperature fall a bit with the incoming darkness. He heard the sound of the chair opposite him being pulled out, smelled a familiar perfume. Smiling, he reached for his glass, found himself grasping firm, warm flesh instead. Small fingers tightened on his, and for a moment he thought he was back on New Earth talking about parameters.

"So, I finally found you." Kathryn's voice was raspier than he remembered, but seemed in keeping with the resumption of the sounds of the birds and other animals as they ended their moment of silence for the beginning of night.

"I wasn't aware you were searching for me." He opened his eyes, no longer able to stand not looking at her. Not when she'd finally shown up on a shore leave and made one of his more popular fantasies come true.

She had an eyebrow up; her eyes gleamed, but he couldn't see the blueness of them. They'd faded to gray in the dim light. Her hair was longer than he remembered, but not as long as it had once been. It shone a strange reddish brown under the multicolored lanterns strewn overhead, pink and green and yellow highlights playing across it as she shifted in her chair. He thought his hair must be shining blue and orange and red from the lights that spilled down on him from above.

"How's Seven?" Her eyes held unreadable mysteries. She had never admitted she'd been jealous or mad at him. Had never told him whether or not he should feel guilty for leaving her and stealing her protege in the process.

He hadn't felt particularly guilty, but he would have liked to have known if she thought he should.

He shrugged, letting her see mystery too. "I have a feeling you've seen her more recently than I have."

"Seven and I don't seek each other out."

"She's at Command. So are you." While he had spent the last few weeks on this serene world, contemplating what he wanted to do with his Starfleet life now that his first assignment on Ariadne V had ended.

No course lay ahead of him yet, not until he picked one. And no lovely young Borg stood at his side. He and Seven had walked away from each other, probably trying not to break into a run as soon as they'd broken free. Their passion had been grand, their tenderness a real attempt at making a life. But they hadn't been able to fake common interests. Once the embraces and the sex were over, they'd had to face facts. They'd bored the hell out of each other.

"Pretty place for leave," Kathryn said, pulling her hand free and using it to flag down a waiter. "I'll have something strong and oddly colored. And provided that's not just water, bring him another of those."

"Trying to get me drunk?"

"Will it make you stop looking at me like the enemy?"

He hadn't been aware he'd been doing that. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Not that this isn't a dream come true, Admiral"--he saw her flinch at the title--"but what are you doing here?"

She followed his lead, leaning back and crossing her legs. He tried not to follow her uniform as it curved over hips grown lusher than he remembered. He studied her face, saw that the tightness around her eyes had eased. The perpetual dark circles were lighter.

Or maybe it was all a trick of the light. He'd have to look at her in the morning--if she stuck around that long.

The waiter put something that steamed and had many little umbrellas and flowers in it on the table. She waited for him to leave, before she leaned in and asked, "Do I pass inspection."

"In this light, you look great."

He thought the answer might insult her. Instead she laughed. Heartily. The way she used to when he'd said something to amuse her. Early in the voyage--he'd never seemed to amuse her during the later years.

She took a tentative sip of her drink, then a longer one. "It's good."

"Most things here are."

She studied him the same way he'd looked at her, and he tried not to let her make him uncomfortable. Taking a careful swallow of the clear ale-like drink the locals brewed, he met her eyes blandly.

"I know what you're thinking," she said.

"Do you?"

She nodded. But she took another drink, a smile that was almost smug playing at her mouth as she pretended to be absorbed in tearing up one of the little umbrellas.

"I'm thinking you're a damn tease." He hadn't meant to say that at full volume.

Again she just laughed. "No surprise. You've always thought that." She reached out, touching his hand.

"Touch for you is a weapon." He shook his head when she looked up at him, the mysterious smile again pulling her lips up. "And that smile is too. You use it to win, to bind people to you."

"Aren't you already bound, Chakotay?" There was nothing amused in her look. He wasn't even sure it was even a question. "My angry warrior."

"That was a long time ago."

"Yes, it was."

"You didn't come here to seduce me."

"No?"

He shook his head.

"Do you wish I had?"

It was his turn to laugh. "Well, yes. But it would be out of character for you."

He hadn't meant for the words to come out so harshly. He hadn't meant to cause her to blink and swallow her drink too fast so that she coughed.

"Touche." Again she subjected him to her laser-beam stare, her eyes dissecting all his secrets. "What if I told you I'd always wanted to seduce you?"

"I'd say too little too late."

"Hmmm."

He suddenly felt her foot, free of her boot--how had she done that without him noticing?--running along the inside of his calf. "Don't, please."

"What I if I told you that I think you still want me." Her voice was silky seduction. The voice he'd hated hearing because it got him thinking he meant more to her than he ever would.

"My wanting you is a given." He fell back on logic. He'd learned something from watching Tuvok deal with her all these years. "It's your wanting me that's in question."

She leaned forward, abandoning her assault on his leg and his senses. "I have a ship."

"Good." He hoped it took her very far away. Or at least out of leg range.

"I need you on it."

"Look somewhere else for a first officer. Or wasn't that an offer?"

"I didn't say you'd be first officer." She laughed. "It's a diplomatic ship. Wouldn't you like to travel around helping people?"

"On your ship?"

"On my ship. You'd be completely free of ship's operations though. The diplomatic team would be an autonomous unit."

"Convenient. We could be lovers then."

She didn't blink at his bluntness. She also didn't agree with him.

"Find someone else, Admiral."

"Why?"

"Because I'm not interested in having you rip my heart out again. Once was enough."

He started to get up and she laughed. Looking down at her, he saw her grin, the look easy, almost approving.

He slid back into the chair. "Okay. I'm confused."

"There is no ship." She waved the waiter over again. "Do you have a fruit platter or something? I'm starved."

The waiter hurried off, and she turned back to Chakotay. He suddenly wondered if she was all right. Had the voyage home been too much for her? Was she off her meds or something?

She laughed again. "I can tell what you're thinking. I'm not crazy. I'm just hungry. I spent all day getting here, and the food was terrible on the shuttle."

"So you don't have a job offer for me?"

"No, but my friend Admiral Tamamoto does. Are you considering it?"

It was one of the front runners in the "plan Chakotay's future" game. "It's possible."

"He's a good man. Very fair. Gives a long leash, which I know you like. But personable. Not moody." She winked at the last one.

"I never said you were moody."

"Yes, you did." She waved it off. "I am moody. I know that. You know that. News to no one. Are you considering his offer?"

"Is it important to you that I do?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I'd like you to come home."

"Earth has never been my home, Kathryn."

She seemed to relax at finally hearing her name from him. "No, but I'm your home. Aren't I?"

He didn't have to answer; the fruit plate saved him. She didn't press him, just concentrated on digging into the food. "Have some."

He took a few pieces. "I ate already."

"You and Seven are over?"

"Back to that topic, are we?"

"I need to know." She glanced at him, sliding a piece of melon between her lips.

He found himself envying the melon.

"We're over." He could envy the melon with a clear conscience. Although, he would have done it even if he and Seven hadn't been through. And he thought Kathryn was fully aware of that.

Kathryn made a moue of sympathy that didn't come off as very sincere. "I feel sorry for her."

"Don't. I bored her."

She smiled, and it was a mean smile. "I bet you did." She held a berry out to him, waiting until he'd started moving to say, "I bet she bored you too. Science wasn't your strong suit."

"What was?"

"Shuttle landings."

He laughed and took the berry, letting his lips rest on her fingers just to see if she'd pull away. She didn't.

He moved back. "What really was?"

"Leading. You were good with people. Better than I was most of the time. You didn't use people. You found other ways to motivate them."

"You admit you use people?"

She shrugged. "Manipulation doesn't have to be a bad word."

He hated that he immediately began to catalog all the ways it might not be bad. Hated it more that he automatically put Kathryn in the equation.

He shook his head. "You're playing with me."

"Not yet, I'm not." She waggled her eyebrows then broke out in a husky laugh. "Chakotay, you're making this awfully difficult."

"Making what difficult? I don't even know why you're here. I can't believe you came all the way out here just to put in the good word for Tamamoto's offer."

"I had some leave coming."

"And you're actually taking it?" She probably had years of leave saved up at this point.

"Let's just say I regret the way things turned out between us. If there's a chance to have you on Earth, where we can both see how things go..."

"And if they go badly?"

"Earth is a big place." She held out another berry to him. "It's easy to avoid people at Command. I've managed to avoid Seven quite nicely."

He didn't take the berry. "I was serious about not wanting to have my heart ripped out again."

"Well, then tell me to go away." She popped the berry in her mouth. "Tell me you don't love me. That you don't want me."

"You have a very big opinion of yourself."

"So do you. Despite how angry you may still be at me." She leaned in. "Dare me, Chakotay."

He suddenly felt tired. "Would it make it more fun if I did? Less real maybe? I don't want to dare you, Kathryn. I just want you to love me the way I do you. It's a reasonable thing. It's just never going to happen. And I've grown up enough over the years to come to terms with that." He pushed his chair out, turned before she could say anything more and fled the bar.

Let her pay for the damn drinks.

But she was coming up quick behind him.

He turned. "Damn you. One of us has to pay for your stupid fruit."

Her smile was dangerous. "I gave them my credit info before I sat down. I had a feeling you might try to make a fast exit."

"You're a genius. Still. Now leave me the hell alone." He strode away, annoyed with her for following him, the strike of one boot hitting the ground--she was carrying the other. He was even more irritated with himself, with his traitorous heart that was beating very fast at the knowledge that she was following him back to his hut.

He got to the door, palmed it open and tried to close it on her. She was too fast, slipping under his arm and into the dark room.

Turning on the lights, he said, "Get out."

"Make me." She dropped her boot, then pulled off her other one. She looked like she was having trouble not laughing, and he was alternating between wanting to throw her out of the hut and wanting to grab her and hold her and never let her go.

He settled for moving across the room, but then decided he was too close to the bed. Before he could turn, he felt her behind him, running her hands down his back.

He groaned before he could stop himself.

"Will you come back to Earth?"

"If I say yes, will you go away?"

"No. I'll stay the night if you say yes."

He whirled, his action and the expression on his face seeming to take her by surprise. He grabbed her wrists, pushing her back to the bed. "Don't. Don't play with me."

"I'm not." She wasn't struggling as he pushed her down, didn't protest as he followed her, his larger body covering her.

He kissed her, sure that she would fight him.

She kissed him back. Passionately. Skillfully. Then he felt her pulling up his shirt. She had it off him before he could think to protest.

"I'll bore you in a week," he said as he moved to make disrobing him easier.

She was working on his pants. "No, you won't." She grinned. "Two weeks maybe..."

He laughed, even though he wasn't sure if she was serious or not. He undid her uniform, slipping it off her. Rolling to the side, he stared down at her, letting himself touch her. Anywhere he'd ever wanted to, which was everywhere he could.

She was writhing, low moans coming from her when he started the second pass. Pulling him down, she kissed him, her mouth opening to his.

"Give me three weeks at least," he said with a smile as she pulled the rest of his clothes off.

"Oh hell, let's round it up to a month." She pushed him down, crawled onto him.

"A month and a half," he said, and they both groaned as she sank down, and he finally knew just what he'd been fantasizing about all these years.

"I may bore you." At his look, she smiled, leaning down to kiss him. "It could happen."

"Not likely. You may irritate the hell out of me, but bore me?"

She just smiled--a very cat/canary look.

"Is this why you're here?" He ran his fingers down her sides, stopping to hold her at the waist, just above where her hips swelled. "For us to do this?"

"This is why I'm here." She put her finger over his lips when he started to speak. Then she threw her head back and rode him until they both had taken their pleasure.

"Two months and then you'll run screaming," he said as she rolled to his side. His heart was beating nearly out of his chest and he was pretty sure his toes were curled. He would be willing to bet hers were too.

"Two and a half."

He turned to look at her. "Seven and I had great sex too."

"Chakotay, your post-coital small talk needs work." She nuzzled in. "But I understand." She ran her tongue along his neck, then she reached his ear and bit down. A little bit harder than he expected.

He yelped.

"That's for mentioning her at just the worst moment." She kissed where she'd bitten. "Do you know what it was like to watch you leave with her? To know that you weren't my faithful warrior anymore?"

"You didn't want me."

"Yes, I did. But you'd lost faith in me. You didn't wait."

"I didn't know I was supposed to." He pulled her to him, kissing her gently. He felt something coming back to life. Something that had been gone for years. This overriding tenderness that she'd always engendered in him. This...love.

"Stupid man," she said, but her tone was gentle. "Stupid me, for letting you forget what we had."

"You forgot what we had, Kathryn."

She looked away. "Maybe, I did. But I always thought you'd be there to remind me if I went too far astray."

"There were too many parameters. I couldn't figure out where astray ended and rejection began."

"I see that now. I didn't see it then." She touched his lips, tracing them. "I've missed you."

She seemed to melt into him, and he marveled at how soft she could be. He'd grown used to thinking of her as unfeeling. As obsessed and hard and not interested in anything he had to offer.

"So, Earth, huh?" He smiled at her look. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to come home."

Her smile was brilliant. And also smug. She was entirely too pleased with herself.

"Although there was an offer to go to Delta that I was seriously considering. The women there are--"

He didn't fight her as she pulled him on top of her, kissing him in a way guaranteed to make him forget about any Deltans.

"Earth," she whispered in his ear as they made love again.

"Fine. Earth. But three months is all I'll give us." He grinned at her, touching her face lovingly.

She was letting him do this. She was closing her eyes and smiling, and she clutched at him as if she was afraid he might slip away. He kissed her as tenderly as he could, given that other parts of him were not terribly interested in going slow or being gentle. She didn't appear to mind.

When they lay quietly again, and the sounds of the night suddenly permeated the haze that loving Kathryn caused, he could feel her stretching along the length of him, her leg thrown over his. It was a possessive gesture, and he loved it.

"You'll come home?" she asked softly, her voice already heavy with sleep.

"I'll come home." He took a deep breath, smiling as she snaked her arm over his chest. Feeling her so close, so warm, it was one of his other favorite fantasies.

He lay listening to the night, hearing her breathing mingle with the low bird cries, before he too surrendered to sleep.

FIN