It was the anniversary of Voyager's triumphant return to the Alpha Quadrant.

            Chakotay arrived, dressed in an open-necked shirt and a comfortable pair of slacks, determined to pass the evening in the best of cheer.  It seemed like one of those cruel twists of fate when the first of the senior staff he encountered was Seven of Nine.  She'd been standing in a long blue dress, her back to him.  Chakotay attempted to walk by unnoticed, but she turned just in time to see him.  He tensed when her eyes alighted upon him, expecting the worst.  Fortunately, though, she smiled softly upon seeing him, nearly erasing his memory of her bitterness just a few months earlier when he'd broken it off.

            They spoke a few minutes, their conversation perfunctory, but friendly.  She'd accepted a position at the Daystrom institute.  Yes, she'd been working with the Doctor.  Yes, he was planning to attend tonight; he was delayed due to an important medical conference.  Yes, things had been going well for her.  She realized now that his decision was the right one.  The Alpha Quadrant had numerous opportunities for her to explore humanity, and she needed the breakup to broaden her perspective... and more words that were lost to his memory as soon as he heard them.

            They parted, and he walked with a crooked smile through the ever thickening crowd, recognizing some faces, Voyager veterans.  They all had a kind word for him, but usually, like him, they had closer friends they wanted to talk to.  He spotted B'Elanna Torres and Tom Paris, and they descended upon him with large bear hugs.  Paris juggled the fiesty baby Miral.  B'Elanna and Tom bemoaned the toils of parenthood, discussed her position at Starfleet Engineering Corps, inquired about his professorship at the University of New Mexico's Anthropology Department, and then spoke more of Miral.

            It wasn't until later in the evening that She finally arrived.  He'd exchanged a few brief communiques with her, spoken over a few abbreviated lunch dates, but mostly, he'd only heard of her through the media.  The Subspace Frequency 32 Biography of Kathryn Janeway, hero of the Delta Quadrant.  News of Captain Kathryn Janeway's promotion to Admiral.  A ceremony rewarding Admiral Kathryn Janeway with the Medal of Honor, the highest possible Starfleet accolade.  Speculation in the Terran Inquirer about the nature of Admiral Kathryn Janeway's relationship with Admiral John Durant.

            She'd grown to incredible proportions in the media.  A living legend, some called her.  Every newsreel showed Admiral Janeway gazing ahead with a strange austerity and composure, receiving some accolade, attending some ceremonial function.  Chakotay had been surprised at the extent of her hero's welcome.  He could remember a few quiet nights in her quarters when she voiced her private misgivings about a possible negative reception in the Alpha Quadrant.

            When Kathryn Janeway appeared in the doorway, he looked up, and watched as she hesitated, a strange mixture of emotions on her face.  A sudden tension stole over Chakotay, and it took him a moment to collect himself and step towards her.

            But before he could speak, she was mobbed by crewmembers and families, and she dissapeared from his sight.  Chakotay's chest suddenly felt tight, and he decided to get another glass of champagne.  He turned away, stopped at the champagne table, and picked up a glass.  He stood there alone, staring into the distance with unseeing eyes, when he felt a hand lightly touch his back.

            He turned around, and she was standing there, a brilliant smile across her lips.  She wore a sleeveless black dress, and her hair hung loosely about her slim shoulders.

            "I thought that was you," Kathryn said, beaming at him with a surprising amount of fondness.

            "Kathryn..."  Chakotay felt a smile pull at his own lips, and he reached forward to draw her into a hug.  Her arms came around him, and suddenly, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.  He was relieved, immensely relieved, that she was still the same woman he remembered.  Maybe some part of him expected to see a living legend walk in, or perhaps he feared she'd buy into her own hype and seat herself on a pedestal higher than any could reach.  But here, in his arms, he reflected as he drew her closer, she was as human and as familiar as she'd ever been.

            They drew back to gaze at each other fondly, and he noticed that she'd stopped spraying her rich auburn hair to immobility.  It hung in loose tendrils that carressed her cheeks and shoulders, a look that softened her features.  Her skin was somewhat whiter than the last time he'd seen her.  Something about the intensity in her pale, blue eyes surprised him.

            "I haven't seen you in a while," she murmered.

            "I've been busy," he lied, holding her eyes with his dark ones.  Truthfully, it had been too awkward to be around her during his relationship with Seven.  He'd sensed her dissaproval.  During her rise to prominence, it was even worse.  Chakotay knew well that one holopicture of them dining together would end up on every tabloid newsreel by the end of the day.  Today, he was under no such constraint; their reunion was being held in the Amsterdam estate of Tom Paris's uncle, and the media was banned from the location.

            "Busy. I can definitely relate to that!" she said with a hollow laugh.  She reached past him to grab a glass of champagne, and they began to stroll across the room together.

            "So, you've been in the news quite a bit," Chakotay said with a smile.  "You wouldn't believe where I can get in by claiming I know you."

            Kathryn's laugh rang false.  "Well, at least I can do a friend one good turn."  She took a deep sip of her champagne.

            "More than one.  I'm trying to remember some scandalous stories about you to sell to the Terran Inquirer," he teased.  "I was thinking about that one time at Prixin--"  She elbowed him, her eyes warming up.

            "You wouldn't dare!" 

            He grinned broadly.  "I don't know-- fifty bars of latinum is a lot of money..."

            Kathryn scoffed.  "You try it, and I'll show you the true powers of the Admiral's rank!"  There was laughter in her voice.

            "I wouldn't dare tangle with that," Chakotay drawled, and his gaze slipped over to meet hers.

            She laughed briefly.  Then she seemed to become aware of him watching her, and the amusement died from her eyes;  she regarded him with searching gravity.

            "I missed you, you know," she confessed quietly.

            He reached out and took her hand in his.  "I missed you, too."  He paused, then added, "We should talk more often."

            To his surprise, a glazed look spread across her face, as though she were suddenly preoccupied with some dark thoughts.  Her voice was distant when she replied,  "Yes, of course we should."

            He studied her for a long moment, then tried,  "I was planning to go to Italy tomorrow. Would you like to come with me--"

            She looked up suddenly, her bright blue eyes suddenly intent.  "I can't tomorrow."

            Chakotay paused a beat, then shrugged his large shoulders, already regretting his presumption.  He tried to sound dismissive as he said, "Well, if not tomorrow, maybe some other--"

            "Tonight."  She held his gaze intently.  "Can we go tonight?"

            "Tonight?"  He looked around in some confusion. "But the reception--"

            "There will be other reunions, Chakotay... the crew's not going anywhere.  And we might as well take advantage of the media's absence," he heard some bitterness in her voice as she spoke.  Her eyes fluttered back up to his, and she added softly,  "Please."

            Something in her tone, her words, made him forget the crewmembers around him.  He followed her out of the reception as if in a dream.  She was the only figure he focused on amidst the bustling crowd.  They might as well have been with strangers for all the attention he paid them.

            They stepped on the public transporter platform, dematerialized in Amsterdam, rematerialized in Rome.  Kathryn paused at the com panel to make hotel reservations under Chakotay's name, and asked the computer for directions to the hotel.  She acted entirely without consulting him, but for once he didn't mind.  The hotel room... was she seriously considering... no, not possible.  He trailed along with her, tried to make small talk, found it as easy as talking to a wall.  He decided to wait and see what she was planning.  Thus far, he was enjoying her spontaneity.

            Together, then, they set out across the paved streets, no words exchanged.  Sometimes he'd look over to see her watching him with an unreadable look on her face.  Their eyes would meet for a split second, and he'd feel his heart thump loudly in his chest when she looked away, as if embarassed she'd been caught staring.

            You're deluding yourself, he admonished himself a few times.  She's not thinking what you're thinking.  This is Kathryn we're talking about, Captain Janeway... the one who doesn't have feelings for you, who applauded your relationship with Seven, remember?  She's probably had a bad week and needs to talk, or maybe some information on some event while we were on Voyager--

            The doubt vanished from his mind as they entered their darkened hotel suite and she pulled him into her arms.  Without a second thought, Chakotay dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers.  Her mouth parted easily to his touch, and he grasped her around the waist to slowly navigate her across the room to the bed.

            Their tongues battled for supremacy, and he could feel her hands running urgently over his body.  After a moment, he pulled back, gasping for air.  She didn't stop, though; her eyes were dark with passion, and her fingers flew across the buttons of his shirt.

            He put out a large hand to still hers, and she looked up questioningly.

            "Kathryn, do you really want this?" his voice was husky with need.  He knew she could feel his hardness pressing against her torso.  "I don't want you to do this if you're feeling less than--"

            She slipped her hand around the back of his head and guided his lips down to meet hers, silencing his words.  He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her slim body tightly against his bare chest.  She drew her lips from his and pressed them to his ear.  He slowly trailed kisses down her neck as she whispered,  "I want this.  I've always wanted this.  Just one night, let's forget everything that's happened, and everything that's to come..."

            She might have said more, but a fire long supressed stirred within him, growing beyond his own control, and he couldn't hear her words over the roaring in his ears.  His hands ran over her body, stroking her firmly, memorizing her with his touch.  He pressed his lips to her flesh, tasting her, buried his face into her hair, smelling the faint peach scent.  His hand slipped behind her to yank at the zipper of her dress, and she reached back to assist him.  It quickly slipped down her torso and slim hips to puddle about her feet at the floor.

            He gazed at her with an unbearable lust as she pulled at the zipper of his pants.  She slipped his pants from his waist, and pressed him towards the bed.

            They made love three times in the course of the night.  In a darkened hotel room, with the faint sounds of the Italian streets as their only companion, they released passion buried for eight years.  As his thoughts grew heavy with sleep, her warm body curled up against his, he could have sworn he heard her whisper,  "I love you."  But when his eyes snapped open, he saw that she already slumbered.

*          *          *

            The morning light streaming through the window roused him.  For a moment, he thought he'd had an incredible dream, but as he squinted around the bright room, she emerged from the bathing unit, zipping up a replicated Admiral's tunic.

            Chakotay felt intense pleasure and contentment sweep over him at the sight of her.  As she reached for the pips she'd laid on the dresser by the bed, he reached out and grasped her by the waist, pulling her to him for a long, wet kiss.

            At first she felt strangely stiff in his arms, then her body relaxed, sagging against him.

            "You have morning breath," she whispered as he pulled back, smiling.

            "And you're an early riser," he replied, holding her across his lap. He was still nude under the thin, white sheet, and his broad, powerful chest was bared to her.  She was transfixed by the sight of it.

            "If I'd known about those muscles of yours under that uniform, it would have made my job on Voyager much harder."

            "Not as hard as you made mine," he replied wryly, pressing his torso against her lightly to punctuate the double entendre.  She smiled despite herself.

            He reached up a hand and stroked her cheek lightly.  "You look beautiful this morning."

            Her smile froze on her face, and then slowly faded.  Something hardened in her gaze.

            Kathryn stood up and pulled out of his arms, turning away from him to fasten the numerous pips onto her collar.  Chakotay watched her back as her arms jerked in a strangely harsh motion.

            When she said nothing, he spoke,  "So, are we going to talk about this?"

            "About what?" she said, her voice impersonal.

            "I think you know what."  He leaned his broad, muscular body back against the pillows and studied her intently.  "I think you once called it the 'parameters' of our relationship.  Where do we go from here?  For God's sakes, Kathryn... we haven't seen each other in months, we barely spoke last night, we had sex, and this morning you're mute.  Where is this going to go?"


            He looked at her.  "Tomorrow, for instance.  You know how I feel about you, and I think I know how you feel about--"

            "This is nothing, Chakotay."  Her voice was strangely cold.

            He blinked.  Then, "What?"

            She turned to him, her face entirely dispassionate, her eyes as cold as ice.  "It was just sex, Chakotay.  It meant nothing. And I--" she seemed to have difficulty speaking, and her voice abruptly choked off.

            He tried, "Kathryn, you can't say--"

            "I'm getting married, Chakotay."

            Chakotay felt something within him freeze.

            "I'm marrying Admiral Durant," she continued coldly, uncaring that her words jabbed at him like a knife.

            "You're marrying Durant?"  Chakotay echoed in disbelief.  "But-- Kathryn, what was this...   I don't understand..."

            "I love him," she said, and he could hear how false the words were.  He saw tears swimming in her eyes as she continued,  "And this can never happen again." She gestured vaguely to the hotel room around them.

            He stood there, rooted in place.

            "I came to you..." she continued in a ragged voice.  "Because this is the last time I'll ever see you.  When I leave here today, I don't ever want to see you again, understand me?"


            "Stay away from me.  Stay out of my life."

            "You can't meant that," he replied, his voice rising with sudden anger.  A muffled sound came from her lips, as though she'd choked on her retort.  She looked down at the ground, swallowing hard.  Her entire body was rigid, and he could tell she was trying to fight back tears.  His anger suddenly faded.  There had to be a reason behind this.  It wasn't like her to act like this.

             "Look at you..." he said softly.  "Kathryn, you're a wreck.  Why don't you tell me what's going on--"

            "Nothing."  She looked up again, her eyes clear.  "Nothing is going on.  It's simply that this is it.  I go my way, you go yours... end of story."

            "But why?" he demanded.  "What's so--"

            Her expression suddenly hardened.  With a dangerous voice, she ground out,  "I never want to see you again.  Do you understand, Chakotay?  Never.  I have my reasons, now accept it, and stay the hell away!"

            There was no mistaking her tone this time.

            He felt hurt, fresh and strong, burst up within him.  Her actions were inexplicable.  He didn't understand what the hell had changed between this morning and last night, he didn't know--

            But he didn't press her again.  He felt himself grow cold.

            In a chilly voice, he said,  "Fine.  Have it your way.  I'll stay away."

            He stood, walked towards the bathroom.  "And I think you know where the door is, Admiral."

            He bent over the sink and sloshed a handful of water onto his face.  After a few seconds, he heard the doors hiss open and closed as she walked out of his life.

            He straightened and gazed into his dark reflection in the mirror, staring at it grimly.  Damn.  Damn damn damn.  It served him right.  This is what it felt like to be used.  Janeway had toyed with him for seven years on Voyager, until he'd escaped through Seven.  Then last night came.  Why had she done that?  Fucked him?  Consummated their relationship, then drawn away simply to enjoy his pain one last time before she married?  Perhaps it was the final assertion of her power... the last time she could use his need for her to her advantage.

            Never again.  Never again would he let that woman do this him.

            Chakotay hardened his heart.  Never again.