He could see it in her eyes: a world they built between them of glances and moments more created than tangible. He couldn't touch her, they'd made that bargain years before, but there was no halting the insubstantial or shields against the ethereal. Love needed no mention or invitation, no weakness or cracks in their armour, for it simply was.

Neither of them denied or nurtured it, so, thoroughly neglected, the weed grew.

He'd fought weeds as a child. When his people lived in one place, they had gardens, and the little ones weeded the rows, tending their food so they'd appreciate it when it came to table. He'd understood the necessity then; they needed the food, so the weeds had to be plucked. As his people needed to eat, so the children needed to remove the weeds. Now Voyager held his people and they needed to go home, but no matter how tightly he wound his hands around this particularly stubborn weed, nothing caught the root, time and again it sprang up more vibrant than before.

He let it sink into him. The roots found purchase, digging deep. Her smile was the sun, her strength the earth and between them, love grew. His grandmother said a tiny seed could break the greatest rock when given water, sunlight and time. Kathryn and Chakotay gave this seed as little as they dared, and yet, it wore away at their resolve, turning stone to dust.

Living in dust was no harder than living with anger. The hatred he'd carried for the Cardassians had burned his heart to ash and stone before he met her; with her, his soul went to green like a forest after a fire. Fire cleansed; life returned. Kathryn, for all her fire, was his regrowth.

He'd tell her someday.

For now, Kathryn leaned over towards his seat, eyes gleaming as if she knew what he'd not yet allow himself to voice. "What do you think, Chakotay? Should we see what's out there?"

He held his lips firm, refusing his smile purchase on his face. "Whatever you say, Captain."

Mock disappointment flashed through her features and she reached for his shoulder, squeezing it until he grinned.

"That's more like it," she finished, sitting back contentedly before she nodded to Tom. "Take us out, Mr. Paris."

The echo of her touch raced through him, warm as the summer rain and full of the same promise. Chakotay stole a last glance at her before he set his eyes forward and waited for the day they'd both admit to the bloom.

"Regrowth" written for VAMB's Secret Drabble, Spring 2011