Disclaimer: They are not mine.

Notes: There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking here. This was started as an alternate possibility for the VAMB secret summer exchange, but I ended up going another route with that in order to be certain of finishing in time. This alternate has lingered for a while, being picked at, and I finally decided to get it off my plate to make room for bigger projects. This is not an intense story, really. Maybe even a bit spare. Just a sort of wistful post-Endgame the way I would do it. Quite possibly the only time I'll do it. Posted in the "M" category only for this first chapter, which no children should read.

Thanks to Froot for the usual constant encouragement, to Cheshire for the same and for being the best beta/sounding board ever and scrubbing at the last chapter for me. :D

Yellow Fog

She'd forgotten the chill of a San Francisco September. How is it possible she'd forgotten the gloomy fog? The first two years it was all she'd missed. At some point it had become about the warmth of October and the shining sun.

His were not the eyes she'd expected to see clouding, or blending into the haze surrounding the park bench they share. She can't bear to watch the reflection of ghosts she isn't acknowledging in herself much less him.

Tentatively, Admiral Janeway takes the hand resting flat on the seat next to her. "Chakotay. What is it?"

"Nothing." It's lightly delivered, it's a lie, yet his hand does not withdraw from her. Not his hand.

She studies his slightly too-stiff posture, his averted gaze. He's been friendly all through lunch, just chatty enough not to send up immediate red flags. It takes someone who knows him as well as she does to see his pain. "You and Seven?" She nearly chokes on it.

His eyes uncloud only briefly to lock with hers. His smile is a hint too wide. "There is no 'me and Seven'."

She knows this, but not how he's doing with it. "Is that what's bothering you?"

A huff of laughter, the turn of his head to avert his eyes so she can't see the debriding shame in them. "No. She made the right decision. I'm the only idiot who tried to deny it. But I know that now. I have for months." He takes back his hand, rests it on his knee. His polished boots draw his attention for a time, leaving her to work out this mystery on her own.

If she hadn't spent the past two months so wrapped up in her own issues – and her hurt – she would know what's bothering him. But she had, and she doesn't. She's at a complete loss. Something's off. Yet the only thing she can see is that the four pips on his collar don't seem as significant without the sun to reflect their shine. They also don't seem right somehow under her stare. It's odd to glance at his collar and see circles instead of a striped bar. She had always thought circles would be right. Why aren't they right?

Why isn't he?

"Then what, Chakotay?" she presses. "What's wrong? Talk to me."

The last descended into that tone; it was an order. Whether or not sheer habit makes him respond to it, his head turns slowly. When it does, her stomach drops past her boots and into the moist stone below. She thinks later that it's the fog that lets him show her, that in the sun he might never have dared, but as it is, she sees the naked need in his eyes. It's written all over his face.

"If only all I wanted to do to you was talk, Kathryn," he laments softly.

It's an open challenge. So much more direct than anything they've ever done. It knocks her back on her proverbial heels.

For some reason he has the courage of the condemned today. With one look, one line, he's spilled it all out onto the table: seven years of unspoken depth wrapped in "can't"s are dropped so neatly and simply into her lap.

This is not the man who hedged feelings in metaphors or legends. This is a man direct and forthright about what he wants. One who has seen what life has to offer in more than one quadrant, and one who is not satisfied to leave it all unsaid. One who seems to think he's suddenly run out of time to waste, but that's–

She physically tilts her head, an attempt to reign in her wandering thoughts. He's crazy – or she is. It must be the fog. It must be. And then she laughs. "'The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes.'" The words are out of her mouth before she consciously notes them forming.

"'Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap.'"

How odd that an awkward lunch between two estranged friends has landed them here. Her head shakes slightly in real amusement. "You were always the Eliot fan. I doubt I'd have read that poem if not for your insistence, you know."

"And you always loved your godforsaken, dry Dante." He grins at her. That dazzling, illuminating grin. "If you suffered through 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'," the grin blooms again at her grimace against the name, which he knows she hates, "it was nothing compared to what you put me through with Inferno. At least Love Song is a single sitting read. Inferno went on for weeks."

It's an old argument, one that brings familiar warmth floating to the surface of uncomfortable tension. Somehow the teasing is exactly what was needed. Or maybe it was just his smile. The tight bands around her chest loosen. Slowly, her heart rate is returning to something resembling normal. She draws her legs under her on the hard, not-so-dry bench, slowly considering. Absorbing, and adjusting. "I'm sorry. You caught me off guard. I said the first thing that came to mind. But it wasn't the most appropriate poem to quote, under the circumstances."

He averts his eyes. The clouds gather. They reflect the fog surrounding them. "Maybe it was."

The muscles of her brows work closer together. "Chakotay?" She's losing him. That fast.

"I'm sorry." The clouds are back in his eyes, the aversion back in his gaze. "That was out of line. I just…I needed to see you today. But I should go."

Her hand moves faster than he expects, faster than he does, and her fingers close tightly over his arm, keeping him seated. "Don't. You. Dare."

He doesn't.

This isn't what they do. This isn't what they've practiced for seven years and she doesn't even know if they'll be good at it. If they can unlearn everything the last almost decade has forced them to live. But she's a scientist, and study through experimentation comes naturally to her – when it's permitted. She leans over the bench, pressing his back into the curved slats behind him. Her hand leaves his arm, frames his face. She kisses him. It's the most natural thing she thinks she's ever done.

The rest is a blur.

They manage to figure out her apartment is closest. They knock into her knickknacks, which are all over the place, even on the steps. At the top of the stairs they barely manage to ascend, in the time his mouth has to be off her neck, her white shoulders and round breasts in order for him to pull his shirts off over his head, he tells her she's the worst hoarder he's ever met. As they reach the guest bedroom, the closest one to the stairs, she tells him she would say the same about him, and his art, which is a generous term for his creations, and one she'd never take from him. She tries to tell him this, until, with a smirk, he muffles the sentiment with her own shirts, which he leaves teasingly over her face for long enough to enthusiastically trap a nipple between his teeth, to torture the flat tip with his tongue.

With the time being in a public place has let them put into their building states of arousal, foreplay is short. He fits perfectly, fills her full, and this…this is all that either one of them had needed from the other. His breath is rightly hot across her cheek. His beautiful face looks so much fiercer at the height of orgasm than she has ever seen it. He floods devotion into the deepest recesses of her body, his capable hands that had worked cold hard machinery for too many years out there are strong and warm and biting into the bones of her hips as he hammers his need home to her.

She would have been content to lie there against him, the sweat on their bodies sticking their dual toned skins together, but he is not. He's not content; he's contrary, and he has her on her back, legs drawn open and thighs draped over his shoulders, his eager mouth diving in to finish what she had started back on that park bench. Or maybe what he had.

He holds her to him, his hand smoothing her hair for a time until they're both restless, aroused enough to continue. Somehow, the moment is special enough that the darkening clouds in his eyes go unnoticed by her. Or maybe she just doesn't want to see them, doesn't want to acknowledge that he is building a sustainable memory and not a future by her side.

When they are sated, he waits long moments through her breathless planning of the future. Moments in which he stares into her eyes, taking a snapshot of the image of her with hair awash on the white pillow they share. Then he rises, swiftly dresses. She stares at him, mouth agape as he says, "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I shouldn't have done that. I've always been weak where you're concerned."

"It's not a bad thing," she drawls, post-coital bliss hazing her vision.

"It is this time." This would be so much easier if she wasn't…her. He grits his teeth, sets his jaw. "This isn't going to work long term for us."

It's like he's speaking another language. She refuses to take him at his apparent meaning. There's no way he really means that. "Chakotay? What are you talking about?"

"In the Delta Quadrant it was different. Out there, I could afford to ignore the loyalties I couldn't honor, but here…" He trails off, at seeming a loss.

Alarm is slowly creeping into her bliss, encroaching on the sleepiness that had started to descend. "What loyalties are you talking about? Where is this coming from?"

He could stand here for eternity and explain it, and she would never get it. "I don't expect you to understand. This isn't where I belong. I wish to hell it was, but I can't stay here. It's better for both of us that I leave now, while we're still friends."

Kathryn is so floored by what has just occurred that she doesn't even rise or try to go after him. Not until it's far too late does she even realize that she'd never gotten out of him where he's even staying. If she wants to contact him once the shock fully wears off, to tear into him for his unthinkably crushing and enigmatic rejection, she'll have to wait until morning, when he reports for duty.

She's so shocked, so disbelieving that it never even occurs to her to cry.

When morning comes, she's done little but stare at the ceiling, her mind racing over all the possible reasons Chakotay would behave like he's under alien possession until her alarm tells her it's time to rise and prepare for work. As she yawns so hard tears do stream down her white face, she clicks on the morning news – and nearly chokes on her coffee.

A picture of Chakotay's service photo is flashing at her on the screen.

"…prison break could only have been orchestrated by someone with command level clearance. It was carefully executed. Among the missing are thirty Maquis fugitives that were captured after the Dominion War. Starfleet Security Officials aren't releasing any other information, but they have told us that this is the man who was responsible. Surveillance footage at the prison entrance clearly shows him stunning two guards with his phaser…"

She watches as, on screen, a grainy figure she knows to be Chakotay's by mannerisms alone is performing the very actions the reporter has described.

But that's insane. It's false. Of course that footage is doctored. It must be. This is absurd. Is she dreaming?

She manages to stumble to the comm. system at her desk, to collapse bonelessly into her chair, sloshing hot coffee over herself in the process of reaching to her monitor in time to answer Owen's incoming call. But it isn't until she sees his grim, ashen face, that she realizes it's true. It's all true.

He's gone. And he left her, his career, and their crew behind him.