Turbolift Three Alpha

Starfleet Headquarters

San Francisco

0826 hours

"Hold the lift!"

Chakotay looked up from the PADD in his hand as the figure of Tom Paris clutching his infant daughter slid deftly into the small space he already occupied. He shifted quickly to avoid collision with the young Commander as he regained his balance.

The doors slid shut, and six month old Miral giggled at his antics. He adjusted her position on his left hip as he called out his floor to the computer.

"Well this is a surprise." He repositioned a baby bag more securely on his right shoulder, grinning at his former commanding officer. "How long has it been? Two, maybe three months?"

"Four." Chakotay smiled, holding out his arms when Miral reached for him. At least one of the Torres women didn't hate him, he thought. "I just got back from Trebus a few hours ago. I'm on my way to a briefing with Admiral Ross."

"Hmm…roller-coaster Ross. Good luck." Tom wiggled his left arm in relief as he watched Chakotay settle Miral against his side. "Well, now that you're back, I'm signing you up for babysitting duty. Today though, you're off the hook." He reached over to pinch his daughter's cheek and she rewarded him with a smile. "You're spending the morning with Auntie Kathryn, aren't you my little Kuvah'magh?"

Miral answered with an impressive display of spit bubbles.

Chakotay busied himself with wiping the infant's chin and mouth, trying to hide his surprise from the usually astute Tom. He had no idea that Kathryn was in the building.

He knew about her reassignment to headquarters shortly after their two month long debriefing, but had assumed that her office was located in the faculty block, since she had also taken up lecturing at the Academy.

He knew that she was growing her hair out again, thanks to the news vids that covered her every move these last few months. In them, she always looked radiant; basking in the affection from friends and family, her eyes bright and happy.

He knew that she had been seen frequently in the company of a certain Admiral Marshall Stark, and the rumors of them seriously dating were off the scale.

He also knew that based on their last stilted conversation, he was in no way prepared for a reunion with her at this very moment.

The lift slowed, and he felt his heartbeat quicken.

"Here we are." Tom said in a sing-song tone for his daughter, lifting her from Chakotay's arms just as the turbolift doors slid open.

He was saying something else, but Chakotay didn't hear.

Across the corridor, transparent glass walls permitted a perfect view into Janeway's office.

It was a scene reminiscent of their days on Voyager.

From his vantage point inside the turbolift, she was sitting at her desk, deep in concentration, PADD in one hand, coffee in the other. It was the first time in months he had seen her in person; not since Voyager's welcome home gala.

They had barely spoken then, save a cursory 'thanks for everything' before going their separate ways.

It had hurt; the way she dismissed him so simply; as if they hadn't just returned from the journey of their lives, hadn't forged a friendship many could only dream of having, hadn't been through so much together.

But then again, he wasn't entirely blameless…

He had stood by silently and watched their relationship as it devolved because of her damned parameters, then felt a sense of smug satisfaction at the pain in her eyes on seeing him and Seven together.

And now here she was.

And she was turning in their direction.

She stood, smiling and waving with the hand holding the PADD as she spotted Tom stepping out of the turbolift.

Then her smile faltered and she stilled when she locked eyes with Chakotay.

Tom leaned partially into his field of vision, momentarily startling him. "You know, you could come in with me to say hello."

Chakotay shook his head, tearing his eyes away from her motionless form. It was too much, too soon. "Maybe some other time."

Tom nodded. So the rumors were true. His former commanding officers weren't on speaking terms. As he turned and stepped out of the lift, heading toward Janeway's office, he figured that based on the look on both their faces, a blind man could see the reason why.


Turbolift Twelve Delta

Earth Spacedock

1305 hours

Kathryn Janeway anxiously glanced at the chronometer over the turbolift doors as it sped to her destination. She was late; the byproduct of an eventful morning with her goddaughter Miral, that had crossed over into two scheduled meetings due to an impromptu trip for ice-cream.

She sighed. She was now over an hour late for a working lunch with Admiral Paris. He'd already COMMed her twice and from the sound of his voice, he was not pleased.

She bit back a frustrated groan when the lift slowed, then stopped, well before her own destination. The doors slid open, admitting a group of junior officers who all acknowledged her while calling their destinations to the computer.

The space station was busy today; with over fifty separate refits underway. Janeway herself was overseeing four of them, including Voyager.

A few more officers entered, and just when she considered calling for a beam out, a familiar voice sounded.

"Hold the lift!"

Her world came to a grinding halt, and she froze.


She was grateful that she was crammed into the back of the lift, the other occupants obstructing his view of her as he entered, then turned toward the doors as they slid shut.

From her vantage point though, she could observe him unimpeded. And observe she did.

He looked good, she thought. The months he'd spent on Trebus it seemed had done him well. He obviously had been engaged in some form of physical labor, if his muscular form and slightly darker complexion were anything to go by.

He stood relaxed and composed, facing straight ahead, his back to her, staring at the doors of the lift as if deep in thought.

She knew now that seeing him this morning had reawakened something inside her she had thought long gone. But the time to explore it, analyze it, even give a name to it, was long gone.

They had both made some attempt at moving on; he was still with Seven as far as she knew, and she…well…things between her and Marshall were…progressing.

She'd already concluded that had he come out of that lift with Tom, she wouldn't have been ready to see him again, wouldn't have known how to handle their reunion. And by the firm shake of his head in answer to what looked like an invitation from Tom to join them, it was clear that he wasn't ready either.

They slowed to a stop again, and Janeway exhaled a breath she hadn't known she was holding as the lift started emptying again. Chakotay himself was almost through the doors, and her eyes slid shut in relief.

"Paris to Janeway."

Her eyes snapped open, just in time to see Chakotay slowly turn back toward her.

Her hand came swiftly up to tap her COMMbadge.

"Janeway here."

He was standing at the threshold of the lift, studying her, obviously torn between getting off and staying on.

"Kathryn, you said you'd be here five minutes ago."

They were alone now, the last of the 'lift's occupants having filed past him moments ago.

"I'll be there momentarily, Admiral. Janeway out."

She watched and waited, giving him no indication of what she thought he should do.

He still didn't move when she acknowledged him. "Chakotay…it's been awhile."

He maintained eye contact with her, his features unreadable. "I guess we've both been busy."

She nodded slightly. "Yes, I guess we have. How was Trebus?"

"There's a lot of work to be done, but its moving at a steady pace."

He hadn't been this close to her in months. And he realized that the newsvids did not do her justice. She looked tired – probably a byproduct of a hectic morning with a six month old – but otherwise she seemed…unburdened, relaxed, happy…


They both looked up as the computer chirped a warning that the doors were being held open.

Kathryn leveled her gaze at him first. "Are you in, or out?"

He looked down at her, both knowing that it was a loaded question, with a far deeper meaning.

Seven years together, he thought, and now they could barely stand to be in the same space with each other. He looked into her eyes now, and for the first time since they'd met, he had no idea what she was thinking.

He sighed.

"That has always been the heart of the matter, hasn't it?" Aware of the tension in the air, and with all the willpower he could muster, he stepped back and out of the lift.

The doors slid shut and the lift resumed course, the now empty space the only silent witness to her whispered words. "I guess it has."


Turbolift Seven Beta

Starfleet Medical

San Francisco

1647 hours

Chakotay rubbed the back of his neck tiredly and leaned against the rear of the lift. He was just beginning to feel the effects of three hours' sleep in the last forty eight.

Admiral Ross had informed him this morning that he was being assigned as Voyager's Captain, along with the privilege of selecting his own crew. That revelation had led to several other meetings, crew evaluations, and reassignment of his senior staff post mission. He'd skipped lunch as a result, and was now headed for a routine post mission physical.

It was already shaping up to be another long day, and Chakotay's earlier encounters with Kathryn hadn't made it any easier. Seeing her again had awakened something in him that he thought long exorcised.

He was so deep in thought that he hadn't realized that the lift had stopped. It was only when the doors slid open and she walked in that he came to the conclusion that the spirits were out to get him.

Her attention was fully focused on the PADD she held, and therefore she failed to notice him. "Specialized Medical." She ordered the turbolift's computer.

He recognized the floor as the department where the EMH worked. He smirked. He never thought he would ever see her visiting the Doctor voluntarily. "Hello again, Kathryn."

She jumped, dropping the PADD as she clutched her chest with one hand. The other came up to her hip. "Damn it, Chakotay! Are you trying to give me a coronary?"

"Sorry about that." He bent over, picking up her discarded PADD. He handed it back to her, their fingers brushing lightly when she accepted it. A fission of electricity jolted through his body, tensing all his muscles. Their eyes locked, and Chakotay knew then that she had felt something too.

Kathryn quickly pulled away. "It's okay." She took up residence at the other end of the lift under the pretense of trying to catch her breath. She studied him for a moment, then sighed quietly.

If their fates were conspiring against them today, then she might as well play along.

"Mandatory post mission physical?" She asked by way of making conversation. Better than pretending he wasn't there.

He nodded. "You?"

She hesitated, and it was so fleeting, he almost missed it. "Mandatory post Voyager counseling."

He was genuinely surprised, but didn't show it. "With the Doc?" He found it strange that she would choose the EMH as her…

"Not likely." She was shaking her head, slightly amused at his assumption. "Deanna Troi has an office on the same floor. We use it when she's planet side. It has an incredible view."

They fell silent for a moment, their gazes locked.

This is ridiculous, Kathryn thought. Was this what it would be like now? Stilted conversation in passing, behaving as though there was never anything more between them?

Chakotay had had enough of this. Were they both so stubborn that they couldn't take the first step toward rebuilding the tattered remains of their friendship?

His resolve strengthened, he took a step toward her, feeling the lift as it slowed to a stop.

"Kathryn, I think we need to…"

"How is Seven?" Kathryn blurted. She had no idea why she said it, but Chakotay's reaction was immediate.

He stopped dead in his tracks. "She's…"

The doors were open, and Kathryn was already making her escape. If it appeared as though she was desperate to put some distance between them, then so be it.

"Give her my best." She called out over her shoulder as she disappeared.

Chakotay sank back against the wall as the turbolift resumed. He whispered the words aloud for the first time since he had thought of them months before. And it was, for all intents and purposes, the heart of the matter.

"She's…not you."


Turbolift Two Sigma

Côte d'Azur


1955 hours

"You seem distracted."

Chakotay looked up at Seven of Nine from his position across from her in the turbolift. She was a stunning woman, and the peach colored strapless formal gown she wore complemented her in all the right places. "I was just thinking."

She raised an eyebrow. "About?"

He closed the short distance between them, pressing his body against hers. "You." He whispered against her ear. "You look beautiful tonight."

She raised her palm to his chest, gently pushing him away. Chakotay knew that she disliked public displays of affection. He sighed, returning to his former position across from her.

"Your attempt to divert the subject has not succeeded." She declared. "In fact, you have been distracted all evening."

"It's been a long day, Seven. And it's going to be an even longer evening. I'm just tired, that's all." He explained. "It would have been nice to just stay in tonight."

She frowned. "You have said on several occasions that I should socialize more, meet new people. The Annual Questor Group Dinner seemed to meet those criteria."

"Yes, but did it have to be…" He stopped when he noticed her visibly tense. Running his fingers through his hair he gave her an apologetic look. "Look, let's just enjoy the evening without another argument, ok? We're already here and I'm happy to see you've made the effort so…"

The lift doors slid open and his sentence fell away unfinished.

Kathryn, for the most part, looked genuinely surprised. She had just pulled away from what looked like a loving embrace with a man Chakotay had never met but had an idea as to who he was.

He stiffened.

Seven, unsure of the extreme reactions her cortical processor was feeding her, glanced curiously at the three people before her.

Awkward silence filled the air for a few moments.

Kathryn blinked away her surprise, allowing her companion to guide her into the lift using the short moment to regain her composure.

Chakotay couldn't help but notice that the man's hand was resting on her lower back.

Her bare lower back, from what Chakotay had glimpsed of it before she turned.

He knew he had no right, but if possible, he stiffened more.

"Seven…Chakotay…" Kathryn greeted her former crewmembers, absently hearing her date calling for their floor. The lift resumed again and she turned toward the man by her side. "Admiral Marshall Stark, Captain Chakotay, my former first officer on Voyager."

The two men exchanged greetings by shaking hands, and then Chakotay preempted Kathryn by turning toward Seven, intending to introduce her himself.

In that moment, which seemed like a lifetime, but was really only just a second, he wondered. What would he introduce her as? What was she to him, really? His lover? Girlfriend? Soulmate?

He tore his gaze away from Seven to look at Kathryn, who was frowning at him.

"Marshall, you remember Seven?" She broke her gaze with him, but not before shooting him a frosty glare.

"Of course…" Marshall smiled at the former Borg, bowing slightly, pretending to be oblivious to the undercurrent existing as the lift sped toward its destination. "I had the opportunity to work with this impressive young lady briefly a few weeks ago. Her Borg encryptions for sensitive data transmitted within the office of the President are quite a hit around the office."

"Are you both attending the Questor dinner as well?" Seven enquired, not entirely comfortable with the attention and praise.

Marshall and Kathryn glanced at each other, obviously sharing some private thought. Chakotay couldn't help but feel something akin to…jealousy? Envy? Whatever it was surging through him, it was enough to make his hands form into fists.

"No, actually." Marshall admitted. "Kathryn was promoted to Admiral this afternoon. We're on our way to a reception in her honor." He pointed upwards, indicating their destination on the top floor of the building.

Chakotay looked at Kathryn, genuine surprise on his features. "Congratulations, Admiral." He said softly, studying her gaze. Seven echoed his sentiment, but he barely heard her.

There was a time when he would have been the first person she called with news like this. When had things changed? There was a time when she couldn't imagine a day without him.

What happened to them? Chakotay must have asked that question to himself over a thousand times. And if he really were to look at the heart of the matter, was it even relevant now?

The lift slowed to a stop and the doors opened, bringing him out of his reverie.

"This is us." Chakotay announced, taking Seven's hand in his, before nodding toward Kathryn and Marshall. "Admirals."

They exchanged their goodbyes and as the lift resumed, Marshall leveled his gaze on Kathryn.

"What?" She gave him a coy smile.

He cupped her cheek gently, his eyes suddenly saddened. "Be honest with me ok?"

"Of course." Kathryn reached up and squeezed his hand.

"How long has your former first officer been in love with you?"


Turbolift Four Alpha

Starfleet Headquarters

San Francisco

1157 hours

Chakotay headed quickly toward the bank of turbolifts, watching the crowd already forming. He sighed in dismay. It was the eve of the annual Federation Day celebrations. Everyone was on the job today, ensuring all logs and reports were filed, meetings held, decisions made, thereby avoiding working for the long weekend precipitated by the holiday.

As luck would have it, eight of the twelve turbolifts opened at the same time, releasing its travelers and admitting new occupants. The crowd that had been there moments before thinned, and shortly after, Chakotay found himself alone in a recently emptied turbolift.

For a split second, he almost expected Kathryn to appear, expressing surprise and uneasiness at yet another turbolift encounter. But over three weeks had passed since that fateful day he'd run into her no less than four times; ending with that awkward chance meeting he'd rather forget.

"Eighty Ninth floor."

Chakotay shook his head to clear his mutinous thoughts; he'd tried hard not to think of her the last few weeks with little success. He slammed to the present as another passenger entered, requesting their floor as the doors of the turbolift slid shut.

Perhaps the spirits weren't finished with him, after all.

Chakotay snapped to attention. "Admiral."

Admiral Marshall Stark turned, and his calm, smiling reception almost made Chakotay believe that the man was expecting him.

"As you were, Chakotay. There's no need for formality when we're alone." Stark studied his fellow passenger closely. "After all, I am dating your best friend."

The remark took Chakotay by surprise, but his reaction only lasted a moment. Stark was trying to bait him. He opted to remain silent.

Stark, studying him closely, continued. "You are 'best friends' aren't you?" He asked, not expecting an answer. "At least that's what Kathryn says."

"Do you doubt her words?" Chakotay asked casually.

"Do you?" Marshall countered. "Your surprise isn't lost on me, Chakotay. But imagine her lack of surprise when I pointed out that you were still in love with her."

If nothing else, the man was intuitive, and had a knack for getting straight to the point, Chakotay surmised. "Admiral…"

"Marshall. Call me Marshall." He interrupted, his calm exterior fading slightly, giving Chakotay a glimpse of his true objective. It seemed that Stark's intention was to engage in the age old ritual of marking his territory. "Want to know what else she said?"

So they were going to have this conversation, Chakotay realized. But he was not going to be blindsided or cornered. Nor was he going to engage in a pissing contest with Kathryn's lover.

"Computer…halt turbolift. Authorization Chakotay-pi-two-zero-five."

The lift slowed to a halt, and Chakotay maintained eye contact with Stark, who had merely raised a curious eyebrow. "I'm sure that I have a fair idea…" He replied evenly in answer to his question. "…and knowing Kathryn the way I do, she would have been nothing but completely honest with you. That being said, rest assured that I am no threat to you, Stark. I respect her decision to move on, as I know she respects mine. Whatever residual feelings we both share are ours and ours alone to work through."

"But that's the heart of the matter, isn't it?" Stark countered. "Those 'residual feelings' as you so eloquently called them, aren't so residual."

"You're wrong." Chakotay denied firmly.

"Am I?" He snorted. "Then you've figured out what position Seven holds in your heart then? Don't think I didn't notice your little hesitation the other night when you tried to introduce her. And was that your authorization code you used to stop the turbolift? You thought I wouldn't notice that you're using Kathryn's birthday? Face it, Chakotay. You're not over Kathryn. The question is…what are you going to do about it?"

Chakotay moved dangerously close to Stark, his face well within the Admiral's personal space. "Worried, Admiral?"

Stark smiled. "Computer…resume lift."

The 'lift responded to his order and they were underway once again. He considered his next words before he spoke again. "I know how much you hurt her, Chakotay. And it wasn't easy for her to let you go, let alone start a relationship with me. Neither of us can predict what the fates have in store for us where Kathryn is concerned."

Any further discussion on the matter was discontinued as the lift stopped again on what Chakotay recognized as Kathryn's floor. Marshall gave him one last smirk and moved toward the opening doors. Halfway there, he paused, as if in thought, then turned back to face him once more.

"Regardless of what happens, don't think for a second that I would simply stand by and just watch you hurt her like that again…" He leaned closer to Chakotay and whispered, "…understand?"

Chakotay's visage darkened. "Like you said Stark, Kathryn is my best friend. Which means that I'll do everything in my power to make sure that 'regardless of what happens' she'll never hurt again. Don't think for a second that I would simply stand by…" He broke into a dangerous smile. "…do you understand?"

Chakotay watched as Stark unceremoniously exited the turbolift, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

And as the lift resumed, one unanswered question struck Chakotay.

Stark was right about one thing; he was still in love with Kathryn Janeway.

What was he going to do about it?


Turbolift One Beta

USS Voyager

Earth Spacedock

2250 hours

The turbolift sped silently toward its destination, oblivious to its tension filled space, made so by its two occupants.

They hadn't been alone with each other in a little over a month; notwithstanding the fact that they often crossed paths in briefings, 'fleet organized functions, and crew events. Despite this, neither of them had put any effort into regaining the equilibrium they once had, and given recent events, it seemed that they were more estranged than ever.

They were far from being enemies, but then again, they weren't exactly on friendly terms either.

He knew she was mad at him; his confrontation with Stark no doubt having reached her ears, but without any discussion on the matter, he couldn't figure out where they stood.

Nothing ever seemed to fall into the nice clear areas of black or white with Kathryn – and that drove him a little bit crazy. Because it fascinated him every bit as much as it frustrated him.

Were they supposed to be fighting, or not? If he knew she was pissed and in fighting mode, he could gear up for it, wade into it or ignore it. But the uncertainty kept him off balance.

And impulsive.

"You're still angry." Chakotay voiced his observation.

"And you're still not sorry." Kathryn volleyed back his way.

"For putting Stark in his place a month ago? Absolutely not." He took a deep breath before continuing, instantly regretting that he hadn't left well enough alone. "Kathryn, I'm not sure what he said to you, but…"

"Last night at dinner, he asked me to marry him." She blurted quietly.

Chakotay raised an eyebrow, dutifully ignoring the feel of his heart plunging into the depths of his stomach. "I see. Congratulations."

"I said no." Kathryn clarified. "Then I ended it."

"I'm sorry." He said after a moment.

She looked up at him, the beginnings of a smirk forming on her lips. "No, you're not, if what Marshall said has any truth in it."

He tugged at his ear in that habitual way of his that Kathryn found endearing. "It's a reflex action." He admitted. "Saying 'I'm sorry' is usually a person's automatic response upon hearing bad news."

She raised an eyebrow. "Seven is rubbing off on you."

He looked at her confused, reviewing his last words. A slow, knowing smile graced his dimpled features before he said sadly, "Hardly. We ended it over a week ago."

Her hand reached out to clasp his arm briefly. "I'm sorry Chakotay. And I really do mean it."

"I know you do." He patted her hand, feeling an acute sense of loss when she pulled away. "It was for the best. It would never have worked."

They fell silent when the lift slowed to a stop, admitting a group of young engineers, bubbling with energy and excitement, no doubt from having the opportunity of working on the legendary vessel. Kathryn wondered to herself if she was ever that young and impressionable. She could sense Chakotay watching her as the ensigns fell over themselves in adoration which bordered on hero worship.

She took it all in stride, for the most part, grateful for the diversion; anything to avoid discussing his break-up with Seven.

When they were alone again, Kathryn exhaled a deep breath, pinching the bridge of her nose as her eyes slid shut.

"Kathryn, how come you didn't tell me about the promotion?"

She sighed, opening her eyes to meet his. "That day, on Spacedock, when we bumped into each other in the turbolift, when Admiral Paris COMMed me…" She paused as he nodded his recollection. "…I was due to meet him for a working lunch. I had no idea he was going to promote me. Anyway, it happened so fast, and the next thing I knew, they were planning a formal reception for the same night. I didn't want to make a big deal, so I decided not to tell anyone."

He tensed. "Oh…so now I'm anyone?"

"Now that's unfair and you know it." Her voice radiated her slight irritation. "I didn't exactly hear you banging down my door in excitement to tell me about you and Seven."

"That was different." He growled softly.

"Was it? Chakotay, there were a lot of things we stopped doing as best friends." She waved her hand between them for emphasis. "Significant happenings was one of the first things to go through the airlock. There's no blame for either of us here, our situation was far from…"

"But we're home, Kathryn." He cut her off forcefully. "Have been for eight months."

They reached their destination, and the doors opened to a busy shuttle bay. At the farthest end, Kathryn recognized her shuttle awaiting her arrival.

Neither of them showed any signs of moving.

"Right." Kathryn rolled her eyes, wondering how he could be so obtuse at times. "What did you imagine, a threesome between you, Seven, and me? Chakotay, you moved on."

For the first time he saw, reflected in her eyes, the depth of how badly his actions had affected her. He knew he'd hurt her, but this…this… "Kathryn…"

She wasn't finished. "You were in a fledgling relationship. Our friendship was in shambles, and neither of us had the time nor the inclination to do anything about it. Frankly, everything that passed between us was just too fresh, and raw. You and I…" She hesitated for a brief moment. "…we needed the time apart. So I did the only thing I felt was right. I let you go. Besides, we've both heard the rumors about us. And if we heard them, then Seven heard them too. I'm sure she would have appreciated me keeping my distance."

"Well, some good that did." He huffed.

"What was that?"


Kathryn frowned. "You know, if this bothered you so much, you could have said something."

He gave her a dubious look. "And would it have changed your mind? As far as I recall, I have zero success in that area."

She flinched at his words. "I only wanted you to be happy, Chakotay."

He looked at her. A long thorough look that had her raising her eyebrows.

"And I only wanted you, Kathryn."


Turbolift Five Alpha

Starfleet Headquarters

San Francisco

1236 hours

"He said that?" Phoebe followed her sister into the turbolift absently noticing the doors sliding shut behind her. "He said that he wanted you. What did you say?"

"I didn't get the chance to say anything…" Kathryn answered after calling their destination to the computer. "…he walked away."

"And he and Seven are over?" Phoebe repeated her earlier question for confirmation.

Kathryn nodded. Admittedly, she'd known before he had told her. It seemed that Seven was in need of a little 'girl talk' and had found her way to B'Elanna's door shortly after the deed was done. And B'Elanna wasted no time in spreading the 'good news' as she'd called it.

"It was a mutual decision." Kathryn told her sister. "It seemed that the only way their relationship could have survived was if they had remained on Voyager."

"Now that's ironic."

"What is?"

"You and Chakotay couldn't be together because you were on Voyager, and he and Seven didn't last because they weren't on Voyager."

"Me and Chakotay together?" Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "On Voyager? Phoebe, we were just close friends. Who said anything about…?"

"You keep saying that to yourself over and over and see if it will miraculously become the truth." Phoebe cut her off with a wave of her hand. "It's not the brass you're talking to you know. It's me, your little sister. You do know the definition of insanity don't you?"

The 'lift slowed, indicating its impending arrival at their destination.

Kathryn sighed in defeat. "Well…hypothetically speaking, if there was anything going on as you seem to think there was, he doesn't feel that way anymore." Kathryn pointed out quickly as the doors started opening. "He said he 'wanted me', past tense."

"B'Elanna was right." Phoebe shook her head. "He is a petaQ."

Kathryn bit the inside of her lip, but it couldn't quite defeat her smile.

"What?" Phoebe asked. Then realization dawned. "He's standing right behind me, isn't he?"

Kathryn nodded, looking past her sister toward the open doors of the lift where Chakotay stood.

"Captain Chakotay…" Phoebe turned to face her sister's former first officer. "…imagine running into you…and of all the places in the universe…in a turbolift. I was just telling Kathryn…"

"That I'm a petaQ…yes, I've heard." Chakotay appeared unfazed by the awkwardness that now permeated the air. "Hearing B'Elanna and petaQ in the same sentence these days usually means that I'm the topic of discussion." He turned toward the elder sister and nodded. "Kathryn."

"Chakotay." Kathryn returned the nod cordially.

He gave her and the surroundings an appraising look. "Think next time we could meet somewhere other than the turbolift?"

"Somehow I don't think the fates will allow it." Kathryn answered with a raised eyebrow.

Phoebe took turns looking from her sister to the handsome former first officer. From the looks on their faces, they desperately needed some time to talk. Alone.

She did the only thing she could on the spur of the moment. "Kathryn I just remembered an…appointment I have…now…with…someone. Can we do lunch some other time?"

Phoebe was out the door before Kathryn could respond.

"That's not the smoothest exit I've ever seen." Chakotay remarked as the doors slid shut again. He looked at her intently. "Kathryn, about what I said last night…"

"It's fine, Chakotay." Kathryn cut him off. "I understand if you want to…"

"No you don't understand..." His voice rose slightly above hers, belying his calm demeanor. "you see…what I wanted to tell you…well I think it came out wrong…" He tugged nervously at his ear before he continued. "…what you said about us needing the space to reconcile all the things that pulled us apart…well, you were right."

Kathryn, who had been watching the closed doors of the dormant turbolift as he spoke, now shot him a questioning look. "Excuse me?"

"You were right, Kathryn." Chakotay, more emboldened now, continued. "And when I stormed out of that 'lift last night, I had every intention of never seeing you again, give you all the space you seem to think we need."

"And now?"

He had moved closer to her while he spoke, and now they were practically breathing the same air. "And now, I…I was on my way to see you to ask…" He could smell her hair, and he had to fight the urge to bury his face in it. "…could we just start over? Friends?"

She nodded slowly in agreement. "Friends."

"I should go."

"Ok…" Gripping the railing of the turbolift, she stared at the closed doors. "…see you around."

"Thanks for…well…everything."

"Don't mention it." He was stalling and she knew it.

"Maybe we can meet for dinner next week." He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"Sure, I'll schedule it in."

She wasn't sure if he'd pulled her into his arms, or if she moved there when he'd leaned closer toward her, but the next thing she knew, he was holding her, and her lips were parting for his.

"I'll call your aide to remind you." He brushed his lips against hers.

"That's fine." Her eyes fluttered closed as the kiss deepened.

Moments passed, but to Kathryn, it could have been an eternity before he finally tore his lips away from hers. "One more thing."

"Yes?" She breathed, almost in a whisper.

"Marry me, Kathryn."

Her eyes opened and locked with his. And for the first time, she could see straight through to the heart of the matter; that in spite of everything that passed between them, their love for each other had never waned.


~ It Is Finished!~