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    Laughing at a joke that Tom had just made, Kathryn reached for the second to last present that sat on the table in front of her. It was large and rectangular in shape, too big to be a book.
     “Who’s that one from Captain?” Asked Harry inquisitively.  She smiled at him and picked up the small card off the front. She opened it up and began to scan what was written there. “Let’s see…” Her eyes grew misty as she read the words that had been written.

    … the angry warrior swore to himself that he would stay by her side, doing whatever he could to make her burden lighter, from that point on her needs would come first. And in that way, the warrior began to know the true meaning of peace.
Happy Birthday Kathryn,

“…it’s from Chakotay…” Her mind flashed briefly to New Earth, back to a relationship that she couldn’t allow to be explored. She looked up as Tom’s voice broke her reverie.
    “I can’t wait to see this.”
    “Stowe it Paris.” Chakotay sent him a mild glare before turning his attention to Kathryn and the present lying in her lap. He smiled as he thought of how she would react; it had taken him weeks but he had finally finished it to his satisfaction.
    She carefully pulled off the silver ribbon and then began to tear the deep blue wrapping paper of the package. The last piece fell away to reveal a beautiful watercolor painting of Kathryn’s favorite meadow on New Earth. The sun was rising behind the line of trees in the background, tingeing them a warm, golden yellow. It was almost as if he had taken them back to the meadow; the detail was so intricate that you could even distinguish the different blades of grass that swayed in the breeze.
    She looked up at him, her eyes filling with tears and said nothing, her facing giving everything away. He smiled at her, his warm eyes meeting her swirling blue ones.
    “You’re welcome Kathryn.”
    She forced a cheery smile and blinked back the tears that had begun to well up. “Thank you Chakotay, it’s lovely.”
    He nodded and smiled, sitting back in his chair as she reached for the last package.
    “And this must be from you Doctor.” She pulled it into her lap, realizing that it was slightly heavier than it looked.
    He smiled benignly. “Indeed it is Captain, but it’s only from me in part, some of the crew helped out as well.”
    She raised her eyebrows with an expression of interest and then turned her attention to the parcel as she began to unwrap her final present.  Like Chakotay’s it was heavier than it looked and was similar in shape, though it was a bit thicker. She ripped away the final pieces of paper and gave a small gasp of surprise. Sitting in her lap was a large leather bound book with her name imprinted on the front in a flowing cursive. She opened the book and smiled at what she saw.
    “A photo album! Thank you Doctor it’s very nice.” She flipped through the pages and came to a halt when she found a picture of herself and Chakotay in tropical clothing. It had been taken at one of Neelix’s parties on the holodeck, a luau if she remembered correctly.
She smiled at him inquisitively.
    “Yes, that’s my favorite picture. I took a poll and I must say congratulations are in order.”
    Kathryn raised her eyebrows in a suspicious manner.
    The Doctor smiled mischievously. “I took a poll on the subject and it seems that you and the Commander have been voted Voyager’s picture perfect couple.”
    “I beg your pardon!?!” She sent him her harshest glare and then looked at Tom.
    “Don’t look at me Captain!” He held up his hands in mock defense. “I wasn’t me this time, it’s all on the Doc!”
    “Exactly how many people did you question Doctor?”
    “Everyone except the Commander and yourself. I must say there was a time when Mr. Paris and Lt. Torres were close behind you, but in the end you prevailed.”
    “Now wait just a minute! You didn’t say anything about us being in the running on this thing!”
    “B’Elanna I assure you it was all in good fun, there was no harm meant by this gesture. I just wanted the Captain to realize how well she and the Command fit together. I meant no---“
    Kathryn silenced their bickering with a raised hand.
“I believe I’ve heard enough. Next time I suggest you think things through a little more clearly Doctor. Now if you don’t mind I believe I should get my things back to my quarters. Thank you all very much for my gifts, they’re lovely.”
    She gathered up the gifts they had given her bade them good-bye and headed for her quarters. Chakotay, seeing that she had accidentally left the photo album, picked it up and bade them all goodnight as well. He left the Doctor and B’Elanna bickering between themselves and Tom trying in vain to calm them down.  He smiled and welcomed the silence that the empty
corridor brought. He headed for the turbo lift to return Kathryn’s present to her.
    Setting Chakotay’s painting down carefully, Kathryn walked over to her door to answer it. She had been putting her presents away when it rang and decided to see who it was instead of just arbitrarily inviting them in; she wasn’t in the mood to speak with the Doctor right now and it was probably better for the both of them if he kept his distance.  She tapped the pad and the doors slid open with a mechanical hiss.
    “Good Evening Kathryn.”
    She found herself smiling at Chakotay and standing aside to let him enter. “I was afraid you were the Doctor,” she said laughing, “I’m not really in the mood to speak with him right now.” She motioned for him to sit down on the couch, and he did so, placing the album where she wouldn’t see it.
    He chuckled lightly. “You can’t blame him for trying Kathryn, if he hadn’t done it then Paris would’ve eventually, and, personally, I’d rather find out from the Doctor than Tom.”
    She smiled and poured them each a glass of wine, joining him on the sofa. “You have a point there. So, may I ask why you decided to come call on me? Did you miss me that much?” She smiled into her glass as she lifted it to her lips and took a drink.
    He watched her drink and then pulled the album into his lap. “That and you left your photo album in the mess hall. I thought I’d bring it to you.”
    “How gentlemanly of you Chakotay, thank you.” She pulled the album from his lap and began to flip casually through the pages, admiring the pictures.
“I’ll have to admit, it was very thoughtful of him to put this together for me.” She stopped and smiled when she found a picture of Kes, laughing gaily at her birthday party.
    “I’ve told you before Kathryn, this crew loves you, they’d do anything for you, and they’d support you in any decision you make.” He added the last part quietly, in a persuading tone.
    She looked at him curiously, sensing his hidden message, wishing that she were brave enough to admit that she loved him. “I’m sorry Chakotay, but I can’t allow myself to love you, you know that.”
    He gave her a small smile. “I know Kathryn, but I can’t allow myself to stop loving you.”
    She placed a comforting hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she whispered softly.
    “Don’t be, just don’t expect me to stop.”
    “I wont.” She smiled and leaned into him, allowing them one of those rare and precious few moments to be together as Kathryn and Chakotay without the Captain and Commander to muck things up.
    Yawning quietly and stretching to get the kinks of sleep out of her back, Kathryn climbed out of bed, disentangling herself from the covers. She had decided the night before to take today off and relax, and sent a memo to Tuvok to remind him of that. With that out of the way she moved to the replicator to grab a cup of coffee and took a long sip of the warm, rich liquid.
    Her eyes fell upon her photo album, lying on the table where she had set it last night. She plopped herself down on the couch and pulled it into her lap and began leafing through the pictures as she had done the night before. She stopped when she reached the picture of her and Chakotay, taking in everything about it.
    As she continued her looking she realized that in almost every picture she was in, he was there with her, never more than a few steps away. Is this what the crew saw? Is that what fired their suspicions? She sighed and closed the book, replacing it on the table. After asking the computer for the time she decided to go to the holodeck and try out the new program Tom had
given her.
    She showered and dressed then, grabbing a pair of shoes on the way, headed for holodeck one.

    “Computer initiate program Janeway alpha one.” The computer gave its corresponding beeps and Kathryn stepped through the holodeck doors, eager to see what Tom had created for her.
    The doors slid shut behind her and she gasped. She had emerged onto the beach, one more breath taking than she had ever seen. The dunes rolled along like small mountains behind her, the grass growing from them swaying in the gentle summer breeze that was drifting lazily along. The waves lapped gently at the shore, and, though on the ship it was 1145 hours, the sun was beginning to set on the horizon, the water a golden orange under its reflection. She could hear
several gulls calling in the distance as she stood and took everything in. She glanced to her right and saw a mountain range that created a sort of cove around the beach, giving it a secretive, hidden feel. She smiled and looked around for a place to sit and admire the sunset, wishing she had brought a blanket along.
    She sat down at the base of a large sand dune, resting her back against its incline and stretching her legs out in front of her. She closed her eyes after a while, letting the silky sand run through her fingers. She let her mind drift to the night before, replaying her conversation with Chakotay, realizing how much she wanted to love him, but at the same time knowing that protocols would allow it. She felt torn. She may be the Captain, but she needed love just like
anyone else, and poor Chakotay. He wore his heart on his sleeve for her and she still stood behind the wall of protocol and responsibility she had built around herself.
    She began to realize that he was slowly tearing that wall down. She found herself thinking about him more often, wondering how he had slept, if he was doing all right…that morning she had found herself dressing for him, only to realize that she had no plans to even see
him that day. She sifted through all her thoughts and feelings, going over them one by one and coming to a decision. She tapped her comm badge.
    “Janeway to Chakotay.”
    “Chakotay here.”
    “Would you please meet me in holodeck one?”
    “I’m on my way, Chakotay out.”
    She smiled, happy to know that he would be here soon. She didn’t even realize drifting off to sleep.
    Humming softly to himself Chakotay made his way down the corridor to holodeck one, a small basket in one hand and a blanket in the other. His heart fluttered in his chest as he thought about where he was headed.  When Kathryn had called him and asked him to join her nothing could have made him happier. The bridge was dull today, nothing interesting going on. He had stopped en route and had asked Neelix for a cold lunch for him and the Captain. The cheerful Talaxian had complied rapidly, grinning from ear to ear as he prepared the lunch. Chakotay had thanked him and headed on his way.  And now he stead outside the holodeck doors, not quite sure what to expect. He checked to see what program he was running and discovered it was one he hadn’t heard of before. He assumed it was the one that Tom had given to Kathryn last night at the party. He smiled and stepped through the doors.

    He gave a startled gasp as he took in his surroundings. The program was spectacular. In the
distance he could see a sliver of the sun setting on the horizon where the sky met the sea. Surrounding him was a small mountain range, giving the beach a cozy and secretive feel. He made his way down to the main strip of beach, picking his way carefully through the large sand dunes.
    He finally cleared the dunes and his heart nearly stopped. He had found Kathryn, her legs stretched out, arms resting behind her head, leaning against the incline of a large dune sound asleep. He smiled and walked over to her. Setting down the basket he stretched out the blanket and gently lifted her onto it. She stirred but drifted back into sleep, mumbling softly and incoherently to herself.
    He thought he heard his name and ‘love’ but he dismissed it telling himself that his dreams were twisting her words around. Giving himself a mental shake he began to set out the dishes Neelix had prepared. Some sandwiches, pasta salad, a loaf of freshly baked bread that smelled delicious, a small container of fudge, and a bottle of wine, plus a carafe of coffee. On a whim he set the fudge back inside the basket, deciding to save it as a surprise. After setting everything else out and pulling out the glasses and utensils, he opened the carafe and poured a cup of coffee. He waited for a few minutes and, sure enough, Kathryn’s eyes fluttered and then opened.
    She looked over and smiled when she saw him. “What’s all this?”
    “This is me coming to the holodeck via your request and bringing you lunch, only to find you napping in the shade of this dune.”
    “She smiled again. “You really are too good to me Chakotay.”
    He flashed her a grin. “I could always stop if you don’t like it.”
    “I love it, I love it.” She grinned back at him.
    He handed her a plate and they began to eat quietly, enjoying each other’s company. When they were half way through the meal Kathryn set down her plate and looked at him curiously.
    “Aren’t you the least bit curious as to why I called you here?”
    He smiled. “Truthfully? I’m very curious, but I figure you’ll tell me when the time is right.” He ate the last bite of his pasta and set down his plate. “In the meantime we can just enjoy each other’s company until you feel ready to talk about it.” He smiled.
“Neelix sent along a special desert for you.” He smiled again and pulled out the container of fudge and opened it with a flourish. “Compliments of Voyager’s Head Chef and Chief Morale Officer.”
    She smiled broadly, her whole face lighting up.
“Fudge! Oh he is a dear!” She plucked up one of the pieces and popped it into her mouth. She closed her eyes in pleasure as the chocolate melted on her tongue.
    She opened her yes, smiled, and nodded. “It’s delicious, you should try some.”
    “I would but it’s all for you.”
    “Oh Chakotay, that’s sweet of you, but I insist, you must have a piece.” She picked another piece up and began to make faces at him. “Come on open the hangar doors.” He laughed at her bemusing tactics and she took the opportunity to pop the fudge into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed the bite as Kathryn sat back on her heels.
    “Well?” She asked, grinning from ear to ear.
    He smiled at her. “You were right it is good.”
    The unusualness of the situation was not lost on him; Kathryn had never feed him any kind of food before, not even in jest. He had to admit that he rather liked the sensation. Did this mean that she was ready to become more than just friends? Is that why she had called him here?
    “Kathryn, I know I said I’d let you tell me when you’re ready, but why did you ask me to come here?”
    Her smile quickly dissipated. “I wanted to talk to you about something, but I’m not quite sure how to say it. Let’s clean up before we go into that, all right?”
She looked at him, her eyes pleading for a few minutes to gather her thoughts.
    He gave her a half smile, and nodded, thinking that she had never looked more beautiful than she did now, the last few rays of sunlight dancing in her hair, giving her skin a soft, creamy color that made her look warm and touchable.
    He helped her clean up the dishes, sealing back up the containers that still held some food, corking the wine, and closing the carafe. They placed everything neatly inside the basket and relaxed once more. That is, Chakotay sat back his hands in his lap while Kathryn fidgeted nervously, wringing her hands like a mop. He placed his hand over hers, sending tingles racing through out her body, shooting up her arm like fire.
“We don’t have to talk about this Kathryn. Whatever it is I can see it’s making you uncomfortable.”
    She smiled gratefully at him, relaxing under his gentle touch. “Thank you for trying to give me a way out, but this is something I have to do.” She moved closer and met his warm brown eyes with her soft blue ones. “I really don’t know how to say this Chakotay, so I guess I’ll just say it. I love you.”
    He looked at her incredulously as his heart stopped for the second time that morning, his face registering shock at her words and then breaking out into one of the most beautiful smiles that she had ever seen.
    “I love you too Kathryn, with every breath in me. You’re part of my soul and you always will be.”
    Tears welled up in her eyes at his kind words and he reached up to lovingly wipe them away. “Would you please indulge me in a small fantasy my love? One I’ve been dreaming of for so long?”
    She nodded a smile breaking through her tears. He leaned forward and brushed his lips over hers. The result was like nothing either of them had ever experienced before. Kathryn could feel her fingertips tingling with energy as his mouth covered hers, showing her how much he loved her. She responded almost shyly, making her kisses whisper soft and gentle. His arms wound their way around her waist and he gently pulled her into his lap. His hands tangled themselves in her hair as his tongue began to dance with hers in a slow and sensuous waltz.
    He moved away from her mouth and began to slowly work his way down her neck and back up again, tickling the sensitive spot just below her ear. Her hands groped for the zipper of his jacket and she tugged it off.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and felt him pull away, contenting himself with just holding her as he had always dreamed of.
    “I love you Chakotay, with everything in me.”
    “I love you too Kathryn and nothing will ever change that.”
    They sat like that for a while, just holding each other, feeling each other. After a while Chakotay gently reminded her that he was due back on the bridge ‘unlike some people’, causing Kathryn to laugh as she helped him up. He thanked her and pulled his jacket back on.
    “Computer end program.”
    The air around them shimmered and returned to its actual state.
    Kathryn smiled at him. “Will I see you tonight?”
    He grinned. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me away. Would you prefer my bed or yours?”
    “Mine for tonight if you don’t mind.”
    “If I had minded, I wouldn’t have asked. How does 1900 hours sound? I’ll bring the wine.”
    “Sounds great. I’ll see you then.” She kissed him gently on the lips. “Thank you,” she whispered, “for loving me.”
    “You’re welcome; I’ll show you just how much later on.” He kissed her again and started to leave when she placed a hand on his arm. He turned back to face her.
“Something wrong Kathryn?”
    “No, I just…I…” He watched as her emotions played out across her face.
    “I wont say a word to anyone, I promise.”
    She smiled, grateful that he had understood what she couldn’t say. “Thank you Chakotay, I love you.”
    “I love you too Kathryn.” He smiled and kissed her fingers before stepping out into the empty hallway.
Smiling to themselves, each thinking of the other and the night to come, Voyager’s picture perfect couple departed from the holodeck.


Some flowers used to make the contest graphics from