He can remember clearly the first time she appeared before him.
He’d wanted her then and there, but the wall between them; a wall of insufferable politics, rules and regulations had prevented it.
That, and the fact that they were fighting on opposite sides of the war.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but think it was somehow very sexy that she had been sent to capture him, the captain of a Maquis vessel.
There was something in the way that she held herself, an aura of authority gleaming around her that made every ensign on board follow her every order without fail.
Initially, her height had surprised him. She was smaller than he’d imagined. But it apparently did nothing to detract from her authority. The woman had command positively radiating off her.
Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of the caring, gentle and loving woman underneath it all.
The fact that she hid it so well under the mask of command made him want to conquer her even more.
They were four months into their journey home when he first caught a glimpse of a gold band hanging on a chain around her neck. It was a simple band, one diamond set amongst a few smaller ones.
The necklace had worked itself free of the restrictive uniform, hanging out loosely as she bent over in the Jefferies tube, replacing a relay after yet another Kazon attack.
If he ever reflected back on that pivotal moment, he’d realise that he really shouldn’t have been with her in that Jefferies tube that day. He can’t remember the excuse he’d fabricated, only that he was actually supposed to be somewhere three decks above.
Her startled eyes had darted up to his as she realised what had happened. They stared silently for a minute at each other before she hastily tucked the chain back underneath her turtleneck, the jacket having been discarded long ago.
The sight of it struck him hard in the chest and he began to seriously wonder whether pursuing the growing friendship between them was a good idea.
He couldn’t deny that he found her attractive but he was so sure that he had imagined the ring that day.
Of course, he then watched her left hand intently over the next few weeks.
It took him another month to work up the courage to ask her about it.
His suspicions had been confirmed in that rather awkward conversation in her ready room. She was engaged to a man back home. He briefly wondered why she was so sheepish about the whole issue. Privacy was one thing, but it was almost as if she was embarrassed about her engagement.
At least when it came to talking about it with her First Officer.
But then he’d learnt in a few short months that she was an incredibly private person where her personal life was concerned.
He’d had to use his best Maquis tricks to even access that part of her personnel file.
The months had ebbed by slowly and he found himself wondering with their growing friendship how he could possibly be expected to contain his self-control around her.
She was sometimes flirtatious, but then a look of realisation would strike and her left hand drifted to the chain concealed under her uniform.
The mask would reappear.
The day he asked her about ‘pairing off’ during the Elogium was still strong in the forefront of his mind. It was the first time Mark had been mentioned so openly, and the broad smile on her face had disappeared as she solemnly remembered her fiancée. He didn’t miss the two fleeting glances from her as he turned away.
His want was clearly reflected back at him in her sapphire blues that day.
The ring created an unspoken barrier between them. It was always there to stop them if things got a little too friendly, or the hug became too intense. A quick glance onto her left hand reminded them both, and nothing was ever said.
His opportunity to study the ring was granted at the end of their third year. She had been in an induced coma, no thanks to the Borg and their ill-fated alliance.
The Doctor had left the ring by her bed side.
He had spent nearly an hour twirling it through his fingers, and for a while he could almost believe it was the ring he might have given her. It was simple, yet elegant and completely Kathryn at the same time.
The man who’d bought it for her obviously put some thought into it. He was almost jealous.
He had taken the ring from her bedside that night, intent on keeping it safe. It had stayed by his own bedside, keeping him awake at night as he stared at the band solemnly. He was tempted to throw it out the airlock, but the thoughts of what it would do to her kept him at bay.
It had taken her a few hours to realise the chain was missing from her neck after she had woken up.
He’d kept it in his quarters, unwilling to bring it up for the hope of finally acting on their feelings with the ring gone from her life. It was completely selfish but he almost couldn’t help it.
She had asked him about it tentatively that night, the uncertainty in the normally strong voice something Chakotay was not used to. He was unsure how to proceed, not used to dealing with this form of Kathryn.
He’d presented it to her as she’d followed him into the bedroom, blue gaze searching his own.
When she had finally taken it from him, she’d paused before replacing the chain around her neck. The look in her crystal eyes had told him so much as she had gazed up at him. She placed a quiet kiss on his cheek and murmured a thank-you before exiting his quarters.
He began to realise that the ring was more a burden than a blessing to her.
The reality that they might never make it home was always lingering at the back of her mind. The ring only served to remind her what she had lost. He also knew that she often thought of what her life could have been like.
He’d studied her on those hours in the bridge, her thoughts far away. He could never understand why she held it as such a secret from the crew, unwilling to even let a hint drop that their Captain had potentially lost more than them by stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant.
Chakotay often wished she’d just throw caution to the wind and accept where their friendship was taking them.
During their fourth year in the Delta Quadrant, he began to see the ring less and less. She was finally letting go of home. She rarely wore it to the holodeck when their downtime coincided, and she no longer wore it on the bridge under her jacket.
Her hand rarely strayed to the base of her throat now. The ring wasn’t there to be displayed.
It was just a sad reminder of all she had lost.
Another potential love lost to the ether of space.
A few weeks on and an away mission turning south was really the catalyst for Kathryn. Chakotay saw the minute her mind had been made. They meant more to each other than they could put into words, and even if she couldn’t yet admit it to him, she had at least admitted it to herself.
One night he’d been in her quarters, intent on finding the PADD she’d left there by mistake when he’d come across the ring in her dresser, shoved in a drawer with a picture of herself and Mark. Although it got his attention at first, the second photo had caught his eye.
It wasn’t of her or Mark, not even her Irish Setter –Mollie.
It was of him.
He didn’t know when she had taken it, but he guessed it was sometime on an away mission.
With hands in his hips, and a look of concentration on his face, he stood facing who he’d guessed was Paris. Only one other person was capable of enticing that look from him and he was almost certain Tuvok had been on the ship during that mission.
He smiled at the memory, his own thoughts drifting to a similar photograph he had taken of a serious Kathryn with waist-length hair during the time they had been stranded on the primitive planet after the Kazon had taken Voyager.
Their fourth year was the first year that they received news from home. She’d been smiling at first, overjoyed at getting a letter from her family and one from Mark.
He’d watched her reaction carefully as her eyes betrayed so much of what she was feeling. There was sadness in her eyes among something he couldn’t place. Not then.
Many years later he would learn that it was a small glimmer of relief.
Mark had married, believing that she along with the rest of the Voyager crew had been lost in space, never to make it home.
He’d stood by her side that night amongst the celebrations, his hand inching toward her back and resting there, an offer of silent support. He hadn’t seen the ring that night.
Somehow he hadn’t expected to.
Whatever small part of her was holding to the hope that she and Mark would live a happily ever after was gone. She was free to be his.
But she wouldn’t be for a long time. And he knew she wasn’t ready.
The rules and regulations that Starfleet had drummed into her as a recruit still stuck strongly. No matter how much he tried, Kathryn had denied her feelings for so long, using both Starfleet and Mark as an excuse that she found it nearly impossible to change.
The fifth year remained much the same. Platonic friends.
He began to wonder if that was all they would ever be.
Chakotay could never accept that.
And so they moved onto their sixth year away from home.
They had their first major argument that same year. It had hurt them both more than they were willing to admit.
It was nothing like theur disagreements over the Borg, species 8472 or Seven of Nine.
It wasn’t even anything like the heated discussions they’d had during the Omega incident, or the Void where she’d shown her self-sacrificing martyrdom that he had simply refused to accept.
It had been the first time Chakotay found himself seriously considering storming into her quarters and showing her just exactly what she could have if only she would let go.
The conflicting emotions inside her head were almost driving her insane; the escape of work the only way she would effectively shut them out and do her job as the captain.
He knew that somehow, she didn’t want to be the captain anymore. Chakotay noticed her slipping away from him; the remarkable woman beneath the exterior he had seen all those years ago slowly fading from his memory and her reality.
She was getting tired.
The incident with Noah Lessing proved him right.
He’d finally reached his resolve and almost marched into her quarters that night, taking something away from them both that they could never recover from.
But she was still the Captain.
As much as he wanted to, he would never show her that kind of disrespect.
Still, the thought lingered. If Voyager was a Maquis vessel, there would be no protocol in the way to stop them and he’d be dammed to wait for her for what seemed like eternity.
They might never make it home.
At least they would be happy out here.
He spoke of his desires one night after dinner, when they were nearing their seventh year in space.
The confusion was at first apparent on her face, until the Captain took over and demanded that he leave. That night he knew that even if she had yet to fully admit it, she had realised that there was something more worth facing.
Her solution was to take three inexperienced crew members out on some stupid “good shepherd” mission that had ended with her in sick bay.
Their journey was not over yet.
A few weeks later and the tension between the command team was obvious to all.
Something inside him had snapped at that point. He couldn’t wait any longer. During those few hours in sickbay by her bedside, he envisioned a possible future for them both.
One of the command team dead; the other destined to captain Voyager to ensure she made it home.
It wasn’t the life he wanted.
It took the death of a crew member – a petite, red-headed Ensign - for him to realise that it wasn’t Kathryn who might have died, but it was a damn close second.
Maybe next time.
Of course, Kathryn had those fears about every member of her crew, and he wasn’t above imagining how his own death would affect her. But as always, she shouldered it with the consequences of command.
That night she’d show up inside his quarters, arms wrapped around herself and tear-stained cheeks reflecting in the poor lighting of the corridor behind her in the still-open door.
Her own mortality had finally been realised – by them both.
He’d reacted immediately, pulling her into his arms and holding her tightly, warming up her freezing body with uneven, comforting movements of his hands. He had held her for hours, listening to her breathe softly as she slept in his arms, her auburn hair soft against the rough, honey skin on his forearms.
It was then that he knew he was never letting her go again. She was here to stay this time.
Her motives had been made clear. Kathryn wasn’t going anywhere; rules be damned.
She wanted him as much as he wanted her but it had just taken longer for her to admit it. She recycled Mark’s ring the next morning, tilting her head up to kiss Chakotay as she breathed a sigh of relief.
It was ironic that Chakotay had already replicated another ring for her to wear - on her finger this time and not on a chain around her neck.
He’d had it for many years, since their first sail on lake George after the incident with the alien matrix, and he’d realised then he could never live without her.
Eventually, he’d give it to her when they finally reached home, thanks to the stubbornness of one Admiral Janeway who had set her sights on their happy ending, and never stopped believing in it until they’d achieved it.