Wants

For Frazzled

 

Kathryn Janeway sees something she very much wants. But she can’t take it.

 

He knows his wife. He knows her mannerisms, her insecurities. He’s spent upwards of seven years by her side, sharing a life with her.

 

He knows that look in her eye, knows it like his own name, even if she hasn’t realized it’s there yet. His eyes slide over to scrutinize her again. Oh yes, it’s there. That look is exactly what he thought it was. It just takes him a moment to get over his initial shock when he confirms where it’s directed. His eyes widen briefly, his jaw going a bit slack on him and he turns away from the other people in the room to hide his discovery. Interesting.

 

He’ll admit he has a thing for redheads: no one could argue that. He’s taken by one, completely and utterly belongs to her, always will. So he would normally never indulge the notion one second past the initial acknowledgment of his physical attraction to one of them. His wife’s interest, in this one instance, nullifies that ingrained, natural barrier.

 

Turning his profile to the group, he covertly observes the individual unique enough, substantive enough to have generated this level of interest in Kathryn Janeway. For him to have noticed it, not once but twice already, means the attraction is stronger than anything she normally feels for someone who isn’t him.

 

She’s having a hard time fighting this one off, for some reason. It’s that intense for her.

 

And he’s surprised. It takes a moment of deep observation before the qualities pulling her to the person in question start to become apparent to him. 

 

He doesn’t even think she knows it yet. She might. But considering the source of her fascination, he guesses it could take some time for her to recognize, and admit it to herself. Of equal interest to him is the way that he catches the subject of his wife’s fascination studiously trying to conceal the fact that Kathryn seems to have the same gravitational pull on her that she is having on her admirer. They’re drawn to each other. It’s mutual.

 

And he doubts either one of them is completely aware of it yet.

 

Very interesting. For the moment, he doesn’t yet know what he’s going to do with it. He’ll wait. Watch. He’s not one to act, speak, without careful thought. He’s the opposite of her in that regard.

 

It takes a while for her to admit it to herself; Janeway doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with her today. It’s not the impulse itself, really. She’s capable of finding women attractive, has for most of her life. She’s able to appreciate an appealing female form. It just so happens that, for whatever reason, she’s never been drawn to one the way that she is to this woman.

 

She can hardly keep from staring at her. When the red-headed doctor had been speaking at the center of the panel, Janeway's eyes had been searing into the woman, unable to tear away from her. It wasn't until the deep rows of attendees had erupted into polite applause that the admiral realized she hadn’t heard a word the woman had actually said. And they’re supposed to be working, for God’s sakes. At the very least listening, on her part, while the doctor had lectured. She'd been the star speaker, after all. Yet even now, the admiral's mind is undeniably not on her PADD of lecture notes or the next guest speaker as he stands at the front of the room.

 

She thinks something’s funny with her hormones. Maybe she’s pregnant…

 

She knows she’s not. Yet the former head of Starfleet Medical seems to be commanding her full attention from across the aisle of seated attendees. She smirks to herself. Maybe she should ask for a courtesy scan by way of formal introduction just to be sure. Bending her head over her PADD, she looks again across the aisle. Now that she’s no longer speaking, but seated with the rest of the guests, it’s harder to stare at the woman and not be obvious about it. When Crusher gets up to head back to the array of food and beverages, Janeway is almost relieved. Now, she can concentrate on the last speaker, who’s due up in less than a minute. And afterward, she’s going to need some air. 

 

She needs some air. It’s uncomfortably warm in here. She can’t keep herself from staring at Admiral Janeway for some absurd, inexplicable reason, and there’s no excuse for her strange compulsion. The woman’s married. Very happily, in fact. There’s no point to the decidedly sexual turn her thoughts are taking every time she catches the woman in her line of vision. She should probably just stay far away from her, if she can help it.

 

In spite of her recent oratory, Beverly’s not thirsty, wants nothing to drink, so approaching the table of courtesy beverages set out for the guests attending the lecture is simply a cover. She just wants to blend into the obscurity of the back of the room amongst the few that are standing to stretch their legs. She needs to clear her head, that’s all. She needs to focus, to snap out of it. She knows plenty of centering, deep-breathing techniques, and she concentrates all her distracted effort on utilizing them.

 

So when a deep voice sounds in her ear from out of nowhere, she jumps, startled. 

 

“My wife finds you very compelling, Doctor.”

 

“I’m sorry?” It’s an odd thing to hear, she thinks as she turns abruptly to greet her unexpected companion.

 

The dark haired man with the caramel colored skin and the distinctive tribal tattoo gets it. Chuckles, low and deep. “Believe me,” the man assures, “I never really thought I’d hear myself say that, either.” He extends a hand, straightening. “Captain Chakotay.”

 

“Yes, I…recognized you from the press releases.” She’s not a rude woman, never has been, and aside from his unnoticed approach, there’s nothing remotely off-putting about his mannerisms. In fact, she likes him, she thinks. And he’s not an unattractive man by any stretch of the imagination. If he happens to be the very husband of the woman she was so inexcusably drooling over for the past two hours, that’s not his fault, now is it?

 

No. It isn’t.

 

She takes his hand in hers, warmly squeezes it. “Beverly Crusher. A pleasure to meet you in person, Captain.” It is, actually.

 

“Likewise,” he nods politely, but she gets the sensation he actually means it.

 

He’s not her usual type. Yet as she looks into very dark, amused eyes, there’s something…a spark…if she hadn’t been so engrossed in pretending not to stare at Kathryn Janeway all afternoon, she’d have been drawn to his energy, too. To a lesser degree, but…fundamentally, it's attractive to her. Familiar, somehow.

 

“Wait a minute.” It catches up to her fully, finally. “You said…” Color flashes across her cheekbones, her gaze darting under lowering lashes to the subject of the current conversation. 

 

He thinks it’s charming.

 

“The admiral is interested…in me?” He can’t mean what it sounded like, on reflection. She didn’t even think Janeway had noticed her, much less that the admiral could have expressed any sort of interest in her.

 

“She’s very interested in you, from what I can tell. From your reaction, I’d say the feeling’s mutual.” His tone is completely neutral, his delivery entirely noncommittal. Of course he doesn’t mean what she’s surprised at herself for hoping he means.

 

She swallows, keeps her cool. What she’s retained of it, anyway. “There’s something…very powerful…in her energy,” Beverly carefully replies. “She does command a certain amount of attention.”

 

“Oh believe me," he chuckles, "I know what you mean. When she’s working a room, she owns it.”

 

She’s noticed this about Kathryn Janeway, yes…many times now. While Beverly was standing at the podium, delivering her memorized speech, she noticed just how many smiles, casual glances were aimed at and politely reciprocated by the newly returned admiral. What she doesn’t strictly like is the way that the more she stares at the woman, the more she wants to. Something about her absolutely calls to Beverly. The more she catches the different tones in the darker red hair. The more striking she finds the commanding set of her shoulders, the curve of her neck…the contrast of crimson against white. In certain light, Janeway’s hair, lips, and shoulders are all the same color. Like now, as the lights are dimmed for the spotlight on the closing speaker.

 

But Beverly has been wondering about her eyes. She can’t tell what shade of blue they are. Having blue eyes, she knows they can be more reflective than brown, trickier to pinpoint the natural shade. She’d have to see those piercing eyes of the admiral’s against a backdrop of white to truly be sure–

 

A subtle cough warns her before the warm velvet tone cautions, “You’re doing it again.”  

 

Damn it. The lecture is over, the lighting flipped up to full level. She snaps her eyes away, and just in time, too. Janeway’s profile turns more to them as she laughs easily, quietly at Hayes’s words. The last thing she catches as she looks away is the admiral brushing her hand solicitously on his arm. Janeway does that often. A warm, fleeting brush of skin on cloth…

 

Beverly thinks she can imagine the skim of the admiral’s fingers along her own forearm, and goosebumps lace the skin there. She absently presses a hand to the affected arm, unnerved, and annoyed. She doesn’t moon over people. It’s not her style. Unrequited love may be her forte, but teenaged obsession certainly isn’t and never has been.

 

This is deeper. More powerful.

 

Chakotay’s deep chuckle somehow soothes and unnerves simultaneously. There’s  a wicked sort of sparkle in his eyes, but he’s more amused than threatened. In fact she’d almost call him…interested

 

She’s losing it. What exactly is going on here? With any of them?

 

She’s not willing to acknowledge the direct implication of taking his words at anything other than face value yet. Keeps it surface, one foot on solid ground.

 

“Doctor…”

 

“Beverly,” she corrects.

 

“Beverly. The lecture’s over in a minute. I think we’ve put in enough face time. Do you drink coffee?”

 

He has her attention now. “Yes. But I prefer tea after morning.”

 

What is it with Kathryn and tea lovers? Oh. Coffee drinkers threaten her personal supply. He tugs his ear, not entirely certain what he’s doing this time. He decides that taking a page from Kathryn’s book hasn’t had disastrous results for him yet.  “Why don’t you join us for lunch? There’s a local cafe around the corner my wife and I are both fond of…”

 

Even if she is going to entertain that, and she’s not, for obvious reasons, “You do realize you’re standing next to a full buffet?” the doctor muses dryly.

 

He blinks. So he is, at that. He feels Kathryn’s gaze boring into him from across the room, has been distracted by that sensation for a full minute now.  Now that the lecture has concluded and people are standing and talking, she’s very interested in what he’s doing over here. In whom he’s talking to and in why he’d be chatting her up when Kathryn knows full well he doesn’t personally know the woman. He deliberately resists looking over at her, keeps his full focus on the doctor as he shrugs. “You know how the food is at functions like this. The budget goes into the press releases, not the caterers.”

 

“True enough,” she gives him. “It’s not like being on board a starship, where the food is a matter of pride.”

 

For a ship’s chef, it always is…and every ship has one. He thinks of Neelix, butcher of all things culinary. Chuckles. He misses the orange bastard, if not his cooking. He knows Kathryn does, too.

 

Chell takes his food very seriously, too, now that he has the job. Unfortunately, Bolian taste buds just aren’t any better than Talaxian ones seem to be, apparently.  But on most ships…she’s right.

 

He studies his companion once again. She’s a beautiful woman. Confident. Obviously capable and very talented: even having been in the Delta Quadrant for seven years, Crusher’s reputation isn’t one he isn’t aware of. She built a formidable one for herself in the relatively short period of time Voyager had been gone. But if the whisper of wistfulness in her tone is any indication, she’s a deeply sad woman, as well. She hides it well enough, to anyone who doesn’t bother looking past the lovely surface – and most won’t bother – but this is a woman missing something very important to her right now. He finds he wants to fix that for her, in her, and he knows that Kathryn will. That’s what she does.

 

Turning to face the crowd, he looks at Crusher from the corner of his eye, not obviously challenging, but ensuring he can observe her response as he hazards a guess at the reason for her sadness. “The Enterprise is still out in deep space, then?”

 

She’s surprised by how easily he seems to read her. A little put off by it, in fact. Anyone else in this room, and it would have been an idle question, a polite one. From Captain Chakotay, she gets the distinct impression it’s a deliberate, probing inquiry. She purses her lips, pretending to scan the crowd for a nonexistent person she’d wanted to speak to. Admits, “It is. It’ll be several months before they return.” At least six, she knows.

 

The mission is classified, not something spoken of, even if they both know roughly what it entails – to varying degrees.

 

“Voyager is leaving on Sunday.”

 

“I’m sure the admiral will miss you while you’re gone.” Once the statement leaves her lips, she could kick herself. It was an odd comment to make, but her attention has been once again drawn to the admiral across the room. Chakotay notices. She knows he does. She rips her attention away from the other woman, forces herself to focus solely on him.

 

“How long are you on Earth now, Beverly?”

 

“For another six months. Until we raise awareness and develop proper countermeasures against the newer diseases spreading at the fringes of the Cardassian border.”

 

Which brings him back to the initial thoughts about this seeming attraction between his wife and Beverly Crusher. Her ship, the Enterprise. The reason there’s an aura of such sadness around her. It’s very similar to the aura around Kathryn when he isn’t home and they speak periodically over the comm. instead of daily, and face to face.

 

Across the room, he sees Kathryn freed up from conversation, and he makes a decision. Takes another  chance. “Come with me. I think my wife would love to meet you.”

 

Crusher tenses, instantly wants to protest. But she can’t do that politely, and the captain’s solicitous hand is on her arm, guiding her through the parting crowd and then he’s tapping his wife’s shoulder and she turns to face them–

 

Beverly misses the shock on the admiral’s face as she turns, misses Chakotay’s amused expression upon seeing it, his smooth introductions…she misses all of it because–

 

Up close, Janeway smells like roses. The scent may be subtle but to her trained nose it’s overwhelming and she recognizes it instantly. Damn the woman – she smells like roses

 

Not just any rose, either. Rosa Floribunda. This particular one is better known as honey perfume. Upright habit, terrestrially free flowering all season: summer to late fall. She’s loved that scent ever since she was a little girl; her grandmother cultured them expertly. Yet the one time she’d tried to grow them herself on the Enterprise, her hydroponics chamber had malfunctioned on her. The temperature had gone wonky without her noticing. Throw in a couple of busy days thanks to the behavior altering, fatal virus that had infected everyone aboard… They’d been irreparably damaged by the time she’d noticed. It was heartbreaking, and she took it personally. She’s only grown orchids since. Her flowers are extensions of her, a monument to so many things internal, suppressed and otherwise.

 

But she has loved those roses, that specific scent all her life. The few weeks that her quarters had smelled of them were among the homiest, warmest times she can ever remember experiencing. Of course, Wesley was there then. The pang of longing, missing, is expected but no less wrenching. Deanna, Will, Data…Jean-Luc. That had been in the years before the Borg, too. Before…a lot of things.

 

And now the woman she’s been staring at all afternoon, drawn to all afternoon, has the audacity, the unmitigated gall to smell like roses. Those specific roses. Nostalgia blankets her, attraction thickening her airway and conspiring to make it sticky, slow to extract oxygen. Unbeknownst to her, she inhales even more deeply to chase that scent, the missing oxygen…and realizes she missed the first parts of what the admiral is saying to her.

 

“…formally met. Kathryn Janeway.” She extends her hand, and Beverly, somehow, remains cool as she is forced to reach out and grasp it. The charge she is expecting at skin to skin contact snaps, burns as deliciously as she’d expected it to. She tries to ignore it, smiles radiantly, politely into the deepest pair of blue-gray she thinks she’s ever stared into. Except for one other, maybe…

 

Janeway withdraws her hand a little too quickly. She knows it, but the doctor’s hand is too soft, her fingers too skilled and capable not to send certain images of what else she might be able to do with them searing through her consciousness. Furious with herself, with Chakotay for what she suspects is him deliberately baiting her by introducing them. She too keeps her cool, too practiced in the art not to. “I can’t believe we’ve never met in person. Your reputation, however, certainly precedes you.”

 

“So does yours, Admiral. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.” It’s more than a pleasure. It’s an exquisite form of torture, under the circumstances. But a pleasurable one, nonetheless.

 

The way she says the word “pleasure” has goose bumps prickling the younger woman’s skin. Her husband’s warm hand on the small of her back isn’t helping matters. Nor is the fact that the woman who once headed Starfleet Medical  is undeniably even more attractive close up, in conversation. Her energy is nothing short of appealing, on many visceral levels.

 

“Kathryn, please,” she corrects absently. What she had hoped would be absently and she’s sure comes out as sharply insistent.

 

“Beverly,” the doctor lightly returns.

 

And her voice is like clear water in a pure spring, too. Kathryn might secretly have a thing about women’s voices, and if so, she knows it’s a personal thing because hers is so raspy by nature. A voice like Beverly Crusher’s can carry a tune. A voice like that can captivate listeners…can scream in passion and never sound anything but purely feminine and…

 

“Your lecture was excellent, Doctor – Beverly,” she manages politely – solicitously, but that comes all too easily, she finds with an internal frown.  

 

“It was,” Chakotay agrees, smiling down at her indulgently. There’s a twinkle in his eye, one she knows and is instantly wary of. “But I’m surprised you heard a word of it. You didn’t seem to be paying very much attention to the speech.”

 

What the hell is he doing? That he knows where her attention was is now glaringly obvious. What she wants to know is why on Earth he’d be torturing her over it the way he seems to be enjoying doing right now. Is he jealous? She wouldn’t have thought it by his clear amusement.

 

“Oh?” The doctor looks anything but offended, takes it in stride with mischievously twinkling eyes of her own. “And here I thought everyone in the room was fascinated by my recounting of the specific pathology of the self-replicating Rivalean virus.”

 

“Of course I was listening,” Janeway purrs edgily up at her husband, leaning into him to hide the jab of her elbow into his ribs. She allows herself to look back at the blue eyes, the soft strawberry-red strands of hair, whose movements have been fascinating her all night. Forces herself not to look at the lips she might not be able to tear herself away from staring at if she starts. “Your speech was succinct, to the point…but crafted well enough that we laymen could understand and follow it.”

 

She hopes. She’s heard it’s a skill of the doctor’s – five minutes ago, when she’d discreetly questioned Hayes about the woman she’d always been aware of existing but has never actually met until today. She can only hope neither one of them is perverse enough to call her out and ask her to recount a single word of the doctor's speech. She knows better than to let the subject linger, flashes a warm smile. “I can’t believe we’ve never actually run into each other. I feel I already know you: both Jean-Luc and Will speak very highly of you.”

 

Is she blushing? She’d better not be. But God, the woman is alluring. Everything about Kathryn Janeway is compelling. Beverly knows of her, her famous history, of course – everyone who’s breathing does, but she never guessed what kind of strong, mesmerizing aura the famed Kathryn Janeway would have in person. She finds it difficult to breathe in her presence. Swallows, tries to keep her head in the conversation. “And you as well…Kathryn.” A certain memory strikes, and she smiles. “Although I think Will’s rather afraid of you.” She arches an elegant brow. “Care to share your secret on that?”

 

Kathryn laughs lightly, put surprisingly at ease by the doctor’s teasing at Riker’s expense. He’s a cocky son of a bitch, if an undeniably charming one, and he does inspire it universally, she’s found.  “We knew each other at the academy. And I can assure you, at the time, it was more the other way around.”

 

Beverly is impressed. She’d never have pegged the unshakable legend standing before her as the kind to be affected by Will’s one-dimensional charm. “That sounds like a story, all right. I’d love to hear about it some time.”

 

Kathryn would love to tell it. In bed, with the other woman’s long, graceful limbs draped all around her–

 

Chakotay notices her lag in conversation, her clear distraction, smoothly steps in to cover for her. “Beverly is stationed here on Earth for the next six months while she’s heading the Beta Quadrant Diseases and Pathology committee.”

 

It’s the subject of the lecture today, and an important topic. All the Dominion battles and contact with the founders had, in recent years, led to new diseases and pathogens becoming more prevalent at the fringes of the Alpha Quadrant. Starfleet had finally prepared a bulletin point briefing for the general brass, including ship’s captains currently docked at Earth. But Crusher heading the whole project must mean taking a leave from her duties aboard her own starship for a time.

 

Janeway frowns, studying her memory. “That’s right. The Enterprise isn’t scheduled to return for several months, is it?”

 

“No.” The doctor shifts uncomfortably, but her smile remains even if it wanes. “I’m afraid not. And Captain Chakotay tells me Voyager is headed out soon for Bajor.”

 

The wistfulness is unwarranted and the admiral tamps down on it automatically. “Yes. She leaves in a few days.”

 

Voyager is no longer hers anyway. She’s Chakotay’s, and there isn’t anyone one else she’d have wanted to give her over to. Still…there’s a sting, if a mostly repressed one. It’s difficult to think about for very long with those friendly, intelligent eyes on her face, however. She feels warm, uncomfortably so. And she needs to stop staring so intently back at the woman before Crusher realizes there’s more intensity behind her stare than there should be.

 

A silence of exhausted neutral conversation extends over them briefly, and Janeway is relieved. She doesn’t want to stand here in front of the statuesque doctor any longer than necessary – is uncharacteristically afraid of what will happen if she’s forced to do so any longer, making polite conversation with a woman she’s more and more inclined to ravage with each passing second…

 

What the hell is wrong with her?

 

“Well.” The admiral clears her throat. “It was lovely meeting–”

 

“I’ve invited the doctor to join us for lunch at our usual place.” Chakotay’s arm tightens meaningfully around her waist. He beams down at her, dimples threatening. “I knew you wouldn’t mind.”

 

She glares daggers back at her husband. She’s barely getting through this meeting. And now he wants to extend it indefinitely? There’s no way she can politely refuse now, either. She doesn’t even really want to, dangerous as continued association with this charming woman might inherently be. Regardless, Chakotay is going to pay for this later, when they’re alone.

 

For now, she smiles kindly. Misses the way the doctor is looking just as trapped as she herself is struggling not to appear. “I…of course. That would be lovely.”

 

***

 

In spite of her trepidations, it is lovely, actually. Seated safely in a secluded booth in the café’s more private indoor dining area, the anonymity is liberating. There’s no less spark between the women, no less attraction sizzling in the air all around them, but here, it’s comfortable. No one else is watching them, scrutinizing them. They’re free to study each other because it’s expected in such close confines, and study each other, they do. Topics are general at first, easy, but when deeper subjects are broached, none of the three of them feel uncomfortable with a little more disclosure.

 

Eventually, Janeway admits to missing her crew, deep space, and Beverly admits to the same. To missing her son, who is off traveling other dimensions of space and time, apparently. When she mentions that, she notices the younger woman stiffening oddly. As if she’s been punched, even, and she’s concerned. Chakotay’s hand flits automatically to the top of his wife’s, brushing and retreating supportively, and Crusher knows she’s hit a nerve, somehow. What she doesn’t get is why or how. The admiral doesn’t have children, unless she’s been grossly misinformed…

 

“You two have more in common than either of you thought,” he explains softly for the doctor’s benefit.

 

Janeway blinks, and the moisture that had been lining her eyes dissipates. She smiles, and Beverly thinks it one of the most alluring smiles she’s ever seen…even with clear pain lacing the edges of it. “Her name was Kes, and she came to us very young. She was…” She swallows. “She did something very similar to your son when she opted to leave Voyager to study new dimensions. I don’t know where she is right now. It’s been years since we’ve heard from her. I…don’t even know if she’s all right. So I understand…at least somewhat…how you must be feeling.”

 

It explains some of the pull. The doctor’s hand is over Kathryn’s before she can think about it. The spark sizzles. Each is surprised by the strength of it, that no one else notices. Their eyes meet, a deeper connection than either has had with anyone in a long time. Something forms between them without them consciously noticing. Something that, once done, can’t be taken back.

 

Chakotay gently steers the conversation back to lighter subjects. The women follow his lead with gratitude. No one had meant for the discussion to turn so deep in the first place. Certainly not so soon.

 

The three of them learn each other’s personalities, exchange brief, abridged histories. Their energies, mannerisms are easily compatible at worst, perfect synergy at best. Conversation never lulls once it truly gets started. It helps that their circles overlap, intersect, that they know many of the same people. They swap stories for hours, laughing until their bellies ache, Janeway drinking coffee like it’s water in a burning desert all the while, and the other two sipping tea of varying blends, which they keep alternately suggesting to the other. When Janeway returns from the restroom and orders her fifth cup of bold without batting an eyelash, Crusher can’t help it any longer, however, acerbically inquires if her intent is to cause actual heart failure or if she can really have the kind of long-term tolerance built up to justify that amount of caffeine intake. Chakotay’s insides tighten in a certain odd way as he laughingly assures her Janeway really does have that kind of tolerance for coffee, that she could curl up and nap right now and never feel a thing, and he clearly sees Crusher bite back on her instinct to chastise…to encourage healthier habits the way any doctor might. He gets the impression from the thoughtful silence, the speculative gaze that her style wouldn’t be nagging anyway, so much as it would be sneakier, more subtle.

 

Exactly the way Kathryn has to be handled, incidentally. He files that away, for what he doesn’t yet know, and the easy conversation continues.

 

Both women are avid readers. Both love the classics, but have been known to unabashedly indulge in a trashy, purely for entertainment novel from time to time. Only Kathryn is really any good at pool, although Chakotay enjoys the game, but she’d be happy to teach both of them a few pointers any time. Chakotay and Beverly are both fond of poker, and both have been known to play a hand or two of bridge in their days, but Kathryn doesn’t have much patience for such slower moving games. The longer they talk, joke with each other and learn boundaries, the more they relax. The more comfortable the women seem to feel staring into each other’s eyes for longer, stealing covert glances at any body part that moves a certain way, at tendrils of red in varying shades that slide softly without notice by their respective owners, while Chakotay discretely pretends not to notice any of it – and the view certainly isn’t bad from his perspective, either.

 

They’re asked four times by the wait staff if they’d like any dessert, and each time they pause only long enough to assure the establishment that they’re “just leaving”.

 

Until the early dinner crowd comes piddling in, and the place starts to fill up again. They realize in general astonishment that three hours have passed, and none of them have noticed the rapid disappearance of time. But they’re enjoying themselves. Too much to want to break it up so soon.

 

In his wife’s eyes, he sees the spark of disappointment, masked distress that no one else ever would, and his decision isn’t difficult as they stand and Kathryn settles their tab, refusing to hear of Beverly arranging for her portion of it.

 

“Why don’t you come back with us to our place, Beverly? We don’t live far from here…just a couple of blocks. We didn’t have any plans this evening, and we’d love the company. We don’t get much of it lately, now that the Voyager crew has dispersed,” he explains while Kathryn’s attention is half diverted, and the way he phrases the request, it’s a favor if she acquiesces.

 

Beverly glances apprehensively at Kathryn, who turns to them both. Do they really want her to? Or are they just being polite? Because…unwise as she knows it to be…she has only an empty apartment to return to, and more work at Headquarters in the morning. She hadn’t been looking forward to returning there tonight.

 

“Please,” the admiral agrees, seemingly sincerely. “We’ll be better company to each other if you’d be so kind as to join us.”

 

Beverly very much doubts that. Part of the fascination of these two is just how closely bonded they truly are – and she doubts either of them realizes just how much that is. She experiences a stab of jealously toward both, has all afternoon, which she’s neither proud of nor bothers to deny.  She blinks, finds she’s subjected to their combined best efforts at charming her into compliance. One of them, she’d have held her own but been hard pressed not to indulge. The two officers together…she feels hot, flushed under the power of both strong personas skillfully working her simultaneously.

 

“I’d…like that,” she admits. Because she would, yes, but also because she’s disconcerted under all the personal attention. She doesn’t get much of it lately – which is absolutely no excuse for flustering like a school girl, she furiously reminds herself upon catching it. She can hear Deanna’s, Will’s friendly teasing now, exactly the way they will if she gets the chance to comm. them next week and tell them all about her bizarre chance run in with Admiral Janeway and her husband, and she’s mindful of how she comes across for the entirety of the short journey to their home.

 

The walk is pleasant, although quieter. Chakotay follows behind them, observes them as they chatter, and when Kathryn leads the doctor straight past the hall into the library, which she’d expressed interest in, he excuses them both momentarily to the backyard under pretense of checking a mystery faulty window pane that Kathryn had wanted him to fix before he left.

 

“Are you still ready to kill me, or are you going to admit you’re glad I invited her out with us?”

 

Her anger at his manipulation of events has dissipated completely – she’s all but forgotten it. “She’s charming. I’m glad you introduced us.”

 

“Are you going to admit that you want her?”

 

She stiffens. “Chakotay…” She doesn’t lie. That she won’t do to him…not about something like this. She sighs, sagging. “I don’t quite understand what’s happening.”

 

He chuckles softly. “I do. You’ve got good taste, Kathryn. She’s a hell of an attractive woman. Even I noticed…and I’ve got you for my wife.”

 

“It’s not that.”

 

“Oh it’s at least partly that.”

 

“I’m married.”

 

“So am I–“

 

She tosses him a brief warning glance. “Chakotay, stop it.”

 

“–which is why I know you, even better than you do. You want her. Just admit it.”

 

She looks to him curiously this time, brow furrowing sharply. “What if I did? It doesn’t matter. I have everything I need in you.”

 

“But not everything you want.”

 

This time, she hits him lightly…but her gaze is through the glass of the open door, on the doctor, who is happily perusing her collection of literature. There are actual fading sun beams hitting the doctor’s profile, for the love of quantum theory – which is just as compelling as those long legs and the thought of what they look like uncovered by black, obscuring cloth…

 

She swallows. Turns to her husband, to be sure he understands how adamant she is on this point. “I mean it. You’re enough for me. I don’t need anything more or less than you.”

 

“Are you denying that you’re attracted to her, then?”

 

She grits her teeth. Why is he pushing this? “I’m attracted to plenty of individuals, Chakotay. That’s the nature of biology.”

 

“Not like this you aren’t. This is something more.”

 

Her lips tighten. But she’s still staring, her gaze drawn inexplicably back to the other woman, and they both know it. “I barely know her,” she muses tentatively.

 

“She has a good spirit.”

 

“You and your spirits.” There’s nothing derisive in her tone. Just defensive. It’s damning evidence even if her staring hadn’t already clued him in much, much earlier.

 

“You feel something for her. Something very intense.”

 

“I’m married,” she repeats, slowly since he seems to need her to break it down for him. “And you are my husband.” She turns her head to him once more, gravely serious. “You’re the one that I love, Chakotay. No one or thing can ever change that.”

 

“If any part of me doubted that, we wouldn’t have invited her back here this afternoon,” is his even reply.

 

Silence. Their heads swivel back toward the library just beyond.

 

“She’s beautiful.” It’s a casual admission. A frank and earnest one. 

 

It’s not a deep enough observation for her. “She’s more than that. She’s…”

 

“A beautiful soul,” he nods, easily filling in her blank. “Someone in need of a little…shepherding, at the moment.”

 

Blue eyes snap over to him. “She’s a grown and accomplished woman. She needs nothing of the sort.”

 

He grins. Nettled her ire with that one. He’d known he would.  “She could really use a friend, Kathryn. Maybe a little affection, attention by someone who appreciates her for all the things no one who works with her is going to.”

 

“And you think we’re the people to give her that?” – dubiously.

 

“What does your gut tell you about her?”

 

That is unquestionable. “That she needs someone right now.”

 

Like you do, you mean.

 

“Needs how?” Is she going to admit it or not?

 

“Chakotay…”

 

“Your gut, Kathryn,” he presses stubbornly. Though why, even he doesn’t quite know.

 

He knows what his gut says about his wife lately. She misses Voyager. She misses the ship like an appendage, her crew like even more essential parts of her. She misses him when he’s gone, too.

 

Silence is his answer. Silence confirms what he already knows.

 

He loves her enough to want her happy. He’s enough for her, she’s said. He knows he is enough. He wants more than that for her. And now, suddenly, there’s Beverly Crusher to consider. As he observes her across the room, through the glass panels of the patio door, her attention is pulled to the third row of Kathryn’s massive, authentic collection of books. He sees her pinpoint an object of interest. Watches her extend a tentative hand and pull out… He knows that book, even from across the room, and he freezes up at the sight of it. He’ll be damned.

 

Dante. The Divine Comedy.

 

He hates that book, despises it to its core. After barely getting through The Inferno intact, it took four weeks of hard, serious effort to get through its continuation. He’d done it for Kathryn, because it was a favorite of hers and he’d wanted to be able to discuss it with her intelligently. Once committed to reading it, having talked her into lending out her cherished personal copy, he couldn’t very well back out, either. In his defense, he appreciates a good book, too. Has read many a work from the same time period and enjoyed most of them quite thoroughly. But that one… he represses an actual shudder. He’d had to have the computer pull up a tutorial to get the actual point(s) the archaic author was trying to make. He’d basically taken a secret crash course in Dante just to get through the thing. His dread over the dry book, what it actually put him through to read it is something he’s still never confessed to her. One day, he will. But not today.

 

As Crusher flips open the cover, however, reading the first page, a small, appreciative smile pulls at her full, coral lips. The smile of fond memories, and not the hidden grimace he tries never to let Kathryn see. Beverly touches the opened book with reverence, her skilled fingertips stroking the paper with something like deep respect. She actually likes it…

 

He’ll be damned. He thought only Kathryn had that kind of tolerance.

 

He slides his gaze back to her, sees her watching Beverly, too. He loves what natural sunlight does for her complexion. Having more of it here on Earth is making her skin radiant after years of solar starvation. This is his wife. The woman he waited years for, the woman he has. And he finds he isn’t threatened by her deep, inexplicable attraction to Beverly Crusher. Any number of people have tried to come between them over the years. Any number of people they’ve almost let come between them. Kashyk. Riley. Jaffen. Seven.  But they’ve prevailed every time.

 

Beverly Crusher isn’t the kind of woman who will do that to them, or ever try to. If he gives his blessing, with free heart and open trust, she would never try to impede on their relationship with each other. Instinctively, he trusts her.

 

More importantly, he trusts her with Kathryn. And that is as big a vote of confidence as he can give her, one he gives anything but lightly.

 

Crusher is a lost soul right now. One missing her family, deeply, keenly missing them: her son, most especially. Competent, self-assured woman as she is, she’ll survive the lengthy separation, of course. So will Kathryn in the coming months; Voyager is heading out to Deep Space Nine territory for a two month survey mission of the still-devastated Cardassian region. It’s not his choice of missions, but the captain doesn’t get to choose his mission, as he was smartly reminded – by her in fact.  

 

When he’s gone, Kathryn will be in the same boat as the doctor. She misses her Voyager family so acutely, especially when he’s gone. She’ll get together with them periodically, she always does, but it’s not the same. Her role will never quite be what it was in their lives. She’s been having to adjust to this cold new reality, and it’s been painful even if she won’t admit it.

 

Beverly would help ease that sting for her, and Kathryn her, he knows this just from watching them today.

 

Would it be so bad for them to take solace in each other? With such obvious attraction crackling between them…such surprisingly similar interests as they appear to have? He sees the hunger in his wife’s gaze. The longing to offer comfort to a woman starving for affection of many kinds. The shepherding instinct. Much as she denies it, that’s a part of what draws the two women together. The doctor is clearly drawn to the harder cases like former captains in her own way or she wouldn’t be pulled to Kathryn the way she so clearly is. Right now, it’s a powerful pull for both women. And is it so wrong to defer to nature, and trust her to know what she’s doing here?

 

No, he decides, his posture firming resolutely. He’ll do this for her. He’ll allow it, initiate it, sanction it – whatever it takes. She’ll never do it on her own; her loyalty to him is too deep. Unless he gives her free license, explicit endorsement, this won’t happen, and she will never ask him for it. Beverly needs to be absolutely sure they have his blessing or she’d never go for it, either. He already knows this about the doctor who’s gotten so deeply under his and his wife’s skins both.

 

He Kathryn’s hand in his. Smiles reassuringly at her deeply questioning gaze, her raised brow as he pulls her gently forward, back into the library. Toward Beverly. She trusts him enough to allow him to do it, though their discussion hasn’t verbally concluded yet.

 

“Chakotay. Kathryn.” She guiltily returns the book to its place among dozens. “You have a lovely home.”

 

“Thank you, Beverly,” he tells her sincerely. “You’re a very lovely woman. Something my wife and I both agree on, in fact. And I think I can safely say that it’s not one-sided.”

 

Four raised, shocked red brows greet him, and he almost laughs. He’s just taken it there, yes. Someone had to. At the rate these two are going, the air is going to start shooting sparks at innocent bystanders before they’ll ever move to acknowledge what’s going on between them. And he’s the only bystander here. It’s self defense.

 

Silence descends over the three of them when he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t qualify, or hedge. Simply waits expectantly. There’s no mistaking that he’s just outted them both to each other, in words neither one can downplay or explain away with a few, trite words. Each waits with baited breath for the other to correct him. To assure him that he’s mistaken in his assessment of the nature of their attraction.

 

Neither does.

 

Kathryn’s eyes flit almost warily between her husband and their guest. Until now, she’s been telling herself it’s a one-sided pull. That the doctor is polite, that she has no idea what kind of powerful urges the younger woman is fighting off regarding her person. Urges to touch the strawberry hair kissing her blue-clad shoulders, to wind strands of the glorious flaxen silk around her fingers, to pull that classically beautiful face with the sad blue eyes down to her own level. To explore sultry, bow-shaped lips with her own, to taste her velvet tongue and mix their breath. To flatten her hands against that beautiful, dancer’s body, to explore curvature few women could only dream of achieving…

 

Her chest feels tight as she finally lets herself acknowledge that the heat smoking the vivid blue orbs across from her isn’t passing interest. That the doctor feels what she is feeling, and that her eyes are lingering on her own lips, which she didn’t until now realize she was absently wetting with the tip of her own tongue.

 

Beverly is absolutely stunning. Her hair frames her face, the late afternoon, slowly setting sun throwing painfully exquisite highlights across her high cheekbones. She wants this, so badly. But she won’t make the first move. Not without explicit permission from both of her companions – especially Chakotay.

 

Neither will the doctor, apparently.

 

With a cross between an inward sigh and an amused chuckle, Chakotay leans in to his wife. Takes her startled face in both hands, plants his lips firmly over hers. His thumb strokes her jaw softly, reassuringly, but he kisses her deeply, fully, with all the ardor he always feels for her. He hides nothing. Not from her, and not from the doctor.

 

When he breaks away, he reaches for Beverly, a reassuring, calming gaze from him enough to have her relax, and follow his lead.  He carefully takes her face in her hands, with a final glance in his wife’s direction to be certain she’s on board with this.  

 

Kathryn meets his eyes, hers widening in understanding. In love. She nods once, curtly. Watching with rapt attention, utter fascination.

 

He studies the face now inches from his. Can’t deny that she is one hell of an incredibly lovely woman. She’s taller than Kathryn, by several inches. Less ducking of his head is required. And she kisses softer, more tentatively, but there’s only an instant of hesitation before she’s returning the kiss, is an equal participant in it. There’s chemistry between them, too. Just not as much.

 

Not that that’s saying anything small of the chemistry he and the doctor share. But this isn’t his show. Not by a long shot.

 

When he steps back from her, the single kiss of permission, of barrier shattering completed, the air is once more heavily saturated with delicious tension. Eyes are narrowed, lips parted. They’re a ring of three, an intimate one, and there’s only one last connection that can be made here to complete it. Either the women will make it, or this is as far as it goes. He can’t do everything for them. There are limits, lines, and he’s breaking many of them already. Some, he simply won’t, can’t be expected to. Not even for her.

 

Kathryn leans in first. She sees something she very much wants; she’ll no longer deny it. True to her form, with his permission – and Beverly’s – she finally takes it.