Chakotay looked up from his seat at the conference table to see a woman holding a large cup of coffee, poised to take the chair next to him.
"Of course! Please," he responded, even as he noted myriad details about her. She was stunning. About his own age. White pants suit. Hair pulled back in a stylish low ponytail. Not overly tall, but effortlessly commanding. A slightly husky voice. He'd been dreading the next couple years serving on the Faculty Senate, but maybe it wouldn't be so terrible after all.
After she'd settled herself in beside him, he turned to her.
"I'm Chakotay Dorvan, by the way. From Anthropology."
Her eyes were friendly. "Kathryn Janeway."
He waited for her to continue, a college or departmental affiliation never far behind in higher education.
The pause went on just a little too long, as if they both expected the other to say something more.
"Oh, sorry," she said in an embarrassed rush. "I'm --"
"Dean of the College of Science," he finished. "Of course. I'm so sorry. It took me a moment to place your name." He gave a rueful laugh. "I was on sabbatical last year, working a site in the Badlands, and I have to admit I only glanced through all the university press emails while I was away."
"No, no, it's my fault. It's just …" and she stopped abruptly, seemingly unwilling to continue with what she was going to say. Her smile went slightly plasticky, the look of someone who always knows how and when to say the exact right thing and is about to do so.
Before her mask could completely take hold, he gently prodded, "It's just …"
She blinked and her gaze wandered over his face, rapidly assessing him. After a moment her own face cleared and she leaned in slightly, continuing, "It's just that they wrote so many news stories and did such a big social media blast about me after I arrived, I can't seem to go anywhere without being recognized. I spent months listening to people tell me, 'Oh, I know who you are' any time I introduced myself. So I stopped saying much." A sigh. "It's weird."
He had just met this woman, but he somehow felt she wouldn’t mind a little conspiratorial humor. "If it were me, I'd challenge them on it, just to mess with them. 'How do you know my name?'"
She threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, I'm going to have to try that sometime."
He felt a frisson of pleasure run down his spine for having made her laugh, but he also wanted to acknowledge her accomplishment. "The first female Dean of the College of Science is a big deal for the university," he continued. "I mean, I wish it could have happened earlier in our history, but at least it's happened now. And you can't blame the communication and marketing team for having a field day with it." His lips twitched as he fought to contain a smile. "Much as you might like to."
"You try posing for that many pictures and having to come up with quotable soundbites on cue," she groused. "Sorry. I really do love my job, but it’s very different from my old lab, that’s for sure.”
“But enough about that.” She gave him a crooked smile that hinted at mischief. “So, Dr. Dorvan --”
“So, Chakotay, how did you get stuck with the dubious honor of an appointment to the Faculty Senate?”
“Well, Kathryn, since I was on sabbatical last year, I wasn’t present to defend myself in the faculty meeting when they called for nominations. You?”
“There’s an unofficial rota for all Deans, and it was Science’s turn. That’s what Phillipa Louvois from Law told me when she rotated off at the end of last year anyway. Pretty sure they’re just taking advantage of me still being so new.”
“And that’s how important decisions get made around here.” He tipped his cup of tea at her in a salute.
She tapped him on the chest with her index finger. “We’ll have to show them how it’s really done.”
Only years spent not visibly reacting to every comment he heard undergrads utter kept him from showing his reaction to her touch. It had felt electrifying. He was pretty sure he’d just decided to follow her anywhere. She’s the Dean, he thought somewhat nonsensically.
Before he could formulate a response, he heard someone say, “Alright, I think everyone’s here. Let’s get started.”
They both glanced up, surprised to discover the room had filled up while they were chatting.
The rest of the meeting was uneventful, boring even. He'd consoled himself that his time on the Senate would at least give him a front row seat to watch all the faculty in-fighting and drama.
But of far more interest now was Kathryn -- and she was already firmly in his thoughts as Kathryn. He gathered his tablet and empty tea cup, then turned to her, intending to come up with something, anything, that would prolong their earlier conversation. But in the time it had taken him to stand up, three other people had somehow lined up to speak with her first. Not wanting to intrude for purely selfish reasons, he turned to go and felt a light touch on his arm. She looked over at him long enough to give a soft, regretful smile and a little wave. He nodded in understanding and made his way out of the room.
Twenty minutes after he got back to his office, a new email from Kathryn Janeway popped up in his inbox.
“I’m not going to comment on what this reveals about me, but why didn’t you tell me you were Chair of the Anthropology department too?”
He laughed out loud. After a moment, he realized he was just grinning at his computer screen and hit Reply.
“Our Google histories will damn us all. Labels aren’t a big deal for me, I guess. I take on what’s needed to get the job done, but I don’t get hung up about it either.”
He received a reply almost instantly.
“A gentleman who thinks of others before himself. I'm impressed. See you next month. Save me a seat.”
"How you can face these meetings with only tea is beyond me," Kathryn said by way of greeting. She'd meant to say hello first, but seeing his cup with the tag of a tea bag hanging from it was just such an inconceivable thing, her brain jumped the track slightly.
"Personally, I don't get how you can drink that stuff black," Chakotay rejoined with a grin.
Oh. He had dimples. How was it fair that a grown bear of a man with a facial tattoo and a noticeable amount of grey in his hair could also have dimples?
Kathryn had enjoyed the few minutes she'd spent chatting with Chakotay before last month's meeting. He wasn't cut from the standard academic cloth. But she hadn't realized how much she'd been looking forward to seeing him again until she'd walked into the room. She had spent much of the past year feeling very alone in her position, but for whatever reason, she instinctively understood she'd found an ally.
She mentally shook her head at her wandering thoughts and rejoined the conversation. “Coffee is the finest organic suspension ever devised,” she told him. Dammit. There were those dimples again.
"Well, since we’re on the subject, would you like to grab coffee after next month’s meeting? I have to run out right after we're done today to meet with a student, but I’d enjoy getting to chat more sometime," he said.
Kathryn had never met a challenge she wasn’t willing to take on, no matter how small. She leaned toward him playfully. "Dr. Dorvan, I assumed you didn't drink coffee.”
"I've been known to, on occasion. Extra sweet, the way it should be," and he laughed at the look of horror she felt suffuse her face. "They do sell tea at those places too, Kathryn."
"Heretics," she shuddered. "But, yes, I’d love to.” And she wasn’t surprised to realize she genuinely meant it. “Have you been to Captain Proton's, that new place over by the Physics building, yet?"
"Not yet. Sounds great." True survivors of academic life, they both immediately updated their calendars to ensure nothing else could be scheduled during that time.
As she finished typing, Kathryn looked up to see Dr. Hansen, a regal, all-business blonde from her own college, drawing people's focus to the front of the room.
"Who is taking minutes today?" Dr. Hansen asked, and Chakotay raised his hand. "Ah, Dr. Dorvan, good. Thank you. Let's get started, everyone."
Kathryn watched Chakotay scrawl 2:03 p.m. And so it begins in his notepad.
"For those of you who don't know, I'm Dr. Annika Hansen from Science and Chair of the Faculty Senate this year. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be with you all last month. I had been asked to present my new paper at the Cochrane Institute. But allow me to give you a belated welcome to another exciting and productive year here in Delta University’s Faculty Senate."
Chakotay wrote A. gave herself kudos then welcomed everyone to a year of hell.
She surreptitiously watched him jot down irreverent notes throughout the meeting. But as amusing as they were, she also noted he got every name, every vote exactly right. Maybe sarcasm is the new shorthand, she thought at one point.
The meeting ended a few minutes late, and Chakotay said a quick "see you next time," before hurrying out of the room.
As she exited the conference room herself, she heard, “Excuse me, Dr. Janeway?” and turned at the smooth voice beside her. Dr. Tuvok, a veteran and noted military strategy scholar, stood a respectful distance away. “I hope I am not overstepping,” he continued, “but I have noticed that you seem to be developing a … rapport with Dr. Dorvan.”
“Yes?” She was fascinated to see where this conversation would go.
“Given your position in the university, I thought it only prudent to tell you he has something of a reputation as a renegade."
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“A tendency to go outside of the system, I understand. If he thinks the university's normal policies and procedures are not achieving what he feels is needed. I could provide you with specific examples if you would like.”
She thought of Chakotay’s friendly but capable demeanor, then of his casual approach to some of the trappings of academia, including titles and his own authority. “Thank you, Dr. Tuvok. I don’t think examples are necessary at this stage, but I’ll take that under advisement. I appreciate your willingness to look out for me and to share this privately.”
He inclined his head and moved away.
If it had been anyone else who'd approached her in such a way, she would have dismissed them and their comments as interfering gossip, but Tuvok had impressed her with his calm logic the few times they’d interacted so far. She felt he really did have her best interests at heart.
She received an email alert scarcely an hour after the meeting that Chakotay had posted the minutes to the Senate's shared drive. Curious, she opened them immediately. His private jokes and sarcastic tone were nowhere to be found. The minutes were succinct, complete, and entirely professional.
Even after so few encounters, she could see why he'd developed the reputation Tuvok alluded to, but it was also clear there was no real cause for concern. Sometimes, a little rebellion is good for the system, she told herself.
Chakotay slipped into the empty chair by Kathryn just in time to hear Annika say, “We have a lot to cover today, everyone, so please bring your attention forward.”
Kathryn scooted her chair closer to his and whispered, “I was starting to get worried you’d left me to face this on my own. Everything okay?”
He dipped his head closer to hers and whispered back, “Yeah, just a student who suddenly needed to go over his midterm 10 minutes before the review deadline I’d given them.”
“And you stayed overtime to make sure he understood where he went wrong,” she guessed.
“Guilty.” He was basking in that lopsided smile of hers when he felt her nudge his shoulder and tilt her head toward the front of the room. Annika was glaring at them. He gave a quiet chuckle, fixed an attentive look on his face, and winked at Annika.
“As I’m sure you’re all aware,” Annika continued with the faintest smirk, “we’ve just received the report on our most recent accreditation visit. Overall, we received a very favorable review, but the Academy continues to be concerned about the writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills of this current generation of students. The Provost has asked us to form a subcommittee to evaluate our current offerings and provide recommendations for new opportunities to integrate these skills into the curriculum."
Chakotay watched in amusement as everyone else in the room suddenly found their notes or the opposite wall fascinating.
"We need someone who can think outside the box on this one and who can find consensus across the disparate campus units," Annika continued, looking straight at him. “Dr. Dorvan, are you up for the challenge?”
“Of course, Dr. Hansen.” He appreciated both the compliment and the vote of confidence. The massive amount of work that was going to come with them, well … that was academia.
“Good. That’s representing the Liberal Arts side. We should make sure STEM is covered too. Any volunteers?”
Chakotay quickly nudged Kathryn’s foot with his own.
She raised her hand, catching Annika's eye, while saying just loudly enough for him to hear, “I volunteer as tribute.”
He tried to stifle a sudden snort of laughter, but wound up just giving himself a coughing fit instead. She casually reached out and patted him on the back to soothe him, guilelessly meeting the questioning glances of others in the room.
“Dr. Hansen said the Provost expects our report at the February meeting,” she said as they entered Captain Proton’s. “Next week is Thanksgiving, and then finals, so why don’t we plan to meet up the second week of December to really get started on this? My office?”
He nodded. “That’ll give us time to look at what we currently do and think about options. Good plan.”
He liked that she was jumping into this project with as much eagerness as she was. In the split second he'd had to process Annika's request for another volunteer, he'd known he wanted it to be Kathryn. On a personal level, it would be an ideal way to get to know her more, of course, but that wasn't why he'd nudged her foot. He was extremely lucky to have someone whose standards and work product were as high as hers willing to take on the project with him. Working together, they stood a real chance of success.
“What do you think the response from the faculty will be?” she asked.
“Some people will be on board, particularly the newer faculty. There’s an old guard that fights any change, though. It’s not going to be a popular idea there.”
“Sometimes you just have to punch your way through,” she said with utter equanimity.
He glanced down at her with a grin. She stood beside him, well within the commonly-accepted bounds of personal space, and yet it felt completely natural for her to be there. He found his own body responding, not leaning in per se, but closing a gap that was simply unnecessary. Their shoulders slotted together, an interlocking pair.
The line advanced and they silently followed. He detected an ever-so-slight hesitance in her demeanor and deduced that Kathryn had suddenly realized this was their first conversation outside the realm of a wholly work-related meeting. The “be friendly or be friends” evaluation of new colleagues was a familiar dance on campus. They studied the menu briefly, as if they both didn’t already know their orders.
“What looks good, Chakotay?” She patted his chest. “My treat.” Had she felt his heart rate speed up in response to her touch? Three meetings, and he already craved each new contact.
“Thank you,” he said aloud, both to her offer and her touch. “The ginger mint tea, please.”
She cocked her head at him in assessment. “Done. And thank you for not quibbling about paying.”
“Some battles are worth fighting, and some shouldn’t be battles at all,” he told her, lightly but truthfully. He watched her file that piece of information away. When he’d invited her to coffee, he’d expected to learn more about her, but it seemed like he was revealing just as much in exchange.
They found a quiet table on the second floor. As they sat down, she leaned forward with that mischievous twinkle in her eye, all earlier reticence gone. “So. You and Annika Hansen. How long did that last?”
“How did you --?” He laughed. “No, why am I not surprised you figured that out? A couple dates, awhile ago.” He was inordinately pleased she seemed to have come down on the “friends” side of that internal dance for now.
“What happened? Um, if you don't mind me asking.”
“I don’t mind. Nothing big. We just realized we didn’t have all that much in common, and there wasn’t that spark for opposites to attract either." He gave a shrug. "I'd call it the only amiable break-up I’ve ever gone through, but I don't think we were ever officially together.”
He wasn’t entirely sure what had prompted her to open up this line of conversation, though he desperately wanted to presume. Whatever the reason, he wanted it to be clear that brief liaison was very much a thing of the past. “She’s dating a doctor these days. A medical doctor, I mean. The most brilliant, arrogant SOB you'll ever meet. But you can't fault the way he treats her."
He watched her eyes wander over his face and linger briefly on his mouth. He didn’t think she was even consciously aware it had happened. "It's interesting, the people who wind up together sometimes, isn't it?" she asked.
He met her gaze. "Yes. It is."
For their first curriculum discussion, Kathryn had offered to meet him in the Science lobby so he wouldn't have to navigate an unfamiliar building by himself. As they entered her office suite, she paused briefly at her assistant’s desk to introduce the two men, but before she could say anything she heard Chakotay grind out “Paris” to Tom.
“Oh, hey, Chakotay,” Tom Paris said somewhat nervously. At Chakotay’s responding glare, he quickly amended: “Uh, I mean, Dr. Dorvan?”
The atmosphere was tense. Kathryn cast an uneasy glance between them, wondering what had happened to turn the normally even-keeled Chakotay into this tower of anger. She actually started to step between them, but then Chakotay laughed. “I've been waiting to do that for months. It's good to see you, Tom. How’s your dad?”
Tom grinned in relief. “He’s good. Much happier now that I jumped ship and moved over here. The wayward son has found his place in Science after all.”
Kathryn felt Chakotay’s chest brush her shoulder as he leaned in slightly to confide, “Tom used to be my assistant, but someone stole him away while I was on sabbatical.”
“Well, fuck,” she said. “Better stay far away from whoever that was.”
“My thoughts exactly,” he said and laid a hand on the small of her back. “Ready to get started?
As she led him to her office, she said, “Remind me to never piss you off.”
He gave a bark of laughter. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you can dish it out just as well as you can take it.”
She couldn’t resist letting some smoke into her voice as she responded, “You’re damn right about that,” and was gratified to feel that hand tighten reflexively on her back for a moment.
She gestured for him to take a seat beside her on the couch. She sat there rather than her desk whenever possible because it afforded her a view of the campus lawn. As he sat, he turned his face toward the late afternoon sun, and she noticed how content he seemed to be, appreciating the simple gift. She envied his ease. Somehow knowing he wouldn't mind, she slipped off her shoes, curled her feet up on the couch, and leaned in toward him. Time to get down to business.
"I was thinking the obvious place for us to propose change is in the Freshman composition classes," she said to get the ball rolling. "Everyone has to take them, and everything we need to cover is already there or should be."
He nodded. "I had been thinking along the same lines, but maybe we need to be thinking bigger. Rather than just focusing on the comp classes, and placing all the burden on a small subset of the faculty, we could add writing opportunities and requirements throughout the entire curriculum. Build on their skills every year the students are here, so by the time they graduate, they can show a progression of growth."
Her mind ticked rapidly through options. "What if we got the library faculty involved? Have the subject-matter librarians team up with the doctrinal faculty in their areas and co-develop class assignments."
“Part of good writing and analysis is good research skills. That’s an excellent idea," he said. "The Writing Center and Academic Success folks would be good to bring in too. They can give the one-on-one support to supplement group in-class time." He stared intently at her, but she could tell it was unconsciously done, his eyes flicking back and forth as he quickly considered something.
"What if …" he halted then started again. "What if instead of trying to fit this stuff into existing classes, crammed in around the disciplinary content we cover, we did the reverse? Developed all new classes and programs designed to teach these skills, and we fit the disciplinary content around that framework instead? Am I making any sense?"
She caught the glimmer and patted him on the knee in approval. "Yeah, actually, you are. We turn everything on its head. You sign up to learn critical analysis, say, and the mechanism just happens to be a particle physics seminar."
"Exactly! But we'd need people willing to try a new approach, who can see beyond just their traditional course portfolio. Maybe co-teach or cross-list classes too."
She started ticking off names. “Carey from Engineering. Tuvok too. You might not think it, but he’s surprisingly open to adapting his teaching methods when the situation calls for it.”
“And he is my biggest fan. We should also ask B'Elanna Torres."
He'd surprised her. "I thought she and Carey couldn't stand to be in the same room together?"
"When she first started, yeah, but they worked it out. Who else? Ayala. Wildman. Oh! Harry Kim. He’s part of the new crop of junior faculty at Music. He’s young, but he’s so eager to prove himself useful," Chakotay suggested.
They quickly made a list of faculty members from across campus who might be open to piloting new ideas and serving as ambassadors to their colleagues, with him contributing the lion's share of names.
"You know people from all over campus, don't you?" she asked in delight. "Most faculty barely leave their offices, and you know everybody."
At her praise, his flash of a smile was somehow both self-confident and shy. "I like people. They're interesting."
"And now we know why you're the anthropologist of this team." She couldn't help but think of her own weakness in this area. "I've always had a hard time with that," she found herself confessing quietly. "I can do the big speeches and the strategic planning and I can make the hard calls, but that personal connection with people? It’s difficult to tell your friends the university can’t afford their cost of living increases again this year. At least if I keep my distance, they can be mad at my position."
He reached across the back of the couch and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. “I know something of that too, and I’m not saying it makes it any easier to say or hear the hard stuff. But what I have found is those personal connections are what build the trust that bridges you across the gaps when you do come to them.”
She must have still looked pensive because he then winked and said, “Stick with me, kid, and I’ll show you the ropes.”
He shifted his hand from her shoulder back to the couch, but she could still feel its warmth. She appreciated both his counsel and his willingness to let her process it in her own way. Processing that she'd just told him something she'd never admitted to anyone else before would take more time.
She consciously shifted them back to logistics. “Okay, oh wise one,” she said lightly. “How do we bring all of these people together? We can’t facilitate all those conversations.”
“We should have a party,” he responded instantly.
“What?” she exclaimed.
“A party. A mixer. Invite everyone together and let them hang out. Build camaraderie." His eyes lit up. "Oh! It should have a theme too. What do you think -- French bistro or Hawaiian luau?”
"A luau? Chakotay, it's December!"
"Kathryn, we live in southern California. We put out some tiki torches and a fire pit and everyone will be fine."
She laughed. “Okay, fair point. See, I knew you’d have the answer on this one.”
“People love parties. I learned that from Tom Paris, actually."
Her eyebrows rose. "Really. So, you're saying, if I asked him to plan this thing …"
"It would be the party of the year."
When she shared their idea with Tom the next morning, his eyes lit up. "Oh, I am on this. We'll do it at your place. Chakotay's got a beautiful home, lots of handmade furniture. I'm sure you'll see it sometime. But you've got more space. That deck too."
"Thanks, Tom," she said with a grateful smile, carefully sidestepping his additional commentary. Some harmless flirting was one thing, having your assistant presume on it was another. "I'll leave you to it," and turned to go.
"By the way, Dr. J," he said, handing her a magazine, "there's a great piece on page 37 you'll want to see."
She glanced down at it. It was the most recent issue of the university's magazine, primarily sent out several times a year to not-so-subtly remind alumni to donate money. If she was being honest, she couldn't say she'd expect anything she'd classify as great to appear in the publication.
With a shrug, she took it back to her office. On page 37 she discovered a brief paragraph highlighting Chakotay's sabbatical project. The accompanying photo had been taken on site. He stood, tanned and smiling, having apparently decided cutting his hair wasn't worth the time while he was away. His salt-and-pepper locks skimmed over his tattoo and the tips of his ears, blending with a surprising, neatly-trimmed beard.
She stared at the photo. It was … a very good look on him.
In the silence, she was startled to hear Tom say, "You're welcome" from her doorway.
"You're fired, Tom."
"Okay, Dr. J. No problem. Hey, I'm going for a coffee run. Your usual?"
“When I get back, I’ll set up a weekly meeting for the two of you to work on the curriculum proposal too.” His face was carefully neutral, but the undisguised glee in his eyes gave him away. She gave him a hard stare, but he just saluted and walked away.
After he left, she carefully tucked the magazine away in the bottom drawer of her desk. Chakotay might want another copy for his files, she told herself.
Chakotay parked his car in front of a Neelix's Catering van and walked up to Kathryn's front door. As he was about to knock, the door was flung open and Tom Paris said, "You're here. Good. I need you to keep Dr. J out of the kitchen. He may not know it, but she was about to strangle the caterer. Go help her finish stringing up the twinkle lights on the deck."
Amused by Tom's commanding tone, Chakotay did as instructed.
"You're here. Good," Kathryn greeted him, holding up a string of lights. "That caterer made me try something he said was ‘better than coffee.’ It was vile. Help me with these?"
Knowing better than to laugh, he instead asked Kathryn curiously, “Where’s Mollie?” He hadn’t seen her Irish Setter on his way through the house.
“At my sister’s for a couple days,” she told him. “Tom had the whole house cleaned -- twice -- and the carpets shampooed, just in case anyone is allergic. You were right, he’s thought of everything.”
“You still miss her, though, I’m sure,” he said.
She shot him a grateful smile. “I really do. The house just isn’t the same without her.”
“At least tomorrow’s Sunday. You can spend the whole day with her.”
“Once I finally drag myself out of bed,” she joked. “These lights are just the start of Tom’s To Do list for us.”
He had been to the house for dinner several times in recent weeks, and it was far too easy to picture a leisurely Sunday with her. He quickly banished a vision of waking up together conjured by her innocent remark and busied himself with the lights as a distraction.
Tom kept them occupied with other preparations until shortly before their guests were scheduled to start arriving. They scattered to freshen up and change clothes. As he exited the guest room, Kathryn stepped out of her bedroom. She wore a halter-style floral dress that perfectly accentuated her figure. Chakotay had to stifle his immediate desire to show her how much he appreciated the look, settling for a mild grin.
“You look lovely, Kathryn,” he told her and held out his arm in silent, mock formality.
Her return smile was warm and genuine. “Thank you, Chakotay.” She took his arm, and he couldn’t stop himself from placing his other hand over hers.
As they descended the stairs, Tom said, “Well, well! You two look ready for a moonlit stroll on the beach. Should I tell everyone to just head home again?”
“And miss the chance for all of them to compliment you on your party?” Chakotay queried archly. Part of him wished Tom wasn’t quite so obvious in his attempts to play matchmaker, but he also had to admit he appreciated knowing the younger man was advancing the cause on his behalf too.
Tom gave him a cheeky grin, then turned to business. “Okay. Here’s the plan. Dr. J, you’re in the front hallway. If people brought coats, they can put them up on your bed or in the guest room. Chakotay, I want you near the food, encouraging people to partake. Neelix’s stuff looks pretty crazy, but it actually tastes great. I’ll be on the deck.”
“And close to that homemade rum punch of yours, I notice,” Kathryn teased.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Tom told her with a parting grin.
Chakotay watched Kathryn circulate the room. He knew she’d had her usual worries about meeting professional colleagues in a casual setting, but she was clearly the hit of the party. Everyone was making a point of seeking her out. In the snatches of conversation he heard, she was animated and obviously enjoying herself.
He could watch her all night, but knew he still had people to see himself. The house was abuzz with conversations, and everyone seemed as excited about the curriculum ideas as he and Kathryn were. If they could maintain that momentum, they would have a first-rate proposal to present next month.
B'Elanna hurried over to him. "Chakotay, have you seen Dr. Janeway? We're running out of those disposable hand towels she put in the washrooms."
Without thinking, he said, "There are more in the downstairs linen closet. I'll grab you some."
When he returned a moment later, B'Elanna said with blunt curiosity, "You just … knew that? Off the top of your head? Just how much time are you spending here, Chakotay?"
B'Elanna was one of his oldest friends, but he really didn't feel like having this conversation in the middle of a crowd. He tugged on his ear, willing her to drop it.
"Fine, don't tell me." She smirked at him. "I'll just ask Paris."
He smirked right back. "Speaking of spending a lot of time with people …" and laughed at her sudden glare.
He watched her wrestle with several responses before growling, "Truce?"
"Truce." Then he pulled her in for a quick hug. "Keep me posted, okay?"
She gave a rare, soft smile. "You too, Chakotay."
The evening was winding down, and he stood at Kathryn’s side in the living room, saying goodbye to their departing guests.
"Dr. Janeway?" He heard a tearful voice behind them.
A young woman -- Dr. de Lancie? Delaney? -- held up a chunk of wood. "Dr. Janeway, I'm so sorry! I was getting my coat from your room and it got stuck on the headboard and I tugged on it and it broke the top of the spindle right off. I'm so, so sorry. I'll buy you a new one," she blurted in a quavery voice.
"It's okay, Jenny," Kathryn said soothingly. "I've been meaning to replace that old thing anyway. Don't you worry about it."
"Are … are you sure?"
He took the top of the spindle from Jenny's hand and studied it. "This can easily be fixed with a little sandpaper and wood glue too," he said reassuringly.
"Oh! Oh, that's great, Dr. Dorvan! I told my sister once, I just knew you'd be good with your hands!"
He refused to look at Kathryn, who started quivering against him with silent laughter.
“It’s quite alright,” Kathryn said again, once she’d found her voice.
Jenny gave another watery smile.
"Do you have someone to drive you home, Jenny?” he asked. “You were pretty upset just now." And have enjoyed several glasses of Tom’s punch, he added to himself.
"Yeah, my sister, Megan. We came together. She's waiting for me by the door."
"Good. Let's get you to her, okay?"
Tom was the last to leave them, promising to return the next afternoon to lead the clean up efforts. As he drove away, Kathryn laid a hand on Chakotay’s arm.
“Do you have time for one last drink before you go?” she asked then added, “Tea, of course. You’re driving.”
Gliding around Kathryn as they prepared their drinks, Chakotay was struck by how overwhelmingly domestic the whole day had felt. The kettle whistled, and she handed him a mug for his tea before turning to pour her coffee. Not for the first time, he noted how even that, coffee and tea, seemed to exemplify their dynamic. They were very different people in many ways, but those differences complemented each other. Their friendship was still relatively new, and it had never drifted beyond some casual flirting, but he knew he had embarked on one of the most important relationships of his life.
Kathryn seated herself on one end of the couch with a sigh of contentment. “I’m exhausted, but that was a great party,” she said.
“Tom outdid himself,” he agreed.
“And it worked, Chakotay,” she added. “I heard so many excited conversations about the proposal.”
"If I'm not mistaken, Harry and B'Elanna were concocting how to co-teach a Music Appreciation for Engineers course,” he told her with a grin. “I overheard something about finding beauty in the equations of sheet music."
She laughed and nestled herself further into the couch. “And all it took was letting Tom take over my house.”
“And a broken headboard,” he reminded her. “It wouldn’t be a party without something getting damaged.”
“Oh, I forgot about that,” she said, bemused.
"If you'd like, I can fix it for you tomorrow when we come back to clean up. It won't take long."
"Would you? I'd hate to impose, but …"
"But despite what you told Jenny Delaney, replacing it isn't your top priority right now?" he finished for her.
She gave him that crooked smile. "Exactly. What did I do before I had you, Chakotay?”
From her vantage point at the front of the room, Kathryn watched her colleagues on the Senate file in. The provost, Alynna Nechayev, gave her a curt nod as she took a seat next to Annika Hansen.
As required by Senate procedure, she and Chakotay had uploaded their written report and its accompanying documents to the shared drive last week, allowing everyone time to review them in advance of the meeting. Somewhat to their surprise, they had not heard anything in response, either positive or negative. While they both felt certain of the strength of the proposal, neither knew exactly what to expect from today’s discussion.
After the usual preliminaries, Dr. Hansen turned the meeting over to them.
“Dr. Nechayev, members of the Senate,” Chakotay began, “as you are well aware, higher education has been beset with multiple challenges in recent decades. Financial difficulties. Falling matriculation and retention rates. Technological advances which rapidly outstrip our ability to keep up, let alone stay ahead of the curve. An aging faculty unwilling or unable to retire and therefore no room for newer members to rise. While we by no means presume to say we have solutions to all of these problems, we have been offered the chance to reframe higher education here. The proposal which Dr. Janeway and I have put before you is our opportunity to take the next step in our continuing mission to improve this institution.”
Chakotay glanced over at Kathryn, who smoothly added, “As you can see from the documents we provided, this is a faculty and staff eager to take on new challenges and explore possibilities. We have pulled together a crew from across campus who are willing to participate in a pilot program next year. That’s more than 150 people willing to band together and try new ideas. If we are bold, we will succeed. What questions can we answer for you?”
Everyone glanced toward Dr. Nechayev, waiting for her response.
"Dr. Dorvan. Remind me of your marching orders on this project," she finally said.
"We were asked to write a proposal for how to better educate our students on the essential writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills they'll need to succeed."
Kathryn stepped to Chakotay's side, spine straight, hands on her hips. "I hope you'll agree that's what we delivered, Dr. Nechayev."
"Oh, do you, Dr. Janeway? Because that is not what I see here."
The room was completely silent. Kathryn felt her chin go up.
"In fact," Nechayev continued, "what I see here is much more than that. You have given us a roadmap for complete curricular reform. Course descriptions. Syllabi. Communities of practice. Experiential learning modules. You've got people offering to write grant proposals, for Pete's sake. No one likes writing grant proposals. This is holistic. It's interdisciplinary. It's transformative and engaging in ways I haven't seen in a long time."
Nechayev stared straight at them. "I am very excited to see the results of this pilot program, and I will be sharing this information with Chancellor Martok when I see him tomorrow. Our next accreditation visit is in less than seven years, and I want us well on our way to full integration by that time. Your terms on this Senate may run out long before then, but don't think for a second I won't expect you both to continue leading the charge on this."
"Yes, ma'am," Kathryn heard Chakotay say and thought crunch time.
"Tell this … crew of yours to proceed on everything that has been suggested. If they run into difficulty getting departmental approval, I want to know about it." Her piercing gaze went around the room. "And I expect every one of you to champion these ideas to your colleagues as well. Remind them, as we have just been, that this university is more than a sum of its parts."
There were a surprising number of nods of agreement from around the room.
"Oh, and tell Dr. Soong I look forward to this Ethics of Artificial Intelligence book club he wants to run at the library."
"That went astonishingly well,” Chakotay said.
They had decamped to Sandrine’s, a local dive bar and pool hall Tom Paris had introduced Chakotay to years ago. Tucked away in a wooden booth, they were both reveling in a moment to relax.
Kathryn stretched out along her side of the booth. “I have meetings with Alynna Nechayev every week, and I still didn’t know how she was going to react.”
“To be honest, I thought she might turn us down simply because it had my name attached to the proposal. We had a couple run ins when I was an assistant professor.”
“I never told you this, but I was warned about you early on. That you were a maverick.”
He laughed. She loved when she caught him in a moment of unfettered amusement. He'd duck his head, and that wide grin would light up his whole face.
“Why does that not surprise me?" he said. "I was pretty hot-headed when I started here. Sure I knew my way and how to get us there.”
“And you’ve mellowed with age?” she teased.
He glanced down at the table, then over at her. “I’ve learned there is more than one side to every story.”
She nodded in understanding. “I’d like to hear about that some time.” Then she quirked a smile. “But tonight is for celebrating. I, for one, intend to hustle at least a dozen grad students tonight.”
“Only a dozen?”
“At least a dozen. You order the mushroom pizza, I’ll grab the cues.”
Chakotay hit Save on the paper he was grading and heard the sound of Kathryn's tread moving rapidly down the hallway outside. He stood to greet her.
"Always on time," he said as she crossed the threshold to his office. Her face was drawn. She gave no response and did not slow her gait. He realized what was about to happen just in time to open his arms.
Her hands went around his waist and her head nestled into a space between his chest and chin that suddenly seemed like it had been sculpted for that exact purpose. He settled one hand on her lower back and ran the other gently through her hair. As she gave a quiet sigh, he began to softly murmur the lullaby of an ancient legend.
He was content to comfort her for as long as needed. Their friendship had steadily deepened over the past few months, and while he continued to hope it would blossom into something even more than that, he knew Kathryn hadn’t reached that point herself yet. Pushing her would only push her away. So he waited and appreciated what he had been given.
After a timeless moment, he felt her stir. He inclined his head to look into her face.
"Hi," she whispered.
He felt her nod against his chest. "An emergency budget meeting with the CFO. An emeriti faculty member who doesn't seem to realize that retirement means nobody has to put up with his bullshit anymore. And now my favorite student is probably going to have to take a hardship withdrawal because their dad is really sick."
He rested his cheek back on the top of her head. "Oh, Kathryn. I'm sorry. What can I do to help?"
"This is nice. Can we just stay like this the rest of the day?"
Her arms tightened around his waist. "You really would too, wouldn't you? You're a good man, Chakotay." A pause. "This job sucks sometimes. A few months ago, I didn't even know your name, and now you're the first person I wanted to see."
For someone who felt the isolation of her position as deeply as Kathryn did, he knew how significant that confession was, and the only worthy response was matching it with one of his own. He leaned back a little, his hands sliding up her back and arms until he gently cradled each side of her face.
"You are an amazing woman, Kathryn. You take on every challenge, every blow, and you dare them to do worse. I have no doubt you’re already thinking of solutions to every one of those issues. And you're not alone. I've watched you lead your team, and I know they'd follow you anywhere. So would I."
It wasn't everything he wanted to say, but it was what she needed to hear.
He saw tears glisten in her eyes, but he did not want her to feel pressured to respond. "Now, let's get some coffee in you before the Senate meeting, okay?"
She giggled. "Okay."
"And a muffin. Because I'm pretty sure you didn't eat lunch today."
She slid her hand into his. "Following is fine too, but how about we go side by side?
Kathryn made the pre-Senate meeting walk to Chakotay’s office in a far more pensive mood than usual, thinking back on the progression of their relationship this past year. Thanks to Tom, those initial weekly meetings had led to frequent conversation, first about the curriculum proposal, then about books, history, pedagogy, and anything else they drifted into. The number of snarky texts she received had skyrocketed. One late afternoon, he'd offered to cook, and she later teasingly promised to return the favor with takeout. So dinner had become part of their weekly schedules too. They had steadily shifted their lives to broadly orbit each other.
And then, this past month happened. After their conversation in his office, there had been an unspoken but unmistakably greater shift in the gravity of their relationship. They shared any meal they both had free on campus. Nearly every evening. Sometimes they went out, other times they sat side by side, separately grading papers or sending emails, her back against the couch’s armrest and her toes tucked under his thigh.
Last night, she had impulsively leaned up to give him a quick kiss good night and found herself deepening it almost immediately. After several breathless minutes, she’d pulled away, aching and suddenly shy. He’d given her a tender smile, one last chaste kiss, and seen her to her car.
She’d lain awake far into the night, longing and thinking. She had fallen in love with him and hadn't even realized it. There had been attraction of course, and she had permitted herself the rare indulgence of flirting, but when had it turned into more? Getting to know him had been like leisurely unwrapping a present only to suddenly realize what lay inside was something she'd long since come to think she might never receive. His humor and intelligence were just the gateway to far more: gentleness, a hard-won peace and respect for himself and others, and a passion for discovery and teaching which rivaled her own.
When she considered his potential feelings, what she discerned had frightened her at first. It was like he had made his own decision months ago, and was just waiting for her to reach that point herself. There was now no mistaking the banked fire which shone from him or pretending it was mere friendship, and yet he had been patient, exerted no pressure. He also gave no sign of looking anywhere but forward together.
They had, inevitably, reached a crossroads, and she knew with complete certainty any decision once made would be irrevocable. If they did follow this new path, the next step wouldn't be a traditional courtship either. They had leapfrogged over that without a glance. Suddenly ahead was a partnership and a commitment neither would stray from. She was no stranger to making quick decisions, and her heart told her this was the right choice, but her head begged for a little more time. Her life had been her own for so long.
She waved at Gerron, his assistant, as she walked by his desk. As usual, he blushed faintly and nodded for her to enter Chakotay’s office.
Chakotay stood to greet her when she entered, as he always did, but waited to let her speak first. The pause confirmed her intuition that he was letting her be the one to decide how to approach this new corner of the galaxy they had entered.
She gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and stepped back, but only slightly. “Good afternoon,” she said with a smile.
“Good afternoon.” He ran his fingers quickly down her arm and over the back of her wrist. “And how are you doing today?”
“Thinking about how to overcome inertia,” she replied honestly.
A quick flash of dimples. “Always the scientist. If you need help testing a hypothesis, you know I’m happy to help.”
“I know. Thank you.” She was grateful for his understanding. Then she gave him a bold grin. “I’m sure you’ll hear from me about that soon.”
“Whenever you’re ready.” There was a comfortable breath, and then he said, “Coffee?”
For now, coffee. And in the penumbra of her inertia, one other thing had become clear last night: Jenny Delaney had been right. He was very good with his hands.
“Kathryn, I’m here,” he called out as he entered her house. “More importantly, dinner is here.”
“I’m in the den,” he heard. “Be there in a second.”
He poked his head into the den on his way to the kitchen. “Stay there. It’s your day. I’ll get everything ready and be done in a couple minutes.”
It had been a long day for both of them. The various graduation ceremonies had started early followed by rounds of toasts and parties. Chakotay had seen Kathryn only briefly. Her other major contribution to the Faculty Senate this year had been the suggestion that the Senate sponsor a party specifically for first generation graduates and their families. The idea had been enthusiastically accepted and the party very well attended.
It was also Kathryn’s birthday. At this point, there had been no question they would spend what they could of it together. Chakotay had picked up dinner, takeout because Kathryn refused to allow him to cook after such a long day, and she’d taken charge of picking a movie. The Chancellor had declared tomorrow a university holiday, giving everyone a long weekend to recover from the flurry of activity leading up to graduation. Tonight would be the start of a relaxing weekend together.
Chakotay brought their meal to the dining room table and lit the candles. Kathryn, who must have heard his activity move into the dining room, joined him.
“Happy birthday,” he said, kissing her temple, an arm around her waist. Her body pressed into his, mellow and unhurried.
He watched her take in the table setting, the flowers, and him. “This is perfect,” she said. “Thank you.” As she sat down, she surveyed the food, cooing to herself as she glimpsed each item. “Bhel Puri. Paneer Makhani. Mango Chutney. Oh, Chakotay. This looks delicious.”
He laughed. “I’ve never known anyone who gets as excited about takeout as you do. I mean, I am also vaguely insulted, but that’s okay.”
“Chakotay, until I met you, my entire adult life was takeout. I am a connoisseur.”
He and Kathryn chatted throughout dinner about the end of another year and the students to whom they had said goodbye. Graduation was always bittersweet.
But in the back of his mind, as he always did these days, Chakotay wondered what tonight held in store for them. Kathryn had been playing her own delicious game these last few weeks, keeping them balanced on the edge. It was not cruel or because she was unsure; rather, she was giving them both the opportunity to savor each moment as it unfolded.
He'd fallen asleep grading exams on his couch one night last week and had awoken at some point during the night to discover she'd placed a pillow under his head and fallen asleep with her own head on his lap. In the morning, she’d nonchalantly helped herself to the coffee he always kept around for her now, complimented his omelette-making skills, and headed home to get ready for the day. Another night, he had been so keyed up from her attentions, he’d had to bring himself off twice before he could finally rest. He was loving every moment of it.
“Leave the dishes for later,” she told him as they finished. “I want to just sit with you for awhile.”
He bit back a grin. He had learned that “sitting” with Kathryn meant cuddling.
Like him, she had changed into more comfortable clothes for the evening, though her hair was still up in a low-slung side bun. As she’d explained when he had complimented it at the party, it was a hairstyle precisely calibrated to look elegant from any angle, keep her hair off her neck in the heat and, most importantly, out of the way of her doctoral tam. Only Kathryn Janeway could come up with an answer like that.
They settled onto the couch, and she started the movie before leaning back against him. Her hairstyle sat at precisely the wrong angle to his body, though, causing her neck to tilt forward. She sat up and started to take down her bun, but he put out a gentle hand to stop her.
"May I?" He adored her hair and had been yearning to do this for months.
Slowly, carefully, he removed the pins, lightly massaging her head where each one had pressed itself into her scalp. Once done, he began to run his fingers through her hair to remove any tangles. She mewled quietly, and he continued his tender worship of her hair.
"Fuck, I love you," she said contentedly.
His breath caught in his chest for a moment, then he burst out laughing. She twisted on the cushion to face him with a grin.
Between his fading laughter, he said, "Of all the ways I have imagined you saying that to me, this one …"
"Takes the cake?"
"Was the best."
She snuggled onto his lap, knees on either side of his thighs, her arms around his neck. "I really do mean it. I love you. No more inertia. And no more teasing."
“But I love the teasing.”
She took his mouth hungrily and tasted of spices and sweet yogurt.
"Don't you have something you want to say to me, mister?"
He couldn't help himself. "Me? No, nothing I can think of."
She smirked and slowly rubbed herself against him. "Too bad. I'll just have to enjoy this all on my own."
He groaned in pleasure, then reached up to cup her face so there was no mistaking how seriously he was speaking. "I love you, Kathryn Janeway. Every fierce, intelligent, beautiful part of you."
Her eyes were alight with invitation. "You and me, from now on."
He could feel her, hot and wet, through her loose linen pants. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of an antique dressing mirror she’d placed as decoration next to the TV.
"Let me help take the edge off," he said. "Turn around."
Curious, she did as she was told, twisting in his lap. He rested her knees on either side of his, then widened his stance until she was spread open. “Watch,” he whispered in her ear, and held her gaze in the mirror.
He skimmed his hand into the front of her pants and cupped her through her wet panties. She bucked against him, and he felt her liquid heat on his fingers. She was already so close. One more moment of pressure, then he raked his hand up her belly and down beneath the cloth, two fingers combing through her curls. She shuddered, and he slipped them inside. His thumb circled her clit, then pressed down.
"Harder," she rasped, and placed her hand on top of his, eyes watching them in the mirror.
Together, they brought her to the brink. She was pistoning against his hand, and the rhythmic pressure on his cock felt like heaven. Her own hand fell away, and her head settled back against his chest.
One more hard press on her clit, and he felt her clench around his fingers. He held her as her shudders lessened and she went limp.
After several moments, she stretched languidly and turned toward him again.
"Bedroom?" he asked.
The smile she gave him was deliciously wicked. "Why go all that way when I have a perfectly good desk right there?"
His cock strained against his pants. Would he ever stop discovering new reasons to love this woman? He stood, pulling her up with him. Her legs locked around his waist, and he carried her the short distance to the desk.
One edge was piled high with loose papers. “Dump them on the ground,” she ordered.
With one hand holding her to him, he used the other to sweep the papers off the desk then snagged the back of her clothing, pulling everything down as he placed her, bare, onto the desktop. She attacked his belt, yanking his trousers down and freeing him. She growled at the sight of him.
He entered her with one thrust, and the throaty moan she emitted caused him to set a scorching pace. He kept a tight grip on her hip with one hand, while the other carefully cradled her head.
She leaned back slightly, gripping the edge of the desk with her right hand. She trailed her left across his chest in a teasing caress, lightly travelling lower until she reached the place where they were joined. With an impish grin, she began rubbing her clit, the backs of her knuckles sliding along his length as he drove in and out.
She bit his shoulder as she came again, and he felt her clench around him. He slowed his pace, canted her hips slightly to change the angle. He ran his tongue up her neck and kissed her open-mouthed, panting.
“Come,” she said and squeezed around him. He let go and she caught him in her arms.
They were in the kitchen, finally cleaning up after dinner, when he saw her gaze catch on something outside.
"Chakotay, why is there a U-Haul trailer attached to your car?"
He tugged on his ear. "Well, I had to get your birthday present over here somehow, didn't I?"
"What did you get me? A pony?"
He chuckled. “Something like that. Will Mollie be alright if I leave the front door open for a few minutes?"
"At this time of night? She won't notice a thing."
“Okay.” He took her hand and led her to the foyer. “Wait here for me. And close your eyes.”
Outside, he quickly unwrapped her present from its protective coverings. Once he confirmed it had survived the journey without any scratches, he carried it back into the house.
Kathryn waited for him, eyes closed, a little smile on her face. He took her hand again, laying it on top of the headboard he had carved for her.
“Open your eyes, Kathryn,” he told her and held his breath.
She gasped and ran her hands over the wood, studying the in-laid carvings. "Is this … a map of the solar system?” At his nod she said, “This is exquisite, Chakotay. Thank you.” And then, as if she remembered everything about this night once again, she beamed and added, “I love you.”
“You and me, from now on,” he repeated her words from earlier and leaned in to kiss her.
As his lips neared hers, he heard her murmur saucily, "How quickly can you get that beauty installed?"