Window of Opportunity

By Diane

Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager is a Registered Trademark of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.

This is an episode addition to 'Critical Care', minor spoilers included.

"Ah Commander, just in time," Neelix began, "I've saved some of my Ompak soup for you." Chakotay returned the smile that Neelix greeted him with as he walked over to the counter in the messhall. Leaning closer, whispering and looking around as if it were a conspiracy, Neelix carried on, "And I've been told it's rather delicious." The Talaxian linked his fingers and placed them over his puffed out chest, beaming the whole time.

"Sounds great Neelix, I'd love some," Chakotay answered, putting on a brave face. As Neelix went about preparing the tray for him, Chakotay quickly glanced around the room. It appeared as though Neelix was right; everyone did seem to be enjoying their dinner. With that to calm his thoughts, and his stomach, he relaxed slightly, and began looking forward to this long awaited meal.

Neelix had the tray prepared in no time, and quickly handed it to Chakotay who thanked him, then turned back towards the crowded messhall. This time as his eyes wandered across the room, he noticed the Captain sitting with Commander Tuvok, both talking as they ate their dinner.

Within moments, he was standing by their table asking if he could join them.

"Of course Chakotay," Kathryn replied, laughing at the same time. As he placed his tray on the table and slid in beside her, he watched her in amusement, curious as to what had provoked the laugh.

"Sounds like I missed something interesting," he said, smiling again as Kathryn continued chuckling. When no response was forthcoming from her, Chakotay looked at Tuvok, hoping for something a little more helpful.

"The Captain and I were discussing the situation which occurred on the bridge earlier," Tuvok informed him, his eyebrow rising further as Kathryn snorted.

"Oh, what situation was that?" Chakotay asked curiously.

Kathryn looked at him, obviously surprised by his question. "You mean you haven't heard?" When Chakotay shook his head, she carried on. "I would have thought Tom would have spread the word long ago."

"I've been busy, must have missed it," Chakotay said, lifting the spoon to his mouth for his first taste of Neelix's soup. After a careful sip, he raised his eyebrows, impressed, his attention soon returning to Kathryn as she began speaking.

"During our search for Gar, we had the opportunity of speaking with a woman who knew him very well." Kathryn grinned as she stressed the word very, making sure her point came across. Chakotay smiled, understanding immediately. He nodded, prompting her to carry on, taking his soup at the same time.

"She seemed to think that Mr. Gar was irresistible, and thought that I was looking for him so I could have him for myself." She laughed again, the thought obviously preposterous to her. "So, I had to convince her that I didn't have any romantic interest in Mr. Gar whatsoever."

Chakotay's eyebrows went up again, wondering how she had accomplished that.

"So what did you do?"

"I just showed her I already had a man." Kathryn stopped there, smirking, quite willing to leave Chakotay hanging, wondering exactly what she meant by that.

For a few brief seconds, Chakotay wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to know how she had done that. But finally, curiosity won. "Well?" He looked from Kathryn to Tuvok. He was able to discern even less from Tuvok's face.

Kathryn relented, her smile softening as she told him. "Tuvok just happened to be in the perfect spot. I took his hand and told her that I already had a man."

Chakotay obviously hadn't been expecting that. He swallowed a spoonful of soup rather too quickly, causing it to go down the wrong way. He began coughing, only making it worse as peals of laughter tried to escape at the same time. He looked at Tuvok, who was clearly uncomfortable, but was trying to act as though such a thing was an every day occurrence.

Chakotay's reaction soon had Kathryn laughing again. She carried on, trying to speak between gulps of laughter. "You should have seen the faces of everyone on the bridge, especially Tom and Harry. They all erupted into laughter as soon as communication ended. Tuvok's face was priceless."

Soon the command team were laughing with unrestrained delight, drawing a few curious glances from crewmembers at nearby tables. The thought of Tuvok being surprised by Kathryn grabbing his hand in the middle of the bridge was just too much for either of them.

At the scene his commanding officers made, Tuvok merely tilted his head to the side, and shifted ever so slightly in his chair.

"Captain, I fail to see the humour in the situation," Tuvok stated. Their laughter easing to chuckles, Kathryn and Chakotay simply looked at one another, knowing smiles crossing their faces.

But Tuvok carried on. "You did what you thought was necessary to obtain the trust of Gar's .... acquaintance, and it worked. However it was unfortunate that Commander Chakotay happened to be absent from the bridge at that precise moment. If this woman had been more observant, your ploy may not have worked as well as it did."

This time Kathryn and Chakotay exchanged puzzled looks, neither sure what Tuvok was trying to say.

"What difference would Chakotay's presence on the bridge have made if she had been more observant?" Kathryn asked. "What are you saying?"

"I am merely stating Captain, that Commander Chakotay would have been the logical person for you to imply was your mate." When there was no response he carried on. "Many would not have been so ready to immediately believe what you said, and had this woman chosen to further question you, having Commander Chakotay by your side instead of me, would have left no doubt in her mind as to the truth of your statement."

As Tuvok finished, silence settled over the small group, a stark contrast to the laughter of a few moments earlier.

After a few strained seconds passed, Kathryn tried to speak. Her voice sounded ragged, so she cleared it and tried again. "How could it be true Tuvok?" She hesitated, briefly glancing over to Chakotay before carrying on. "Commander Chakotay is use an earlier phrase 'my man.'"

Tuvok merely raised his eyebrow as though what he had said, and was about to say, was obvious. "Maybe not in the way that Gar's acquaintance implied, but in every other respect I would have to disagree."

As if oblivious to what he had just said, and the shocked expressions of his commanding officers, Tuvok rose from his seat. "If you will excuse me Captain, Commander, I have several duties to perform before my shift finishes. Good evening."

With those last words, Tuvok left a stunned Captain and Commander behind, not waiting for or receiving a reply.

Seconds ticked by, but both Kathryn and Chakotay remained where they were, too astonished to move the slightest. Neither could believe what Tuvok had so casually announced; nor could they believe that it had been Tuvok to announce it.

It was only when a hand moved in front of their line of vision that either roused from the shock they had lapsed into.

"So what did you think of my soup Commander? Oh, you've hardly touched it." Neelix was standing by Chakotay's side, looking extremely disappointed.

"What .. oh, the soup." Chakotay finally managed to draw himself together enough to answer Neelix. "Sorry Neelix, it was delicious. I was just..umm..distracted by the conversation."

Neelix's face lit at Chakotay's compliment. "Yes, I could see you were having a good time. Don't worry, I can reheat it."

Chakotay simply nodded absentmindedly, still in too much shock to answer Neelix coherently. He was vaguely aware of Neelix removing his tray before heading back towards the galley.

He desperately wanted to say something to Kathryn, but he was at a complete loss for words. Of all the scenarios he had imagined, that he had even planned for, this most certainly, was not one of them.

But he also realised that this was an opportunity. An opportunity for them to at least talk about it, a unique opportunity that rarely presented itself. And, Chakotay thought, he was going to take it.

He looked over at Kathryn, trying to gauge her mood. She seemed a little uneasy, perhaps slightly uncomfortable, but she didn't look as if she was ready to dismiss anything outright either. This encouraged him, and taking a deep breath, he cleared his throat, and began.

"If I'd had to choose one person to say something like that, it wouldn't have been Tuvok." He thought the direct approach was probably more suitable, hoping it would make her smile.

It did. She looked up at him, and he could see the amusement in her eyes. "I'd have to agree there," she answered.

There was another awkward silence as both tried to think of a way to broach the topic.

"It should have been you beside me on the bridge," Kathryn said unexpectedly. It rolled off her tongue quickly, as if she knew that if she didn't say it know, she wouldn't say it at all.

"I'm sure if we had been speaking to anyone else they would have picked up on Tuvok's uneasiness straight away." He noticed her grin again, obviously remembering what had happened.

"I wish I could have been there," Chakotay said.

"I wish you could have been there as well." Chakotay watched her closely. He wasn't quite sure how to take that. Did she wish he could have been there to see it, or did she wish he had been there so he could have taken Tuvok's place?

He decided there was only one way to find out. "Why do you wish I had been there? Exactly?" His voice had grown uneasy, even to his own ears. She looked up quickly, immediately understanding what he was asking her.

"I wish" ... she hesitated, but kept her eyes locked with his. "I wish you had been there place of Tuvok."

Chakotay moved his hand over the top of the table, wanting to touch her, to have some physical contact with her. Gradually her hand moved towards his, and slowly they clasped hands, holding tightly to the other.

"You know," Chakotay began. "Tuvok was right." Hands still joined they watched one another. "Even if we aren't quite what Gar's acquaintance implied ...I do think of you like that in every other way."

Chakotay squeezed her hand tighter, longing to pull her closer. Taking the ultimate leap he said, "Maybe it is time we were everything that that implies."

He waited, unconsciously holding his breath, anxious for her reply. But when she pulled her hand from his and dropped eye contact, looking down at the table, his heart missed a beat. He closed his eyes, instantly regretting taking the conversation that far. He quickly tried to say something, anything, but stopped, stunned, when a hand gently caressed his cheek.

Whispering, Kathryn replied, "I think it is time."

The End

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