Author's note: Since it's way past time I did a "Coda" fic, I'm paying my dues. ;) Written for Caesar's Palace shipping week (prompt "sailing"). Also uses various CP prompts from the Darkness Challenge list as well as a few others.

Background music: "Entwined Hearts" by Adrian von Ziegler, which you can find on YouTube.

Big thanks to Bratling and purpledog for the fandom-savvy beta and the lovely Scorp for wording help!


Stronger

The moonlight gleaming down on Lake George ebbed and flowed as clouds pushed by a steady breeze flitted across the star-studded night sky, occasionally cloaking the small sailboat and its occupants far below in soft shadow. Earlier, their voices had risen in ecstasy together, but had long since fallen silent. Here in this place, a privacy lock shielding them from the outside world and the weight of protocol, they could discard all formality and just be together.

Her resistance had paled in comparison in the face of an enemy who, unlike the many adversaries that had come before him, possessed malevolent powers far beyond the norm. Using her father's image as a weapon against her psyche had been the near-perfect lure. However, hubris was the alien's fatal flaw, leaving her the opening she needed to counter with cold reason and beat him at his own game. He had retreated in a rage, and she knew his vow to haunt her every near death moment was not to be taken lightly.

Kathryn had indeed won the battle, but she was still shaken beneath her veneer of command. Her jovial suggestion to Chakotay for champagne and a private moonlight sail had lasted up until the computer's polite acknowledgement of the privacy lock request. Then, she had collapsed onto the nearest seat, shaking and staring out into the holographic night as if searching for the answer in the shadows of the far shore.

Chakotay held her hands and sat in silence with her, giving her the space she needed to gather her thoughts and speak—or not, if she so chose. After a time, she told him everything she had experienced, from the first illusion of seeing herself "dead" to hearing him urge her to fight, and finally calling the alien out on his intentions and pushing him to show his true agenda. And then she finally dared to voice the lurking seeds of doubt: was she perhaps still imprisoned in a version of the illusion? Was her assumed victory nothing more than a hollow façade?

The tremor in these last words spurred him to reassure her as best he could that she had indeed returned to their reality; while he could not grant her an absolute promise that this was not another illusion of that macabre matrix, he was willing to allow for whatever support she might need in the coming days, whether it was taking on extra shifts or just being available for simple conversation. She finally managed a tremulous smile, reaching up to cup his cheek with one hand.

And then she leaned forward, locking her lips to his.

Despite knowing what she wanted, he had initially resisted; his soft queries between her insistent kisses confirming that she was absolutely certain that the time was now, that she wanted and needed more than tonight's affirmation of life. Her confirmation that this would be their new beginning kindled the spark that had long hovered between them.


The breeze had gained speed over the past hour, whipping the sails with a snapping gust and pushing the boat back towards the center of the lake. Kathryn shivered as the chill nipped at her skin through the thin blanket wrapped around her shoulders and felt Chakotay's embrace tighten a fraction, the hand on her arm moving in a slow caress to drive away the cold. Under the blanket, their other hands were linked, fingers stroking in lazy patterns over one another. Here, with him, she knew she had found that peace he had once spoken of attaining himself.

Once they left the confines of the holodeck, they would return to the parameters that were necessary to abide by for the good of ship and crew—all but the one they had redefined tonight. The knowledge of what had transpired here would be theirs alone; the weight of its potential ramifications theirs to carry. However, she wouldn't be alone should the worst happen. He would be right there beside her.

They would be stronger together.

*fin*