Huge thanks to escapewithstories for the beta and jctropes for organizing the JC Trope Fic Fest! 3 Title derived from Hamilton.
"When I suggested camping, this wasn't what I had in mind."
Though the flashlight cast more shadows than light on Chakotay's face, Kathryn could hear the dimples in his smile. She glowered at her partner. "The thunderstorm came out of nowhere. Phoebe and I used to do this all the time to get out of going on an actual camping trip. Mom and Dad approved of our creativity."
After an uncharacteristically dramatic sigh, Chakotay said, "I suppose I should have expected this from a child of the twenty-fourth cent—"
Hurling the nearest pillow at Chakotay, Kathryn started a fight that only ended when their laughter interfered with their aims.
Until a lightning strike split the oak tree in the front yard, Kathryn had still held out hope that their maiden camping trip would be a mild success. Plenty of people braved a little rain for a weekend of sunshine, she'd insisted, hauling her heavy backpack onto her shoulders. After nature's theatrical rebuttal and Kathryn's brief period of melancholy, she suggested converting the bedroom into a campsite. At first, Kathryn insisted on authenticity. The tent would simply have to be pitched in the living room.
Kathryn soon discovered that simply was the wrong word.
Since neither she nor Chakotay was keen on driving stakes into their floor, Kathryn abandoned that avenue of validity. But she refused to be deterred.
"It's okay if we don't camp out," Chakotay had insisted, touched but puzzled by her insistence.
After yanking the decorative pillows from the couch, Kathryn held her head high, eyes alight with renewed zeal. "Nonsense. Grab as many blankets as you can carry and meet me in the bedroom."
Every blanket, pillow, laundry basket, and chair in the house contributed to the makeshift tent Kathryn and Chakotay fashioned at the foot of their bed. Rather than the uneven, prickly ground, layers of blankets beckoned from the inside of their temporary abode. A half hour later, with flashlights, snacks, and sleeping bags in hand, they scrambled into their twenty-fourth century tent.
The power outage was nature's contribution to authenticity.
Now, recovered from their pillow fight, the couple lay on their backs in the same snug sleeping bag, staring up at shadow puppets instead of stars.
"I am sorry we didn't get to go, Chakotay. You had such plans."
Chakotay rolled onto his side, so close to her that the warmth of her breath kissed his lips. "I did, but we still get to spend a long weekend together." Tucking Kathryn's errant strands of hair behind her ear, he grinned. "And we've got a tub."
Kathryn arched an eyebrow. "We had a tub before."
"You didn't like to share with me then." Chakotay skimmed his fingers down Kathryn's bare arm, smiling when goosebumps rose on her skin.
"Well, those days are clearly behind us."
Chakotay hummed and kissed her like he would gladly spend the weekend doing nothing else. A particularly loud clap of thunder startled them, but when Kathryn pulled back, Chakotay shielded her from anything but him. Smiling down at her, Chakotay lifted one hand from where it rested beside her head and ran his fingers through her hair, longer than it had been in years, fanned out in a halo on the pillow. For a second, as she beamed up at him and stretched her arms over her head, the years of trial and turmoil vanished, and he saw in her only happiness.
Today marked their first anniversary, but only recently had they realized that the StarDate coincided with the first day of their quarantine on New Earth. Naturally, they wanted to spend their anniversary doing something that reminded them of their time in the place where the inevitable change in their relationship struck. Camping had been Chakotay's idea, and after some cajoling, and promises of neck rubs and coffee, Kathryn agreed. More inclined to hopeless romanticism, Chakotay was especially looking forward to a weekend of fulfilled promises, interrupted by the return of Voyager and of hope.
At first, after they returned to Voyager, he found it easier to see Kathryn struggle, because she knew that he supported her, that she wasn't alone. Every victory, every loss, every emotional burden—all shared between the command team, all acceptable, as long as they could play another game of pool at Sandrine's, enjoy another sail on Lake George, explain another scientific mystery. Those last few years, however, when Kathryn isolated herself and bore everything on her own, it hurt to watch. He ached with the need to make her understand that no guilt, no disagreement, no chasm created by either one of their decisions, necessitated this penance.
Then came Kashyk, the Equinox, Seven, and suddenly the burden he promised to lighten for her no longer felt like his responsibility. Because she didn't want it, any of it. He'd spent every day of the last three years making up for the time they wasted believing those lies woven by trauma and anguish and betrayal.
"Where are you?" The lulling timbre of her voice over the pounding rain, the cool skin of her palm on his flushed cheek, brought him back. "Be here with me."
Here, in the home they built, in the room they shared, in the sleeping bag he didn't intend to leave for hours, with Kathryn.
Humming, Kathryn tugged on his uniform tank. "Come here."
He knew his grin would tease her more than his retort. "I am here."
With a huff, Kathryn threw her weight behind her hips to flip them, but their legs tangled in the confined sleeping bag, and Chakotay slipped his hands under her arms to tickle her. Kathryn's giggles removed all severity from her commands, but eventually her squirming legs ripped a tear in the seam. They both froze, and Kathryn craned her neck to peer at the damage.
"Now look what you did." Not a trace of censure crept into her tone. "This is why I'm in charge."
At Chakotay's incredulous look, she snorted, triggering another giggle fit. "Yes, Admiral." He chuckled as he eased off her and allowed her to clamber on top of him. She surprised him by sitting up, thighs cradling his hips, and gazing down at him like one of the many scientific anomalies she'd found, like he was the most exciting part of the universe.
With the same ease that her playfulness descended, it receded. Though her earlier question about his train of thought remained unanswered, the minute shake of Kathryn's head and the disbelief in her eyes told Chakotay that she'd already found his destination.
"Before loving you, I never understood what people meant when they said things like, 'I didn't think I could love you more than I already do.'" She demurred, focusing on tracing his abdomen under his tank. "Until that point, when I fell in love, I fell headfirst, with no hesitation, despite what I thought I wanted. With you…" Her eyes slowly traced upwards, feasting on every detail until she reached his eyes. "I caught myself because of our circumstances, but we danced on the line so often at first that I convinced myself that our intimacy was friendly, just so I could fall a little. Then everything became too emotionally taxing and I pulled away from you without explanation and then we got home and everything was so confusing."
Her voice cracked on the last word, so Chakotay sat up too, hooking her legs behind his back and running his hands up and down her back. "It's okay, Kathryn. Look at where we are."
"I know." She filled ten heartbeats with deep, even breaths, and listened for cadence in the raindrops. "I don't understand it, but every time you surprise me at work or kiss me or make me switch to tea after 7:00 because you know coffee will keep me up—I just—"
Words rarely failed Kathryn Janeway, but in this rare instance of their desertion, she grasped his face in both hands and lowered her mouth to his, the sweetness of her affections communicated in the tenderness of her kiss. Chakotay pulled back just enough to whisper, "Me too," against her perfect mouth before losing himself in her. When he had the presence of mind to slide her tank top up and over her head, Kathryn eased back. Not to be deterred, Chakotay let his lips slide down her neck instead.
He tried to get away with a hum at her pulse point, but Kathryn tugged a little roughly at his hair. When he met her gaze, he shivered at the deviousness he saw there.
"Just because we're not in the woods doesn't mean you have to miss out on the plans that I had in store for you." Her voice, an octave lower than her most commanding tone, would have been enough to convince him, but then she smirked and said, "Tub. Now."