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Disclaimer: Paramount owns them...yada, yada, yada

Summary: A challenge response for my JetC20 group. The challenge was to write a J/C story including a series of dialogue (see bolded text). Here is my short, but sweet attempt.


Keep The Fire Burning

"Well, Commander, you have managed, yet again, to ruin another shuttle!"

Chakotay grinned. It was true that he had been involved in many shuttle mishaps, but he had not been solely responsible for all of them.

"I hope you don't hold that against me, Captain."

She chuckled as she situated herself by the huge fire he had managed to build for them.

"No, I don't, since it seems that your fire-building skills have greatly improved."

Chakotay laughed out loud at her comment. How could he ever forget his inability to start a fire? Fortunately, this time, he had enough material to not require cutting anymore of Kathryn's hair. He felt that *she* had cut enough of it. Still snickering, he walked over to wrap the extra blanket from the abandoned shuttle around Kathryn's shoulders.

"Well, I just want to keep my Captain from freezing." He noticed her eyes light up when he also handed her a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee. Chakotay picked up a nearby branch, and proceeded to stoke the fire. The flames flickered high, spreading even more warmth throughout the small camp they had managed to build from the remains of the damaged shuttle. Feeling proud of his accomplishments, Chakotay turned his attention back to the Captain, who was watching in calm silence.

"Anything else I can do for you?", he asked, taking a sip of coffee from his mug.

Kathryn stared at him next to the crackling fire, enjoying how the light danced in his eyes. Admiring how the smoke surrounded him, making him seem almost an illusion. Dazzled at how the brightness of the flames enhanced his features. Wondering how she had never noticed just how incredibly sexy her First Officer was. Realizing that there was one more thing that he could do for her.

"I want you to make love to me, Chakotay."

Chakotay spewed the mouthful of coffee into the fire.

"Kathryn, are you nuts?"

"No, Chakotay, I'm serious."

"But, Kathryn, why?"

She studied his expression. Surprise was an understatement. Absolute horror was more like it. He stared back at her, waiting for her answer.

"Because..." she started, searching for the right words. "Because I'm sick of making excuses for why a captain and her first officer can't be more than just friends. I'm tired of denying what I feel when I look at you." She locked her eyes with his. "Because I can no longer ignore the fact that I've fallen hopelessly in love with you."

Chakotay gazed back into her eyes, wondering where this declaration of love was coming from. He could rule out intoxication. And neither of them had suffered any head injuries in the crash. Which left only one possible reason...

Well, he thought, I guess she deserves a response. Chakotay cleared his throat, as he formulated his reply. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. He looked back at her and began to speak.

"No, Kathryn, I won't make love to you..."

She dropped her gaze from him, a solitary tear slipping down her flushed cheek. This was not the answer she wanted to hear at all. After all these years, she thought that he would still want her. Kathryn realized that she had only been fooling herself. And why did she expect anything different from him? She had constantly pushed him away. His feelings were bound to change over time. She just didn't realize how long it had truly been. And now it was too late.

Seeing her discomfort, Chakotay knelt down next to her, reaching over to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. His reply had hurt her. That was something that he never intended to do. She took his hand and pushed it away. Now she was angry. Again, not what he intended.

"Please, I've embarrassed myself enough. I understand..." she started, another tear streaming down her cheek.

"Kathryn, let me finish. I said I won't make love *to* you..."

Kathryn opened her mouth to berate him for repeating it, but he placed a finger over her lips to silence her.

"But I will make love *with* you."

A soft smile touched his lips as her eyes lifted to meet his once again. This time, it was Kathryn who was stunned. Chakotay continued.

"Kathryn, I've been in love with you practically since the moment I saw you. You've known how I felt ever since New Earth. All you've ever had to do was ask."

Before she had a chance to respond, Chakotay leaned in towards her, brushing his lips with hers. Kathryn's lips trembled open against his, and their innocent first kiss became exceedingly more passionate.

Into the night, as the fire slowly died down, another fire continuously blazed.

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