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Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters...the story's all mine!

Summary: Chakotay has a big surprise for Kathryn...not exactly what she expects.


Third Time

"What's this?" Kathryn asked, confusion etched on her brow as she scanned the contents of the PADD."It's my official resignation as your first officer," Chakotay stated, resuming his "at-ease" stance. She met his eyes with a cold, anxious stare. He remained calm, awaiting her inevitable reaction.

"Chakotay...I don't understand...why would you do something like this?"

"It's quite simple, Captain. I cannot serve under your command any least not like this."

"If this is about the Equinox..."

He held up his hand. "No, this has nothing to do with that. I just...can't..."

Tossing the PADD on her desk, Kathryn continued as if she hadn't heard him. "I thought we had resolved all of this. I thought we were back on track. Sure we've been through some rough times, but you and I have managed to overcome them. There's no one I trust one I *want* stand beside me and support me on that Bridge. How could you do this to me?"

His smile managed to baffle her even more. Was this truly making him happy? Had serving under her command really gotten that bad? Chakotay stepped closer to her desk.

"I know this is a surprise and that you don't want me to do this, but it's what I have to do. I'm not going to leave. I will still be here beside you everyday. Supporting you. Counseling you. Only I won't be doing this as your first officer."

He pulled his hands around from behind his back, and it was then that Kathryn noticed that he was holding something. A small box of some sort. Chakotay opened it, admiring its contents before placing it in front of her.

"I will be doing this as your husband."

Kathryn glared at him in utter shock. Then she turned her attention to the sparkling diamond ring on her desk. She gave no immediate response. She had no idea what to say or even think. Her voice got lost deep inside her, and all she could manage was to cast tearful glances between the ring and Chakotay.

Chakotay stood in silence, slowly starting to regret what he had done. It was an awfully bold that he truly thought would work. He loved Kathryn with all his being, and he never wanted to lose her. And if resigning his commission with Starfleet was the only way to accomplish that...then so be it. Now, as he watched her rise from her chair, he realized that he may have just lost his job...and his true love.

She lifted the ring from its container, briefly watching as even the dim lighting got caught up in its fiery brilliance. Once more, she moved her eyes towards Chakotay, reading the disappointment on his face. A single tear streamed down her cheek, and with shaky hands, Kathryn returned the ring to him.

He felt his heart sink deep into the bulkheads. After all these years, he had managed to ruin in one felled swoop all that he had held dear in his life. He couldn't speak. He knew his voice would fail him. If simply disappearing was an option, Chakotay would gladly have taken it. Anything would have been better than this humiliation.

Finally, he forced himself to look into her eyes. The least he could do was apologize. He opened his mouth, only to be interrupted by Kathryn's wavering tone.

"Traditionally, engagement rings are placed on one's finger."

A smile replaced the grim glower as Kathryn held out her left hand, splaying her fingers.

Chakotay released the breath that until that moment, hadn't realized he was holding. He returned her smile, still not certain if he had heard her correctly. But he acted quickly before she changed her mind, something that was not uncommon.

Carefully, and delicately, Chakotay slipped the ring onto her finger. He continued to hold her hand, which she soon covered with her own. They gazed into each other's eyes for a few moments, dreaming of what the future held.

"What happens next...*traditionally*?" Chakotay teased.

Kathryn grinned. "Don't know. I can never seem to get past this point!"

He began to snicker. "That doesn't bode well for me."

She reached out and lightly stroked his tattoo. "Actually, this is very good for you. As they say..."

"Third time's a charm!" they finished together.

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