by Suz

Disclaimer - all characters are Paramounts. Yakkity yak.

Well, I've been inspired. I know I always say this, but I have *no* idea where this one came from. Short, different and...different. Hmm.

For August who deserves more than she receives and is more inspirational than she knows.


I watch them as they talk, wondering. Did he ever look at me with such ferocity, such devotion? Have I just been fooling myself all this time?

Of course I haven't.

I knew the rules right from the beginning. My reputation couldn't let me do anything else.

She laughs at some comment he makes, leans forward and places a hand on his chest. Does she even realise she's doing it? Does *he* realise? In any case, he smiles even more.

Everyone knows their history. The brave female Captain, taking on the rogue Maquis crewmember as her First Officer. He ever diligent, always by her side. Friends almost from the beginning despite a few bumps along the way. Trapped on a planet together for months, deepening the intimacy of their relationship. News from home that the man she used to keep a distance between them has moved on and remarried.

The adoration between them is obvious, even now. It may have mellowed with time, not quite so prominant but it's still there. The crew knows that he loved her almost from the beginning. That he vowed to help her whenever and however he could.

I turn from the scene they play out unintentionally for me. The crew can scarcely believe that they're not together. I know that they like me, but sometimes I overhear things I shouldn't. Comments about how wonderful they would be together, and a few even blame me as if it's my fault that they agreed not to get involved.

I feel his arms wrap around me a second before he begins to speak. He's so warm, so comforting.

"Are you alright Jen?"

The deep timbre of his voice rolls through my body and I shiver slightly as he kisses me on the back of the neck. I turn in his hold to face him and somehow, amazingly, I have a smile on my face. It's him. That's what he does to me. Despite the ache pulling at my heart, he makes me smile.

I reach up to touch the side of his face and gaze into his eyes. "I'm fine," I tell him, lying. "I'm just a bit melancholy, that's all. I'll get over it."

He quirks his lips at me in silent reproach. He knows I'm lying. Instead of saying that he pulls me towards him again and wraps his arms around me. I return the hug forcefully, trying to concentrate on what's happening *now*. I don't want to think about their relationship, their past. Why do I let this bother me so? I knew the rules.

Slowly, my keyed up body begins to relax. He's so sturdy, so...*there* that he always has that affect. I open my eyes.

She's staring at me.

A sad little smile tugs at her lips as she tries to put on a brave face. I can see that she sighs heavily, then lifts up her glass to me, making a toast.

I gulp down a fresh wave of pain, closing my eyes tightly and digging myself deeper into his hold again. God, why do I want to cry so much? This is so hard, so much harder than it should be.

I have to open my eyes again and face her, I know I do. She's not going to retreat like a nightmare you feel vanishing as you blink away the sleep in your eyes in an early morning.

So somewhere I find the strength to open my eyes again. She hasn't moved, her glass still raised. No no, this isn't right. I shake my head minutely, so small that he wouldn't find the movement suspicious, but enough that she notices. My nostrils flair as I try to control my emotions. 'No, I'm not the winner. I may have him now, but he will always be yours'.

The sentiment I convey with my eyes seems to upset her more than accepting that he's with someone else. The glass quickly moves down, the sparkling liquid tipping over the edges at the startling speed. Her free hand moves up to cover her mouth and she turns herself ninety degrees away from me, not wanting to look but unable to leave completely.

Odd that. How I can feel compassion and a need to help someone who by all rights should be my enemy. But she's also my Captain, and in a small way, my friend. She's a good person, just not towards herself.

Despite their closeness, their friendship, their intimacy, their love...they never got involved. A part of me wants to scream at her. How can you be so stupid? How can you let an opportunity for love slip away like this? I have to tell her...tell them...this isn't...

Bizarrely, I want to help her. But as he releases his hold slightly to look at my face, I realise that I can't. I can't do what I vowed to do. I'm too weak. I need him too much.

Suddenly I find I have tears pouring over my cheeks. I yank myself away from him, his warm arms, his shocked face, to place my hands on my own face and stare in shock and disbelief at the salt water. Why? *Why?* Don't I have better control than this? Hadn't I promised myself that I couldn't be affected like this?

He tries to touch me, tries to pull me in for another embrace but I step further back, my forearms raising defensively. And I'm blurting out what I just thought I wouldn't be able to. I want to shout it, but the tears and the emotion choke my voice. "I...God Chakotay...this isn't right! You should be with *her*." I'm speaking at barely above a whisper, but he knows who I mean.

He doesn't shake his head to deny it, he has too much respect for me, himself and her to lie about it. He's never lied to me, never given me any false hopes.

I stumble away from him towards the exit, knowing that she's watching, that everyone's watching and that the rumours will be flying at warp speed tomorrow morning. But I can't stay here. I can't stay in a room with so much pain, so much avoidance, so much bullshit.

I knew the rules.

Just not well enough.