"The Bench" by Becca O.


For Margie, who gave me permission to break the rules, & JetC40


You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

....Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence"

==============================

"Kathryn?"

"Over here!"

Following a flower-laden path, Chakotay picked his way past young couples strolling arm in arm in the crisp fall air.

"Do you like it?" Kathryn asked with a smile. "I pulled this out of the storage banks."

"The only thing missing is Boothby," he answered with a grin.

"Oh, no, he's here. He just wandered off toward the Common mumbling about some junior officer trampling his impatiens."

"May I sit down?"

"Certainly." Patting the cold stone beside her, she scooted over to give him room.

"Where did-"

"Where did I get this program? You'll not like my answer, I'm afraid. It was part of a diplomatic exchange."

"Kathryn, you didn't!"

"I most certainly did. I saw no reason to send Species 8472 on their way without a copy of their Starfleet Headquarters simulation."

"But Voyager's databanks already have a holo-simulation of the HQ. It's standard issue for deep space missions."

"I know, but there was just something more ... personable about this version. I hadn't had the time to run it until now."

"It certainly looks like I remember it." He paused. "From the old days, not--"

"Not from your time spent romancing a spy, Commander?" She cast him a sly look, most assuredly tongue-in-cheek.

"Never mind. It was all in the name of diplomacy and you know it. Besides, I seem to remember ...."

"Touché, Commander. Let's not go there, shall we?"

Both sat in companionable silence, immersed in the bustle of the people passing by, the once-familiar sounds of cadets on their training tours and the scent of Boothby's millions of blossoms filling the air.

"This was my favorite thinking spot when I was right out of the academy." Kathryn spoke wistfully, leaning ever-so- slightly against Chakotay's shoulder.

Instinctively, he grasped her hand in his, the moment turning just a bit more melancholy than either liked.

"It was a long time ago, wasn't it?"

"Indeed it was. A lot has happened since then." Kathryn squeezed his hand in agreement.

"Do you regret it?"

"Not a day. There are some things I'd like to do over, handle a bit differently, but I wouldn't trade a day of my life out here with-" She broke off suddenly, and the unspoken 'you' hung in the air between them.

"I'm glad." Turning her face toward his he leaned closer. Parting his lips just a bit he whispered, "Do you have any idea where you are?"

"What?" she asked, her breath mingling with his, and coming just a bit faster.

"The bench. You're sitting on The Bench."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Chakotay." Pulling back, she focused her eyes, waiting for an explanation.

"You *must* have heard about The Bench while you were at Starfleet Academy. Didn't you?"

"Chakotay, please--"

"All right. Well, just the fact that you don't know of it confirms my suspicions about you, Captain."

"Commander!"

Laughing, he continued. He knew by the tone of her voice that he was treading on dangerous ground. "Back in my academy days, it was every young man's dream to topple a young lady from the bench."

"Explain please? It doesn't exactly sound like a gentlemanly thing to do."

"Believe me, it wasn't." He grinned. "This exact spot, this very bench, was known as the Innocence Bench. To topple a young lady off the bench was a euphemism for ... well, for ... you know."

"Chakotay, I can't believe that you actually..."

"What, Kathryn? Had raging hormones like all the other cadets? You have no idea."

Kathryn laughed. "I didn't before, but this is certainly a new side of you that I'm discovering. And just how many young ladies *did* you topple off the bench, Commander?"

"No comment. But what about *you*? You mean to tell me that some handsome upperclassman never tried to have his way with you?"

"On the contrary. There were plenty, but I was too immersed in Starfleet principle to give them the time of day."

Chakotay smiled, but her words hung in air between them, the truth casting a shadow over the afternoon.

"Well. I suppose I'm *still* doing that, aren't I?" she said. "Some things just never change."

"You can't say you haven't had ample opportunity," Chakotay said, enclosing her hand between both of his own.

"No, there has definitely been a concerted effort on your part. I guess it's too late to teach an old dog new tricks?" She turned to face him, somehow hoping that there was still a chance to make things right.

"It's never too late. If that's what you really want," he answered, searching her eyes for the truth.

"I think so. I think I'd like to try."

Chakotay smiled, a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes the way she loved, and reached to brush her hair away from her face. Bending ever so slightly, he touched her mouth with his own. "It was such a nice bench, too," he murmured with mock regret.

Laughing, they held to each other as oblivious holo-cadets passed them by and the symbolic sound of the toppling bench echoed through the quadrant.

==================================

"You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence"



FINI
10-21-99



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