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He felt incredibly drained after the autograph session, not just from the two hours of signing but from the comments of the fans. A few had heard about "Unforgettable," even though it was just on the air this week back home, and their questions were mostly not kind, although there were a few who said they were glad to see Chakotay finally get away from that bitch Janeway - those made him angry instead of making him feel better. Then there were the oblivious European fans who were still early in season three, hadn't even seen "Coda" yet, who gushed about Chakotay and Janeway...he felt like he'd betrayed them somehow, even though it was stupid, he hadn't even betrayed Janeway as far as the show was concerned. Usually he didn't give a crap what the fans thought about the garbage the writers came up with for Chakotay, but the reaction had really gotten to him this time. He wished he could call Brannon and give him a piece of his mind, but of course there was no way he was going to do that, especially over hiatus. And Braga wouldn't care, and Jeri Taylor was gone.

He could only think of one person around who might listen.

He'd seen Kate briefly, earlier - she'd decided to stay in even though she hadn't been at the convention today, Rick was off with some old acquaintances since she was working. They both had early morning obligations onstage, so knowing her, she was getting a massage - well, it was kind of late for that now, she'd probably done that earlier. Gone to a spa. Now she was probably holed up reading. In which case it was safe to interrupt her - Kate loved reading, but she loved discussing matters she considered to be of intellect even more, and this one might count. It was work, but she'd be able to expound on love and fidelity, two of her favorite subjects to go on about even though "Do as I say, not as I do" seemed to be her motto.

It's not really late, he rationalized, knocking tentatively on her door before someone came down the hall and saw him standing outside with his palms sweating. He got a sharp, surprising twinge when she answered in her robe. She actually looked glad to see him - probably happy it wasn't some con official with questions. And of course she was comfortable with him, he'd seen her in those awful blue set robes enough times - but this was different, alone in a hotel room with her in actual lingerie that she'd probably worn before having sex, or while having sex. "Want a drink?" she asked suggestively, waving a bottle of wine in his direction. So that was why she was so easy-going. He almost said yes, then realized that if he loosened up, he might do or say something he would really regret.

He was having second thoughts about talking to her now, given the impure thoughts passing through his head every time she shifted and the robe moved. Didn't appear to be bothering her, though, she was relaxed and enjoying her wine, hadn't thought twice about inviting him in - she might just have been afraid of a fan spotting them in the hall and asking for autographs. Well, he'd come here about work, there was nothing improper about it. So should he feel guilty about the visions dancing behind his eyes? He tried to conjure a mental image of one of the young, flashy women who'd approached him earlier. Sweet women with lovely accents and older, sophisticated European women, very different from the delayed adolescents who filled the room at the American cons, he could have played the stud for a week. If he wanted a fantasy, the hotel was full of them, way more accessible than his already-taken co-star who was after all middle-aged and a mother and who looked down at him, even if she also looked hot as hell in that robe and her eyes were twinkling at him...

He felt hesitant, and knew he was blushing. Shy appealed to her, she always seemed charmed by men when they were blushing and stammering a little in her presence. Of course, she seemed more charmed when they were making eloquent speeches. Fuck, she'd probably rather have Chakotay here than him...Chakotay from three seasons ago.

"I think the fans hate me," he said.

"They do not. Did you have a bad day onstage?"

"Awful. They ate me alive. Mostly about you." Her room was bigger than his, he noticed, wondering whether she had that written into her contract. Big basket of fruit - that might have been from an admirer, not from the hotel, and there were a couple of vases of flowers. One of those was probably from Rick, he was always sending her flowers. "You were right about the Janeway/Chakotay thing. That episode hasn't even been on the air yet and they're already mad at me."

"Well, I hate to have to say I told you so."

"I was listening to the wrong people."

Her eyes gleamed, though there was some bitterness as well. She'd warned him after 'Unity' that they could never, ever pull a stunt like that again or the fans would turn on them both - one fling with an alien of the week under mind control could be forgiven, but two would make him look weak, vacillating, and uncommitted. He'd argued at the time that Chakotay looked whipped waiting around for Janeway and that he SHOULD have more relationships, which Braga and Berman privately agreed with. So when this latest script came up she hadn't bothered to fight. He'd been annoyed at her for that: if she'd fought, he might have pointed out that it was wishy-washy and out of character, but her acceptance made him just go with the flow and accept the fucking jokes about finally getting what he wanted. Now any chance for what they could have had was probably over. And even though that meant his character was free for whatever alien girls Braga threw at him to fuck next season - there were sure to be a few, with Jeri Taylor gone - it also meant that the most interesting interaction he'd had all series, maybe in any series, was over.

Probably Kate was wondering why it took him so fucking long to figure it out. She chuckled aloud at his insulted expression. "Robert, when was the first time we discussed this subject? Sometime late in the first season when I got the 'Elogium' script and complained to Rick Berman about the flirting? I have been asking you for three years to take a stand on Chakotay not being used as a sex object, but you kept saying you wanted alien babe episodes. Do you really expect me to feel sorry for you now that you're getting what you asked for?"

"OK, OK! I said I was wrong. Fuck." She was jiggling her leg again, apparently unaware at how far open her robe had fallen and how much of her thigh was exposed. Kate was always twitchy, but seeing her wiggling around wearing almost nothing made her usual nervous energy seem more like sexual tension. He got up to pace around, wishing he'd taken her up on her offer of wine but thinking that it would be awkward to ask at this point. She shifted to sit on her foot as her eyes followed him over to the window, where he stood looking out at the lights of Bonn.

"We both agreed that dramatically, it was a bad idea to have Janeway and Chakotay in any kind of exclusive relationship," he reminded her.

"That was before we realized that they didn't think Janeway could handle a relationship at all," Kate pointed out. "Before 'Resolutions,' which as I recall you actually did fight for."

"When I was fighting for it, we were in love." He immediately regretted the use of the first-person pronoun, but she didn't even blink.

"We had sex, you mean." Her eyes narrowed.

"No, I mean we fell in love. Even after the sex got cut out, the first draft made it real fucking obvious that what had gone on between us was a lot more than just holding hands. Then you kept insisting that people were taking it all wrong - remember you found the Angry Warrior speech so fucking moving because he was expressing his fucking loyalty, there was nothing sordid going on..."

"I never said sordid."

"You said Janeway would never have sex with him. You went on and on about how she was too fucking good for him." Robert realized he was saying 'fuck' a lot. Then he realized that if he stopped, that would sound stranger to her than if he used it every other word. He shifted uncomfortably. "When you realized they weren't going to do some big super-alien love tragedy for you, and all your fans from your fan club at that one con got on your case, then you decided maybe having me in love with you wouldn't be so bad as long as you never put out or anything. Only afterwards. Do you know how that makes me..."

He stopped, knowing that he couldn't say 'pussywhipped' to her. Kate got up from her chair to walk over to him, leaning her ass against the radiator beneath the window so she could look up at him. The robe flew open around her legs and she tugged it shut, seemingly unconscious of the effect that brief flash of skin had on him. "You're about to start going on about your image as a man," she intoned.

"I realize that counts for very little with you, but it does affect my employability." He groaned inwardly at how stupid that sounded; he wasn't even sure 'employability' was a word. Then again, that never stopped Kate. No reason he should have to be intimidated by her, her career was going to end up in the same dire straits as his by the time this fucking show got through with them - he looked at her just as she lifted an arm to push her hair back from her forehead. The stretch made the robe gape open just enough from the angle he was at to get an almost-full view of her right breast.

God she looked good with her hair pulled back, he wished the producers would remember that and get her a new hairdresser. He could feel his mouth hanging open and shut it fast. She cocked her head at him, tucking the hair behind one ear, and let her hand fall onto his arm as she lowered it. "This is all probably irrelevant because it's too late to reinvigorate the storyline. With Jeri and Lisa gone, I don't think there's much hope that Brannon will restore the characters' integrity, do you?"

Hunh? he wanted to say, having practically forgotten what they were discussing from the moment she touched him. He felt like Chakotay in "Resolutions," trying to steal a peek down Janeway's towel. Shit that had been a stupid scene, and he'd felt like an ass rehearsing it, with Kate gloating a little that she was considered worth staring at that way. Fuck, he was going to have to stop or she'd catch on to the fact that he was doing it again. The smartest thing to do would have been to leave, but he really didn't want to.

"Do you?" she repeated, leaning closer to stare into his face. He had two immediate, contradictory reactions: that he wanted to pull away to walk across the room until he could think clearly, and that he wanted to agree to whatever it was she was asking so she'd smile up at him when he reached out to touch her face...FUCK. His arm had moved involuntarily, pushing a stray hair which had come loose from behind her ear back against her scalp.

The look she gave him was a little odd. Not annoyed, just not sure what he was up to. Probably she thought he was flirting with her to get her to change the subject. He wished he could remember the question. "I think the show sucks," he blurted.

"I recommend that you don't repeat that onstage tomorrow or you'll probably get a response like today's."

It was so typical of her to say that, not criticizing him exactly but sounding like she was warning him for his own good, when of course in fact she had her own agenda. When they'd come out for the opening ceremonies, she'd made sure to take center stage and smile and wave herself for awhile, then walked over to him and took his hand to pull him with her - which of course got her twice as much applause and cheers. He'd kissed her hand, as he knew was expected of him, and she'd left her fingers intertwined with his until the brief ceremony was over. Then she'd walked off with barely a word to him, schmoozing with the organizers. Nobody else saw schmoozing, though; they saw graciousness.

"How come the crowd is always so respectful of you?" he demanded.

"Maybe because I don't depend on my dimples to charm them." Kate lifted a finger to his face and pressed it until he smiled for her, knowing the skin was puckering just as she expected. It surprised him when her own smile faded for a moment, replaced by something he couldn't quite read. Then it was gone and her smile was back, a little too bright. "Try the dour German look," she suggested, taking her hand back and moving away from him a little.

"Is that the secret to Rick's charm?" That came out considerably more bitter-sounding than he intended. She glanced up sharply. "Where did he go, anyway?"

"The annoying relatives he's trying to spare me." Her good humor sounded forced, and Robert wondered: his ex? his kids? his parents? "This was going to be my night to relax by myself." Well, that certainly sounded like a dismissal. He gave her a half-smile and started to turn for the door. "But I'm glad you came by," she continued. "It's funny that we have to come halfway around the world to spend an evening together."

His pulse sped up alarmingly. There were wisecracks he could make about her bathrobe, the room, the BED...fuck, that wasn't what she meant. "We could do it sometime back home if you want," he said too quickly, regretting the words 'do it' almost immediately. Her expression had changed again: she knew what he was thinking, he knew it. Looked like she was having trouble deciding whether to be flattered or uncomfortable.

"My place, or yours?" she said finally.

"Mine's all right if it's the day after my housekeeper came. Wear that," he added, because it was probably what she expected of him.

"You like it?"

Oh, yeah. He liked the way the fabric slid acrose her skin, alternately hiding and revealing as it clung and fell away. Sometimes it was hard to know whether to follow her hands as she expounded on some subject or other - occasionally she used them to draw pictures in the air, but more often she just waved them around for emphasis. Tonight, though, he wasn't paying attention to her arms. He was watching the gap in her robe, and the pull across her thighs. "Yup," he said a bit belligerently, a challenge. She put her hands on her hips, letting her head fall to the side where her hair shook loose again.

"Don't you know that I'm an old woman with kids?"

"Yeah." You want her anyway, a voice in his head accused, and he answered it: uh-huh. This was getting dangerous. He felt the beginnings of pressure in his pelvis, not the little twitches and charges he got just from being close to her but the serious, hot kind, the sort which wasn't going to go away just from thinking about idiot producers and pissy fans. His lips parted again and he slammed them shut. "I wish I'd met you two weeks before the show," he lamented.

"Why?"

"You wouldn't have met Rick first." She gave him a monstrously condescending look which almost wilted him, until he realized that it was just over-the-top enough to be a performance: she was covering her real reaction to his statement. Through the fabric of the robe, he could see her thighs shift.

"Robert, I don't know how to tell you this kindly, but I suspect that you and I would not have engaged in an intimate relationship after two weeks..."

He stepped toward her, putting his hands on her arms. His fingers slid over the soft material. He loved the texture, and the goosebumps he could feel breaking out on her arms. "Of course not, but you might have given me a fucking chance, you know? I liked you so much when I met you. I was ambivalent about doing the show but I looked forward to seeing you. Not just working with you, talking to you. But you stopped talking to me and were always talking to Rick."

"That's not true."

"It is true. You'd lock yourself in your fucking trailer between takes."

"I was working! Do you have any idea how much pressure I was under?" She leaned back against his hands, glaring at him. "The network made it clear to me that they were counting on me to make the show float, and that they'd blame me if it didn't. Michael Piller could never stand me, that much was obvious, and Jeri considered me a compromise. Also not good enough for you. Rick tried to shield me from that, I think."

"Is that why you fell in love with him? Or is that European sophisticated thing just your type?"

"I don't think I have a type."

"Do you find a lot of men attractive?"

"Not nearly as many as you find women attractive."

"I don't. I mean, I like women." The little line of gray satin piping on her robe had distracted him. Was the nightgown she was wearing underneath the same pale gray, or was there no nightgown at all? She was so soft under his hands, though he thought of her as tough, a little bony in some places with some tough fleshy spots around her middle, not a knockout in the conventional sense but still one of the sexiest women he'd ever met, smart and funny and very direct, and almost unconsciously seductive. What had he been saying? "There aren't very many women I find really attractive, where I can't stop thinking about them when they're not around."

"When I think about men, it's who they are, not what they look like. Conversations about art, and books, and the lives of great thinkers, their intellect, their ego, their spirituality...it's not about what he looks like in a tuxedo. Or his skivvies. What do you look for?"

Strong women, he thought. Strong, sexy women who know what they want, and want me. "Intelligent, talented, sensitive people who like to hang out," he said sheepishly.

"Yes, but then what sets apart the ones you want to date from the rest? What turns the buzz on, hmm? I think it's terribly exciting when you first get that kind of queasy feeling of attraction..."

Like on the show, he thought. They'd sustained that for months and months, and then started to turn it into something real, not just rushed television chemistry but something that could have lasted. Something epic. How often did anyone find that, even in a fictional character? "The producers are idiots, Kate, you know that? You made the fucking show those first weeks." he burst out. "I don't know why they're writing Janeway as a crusty old maid right now but it's stupid. They've got Jeri to be the babe, they should be showing you off and reminding everyone how much passion you have."

She blinked - whatever she had been expecting him to say, it was not that. Her face softened, giving him the "Awwwww" look he remembered from that awful scene in the Q episode where he'd had to snivel over her while she remained above it all..fuck, this was getting too serious. The she put a hand on his chest and everything else flew out of his head. His hands had moved up to hold her shoulders, they were looking into each other's eyes. Could he kiss her, just as an experiment? He could always say goodnight afterwards like he'd meant it to be a parting signal. Her eyes flickered back and forth from his face to his chest, and he could feel her jittering her ankle, not the one which was supporting her weight but the one attached to the leg which was brushing his thigh. When had that happened? The silence was dragging, he was still staring straight at her, she had to know what he was thinking about. Shifting, he moved one hand from her shoulder to her chin, holding her face up to his. Searching her eyes. For several long beats. Her lips parted and closed again. Good, at least she knew what was coming.

He'd kissed her before, anyway, and it wasn't like he was going to really kiss her, just a smooch like they'd done a dozen times at shows and stuff. Sometimes when they were joking around on the set, she let him plant a good long one on her, which he suspected that wasn't all that accidental. He let his fingers wrap around her chin and cup her jaw before he actually lowered his face to hers, just to make absolutely sure she wanted it. Or at least that it was OK with her if he wanted it.

And then...he kissed her.

It was awesome, not in the colloquial sense, one of those kisses for the ages. He'd thought the desire had faded with familiarity with her moodiness on the set lately, but it all came back in a rush at once when her mouth pursed toward him and flattened her lips against his. He was a little bit disgusted with himself for reacting like such an adolescent, but only a little bit, because he couldn't spare attention for anything but her. She tasted like wine and lipstick, she was insisting on sharing control of the kiss, he could have stood there all night in this position if he didn't think he'd explode. Her hand was holding his head, neck straining up towards him, when she finally put a centimeter of space between them he wanted to cry out in protest.

"This is not a good idea," she said, half to herself.

"We're not doing anything wrong." His wandering hands belied his words, cupping her breast gently over the silky material of the robe.

"Just kissing, right - " she gasped as his thumb brushed across her nipple. "Robert." She said it in a "stop" tone of voice, but she didn't say stop. He held still, not moving but not releasing her. When she didn't attempt to disengage, he began to circle the now-erect tip very softly, kissing just as softly right under her earlobe. "That's not just kissing."

"You're incredible," he whispered, only half in flattery. She was. Her chest heaved as she inhaled sharply, the movement pushing the curve of her small breast against his palm. "Just let me hold you for a minute."

"A minute ago it was just kissing," she reminded him breathlessly. Her own hands were wandering, sliding over his pecs and up his neck. His cock surged against the material of his jeans and flipped itself upright; he wondered whether she felt it. Now he felt really vulnerable, afraid she would step back and act offended, but her hands had come together behind his head, pulling him down again. The next kiss was a lot less gentle. He'd never used his tongue with her before. When they drew away, she panted, "This isn't going to be just kissing for long."

"Sure it will, as long as no one takes their clothes off." What were the options? He was willing to bet that Kate, unlike the President of the United States, would not rationalize that oral sex wasn't adultery. Of course, she and Rick weren't married. She was older than most of the women he'd fucked, and had had more kids, and, rumor had it, a hysterectomy. Would it feel different? The fact that he knew she couldn't possibly get pregnant was a real turn-on. Would she believe him if he told her he was clean and let him not use a condom? Well, it didn't really matter because of course she wasn't going to let him do THAT. But he could dream.

"Getting frustrated?" she asked wryly.

"Are you?"

"Uh-huh." The fact that she would admit that to him made him bold. He slid his thigh between hers, parting the robe which fell open almost to her waist. The top puckered, giving him a clear view down. Yes, there was a nightgown under there, a tiny scrap of material. She had panties on...and they were fucking damp. He groaned and bucked a little at that discovery. She squirmed as his breath tickled her ear, pressing more firmly into him, and when she discovered his cock prodding into her belly, she slid a hand down to grasp it. "When did that happen?"

"About three years ago...nggggh!" Dry humping wasn't a sin, was it? Assuming of course that it stayed dry. He decided not to mention how close he was to creaming his jeans. Would she consider it cheating if she came with someone else as long as he didn't see her naked - he stopped himself before he could conjure a mental image and smell and feel and taste. What he really wanted to do was drop to his knees, press his face into her panties and take a deep breath, but he was sure she'd consider that gross and vulgar.

Kate spoke, amused. "And how many other women have there been in that time?"

"You want to know how many fucking times you popped into my head when I was with someone else?"

"No." Her mouth found his again; he had the distinct impression that she was trying to shut him up, before he said too much or got her to say something she'd regret later. Well, that was fine with him. The kisses were getting stickier, and her robe had pretty much fallen open. They were much too far away from the bed to just fall on it as if it were an accident, but they would be a lot more comfortable in a better position, with a wall behind one of them at least. Could he risk moving her or would she take that as an excuse to end this? Her hand was still on his cock and didn't seem to be going anywhere. Maybe it was a power thing, she was trying to get him off in his clothes so she could sneer at him and dismiss him. He shifted her thighs further apart, feeling a new rush of wetness against her panties. "That's enough," she said into his mouth.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." He didn't move, of course. Especially since she wasn't. Hadn't even moved her hand off of him, even though he was twitching and thrusting against the pressure of her fingers. She liked that, he could tell - putty in her hands. But then, he'd been with women who were having a great time messing around with him and then got all huffy when he came, like they didn't know that was going to be an inevitable outcome - it was really bad when you warned and warned someone and she didn't stop but then after you went off, she got nasty about it. Like they wanted to torture you but got mad when you went and enjoyed it. He didn't think Kate was the type to play those fucking games but you could never be sure.

"This is why we can never be friends, isn't it."

"What are you talking about? I thought we were friends. Are friends," she corrected.

"No. We work together, we're acquaintances. This--" he gestured vaguely at the air between them, not wanting to take his hands off her "--is why we can't ever have dinner together alone."

She looked at him for a long time. "I didn't think you really wanted that."

"Didn't think I really wanted what?"

"To...be friends like that. To sit around talking about books and religion, to help me cook for my kids, all the things which are part of my life. You've never shown any real interest in me."

"Sure I have..."

"No, you haven't." Her hand slid up slightly, off his cock and onto his belly, not rejecting him precisely but putting it aside for the moment as if it were a distraction. "You don't like to listen to me go on about my kids, or my ex, or my mother, or any of the rest of the things that really matter to me. And you don't talk to me either, except sometimes when it's about theater or something like that."

That hurt. "I've told you just about everything that matters to me. I told you what my father did to my family, I told you where I think my career is going after this fucking show gets finished. You were one of the first people I told about Hamlet..."

"I was not. I heard about it from my stand-in," she snapped.

"You don't remember. You weren't paying attention. You didn't think I'd really do it," he accused. Her eyes dropped as her expression wavered between challenge and uncertainty. When she finally looked up, her jaw was set as if she'd resolved something.

"You're right. This is why we can never really be friends. You don't care how much I have going on, with my kids and my family and all the rest..."

"Kate the Superwoman. I've heard the routine." He hadn't known how close he was to blowing up until the words were out, and then he couldn't stop them. "It's not that I don't care, it's that you have to be the hardest-working, the most dedicated, the most important, and when anything threatens that like a new hot woman who gets the ratings just by showing up, you just can't stand it, can you? And if the rest of us like her at all, and forgive her for being what the network wanted, you can't stand any of us either. It's personal, right? You have to make sure I still want you, for your ego, but you don't really give a shit about me at all other than that. I'm the one who doesn't care enough, right, and spends too much time paying attention to other women..."

"Stop it." Kate jerked away from him, yanking her shoulder out of his hand, so his attempt to keep a grip on her only managed to pull her robe halfway off. She didn't appear to care about that, though, it was her face she didn't want him looking at. "Goodnight, Robert." Her voice was an actors' study in false calm. "I'll see you onstage tomorrow."

"That's it?"

"I guess so."

Improv options now? Turn around and walk out. Try to get her to talk to him. Walk over there and kiss her again, in which case she might struggle. He didn't want that. From the angle of her head, he could tell she was fighting for control, waiting to see whether he would actually leave so she would know how long she had to keep it up. What would she do if he walked out? Start swearing? Cry? Throw something? Pour another glass of wine?

He was disgusted with himself again, and with her, and with the situation. No, they couldn't be friends, and it was a real waste, because he really liked her. Only she thought it was just sex. Well, maybe it was mostly sex. And since they couldn't do anything about that, so much for anything else. But they had had a real connection - still had a real connection - whatever it was based on, he didn't want to let it out of his life. Didn't see why he should have to, and especially didn't see why she thought she had to.

"I'm sorry," he said, not sure whether he was apologizing for his words or to express his own feelings about her behavior. She crossed her arms before turning around to look at him. The robe billowed, showing off her legs, her waist looking thicker with her arms pressing down her chest but her ankles turning graceful as a dancer's. His hard-on hadn't gone away, not even when she let go of him. He let her watch him staring as she froze, then took a step toward him, then another. He caught her shoulders and propelled her forward as soon as she was close enough.

She'd seen that coming too, she walked right into it, he rationalized when he'd crushed her against him and kissed her thoroughly. Her mouth opened right away and her hand returned to where it had been, as if she had to make sure he was still hot for her, as if she could possibly have any doubts. This time he did haul her over to the bed and sit them both down on the side, pushing her robe open and letting it fall down, sliding over the edge to the floor. Kate pushed him backwards on the mattress, rubbing his cock in a very deliberate rhythm while she straddled his thigh. His heart was already in his throat, hips rocking toward her, another deep kiss and he knew he was too damn close to the edge himself. But he didn't want to tell her to stop. She might take it the wrong way, as if he were afraid of what might happen between them, as if he wanted to pretend the way she did that there wasn't really all that much going on, as if he were afraid that she'd humiliate him, as if he didn't like her being aggressive like this, as if he didn't want it...

He didn't tell her to stop. He didn't even try to stop. Arching on her bed, rubbing hard against the pressure of her hand, he let it happen until he couldn't stop it anymore.

"Kate," he said, in a strangled voice, because he had to say something before he burst and started jerking and groaning, but she already knew he was about to because she'd stopped rubbing so fast and was holding him tight, sucking on his neck. He wanted to untuck his shirt so it wouldn't get wet, then he could pull it out and walk back to his room with it covering the stain, but that would have required letting go of her, so he made a conscious decision not to worry about what would happen afterwards. For a few seconds he couldn't think about anything but his cock and her hand on it and her wet panties against his thigh, then he couldn't think at all.

Afterwards he found himself with his face smashed against her cheek, getting her hair wet with his openmouthed breathing. His heart was still beating too fast for him to be embarrassed or for the wetness in his underwear to have become an annoyance, right now it was just warm as it dribbled down his pants. Peeking out around her hair, he could see her nightgown bunching up - her legs in their entirety folded around his thigh and a flash of skin over her panties. She was very self-conscious about her stomach, she always talked about how it had never gotten flat after her kids were born and she'd gained weight when she stopped smoking, but she looked pretty good to him. Not hard as a rock like some of the younger actresses he'd dated, who were all bone and muscle, nice to look at but not nearly as exciting to touch. Her breasts were real even if they weren't perfect, she could feel whatever he did to them. He wondered what she'd do if he ran his hands under the nightgown - get up and leave, probably, even though he could tell she was hurting for it.

What were the odds that she could come just from rubbing against his thigh? Not too good with her panties on, probably, she'd just get frustrated. He wanted to her come, preferably in a position where he could see her face as she lost control - he bet Kate was neither quiet nor restrained, the type who shrieked and made indecipherable faces. Probably she would feel better about the whole thing if he never touched her directly - that would make it less deliberate. But she'd stuck her hand right on his cock as if she owned the thing. He decided it was worth a try, even if she wouldn't let him have a taste, or let him do what he really wanted to do and get inside just for a second.

He rolled them both over, making sure to keep his weight off her, listening to her sigh faintly when his leg lost contact between hers. When he started to push the nightgown up so he could see her body, she pushed it back down firmly. But she didn't object as he slid his hand over her panties, tickling the pubic hairs which snuck out of the elastic. That made him bold, so he slid his fingers right over the wet spot across the bottom, using his knee to keep her legs wedged apart. He didn't need it; she bent her knee to move her thigh higher on him, spreading her out. She had her eyes tightly closed in an expression of fierce concentration, her lip curling. He didn't want to do anything to break her concentration until he was sure she was close, her panties were soaking wet and she'd been moaning in rhythm for a couple of minutes. Lots of little noises to tell him what she liked, but he wanted to see her eyes - he was greedy. What was going on behind those lids? Was she with him or somewhere else, watching them from across the room or with someone else entirely, had she put herself onstage with him or in a cheap hotel room someplace untainted by their real lives? "Kate," he said insistently. Her lids didn't even flicker.

"What."

"Would you look at me?"

She opened her eyes. The pupils were huge, though they dilated slightly as the light in the room hit them - not focused, or at least not entirely, though she was trying for a moment before she gave up. He realized from her blush that she'd been pretending he couldn't see her if she couldn't see him. Now she knew he was watching.

He slid one hand over the silkiness of the nightgown to cup a breast, not teasing the nipple which he knew some women hated, it was a distraction when they were concentrating on the other parts, just holding her, never looking away from her face. She was rocking in counterpoint to his rubbing, quaking with little contractions, just seconds away.

"For real," he demanded.

"What does th...OH!" Kate never finished the question. She closed her eyes again as the word turned into a scream, with a desperate edge as if she were afraid he wasn't going to let her finish until they finished the conversation, and she grabbed the hand that was rubbing her and held it down against her. For some reason that surprised him more than the fact that she'd let him touch her at all. It turned him on incredibly, too, it was sort of like getting to see her get herself off, but it was his hand. He heard himself moaning with her and felt like a jerk, but couldn't stop.

When she got quiet he lay down beside her, taking his hands off her breast and underwear but not letting go of her completely. He wanted to lift his fingers to his nose and smell them, now while they were soaked before they started to dry and the scent changed, but he couldn't think of a discreet way to do it and he didn't want her to think he was crude. Her body felt very relaxed, limbs sliding heavily towards the bed. After less than a minute her breathing started to deepen. He realized with some bemusement that she was planning to roll over and go to sleep.

"Well, we did it," she murmured presently.

"Sort of."

"Sort of. Enough that I'd have to confess it if I went to confession. I suppose to you it doesn't count at all."

"It counts. I don't know how I'm going to get out of here with this wet spot on my jeans."

Kate was quiet for a long minute, then said, "Take them off and let them dry so no one sees you."

"That's going to take awhile."

"That's OK, because I intend to be asleep in about five minutes." Her voice was slurring. "You have to be out of here before one in the morning, 'kay?"

"You don't want to talk?"

One arm curled under her head as her eyes flickered at him. "Is there anything specific we need to discuss? Or can we just relax together and act like nothing's different?"

"We can just relax together." Everything was different, but this was probably not the time to talk about it. Especially not if it was going to get him thrown out of her room. He couldn't decide whether it was nice that she trusted him enough to let him stay, or whether she was classifying him as so inconsequential that she wasn't even worrying about him.

The room had two double beds instead of a queen. He wondered whether she would think he was too close if he crawled next to her, but by the time he got to the bathroom and sniffed his hands and took his pants off and washed and tied a towel around his waist and had a glass of water and came back out, she was asleep. Or pretending really well. So he lay down beside her and pressed the back of his hand against her forearm, which was curled up in front of her face.

Without an alarm, he didn't wake up until closer to three thirty. The jeans were still damp but the spot wasn't nearly as noticeable, and he stuffed the underwear into her trash - no point in trying to pack it to take home, he had plenty more. Maybe she'd keep it as a souvenir, he thought wryly, though she would more likely kill him for leaving it where someone could find it - at that thought, he wrapped it in one of the bags for sanitary napkins the hotel had left discreetly at the side of the sink. He kissed Kate goodbye on the cheek before departing, but she didn't wake up.

He didn't pass anyone in the hall, the entire floor was suites and apparently even the most rabid fans had given up on the idea that he'd be wandering around at this hour. Back in his room, he stripped and fell onto the bed, pulling the spread over him without even bothering to get under the blanket.

The call woke him early - he was due onstage at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning, with her following at ten thirty. That had probably been her request - she was leaving the con right afterwards, probably to go traveling with Rick. He was headed from here to France by way of Switzerland, where he'd attended a small, relaxed con the year before, but she was planning to hit the cultural centers - maybe they'd be in France at the same time, he should ask her. Though if she was going to be with Rick, what was the point? He basically liked Rick, but the guy was as full of himself as Kate was and not as interesting. Good television director, but hardly a visionary.

He didn't really want to shower, that would wipe the last remnants of the evening off his body, but he knew he had to - god knows how many hands he'd have to shake before the day was over. He studied himself in the mirror for a long time, trying to decide exactly what it was she was attracted to. The broken nose? The dimples? The fact that she'd been warned against swarthy men like him, he was sure - Jews and Arabs and anything with a Hispanic last name, probably, in her little Irish enclave in the Midwest. He wondered what Kate's nice Catholic mother thought about an uncut European guy sticking it to her daughter, or if it wouldn't even occur to her to think about things like that. Rick wasn't Kate's first foreign guy anyway. He'd heard a little about her school stint in London. How come sleeping around in her youth made her sophisticated, while his failure to marry made him promiscuous? He sighed, decided he was looking for reasons to get mad at her, and pushed the thoughts aside to try to psych himself up for the con.

He was not in the mood for having fun today - all the Janeway/Chakotay questions just make him want to say, "She doesn't want him! Isn't that obvious?" instead of making suggestive remarks and kissing cardboard Kates. And the couple of Dutch women who suggested he should find someone else irritated him - he wasn't in the mood to think about settling for someone less. After he got offstage he watched her for a little while, wavering between admiration for how professionally she handled the audience and frustration at the performance. Was everything a show with her? He half-suspected that even all her intellectual pursuits were as much constructed as genuine, things she thought she was supposed to be interested in, so she made sure she was. What had the night before been about anyway - keeping him in her back pocket? A wise career move...Rick might even approve.

He wandered away from the spectacle of her, grinning halfheartedly at the foreign women who smiled at him and brought him t-shirts and other presents. In a few hours, they'd all leave for points unknown. He and Tim had tentative plans and then he'd be on his own. Better find a date for tomorrow; he didn't want to be sitting halfway across the world from home, mooning about a woman he wasn't ever going to get to touch again.