A Helping Hand

Rated PG13

Summary: Several months ago, I complained to audabee that my muse was being particularly difficult and elusive. She promptly sent me this challenge. Write a story incorporating these words: sponge cake, puppy, open fireplace, warm socks and mumbling.

I did as she asked and this bit of post-Endgame silliness has been sitting on my HD ever since.

Big thanks to KimJ for the beta. Ta mate.

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

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The front door was ajar and lifting his hand to knock, Chakotay hesitated at the sound of frantic mumbling coming from somewhere inside the house. Pushing open the door, he stepped over the threshold to listen more closely. The voice was definitely Kathryn’s but he couldn’t make out what she was saying.

It was abundantly clear, however, that she was angry.

Taking several tentative steps forward, he edged his way further down the hallway. He could hear her clearly now and decided that ‘angry’ was perhaps too tame an interpretation – livid or homicidal was perhaps a little closer to the mark.

Kathryn Janeway was cursing – and rather spectacularly so. She was letting fly with an assortment of swear words that Chakotay hadn’t heard since his days in the Maquis. It was an impressive display – she’d have made a sailor proud – but after the delivery of a particularly earthy Andorian expletive, Chakotay cringed and stepped back.

He’d never heard Kathryn swear before, in fact, he’d never heard anyone swear quite like this before. She was uttering curses that even he didn’t know and, as tempting as it was to skulk away to avoid the torrent of profanity and her correspondingly vile mood, she was expecting him for lunch. He just hoped that he wasn’t the cause of her ‘disquiet’.

He knocked on the door – carefully. “Kathryn?”

There was no answer so he followed the trail of ear-bleeding adjectives to find her in the living room on her knees in front of the open fireplace rummaging around on the carpet. Tapping gently on the wall outside the room, he had to stop himself from laughing as her eloquent recitation of the known-universe’s curses came to an abrupt end and she turned towards him, grimacing and red-faced.

Smiling cheerily, he waved and muttered a breezy. “Am I too early?”

She snorted. “You’re here… damn it!”

He half turned, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. “I… ummm, can go again if this is a bad time.”

She pointed at him. “Don’t you move a muscle. This is all your fault.”

He’d had a feeling that it might be but he wasn’t sure how or why. “It is?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Kathryn turned away and started tossing things into the hearth as she grumbled. “He knew I wanted this to be special and the minute my back was turned he rearranged the damned fireplace and made this mess.”

“Can I help?”

Kathryn sat back on her haunches, gave him a peeved look and rolled her eyes. “I had help and he’s now locked in the laundry in disgrace.”

Chakotay wondered who the poor hapless helper was but upon hearing the distant whimpers, it dawned on him – her new puppy, Samson.

“What did he do? Surely, it can’t have been that terrible. He’s only this big.” Chakotay held his hands a few inches apart.

“He’s grown.” Kathryn made a move to stand up and Chakotay strode forward holding out his hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet.

Kathryn groaned. “Now my knees hurt.”

“Would you like me to rub…” Her glare stopped him midsentence and he held up his hand. “Forget I asked.”

Looking past her, he noticed the mess on the carpet in front of the fireplace; the area was covered in soot, ash and bits of charcoal and, as his eyes swept around the room, he could see grubby marks, chunks of burnt wood and soot from one end of the place to the other. Oh dear. No wonder Samson was in the doghouse. His face twisted into a smile.

“I don’t see what’s so funny. It’s going to take me forever to get the carpet clean and, to add insult to injury, he chewed my best pair of warm socks.”

“That’s bad luck but I bet he was pleased with himself.”

“Oh, he was. Just think of that goofy look on Neelix’s face after he’s handed you a bowl of something that looks like fetid swamp and smells worse.”

Chakotay couldn’t help laughing. It was so horribly true. Neelix had always been so proud of those bowls of malodorous swill.

Kathryn’s shoulders relaxed and her face softened into a lopsided smile. “You may well laugh but it wasn’t only the carpet that he ruined. Mom gave me one of her sponge cakes to have after our lunch. I left it on the coffee table while I hunted for the broom and, while I was gone, the little opportunist managed to lick most of the cream off the top.”

“Well, that is a tragedy of cosmic proportions. I love your mother’s sponge cakes.”

“See, even you didn’t emerge unscathed.” She leaned forward and whispered. “I swear he’s Q in disguise and any moment, phfttt! – he’s going to appear and laugh in my face.”

“Q doesn’t have that much patience; he would have shown himself by now.” The idea did give Chakotay pause, however, and he thought for a moment before shaking his head at the ridiculousness of the notion. “Besides, if your puppy was omnipotent, he wouldn’t be whimpering in the laundry.”

“True but I’m still not letting the pup near me when I’m naked. Having Q in my bath once is more than enough.”

That rather provocative comment made Chakotay blink, but before he could say anything, Kathryn had turned away – hands on hips and mouth set in a thin line, she was sighing as she surveyed the room.

The whimpers from the laundry were getting louder and now accompanied by scratching.

Kathryn gave Chakotay a sad smile. “He sounds miserable doesn’t he?”

Chakotay nodded and gestured towards the door. “How about you go and get him, and I’ll finish up in here. I owe you a carpet clean.”

Kathryn looked at him, confused for a moment but then the penny dropped. She smiled. “That’s right and you never did get around to recalibrating that hull plating either. This seems fitting recompense.” She turned to go but swung around again. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He watched her go, tilting his head to the side as he noticed the very un-captain-like swing of her hips as she walked out the door. It had been a long time since he’d seen that walk and it made him wonder…

He stood for a moment deep in thought until there was a happy yap from the other room and he jolted into action. After picking up the pieces of burnt wood and charcoal, he then grabbed the broom and swept as much of the soot and ash as he could into a neat pile near the fireplace.

A few minutes later, he heard the scuttle of claws on the wooden floor and watched Samson, at a run, go sailing past the doorway. The puppy came to a skidding halt further up the hallway; then with a frenzied scrabble, made his way back to the living room. After bounding through the doors and through the pile of ash and soot Chakotay had just gathered, Samson landed – front paws first – on the commander’s buff-coloured pants.

Patting Samson’s head, Chakotay groaned. “Down boy.” The clean-up was a pointless endeavour; he already had several paw prints and black smudges on the front of the trousers.

Kathryn rounded the doorway. “What did I tell you? He’s Q.”

“No, he’s not, but he’s got a good helping of moose in him. When the hell did he get so big?”

“I haven’t seen you for a month.”

“Has it been that long?”

Kathryn nodded, and then headed back the way she’d come. Chakotay wasn’t sure what to make of the look she’d given him just before she’d turned away. It had been an expression somewhere between hurt and resignation.

He stood for a moment to look at the empty space where she’d been, his mind whirling a mile a minute. Surely not after all this time? Could it be?

His heart leapt and he looked down at the puppy with a grin. “Come on, Moosedog. There’s something I have to discuss with your boss.”

Chakotay followed Kathryn and found her in the laundry-cum-canine brig. He moved behind her, speaking quietly as he laid his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around. I’ve had some things to sort out.”

Kathryn shrugged nonchalantly but moved so his hand slid from her shoulder. Chakotay could still see the tension in the way she was holding herself and her voice was brusquer than usual.

“It’s fine. I’ve been busy with family as well. It’s been a hectic time getting my life back in order after seven years away.” She gave him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, before turning away again. “Speaking of Seven, how is she?”

He hadn’t been aware that they were discussing Seven but he wasn’t about to quibble. He’d intended to broach the subject anyway. “She’s fine. Happily ensconced with her Aunt and cousins.”

Kathryn frowned. “I thought she was still here in San Francisco.”

“No, not for a couple of weeks. She’s finding her feet and about to start as chief nanotech analyst on Jupiter Station.”

“I’m pleased for her.”

“She’d love to hear from you. She’s missed you.”

“I’ve missed her too, but I didn’t want to intrude.”

“Kathryn, there wasn’t anything for you to intrude into.” He looked sideways. “If you know what I mean.”

“But there was something. I had it on good authority.”

“Really? Whose?”

“Mine. And from what I’ve heard, I shoot from the hip.”

Chakotay couldn’t help smiling at that description. “It’s been said.”

“Well?”

“No matter what the Admiral told you, Seven and I were a mistake. A pleasant one, I might add, but a mistake all the same. We both realised and ended our very brief liaison.”

“I wish you’d told me about it at the time.” She was leaning back against the sink now, her arms folded across her chest.

“I would have, but it all happened so quickly. We’d had a couple of dates, then the Admiral arrived and it was frantic dash to get Voyager ready for the mission. Before we knew it, we were home and it ended. The whole affair…”

He saw her head snap up at that word ‘affair’ and amended it to “…dalliance was over almost before it began.”

She greeted his revelations with a slow nod but a frown creased her brow. “I don’t know what to say.”

Chakotay gave her a puzzled look. “What do you mean?” He inched closer so he could see her face.

Kathryn looked down for a moment, then lifted her head and looked him straight in the eye. “Gretchen Janeway’s well-mannered daughter finds herself compelled to say that she’s sorry that it didn’t work out and hopes that you and Seven are all right but her ruthless and jealous alter ego is very glad that it’s over and relieved that she doesn’t have to imagine you and Seven together.”

Chakotay couldn’t keep the glee out of his voice. “You’re jealous.”

“Don’t forget ruthless.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I think you’ve got plenty of ruth.”

“What?”

Chakotay chuckled. “I’m just glad you’re jealous.”

“That’s cruel.”

He shrugged. “Maybe, but I’m still glad.”

“Why?”

“Because it gives me hope.”

“For what?”

“For you…us.”

“I’d given up hope.”

“Well, you’d better get it back again.” He took a decisive step towards her.

At that moment, Samson came skidding down the hallway and leapt up onto Chakotay’s back. The momentum sent the man lurching forward – full body slam – right into Kathryn.

They both gasped. “Ooomph!”

Kathryn’s hands slapped onto Chakotay’s chest but she didn’t push him away.

Chakotay looked into her eyes, blinking several times as he marvelled at how blue they were and that he’d never noticed the small flecks of grey amongst the rich hue. “They’re amazing at this distance.”

“I beg your pardon.”


“Your eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at them this closely before.”

Kathryn nodded slowly. “Yours are unusual too. They’re very dark, almost black.”

After a moment, both their gazes came into focus and locked.

Chakotay took a deep breath. “Is it time, do you think?”

“For what?”

“To let go of all the pretence and false pride.”

“Whose?”

“Both of ours. We need to do something about this. We’ve been friends for too long.”

“We have but I don’t want that to change.”

“It doesn’t have to, but I think it’s time we were honest with one another.”

“Okay.”

Chakotay waited for her to elaborate but she was stubbornly silent.

He prodded. “You’re not going to make this easy are you?”

“Should it be?”

“I don’t know; I think so, but how about I go first?”

“Age before beauty, huh?”

“Or I could be gallant and let you go first.”

“You could.”

Chakotay waited and just when he was beginning to think that he’d made the mistake of a lifetime, Kathryn moved.

She eased out of his arms and standing tall, feet apart, hands on hips, she looked him right in the eye. “All right, I love you.” She waited a heartbeat then continued. “I hope that’s what you wanted to hear.”

“Well, actually, I was wondering when I was going to get some lunch but now that you mention… Ouch!

She’d punched him hard in the upper arm. “This is serious, you…”

Grinning, he pressed his fingers to her lips to silence her. “If I’m going to kiss you, I don’t want my lips seared by one of your curse words.”

“Who said anything about kissing?”

He shrugged. “No one, it was just an idea.”

She looked down at his stained pants. “You might want to take those off.”


Chakotay did a double take. “I beg your pardon! Kathryn we haven’t even kissed yet.”

“I’m being practical. We’re in the laundry and I thought you might want to put them in the cleanser before we go.”

“Is this your way of getting me out of my pants?”

“No. If I wanted to do that, I’d just order you to take them off. I’m still your commanding officer.”

“Not for much longer.”

“Long enough for it to count. Take them off, Commander.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.” He popped the top button on his trousers then looked up. “Oh, and by the way, I love you, too.”

Kathryn quirked her eyebrow and smiled. Without taking her eyes from his, she reached towards him.

“Here, let me help you with those.”

Fin.

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