Dog Days Are Over. Rated NC17

Rated NC17

Summary: A post- Endgame fixer-upper. A memento given to her by Chakotay is the catalyst for a rethink of Kathryn’s post-Voyager life.

 

Happy Birthday to the Pookster. Hope you had a good one, mate. Hugs.

Thanks to Kim J for the beta – what would I do without you, dear? 🙂 Mind you, I’ve fiddled with it since, so all mistakes are mine.

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

***********************

Kathryn trudged up the attic stairs and with a firm shove, shouldered open the creaky door.

Voyager had been back in the Alpha Quadrant for a month but until today, she’d lacked the fortitude to tackle her unpacking. Since arriving home, procrastination had become her newest ally and thus far, she’d successfully frittered away four weeks of her leave by doing and achieving absolutely nothing.

However, enough was enough. Kathryn stood back from three cargo containers – the ones that her mother had hinted were taking up precious space in her attic – and tried to decide where to start.

As she stared at the nondescript barrels, each one filled with possessions and mementos from her years in the Delta Quadrant, an old childhood rhyme sing-songed through her mind. Eenie, meenie minie moe. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eenie, meenie, minie, moe.

She made her choice and, with a resigned sigh, stepped forward to pry the lid off the middle container.

“Oh God.” Kathryn moaned, closing her eyes for a brief moment. The contents even smelled like Voyager; the slightly metallic tang of recycled air filled her nostrils and caused her heart to do a painful flip-flop as the wave of nostalgia hit her just below her sternum.

Annoyed with herself for succumbing to the emotionality of the moment, she huffed quietly, ignoring the pangs of sadness as she lifted the first few items from the top of her pile of neatly stacked possessions.

Who would have known that she’d end up missing it all so much? After spending the last seven years wishing she were home, now that she was here, all she wanted was to be back on Voyager and for things to be ‘normal’ again.

She rolled her eyes and grunted; there was just no pleasing some people.

Lifting a couple of throws and cushions from the container, she set them aside; they’d be useful if she ever got around to finding a place of her own. Half a dozen books and several knick-knacks were the next items released from their duraplas prison and then peering deeper into the container, she saw something that made the pangs of longing sharpen and her breath catch.

Reaching in, she lifted out a familiar but forgotten furry monstrosity. She took a moment to stare at it and then hugged it to her chest. The ridiculous stuffed animal and the memory of how it came into her possession made Kathryn’s eyes sting with tears.

While absentmindedly stroking her fingers through its matted fur, Kathryn’s thoughts whisked her back to that day all those months ago.

==

Kathryn let the door chime ring twice before she called for entry. She really didn’t want to see anyone, but as always, duty called and she inevitably answered.

“Come.”

The door slid open and a broad shaft of light spilled from the corridor into her darkened living area. Her first officer stood silhouetted against it, his elongated shadow stretching across the floor towards her. The melodrama of the moment almost made her groan but she refrained. Instead, she sighed quietly and nodded her head, inviting him inside.

She’d known that he would eventually turn up on her doorstep. He’d undoubtedly heard about the incident from earlier that evening in the Astrometrics Lab, thanks to the faster-than-light speed at which news travelled around Voyager. Nothing she was involved in ever seemed to escape his notice, and she loved him for his attentiveness, except on rare occasions – like today – when she would have preferred he be a little less conscientious.

Mortified by what had happened, Kathryn could feel a renewed flush of humiliation rise up her neck to her cheeks and standing by the viewport, she pretended to look at the passing stars in the hope that the ruddy tinge would fade before Chakotay saw it and she would be compelled to explain.

She probably shouldn’t feel this way, especially in front of Chakotay; if anyone were to understand her predicament, it was he. Nevertheless, she was embarrassed by what had occurred and with the wayward emotions still simmering just below the surface, she wasn’t sure she could objectively discuss the incident just yet.

Her emotional control was something in which she took great pride and she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she’d come close to letting her captain’s facade slip. Although pushed to the limit of her forbearance at times, she’d always managed to preserve an acceptable level of decorum and the well-practiced veneer of calm-but-caring Starfleet officer – even in the direst of situations.

This entire incident was ridiculous; especially when measured against the catalogue of horrifying events she’d had to endure over the years. By rights, it shouldn’t have made a dent in her steely exterior, but there was no armour against being broadsided by your own mother. It had come out of the blue and all of Kathryn’s usual mechanisms for remaining impassive in the face calamitous circumstances had failed her.

She’d been woefully ill prepared.

Kathryn had been in the Astrometrics Lab for her much-anticipated regular three-minute weekly comm. call to her mother. Voyager had been in two-way contact with the Alpha Quadrant for over a month now but talking in real time to her family was still a novelty. On this occasion, once the link was established, she’d barely had a chance to say hello before Gretchen informed her that there was a surprise.

Startled, and with no time to steel herself, Kathryn watched, wide-eyed, as her mother reached off screen and pulled Molly – her dog – into camera frame. As soon as the familiar furry face, big brown eyes and lolling tongue came into view, the erstwhile brave and stoic captain lost control.

Molly barked happily the instant she saw her long-lost owner and, licking and pawing at the screen, her tail wagging furiously, she’d woofed and whimpered as she tried to get closer.

That had been Kathryn’s undoing and, after slamming her hand over her mouth, she’d tried desperately to quell her errant emotions. But it was all for nought; she was lost.

Much to her dismay, in front of her mother, the Alpha Quadrant communication technicians and Seven of Nine, she burst into tears.

On the Astrometrics screen in front of her, the larger than life vision of her beloved dog had stripped Kathryn of all the rigid trappings of her captaincy, leaving her exposed and vulnerable. Her stoicism in tatters, she’d been reduced to a blubbering mess.

Gretchen had been wonderful, apologising kindly as she tried to console her daughter from thirty thousand light years away and Kathryn fought grimly to regain control. But the lid on her feelings had been wrenched free and faced with Molly’s unbridled joy, as well as her mother’s sympathetic words, Kathryn was having terrible trouble clamping that lid back down again.

To make matters worse, she could feel from behind her the disconcerted stare of Seven of Nine and was aware of how confusing this must be for the emotionally inhibited former drone.

Her reaction to Molly’s presence really shouldn’t have surprised her – a catharsis such as this had been a long time in the making. If she’d remained more in touch with her feelings over the years, she would have realised that the sudden and momentous event of communication with home would eventually result in this type of upheaval. But she’d been so blithely confident of her emotional resilience that she was ill-equipped to deal with this guerrilla attack on her defences. Watching her mother, Kathryn had a sneaking suspicion that Gretchen was more than aware of what Molly’s unexpected appearance would do to her and was probably secretly thrilled that she’d breached her daughter’s carefully constructed fortress.

Kathryn should have considered the possibility of this sort of manoeuvre from the very start.

Hindsight was a bitch, and her only wish was that she’d been better prepared.

As Gretchen muttered soothing words of consolation, Kathryn – in between hiccupping sobs – managed to reassure her mother that she was all right and even though she was upset, she wouldn’t have missed seeing Molly for the world. It took almost ninety of her precious one hundred and eighty seconds of comm. time to calm down long enough to talk to her mother and greet her dog, but in the end, she’d been able to relish the knowledge that Molly still remembered her and although she’d been getting on in years, her beloved pet was happy and healthy.

Seeing Molly had been an extraordinary gift, which ended all too soon. With a timely warning from Seven of Nine, the picture on the viewscreen began to waver and with the dog still yapping happily, Gretchen had sent her love and signed off until the next time.

Kathryn had stared blankly at the empty Astrometrics screen for a good ten seconds before she turned, thanked Seven and retreated to her quarters.

Once back in the relative safety of her room, she’d found herself in front of the viewport trying to conjure up a credible excuse for her uncharacteristic behaviour. She’d failed miserably. Nothing she could think of sounded even vaguely plausible and now that Chakotay was there, she was going to have to delve deep for an explanation.

He moved to stand beside her, just close enough that she could feel the reassuring warmth of his body, but he remained silent. Kathryn braced herself for his cajoling words of comfort and turned, wearing a forced smile as she readied herself to accept them in as good a grace as she could muster. But her eyes widened in astonishment as he grinned broadly and drew a large, furry toy animal from behind his back and handed it to her.

Kathryn lifted it to eye level and stared at it. Torn between laughter and tears, she gave into the former as she hugged the animal to her chest.

Chakotay chuckled along with her as he watched her reaction. “It worked for Naomi, so I thought it might do the trick for you, too.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Where on earth did you get it from?”

“I replicated it -with Harry’s unsolicited help. Since designing Naomi’s Flotter doll and B’Elanna’s targ, he’s become the self-appointed guru of soft toys and all things stuffed.”

“There’s an understatement.” Kathryn held up the very ugly, squat, overly hirsute replica of an Irish Red Setter, and chuckled. “It doesn’t look at all like Molly but its hopeless horribleness makes it all the more endearing. Thank you.” Suddenly feeling much better, she hugged it again and nodded towards the replicator. “Would you like a tea? I think I could use a coffee.”

Chakotay moved towards the console. “I’ll get it. You sit there with your new friend and relax.”

Kathryn’s shoulders sagged, the tension leaving her almost instantly. She should have known he’d understand and would simply accept what had happened without a painful and drawn out analysis of her apparent emotional fragility. She was immensely relieved. “Thank you.”

He turned towards her and smiled. Their eyes met and held for a long moment. No words were necessary and he answered with a quiet, “You’re welcome.”

With drinks in hand, he sat beside her and together they laughed about how offended Molly would be if she ever clapped eyes on her very unattractive replica. They also decided that as a toymaker, Harry made an excellent Ops officer and shouldn’t give up his day job. The incident in Astrometrics was never mentioned – something for which she was intensely grateful and her heart swelled with affection for this man who knew her so well.

==

As the memory dissolved and she landed back in the here and now of her mother’s attic, Kathryn hugged the toy dog tighter. A painful wash of homesickness welled up in her middle. It seemed so much longer than a mere four months since that night in her quarters. Such a lot had happened in the interim.

Upon reflection, it occurred to Kathryn that, although a boon for many of the crew, contact with the Alpha Quadrant had been something of a double-edged sword. Not only had it brought into glaring focus the cosmic distance they still had to traverse to reconnect with family and friends, but Starfleet, with all its associated bureaucratic and hierarchical bunkum, had suddenly become a part of their lives once more. Kathryn was again answerable to them for every order issued and each decision made. Their persistent enquiries about the Maquis had filled her with disquiet and she’d felt a renewed sense of protectiveness towards her crew.

As a Starfleet officer, she’d had no choice but to comply. But having been accountable only to herself for so long, she’d found relinquishing her autonomy much harder than she thought it would be. The Delta Quadrant had changed her and blind obedience to an institution that had altered so dramatically during their absence was proving an almost insurmountable hurdle. She’d become intolerant of their blinkered conformity. It appeared that a lot more ‘Maquis’ had rubbed off on her than she’d given credit.

Their reintroduction to Starfleet hadn’t gone so well either. In their very first official mission, they’d lost Joe Carey and his death had hit her hard. She’d resented the guidelines laid down by her superiors and her heart still ached when she thought of the comm. call to Joe’s wife. It was something she’d insisted on doing but it had shaken her to her foundations.

Aware of the repercussions of this new connection with Starfleet and with the knowledge that they were figuratively peering over her shoulder at each turn, Kathryn began withdrawing and distancing herself from her crew. It had been an instinctive move to protect those closest to her, drawing the spotlight away from them and solely onto her. It wasn’t until she’d found out about Chakotay and Seven that she realised what this isolation had brought about and how easily it could have been avoided.

She was filled with regret about the part she’d played in her and Chakotay’s estrangement, and it was something she was desperate to remedy.

Tousling the toy animal’s furry head, she took a deep breath and set it aside to continue with her unpacking. As she worked her way through each of the cargo containers, slowly emptying them of her Delta Quadrant belongings, she grew more and more determined to fix her relationship with Chakotay. Almost everything she owned reminded her in some way of her former first officer.

His and Seven’s liaison had ended weeks ago and Ms. Annika Hansen was now happily ensconced with her family in Norway.

Oddly enough, Kathryn and Seven’s relationship had survived the transfer to Earth with barely a hiccup. With her failsafe device removed, the young Borg had been completely oblivious to any upset caused by her brief affiliation with Chakotay.

Kathryn decided that it was time that she, too, got over it and now was the perfect opportunity for her to do something about mending the rift between herself and her former first officer.

They’d been such good friends for so many years that it was criminal to let this situation persist. He wasn’t wholly to blame for what had happened; she was equally responsible. If she’d given him some inkling as to what her feelings were or some legitimate sign that she cared for him as more than a friend, then they might have been able to find some sort of middle ground and avoided this situation entirely. The man wasn’t a mind reader, although she’d sometimes wondered about that, too. He’d always had an uncanny ability of knowing what she needed and when – the stuffed dog incident being a case in point. But in her heart of hearts she knew that he loved her and that one of them had to make a move before it was too late and the wonderful and unique rapport that they’d shared and nurtured for all these years fizzled to nothing and died.

As she slammed the lid on the last empty container, she smiled happily. It was strangely invigorating to see a clear path ahead of her as it emerged from the foggy and indistinct horizon she’d seen as her future from the moment she’d stepped off Voyager’s Bridge. Maybe she should have unpacked sooner.

Refusing to dwell on any more regrets, Kathryn placed the furry catalyst of the day’s revelations on top of the middle container and with a renewed spring in her step, she made her way downstairs.

“Mom!”

“In here.”

Following her mother’s voice, Kathryn found Gretchen in the living room. She was sitting in front of the fire reading a book with the winter sun streaming through the bay windows at her back.

Kathryn plonked herself down on the sofa next to her. “How do you feel about having a guest for dinner tonight? I can pick up some extra things from the market if you need them.”

Gretchen closed her novel with a snap and looked up enquiringly. “A guest? May I ask who?”

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn said his name in a whoosh. “Chakotay.” Then added. “I hope.”

Gretchen looked heavenward and exulted, “Oh, thank goodness. At last! I’ve been waiting for you to wake up to yourself and go and get that poor man. He must be in a terrible state by now.”

Kathryn stared open-mouthed at her mother. “He’s in a terrible state! What about me?”

“Oh, you’re all right. It was just matter of time before you worked out what was going on and did something about it.”

“There’s nothing ‘going on’ and even if there were, how would you know?”

Gretchen suddenly looked very pleased with herself and added smugly, “I have my sources.” She gave her daughter a telling look, then smiled. “He’s staying with the Kims at the moment, in case you were wondering.”

Kathryn shot her mother a narrow-eyed glare. “Mother, you’ve been up to something, haven’t you?”

Holding up her hands in surrender, the elder Janeway denied the accusation. “No, not at all; but I have been keeping in touch with some of your crew. They’ve been concerned about you, Kathryn, although I’ve been assuring them that you’re fine.”

“I am fine.”

“I know. However, it’s well past time that you went and got your man.”

Kathryn opened her mouth to argue but then sagged back into the couch. “He’s not ‘my man’, not by a long shot, and we still have a lot of mending to do on the friendship front.”

Gretchen placed her hand over her daughter’s and gripped it reassuringly. “He’s always been your man, Kathryn; it was merely circumstances that stood in your way. But I have a very good feeling about this. Now go and get it sorted – right this instant – before you talk yourself out of it.”

Kathryn pivoted to her feet but swung around to duck down and kiss her mother’s cheek. “Thanks, Mom.”

Gretchen winked and then shooed her daughter out the door. “Off with you, now. Quickly.”

From the doorway, Kathryn turned back and smiled. “I’ll see you later.”

“No need to hurry back… take your time.”

Kathryn chuckled at her conniving mother as she grabbed her coat and scarf, then stepped out onto the landing. Filled with a renewed sense of energy, she made her way to the transporter station.

==

Entering the small building, Kathryn smiled at the young attendant. “Hello, Jeffrey.”

“Captain Janeway, it’s good to see you.”

“You too, Jeff, and please, it’s Kathryn.” She stepped up onto the platform. “How are your parents?”

“Very well, thank you… Kathryn.”

“Say hello to them for me.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will.”

She smiled and gave him the co-ordinates of her destination.

As soon as the tingling effects of the transporter faded, she stepped off the platform in San Francisco – a block away from the Kim residence.

The attendant acknowledged her with a nod of his head, and then frowned as he looked down at his console.

Kathryn stopped and quizzed the man. “Is there a problem?”

“Ah, no ma’am, no problem. Bloomington, Indiana – must be a popular place.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Umm, it’s just that as you were beaming in, I was sending a gentleman to your exact beam-out co-ordinates.” He shrugged. “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.”

Kathryn hesitated for only a split second before she stepped back up onto the platform. She was fairly certain that this was one of those ‘special’ coincidences that involved a particular former first officer. “Did this ‘gentleman’ happen to have a tattoo on his forehead?”

The attendant nodded. “Yes ma’am, he did and he was in a hurry.”

“Send me back, please.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She materialised back on the platform in Bloomington to be met by the puzzled face of young Jeffrey Nugent. He checked his console, and then frowned as he looked at her. “Is this a game of transporter tag, Kathryn?”

“What do you mean?”

“A man arrived after you left and when I told him that I’d just transported you to the same station he’d come from in San Francisco, he jumped back on the pad and asked me to send him back.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes. This was just typical and she muttered under her breath. “Oh, for crying out loud.” Then she pointed to the console. “Send me back too, Jeffrey and if the man – Chakotay is his name, by the way – turns up again, keep him here until I get back.”

“What if he doesn’t want to stay?”

“Hit him over the head with something. He’s got a thick skull; he’ll survive.”

Jeffrey looked more than a little disconcerted by her suggestion and Kathryn had to stifle a smile; the mere thought of the barely post-pubescent Jeffrey Nugent trying to restrain Chakotay – a man more than twice his size and age – was pretty damned funny. The mental picture was a dose of welcome comic relief.

Nodding warily, Jeffrey sent her back to San Francisco and Kathryn reappeared on the transporter platform to the laughing face of the attendant – but again, no Chakotay. The man’s finger hovered over the button and he raised his eyebrows in question. “I suppose you’d like to go back again?”

Kathryn’s mouth twisted into a reluctant smile; the look on the attendant’s face was hard to resist. She nodded. “Yes, please, back to Bloomington. I’m sure you know the co-ordinates.”

He tapped his forehead. “Indelibly. Good luck and I hope you catch him this time.”

“Me, too. And don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope I don’t see you again.”

He grinned and Kathryn put her hands on her hips as the transporter beam enveloped her once more.

This time when she materialised, Chakotay was there, leaning against the console, his arms folded across his chest and a smirk on his face. A rather harried looking Jeffrey Nugent was standing behind him – well out of harm’s way.

Chakotay’s smile broadened. “Hello. Well, that was interesting.”

“Trying to be elusive in your old age?”

His eyebrow quirked. “Who are you calling old?” He didn’t wait for an answer but demanded with mock indignation, “Did you really ask this young man to hit me over the head?”

Straight-faced, Kathryn enquired. “Did he?”

Jeffrey jumped forward, ready to say something but Chakotay held up his hand and the boy darted backwards, slamming his mouth shut.

“No, he has better manners than that.”

“Than me, you mean.” Kathryn’s lips twitched with suppressed laughter.

“I wasn’t going to say, but since you mentioned it.”

“I don’t know about you, but I was getting giddy from beaming back and forth. If I hadn’t left…umm, instructions, we’d still be going in circles. Besides, it worked, didn’t it? We’re finally both in the same place.”

“That depends. You’re not planning on beaming anywhere else are you?”

Shaking her head, Kathryn’s hands dropped to her sides as she stepped down from the platform. “No, nowhere else. I’ve done more transporting in the last ten minutes than I’ve done in weeks. That’s my quota for a month.”

As Kathryn came level with him, he pushed himself away from the console and turned to the flustered young man standing behind it. He extended his hand. “Thank you, son.”

Wearing a relieved smile, Jeffrey shook hands with the older man. “You’re welcome, sir, and just so you know, I really wouldn’t have hit you over the head.”

Kathryn glared at Jeffrey. “Traitor.”

The young man grinned. “I’m sorry, Kathryn, but I have a higher authority to answer to. My Mom would kill me if I walloped someone and they didn’t deserve it.”

Kathryn turned to her former first officer, her eyebrow slowly rising and her mouth twisting into a wry grin. “Who said anything about him not deserving it?”

Jeffrey’s eyes widened but then his face relaxed into a smile as Chakotay burst out laughing. Kathryn winked at the young man before turning back to the man at her side.

She let Chakotay take her hand and tuck it under his arm before he pulled her close. “Kathryn, it’s good to see you. I’ve missed you.”

Kathryn forced herself to relax before they stepped out of the transporter station and headed up the road.

==

It almost felt as though they hadn’t been apart. Kathryn gave him a gentle shove with her hip. “I missed you, too. You could have called.”

With her arm still tucked snugly into his, he paused for a moment and looked at her, his eyes sad. “I should have; I’m sorry.”

Kathryn cursed herself for spoiling the mood and eased away from his side. Turning to face him, she frowned and intoned forcefully, “I’m not going to accept your apology.” His face blanched, so she hurried on. “You have nothing to apologise for. I could have just as easily contacted you but I was being…” She looked past his shoulder trying to think of a word to explain her recent state of mind, but couldn’t find one. The best she could come up with was, “…ridiculous and I’d like to make amends.”

Chakotay’s whole body seemed to slump. “No amends are necessary but I’m relieved you wanted to contact me. I thought I’d really messed up.”

“Oh, don’t worry; you messed up but even that wasn’t entirely your fault – except that a man of your age should know better.” She quirked her eyebrow.

“Hey, enough with the old man jibes.” He rolled his eyes and chuckled quietly. “But you’re right.” He paused for effect. “It wasn’t my fault – entirely.”

Kathryn knew that he was making a point but she refused to take the bait. Besides, she wanted him to stew for a little while longer. After giving him a telling look and hemming quietly to herself, she took her place by his side once more, looping her arm through his and tugging him towards the road leading to her home. It was time for a change of topic. “So how are the Kims?”

“They’re well. Harry says hello. He was very excited when I told him that I was coming to see you today.”

The question was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “Why did you come today?”

He shrugged. “I could ask you the same question.”

They both slowed their pace but neither seemed willing to enlighten the other. It appeared that the habit of seven years reticence was proving more difficult to break than she’d thought it would be.

The pair trudged along in silence, the crunch of their shoes on the gravel path growing louder and louder until Kathryn couldn’t stand the uncomfortable quiet any longer and blurted, “I was unpacking my things this morning and found that ugly damned stuffed dog you gave me; it reminded me of you and I decided that had to see you. That’s why.”

He gave her an incredulous look, then laughed. “You saw an ugly toy dog and your first thought was of me. Thanks. Old and ugly.” He teased. “You know, your ‘amend making’ could use some work.”

Kathryn shot a look his way. “My ‘amend making’ is just fine, although I’ll admit that didn’t come out quite how I intended it to. But I’m sure you get the idea.”

He smiled down at her. “Yes, I got it.”

Kathryn’s face softened into a smile. Now they were getting somewhere. “Your turn. Why were you coming to see me?”

He shrugged. “No particular reason; it just happened. I woke up this morning and knew that I couldn’t go another day without seeing you. We’ve been home almost a month and I realised that it’s the most time we’ve spent apart in the seven years we’ve known one another; it was long enough.”

Kathryn nodded and mused. “A month. It seems so much longer.” Another pang of homesickness hit and she took a steadying breath.

He nodded and glanced at her but then looked ahead, a slight frown marring his brow.

They walked in silence for a short time before he took a deep breath and asked quietly. “Are we okay, Kathryn?”

Her voice began as a whisper but grew stronger as the conviction took root. “Yes… yes, we are.” This time she turned towards him. “Do you think we’re okay?”

He nodded. “Absolutely, but I am sorry.”

“You’ve apologised already and I really will start hitting you if you keep it up.” She jabbed him with her elbow to emphasise her point. “We both made mistakes and as much as I’d like to ascribe it to alien possession or Q’s interference, I think that it’s merely because we’re human and fallible. But even that’s reassuring in its own weird way.”

Chakotay huffed a laugh. “Human and fallible; there’s no doubt about that.”

They were nearing her mother’s home but Kathryn wasn’t ready to end their conversation just yet. There were certain truths that needed to be aired.

She steered him down a narrow access road between the fallow cornfields. “This is the long way around and it has the added advantage of being out of sight of prying eyes.”

He leaned a little closer to her. “’Prying eyes’? Does that mean we’re going to be doing things that we don’t want people to see?” His eyes were bright with amusement and a spark of something else she hadn’t seen in a long time.

Her initial reaction was to deny the implication but not today. Instead, Kathryn’s face broke into a broad grin, her gaze holding his. “Maybe.” As his pupils dilated, she took a deep breath before getting back to the topic at hand. “I have some things that I need to tell you. What you do with them is entirely up to you, but you need to know.”

He nodded. “Okay. Should we find somewhere to sit down or do you want to keep walking?”

“Walking is fine.”

They both kept their eyes on the road ahead and continued for a few paces before he patted her hand where it rested on his forearm. “Okay, fire away.”

“I love you.” Kathryn was surprised at how easy it was to say.

Chakotay didn’t miss a beat. “I love you, too.”

“I should have told you years ago.”

“I always knew.”

“You did?”

“Of course, but you’d established very early on that, as captain, a relationship was a luxury you couldn’t afford and, as much as I didn’t like the idea, I understood and honoured your decision.” He looked down at her and gave her a sad smile. “However, I was also aware that our unspoken feelings for one another and the guilt you felt for leaving them unrequited were an added burden you had to bear. There was no way to broach the subject with you, without acknowledging those feelings, but while we were isolated, it wasn’t a problem and I could compensate by sharing other burdens. It only became an issue when we established two-way communications with Starfleet and they began enquiring about the Maquis. I was conscious of the fact that the depth of our connection had the potential to grievously complicate matters for you in your dealings with the Admiralty and the last thing I wanted to do was come between you and your career.”

Kathryn was about to object to that misconception but Chakotay continued before she could say anything. “Then you had to deal with the loss of Joe Carey and the emotional impact of Neelix leaving. I offered what support I felt I could, but with Starfleet watching our every move, I thought it best to pull back – not because I’d stopped loving you, but because I thought it might help to lighten your load.”

Kathryn could see his logic –twisted as it might have been – but she still had an overwhelming urge to hit him for his stupidity. Men!

It explained so much about those last few months on Voyager but there was one thing that she had to know. “Why Seven?”

He looked embarrassed and shook his head, his anguish obvious. With a sharp huff, he answered, “She asked.”

“As simple as that?”’

“Simple? Not really. Have you ever tried saying no to her?”

She gave him a sharp look then relented. “I know; it’s difficult.”

He squeezed her hand where it rested on his arm. “I’m not making excuses; I was an idiot. I thought it would be a pleasant diversion but I’ll admit to not really thinking things through.”

Kathryn was sorely tempted to tell him that it was pretty damned obvious that he hadn’t, but she held herself in check – glasshouses and all that. “Well, I suppose it’s just one more thing that we have in common. Neither of us is perfect.”

“And thank the spirits for that.”

“Seven’s fine, you know. I hear from her every few days.”

He nodded. “I knew she would be. She’s an impressive young woman, but she’s not you.” His eyes met hers and the world seemed to hold its breath.

This was the moment Kathryn had been waiting for and she wasn’t about to squander it this time. She tightened her grip on his arm. “And if I asked you?”

“You don’t need to ask, Kathryn. I’m here.”

“I’m asking anyway.”

Chakotay stopped walking and turned towards her. He extricated her arm, and then placed his hands firmly on her shoulders; his eyes riveted to his thumb as it rubbed gently up and down over the slight hollow under her collarbone.

After a moment, he looked up and that remarkable and well-remembered connection snapped into place between them. He took a shaky breath. “I am honoured and humbled that you would even consider asking. It’s more than I deserve. I love you, Kathryn, more than you’ll ever know and for as many years as I’ve known you, I’ve cherished the thought of a future with you.” He swallowed. “And now it’s my turn to ask. Will you share your life with me and travel that road by my side?”

Kathryn rested her hand on his chest and heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief before her smiling eyes met his once more. “Yes.” She took another deep breath and huffed a laugh while her fingers toyed with the front of his shirt. “I’m sure there is something profound that I should say right now but all I can think of is to tell you that I love you and that I could probably stand kissing you.”

Chakotay laughed and hauled her into his arms. “Ahh, my straight-from–the-hip Kathryn. Just one of the many things I love about you.”

“I’m glad, but – not wanting to labour the point – are you going to do anything about it?”

He grinned as he pulled back and gently took her face between his hands. “Patience, Kathryn; some things shouldn’t be hurried.”

Her eyes widened and she protested, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me? Seven years, Chakotay! It’s hardly what I’d call rushing into things. Really…”

He pulled her into an embrace, his breath whispering across her lips dispersing any further protests as his mouth captured hers in a in a tender kiss. Kathryn was lost in the pure elation of the moment.

She slowly rose to her tiptoes, her arms sliding around his shoulders as he enveloped her in this long awaited embrace.

His arms wrapped around her shoulder and waist, his mouth pressing lightly over hers, moving in gentle caresses, at times barely touching but lingering only a breath away, before pressing more firmly against her.

Kathryn sighed as a searing shard of heat speared through her, warming her and sensitising every nerve ending in her body. It was an amazing kiss. Beautiful in its tenderness and even more earth shattering than she’d imagined it would be. Having spent an inordinate amount of time over the years dreaming of this moment, her fantasies were a lot to live up to. And now that it had arrived, Kathryn found herself far from disappointed. The man had the lips of an angel.

They were soft and warm, and pressed assuredly against hers, not too hard but firmly and deliciously gentle. As she kissed him back, he moved more purposefully, his tongue stroking confidently, tasting and delving but never invading. He was an excellent kisser and she moaned again as his mouth slid away and his whiskered cheek rubbed softly against the side of her face.

Her head fell back as his lips began to explore the sensitive skin along her jaw and under her ear, gently nipping and suckling. She shivered as his warm breath tickled the fine down along her hairline and his hands stroked over her back and hips. His hands as well as his lips were working their magic, each stroke leaving a trail of heat, stoking an internal fire that was quickly beginning to burn out of control.

Kathryn could feel her breath beginning to catch and her heart pounded in her ears. Laying her cheek against his chest, she could hear the excited thud of his heartbeat through his jacket, the sound at once both reassuring and exciting.

She hadn’t felt like this in years and was quickly becoming swamped by the sensations. To be in his arms at last – the feeling of freedom meshed with intense relief – was close to overwhelming. Casting off the shackles that had long held her heart in such a suffocating stranglehold created a wash of emotion that was difficult to control. For years she’d held all these sensations tightly bound within her, and now that she’d set them free, the gushing wonder of it all was almost too much to bear. A great swell of emotion rose up from her middle, threatening to drown her; it made her chest ache and her eyes burn with tears. It was excruciating in its splendour but she couldn’t stop the hiccupping gasps that accompanied it and the tears that refused to abate.

Kathryn groaned. “Oh, shit!”

Chakotay pulled back and frowned. “What’s the matter?”

She turned her face away from him in the hope that he wouldn’t see her distress but she couldn’t hide anything from him; she’d never been able to.

He placed his finger under her chin and gently tilted her head towards him. He smiled his understanding. “It’s all right to feel, Kathryn. You can give into it; I’ve got you.”

She could have screamed. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear; she needed strength to find some control, not surrender to an emotional free-for-all. Did he have any idea what he was asking for? Some of these feelings had been bottled up for decades and to let them loose now would likely destroy her. But his eyes held hers – so sure and steady – and as he leant forward and kissed her tears from her cheeks, he whispered that he loved her over and over until she couldn’t doubt it even if she tried.

Suddenly a bright explosion of joy burst forth inside her. It broke from the tiny seed of wonder that she’d held within from the moment she’d met this man on Voyager’s Bridge all those years ago. In the shining beauty of it all, the briny wash of fear turned into tears of delight and all the regrets and sorrow dissolved, hollowing out her heart so there was only room for love and happiness to fill the empty space.

Reaching up, she held his face between her hands and brought it slowly towards her. She kissed his lips and breathed words of love into his mouth in the hope that they would find their way to his heart to fill him as he filled her.

==

Kathryn wasn’t sure how long they stood there holding one another, but eventually time re-established itself and she heaved a deeply satisfied sigh. Peace infused her entire being and she felt a contentment that made her feel indestructible.

It was wonderful.

In the distance, she could hear a dog barking and she smiled. It seemed only fitting that Molly should be a part of this.

Kissing Chakotay one more time before stepping back, Kathryn grinned. “There’s someone you should meet.” She placed her thumb and forefinger in her mouth and taking a deep breath, she met Chakotay’s eyes before letting loose with an ear-shattering whistle.

Chakotay stared wide-eyed and shook his head as he laughed. “You’re one talented woman, have I ever told you that?”

“Yes, and I can even yodel in a pinch.” Kathryn chuckled at the astonished look on his face then turned towards the main road. “Here she comes.”

Racing down the lane, with ears flapping and the sun glinting off her shiny red coat, Molly came. Once she reached them, she gambolled around them like a puppy and yapped happily as she nuzzled Kathryn’s hand.

Chakotay crouched down. “So this is Molly?”

Kathryn nodded. “Yes, this is the original.”

He held out his hand for the dog to sniff. Molly sat and lifted her paw to shake. Chakotay chuckled. “Hello, Molly. What a well-mannered lady you are.” He looked up at Kathryn. “Are you sure she’s yours?”

Kathryn’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. “I taught her everything she knows.”

“I’ll consider myself warned then.” He stood and Molly sat by his feet, looking up at him adoringly.

Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Ahhh, typical. Another conquest, Commander?”

He patted Molly’s head. “She just knows my weakness.”

“And what’s that?”

“Spirited redheads.”

Kathryn quirked her eyebrow and slipped her arm through his. “Nice save.” She pointed to a path leading alongside a narrow creek behind the adjacent field. “I think it’s time for a coffee in front of a warm fire.”

With Molly trotting beside them, they wove their way along the water’s edge to the back gate of Kathryn’s family home. As they crossed the yard, Molly charged ahead and bolted through the doggie door. They could hear Gretchen questioning the animal as to their whereabouts.

Kathryn called out as they entered the mudroom off the kitchen. “We’re here, Mom.”

Tossing their coats and scarves over the back of the kitchen chairs, Kathryn prepared herself for a barrage of ‘mother’ questions but Gretchen merely turned and looked them both up and down before nodding once and turning back to the stove.

She spoke over her shoulder as she stirred. “I’m pleased to see you’ve sorted things out. Chakotay, would you be a dear and pop those bottles of champagne on the ice for me; and Kathryn, go and find the good glasses, we have some celebrating to do.”

Chakotay looked at Kathryn. She merely rolled her eyes.

Gretchen turned back toward the pair, her wooden spoon held aloft as though conducting an orchestra. “I made an executive decision while you were gone. This,” she waved the spoon back and forth indicating the two of them. “warranted a proper celebration, so I’ve been busy on the comm..”

While Kathryn and Chakotay stared at her in stunned surprise, Gretchen stepped back so she could see through the hall door to check the time on the grandfather clock. “You’ve got about an hour and a half before Phoebe, Tom, B’Elanna, Harry, Annika and the Doctor arrive. I wouldn’t dilly-dally if you want to freshen up beforehand.”

Kathryn was flabbergasted. “Mother, whatever possessed you? You couldn’t have known that Chakotay and I would …”

The elder Janeway gave her daughter an exasperated look. “Of course I knew; I’m your mother.” As if that explained everything.

Kathryn felt like a three year old and she could feel Chakotay’s silent chortle beside her. She turned and, eyes dancing delightedly, glared at him. “Hmph, you may well laugh. Just for that, you’re on KP while I shower and change.”

His eyes flashed with mischief and he opened his mouth to say something.

It didn’t take a genius to guess what his suggestion was going to be but before either of them could say a word, Gretchen interrupted.

“Show the poor man where the bathroom is Kathryn. You can both help when you’re done.” She smiled innocently but Kathryn was a wake up to her machinations.

She stared at her mother and then cast a sideways glance at Chakotay. The thought of him lending a hand as she showered was hardly an unattractive prospect, but with limited time, they would have to work quickly. It would be a test of her time management skills – amongst other things – but she had a feeling that after their apparent courtship of seven years, things would move along quite swiftly.

Gretchen turned back to the stove again and tossed over her shoulder. “I’ll be heading off to the market in a moment, so I wouldn’t dawdle, time is a ticking.”

Kathryn didn’t have to be told twice. Grabbing Chakotay’s hand, she gave it a tug and pulled him towards the upstairs.

He hissed under his breath, “Are you sure about this, Kathryn?” Then he glanced back towards the kitchen. “What about your mother?”

“Who do you think orchestrated all of this? You’ve always wondered where I got my negotiating skills from – well, she’s your answer. She’s the biggest schemer I know and has probably had this planned for weeks – perhaps months or even years.”

“Now I’m scared.”

“You’ve every reason to be.”

By now, they were upstairs and standing outside the bathroom. Kathryn pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Can we discuss my scary mother later? By my estimation we have about an hour and twenty-seven minutes up our sleeves.” She smiled broadly and taking his hands, pulled him over the threshold.

Chakotay grinned and kicked the door shut with his foot. “Why have we still got our clothes on then?”

Kathryn gently bit her bottom lip as her hands slid up his front and she stepped into his open arms. “I have no idea.”

Kissing her forehead, Chakotay eased back a little and began unbuttoning her shirt.

Kathryn did the same with his, but first tugged it from his pants and slipped her hands underneath and along the warm skin of his abdomen and chest – something she’d wanted to do for years.

They both shivered and their mouths met in a fierce kiss.

==

Gretchen heard the bathroom door slam and she grinned. Tossing Molly a scrap from the chopping board, she patted the dog’s head before divesting herself of her apron. “We did it Moll. Well done, girl.”

Molly woofed happily a couple of times as though aware of the momentous events taking place upstairs. She then padded in three small circles before finding the perfect spot to curl up on the floor in front of the oven while Gretchen headed out the front door.

==

Kathryn’s body jolted and arched. Guttural grunts and whimpers accompanied the shudders of her body as she abandoned herself to the internal clamour of her orgasm.

Chakotay’s mouth covered hers, swallowing her cries as she came for a second time.

Her back pressed against the warm tiles of the shower stall, her thrusting hips jerking rhythmically as her inner muscles pulsed around him, drawing him deeper. He groaned into her mouth and unable to withstand the gripping clench of her climax, he surrendered and was dragged over the precipice with her; the hot surge of his release filling her.

Finally spent, Kathryn’s small frame draped around his, her arms clinging to his shoulders and breasts pressing into his chest; her legs wrapped loosely around his hips as the water pummelled their heated and sated bodies.

 

After they’d heard the front door slam, Chakotay had half-heartedly suggested that perhaps they should wait until later but Kathryn’s answer had been swift and decisive. Shedding the remainder of her clothes, she’d pressed her naked body against his. As far as she was concerned, they’d waited long enough and, in true Janeway style, once her mind was made up, she’d refused to be diverted from the task at hand.

Much to her delight, Kathryn saw Chakotay’s doubts instantly evaporate as his dark eyes hungrily scoured her body and she backed into the shower stall, drawing him in there with her.

And from that moment onwards, all arguments were moot.

Kathryn helped him remove the last of his clothing before standing back to scrutinize his naked body.

He was glorious; broad shouldered and narrow hipped; his muscles toned although middle age had blurred the hard edges giving him something of a comfortable lived-in look that she loved. His darker skin was tantalisingly soft under the sweep of her hands and fingers, and it shivered lightly at her touch.

His penis stood proudly erect and as he enveloped her in his strong arms, it pressed hotly into the soft pillow of her belly – the sensation causing her insides to quiver and warm.

With all these much-desired expanses of bare skin now exposed, there’d been an exhilarating amount of exploration to be done. While Chakotay cupped her breasts and suckled at her nipples, Kathryn ran her hand around his hip and buttocks, then palmed his length, rubbing her thumb over the glans and stroking him until he groaned and grasped her wrist to stop her.

That she could bring him to the teetering brink of his climax so easily was an empowering realisation and it fuelled her desire to have him inside of her, causing her muscles to twitch and tremble in readiness. The heavy stupor of arousal had left her in an almost drunken haze and as her eyes met his, he smiled then hoisted her into his arms before bracing her against the wall. With her legs wrapped around his hips, he played the tip of his hardness along her folds until desperate for him to join with her, Kathryn hunched slightly, tilting her pelvis to ease the way. Despite his size and the gasping urgency of his need, he entered her gently, allowing for the slow stretch of unused muscles and tissues.

She’d groaned and her grip on his shoulders tightened whilst Chakotay whispered quietly against her skin, his fingers and lips tracing over her shoulders, breasts and belly. Each word a promise or prayer of love. It was a rapturous moment of completion.

Kathryn had opened herself to him, welcoming him into her body and matched him thrust for thrust. Her mind and body were a wash of sensations complete with the throbbing mantra of ‘at last, at last’ pounding in rhythm with her heartbeat; the pulsing grip of her vaginal walls only faltering when her body arched and she ground out a clenching orgasm, fingernails pitting the skin of his shoulders, her mouth open in a silent howl of ecstasy.

Chakotay still hadn’t come and slipping from her body, brought her back to the brink once more with his fingers and mouth. With one hand splayed across her belly, he’d draped her leg over his shoulder and pressed his mouth to her sex, his tongue drilling into her clitoris, then sweeping lower to lave over her folds. Just when Kathryn thought she might go mad with the sensations, he stood and entered her again in one smooth motion, slowly building the pace of his thrusts until they reached their climaxes almost simultaneously.

As the pulsing judders faded and awareness returned, Kathryn tucked herself into his shoulder. The flush of arousal still tinged and warmed her skin; her clitoris was almost painfully sensitive and she could feel the heat of his spend trickling between them. It was a glorious feeling and something she’d longed for and missed for so many years that with the fulfilment of this dream, a broad smile of satisfaction slowly spread across her face. Suddenly she couldn’t help herself and her shoulders began to shake with laughter.

Chakotay looked down, his face caught in a frown of concern until she looked up at him with eyes bright with happiness. Her delight was contagious and he started to laugh along with her. “What’s so funny?”

She shook her head and in between throaty chuckles, she gasped, “I can’t believe we just did that. In the damned shower! What were we thinking?”

“Hey, don’t look at me. I wasn’t the one getting all naked and come hither.”

“’Come hither’?! You’ve been reading those gothic romances of B’Elanna’s again, haven’t you?”

“They put Miral to sleep. What can I do?”

They smiled as their mouths met in a warm sultry kiss, and then Kathryn frowned and groaned. “God, I’m going to be so sore tomorrow. Things don’t bend and stretch quite like they used to.” Her legs slid to the floor and as he slipped from her body, Kathryn huffed a laugh. “You know, I’ve always had visions of candlelight, soft music and a slow seduction. Being sent to the shower by my mother to consummate this relationship was never a scenario that played out in my fantasies.”

“Mine either, and I’ve had a few.”

“Which we shall explore over the next…”

“…fifty years?”

Kathryn shrugged and gave him a lopsided grin. “That should just about do it. We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover.” She ducked under the water and reached for the washcloth.

Chakotay took it from her hand and brushed a kiss across her lips. “Allow me.”

Smiling, Kathryn raised her eyebrows. “Another fantasy?”

He smiled broadly, dimples on high beam. “It’s just the gentlemanly thing to do.”

Kathryn snorted quietly but relinquished the cloth without a word and watched as he added soap and began to lather her body. It wasn’t long before the ‘gentlemanly thing’ became more about hands caressing and exploring than anything to do with washing, and she was becoming aroused again, as was Chakotay. But a knock on the bathroom door made them both freeze.

Cringing, Kathryn called out. “Yes?”

It was Gretchen. “I’m back and although I’m loath to hurry you along, you’ve only about twenty minutes before people start arriving.”

“Thanks, Mom. We’ll be down shortly.”

They quickly rinsed off and Chakotay reached behind him to shut off the taps before wrapping his warm wet body around Kathryn once more and kissing her. Lips locked, they stepped out of the stall then pulled apart reluctantly. With a sigh, Kathryn handed him a towel and then grabbed one for herself. They grinned like idiots as they dried off before tucking towels around themselves and scooting across the hallway to Kathryn’s room.

The years of answering red alerts stood them in good stead and they were dressed in record time before Chakotay pulled Kathryn into a bone-melting embrace, kissing her once more before stepping back to straighten his clothes.

She blew a slow breath from between pursed lips. “My god, where did you learn to kiss like that?”

He merely raised one eyebrow and smiled.

Kathryn blinked slowly, took another deep breath and turned towards the mirror. “That wasn’t a rhetorical question, by the way.”

His smile broadened. “I know.” He kissed the back of her neck and nuzzled under her ear in an attempt to distract her. It didn’t work.

He relented. “I dated a Deltan at the Academy.”

Kathryn looked impressed. “Well, kudos to her. I owe her a thank you note and book voucher.”

Chakotay huffed a laugh and stepped back to allow her to brush her hair.

With only a few minutes left to fix her makeup, Kathryn smiled as she caught his reflection. He was watching her intently as she went through her three-minute routine of applying blush, lipstick and mascara.

Finished, she slipped on her shoes, stood up and spread her arms wide. “Ta da! Done with a whole minute to spare.”

Chakotay grinned as his eyes travelled over her body. “I’m impressed, very impressed.” His eyes met hers. “No one would ever know that only twenty minutes ago you were in the throes of an orgasm that I’ll certainly never forget.”

Kathryn felt her insides clench and her face warm. Biting her lip, she tried to tame the throb of arousal that threatened to make her knees falter. She gave him a narrow eyed look before taking a step towards him. “Not another word or I’ll be in no state to welcome our visitors.”

His eyes flashed and he reached for her, his mouth opening to say something more, but the doorbell chimed and Gretchen’s voice carried up the stairwell. “Kathryn, Chakotay, you’re on.”

==

Less than a minute later, they were at the front door, welcoming the first of their guests. The Doctor and Seven – as punctual as ever – stepped into the hallway and offered their congratulations.

Seven nodded her approval as she studied her former captain’s face. “I was very gratified to hear about your change of circumstances, Captain, and I have to say that copulation has given your complexion a very pleasing glow. It is obviously an activity that agrees with you.”

While Kathryn tried to retrieve her jaw from the floor, Seven turned to Chakotay. “You too, Commander.” She smiled sweetly, completely oblivious to her former commanding officer’s mortification and the Doctor’s aggrieved look.

Gretchen came to the rescue, taking Seven’s arm and pulling her into the living area. “Annika, it’s lovely to see you, dear, but perhaps that’s something we shouldn’t talk about in company. What have you been up to since I last saw you?”

The Doctor tried to explain, whispering quietly, “Since the removal of her fail-safe device, she has been a little less, shall we say, circumspect than usual. She’s relearning those skills, but occasional relapses aside… “ he cleared his throat and pointedly glanced at the former command team, “…her observation was an accurate one.”

“Doctor!” Kathryn gave a warning growl and the EMH backpedalled before following his fellow ‘foot-in-mouther’ into the living area.

Kathryn could see that Chakotay was fighting the urge to laugh and she had to admit, under the circumstances, it was pretty funny. She just hoped that Seven would take her mother’s advice and not mention anything even remotely associated with ‘copulation’ for the remainder of the evening but there were no guarantees. It was gearing up to being an interesting night.

Tom, B’Elanna and Miral arrived soon after. B’Elanna threw her arms around Chakotay and then after a split second’s hesitation, wrapped Kathryn in a warm hug. With suspiciously bright eyes, she congratulated them, then sniffled and cursed. “P’taQ! These damned hormones are going to be the death of me.”

“Or me.” Tom piped up from his place, safely out of arm’s reach. B’Elanna gave him a scowl but as soon as Miral began to fuss, the new mother’s attention was instantly diverted.

Kathryn looked on indulgently.

Harry was the last to arrive and appeared in the doorway almost completely obscured by an enormous bunch of flowers. “Hello, Captain. These are for you.”

“Thank you, Harry. That’s so thoughtful.”

He blushed and explained. “Actually, Captain, I wish I could take the credit. They’re not from me, but they are the reason I’m late.”

She frowned and quickly checked the bouquet for a card. Kathryn read it aloud. “Well caught and congratulations! Bob.” She shrugged and looked towards Chakotay.

He shook his head. “No one I know.”

Harry explained. “They’re from the transporter attendant in San Francisco.”

Kathryn laughed and looked across at Chakotay over the top of the blooms. They hadn’t told anyone about their misadventures with the transporter earlier that day. Considering what else had happened since, it had slid down the list of importance rather quickly.

Harry continued as he shrugged out of his coat. “I’m still not quite sure what it was all about but when I arrived at our local transport station and gave the attendant the co-ordinates for here, he stared at me and then burst out laughing. He asked if it was my turn to be ‘it’.” Harry looked questioningly towards Kathryn and Chakotay.

Both were trying very hard not to laugh.

Chakotay unsuccessfully stifled a smile. “What did you say?”

Chakotay, Kathryn and Harry joined the others in the living as the young ops officer continued. “I had no idea what he was talking about but he finally asked me if the redhead and the tattooed man had managed to find one another. It didn’t take a genius to figure out whom he was talking about, so I told him that yes, you had found one another and that I was coming here for a celebration. Anyway, he seemed very happy about it and shook my hand as though we were old friends. Then he made me wait while he organised to have those flowers transported from his favourite florist in New York. He also asked me to give you his best wishes and congratulations.”

Harry looked towards his former commanding officers, hoping for an explanation.

Tom piped up. “Well… come on you two, enquiring minds want to know.”

Kathryn deferred to Chakotay while she went in hunt of a vase.

Smiling broadly, he began the saga of their game of transporter tag.

Kathryn returned a moment later to the sound of laughter as the tale unfolded. Tom offered a few smart remarks and suggestions that were summarily howled down by the group. The conversation moved on to the crew and Voyager, friends and their new lives in the Alpha Quadrant while they relaxed, sipping champagne and warming themselves by the fire.

==

The afternoon wore on and laughter continued to echo around the house. Gretchen’s look softened as she glanced across the room at her daughter and the man by her side; the all-pervading sense of peace and happiness that flowed from them reassured her that life for Kathryn and Chakotay had at last fallen into place. Gathered around them were this stalwart and treasured group of friends and comrades; they were as delightful as they were formidable.

She smiled as the Doctor almost absentmindedly took a fussing Miral from B’Elanna and deftly propped the infant against his shoulder as he chatted on, rocking and gently patting his goddaughter until she settled. It seemed such a natural gesture and she marvelled at the humanity of the man. She caught Annika casting several furtive glances towards young Harry Kim. Gretchen’s interest was piqued by this unlikely partnership and a large blip appeared on her matchmaking radar; she decided to keep a close eye on that potential relationship.

Tom kept the glasses filled and the conversation flowed as easily as the wine, often punctuated by rolls of laughter and voices raised in teasing delight. It was a wonderful celebration.

Before she retreated into the kitchen to serve the meal, Gretchen’s gaze was drawn to where Molly lay sprawled in front of the hearth. The old dog was perfectly content, occasionally opening one eye to see what all the ruckus was about, only to let it drop again as she snoozed on in the humming warmth of home and family.

Gretchen’s face broke into a satisfied smile. Thanks to Molly, a touch of manoeuvring and the odd quirk of Fate, it had all worked out in the end.

fin

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