Liquid Sunshine

A post-Endgame fixer-upper written for the Vamb 2006 Steamy Summer Story Exchange. Chakotay visits Kathryn in Indiana, six months after their homecoming.

NC17

Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.

My heartfelt thanks to Camryn for the wonderful fiddles.


With each step he took, Chakotay scuffed up a small cloud of dust as he trudged wearily along the dirt road on the outskirts of Bloomington. The road shimmered mirror-like in the distance as the sun beat down relentlessly on the Indiana landscape. He’d long ago discarded his coat and he now loosened the buttons of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves in a vain attempt to catch a breath of breeze on his exposed skin. He was cursing himself for not having the forethought to wear a hat, but he hadn’t planned on being here today. Well, he hadn’t planned on being here any day really. There hadn’t been much thought, ‘fore’ or otherwise, involved. He’d just found himself making his way to her door.

It had been almost six months since he’d seen her and this probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but he was here now and had decided he may as well make the best of it. The worst that could happen is that she’d refuse to see him and he’d be no worse off than he was yesterday. But if he was lucky and she relented, he could attempt to mend the rift between them. He’d missed her. Terribly. More than he could possibly have imagined.

He was so looking forward to seeing her but he couldn’t have picked a worse time to travel to Bloomington. The Midwest was suffering through an appalling heat wave, the worst in a hundred years, and he couldn’t ever remember being so hot and uncomfortable. Sweat trickled down the side of his face and dripped onto his shirt, and he was drenched. There would be nothing left of him by the time he got there; if he actually made it, and didn’t perish on the way. It couldn’t be much further, surely. The store owner had told him ‘about five kilometres down this road and look for the house with the red roof’. Well, he’d been walking for almost an hour and there was no sign of a roof, red or otherwise. So he reasoned it was either a ‘country’ kilometre, which could be any distance, or he was walking in completely the wrong direction. He hoped it was the former, because if it was the latter, he had visions of someone coming upon his desiccated body sometime in the future and wondering what sort of a damn fool had been out here wandering amongst the cornfields all alone.

The fields of corn stood tall on either side of the narrow road, and they shimmered golden in the searing sunlight. But not a leaf was moving. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the humidity hung low and heavy all around. There were no clouds in the sky for as far as he could see, but he could have sworn there was a storm brewing. The air had that expectant and leaden feel one experiences just before a violent summer downpour. He hoped it wasn’t a harbinger of bad tidings for his reunion with Kathryn. He tried not to let his apprehension get the better of him, but he was wholly unsure of what sort of reception he was likely to receive. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms, and it had been mostly his fault. He cursed himself for it now, as he had done for the last five and a half months. His foolish liaison with Seven of Nine had caused a rift of dire proportions.

He and Kathryn had drifted apart over the last year or so of their journey. He wasn’t sure if there was a specific reason for their antipathy, or whether it was just the end result of the years of constant struggle and hardship. The relentless daily grind of trying to keep the crew safe and ship going with limited or unattainable resources had taken its toll. It seemed that everyday there had been some sort of crisis that pulled at their resolve. He shook his head wearily. Their hand to mouth existence, the constant struggle for survival, and the unending battles and stress had just made it too difficult to keep their friendship alive.

Anyway, he’d given up trying to analyse the whys and wherefores. It had happened, and by the time Seven approached him, he’d been so lonely and despondent that it had seemed like a good idea to pursue a relationship with her. He’d had no idea it would cause such an upheaval.

He and Seven had gone to see Kathryn not long after their arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. Seven had insisted that they tell her together. The memory of it made him cringe even now. Seven had marched into the ready room, and in her usual forthright manner had bluntly told Kathryn that she and Chakotay were in a relationship and that she expected her approval. Kathryn’s reaction hadn’t quite been what they’d anticipated. She’d not met his eyes, but had glared at Seven coldly. “What? Already? You should have come and discussed this with me beforehand.” She’d then turned to him. “And you! You should know better. She’s young and inexperienced. What in God’s name are you thinking? You have no idea of the ramifications.” He’d been surprised and angered by her reaction, but had tried to reason with her. However, she’d been immovable and in the end he’d lost patience. They’d stood toe to toe and he’d told her that he was speaking to her out of courtesy, but in essence it was none of her damn business what he did, and with whom. He’d finished by saying that they didn’t need her approval and if she couldn’t be happy for them, well, that was just too bad. Her eyes had become steely and remote, but he could have sworn he saw a shimmer of hurt behind her brittle stare. Seven had been upset and in the end Kathryn had simply nodded and dismissed them both, telling them that her responsibility to them was ended and to do as they pleased, she had work to do.

During the following two day trip to Earth, she’d holed up in her ready room, and like a fool, he’d been arrogant enough to think that her isolation was a result of their disagreement. But as it happened, she’d spent the time tirelessly negotiating the release and repatriation of the Maquis and Equinox crews. By the time they’d landed on Earth their sentences had been revoked and their futures secured. Kathryn had been exhausted but relieved at the outcome. He had been flabbergasted and suitably chastened.

He’d suffered a further moment of intense regret when she had led her crew proudly from the ship, only to disappear into the crowd without a word of farewell. That, sadly, was the last he’d seen of her, except from a distance at the formal welcome home celebrations, and occasional glimpses of her at Starfleet Headquarters during their debriefings.

He’d been hurt by her churlish attitude and was willing to keep his distance, but after his break up with Seven he’d thought more carefully about her reaction. It occurred to him that perhaps there’d been more to her response than met the eye. There was her ‘already’ comment and her underlying anger. She seemed to know something about their future, and he was curious to know what it was.

He was very sorry about how he and Seven had blustered in to tell her their news. It had been unthinking and uncaring. The whole incident saddened him. He’d lost his dearest friend through a childish and thoughtless act.

There was much for them to discuss and this meeting was long overdue. He just wished he was better prepared and had actually thought about what he was doing before he’d jumped on that transport and headed for Indiana. This evening he was supposed to be at B’Elanna and Tom’s for dinner. He’d almost made it there, but as he’d been sitting at the transport station waiting for his shuttle they’d announced the final boarding call for a transport to Bloomington, Indiana, and before he knew what he was doing, he was sitting in seat 5C and lifting off. He hoped Kathryn would appreciate the spontaneity of the gesture. But he had his doubts.

It had been a long six months. He and Seven had parted ways very soon after their arrival. She’d not settled into earthbound life very well and he realised that it probably had a lot to do with Kathryn’s absence. Poor Seven had lost her anchor and he was no substitute as a mentor for the young woman. They’d thought themselves to be in love, but once they were away from the ship and only had each other for company they’d soon realised their mistake, and the split had been inevitable. In the end it was a huge relief for both of them. The Doctor deftly stepped into the void, and Seven was content and secure in that familiar relationship.

Both she and the Doctor had been seconded to Jupiter Station, and were working with Dr Zimmerman on breakthrough nanoprobe technology. When he’d last spoken to them they were happy and settled. He was pleased for them, but desperately wanted to experience that sort of happiness and he knew that it all depended on the woman on whose doorstep he was about to land.

He was still trudging along, and his shirt was now soaked with perspiration. He was sorely tempted to take it off, but envisaged the horror written on the faces of the Janeway clan if he turned up at their door half naked. As he plodded along his mind started to wander, and he tried to imagine Kathryn’s reaction to his arrival. Would she be pleased to see him? Conjuring up the perfect reunion scenario he grinned to himself. There was Kathryn smiling blissfully as she threw herself into his arms and professed her undying love. He could see her in a pale flowing dress, running across the meadow to greet him. He would swoop down and scoop her into his arms, swinging her around and telling her he loved her over and over again. They would kiss and the cosmos would right itself as they drifted off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Sunstroke! That was the only explanation for that ludicrous fantasy. He should have worn a hat and he’d obviously been around B’Elanna for too long and had somehow absorbed great swathes of her trashy Klingon romances. His head wasn’t in a very good place, and he needed water badly. He hadn’t thought to bring any with him. So much for the warrior and his survival skills. Spontaneity certainly had its downside. He stopped and looked around him. Still no red roofs. In fact, no roofs of any sort. He would have to start back to town if he didn’t stumble across something soon. He trudged on and tried to stop thinking of romantic reunion scenarios, very aware that the reality was likely to be very, very different.

A noise! He stopped to listen. There it was again. It sounded like a scream. Picking up pace he rounded a bend and there it was. The Janeway home. An oasis of green amongst a sea of gold. The house itself was painted white with touches of green. A wide veranda ran the length of the front of the house and sitting atop that was the much celebrated red roof. A barn stood to one side, a silo behind that, and it was all shaded by tall oaks and elms. It was a picture of peaceful country tranquillity.

Another scream rent the air. It was definitely coming from somewhere behind the house, but he wasn’t sure if he should go to the front door or walk around the back. Moving up the front path and taking a tentative look through the screen door, he couldn’t see any movement in the house, so he followed the squealing. Now that he was closer he recognised it as the sound of children playing. There was a low rumbling laugh and a man’s voice. Then there was a yell and laugh that was so wonderfully familiar it made him smile and his heart beat faster. Her voice was so distinctive and it resonated in his heart and soul. So recognisable and so missed and…… so close… and getting closer. Just before he reached the back of the house he was knocked flying by a laughing human torpedo. Kathryn. Water followed. Someone was chasing her with a hose. A boy, about six years old, was spraying her, and now, by default, him, with wonderful cool water.

She’d hit the ground with an ‘ooof’ and was lying half on top of him.

“What the…?” she pushed herself off him hurriedly and swept the damp tendrils of hair out of her face to look at him. “Chakotay!!??”

“Hello Kathryn.”

“My God, Chakotay. You scared the hell out of me. What are you doing here?” She had mud on her face, bits of grass in her hair and dirt all over her clothes. She looked beautiful. The small boy was still spraying them with the hose and they were soaked. The cool water was a blessed relief.

Kathryn was staring at him and then shook her head and turned to the small boy. “Charlie, enough now.”

Charlie dropped the hose and ran back around to the rear of the house and started yelling. “Uncle Mark, Uncle Mark, there’s a man. He’s got Auntie Kathryn. Quick, quick.”

Heavy footsteps followed and a man whom Chakotay recognised from the photos in her ready room as Mark Johnson, appeared from the back of the house. He was carrying a giggling infant. “Kathryn, are you alright? What’s going on?”

Chakotay couldn’t decide whether she was pleased to see him or not. She was still staring at him, frowning, and he had a feeling it was the ‘not’.

He got to his feet and offered her a hand up. She took it and he pulled her up. Her hand was soft and warm and fit snugly into his. It felt so right. He held it firmly and she left it there.

Mark Johnson prodded again. “Kathryn?”

She swung around, snatching her hand away. “It’s alright, Mark. This is Chakotay, my former first officer.” She tried to wipe some of the water and grass clippings from her face, but only managed to smudge what was there and deposit more. Then remembering her introductions, she turned to Chakotay. “Chakotay, Mark Johnson.” By the time they both turned back around to look at Mark, a small crowd of children had gathered.

Chakotay smiled at them and they all smiled back.

“Where is everyone? Kathryn, what……..? Oh, hello.” An elderly woman with similar bearing and blue eyes to Kathryn joined the crowd. Kathryn was still a little stunned so Chakotay took the initiative.

“Mrs Janeway?” The woman nodded. The children had lost interest by now and had moved away and were running around the back yard again, spraying each other with water. Their happy squeals and laughter lightened the moment.

Kathryn all of a sudden regained her senses and moved in between them. “Mother, this is Chakotay. My former first officer from Voyager.”

Gretchen Janeway raised her eyebrows and looked Chakotay up and down. There wasn’t much hidden. He was soaked through and his light coloured shirt and pants were practically see through. “So you’re Chakotay. I’m very pleased to meet you.” She stepped forward and shook his hand. “You need a towel.” She called over her shoulder.

“Charlie, run and get some towels for Auntie Kathryn and her friend, please.” The young boy who had been wielding the hose earlier disappeared around to the back of the house.

Mark was watching Kathryn with raised eyebrows and an amused look. She turned and met his gaze with a challenging look of her own. His eyes flicked down to her front and it was only then that she realised that her t-shirt was soaked through. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a scathing look. Chakotay watched the exchange and his heart sank. There was obviously some sort of connection here. One that he had no part of. He took a deep breath, about to explain his sudden arrival, when Charlie returned with their towels.

“Here, Auntie Kathryn.” He handed a towel to Kathryn and then shyly passed one to Chakotay.

Chakotay took the towel. “Thank you, Charlie.” He extended his hand to the boy. “My name is Chakotay.” His eyes flicked up to Kathryn’s. “I’m an old friend of your Auntie’s.”

Charlie looked back and forth between them and shook the big man’s hand. “Hello.” There were a couple of happy squeals from the back yard and Charlie pulled his hand away and ran back to join the fun.

Gretchen moved forward and pulled some grass and leaves from Kathryn’s hair. “Once you’re dry, come around the back and have a cool drink. Did you walk from town?” Chakotay smiled and nodded. “Well, you must be thirsty. Fancy doing something like that on a day like today.”

Chakotay gave her an apologetic smile. “I hadn’t really intended to come actually. I….” He noticed Kathryn’s frown. “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you in a moment.”

“Fine. Kathryn, you can show Chakotay where to go?”

“Yes, mother. We’ll be around shortly.”

The child in Mark’s arms started to fuss, so after a raised eyebrow and a smirk in Kathryn’s direction, he followed Gretchen. Chakotay and Kathryn were left alone.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come unannounced. You have guests. I’ll go.” Chakotay had dried himself as best he could.

Kathryn was still looking at him with a frown. “Huh? Oh, no, it’s just family. Phoebe is here with her children and Mark and his family.” She stared at him blankly for a moment and then began to walk away. “I have to change.” She marched off around the corner of the house, leaving Chakotay standing there still damp and unsure of what he should do.

After a minute or so, he followed.

The back of the house consisted of a large covered veranda where a table was set with a very tempting array of drinks and food. There were a couple of people sitting and talking. He took a deep breath and approached. Mark Johnson stood and extended his hand. “Chakotay, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Would you like a drink?”

Chakotay may have been soaked but he was still parched. “Yes, thank you. It’s a long way from town and I hadn’t realised it would be quite so hot.”

A blonde woman who was now holding the infant spoke up. “You walked? No wonder you look so frazzled. There, have a seat. I’m Johanna Johnson, by the way. Mark’s wife.” Chakotay couldn’t help grinning. Mark’s wife. Excellent.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mrs Johnson. I’m Chakotay. Kathryn’s …”

“Yes, I know, I know. Here, have this.” And she handed him a glass of lemonade, filled with ice. It was blissfully cool and wet.

“Thank you.”

Johanna Johnson eyed him up and down. “So you’re the infamous Chakotay that we’ve heard so much about. She never mentioned how gorgeous you were. Trust her to leave out all the good bits. What in God’s name are you doing here anyway?”

Chakotay was a bit taken aback by her bluntness, but was pleased to know that at least Kathryn had mentioned him to her family and friends.

Another woman emerged from the house, and her resemblance to Kathryn was startling. “Another newcomer? Hello, I’m Phoebe.” She looked out over the back yard and then yelled. “Charlie, don’t do that to your sister. She needs both her arms.” She turned back to Chakotay. “So what brings you here today?”

Johanna snorted. “I was just trying to prise that information from him. He looks a bit shell shocked, don’t you think?”

There was a squawk from the back yard and both mothers turned. Johanna spoke first. “Ben, give Amy a turn with the hose, and no lassoing anyone with it please. Good kids.”

Once that fracas was sorted, both women turned back to Chakotay and stared at him, waiting for an answer.

Chakotay shot a look at Mark Johnson, who just shrugged and smiled.

He took a deep breath. “Well, I’m actually supposed to be in San Francisco visiting friends, but….” Kathryn wandered out on to the veranda. She’d changed into a green summer frock. Her hair was still damp, but grass and mud free. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. She looked beautiful. Sitting down opposite him she avoided his gaze and looked out at the playing children.

Phoebe prompted. “But……?”

“Oh… um, but… um, as I was waiting for my shuttle, there was a boarding call for one going to Bloomington, Indiana and the next thing I knew I was aboard and on my way.” He tore his eyes away from Kathryn. “Very much a spur of the moment thing. I haven’t seen Kathryn for several months and … I’ve missed her.”

She turned and looked at him, and raising her eyebrows, gave him a wry look. “You picked a good day. The hottest in a hundred years. But then again, you’ve been known to make odd choices on occasion.” She stood up abruptly and moved inside, tossing over her shoulder as she left, “I’m just going to see how Mom’s going with the food.”

Johanna Johnson looked at him with a smirk. “Well, she’s pissed. What the hell did you do? This I have to know.” She leant forward slightly and readjusted the baby on her lap.

Chakotay was very uncomfortable. “Um, well, I… um…”

Mark stepped in at this point. “Leave the poor man alone, Johanna. I love you dearly, but you can be very scary sometimes.”

Johanna scoffed, but he was saved when Gretchen Janeway appeared in the doorway with a tray of sandwiches and salads. “Chakotay, could you go into the kitchen and give Kathryn a hand. Phoebe, show him the way please?”

He cast a grateful glance at Mrs Janeway and gladly followed Phoebe into the house. She turned to him. “Don’t mind Johanna. She’s renowned for her straight-shooting, and means no harm. You’ll get used to her. She tends to voice all the things we want to, but are too afraid to ask. She’s handy to have around.” She gave him a pointed look as she indicated a doorway to their right. “Kathryn’s in there.”

He nodded. “Thank you.”

He moved into the kitchen and paused a little distance from Kathryn as she stood at the sink washing up. “Can I dry?”

She turned to him and indicated, with a nod of her head, the tea towel hanging in front of the oven.

They did the dishes in silence, and he decided that this had, by all accounts, been a very bad idea. His third degree outside had been terrifying and now he didn’t know what to say to Kathryn. His shirt was sticking to him and he was sweltering again. He swiped the beads of sweat from his forehead as the silence became as oppressive as the heat. Surely the weather was an innocuous enough subject.

“I didn’t realise Indiana got so humid in the summer.”

“Yes it does, often. But this is worse than usual.” Sweat was beaded on her top lip and he had this overwhelming desire to lean forward and kiss it away. He noticed that trickles of perspiration were making their way down her neck to her chest and then disappearing down the front of her dress. His eyes followed their path and a flush rose up his neck with the thought of where they were travelling. He flicked his eyes up to hers and found that she’d caught him ogling her. The flush rose higher.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Just dry the dishes. We’ll go and get a sandwich in a moment. You must be hungry.”

If only she knew. Hungry? He was ravenous, but not for a sandwich. The heat was playing havoc with his mind. They’d hardly said a civil word to one another, and yet he was fantasising about her. But that wasn’t unusual. He’d spent a goodly proportion of the last seven years fantasising about her. It was a hard habit to break. “It’s wonderful to see you, Kathryn. I meant what I said outside. I’ve missed you.”

She turned and looked at him with an unreadable expression. Taking the tea towel from him, she dried her hands then handed it back. “Good.” She strode out the door and back to the veranda.

Chakotay’s shoulders slumped. Definitely a bad idea. He was tempted to cut his losses and leave now. He could sneak out the front door and walk back to town. No one would miss him. He might even make it in time for Tom and B’Elanna’s dinner. He dried the last few plates and placed them on the counter. After grabbing another glass of water he was about to leave when Gretchen walked into the room.

“She’s in a snit. Has been for quite some time. Are you the cause?”

Chakotay was feeling a little battered by all these forthright women. He’d always thought of Kathryn as being candid, but these women were positively ferocious. He turned around to answer her and found Kathryn standing in the doorway.

“Mother! Leave him alone. And no, he’s not the cause. Give me a bit of credit. I’ve managed to survive quite happily without him. Maybe I’m just surprised to see him here.”

“Whatever you say, dear.” Gretchen gave Chakotay a wink and left the kitchen.

Kathryn sighed. “Come on. Let’s go for a walk. They’re never going to leave you alone.” She turned and marched out the kitchen door. Chakotay followed, still very unsure of how she felt about him being here. She trotted down the steps in front of him. He stood at the top of the steps and watched her walk away. She turned when she realised he wasn’t following. “Coming?”

“Uh, yeah.” They walked in silence, down past the barn and silo towards the creek. It was slightly cooler down by the water in the shade of the trees, but it wasn’t long before he was uncomfortably hot again and he could feel the sweat running in small rivulets down his spine.

“Damn, it’s hot.” Kathryn lifted her hair off the back of her neck. It was hanging in tendrils and Chakotay couldn’t keep his eyes off the sweep of her shoulder and the soft pale skin of her nape. He had to hold himself in check and not reach forward to gather up the last few strands of hair that had escaped her grasp. She moved down to the water’s edge and sat on a rock ledge in the shade. Slipping off her shoes, she dangled her feet in the water.

He stood behind her and looked out over the scene before him. The creek bubbled and gurgled over the rocks and around the roots of the trees along its banks, meandering its way lazily through the fields.

“Sit down, Chakotay. It’s too hot to stand.” He sat and pulled off his shoes. Rolling up his pants, he dipped his feet into the blissfully cool water. Out of the corner of his eye he watched her watch him.

They sat in silence for several minutes, then Kathryn leant forward and dipped her hands into the water flicking the droplets onto her chest and stroking them up her neck and face. He looked on, mesmerised by the ritual. She turned to him suddenly and fixed him with a stare. “Why are you here, Chakotay?”

To give himself a moment to gather his thoughts he mirrored her actions, leaning forward and wetting his hands and wiping them over his face and neck. There was now a slight breeze and he could see clouds rolling in from the south. It looked like a storm was brewing. An omen?

He turned to her. “I missed you. I’ve missed you for a long time. Years I think, and I needed to see you. It just happened.”

“Oh.” She dipped her hand into the water again. “Where are you supposed to be?”

“Tom and B’Elanna’s. Which reminds me, I should contact them and tell them I’ll be late.”

“Hmmm. How are they?”

“They’re well. Miral is beautiful and troublesome.”

“Yes, she is.”

His head swung around and he stared at her. “You’ve seen her?”

“Of course. I talk to B’Elanna at least once a week and I see many of the crew. They drop in from time to time, here and at Headquarters. Why? Did you think I’d gone into seclusion or something?”

“Yes… no…I… I don’t quite know what I thought. No one said anything.”

“Why would they? Our lives don’t revolve around each other. I can live quite happily without you, you know.”

“Yes, I know that. I wasn’t suggesting that you couldn’t. I… I’m just a bit confused at the moment. And I’m just surprised that Tom and B’Elanna didn’t tell me that they’d seen and heard from you. Who else have you spoken to recently?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Lots. Harry and the Delaneys, Tuvok, of course, the Doctor and Seven, Samantha and Naomi, and several others. I’m sponsoring Mike Ayala and William McKenzie at Command School and Icheb is under my guardianship at Starfleet Academy. I’m in regular contact with many of the ex crew.”

“You’re not in contact with me.” He realised as he’d said it that he sounded petulant, but he was upset that she’d seen fit to totally exclude him from her life.

She shot him a withering look. “You didn’t contact me either.”

“I… You…” There was no answer to that. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I should have called.”

She heaved a sigh. “I’m sorry too, but I’ve been angry with you.” He opened his mouth to say something, but she held up her hand. “I know I have no right to be, and that just made me angrier.” She shrugged as she picked bits of moss off the rock they were sitting on and tossed them in the water. She took a deep breath. “We should have spoken before this and it’s mostly my fault. I was rather ashamed of myself and how I reacted that day in the ready room. I had every intention of calling you, but as time went on, I kept putting it off and then too much time had gone by, you hadn’t contacted me, and well, I thought…..” She turned and looked at him. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure. You can ask me anything, Kathryn.”

She placed her hands in her lap and held his gaze. “Why Seven? Of all the women on Voyager, why her?” He could have sworn that her voice wavered, but her gaze was steady.

“I don’t know. She asked me. I suppose it was a stupid thing to do in retrospect, but I was lonely and tired of waiting.” Thunder rumbled in the distance and he realised what he’d said. It was the first time, since New Earth, that he had ever intimated that there was anything between them. He was watching her, but she was looking straight ahead staring into the distance at nothing in particular.

She bowed her head a little. “I see. Well, that’s that then. We should head back before the rain starts.”

Now he was even more puzzled. Hadn’t she heard him? “‘That’s that?’ What do you mean, Kathryn? Surely you must know that Seven and I aren’t together anymore. We haven’t even been on the same planet for over five months. Our ‘relationship’, if you can even call it that, lasted all of a couple of weeks. We kissed half a dozen times and that was it. To call it a relationship is rather overstating things, to be honest.”

“Yes, perhaps, but according to the Admiral, in the other timeline it became much more than that. You married her and then three years later she died. Apparently you were never the same. And neither was I.”

“I married Seven!?” He shook his head. Just trying to imagine such a thing was enough to tax his poor sun damaged brain. He couldn’t see it. Then it occurred to him that this was what she’d meant by ‘already’ all those months ago in her ready room. She’d been aware of their relationship all along, but hadn’t said anything and her assumption would have been that he was deeply in love with Seven. She was wrong. About as wrong as she could be. The ramifications she’d spoken of had been Seven’s death. No wonder she had been so angry and upset. Well surely all that was moot now. The Admiral had changed the timeline, so their futures were an open book. He was still reeling from the thought of marrying Seven. He hadn’t loved Seven, he’d loved Kathryn and the only person he’d ever wanted to marry was the woman sitting beside him, but he was too late.

He heard her gasp and looked up. She was staring at him wide eyed and he realised he must have been muttering aloud and she’d heard him. She scrambled to her feet as another much closer crack of thunder shattered the silence. He vowed never to go out into this sort of heat again. It had played havoc with his head. He leapt up after her. “Kathryn! Wait. Please. I’m sorry. I was just thinking aloud. I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise, Chakotay. It’s I who should be sorry. I made you wait all those years and it was selfish and arrogant of me to assume that you would still care. It was good to see you.” The clouds rolled in and the countryside took on an eerie greenish glow.

Chakotay could smell the rain. It wasn’t far away. The air was charged with energy and in a way it invigorated him. “Kathryn, please don’t go. Could we at least talk about this? We haven’t talked in a long time and I think we need to.”

Her back was still to him and she stood quietly for a moment or two and then turned and looked at him sadly. “It was Michael.”

Confusion reigned again. “Michael? Michael who?”

“Michael Sullivan.”

Oh. Now he understood. She’d fallen in love with the hologram. No wonder she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. He’d known she’d become involved with him, but hadn’t realised that it had become so serious. Damn it. Damn it to hell and back. He now understood why they had drifted apart over that last year. Her heart had been elsewhere. His shoulders slumped and he muttered a defeated. “Oh. Him.”

She turned and looked out over the landscape again. “I gave up. I realised that it was too late and that I’d let the man I loved slip away. It just seemed easier to distance myself than to be reminded everyday of what I’d let go. I missed it dreadfully. I’m sorry.”

He nodded sadly. “You must miss him. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you love.”

Now she was looking at him as if he was crazy. “Yes, it is. But I never did get the chance to say goodbye. Maybe now is a good time.” She moved closer to him and held out her hand. “Good bye, Chakotay. Thank you for all you’ve done for me, and for Voyager, for all those years. It has been an honour knowing you.”

He took her hand in his, but didn’t let go. “What are we doing, Kathryn? Why are we saying good bye? I don’t want to say good bye.”

“You have your life, Chakotay, and I don’t want to be relegated to the occasional comm message. I think a clean break is the best thing. I have my work and you have yours and we’ll get on with our lives. It’s for the best.”

“What? And you’re going to go back to the hologram?”

She tried to pull away, but he kept her hand held tightly in his. “The hologram? You mean Michael?” She stared at him with a puzzled frown. “I don’t give a damn about him. He’s been deleted for all I know.”

“But, you said it was Michael.”

“Yes.” She withdrew her hand from his. “It was then that I knew that what I thought we had was over. You actively encouraged me to have a relationship with him, and I knew that if you still cared you wouldn’t have been so accepting.” She shrugged, but her eyes held unshed tears. “You even mentioned that you had indulged in holo-relationships and I just knew you’d lost interest. I understood. It was my fault. I’d left it too late, assumed too much. I really do understand, Chakotay, and I’ve come to terms with that.”

Now the pieces were starting to fall into place. He laughed. “Kathryn, Kathryn. You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.” Now she was looking confused.

Thunder crashed and rumbled around them and the sky was dark and heavy with rain-filled clouds. “I didn’t want to push you to be with Michael. Spirits! That was the last thing I wanted to do, but you were so distant and I thought that any feelings you’d had for me were long dead. We’d pulled away from one another and I knew you needed someone and you seemed so happy when you were with him. I thought you’d finally found something that gave you joy and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I loved you, so it was important for me to see you happy.”

She looked over his shoulder and shook her head gently. “I thought that you were pushing me to be with Michael because you didn’t care anymore. I thought that I’d lost you. Not only your love but your friendship as well.” She took a step away from him and looked him in the eye. “And then came Seven, and I knew it was too late.”

“I’m so sorry about that, Kathryn, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.” He shook his head and gave a sad chuckle. “You have no idea.”

She looked up at him, her eyes steady. “Please explain it to me.”

He held her gaze. “I really don’t have much of an explanation except that I was lonely and just tired of it all. We had grown apart. There was the constant struggle of living everyday on the edge of disaster. That last year was hard on all of us. You had Michael, and then there was the man on Quarra and when it came down to it, it was simply that….Seven asked. I’d spent that time with her on the Ventu planet and my opinion of her had changed. She is a remarkable young woman, very much like the woman who saved and nurtured her. Maybe that was it. She reminded me of you. I was enthralled and charmed and it appealed to my vanity to have a young attractive woman wanting my company. It all sounds so pathetic, I know.” He ran his hand through his hair. “All I can say is I’m sorry, and I would understand if you didn’t want to have anything to do with me. It would break my heart, but …. Do you think you could forgive an old man his foolishness?”

She was frowning at him and his heart was pounding in his chest. She blinked slowly and nodded. “I understand. I really do. And of course I forgive you. If you can forgive my arrogance.” She stood tall and searched his eyes. “Do you still care? For me, I mean.”

He took a deep breath as the rain started to fall, great heavy drops that hit the ground in a slow thudding staccato. He reached for her hand and she was looking at him with those beautiful clear blue eyes. He felt like crying. All this hurt and anger over his foolishness and a simple misunderstanding. She reached up and touched his cheek. “Chakotay?”

Almost unable to speak, he tugged her hand towards him and caught her in a desperate embrace, lifting her off the ground and holding her close. He breathed her in, her wonderfully familiar scent filled his head and heart and shot shards of want to his middle. Her body was flush against his and her arms were wrapped around him, with her face tucked into his neck. As if in blessed relief the heavens opened and the rain began to pour, heavy and drenching, sweet and cool. Chakotay spun her around slowly, words rumbling from deep within him, so she felt as well as heard them. “I love you, Kathryn. I’ve always loved you and always will.”

Tears mingled with the rain as they stood together, bodies melded and arms wrapped around one another. He felt her lips sliding and kissing his neck and he shivered as she whispered in his ear. “I love you.”

He was shaking. His clothes were wet through and although the air around them was warm, he trembled. The release of tension was almost too much. He hadn’t realised how apprehensive he had been. She stroked his back and was making slight cooing noises, and he slowly regained control only to almost lose it again as her body slid down his. Her head was still tucked into his neck and she mumbled something.

“What was that, Kathryn? I didn’t hear you.”

“I said…. I lied.”

He pulled back and looked at her. A puzzled frown marred his features, partially obscuring his tattoo. “You lied? About what?”

She quirked a half smile. “You.”

He blinked slowly and frowned further in question.

With a shake of her head she answered. “I can’t live without you. And I’ve missed you terribly.” She gave an embarrassed laugh. “The reason I was so angry with you when you first arrived was that I thought I’d fooled everyone, including myself …. and then there you were, and all I wanted to do was throw myself into your arms… and hit you, all at the same time.” She lifted her hand and cupped his cheek. “Do you know how frustrating that is for someone like me?” Lowering her hand she smacked his chest.

He laughed. “Ouch!” Picking up her hand off his chest he kissed her palm. “I’m sorry, Kathryn. I’ll try not to frustrate you in future, although I can’t promise anything.”

She laughed and then became serious. “Will you promise me one thing?”

“Anything.”

She raised her eyebrows and smiled. “You might regret that one day.”

He laughed quietly. “There is nothing I could possibly regret about you, Kathryn. Now what is my promise?”

“Promise me that we’ll never assume, that we’ll always tell each other exactly what we think and feel.”

“Now that’s a promise I’ll never have a problem keeping. You won’t ever have to doubt what I feel for you. I love you with all that I am. And I think I’m going to kiss you now.”

“You only think you are?” She grinned at him as their heads moved towards one another.

“Hmmm. No, I’m definitely going to kiss you now.” His face broke into a dimpled grin and his hand slid up her back to cradle her head. Holding it gently he studied her beautiful face. So familiar and so beloved. That strong, obstinate jaw, those aristocratic cheekbones, broad intelligent forehead, those piercing blue eyes and those lips that he’d watched and dreamt about for years. They smiled for him now and whispered.

“When?”

His breath feathered across them. “Now.” Eyes closed as lips met in a soft gentle kiss. His hand held her head, as his mouth moved over hers, and the rain poured down over them, cool and cleansing. His lips trailed along her jaw and back up to her mouth, gently nipping and tasting.

Her body fell into his and she clutched at his shoulders, one hand slowly sliding up to the side of his face, holding him to her. The kiss deepened as his tongue teased along her lips and she opened her mouth. Tongues touched and Kathryn moaned and moved closer, her hand running up the back of his head, tangling in his hair as their open mouths ground together. She broke the kiss, and gasped for breath, moaning again as he pulled her dress away from her neck and kissed along her collar bone and up her throat to behind her ear.

“Oh God.” She tugged at his shirt, and slid her hands underneath, stroking them over his abdomen and chest. “You feel wonderful.” Her hands moved over his back and then around to his front where she leant back and began to undo the buttons of his shirt. He was holding her to him with his arm around her waist and she could feel the hot hard length of him grinding into her belly. She was almost overcome with a heat that had nothing whatsoever to do with the steamy temperature of the Indiana afternoon.

Slowly he slipped the buttons undone on the front of her dress and slid his hand under the fabric and over her breast, teasing her nipple through her bra. Her dress was soaked and her erect nipples were clearly outlined through the taut material. Kathryn bit her bottom lip as she pulled his shirt apart and ran her hands over his chest. Her pale hands contrasted starkly against his golden skin, the picture of light against dark making her throb with want. The rain was still falling heavily and small rivulets ran down his chest. She leant forward and lapped at the trickles. They tasted of Chakotay and summer, love and freedom, hope and life. Her tears mingled with the rain as she thought of what she had almost lost. This man. This love. She looked up into his eyes and his love for her spilled from their dark depths. Her heart was filled to overflowing.

Tears poured down his face as well, as he whispered words of love and thanks. She was in his arms at last and he thanked the spirits for guiding him here to her.

He leant forward again and took her mouth in a searing kiss as he snapped open the front closure of her bra and her breasts fell free. She closed her eyes and her head lolled back as he moved lower and captured her nipple between his teeth, flicking the pebbled tip with his tongue. She was clutching his shoulders, her nails biting into his warm flesh as she held on for dear life. She dropped her arms to her side as he slid her dress down and shrugged out of his own shirt, dropping it to the ground. Kathryn’s dress hung on her hips as he lifted her slightly to ride his thigh. She groaned and rocked against him and he could feel the heat of her through his pants. He was painfully aroused and completely enraptured by the passion of this woman

They were both making small grunting and mewling noises as they kissed and laved each others bodies. Kathryn pulled back all of a sudden and panted. “Oh God. I need you now.” She turned around, looking frantically for somewhere to lie down. There were some small shrubs a few metres away, so she slipped her dress off the rest of the way, and grabbing his hand, pulled him over to the undergrowth. They sank onto the wet ground and shimmied out of their remaining clothes. Kathryn knelt beside him and ran her hands over his taut bronze body. He was beautiful. Silky soft skin over hard muscle and frissons of pleasure trickled down her spine as she watched him shiver and tremble at her touch. He lifted his hand and tangled it in her wet hair, pulling her face towards him and capturing her lips in another deep kiss. With the rain still pouring over them, her body slid sensuously over his, her breasts pressed into his chest and her centre aligned with his erection.

She reached in between them to grasp his rigid penis and sliding her body to the side she enveloped him in her hot mouth. He hadn’t expected this and jerked and called out at the intensity of the sensation. Reaching over he teased his fingers through the curls of her mons, gently parting her folds before sliding a finger through her wetness. He skimmed over her clitoris, stroking her with ever increasing pressure. She was thrusting against his hand as she pumped his hardness, laving and lightly nipping the sensitive tip. He was close and grabbed her hand. “I’ll come. And I want to be with you.”

Dropping one last kiss on the tip of his penis she smiled at him and clambered over him. She hovered above him, her legs trembling as she played his length along her folds. With one hand braced on his chest, she lowered herself onto him, groaning as he slid inside her. They stilled and stared into each others eyes. Their connection was not only physical, but spiritual and deeply profound. All the years of want and denial, desire and restraint, passion and control, dissolving in this blissful moment of communion. The cleansing rain washed away all their sadness and grief. Kathryn lifted her hand in a well remembered gesture and Chakotay raised his hand and as their bodies and hearts were joined so they wove their fingers together and the connection was complete.

Kathryn began to rock against him. He countered with strong thrusts, each one driving him deeper within her. He looked down to see her pale thighs straddling his hips, both their bodies’ slick with rain and sweat. Kathryn moaned in rhythm with their thrusts and he could feel her inner muscles twitch and jerk as her orgasm approached. He took her other hand and rolled them over, arching above her as he began to move within her. Deep, slow thrusts that she met with strong counter thrusts. Her hand wandered down to feel where they were joined and she groaned as her fingers felt where his rigid length slid in and out of her. His hand joined hers and he rolled his thumb over her swollen nub sending jolts of pleasure to her very core. Her inner muscles began to clench as his rhythm faltered. Their eyes locked as he thrust and ground into her. His lips captured hers in a warm wet kiss, and as he felt her clamp down on his penis, he groaned, “I love you.”

She arched, taut as a bow, as her climax took her. Calling his name, her body shuddered and jerked. He gritted his teeth and watched enthralled as her body strained against his. As she relaxed he began to thrust into her again. Her eyes widened in shock as she felt herself building to another climax. “No, uh, uh, oh God. No more.”

But it was out of her control and as she tipped over the edge he thrust a couple more times and his world exploded. His yell was drowned out by a loud clap of thunder and as the rain pelted down on his back, his hips pounded into her and he emptied himself deep within her.

He collapsed onto her, shuddering breaths and gasps coming from both of them. As he made to move away from her, she held him tight. “Not yet.”

“I’ll crush you, my love.”

“No. It feels wonderful. Stay, please.”

They lay entwined for a time, just revelling in the moment and acknowledging and accepting this new phase in their relationship. Chakotay finally slipped from her and turned on his side. He tugged her close and they lay in the damp grass as the rain finally started to slow and the rumble of thunder faded into the distance.

Kathryn kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

He smiled. “Kathryn, you have nothing to thank me for. I’m just so happy to be here with you and to finally be able to tell you how much I love you.”

She grinned at him. “Me too.” She snuggled into his side and draped her leg over him as he held her close. The warm rain washed over them.

“Helloooo! Kathryn! Hellooooo! Where are you?”

Kathryn jolted up and whispered. “Oh God! Chakotay! Damn it all. It’s Johanna.” She peeked over the top of the shrub and saw both Johanna and Phoebe walking along the creek in their direction. “And Phoebe. Shit! What’ll we do?”

Chakotay was having a difficult time not laughing. The incongruity of the situation tickled him. Here was Kathryn, a Starfleet Admiral, gloriously naked, soaking wet and covered in bits of grass, hunkering down behind a bush to avoid being caught in the nude by her sister and friend after making love with her ex-first officer. He never would have imagined it. Shaking his head, he had a quick look to see where they were. There wasn’t much they could do. They were going to be found any moment and it was blindingly obvious what they had been up to.

Kathryn turned to him frantically. “Hide.” She ducked down behind the shrub and placed her hand over his mouth to silence him. He’d had no intention of saying anything, but the feel of her fingers on his lips was delightful and he was happy for her to leave them there. He darted his tongue out and licked her finger tips. She shot him an exasperated glance, but grinned. “You’re insatiable. Stop it.”

“Kathryn! Chakotay! Where are you? You’ve been gone for ages.”

They could hear the women’s conversation. Phoebe was speaking. “How much further do you think they could have gone? I hope Kathryn hasn’t done anything drastic to him. She was in a pretty huff.”

Johanna answered. “Oh, I don’t think so. Under all that huff was a good deal of hankering. I think they had a load of unfinished business. Kathryn! Chakotay! We’ve got an umbrella for you. Gretchen was concerned you’d get wet.”

They were just on the other side of the shrubs from where they were hiding. “Oh hello. What’s this?” Johanna was looking at their discarded clothing. She spoke loudly. “Good thinking, Kathryn. Gretchen was worried you’d get your clothes wet. I see you’ve solved that problem by taking them off.” She turned to Phoebe. “Well, it looks like ‘the business’ was taken care of.” She snorted. “Works for me.”

Kathryn thunked her forehead against Chakotay’s shoulder. He laughed and peered over the top of the shrubs. “Ah. Hi, Johanna. Phoebe.”

“Oh, there you are. Hmmm, and you are all there, aren’t you?” Johanna was laughing good naturedly. “Well, I see that we’re not needed here. You seem to have things well taken care of.” She peered over the bush and saw Kathryn’s naked back. “Yes, all sorted I see. You might want to put your clothes back on, Admiral, before you head back. There being children around and all.” Kathryn groaned and the other women laughed out loud. “We won’t breathe a word, will we, Phoebe?”

“Bwahahaha, no.” Phoebe was almost doubled over in laughter. “Good work, you two. Chakotay, please tell me, is Kathryn bright red?”

He looked down at her and she raised her face. Her death glare was set to kill, but she was blushing from head to toe. He looked back over the undergrowth. “Yup.”

Kathryn had had enough and sat up staring over the shrub at the interlopers. “Get out of here, the pair of you.”

Phoebe was still laughing. “Hey, you can’t order us around like a couple of greenhorn ensigns. Besides, we have the advantage. We’ve got clothes on.”

“Phoebe!” Kathryn looked like she was ready to give chase. Chakotay grabbed her hand.

But Johanna relented. “OK, OK. We’re going. We’ll leave the umbrella here. See you soon.”

Phoebe called over her shoulder. “Don’t be too long or Mom will be on her way to look for you.”

Kathryn sat down with a thud as they listened to the uproarious laughter fade into the distance. She looked up at Chakotay and he stared at her. He wasn’t sure if she was going to cry or go ballistic, but to her credit her mouth twisted into a smile and then she started to chuckle. “Oh, damn! Phoebe and Johanna are never going to let me live this down.” She slapped his arm. “And it’s all your fault.”

His eyebrows shot up and he laughed. “Mine? I’m innocent. If I remember rightly you touched me first.”

She cocked her head to the side and smiled. “Hmmm, yes I suppose I did.” She touched his cheek again. “And I’m so glad I did.”

He leant forward and kissed her. “So am I.” They looked at one another for a long moment and then Kathryn jolted.

“We’d better get moving, or my mother will be here and I don’t know whether she’ll see the funny side of this.” They peered over the top of the shrub to check that they were alone, and grabbing their clothes, they moved to the clearing and gathered up the rest of their garments and dressed quickly.

It was still raining lightly and they took the umbrella that Phoebe and Johanna left, and arm in arm made their way back to the house.

They arrived to find everyone still sitting around the table chatting and laughing.

Gretchen looked up and smiled. “There you are. We thought we’d lost you. Are you hungry? You left before you had anything to eat. You must be ravenous.”

Johanna snorted and Kathryn shot her a deadly look. Johanna held up her hands and gestured that she had zipped her mouth. Kathryn rolled her eyes. Mark was looking on with an amused grin, and Chakotay watched the whole proceedings with a smile.

Gretchen stood up and came around to stand in front of Kathryn. “You’d best get dry and changed.” And as she was talking she began to re-button Kathryn’s dress. “And I do understand how difficult it is to get the buttons straight when you dress in a hurry.”

Kathryn’s mouth dropped open in shock and Gretchen laughed loudly and looked at Chakotay over her daughter’s shoulder. “Congratulations and welcome to the family.” She hugged Kathryn and then moved to Chakotay and kissed his cheek. “We’re very pleased you decided to visit.”

She smacked Kathryn lightly on the behind. “Now go and get cleaned up, the pair of you. Oh, and Chakotay, I contacted B’Elanna and Tom and they had some of your belongings beamed over. Quite a few, in fact. That trunk in Kathryn’s room belongs to you. And they said not to worry about dinner tonight, they’d catch up with both of you in a couple of days.”

Chakotay nodded, quite stunned at the turn of events. “Uh, thank you.”

Gretchen turned to Kathryn again. “Oh, and Kathryn. B’Elanna had a message for you. She said…ah… ‘Kahless! It’s about time.’ And that you were both…now let me get this right. Yes that’s it…you were both ‘as slow as Alvanian cave sloths, and you’re not to do that to them again.’” Gretchen grinned. “Now off with you.”

They both chorused. “Yes, ma’am.” And stepped through the doorway into the house.

There was a roar of laughter from all those outside and Kathryn and Chakotay looked at one another for a moment, then burst out laughing. Kathryn grabbed Chakotay’s hand and they ran up the stairs to her room.

She dragged him along the hallway and into a room, slamming the door. Smiling she slid her arms around his neck and pulled his head down for a rapturous kiss then pulled away slowly. “Welcome home, Chakotay.”

“Welcome home, Kathryn.”

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