The Long Way Around

Summary: Post Endgame. A lunch, a dinner, a surprise departure and life for Kathryn and Chakotay is changed forever. Happy Birthday, Kat Lady, I hope you have a great day.

Thanks to Brianna for the Beta… although it has been fiddled with since, so any mistakes are mine. 🙂

 

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

 

 


 

A few minutes early, Kathryn stared at the night sky from the window in the foyer outside his apartment. This was the last place she’d expected to be tonight and as her eyes shifted focus, she stared at her reflection in the darkened glass. Worried eyes stared back at her as she thought about the events that had led to this evening’s encounter.

 

Kathryn had been under the impression that all was well in ‘paradise’, as Chakotay and Seven’s relationship had become known. Tom Paris was to blame for that cynical, and as it turned out, grossly erroneous euphemism. Things were far from idyllic.

 

She hadn’t seen much of either Chakotay or Seven over the last few weeks. He’d been conspicuously absent from many of her depositions and she’d assumed he was busy with his young lover. It was understandable. Kathryn was well aware of how time-consuming dealing with Seven could be and she was pleased that he was there for her, although thoughts of them together had been an unwanted distraction throughout the debriefings. In all honesty, she was happy for them, or rather… she was well on the way to convincing herself of that. What else could she do? Essentially, it was a fait accompli. How do you argue with a future that is already written?

 

She’d received a call from Seven the day before. It had come out of the blue and she’d insisted that Kathryn meet her for lunch because she had something of ‘great importance’ to discuss with her. Kathryn had ‘complied’, not that she was given much choice, and had turned up today, on the dot of twelve, at the small café that Seven had designated for their rendezvous.

 

Seven had arrived at the café, wearing her new Starfleet Science’s uniform and, without the figure-hugging cat suit, blended in quite nicely with the rest of the Academy crowd.

 

They’d greeted one another – Seven perfunctorily and Kathryn warmly – and taken their seats. Actually, Kathryn had been quite surprised at how pleased she was to see Seven. She’d missed the young woman’s inquisitive and challenging company.

 

After ordering their meals, Seven launched into the reason for the meeting.

 

“I have a request, Captain.”

 

Kathryn had nodded, hoping against hope that it wasn’t something to do with her relationship with Chakotay. If she had to have a ‘birds and bees’ conversation with Seven, she was going to need a couple of stiff drinks. Kathryn glanced around quickly to make sure the waiter was within hailing distance, just in case. When Seven revealed her ‘news’, Kathryn’s jaw dropped in shock and she was sorely tempted to order that drink.

 

“I have decided to terminate my relationship with the Commander. We are ill suited to one another and it is pointless to continue our association. I think one refers to the situation as ‘flagellating a deceased equine’ and as such, I would like you to explain to the Commander my reasons for leaving.”

 

Kathryn blinked once and stared in stunned silence at her protégé. Like the mother of an errant teenager, all she could think was – where had she gone wrong?  ‘Flagellating a deceased equine.’?  Kathryn had to bite her cheek to stop herself from laughing, partly in amusement, but there was a distinct edge of hysteria fighting for dominance. Finally getting herself under control, she cleared her throat and addressed the very serious young woman sitting opposite her. “I really don’t think it’s my place to do that, Sev… Annika. Part of any relationship is learning to discuss ways to resolve the problems and disagreements you might have with your partner. It’s not for an outsider to interfere.”

 

Seven’s brow creased in a frown and she shook her head, speaking stridently. “You do not understand, Captain. I do not wish to discuss anything with the Commander. The relationship is not functioning satisfactorily, and it never will, so there is nothing to resolve. I do not love the Commander and he does not love me. Our differences are irreconcilable. In age, we are disparate and as such, we have different expectations from life. Our spiritual needs are diametrically opposed and sexually, we are not compatible. I find sexual intercourse uncomfortable, inefficient and unhygienic.”

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Kathryn saw the people at the surrounding tables turn towards them with startled expressions. She ignored them as Seven continued, oblivious to their audience.

 

“I find no pleasure in co-habiting. The Commander’s wants and desires do not align with mine and at this juncture it is futile to attempt to maintain the relationship. I wish to leave and pursue other avenues of interest, without the burden of a life partner. I have found, after experiencing human mating habits and a relationship, that I do not like, require, or aspire to one in the future. I am content with my own company.”

 

Kathryn looked sharply at the gawping women at the next table and they quickly averted their eyes, then she leaned forward and spoke quietly. “I don’t know what to say, Seven. I thought that you and Chakotay were happy together. The Admiral said that…”

 

Kathryn could have sworn Seven shuddered as she answered. “I know what the Admiral said. In her timeline the Commander and I married, and I died, causing both you, and he, great sadness.”

 

Kathryn’s face crumpled slightly and her voice husked quietly. “Yes, I know.” Kathryn reached forward with the intention of laying a comforting hand on the young woman’s arm, but Seven pulled her arm back out of reach.

 

Her emotionless eyes met Kathryn’s. “I cannot conceive of any situation, in any timeline, that would induce me to marry… anyone. I am unsure of the Admiral’s purpose in telling me about my future, but there is no evidence to support the theory that if a particular event occurred in one timeline, that it will automatically happen in another.”

 

Kathryn nodded. You couldn’t argue with Borg logic or their knowledge of temporal mechanics. “I’m so sorry that it didn’t work out, Seven.”

 

Seven remained impassive. “There is nothing for you to be sorry about, Captain. You are not responsible. While we were still the Delta Quadrant, the Doctor disabled the fail-safe device in my cortical node. I had hoped that it would free me to pursue a deeper emotional connection with the Commander, but I have found it awkward and uncomfortable contending with the constant barrage of emotions. This, in turn, made me ill-equipped to deal with life here. The procedure has been reversed and now, with my emotions in check, I am ready to move on to something more befitting my abilities.”

 

“You had it reactivated? But Seven…?” Kathryn met the young woman’s eyes, disturbed and upset with this knowledge, and angry with the Doctor for not informing her of this drastic move.

 

“I am content with myself this way, Captain. I have lived my whole life with my emotions controlled by artificial means and I found it too difficult to deal with them. I also considered it inefficient and cumbersome to have them so easily accessible.”

 

“But that’s the point, Seven.”

 

“Not for me. I am relieved to feel… normal again.”

 

That was a matter of opinion, Kathryn thought to herself, but answered compassionately. “I’m so sorry to hear this, and I wish you’d come to me sooner, we could have discussed this and perhaps found another solution.”

 

“It was not necessary. You taught me to think as an individual, and I am eminently satisfied with my decision and it is not why I asked you here today. As I said before, I would appreciate it if you would tell the Commander that I’m leaving. You are the person to whom he is closest and I do not want to have to contend with his labile emotions when the news is relayed to him. He will no doubt be upset and I am not emotionally equipped to deal with that outcome.”

 

“I don’t want to have to deal with it either.” Kathryn tried not to snap, finding it hard to believe that Seven could be so cold-hearted and uncaring. She was more distant and emotionally inaccessible now than she had ever been. Kathryn would have a thing or two to say to the Doctor about this.

 

“Please, Captain.” There was a slight tremor in her voice.

 

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed. Perhaps she wasn’t as unaffected as she appeared.

 

“I do not want to hurt Chakotay.”

 

Kathryn noticed she referred to him by name this time.

 

“This was my first romantic relationship and it was very different to the simulations that I ran on the holodeck. I was unprepared for the inconsistencies and vagaries that a ‘real’ relationship entailed. The Chakotay hologram was much more predictable than the real one.”

 

Kathryn blinked. “I beg your pardon? The Chakotay hologram?”

 

“It was the Doctor’s idea.”

 

“I bet it was.” Kathryn muttered through clenched teeth.

 

“We were practicing my social interactive skills using holographic representations of the crew. The Doctor was unaware of my use of the Chakotay hologram until the overload in my cortical node.”

 

“When did this happen and why didn’t I hear about it?”

 

“I swore the Doctor to secrecy. I was unsettled and unsure about what had happened and decided that relationships were not something that I could perfect, but it was not long after this that I noticed my attraction to the non-holgraphic version of the Commander and surmised that I might be more successful with the real specimen.”

 

Specimen? Kathryn was becoming less and less surprised that the relationship had met its demise. How on earth was she going to tell Chakotay that Seven had referred to him as a specimen? He’d be thrilled. Kathryn shook her head. “All right, I’ll do it.” She couldn’t bear the thought of what Seven might do to the poor man if she were let loose to end the relationship. He might never recover and although it was Seven asking the favour, it was for Chakotay she was really doing the good deed. At least if she broke the news to him, it would be done gently and compassionately, with the added bonus that she would be there to comfort and console him, although it pained her to be the bearer of such bad news.

 

“Thank you, Captain. I appreciate your assistance and I am certain that Chakotay will recover in time.”

 

Kathryn certainly hoped so.

 

Their meals arrived, but Seven stood to leave.

 

Kathryn frowned. “You’re not going to eat, Seven?”

 

“I do not require sustenance at this time and I wish to pack.”

 

Kathryn, not surprisingly, wasn’t very hungry either and nodded to the waitress. “Can we have these to go, please?”

 

The waitress whisked the plates away and Kathryn heaved a sigh. “Where are you going, Seven, and do you have everything you need?” As disappointed as she was with the young woman, she still felt a certain degree of responsibility for her wellbeing.

 

“Yes, thank you, Captain. I am well equipped for my trip to Vulcan. Tuvok is awaiting my arrival. Starfleet has seconded me to the Vulcan Science Institute and I shall be studying there for the foreseeable future.”

 

Kathryn was relieved. Seven, although a Borg and virtually indestructible, was essentially an adolescent and at times – today being one of them – unpredictable. To know that she would be in Tuvok and T’Pel’s capable hands set her mind at ease, It also meant she could concentrate on Chakotay and what was bound to be a tense and distressing situation.

 

Seven nodded her head towards Kathryn. “Dinner is at 1930 this evening, at Chakotay’s residence and I will be leaving then. I would suggest you come a few minutes beforehand and I will let you into the apartment before I depart.”

 

Kathryn nodded. “I’ll be there.”

 

With a small frown and another nod, Seven left the café. Kathryn stood and watched her walk away. The waitress arrived with the uneaten food in a large paper bag. Kathryn paid, and hoisting the bag under her arm, headed out of the café and home.

 

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

 

So here she was now, about to bring her former first officer, dearest friend and man she loved, the shattering news that his lover had left him. Not able to justify procrastinating any longer, she turned away from the window and approached Chakotay’s door. She lifted her hand to knock, but before she connected with the hard surface, the door swung open and Seven ushered her quietly inside.

 

Kathryn wasn’t quite sure what she expected but Seven seemed completely unperturbed by the situation and wasted no time with pleasantries. After saying a cool goodbye and thank you to Kathryn, she left without a backward glance.

 

“Sev…Annika! Can you give me a hand here?” Chakotay called from the kitchen and Kathryn cringed, moving towards the sound of his voice.

 

From her place in the doorway, she could hear him cursing under his breath as he lifted the food out of the oven with one hand, while shifting plates and the salad bowl with his other to make space on the kitchen bench. “Annika, please… everything is going to finish up on the floor if you don’t get here soon.” There were a few more muttered curses and then, “Shit!” as the dish wobbled.

 

“Here, let me clear a space.”

 

Chakotay swung around at the sound of the familiar voice, the dish in his hand tilting precariously as he did so. His mouth hung open for a second and then his face broke into a delighted smile. “Kathryn!”

 

She smiled but turned away almost immediately, busying herself with clearing the bench top. As the bearer of bad tidings, she found it difficult to meet his eyes. This wasn’t something she’d envisaged doing this evening and she had no idea how he was going to take the news of Seven’s surprise departure, but she wanted to be here for him as a supportive friend. It was the least she could do, and knew he would do the same for her if the situation were reversed.

 

He placed the dish on the counter with a thud and tossing the oven mitts onto the cook top, turned back towards her. Before she could brace herself, he pulled her into a bear of a hug, almost squeezing all the air out of her lungs. After a moment, he loosened his hold slightly but he didn’t let go; his breath wafted through her hair as he spoke. “What a wonderful surprise! Annika didn’t mention that she’d invited you for dinner.”

 

Kathryn tightened her arms around him, enjoying the closeness and taking strength from it. Although it broke her heart, there was no point in delaying the inevitable. She whispered quietly. “She’s gone, Chakotay.”

 

Immediately his grip loosened and she slid from his embrace. His arms hung by his side and he stared at her. “What?”

 

“Annika… Seven… she’s gone.”

 

“What? But she’d only just arrived… for dinner.” He stared at her sad face and comprehension dawned. “She’s gone?” His gaze shot past Kathryn’s shoulder, towards the living area.

 

Kathryn felt terrible and more than a little angry with Seven for putting her in this position. Here she was cleaning up another one of the young woman’s messes and she truly hated doing this to him. No doubt, she would share the blame but hoped that he understood that she was only the messenger. Reaching for his arm to get his attention, she gave it a sympathetic squeeze. “She left a few minutes ago – just after I arrived.”

 

“She’s really gone?” His gaze shifted back to her face. “And you knew about this?”

 

Kathryn nodded, steeling herself for his angry reproach. “Yes, I’m afraid so. I’m sorry, my friend. She didn’t know how to tell you and asked me to explain.”

 

With a shake of his head, he huffed derisively, and then chuckled. “Typical. Trust Annika to haul you into the middle of this. I’m so sorry; you shouldn’t have been involved.”

 

His reaction took Kathryn by surprise. “Chakotay?”

 

He shrugged and gave her a bitter smile. Kathryn frowned, although she was relieved that he wasn’t angry.

 

“I know I should be upset, but I’ve been expecting this.” His resigned words were punctuated by an exasperated sigh. “To be honest, I’m surprised she lasted this long. Sev…Annika, as you well know, has never been renowned for her judicious approach to emotional matters and lately she’s been dropping some rather blatant hints that she was unhappy.”

 

His reaction had Kathryn at sixes and sevens…  Sevens! She gave herself an internal slap for that one, but in truth, she’d expected him to be devastated, and to spend the evening consoling him and nursing his shattered heart. His reaction was one she hadn’t catered for and it was taking her a moment to gather her wits. “Well, I’m… ah… glad to see you’re not heartbroken. I had visions of having to sit with you all evening while you cried into your…” Kathryn peered into the dish on the counter and took a guess. “…vegetarian lasagne?”

 

Chakotay nodded then shrugged. “I still might, so don’t count your chickens…” As he spoke, he gave her sideways glance and a warm smile.

 

She wondered if it might be some bizarre manifestation of shock, and whether he would break down into a blubbering, anguished mess at any moment. However, she could only take her cues from him, so, not knowing what else to do, she moved over to one of the cabinets. “Is this where you keep your plates?”

 

Chakotay gave her a strange look.

 

It was hardly a subtle change of subject, and this time Kathryn shrugged. “Well, I’m hungry, I missed lunch and it seems a shame to let it go to waste. You don’t mind if I invite myself to dinner do you?” This time she shot him her signature lopsided grin.

 

Chakotay chuckled. “Absolutely not. I’d be delighted. Besides, we’re old hands at this, and let’s not mention the fact that it’s long overdue. Plus, I’d appreciate the company right now.”

 

Kathryn’s gaze met his for a moment and she had the uncanny notion that they were both thinking the same thing. Her mind did a quick review of the many meals and quiet evenings they’d shared over the years. It took some effort to drag her eyes away from his, and to overcome the intense moment she busied herself with getting the table set while Chakotay served the food.

 

It was a lesson in synchronicity. Even with something as mundane as preparing a meal, they worked together with seamless efficiency. Kathryn smiled quietly to herself and noticed a thoughtful look in Chakotay’s eyes as he smiled at her and placed their meals on the table.

 

~8~

 

Chakotay pulled Kathryn’s chair out for her and leaning close as she sat, he caught a whisper of her scent. Achingly familiar, it touched so many deeply hidden feelings and emotions that his body stiffened. He stood up straight, instantly taking stock of these sudden, but very recognisable sensations. She’d always had this affect on him and, as hard as he’d tried to move on, no relationship would ever hold a candle to his feelings for Kathryn. It was time he accepted that truth. The surge of joy he’d felt when he’d heard her voice had, in all honesty, shocked him and by the look on her face, it had surprised her too. The emotions had been pure and unguarded, and the perfect buffer against the revelation of Seven’s abrupt departure.

 

Seven’s leaving was a disappointment. He hated the fact that he’d failed at yet another relationship, but he’d been speaking the truth when he said that it wasn’t unexpected. They’d been miserable and terminating it had been the only logical solution. Damn, now he was even starting to sound like her. That was incentive enough.

 

Chakotay smiled at Kathryn. Now that she was here, he could admit to himself that he’d missed her terribly.

 

He hadn’t given it much thought during the first days back on Earth. His life had been so filled with Seven and their burgeoning relationship, that there’d been no time to think of anything, or anyone, else. That was until a couple of weeks ago when B’Elanna had pulled him up short, telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he’d been neglecting his other friends, especially Kathryn, and people were beginning to talk. In classic pissed-off Klingon style, she’d gone for the jugular and told him exactly what she thought about his liaison with Seven – not much, as it turned out – and she made no bones about the fact that she was bitterly disappointed in him for leaving Kathryn in the lurch.

 

Kathryn had been a rock, as usual. Present at all of his and the crew’s debriefing sessions, she’d sat in stony silence in the front row everyday, watching the review board through narrowed eyes. Stalwart, loyal to the death and listening intently, she would lean forward and whisper to the crew representative during the deputations, ensuring that there were no misrepresentations or mistakes. Her attention to detail had probably been instrumental in keeping them all out of jail. He would be forever grateful.

 

Unfortunately, and to his shame, he’d not returned the favour in full. There had been many days when Kathryn had fronted up to her inquiry without him, although she’d been far from alone. As many of the crew as were able had been at her hearings to lend their support, but his frequent absences hadn’t gone unnoticed. Consequently there were a hundred or so disgruntled Voyager crew out there waiting for an explanation. He had his work cut out for him to rebuild those relationships, and most importantly, the one with Kathryn.

 

His absences hadn’t been intentional. Seven had been having issues with her integration and he’d felt obliged to be on hand to help her. It was during this time however, that he had come to the not-so-startling realisation that their relationship was destined for disaster. They were just too different. Age, needs, spirituality, and their general outlook on life were poles apart. Too disparate for either of them to find any common ground on which to form a long-term relationship.

 

He viewed his existence from the vantage point of half a century of experience; Seven, in contrast, viewed hers from the perspective of a lifetime of things to learn. It was a hopeless cause and he’d been waiting for the right time to break the news to her. She’d pre-empted him it seemed, by taking the initiative and leaving. He was far from sorry. However, it had become complicated, given that Seven had found it necessary to use Kathryn as her go-between, thus putting his and Kathryn’s relationship in an awkward position, which was exactly where he didn’t want it to be. When would he ever learn?

 

As he’d become more certain that his and Seven’s relationship was doomed, he’d also come to understand that it was Kathryn he missed and yearned – yes, yearned, for.

 

“Chakotay, are you all right?” Kathryn touched his arm again and his eyes came back into focus. He’d been staring off into the distance while these thoughts raced through his mind. Looking across into her concerned eyes, the love he’d held at bay for so many years was finding its way inexorably to the surface, slowly filling him. With it came a long forgotten sense of serenity, and the peace that Kathryn had brought him all those years ago, rested gently over his soul. He smiled affectionately at her, but as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t say anything. She was here, as his and Seven’s friend, and blurting out that he loved her with all his heart would undoubtedly be met with confusion and disbelief. The onus was on him to make this right for all those concerned.

 

He smiled warmly and patted Kathryn’s hand where it lay on his arm. “I’m fine. I’m more than fine, actually. I know this might sound callous, but I’m not sorry she’s gone and relieved that it was her decision. We weren’t happy together and despite the Admiral’s predictions, I can’t see how we could possibly have made it work. Even on Voyager.”

 

Kathryn looked surprised. “Admiral Janeway told you what happened in her timeline?”

 

He nodded. “Yes. She’d approached Seven to ask you to abandon the idea of destroying the hub, and Seven refused. The Admiral came to me afterwards and told me everything. She wanted me to convince you that it was too much of a risk, but I also said no. She wasn’t happy… your death glare doesn’t lose any of its potency over the years. You’re still as scary as hell in your seventies.”

 

“I scare you?”

 

“Hell, yeah. You always have.” He grinned. Kathryn looked wary, but he patted her hand again, his grin broadening. “In the very best way.”

 

She still wasn’t convinced and her brow knitted. “Hmmm. If you say so. I know she scared me. It wasn’t easy seeing what I’d become.”

 

Chakotay understood her unease. “Her life was very different to the one you’re going to lead, Kathryn. You won’t become her. You can’t.”

 

Her frown softened. “I suppose you’re right. God, I hope so. I’m going to make a concerted effort not to.”

 

Chakotay gave her an encouraging smile. She’d been astonishingly accepting of her future self’s appearance in their timeline. He wasn’t sure if he would have been quite so well behaved if it had been his doppelganger who had appeared. “I found a lot of what she said difficult to believe. Things must have been very different in her timeline, either that, or she assumed that Seven and I meant more to each other than we did. She was one determined woman though, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.” He laughed to himself. “Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want any harm to come to Seven, but as I explained to the Admiral, there would be no changing your mind once it was made up, not that I would have tried. Besides, we knew then what the future held, so we could avoid it. Her mere presence had corrupted that timeline already. I was surprised she didn’t realise that, but I guess she was so intent on getting us home and saving Seven, Tuvok and the others, that she didn’t think of the finer points of temporal mechanics.” He smiled. “Or maybe she was just avoiding the headache.”

 

~8~

 

 

Kathryn nodded and smiled, although she was deeply disturbed, not to mention surprised, that the Admiral had spoken to Chakotay. But, it appeared that he’d misconstrued the reason behind the older woman’s obsessive drive to get them home and Kathryn wasn’t about to clarify matters. It was better for all concerned that he think Admiral Janeway’s reasons were altruistic – her motives being the survival of Seven, Tuvok, and the other twenty-two Voyager crew who were lost in her timeline.

 

The truth was that her older self was far more manipulative than anyone gave her credit for. Her true motivation had been to put a wedge between the two lovers and bring a premature end to Seven’s and Chakotay’s relationship, but Kathryn was wise to the old biddy’s machinations. She’d recognised the blatant attempt to scuttle the new relationship, and it so appalled her that, when the Admiral told her that they had married, as shocked as she’d been, Kathryn made up her mind not to do anything to come between the lovers and their happiness. She’d gone along with the Admiral’s plan to get the crew home, satisfied with the knowledge that Chakotay and Seven would live a long and happy life together. It had all been going swimmingly to plan until Seven’s call the previous day.

 

“Kathryn?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“I thought I’d lost you there for a moment.” Chakotay smiled at her. “You’re frowning. Dare I ask what you were thinking about?”

 

Kathryn’s face twisted into a wry smile. “I don’t know whether you’ll want to know.”

 

“Annika?”

 

She nodded.

 

Chakotay shrugged. “Well, I figure it’s like bitter medicine, best to get it down the hatch in one gulp. Let me get some wine and then you can tell me all the sordid details while we eat.”

 

“Oh, there’s nothing sordid.” Kathryn was quick to correct him, but then she frowned and spoke almost to herself. “Well, she didn’t mention anything sordid.” Her head snapped up and she stared at him. “There wasn’t was there…? Oh God, forget I asked that. I really don’t want to know.”

 

Chakotay laughed. “Relax, Kathryn. Life with Seven was ‘routine’. No surprises, nothing spontaneous, literally by the book – the Doctor’s book on relationships in fact – if that’s not a lesson in incongruity.” He spoke, almost to himself. “I never should have begun the relationship. It was doomed before it even started and I should have known better.” His smile faded. “I’m sorry.”

 

Kathryn frowned. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

 

He gave her a sad smile. “Oh, yes I have.” He turned back around and muttered under his breath. “More than you’ll ever know.”

 

With his words, something twinged in Kathryn’s chest almost as if a switch had flipped. Perhaps it was her heart turning from dormant to active and, with that thought, hope rose, fuelling the spark into a tiny flame. She was tempted to say something but bit her tongue. With their friendship rekindled, she didn’t want to push things, besides there would be time enough for declarations later. For now they both seemed content merely to be in each other’s company.

 

Chakotay came back with glasses and a bottle of wine and giving Kathryn a meaningful look, he placed them on the table and took a seat. Kathryn picked up the bottle and leaned across to fill both glasses. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her glass in a toast. “To endings… and new beginnings.”

 

Chakotay touched his glass to Kathryn’s and echoed her toast. “To endings and new beginnings.” His eyes met hers and Kathryn could have sworn she saw something in their dark depths. Then smiling broadly, he picked up his fork and took a mouthful of food, pointing to Kathryn’s plate he nodded. “Start, it’s edible, really.”

 

Kathryn placed her glass on the table and nodded. “I’m sure it is.” Taking a mouthful, she smiled. “Mmmm, you haven’t lost your touch.”

 

They ate in silence for a time, enjoying the quiet of each other’s company and the comfort of being together again. After a few minutes, Kathryn looked up and smiled. “It has been months since we’ve had a meal together. I’ve missed it.”

 

Chakotay smiled in return. “I have too.” Their working dinners had been something of an institution and Chakotay realised now that he’d missed them. In fact, as he sat here across the table from Kathryn, comfortable and at ease for the first time since arriving home, he realised there was a whole lot about Kathryn he’d missed.

 

He tilted his head to the side and contemplated his former Captain. “So are you going to tell me what Annika said today?”

 

The smile left Kathryn’s face. “Do you really want to know? And if so, do you want the long or the short version?”

 

“Hit me with the long version if you think my ego can take it.”

 

Kathryn gave him a rueful smile and launched into a replay of today’s lunch and ‘lecture’ from Seven. When she repeated what Seven had said about their sexual relationship, Chakotay cringed and his cheeks flamed.

 

“Ouch! That’s a low blow.”

 

Kathryn shrugged. “I don’t think she was talking about your performance, as such.” Now she could feel her cheeks starting to burn. “It was more a universal comment on the physical act.” Kathryn sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. She wasn’t entirely comfortable talking about this with him and her body language spoke volumes. Taking a deep breath, she forced her arms to relax and stabbed at the air with a finger. “I’m going to have some words to say to the Doctor though. He had no right to reactivate her fail-safe device once it had been deactivated. Surely there was some other way?”

 

Chakotay shrugged. “It was Seven’s choice, so I suppose he had every right.”

 

Kathryn looked down at her food, deciding on whether she should speak to Chakotay about the holoprogram that Seven had concocted. It was part of the reason she was so upset with the Doctor. If he hadn’t encouraged Seven, and introduced her to the simulations on the holodeck, she might never have approached Chakotay in the first place and thus, they wouldn’t be in this predicament. The Doctor had shown very poor judgement, but then again, he was in love with Seven, and he was human enough that his barometer was probably off-kilter.

 

While she mulled over the pros and cons of whether to tell him, Chakotay leaned forward. “What is it, Kathryn?”

 

She took a deep breath, her eyes rising slowly to meet his. “I don’t know whether I should tell you this.”

 

He raised his brows in question. “You can tell me anything, you know. I trust you to tell me the truth.”

 

Kathryn blew out a long breath through pursed lips and mumbled. “Sometimes the truth is overrated.” Then sitting forward with her shoulders back and her hands held together, she gritted her teeth. “Well, here goes. Did you know that Seven had a holoprogram of you?”

 

A holoprogram!?” His mouth curled in distaste. “Dare I ask what sort of holoprogram?”

 

“From what I gather, she was practicing her interpersonal skills so I can only speculate…”

 

Chakotay shook his head. “I was played like a fool, wasn’t I?”

 

“I don’t think Seven is as ruthless as that, well, not intentionally so. She would have seen it as a logical step in her evolution. An opportunity that presented itself and, to her way of thinking anyway, she wouldn’t have considered that there was anything wrong with using a holographic representation of you. It would have been irrelevant. Then, it would seem like a logical step in her evolution to take it to the next level.”

 

Chakotay rolled his eyes. “I’m not sure that makes me feel any better, but I guess you’re right. That she decided to move on to the real thing…well, I suppose I should be flattered.”

 

Kathryn tried to smile, but was having a problem seeing the silver lining in this particular cloud. Her voice was flat. “I suppose you should.”

 

He looked at her closely. “Did you know about this hologram thing?”

 

She shook her head vehemently. “God, no. I’d have nipped that in the bud immediately, if I had.”

 

Chakotay raised his brows. “Really.” He leaned forward “Why?”

 

The question caught Kathryn off guard and she had to gather her wits quickly. “Because… it’s against Starfleet regulations to use holographic representations of real people for nefarious purposes.”

 

He guffawed. “‘Nefarious.’ That’s one way of putting it.”

 

Kathryn shrugged; glad that he could see the funny side of this, although she wasn’t finding it particularly amusing.

 

He leaned forward slightly, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “Have you ever done it?”

 

She gave him a startled look. “Done what?”

 

“Used a hologram of someone you know for ‘nefarious purposes’?”

 

Kathryn shook her head. “No. It never occurred to me.”

 

“Really?”

 

Kathryn nodded sharply. “Yes, really. I’ve never done it.” Her brow furrowed. “Have you?”

 

He shook his head slowly. “No.”

 

It wasn’t the most convincing ‘no’ she’d ever heard and he had a strange look on his face. “Chakotay?”

 

“I promise, Kathryn. I never have, but I have to admit, I did think about it.”

 

She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but couldn’t help herself. “Who?”

 

He grunted a laugh, “Who do you think?” and kept staring at her.

 

It didn’t take a genius to work it out and she frowned. “Me?”

 

Chakotay nodded. “Yes, but I didn’t. It was a long time ago when I was head over heels in love with you, but I knew that you were out of my reach. After New Earth, I thought I’d go mad, and I toyed with the idea for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

 

Kathryn didn’t know what to say. When he’d said that he’d been ‘head over heels in love with her’, her heart had skipped a beat. Was she a fool to hope…?

 

Chakotay gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that.”

 

She shook her head. “No, I’m glad you told me… and I’m also glad you didn’t do it. It would have… cheapened what we had, and it was something very precious to me.”

 

He nodded slowly, his eyes sad. “It was, wasn’t it? Very precious.”

 

Kathryn nodded. The fact that they were both referring to all those feelings in the past tense made that spark in her heart die a little. He’d loved her but didn’t anymore. It was such a pity that they’d let it fade away and whither over time. So sad, so very sad.

 

Her eyes must have reflected her sadness because his hand began to drift towards her. She wasn’t sure what she would do if he touched her now. This conversation was glancing against so many raw nerves that she could imagine herself breaking down or worse still, telling him how she really felt and ruining a perfectly good friendship. It was time to move this to a less personal topic before she was overwhelmed and made a fool of herself. Swallowing past the disappointment, she tried to smile. “Things invariably come to an end. I’m just sorry that it didn’t work out for you and Seven. I thought you’d be happy and settled. I’m upset with Seven and feel somewhat responsible.”

 

“It’s not your fault. She’s not under your command anymore, Kathryn. None of us are.”

 

Kathryn met his eyes for a long moment and then looked away. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Seven’s not my responsibility anymore, but it’s hard to let go. It’s hard to let any of you go.” She gave her head a shake as she felt the unwanted burn of tears in her eyes. This was ridiculous.

 

Chakotay’s hand reached across, his palm facing up waiting for her to place her hand in his. She did and he held it tight. “It’s all right, Kathryn.”

 

She gave him a watery smile and then, shook herself, swallowing past the tightness in her throat. “I miss them all, you know. Do you?”

 

He nodded. “Yes, very much.”

 

“I didn’t credit how lonely it would be back here on Earth. Although, that’s not really the right word for it.” Kathryn looked towards him for help.

 

Chakotay squeezed her hand again. “It’s just a matter of getting used to it, I think. Our little community was so tightly knit that it’s hard to accept the distance between us now.”

 

Kathryn frowned. She knew he was referring to the crew, but it was happening to them as well and the last thing she wanted was to have any more distance between them. They’d been trapped on either side of the protocol chasm for seven years, and even though his feelings had waned, maybe it was time now to tell him of hers and be done with it. “I don’t want there to be distance between us.”

 

“Neither do I, but it can’t be helped. People will either pick up their old lives or forge new paths. It can never be the same as it was on Voyager.”

 

Kathryn spoke slowly. “I don’t necessarily want it to be the same as it was on Voyager.”

 

Chakotay looked up, ready to explain again about the crew and their new lives when he caught the look of something in her eyes. His mouth snapped shut and he stared down at their clenched hands. His eyes darted up to hers again when he felt her grip tighten.

 

“Kathryn?”

 

She swallowed, nervous all of a sudden. It hadn’t been her intention to say anything to him tonight – certainly not after his revelations about his past feelings coupled with the fact that his girlfriend had just walked out the door. However, she’d let too many of these moments pass her by, and who was to say that if she also let this one pass, it might not be the last opportunity she had to tell him how she really felt. Pulling her hand slowly from his, she took a deep breath. “I wasn’t going to say anything to you tonight, and don’t feel you have to say anything in return, but I need to tell you.”

 

Chakotay’s eyes were riveted to her face, and it looked as though he was holding his breath. He gave her the barest of nods.

 

Girding herself as best she could, Kathryn ploughed on. “I love you, my friend. I have for years and it was remiss of me not to tell you. My only excuse is that I didn’t know how to while we were out there without breaking regulations.” She huffed out a breath and gave him a gentle smile but he remained motionless and Kathryn was beginning to worry. Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe he was more disturbed by Seven’s departure than he’d let on and the love he’d spoken of earlier really had passed them by. Not knowing what else to say, she shrugged. “So there. Now you know.” She pushed her chair back, and stood. “I’m sorry. This was probably a bad time to tell you, but I didn’t want to miss another opportunity. I’ve missed so many already. I hope I haven’t shocked you too much.” Taking a step away from the table as he stood, she watched a smile slowly soften his features. Kathryn continued. “I understand if you don’t feel the same, and I don’t want it to damage our friendship, but I wanted you to know.”

 

He walked around the table to stand in front of her. “That was definitely something I needed to hear.”

 

Kathryn smiled, relaxing a little. “Well, I’m glad I told you.” She took a step back. “I’d better go. You’ve probably got things to organise.”

 

He shook his head. “No, there’s nothing to organise. Well, nothing that can’t wait. Stay for coffee at least.”

 

Kathryn nodded. “Fine, coffee, but then I have to go.”

 

Chakotay turned away to head towards the kitchen but turned back and stepped close to her again. He ran the back of his fingers down her cheek. “Oh and by the way, I love you too and have for as long as I can remember.”

 

Kathryn stared at him, then her shoulders slumped and she said the first thing that came into her head. “Oh God, what a relief.”

 

Chakotay burst out laughing, hauled her into his arms, and hugged her tight. She was unsure if it was his proximity or the strength of his embrace that knocked the air out of her lungs this time, but she had to push against his chest so she could take a breath.

 

Taking a step away from her, he grinned. “I know, you want coffee.”

 

“Chakotay?”

 

He turned back and this time Kathryn stepped up to him, and taking his face in her hands, she pulled him towards her and kissed him soundly. With a satisfied sigh and still holding him, she grinned. “Coffee would be wonderful.”

 

Chakotay nodded slowly and, a little stunned at her forthright approach, began to move towards the kitchen like an automaton. He took several steps and then turned back, reality slamming into him like the business end of a Malon freighter.

 

Kathryn loved him!

 

He snatched her into his arms again, “This time coffee is going to have to wait.” and planting his lips on hers, they staggered back towards the dining room wall.

 

They gathered momentum quickly and she thudded into the wall, her head making a resounding crack against the plasterboard.

 

“Ouch, shit!” Kathryn winced, and rubbed the back of her head. “That hurt.”

 

“Oh, Spirits, I’m sorry. They make it look so easy in the holovids.”

 

“What sort of holovids do you watch?” She was looking at him a little incredulously, but with his body pressed firmly against hers, not surprisingly, the pain was subsiding. Looking at his poor confused face, she could feel the laughter rising.

 

Chakotay shook his head. “Not those sort, although, there were times when I was sorely tempted.”

 

Kathryn gave him a look. “Don’t tell me I’m supposed to feel sorry for you? You weren’t the only one in that particular situation. There were many others on the ship.”

 

He shook his head slowly.

 

Kathryn looked surprised. “Really? We were the only two not indulging?”

 

Chakotay gave a small shrug. “Almost. Everyone was very discreet, for obvious reasons.”

 

“What obvious reasons?” Kathryn was genuinely surprised by this revelation.

 

“I think they felt a bit sorry for us. They knew how we felt about one another and didn’t want to make us feel worse by flaunting it.”

 

“‘Flaunting it!’ My God, you make it sound like I was captain of a bordello.”

 

“Not quite. Although, Tom did suggest once or twice, that we should change the running lights to red.”

 

“I’m appalled.” Kathryn tried to frown.

 

“No you’re not.” He grinned.

 

“If only I’d known.”

 

“Would it have changed your mind about us?”

 

Kathryn shook her head. “No, but I wouldn’t have felt so sorry for everyone else. You could have told me.”

 

“Not on your life! Can you imagine[i] that [/i]conversation? ‘Captain, I wish to inform you that your crew is going at it like bunnies, but don’t worry, it’s not affecting efficiency.’ Besides I’d mentioned something along those lines once before and you told me that you expected the crew to pair off, but that you wouldn’t be indulging.”

 

“I did?”

 

He nodded. “Early in the voyage, right after I caught a couple of ensigns kissing in the turbo lift.”

 

Kathryn frowned, trying to remember, her eyes shot to his when she did. “If I remember correctly, you were keen on establishing some sort of fraternisation policy. You seemed disapproving of their… activities. I must admit to being surprised at the time. I would have never taken you for such a prude.” She cocked her head on the side and studied him. “You’ve mellowed in your old age, Commander.”

 

He had the good grace to blush slightly. “I didn’t disapprove. More than anything else, I was jealous, and my inquiries into your take on the situation were a rather ham-fisted attempt to find out if you were open to the idea of ‘fraternising’. You weren’t, but I thought it was worth a shot at the time.”

 

Kathryn laughed and pressed closer to him. “So, like bunnies, huh? That would be a technical term?” She quirked her brow questioningly but then frowned. “Why didn’t someone tell me about the crew? Was I that much of a martinet?”

 

Chakotay smiled affectionately. “No. Not at all. You were what you had to be and we loved you for it. We still do. Some of us more than others.” His hand was now stroking over her bottom, his fingers teasing. “Some of us, a lot more.”

 

While they’d been talking, they had both been moving gently against one another – their bodies aligning and pressing together. The gentle arousal that had begun earlier was growing in strength and intensity.

 

Kathryn could feel him swell and harden into her hip as he rocked gently against her. He, in turn, pushed his thigh between her legs, and she spread them to accommodate him, her skirt riding up her legs, and her hips involuntarily thrusting against him. It had been quite some time since she’d done anything like this, but it felt good. Damned good.

 

She could feel his erection through his clothing, large, thick and warm as he ground against her. Her hand itched to trace the length of him and she wanted to see him. Biting her lip, she let her hand trail down his front and slipped her fingers teasingly along the edge of his trousers.

 

With her skirt almost to her hips and, although she’d not planned for this to happen tonight, she wasn’t about to pull away. She was done with pretending and being the martyr. This man was awakening feelings and sensations in her that no one else ever had and he’d barely even touched her yet. No doubt it was the years of abstinence coupled with years of yearning that were causing her body was spiral quickly out of control. Closing her eyes, she leaned into him, rubbing hard against his thigh, her forehead dropping onto his chest.

 

She gasped as he squeezed a handful of her buttock, his fingers tantalisingly close to her centre. So near yet so far.

 

Her hands were stroking up and down his back and she pressed her face into his neck, breathing deeply his scent, kissing and nipping at the soft skin under his jaw.

 

With his hand splayed across her bottom, he began to pull her rhythmically against him as he pressed hard against her hipbone, both grinding and thrusting in counterpoint.

 

Kathryn squeezed her eyes shut; she was painfully aroused, her clitoris rubbing tantalisingly against his leg, through the wet fabric of her panties, the satiny material hot and harsh against her swollen flesh. It wasn’t going to take long for her to climax, the telltale tightening of her abdomen and the pulsing of her inner muscles were beginning and her legs were already weak and shaky.

 

She grabbed hold of his shoulders, her fingers digging into him as he hoisted her skirt up even higher and slid his hands down the back of her panties. He whispered hotly in her ear. “Come for me, sweetheart, let go. I want to feel you come.”

 

That was all it took. His hot breath in her ear sent her reeling and she couldn’t hold back any longer. With a guttural groan, her body seized, her fingers grasping at him frantically, her lower body a frenzy of thrusts and jolts. It was almost too exquisite, sweet agony, but she didn’t want it to stop, ever.

 

The moment was wanton and raw, but as sexy as hell. Chakotay held her as her body juddered through the rhythmic spasms; it took all of his restraint not to join her. She was magnificent. Finally, the violent thrusts gentled to soft shudders and he held her to him, stroking her and soothing her. After a moment, she pulled back slightly and looked up at him.

 

Still flushed, her pupils dilated and her breaths coming in shallow pants, she grinned at him, delightfully unapologetic. “My God! What can I say…? That was amazing. I haven’t done that in quite a while.” She chuckled, licking her dry lips as her hand stroked down over his erection. He jolted in her hand, almost succumbing; too close to the edge and almost too stimulated to control himself.

 

Grabbing her hand, he held it firmly over his erection, and took a deep breath. “Just give me a moment. I don’t want to come yet.”

 

Kathryn gave him a sly smile. “No? Are you sure? I can highly recommend it.”

 

Drawing his shirt from his trousers, she slid her hands underneath the material, stroking over his back and sides, her fingers again teasing along the waistband of his pants. All the while, she undulated against his hardness keeping up the rhythm he’d started with her minutes before. She looked up to find his eyes closed, his face creased in a strained frown. Unable to resist, she quickly undid his pants, sliding her hand into his boxers to stroke him. He felt glorious.

 

Chakotay’s eyes shot open and he looked almost panicked until he saw her face. Dark eyed, her bottom lip caught between her teeth as she concentrated. Her eyes drilled into his until she stood on tiptoes and whispered against his lips just before she kissed him. “Come for me, my love. Let go, now.”

 

Her mouth met his, her tongue plunging past his lips as he involuntarily thrust into her hand. Once, twice and grabbing her wrist, held her still as he pulsed into her hand, his spend, hot and sticky between them.

 

Dragging his lips away from hers, he huffed a laugh through gritted teeth. “Damn, I have no control when you’re near.” He was still throbbing in her palm, slowly softening but he was still weak kneed. After kicking off his shoes and pants, he pulled off her skirt and panties and hoisted her into the air. Her legs wrapped around his hips as he carried her to the bedroom.

 

This time he did the holovids proud, making it to the bed unscathed.

 

Laughing, Kathryn congratulated him for getting them there in one piece. “Those ‘instructional’ holovids should be compulsory viewing, don’t you think?”

 

He’d leered at her, his eyes narrowing. “I’ve got seven years of fantasies to keep me going, I don’t need any instructional vids, thanks.” He lowered her onto the bed and stood back, taking time to absorb the moment.

 

Kathryn leant up on her elbows, naked from the waist down, the buttons of her top half-undone and the lace of her bra peeking from the cleavage. Chakotay swallowed hard and stared, not quite believing this was real. Was it only this evening that Seven had gone? He pulled his shirt off and lowered himself onto the bed in front of her, his hand steeling up under her top, skimming lightly along the tender skin under her breasts. He could smell her and leaning forward, he nuzzled at her mons. Kathryn flopped back onto the bed, and yanking her shirt apart, buttons flew across the room and ricocheted off the furniture.

 

She moaned loudly as his hands found her breasts, his palms rubbing at her erect nipples through the lace of her bra, kissing his way up over her hips to her belly.

 

Kathryn fumbled with the clasp of her bra, finally unhooking it, pulling it off to fling it across the room. It became caught over the beside light, hanging there like some sort of bizarre pennant to their emancipation. Kathryn snorted a laugh when she saw it, and grinning she pulled his head towards her, planted her lips on his and kissed him like there was no tomorrow. He wrapped his arms around her and they made love into the wee hours of the morning.

 

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

 

Chakotay woke the following day to find Kathryn draped over him, their bodies aligned, her arm across his chest and her leg across his hips. Even in sleep, she seemed to be jealously guarding what was hers. Her unconscious proprietorship delighted and charmed him but he also found it rather exciting.

 

She was smiling in her sleep and he couldn’t help smiling in return, her happiness contagious. He could feel himself harden against the soft skin of her inner thigh, with memories of the previous night also fuelling his arousal.

 

She was a voracious, and a demanding lover. Not that he’d expected anything less. Her passion, so often and openly expressed in other facets of her life, flowed over into her lovemaking. She was inventive and willing, adventurous and joyous, they’d laughed and they’d cried at various times during the night, but most of all they’d loved, deeply and profoundly. All those years of abstinence and longing had shattered the restraints; their lovemaking had been fierce and intense and had made any sex he’d had in the past, pale into insignificance. They were now branded on each other’s souls, their hearts flayed open and exposed. It had been almost frightening in its intensity but also freeing and wonderfully erotic.

 

Kathryn moved against him now, rocking gently as she drifted towards wakefulness. He kissed her head, sweeping the hair from her face as her eyes fluttered open.

 

She grinned at him, “Morning.” and catlike, stretched and writhed against him, pressing her groin harder into his hip. He could feel her heat and the moisture from their lovemaking on his skin. Arching her back, she kissed him, sliding her hand down to his burgeoning erection and stroked him idly. She pulled away abruptly.

 

“Got to pee. Back in a minute.” She squeezed him quickly, “Hold that thought.” and leapt from the bed.

 

Chakotay barked out a laugh as he watched her run naked from the room to the bathroom. It was as if they’d been lovers for years, which, in many ways they had been. In every sense of the word but one.

 

She was truly something else.

 

Also having to use the head, he clambered out of bed and followed her towards the bathroom. He found her standing in front of the mirror studying her reflection and caught his eye as he came up behind her. She grinned as he raised his brow in question.

 

“I’m just seeing if I look any different.”

 

“Should you?”

 

She shrugged. “I feel ten years younger. Unfortunately, I don’t look it, but I don’t care.” She swung around to face him, leaning back against the cabinet. “I feel wonderful. Thank you, it was an amazing night.”

 

Chakotay beamed. “The first of many, but I can’t believe you’re thanking me for something that I’ve dreamed of for seven years.” He took a step closer to her. “Have I told you that I love you, Kathryn Janeway?”

 

“Only about a hundred times. I love you too and I want you to know that I’ve told you that many times over the years, quietly, my heart to your heart. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you in words. It might have saved us a good deal of heartache.”

 

Chakotay shook his head. He didn’t want to dwell on regrets. They both had their share, but now was a time from rejoicing. His fingers stroked down the side of her face, down her neck to tease over her nipples.

 

She followed the path of his hand with her eyes, watching as her nipple puckered, her hand rising to meet his as it teased the sensitive nub. Looking into his eyes, she smiled. “I’ll meet you back in bed.”

 

He leaned down and kissed her before she slipped past him. Watching her go, he heaved a satisfied sigh and called out to her. “I’m right behind you.”

 

She turned as she reached the doorway and looked at him. “I know, you always have been. I love you.”

 

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

 

They spent most of the morning in bed, making love and then dozing, until late morning when they were roused from their bed by a loud knock at the door. Whoever they were, they were persistent. Chakotay got up, threw on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and jogged to the front door.

 

He pulled it open before it was battered in to find B’Elanna on the other side. “B’Elanna?”

 

“Chakotay, are you okay? We just heard. Seven’s gone.”

 

“We?” Chakotay peered out into the hallway.

 

“Yeah, the others are coming. Tom is just getting Miral out of the hovercar, and Harry is helping. We thought we’d come and cheer you up.”

 

“Uh, thanks, but…”

 

B’Elanna swanned past him, into the living room and noticed the dinner dishes still on the table. The poor man must have been so devastated after Seven left that he hadn’t even cleaned up. Before he could say anything else, she stacked the dishes and headed towards the kitchen. As she neared the door, her foot caught on something and she nearly tripped over. “Shit! Chakotay, what the …??”

 

She stared at what was on the floor, then up at him and back at the pile of clothing again. His trousers and boxers, and a mystery woman’s skirt, and panties. Her eyes darted to the doorway that led to his bedroom.

 

He gave her a shrug and an apologetic smile. “You didn’t give me a chance to explain.”

 

“Explain what? You’re girlfriend only left last night…! What is it with you? Kahless, Chakotay. I can’t believe you. Here we were, thinking that you were a shattered man. But the sheets aren’t even cold and someone else is in there warming them. I’m… I’m…” Her eyes widened as she thought of Kathryn Janeway. “Oh my god, what about the…”

 

“Hello, B’Elanna.”

 

“…Captain!?” She stared at Kathryn for a moment then her eyes darted towards Chakotay again, back to the clothes, then to Kathryn. “Hello…” her voice squeaked, so she tried again. “Hello, Captain, I was just asking after you.” B’Elanna stared at her former commanding officer. Kathryn Janeway was standing in the doorway of Chakotay’s bedroom wearing his shirt and a pair of his sweat pants. There was a noise from the hallway and they could hear Tom’s voice coming nearer.

 

B’Elanna jolted into action. She shoved the plates into Chakotay’s hands and snatched up the clothing from the floor, tossing the bundle to Kathryn, who, in turn, threw it into the bedroom. The two women shared a look before B’Elanna took the plates from Chakotay again and darted into the kitchen.

 

Kathryn took a deep breath and looked towards Chakotay. There was no time to come up with a plan of action before the front door swung wide and Harry and Tom entered, with Miral nestled in Tom’s arms. “Chakotay, old man, we heard. Are you okay?”

 

It was then that they saw Kathryn. Tom looked relieved. “Captain, you heard too. I’m glad you’re here. We were worried. Seven told the Doctor and of course, within an hour, the whole crew had been informed. I’m surprised it didn’t make the late news.”

 

Harry, usually oblivious to most things, seemed to have cottoned on to what was happening and stared back and forth between Kathryn and Chakotay. He gave Kathryn a pathetic smile. She quirked her brow at him and watched as a blush spread across his cheeks. He stammered. “Uh, T… Tom?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

Harry tugged on Tom’s arm. “I think I left something in the car, could you come and help me get it, please?”

 

Tom pulled the starter chip out of his pocket, ready to toss it at Harry. “Here you go. You don’t need me to help.”

 

“Oh, yes, I do. Tom, come on.”

 

Tom rolled his eyes at Kathryn and Chakotay, and turned to follow Harry out the door. He almost made it to the corridor when he stopped and spun back around to stare at them both. Comprehension dawned, and his jaw dropped. “You…?” He pointed at them both. “You…both…?” He looked behind him at Harry and then back at Kathryn and Chakotay, his face breaking into a broad grin. “After all this time? I don’t believe it.” He laughed and slapped his thigh. “Yes! Hallelujah!”

 

Harry was standing in the doorway smiling and B’Elanna emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a tea towel, grinning happily.

 

Kathryn moved to Chakotay’s side. “I’m assuming that we have your approval then?”

 

Tom was quick to answer. “Hell, yes, and then some. This is wonderful news, the best. Wait until everyone hears about this. They’ll go nuts.”

 

Kathryn gave Chakotay a sideways glance. He looked a little concerned but Kathryn slid her arm through his and tugged him close. “Well, shall we leave it up to you to spread the news?” With one eyebrow raised, she gave Tom a look.

 

He was very pleased with the prospect and nodded happily. “You bet, Captain. We’re happy to oblige, aren’t we, B’E? Harry? I’ve got comm. time with Neelix this evening, so by tomorrow they’ll even know in the Delta Quadrant.”

 

Kathryn wasn’t so sure about that, but knew that Neelix would want to know. “Umm, thank you, I think.”

 

There was an awkward silence before B’Elanna moved towards Chakotay and Kathryn. “Our pleasure, Captain, Chakotay, and congratulations.” She kissed and hugged Chakotay, then moved to Kathryn and without hesitation, pulled her into a hug too, whispering in her ear. “I’m so happy for you… and him. It’s wonderful and don’t worry, I’ll keep Tom under control.”

 

Kathryn smiled a thank you but was strangely pleased that B’Elanna approved. Not that it would have made any difference one way or the other, but as Chakotay’s closest friend, it was reassuring to have her approval.

 

After Harry and Tom had offered their congratulations, the trio, with Miral, departed, almost as abruptly as they’d arrived. Kathryn and Chakotay were left, standing arm in arm, staring at the closed door.

 

The last twenty-four hours had been life changing, in the best possible way. They now had the rest of their lives ahead of them and would be together always. It felt so right, as if it was meant to be.

 

Kathryn turned to Chakotay and they stared at one another for a long moment. Words weren’t necessary but they spoke anyway. “Coffee?” They chorused and laughed. Chakotay draped his arm around Kathryn’s shoulder as they turned towards the kitchen.

 

He plucked at the collar of the shirt she was wearing. “I like the outfit.”

 

She looked down, contemplating the rumpled shirt and sweat pants. “Yes, it’s very, what Phoebe would call, ‘just-fucked-chic’.”

 

“Kathryn Janeway!” He guffawed. “You kiss me with that mouth.”

 

“Hmmm, I do don’t I?” She licked her lips and stared at his mouth. “Let’s make this a quick coffee, huh?”

 

Chakotay didn’t need to be told twice. Within a minute, and carrying two steaming cups in his hand, he followed her towards the bedroom.

 

They’d taken many years to get here and the winding path they’d taken had been strewn with obstacles. Their mettle and forbearance had been tested on more than one occasion and at times they’d fallen by the wayside. But in spite of all the mistakes, missteps and taking the long way around, looking at the blissful face of the woman he loved, he wouldn’t change a moment of it. There was nowhere else he ever wanted to be.

 

fin

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