The Other Side of Bliss

Rated R

Written for the 2014 Vamb Secret Summer story exchange. My request from Callhervictor asked for a J/C heavy story that takes place inside the minds of the crew when they are asleep (telepathically “knocked out”) by the ship-eating life form in Bliss. Bonus points for an “epilogue” to the story that shows what happens AFTER they wake up.

The story is written in alternating points of view from both Kathryn and Chakotay perspectives.

Thank you to Audabee and CF for their eagle eyes and beta skills. I have fiddled with it since, so all mistakes are mine.

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

Chapter 1

Kathryn POV – Portent 

Kathryn’s Ready room door hissed open and Chakotay strode towards her. Talk about impeccable timing. She could have kissed him.

Thank God!

She rarely thanked the deities, but made an exception in this instance.

Not only was he delivering more good news, his arrival neatly curtailed Seven’s incessant demands to repeat the sensor sweeps of the wormhole.

Kathryn had neither the time nor the inclination to indulge Seven’s need for reassurance and the young woman’s stubborn refusal to drop the subject was sorely testing Kathryn’s patience.

Seven would just have to accept her senior officers’ not-unknowledgeable opinion that the wormhole was what it appeared to be – a way home.

This wasn’t the first time her erstwhile protégé’s anxieties about returning to Earth had caused problems but as far as Kathryn was concerned, the point was moot. She knew that once there, Seven would quickly acclimatise and thrive, just as she had here on Voyager.

In other words, ‘she would adapt’.

This wormhole was a gift of an opportunity that was simply too valuable to risk on the strength of a single crewman’s nervous jitters. Sometimes one just had to take the bull by the horns and forge ahead.

This was one of those occasions.

Finding the wormhole had been a happy accident and she didn’t need Tuvok’s painstaking recitation of the odds to know that the chances of stumbling across another wormhole that led directly to Earth’s doorstep were infinitesimal to non-existent. In light of this, Kathryn felt no compunction about ignoring Seven’s request – no matter how seemingly sound her arguments might appear to be.

At the best of times, trying to reason with Seven was tantamount to banging one’s head against a duranium hull and at the time of Chakotay’s unwitting salvation, she’d had more than enough of girl’s nay-saying.

With a deliberate shake of her head, Kathryn brought an end to the discussion and, although her dismissal went unspoken, it came across loud and clear.

But in typical Seven style, she seemed determined to push her point and hovered near the door after Chakotay took his place by the desk.

Although, she could still sense Seven’s assessing gaze, Kathryn focussed her attention on Chakotay while he gave a good-natured grumble, and handed her a PADD. “Letter number two. I’m getting jealous.”

She smiled at him and greedily read her most recent missive from Earth before relaying the gist of the message. “Mark. Apparently his engagement was broken off.”

Kathryn braced herself for the internal rush of joy that this news should bring her.

But she felt nothing. How odd.

To cover her confusion, she hugged the PADD to her chest and turned to Chakotay. “What about you. Any news?”

His shoulders relaxed and his eyes brightened as he answered. “A full pardon and reinstatement to Starfleet. I’ve even been offered a professorship in anthropology at the Academy.”

‘Silver linings and clouds’ was Kathryn’s first thought. It was wonderful news but a pang of something worrisome wedged itself under her ribs at the prospect of captaining Voyager without Chakotay by her side.

He was clearly thrilled about his new appointment and she was delighted for him – how could she not be – but she would miss him.

God, how she would miss him!

Another appeal to the deities?!

Her reaction to his news took her by surprise, as did the sharp twinge of insecurity that accompanied it.

Ignoring the unfamiliar sensation as best she could, she forced her features into an expression akin to happiness and, glanced up at him again. “Oh, Chakotay, congratulations… but it’s not fair. How can I be expected to manage the ship without you?”

“Don’t worry, it’s only part time.” He shrugged off her concerns. “You’ll do fine.”

His unshakeable confidence in her warmed her heart but something in his look gave her pause. She wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it filled her with a sense of quivering anticipation deep in her belly.

He rested one hip on the corner of her desk, his eyes not leaving her face as she felt an almost palpable wave of pleasurable tension sweep through the room. It hummed in the air between them and she could feel a tingling warmth rise up her neck to her cheeks.

She hadn’t blushed for years and glancing briefly in Seven’s direction, she watched as she cocked one haughty eyebrow and turned to leave. It appeared Kathryn wasn’t the only one aware of the change in atmosphere in the room.

The door hissed shut, leaving Kathryn alone with Chakotay, and as much as she didn’t want it to, her mind snapped back to thoughts of the wormhole’s irregular neutrino emissions.

Seven had a way of getting under her skin.

For a brief moment, Kathryn toyed with the idea of ordering another round of scans but the more she thought about it the more the urgency faded into insignificance against the magnitude of possibilities presented by the anomaly. According to Starfleet, the levels of nutrinos were nothing to be concerned about, and she had no reason to mistrust their judgment.

Mentally sweeping Seven’s concerns aside, she concentrated on Chakotay and the thrum of sweet tension vibrating between them. She tossed Mark’s letter onto the desk, upsetting a small stack of PADDs that she hadn’t yet placed in the storage container. They scattered haphazardly across her desk but she paid them no mind; her thoughts were otherwise engaged.

Something heady and delicious had nestled neatly beneath her breastbone. It pressed outward and a languid feeling of serenity wended its way down her spine. Her mind emptied of thoughts of neutrino emissions and field densities, and instead filled with visions of their homecoming. Chakotay by her side; their unspoken attraction to one another at last given free rein, and the life of which she’d only ever dreamed, theirs to enjoy.

It was a definite enticement to make it home… and quickly.

Her gaze  – drawn like a magnet towards the viewport – settled upon their means of escape. The glittering and welcoming entrance to the wormhole sat directly off Voyager’s bow, glowing in dazzling hues of blue and gold. She could almost feel the gravitational pull from within the anomaly, and was swamped with a sense of urgency to push forward. It was as though it was speaking to her, whispering temptingly in her ear to ‘Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! It was a foolish notion, but the urge to order the helm to full impulse and enter the aperture had her fingers itching to tap her combadge.

She resisted – but only just.

It wouldn’t be long now and the excitement was starting to build.

She had to admit she had been sceptical at first – it was her nature to question – but evidence of the wormhole’s viability was undeniable. Messages received from Starfleet and their families were tangible proof that Earth lay less than a day’s travel away. Visual and sensor data confirmed the wormhole’s exit point and information from numerous probes had been analysed and co-ordinates triple checked. After every conceivable investigation and examination of the facts, the only conclusion they could come to was the obvious one…

Voyager and her crew were going home.

Earth beckoned and Starfleet was waiting for them with open arms. All her dreams were about to come true.

The Admiralty had already hinted at a promotion, and Mark was keen to pick up where they’d left off. What more could she ask for?

That last question echoed shrilly in her mind as she looked at Chakotay. She knew exactly what she’d ask for. Her heart hammered against her ribs with the potential.

She thought again of Mark and sighed inwardly. The sad truth was that she’d long ago said her goodbyes and moved on. She rarely gave him a second thought these days and when she did, it was with a sense of fond remembrance rather than excited anticipation. Yes, Mark would always be dear to her but the heart moves on and, as she glanced up at the man opposite her, she accepted the fact that it was Chakotay, not Mark, who now owned the real estate of her heart.

She wasn’t sure when their friendship and mutual respect for one another had blossomed into love and, until now, she’d never allowed herself the freedom to give the truth wings – not even in the solitude of her quarters. It was dangerous territory but with their homecoming imminent, she at last she gave herself leave to indulge.

Voyager would be back in the Alpha Quadrant by the end of the day. What did she have to lose?

Nothing.

But she had everything to gain.

With her heart filled with anticipation of the joys that awaited her, she ushered Chakotay to the upper level of her Ready room. “Time for a celebratory tea or coffee.”

He grinned. “Coffee for me, please. Cream and sugar.”

“Really?!” She turned and glared at him from her place in front of the replicator but his smile only widened; the familiar dimpled grin, coaxing one from her.

With laughter in his voice, he shrugged. “Yes, I know, I’m committing the ultimate sacrilege by polluting the finest organic substance ever devised, but my traitorous sweet tooth is to blame.”

“Well, you and your sweet tooth will be in heaven when you taste my mother’s caramel brownies. She’ll love you.” A wash of emotion swept over her. It filled her with a deep yearning as she pictured Chakotay sitting at her mother’s kitchen table munching his way through a teetering stack of Gretchen’s famous treats.

His smile remained unchanged but there was a slight reticence in his tone. “I’ll look forward to meeting her and Phoebe… and, of course, Mark.”

“Mom and Phoebe will be so excited. She gave a non committal shrug. “As for Mark… well, we’ll see. It’s been a while.”

His eyes snapped to hers, but he said nothing, only smiled.

His reaction was telling, and she tucked the knowledge close to her heart. There would be plenty of time to sort out everything once they were home.

Kathryn placed their drinks on the table and gestured for Chakotay to sit beside her. “So, the Academy? Professor Chakotay. You’ll be a wonderful teacher.”

He nodded. “I hope so. I’m excited at the prospect. As for you, I hear a promotion is in the offing.” His eyes held hers while he tried the epitaph on for size. “Admiral Kathryn Janeway.” He nodded. “I think I could get used to that.” Then he grinned. “Nothing like having friends in high places.”

Holding up her hand, she shook her head. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Besides, my first priority will be to get Voyager refitted and back into space.”

“You don’t think you’ll want to take some time off to relax and get used to the idea of being home?”

It hadn’t really occurred to her when her thoughts were centred on the next mission but, with Mark out of the picture and her feelings for Chakotay stowed neatly in place, she could definitely see the advantages of taking some leave.

‘Time off together’ had a nice ring to it.

Tempted as she was to blurt out all these thoughts and hit him with the proposition that they spend several weeks together on a deserted island somewhere; she held back and gave him a vague answer. “I haven’t quite decided. How about we get there first, then I’ll see?”

He smiled and acquiesced. “You’re the boss.”

“For now.”

He simply arched his eyebrows before giving her a slow and knowing smile.

More certain than ever of the feelings they shared, she reached across and cupped the side of his face. It was an intimate gesture and she could feel a slight tremor shiver through him at her touch.

He covered her hand with his and then turned his head and kissed her palm. “Wherever we finish up, Kathryn, I’m going to make sure I’m within transporter range of you.”

“I would love that.” The sensation of his lips on her skin sent frissons of delight trickling down her spine.

His message was clear, and she hoped hers was too.

Their eyes met, expressing everything that they wanted to say – but couldn’t.

Kathryn hardly dared to breathe as they began drifting towards one another. Inch by inch, the years of emotional distance vanished.

The heat of his breath feathered over her parted lips and her eyes closed, but just as they were about to touch, the shrill chirp of her combadge shattered the moment and she jolted away from him.

“Tuvok to Janeway.”

She blinked slowly and gave him a rueful look as she tried to calm her hammering heart. There was still a slight waver in her voice as she answered, “What is it, Tuvok?”

“Seven of Nine has opened a comm. channel aimed directly at the wormhole.”

“Who is she contacting?”

“I am not sure. There are no vessels on sensors or evidence of incoming transmissions.”

Her lips pursed in frustration. “Cut power to Astrometrics. We’ll need it for the navigational array anyway and if she can’t be trusted to follow orders…”

Tuvok snapped out a brisk, “Aye, Captain.” He didn’t need her to finish her sentence.

Kathryn’s lips twitched. “You might want to go down there and explain the situation to her.”

” I shall make my way to Astrometrics immediately.”

“Thank you, Tuvok. Keep me apprised.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The channel closed and Kathryn frowned. “I knew she wouldn’t let this go. She’s damned stubborn when she wants to be.”

Chakotay gave her a telling look. “Remind you of anyone?”

Nothing, not even Seven’s dogged disobedience could dampen Kathryn’s high spirits and a smile quirked at the corner of her mouth. “Yes, well, there are a few of us around.”

Their eyes held for longer than necessary but again, Kathryn’s combadge chirped, interrupting their silent communication.

“Sickbay to Captain Janeway.”

Her shoulders sagged. “One day soon, I won’t be wearing this.” She tapped her badge. “Janeway.”

“Paris here, Captain. I’ve deactivated the Doctor’s program as per orders but Starfleet have just contacted us again. Apparently, the wormhole passes through an area of subspace that is monitored by the Borg. They’re worried that it might trigger Seven’s neural transceiver and alert the Queen to our presence. They want her in stasis.”

Kathryn nodded. “A wise precaution. Thank you, Tom.” She glanced up at her companion. “Chakotay will inform Seven and escort her to Sickbay.”

“She just left here on her way to Cargo Bay Two. She didn’t seem happy.”

“The Commander will speak with her. Janeway out.” She turned to Chakotay. “Take a couple of security personnel with you. You know what she’s like. Between you and Tuvok, with luck, you’ll get her to see sense.”

Chakotay was already on his feet and Kathryn joined him on the lower level. With her nod, they both headed towards the Ready Room doors but before the opening mechanism triggered, she placed her hand on his forearm. “We’ll continue this on the other side.”

He grinned. “I like the sound of that.”

Kathryn smiled in return. “Me too.”

Together, they took a step forward and entered the Bridge.

Chakotay headed for the turbo lift as Kathryn took her place in the centre seat. As soon as the problem with Seven had been dealt with, she’d give the word to enter the wormhole. There was no reason to delay any longer.

But delay they did.

Seven took it upon herself to sabotage the impulse drive by stunning several Engineering crew and overriding the system. Kathryn put a stop to her interference by sending an EM pulse to the engineering console she was using. Once Seven was unconscious, Kathryn nodded to Tom.

“Let’s go home.”

Word given, they entered the wormhole.

 

Chakotay’s POV – Portent 

Chakotay’s heart felt lighter than it had in years. An infectious joy pervaded every deck of the ship, buoying his spirits and, after his talk with Kathryn, he had an entire galaxy of new reasons to smile.

His heart had skipped several beats on hearing the news that Mark Johnson’s engagement had been called off.  He’d expected Kathryn to be thrilled but she seemed almost indifferent to the news. She was more anxious to know of his plans and appeared genuinely happy to hear of his appointment to Starfleet Academy. She didn’t hide the fact that she was going to miss him and his heart swelled with the knowledge.

The connection he and Kathryn shared had taken root early in the journey and lain dormant for most of the last two years. But it was awakening now with an intensity that took his breath away. This was everything he’d ever wanted – a life with Kathryn and a future devoid of conflict and risk.

The trials and traumas they’d endured in the Delta quadrant had changed them in so many ways, but the friendships and connections that had evolved through those hardships were deep and enduring. To know that the strongest and dearest of those relationships would remain intact and flourish made him all the more desperate to get home. Only on Earth could they truly discover what wonders the future held for them – together.

He was also still reeling from the news of his appointment to the Academy. His father had been a teacher at heart and would be so proud to know that his son now followed in his footsteps. It was time for the Angry Warrior to lay down his weapons. Revenge held no allure for him anymore. What had taken its place was a desire to engage young minds and enlighten them with the knowledge and wonders of the universe. With Kathryn by his side, his future was filled with promise.

These last five years had been long, exhausting, and fraught with danger as well as delights, but now they were over.

Seven’s attempts to sabotage the ship had come to naught. She was now unconscious and Chakotay was working with security to disable the forcefields she’d erected in Engineering and Cargo Bay Two.

Kathryn had given word to enter the wormhole and a moment ago he felt the first jolts of turbulence as they passed over the threshold. In a matter of hours, they would be home. He hoped that what he and Kathryn had started in her Ready Room was enough to survive the rigors of their return. A small thread of fear wormed its way into his heart – what if she saw Mark and decided to resume that relationship? What if an ex-Maquis wasn’t good enough for her or her family? What if his presence in her life put her career in jeopardy? The concerns began to gnaw at him but there was nothing he could do.

Only time would tell.

He just hoped that it was on his side.

Chapter 2

Kathryn’s POV – Dream  

Kathryn huffed a misty breath into the cold Indiana air and speared her shovel into a knee-high bank of snow. It made a satisfying ‘crunch’ as it found purchase and, using it as prop, she arched her back to stretch out the kinks.

“Oww! God damn it!” She muttered under her breath. Every muscle and joint seemed to protest. She cursed her uncooperative body. A whole new catalogue of twinges and aches had taken up residence over the last few days. Only a few weeks away from her routine of regular workouts and already her ill-used muscles were meting out their revenge.

Exercise – another thing to add to her ‘to-do’ list.

They’d been home for almost a month and it had been close to everything she’d imagined it would be. After the first few bumps of turbulence, their trip through the wormhole had been trouble free. Voyager docked at Jupiter Station and once she and the crew were finally given clearance to disembark, they’d been greeted by a brass-heavy entourage of Federation and Starfleet elite.

Voyager’s return had made headlines throughout the Federation, with its captain and crew hailed as heroes. They’d been lauded and praised, paraded and interviewed many times over during those first few weeks, but once the initial excitement died down, the more serious side of their homecoming took place.

Debriefings had been long and arduous, and they were still awaiting final word of their outcome.

She looked up at the sky and took a deep breath, exhaling a contented sigh in spite of her troubled thoughts.

There was something so wonderfully comforting about a winter sky – the low-slung blanket of clouds, the hazy blur where sky met land and the occasional glimpses of blue behind the grey. The pallid winter sun was trying its best to break through the heavy cloud cover and every so often, a thin slice of brittle sunlight cut through the gloom, only to disappear again as the grey flumes spilled back into the voids.

She curled her hand around the shovel handle once more and rested her cheek against her gloved fingers.

Her gaze refocused and she watched her breaths ghost into small clouds in the icy air. It made her smile. As a child, the idea had enthralled her – her own little cloud, drifting up into the firmament to become a part of the magical world of white.

But that had been lifetimes ago when she’d been young, idealistic and untainted by life’s hard knocks. A wistful smile tugged at her lips as she realised that the dull ache that had for so many years accompanied such thoughts was absent. She’d learned over time to embrace the wisdom gained by overcoming those ordeals and the resulting sense of peace sat well with her.

She took a deep cleansing breath of frigid January air.

It made her lungs ache – not badly – but in a reassuring kind of way; a sort of visceral reminder that she was still alive and kicking. She rather liked the feeling – the crispness and icy burn that triggered the reawakening of memories from her childhood. It was all very soul restoring and energizing.

It was home.

And it was beautiful.

Kathryn pulled off her gloves and tucked them into her pocket before blowing a couple of warm breaths into her clasped hands as she looked out over the stark white landscape. It was bitterly cold; colder than anything she’d experienced in her five years in the Delta Quadrant and it was yet another pleasant reminder of her current circumstances.

She could feel a smile spreading across her features – they came so easily these days. Thoughts of home washed warmly through her mind and she took a moment to indulge in the sense of accomplishment as she tucked a stray lock of damp hair underneath her beanie and repositioned her earmuffs. Her fingers were still numb so she chafed her hands together before wedging them into her armpits to thaw them, at the same time stamping her feet to encourage the blood flow to her toes. While she warmed up, she took a moment to survey what she and her trusty shovel had accomplished so far.

She was about a third of the way along the front path.

All that effort but there was still a long way to go – it was a familiar mantra, she thought wistfully.

Shovelling the path was a bracingly physical activity and although the temperature was well below zero, apart from her fingers and toes, she was cozy within her many layers of winter ‘woollies’.

Momentarily restored, she tugged her gloves back on and retrieved her shovel to resume her task of prizing hefty chunks of snow from the fondant white front yard of her mother’s Indiana home. The cobblestone path that led from the front door to the gate was buried beneath last night’s heavy fall and in a slow waltz-like rhythm, one crumbling shovelful of snow at a time – dig, lift and hoist – she edged her way closer to her destination. It was satisfying work; the kind she liked – methodical, purposeful.

Although, her efforts weren’t gleaning particularly speedy results, it kept her mind and body occupied, which was the entire point of the exercise.

It was busy-work and essentially unnecessary; the local authority’s laser plough would be along soon enough and in a matter of seconds, the paths and roads would be cleared of last night’s fall. But this wasn’t about expediency, it was about distraction; a mindless, repetitive activity aimed to fill the empty hours until word came from Owen Paris about the outcome of the review.

The consensus of opinion was that the crew would be exonerated and cleared of any wrongdoing – they had to be, she would accept nothing less. Her future, however, wasn’t quite so clear-cut. Contrary to all the promises and words of encouragement from Starfleet on their arrival, there’d been some debate over her handling of certain situations during her tenure as Voyager’s captain – the Ocampa, the Borg, her flouting of the Omega Directive, Voyager’s temporal incursions, plus a plethora of other misdemeanours hardly worth mentioning.

Thinking of all those incidents made her stop and sigh.

During the initial hearings, her JAG representative had put forward numerous eloquent arguments on her behalf and she was confident that the Starfleet tribunal would rule in her favour but as she’d learned through bitter experience, there were no guarantees.

It wasn’t that she was wedded to the idea of captaining another starship, but she would like to be given the choice. The thought of being sidelined in a hack bureaucratic job or ferreted away – out of sight and out of mind – in some backwater administrative position was not what she had in mind for her future. As she saw it, she had a good twenty years or more of frontline service in her yet. To be put out to pasture in her prime would be the ultimate insult, but it was a prospect for which she was preparing herself.

She’d spent the previous few days going over options; trying to imagine working outside of Starfleet or perhaps finding a job captaining a private merchant vessel or passenger ship. There was always the option of going back to her first love and working as a scientist in the private sector, but as much as she tried to mentally sugar-coat the alternatives, it was hard to imagine doing anything other than captaining Voyager. For the last five and a half years, it had been her life; the journey, the struggles and the welfare of her crew filling every waking – and many sleeping – hours. She’d assumed she would live out her days as Voyager’s captain but the wormhole had changed all that.

Looking at a future beyond the Bridge of her beloved ship wasn’t something she’d seriously contemplated.

And she missed it, which was something she hadn’t considered. As the days passed, the feeling was deepening into a tangible sense of loss.

It wasn’t just the duranium hull and grey bulkheads she yearned for. It was Voyager in its entirety – the crew, the adventure, the camaraderie and the life they’d all led there. She cursed herself for not appreciating it more while she had the chance. As a crew, they’d forged something extraordinary and unique during their time together but she’d been so busy looking towards home that it was only now that she realized how much she’d loved that life and those people. It was an unexpected regret and she wasn’t sure how to deal with the sense of loss.

If only she could have her time over again, things would be different. That particular notion prompted an internal eye roll. One didn’t get ‘do-overs’. It was something she knew all too well.  But no matter what the outcome of her court martial, it was up to her – from today onwards – to make certain that she took the time to look around her, to acknowledge the people she loved and, in short, ‘stop and smell the roses’. She refused to squander this gift of her future, and with that idea foremost in her mind, she attacked her task with renewed vigour, thanking her lucky stars and relishing the fact that she was back on Earth amongst the people she loved and who loved her.

So preoccupied was she with her musings and the positive turn they’d taken, she didn’t hear his approach.

“Okay, so what did you do to deserve this?”

She swung around, her surprise quickly turning to delight at the sight of her former first officer. With a laugh, she speared the shovel into the snow and whipped off her gloves. On impulse, she stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around him. He froze for a moment but a split second later, he enfolded her in his arms and returned the embrace. Their acute awareness of one another was achingly apparent and prompted each of them to inhale sharply before stepping away.

Kathryn covered her awkwardness by tucking her gloves in her pocket before she leaned on her shovel again and gestured towards the cleared path. “You mean this? I haven’t done anything… well, not yet anyway. I was keeping busy while I waited for the decision. I’ve spent the last week ‘totin’ barges and liftin’ bales’.”

“Don’t they have anti-grav units for that?”

She blinked and then grinned at his confusion but decided that explaining the obscure reference would be just too hard. Instead, she leaned on her shovel and raised an eyebrow in question. “So, what are you doing here? I thought you avoided cold weather at all costs.”

“I usually do, but I haven’t seen or heard from you for days and it gave me the perfect excuse to escape my Starfleet cell, or what they like to call ‘premium communal accommodations’. Sharing dorm rooms got old during my cadet years and I figured it was worth braving frostbite for some peace and quiet. I also wanted to make sure you were all right.” He glanced towards the house. “Although, I thought I’d find you curled up in front of the fire, not out here digging your way into town.”

She shrugged. “There’s only so much navel gazing one can do before going stir crazy.”

He nodded his understanding. “You were never this bad at answering comm. calls when we were on Voyager, though.” He frowned a little and scrutinized her carefully. “If I didn’t know you better, I might think that you’re trying to avoid me.”

She gave a shrug.  “Don’t assume you’re special or anything; I’m avoiding everyone. My JAG rep suggested it would be better for the crew if I kept my distance. If there’s even a hint of collusion or complicity, my bad luck might start to rub off on all of you. It’s for your own good.”

“That’s very thoughtful, but you realize, of course, that none of us are going to follow that suggestion. This isn’t something you have to do on your own, Kathryn. You’re not our captain anymore so you can’t order us to stay away.” He took a step closer. “And even if you did, we wouldn’t let you face this alone.” She saw him brace himself for her arguments but it was his turn to be surprised.

Leaning forward, she rested her hand on his chest, indulging her need to touch him again and smiled. “Thank you. I was hoping you’d say that.”

Chakotay’s shoulders relaxed and he covered her hand with his. Holding it against his chest, he gave her fingers a reassuring squeeze. “We’re all here for you. Never doubt that.”

She nodded but didn’t pull away. They stood like that for a long moment before a rumbling in the distance heralded the arrival of the town’s laser snow plough.

She reluctantly reclaimed her hand and pulled her shovel from the snow bank. “Well, that was nicely timed.” She pointed towards the house. “I made it halfway today.”

The driver of the plough waved through the open window and she returned the gesture before grabbing Chakotay’s elbow and tugging him towards the front door. “The fire in the living room beckons, and I could do with a coffee. Care to join me?”

“Do you really need to ask?”

She contemplated that oh-so familiar face, before she shook her head and smiled. “No, I don’t.”

His eyes held a look that she hadn’t seen in a long time, or perhaps hadn’t wanted to see before now, but they were home and things were different. A raft of possibilities were open to them and as their gazes held, it was as though a silent decision had been made and agreed upon.

Although tempted to linger and enjoy these new sensations, it was too cold to stay outside and Kathryn gave a decisive nod. “Coffee…” Then, feeling bold, she threw over her shoulder as she headed up the path, “…my first love.”

He paused for a moment and then laughed as he followed her up the front steps where they both stamped their feet and brushed the snowflakes from each other’s shoulders before making their way inside.

After stowing their coats, hats and scarves they moved into the warmth of the living room.

Kathryn made a beeline for the fire, shuffling to the side to make room for Chakotay and gesturing for him to move closer. “Come and warm up.”

They both stood with their backs to the fire and, once well roasted on that side, she turned and rubbed her hands together over the flames. Chakotay turned as well, and she could see the ruddy flush of warmth from the fire on his cheeks. His eyes met hers and she could feel her cheeks burning too, although the fire wasn’t necessarily to blame.

He pressed the back of his fingers against her cheek for the briefest moment. “Toasty.” This was new territory for both of them but the touches and looks were adding layers of devilish delight.

She laughed. “A little and you will be too if you get too close. Mom loves her infernos.” Now mostly thawed, she pointed towards the kitchen. “Coffee’s this way. Come and say hello – Mom would love to see you and if you play your cards right, she might break out the caramel brownies.”

He grinned. “I’ll be on my best behaviour.”

Kathryn shook her head. “Don’t be too good. She has a soft spot for the wicked ones, you know.”

He chuckled. “Really? Does that run in the family?”

She gave him a sideways glance and smiled wryly. “Well, I did make you my second in command, so I guess you could say there’s a genetic predisposition.”

He beamed at that and Kathryn had to make a conscious effort to drag her eyes away from that killer smile. Sometimes, he was just too much.

Chivalrous to the last, he stepped aside as they approached the kitchen and a tingle shivered down her spine as he placed his hand on her lower back to usher her through the door. Not that it was necessary – she was quite capable of making her own way through her kitchen door without his assistance – but any excuse to make contact was okay by her. She glanced at him over her shoulder, not sure what to expect but he simply he raised his eyebrows a fraction, his eyes sparking with something delicious. This might be new but she got the feeling that it wouldn’t take much to nudge them further down this long-desired path. The thought sent another warm frisson of delight shivering through her.

Dragging her eyes away from his, she spoke to her mother. “Mom, look who I found loitering in the front yard.”

Gretchen Janeway turned around and smiled broadly. “Chakotay, my dear boy. How are you?”

Picking up a tea towel, she dried her hands as she made her way towards him. He met her halfway and Kathryn could see his smile deepen as her mother pulled him into her arms and hugged him tight for a moment. Then she cupped his cheeks and frowned as she studied him.

“You look worn out. You need a good meal and some decent rest. Go, have a seat; I’ve got just the thing to put some roses back in those cheeks.”

He grinned as he leant forward and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Gretchen. I won’t say no.”

Kathryn rolled her eyes. “She wouldn’t let you say no even if you tried. She’s been force feeding me for two weeks. I feel a bit like a Pèrigord goose. Be careful; she won’t be happy until we look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”

Gretchen moved to Kathryn’s side and stroked her hair. “Don’t listen to a word she says, Chakotay; she’s loved every minute of my fussing.”

Mother and daughter smiled at one another. The joy and relief of being together after so long surrounded them like a halo. Gretchen broke the moment when she swatted Kathryn gently on the bottom. “And don’t be so ungrateful.”

Kathryn laughed, kissed her mother on the cheek and headed towards the coffee pot.

Enjoying the novelty of seeing this side of his former captain, Chakotay took a seat and waited for her to join him.

Kathryn brought cups and a full coffee pot to the table, and Gretchen followed with a plate piled high with caramel brownies.

Taking a seat, Kathryn nodded towards the plate, “Dig in.” – before she snatched the topmost piece and took a bite. She sighed. “Real coffee and caramel brownies; I don’t know which I enjoy more. Each one tastes better than the last.”

“You’ve just been in withdrawal. Once you get your levels up to normal again, you’ll be fine.” Gretchen shot a look at Chakotay, her eyebrow arching.

Kathryn decided to ignore the conspiratorial exchange of glances between her mother and Chakotay but pointed towards Gretchen with the remnants of her brownie. “Just make sure you’ve left us plenty of supplies when you leave for your conference. I don’t want to have to cook them myself.”

Her mother looked positively stricken. “Chakotay, you have to promise me that you won’t let her cook while I’m gone. You probably should monitor her replicator use as well. She managed to break mine the first week she was home. I honestly don’t know how you do it, Kathryn.”

Kathryn sat up straight and held her chin aloft. “It’s a gift. One I’m very proud of. Not everyone can build a warp core from scratch with plasma waste and bailing wire, or forge an alliance with the Borg to defeat an inter-dimensional species of shape-shifters and still be capable of burning water.”

Gretchen nodded sagely as she reached over and patted her hand. “Yes, you’re truly gifted, my dear.”

There was a heartbeat’s silence before both mother and daughter burst out laughing.

As she sat at the table with her mother and Chakotay, in the familiar surroundings of her childhood home, Kathryn was filled with a wonderful sense of belonging and absolute rightness. God, it was so good to be home.

Chakotay watched mother and daughter with a sad but wistful smile gracing his features. Kathryn was aware that his return to Earth had been something of a double edged sword. His sister Sekaya – his only surviving family – hadn’t yet been located. Contacting the remote settlements where refugees from Trebus, Dorvan and the other disputed planets had settled was difficult at the best of times. The massacre of the Maquis, the disbanding of the resistance and a lack of any structured governing body among the remote settlements, made tracing people next to impossible.

It was a frustrating time for Chakotay and although he was pleased to be home, Kathryn knew he couldn’t truly celebrate until he knew of Sekaya’s whereabouts and condition. Her heart ached for him. Worry and concern were a lonely business – something she knew too well.  A thought struck her and before she could think too hard about the consequences, she proposed a solution to his accommodation dilemma. “I’ve just had a brilliant idea. Why don’t you stay here while Mom’s away? I could use the company and you won’t have to share quarters.”

He turned towards Kathryn and regarded her with questioning eyes. She could sense her mother’s mirth and prayed that Gretchen wouldn’t say anything that would make this moment anymore awkward than it already was.

He still hadn’t answered and Kathryn shrugged. “It was just an idea. I understand if you don’t…”

“I’d love to.” His gaze was intense but he broke contact and turned to Gretchen. “If that’s all right with your mother.”

Gretchen gave him a candid look and snapped a sidelong glance at Kathryn – who pretended not to notice. “Most definitely. It’s a perfect solution for both your problems.”

Kathryn was about to deny that she had any sort of problem but her mother kept talking. “It will give you some space and I’ll rest easier knowing that someone is here with Kathryn – keeping an eye on her.”

It was Kathryn’s turn to send a withering look in her mother’s direction. “How much trouble can I get into here?”

Chakotay and Gretchen exchanged looks before the elder Janeway addressed the younger. “Let’s not tempt fate, shall we? And you’d be wise to knock on some wood, while you’re at it. I’m just glad Chakotay will be here.” She turned towards him. “I leave this evening at 1700. That gives you a couple of hours to gather your things and beam back.” She turned to address her daughter. “Kathryn, you can help him while I get packed.”

‘Admiral’ Gretchen had spoken, so without further ado, they finished their coffees, pilfered another brownie for the road, and headed to the transporter in her father’s old office – a perk of having an Admiral as a father and one of the Federation’s foremost mathematicians as a mother.

They materialized on the Academy grounds and headed towards the dorm buildings. Classes were still in session, so the corridors were empty for the most part, but they did attract a few stares and inquisitive looks from students they passed on the way to Chakotay’s cramped quarters. It didn’t take long to gather his few belongings and they made it back to Indiana in plenty of time.

Gretchen departed soon after their return with a brisk farewell and a promise from each of them: Chakotay was the only one allowed to cook, and Kathryn’s wouldn’t try to ‘improve’ the replicator.

Gretchen also whispered to Chakotay the whereabouts of her hidden secret stash of brownies in case they ran out over the next four days.

Just before she left, Gretchen pulled Kathryn into a tight embrace and with misty eyes admonished her to ‘stay put’.

Kathryn laughed and, swiping a tear from the corner of her eye, promised her mother that she wasn’t going anywhere.

Content with that assurance, Gretchen gave a nod and disappeared in the shimmer of the transporter beam.

*******

They were alone at last, and with that knowledge came the ever-increasing awareness of one another.

Kathryn was the first to break the tense impasse “Well, it’s too early for dinner – the one that you’re cooking, by the way – so how do you feel about a quick tour before it gets too dark.”

“Sounds great.”

They shrugged into their coats and donned scarves and hats before bracing themselves for the chill outside. It was getting dark but the sky was now clear and the setting sun cast swathes of lilac and amber over the drifts of snow. The skeletal silhouettes of trees dotted the landscape and it wasn’t long before the frigid damp tinged their cheeks and noses pink.

Kathryn led the way across the back yard showing Chakotay the barn that had doubled as Phoebe’s studio and lodgings before she’d married and moved away. She pointed out significant landmarks – some of them on the tourist maps – but other more personal ones as well. The distant mountain range where her family had gone on those much-maligned camping trips; the swing where she and Phoebe had dared each other to go higher and higher until Phoebe had launched herself in a spectacular, if unintentional, double summersault with a half pike and broken her arm. Last, but by no means least, she led him through the empty herb beds to a slight rise and introduced him to her thinking tree. The old willow was still standing, its leafless limbs draped dramatically in a wide circle around its trunk; tiny icicles reflected the dying rays of the sun and hung like decorations from its long whip-like branches.

Kathryn gently parted the branches and pointed upwards. “That’s where I used to sit, sometimes for hours at a time. I studied there and dreamed and planned.”

She turned to Chakotay to find him staring at her, his head cocked slightly to the side. With a blink of his eyes, it was as though he’d come to some sort of conclusion and when she opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, before she could utter a word, he leaned forward, cupped her cheek and pressed his lips to hers.

The kiss was gentle, sweetly executed and over much too soon.

He stepped back to gauge her reaction. Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips and she watched in the gathering darkness as his pupils dilated and his breath hitched.

A heartbeat later, she slid her hand behind his head and pulled him towards her, her mouth soft and inviting, as it sought his. He stilled, barely breathing until she nipped at his bottom lip and his arms closed around her, drawing her hard against him. In the darkening shadow of her thinking tree, surrounded by a winter wonderland of snow, they kissed as lovers for the first time.

After several moments – that could have been hours – their lips parted but they remained in each other’s arms. Kathryn traced her fingers along his cheek and combed them through his hair before heaving a very satisfied sigh. “Enough sightseeing. I think we should head back.” Kathryn’s voice sounded huskier than usual, and she could feel the effect it was having on Chakotay.

Chakotay blew out a long exhale, and then huffed a short laugh. “Good thinking.”

He draped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her tight to his side. It felt so right.

Even with her desire-addled brain and legs wobbly from their kiss, she was determined to find somewhere dry and warm.

They staggered through the snow back towards the house and unwilling to let go of one another, they bumped and tripped and almost ended up flat on their faces several times. They laughed at their antics as delicious anticipation became sweeter and more intense with each faltering step.

They only made it as far as Phoebe’s barn but it was far enough. After stumbling through the door, and calling for heat, they threw their hats aside and laughed as they tugged and pulled at each other’s jackets and scarves.

Chakotay successfully unbuttoned her coat, then concentrated on her scarf – which was unending. It didn’t help that Kathryn was struggling with the toggles on his jacket and at the same time, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck almost choking him. He gave a wheezing laugh. “Just think how much easier this would be in the spring.”

“You’re not suggesting we wait until then, are you?”

“Not likely. I’ve been dreaming about this for years. I’m not letting near strangulation or stubborn knitted accessories stop me.”

At last, he managed to unwind what had to be ten feet of scarf, tossing it aside to join her coat on the floor before he pressed her up against the wall. He loosened his scarf and threw it onto the floor before Kathryn triumphantly slipped his arms out of his jacket and discarded it with a flourish.

Now they only had two layers of clothing between them. It was a vast improvement. Kathryn could feel the warmth of his body against hers.

Chakotay sighed. “Ah, that’s better.”

“Not as ‘better’ as it’s going to get.” Kathryn draped her arms over his shoulders, her hands clasped behind his head and her body flush against his.

He took a deep juddering breath before he bent, pressed his lips against hers and easily hoisted her into his arms. Words were superfluous at this point and he simply demanded. “Bedroom.”

Grinning madly, Kathryn pointed towards the stairs. “Upstairs. First door on the right.”

Like a man possessed, he took the stairs two at a time, shoved the door open with his shoulder and kicked it closed behind him before striding across the room and depositing Kathryn on the bed. The stars shone through the vast skylight above her, casting their silvery light over the room and its occupants.

Her eyes were bright with delight as she leaned up on her elbows to watch him. He was all thumbs as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt at the same time tugging it from his trousers as he staggered sideways kicking off his shoes.

Noting his frantic pace, Kathryn toed off her shoes and began to wriggle out of her clothes. The man was in a definite hurry.

Moments later, they were both naked and although tempted to linger and look, the expression on Chakotay’s face made her reconsider.

He took a step towards the bed, then balked.

Kathryn raised her eyebrows in question.

He sighed. “I’m sorry, but I’ve had so many fantasies about this moment and in all of them, I am amazing – a sexual god. I astound you with my prowess and stamina and make love to you for hours until you are putty in my hands, but you have no idea what you do to me. I’m only hanging on by a thread. I need you now but I’m afraid that if I touch you, it’ll all be over before we even start.”

He looked pathetically desperate and Kathryn had never been so flattered or turned on in her life.

“Here.” She pulled back the blankets and shuffled over as he slid into bed beside her. He was true to his word and didn’t touch her. She could see the tension quivering in the muscles of his shoulders and the clench of his jaw.

He was so beautiful and she loved him so much. So there would be no long, lingering foreplay – she could live with that – he wasn’t the only one teetering on the brink. In a manoeuvre that she would no doubt regret in the morning, she pushed Chakotay onto his back, straddled his hips and without preamble sank down onto him.

She gasped and he jack-knifed into a sitting position, his arms enfolding her and holding her still as he willed his body to relax.

A minute passed before he muttered into her hair. “My God, woman. Are you trying to kill me?”

Kathryn tried not to laugh but she was so filled with joy and love and him that she couldn’t help it. “Not in this lifetime. I just thought I’d take the helm for now.”

“I’ll navigate next time.” Keeping his hips rigidly still, he began to move his hands over her back and shoulders. He stroked and gently kneaded, then feathered his fingers down her spine. She could feel the heat of his breath against her neck as his lips plucked kisses along her throat and up to her lips. As his mouth found hers, he lifted his hips and she groaned; the feeling so exquisite it seemed almost too real, too much, too everything. Her arms cradled his head, her fingers tunnelling through his hair as they rocked together, in a perfect and wondrous rhythm.

She whispered his name against his lips and then he was gone……

Chakotay POV – Dream

His eyes found her the instant he entered the room and even after all this time, it hit him like a damned lightning bolt.

She was standing on the far side of the vast ballroom, surrounded by a sea of admirers but Kathryn was all he could see.

Every feeling he’d tried to deny and need he thought he’d conquered, slammed into him, mid-chest.

She was everything – the cause and cure for all that ailed him.

Kathryn Janeway – the woman who had been the centre of his universe for over five years.

After weeks of endless ‘meet and greets’ and press gatherings, Starfleet had pulled out all stops with this gala evening of celebration – the Voyager Welcome Home Ball. It was an opportunity for the Federation, Starfleet and family and friends to honour the returnees, and pay homage to their astonishing feat of survival.

Although touted as ‘Voyager’s night’, no one could deny that it was Kathryn Janeway who held centre stage. Tonight she was to be awarded Starfleet’s highest honour for the role she’d played in their successful return.

Chakotay knew she would shrug off the accolades. Wielding her weapon of polite humility, she would demur and deflect the unwanted and, what she considered unwarranted praise onto the crew – the people whom she felt more justly deserved the honours.

Stubbornly selfless and gracious to a fault – it was classic ‘Janeway’. Her genuine lack of hubris was something to be admired – no matter how misplaced it might be.

Her husky laugh skittered across the air between them and the sound of it sent another jolt to his chest and stole his breath away.

God damn it!

His reaction shouldn’t have surprised him; it had always been this way – painfully exquisite in its own twisted way – and so achingly familiar. The rush of desire hit him hard as well, catching him off guard and he cursed himself for failing to control his reflex arousal.  It was like a damned electric charge, searing through his solar plexus and straight to his groin.

His fingers curled into fists as he battled his body’s response to her proximity. He was angry with himself for allowing her to do this to him, but what annoyed him even more was that she was completely oblivious to the power she had over him. After all these years, he assumed she had some inkling of his feelings for her but, surveying the crowd of men in orbit around his former captain, apparently not.

He’d seriously considered not coming tonight but after two hours of tormented inner debate, he finally decided that it was his duty to attend. Not only for the crew’s sake, but to prove to himself that he could be in her presence and control his longing. It was something that he was going to have to master if he was to live his life without her.

So far, he wasn’t doing very well.

His pathetic plan to remove himself from her sphere of influence had been a spectacular failure. Distance had done nothing to dull the yearning. If anything, after two weeks of avoiding her, his need had only increased and seeing her again was like a drug to an addict.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone and an annoying array of other trite sayings scrolled through his mind and he marvelled at the pathetic irony of his situation. They were home and free but she was still light years away from him.

His reptilian brain began to whisper temptingly in his mental ear. It was telling him to take her, to grab her and run. He had a vision of himself ploughing a path through the crowd, hauling her into his arms and dragging her off to some dark corner, away from prying eyes where he could do to her all the things he’d dreamed of from the moment he’d laid eyes on her.

He wouldn’t, of course. He wanted so much more for them than that; so instead, he just stood there looking stunned and stupid.

Fuck! What a clown.

Then again, why should tonight be any different from the countless other nights he’d spent in her company?

From their defining first contact, when she’d stood less than a breath away from him on Voyager’s Bridge, her scent surrounding him and her eyes challenging him to defy her, he’d been lost. Not simply in the geographical sense, but his heart, his will and his battle-weary soul. He’d relinquished them all without a fight and she’d unwittingly held them hostage ever since.

For years, he’d tried to fool himself into thinking that he had some control over his destiny – that his heart was somehow a reluctant captive – but that was a lie and a futile waste of time. Tonight’s reaction was undeniable proof of his failure. He’d been in her presence now for less than a minute and already his heart had honed in on hers and his love for her was battering at the flimsy walls of his restraint.

She must have sensed his presence and, looking up, their eyes met. He was rooted to the spot. Blue eyes, lit with delighted recognition, latched onto his. The bond they shared was like a living thing and that acute awareness of each other reaffirmed the existence of the thick, pulsing cord of mutual connection.

She sent a whisper of a smile his way and his heart tripped and skittered in his chest, and although she appeared composed, he could have sworn that there was a corresponding flash of yearning in her eyes.

It knocked the breath out of him – again – and, like a shoulder charge to the chest, he was once more thrown completely off kilter.

Before he had time to collect himself, she pushed through the throng of admirers and began making her way towards him.

His love and longing were written in neon across his features and he knew he should look away – but as hard as he tried to avert his gaze, he couldn’t.

His eyes were as hungry as his heart, and they followed her, his inner thoughts rambling in incoherent sputters and starts as she made her guarded yet graceful approach.

She looked incredibly lovely in her long flowing gown, although it wasn’t quite what he’d expected. For some reason he’d assumed she’d be in uniform.

It was a stupid thought – just one of many he’d had that night and in the weeks leading up to this reunion.

But it was how he always imagined her – spick and span in Starfleet red except in his dreams, where she lay naked in his arms; torturing him with expanses of ivory flesh as she writhed and trembled beneath him. Her moans and gasps, hot against his skin, her body sliding under his as stormy blue eyes, heavy-lidded with desire, stared up at him through a haze of arousal.

The well-worn fantasy threatened to decimate his resolve and he blanked it from his mind, bringing the shutters down on the tantalising mental images. But even as they faded, he recognized just how much Kathryn Janeway continued to dominate his thoughts, both consciously and unconsciously.

On some macho, egotistical level, he resented the intrusion, but he knew that if he were to banish her completely from his thoughts, he would be a lesser man and lose that intrinsic sense of worth that she’d brought to his existence.

As she wove her way towards him, moving closer by the second, he tried to steady his hammering heart.

He wanted to appear controlled yet casual – another ludicrous idea – and one doomed to failure. He couldn’t deny the truth anymore, not even from himself, let alone from her. It wasn’t Kathryn’s fault that he was hopelessly in love with her and that he couldn’t move on or contemplate a life without her. He could deny her nothing; it had always been that way.

And why should they deny themselves? Everything was different now. The Alpha Quadrant had changed the rules. They were beholden no one. Her brief but disastrous reconciliation with Mark Johnson was old news and she was free. The way to her heart was open to him. And, it seemed, to every other salivating Lothario within transporter distance of Earth.

A surge of unwanted anger flashed through his belly at the thought of someone coming between them at this critical moment.

She only had eyes for him though, so he quashed the anger and waited.

Kathryn was still moving through the crowd towards him. She looked so beautiful. It was as though years had been swept away in the weeks since their arrival. The harsh lines, carved by worry and constant stress, had softened and he could see the Kathryn from those early years – the brave but vulnerable warrior woman he’d fallen so hopelessly in love with and the brilliant and undaunted young captain not yet tainted by the hardships of their ordeal and the impossible decisions she would be forced to make.

He remembered so vividly those heady early years, where each look drew them closer, every touch edged them nearer, weaving an almost magical web of love-laden desire around them. But he’d known the score from the outset. Initially, Kathryn was unavailable because of her commitment to her fiancé and her steadfast belief that they would be home before ‘he gave up on her’. But even after Mark had married someone else, her devotion remained unwaveringly committed to the ship and crew. Chakotay couldn’t fault her for that. Yes, she was stubborn, mulish and pigheaded, but she was also fearless, brave and loyal, and it only made him love her more.

But time moved on and as their wished-for quick trip home receded from the realm of possible into the murky reality of unlikely, the true weight of their predicament began to press down on them. And it weighed most heavily on Kathryn.

So much had happened to them during their years in the Delta Quadrant – too many tragedies and too much heartbreak. Self-preservation became a wedge between them and to survive, their burgeoning love had been abandoned. It became the warm but wary friendship they’d nurtured.

But it wasn’t nearly enough.

It was a half-life but all that their circumstances allowed. The vulnerable and needful parts of them had to be packed away and safely stored beneath protective layers of protocol and procedure on the off-chance that, should they make it home, they would be able to retrieve and revive them.

He hoped it wasn’t too late.

Taking a deep breath, his eyes remained riveted to Kathryn. The long dark dress she wore, clung to every plane and curve of her body, dipping low but elegantly over the swell of her breasts. Her toned arms were bare and her hair pulled up loosely, away from the long, tantalisingly pillar of her neck.

Mesmerised, he raised his eyes to meet hers but just as her gaze brightened and the electricity snapped between them, a group of admirals waylaid her, pulling her into the fold of their conversation. He frowned as they dragged her from her predetermined path – thwarted again.

But as she turned to greet them, the air once again whooshed from his lungs and quite possibly the room.

Below the few loose wisps of hair that feathered across the nape of her neck stretched a mouth-watering expanse of naked back – porcelain skin with a smattering of freckles and the hint of toned muscle beneath. His mind speared off on another erotic tangent and all he could see were his tanned hands against that alabaster flesh; her spine arching and her supple body twisting and turning as his lips and hands delved in and over the mysteries sheathed beneath that whisper of floor-length dark silk.

A small part of his brain, the miniscule portion of grey matter that wasn’t preoccupied with thoughts of Kathryn writhing in his arms, wondered if anyone had noticed his distracted state. He imagined Tom Paris was somewhere keeping a close eye on proceedings, possibly taking bets on how long it would take his former first officer to sweep his captain into his arms and carry her off like some Neanderthal. If he could move and/or breathe, he might be tempted to place a few credits on himself doing that very thing. However, after years in her company, the one thing he’d learned was constraint. He and his arousal had waged many a war in her presence and, so far he’d emerged the victor, but he wasn’t making any promises tonight.

Minutes passed as she nodded and smiled at her superiors, but he could tell that her mind was elsewhere. Her eyes darted towards him every so often, and he could read frustration in the tilt of her head and the tightness across her shoulder blades. He was intimately familiar with every nuance of her body language and that awareness gave him courage.

He watched as she tried to extricate herself from her superiors’ company, her courteous smile hiding a violin string tautness of anticipation.

It was time for him to act. No more standing and waiting – he owed her that, at least. Hell, he owed them both.

Taking several confident strides forward, he took the risk and placed a proprietary hand on her lower back, his thumb skipping across the small indentations of her spine. They represented so much – her vulnerability but also her steeliness and strength, and he couldn’t wait to place his lips on that very spot.

She turned at the touch, her pupils dilating slightly as she met his gaze.

He tore his eyes away from hers and gave a deferential nod to the bevy of Admirals. “Good evening, sirs. I have something important I need to discuss with Captain Janeway. Would you excuse us, please?”

There were nods of greeting and acquiescence all around, a couple of good-natured harrumphs and knowing raised eyebrow from Owen Paris, but Chakotay ignored them all. He’d come this far, he wasn’t about to be deterred now, even if his actions were verging on insubordination.

Kathryn smiled and murmured a quiet, “Excuse me, gentlemen.”, as Chakotay pressed his hand more firmly against her back and guided her towards the French doors leading to the balcony.

They needed some time alone and he needed some fresh air.

As tempting as it was to look over his shoulder to see who was watching their exit, he fought the urge. Whatever happened next was their business and no one else’s. He’d lived the last five and a half years in a fishbowl. It was time to draw the line.

They stepped through the doors into the San Francisco night. A smattering of stars dotted the dark swathe of night sky. The weather outside the climate shielding was cool, but they were warm behind its invisible protection. Despite the warmth, he felt a shiver run down Kathryn’s spine. The tremble of skin under his fingers unfurled the beast inside him and he instantly hardened. His senses were heightened and he could smell her scent – something floral with a hint of coffee and something distinctly Kathryn underneath. He inhaled deeply and instantly knew what it was. She was aroused as well; the knowledge gave him the courage he needed.

His hand skimmed up her back and he moved in front of her, his hand now nestled against her neck, his thumb resting on her cheek and his fingers tangling in her hair.

She hadn’t moved closer but she hadn’t pushed him away either. His nostrils flared as a fresh wave of her scent assaulted his senses and the only thing he could think to do was groan her name. “Kathryn.”

There was still tension in her shoulders and in the tilt of her head, but her pupils dilated at the sound of his voice and he moved a half a step closer.

He was close enough now to feel her exhalations against his neck and he couldn’t stop a tremble of tension as she husked his name in question. “Chakotay?”

He’d had an entire speech prepared. An extensive list of the reasons why they belonged together, how they’d waited long enough, why it was so right and that there was no one in the known universe who loved or wanted her more. But he’d been struck dumb and couldn’t utter a word.

He needed to say something, though. She was waiting for an explanation; he could see the question in her eyes. She arched an inquiring eyebrow but the flicker of vulnerability that accompanied her signature bravado tugged mercilessly at his heart. To think he might be responsible for that was all the encouragement he needed.

In the most audacious move he’d made in more years than he could remember, he wrapped his other arm around her, pulled her against him and with a heartfelt sigh, pressed his lips to hers. A moan of want vibrated up from his chest and, much to his delight, Kathryn gave an answering sigh.

Her lips were warm and soft, and opened under his as his tongue pressed for entrance. But, in a move typical of Kathryn, she suddenly grabbed his shoulder with one hand and wrapped her other arm around him, spinning them and pushing him up against the wall.

Before he could grasp what was happening, she tore her lips from his and, with her hand planted firmly in the middle of his chest, she held him in place. She was breathing hard, almost as fast as he was, but her eyes had narrowed and she was glaring at him.

This was the showdown that he’d imagined and a triumphant smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

This is your idea of a hello? It’s been weeks, Chakotay. A comm. call would have been nice. I’ve been worried sick; I haven’t heard a word from you. What the hell has been going on?!”

He watched her for a long moment, trying to get a handle on the emotions behind her outburst. He knew her well. This was a ploy – Kathryn Janeway on the defensive was an intimidating sight and it usually worked for her – but not tonight. He was a wake up to all her tricks and tactics, and he refused to play the game. There was too much at stake. He’d retreated too many times in the past, allowing her call the shots – it had been her prerogative while she was his captain – but not now.

“I had to stay away from you.” Shit! That didn’t come out quite how he’d imagined.

“Really?!” She eased back from him and he felt her fingers curl slightly on his chest. “Well, you succeeded. I hope it worked for you.” The sarcasm in her tone only glossed over the hurt beneath.

Chakotay shook his head. “Let me finish, please.” He took a deep breath. “I had to stay away to see if I could.”

She raised both eyebrows this time. “You’re not making sense. Why, for God’s sake?”

“Because, that’s what I thought I had to do. I decided to leave…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish before Kathryn gasped, “Leave!? You’re leaving. So this is good-bye?” This time, she pushed herself completely away from him and shrugged out of his embrace. She took a deep breath and extended her hand. “Well, the best of luck, Commander. I hope you’ll be happy in your pursuits, whatever they might be.”

Chakotay stared at her hand and then raised his eyes to hers. Frosty pools of blue looked back at him and his mouth twitched when he realised what a comedy this had become. She’d misunderstood and no wonder; he was making a horrible mess of his planned declaration and had only dug himself deeper with his clumsy excuses, but he took heart from the fact that she wouldn’t be so upset if she didn’t care.

His face broke into a broad smile. “Oh, Kathryn.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m pleased you’re so happy about leaving.”

The hurt was melting the ice in her stare and his heart throbbed. “I’m not going anywhere. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.”

“I have contacts if you’re having issues with red tape.”

“No. I mean that I can’t go; I tried but I couldn’t leave you. I love you and even if you don’t feel the same way about me, I can’t leave. You’ve got me forever, I’m afraid.”

He saw the instant she understood, but instead of throwing herself into his arms, she bristled. “What if I don’t want you?”

He shrugged. “Too bad. I’ll be here whether you want me to or not. You may as well get used to the idea because I’m not giving up. We are destined to be together.”

Bullshit! What a load of quixotic drivel.”

He laughed aloud and took a step towards her. “See, that’s what I love about you. You are undaunted in the face of any peril.”

“Now you’re a peril? I don’t think so.” She rolled her eyes before glancing towards the doors to the ballroom. “I think we should probably go back in before we draw an audience.” She took another step away from him. “Besides, you’ve probably got somewhere else to be.”

He shook his head. “No. Nowhere.”

Still frowning, Kathryn slid her eyes towards him and glared. “Perhaps, I have somewhere else to be.”

He shrugged. “Perhaps, but if you do, I’m going with you.”

“You might not be invited. There is such a thing as stalking, you know.”

He grinned. “Call it what you like, Kathryn, I’m not letting you out of my sight again. I’ve stood back for years – and yes, I know, we couldn’t be together on Voyager, I understand that – but there’s nothing to stop us now and I know you feel the same way.”

“Really? That’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think?”

He took a small step towards her, pleased to see that she stood her ground. “Maybe, but I was there when we kissed – remember?”

Her look was more annoyed than angry. “You took me by surprise.”

“If that’s the case, I should be on my way to Starfleet medical – it wasn’t that much of a surprise, was it?”

Her nostrils flared slightly and she changed the subject. “You still haven’t told me why you were leaving.”

“It’s simple. I’d decided that you needed to get on with your life and establish what will be a stellar career in Starfleet but after two weeks, I knew that I couldn’t do it. I was miserable. I love you too much, Kathryn and, as much as I hate to say it, I need you too much too.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have burdened you with such inconvenient feelings. I’m sure you’ll get over them in time.”

He shrugged again and reached for her, his fingers trailing down her arm but he stopped himself and let his arm hang loosely by his side. “I haven’t in over five years. I’m afraid they’re terminal.”

Her shoulders sagged and he could see the frosty look soften and warm. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“You’re right; I should have just come out and said it instead of wrapping it up in legends and allegories, but I wanted to give you an out. Our situation wasn’t exactly conducive to a permanent relationship.”

“Now it’s permanent? Do I have any say in this at all?”

He gave that a moment’s thought, then leaned forward and looked into her eyes before shaking his head. “Not this time, Kathryn. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

“I’ve always trusted you.”

His voice softened and he inched closer still. “I know.” Very carefully, he raised his hand and fingered one of the loose strands of hair that was curling along her cheek. “And I’ve always loved you.”

“Not Kellin or Riley Frazer?”

He paused for a split second before resuming his study of that strand of hair. “No. How do you know about Kellin?”

She shrugged. “Where do you think you got the idea to use pen and paper?”

“I’m sorry. I should have been honest with you.”

“You don’t have to apologise for wanting to have a life.”

“I know but I’m still sorry. I was gullible and you have every right to be angry.”

“I have no right at all. Besides, you were manipulated.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“I won’t. But let’s not talk about your old girlfriends, shall we?”

“What would you like to do instead?”

“You could try kissing me again?”

“Are you sure?”

She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and snapped an impatient, “Shut up!” as she pulled him towards her.

He didn’t have to be told twice, and enfolding her in his arms, he kissed her just like she’d ordered him to.

The sound of applause from inside the ballroom finally filtered through their desire-addled minds and they pulled apart to see that they were standing in full view of all those present. Chakotay braced himself for Kathryn’s dismay but instead, she waved to everyone over his shoulder, tugged him into the shadows and pulled him down for another devastating kiss.

As much as he would have loved to spend the rest of the evening kissing Kathryn, they returned to the festivities a few minutes later. He readied himself for a barrage of teasing and haranguing but nothing happened. Each member of the crew wished them well, quietly and graciously, and by the end of the evening, the change in his and Kathryn’s relationship had been accepted by all. He was amazed and so grateful.

They beamed back to her house in the early hours of the morning and, after stepping through the front door, she took his hand and without preamble, led him upstairs to her bedroom.

She stood before him in that filmy cloud of dark blue and, after a sweet kiss to his lips, she reached behind her neck and undid the clasp.

Her dress fell to the floor, puddling around her feet and he held his breath in wonder. She was more beautiful than he could ever have imagined. Her skin glowed in the dim light of the bedside lamp and the lush slope of her breasts, peaked with dusky nipples, seemed to strain towards him. Hot jolts of desire shot like lightning through his veins. He reached for her as she reached for the zipper of his jacket and together they divested each other of their remaining clothes.

They stood for a moment beside the bed, eyes caressing each other, unashamedly taking their fill before need overwhelmed him. His hands tunnelled through her hair and he gathered her close and kissed her. Their naked bodies pressed together, hardness and softness, pliant flesh against rigid planes – it was an intoxicating feeling.

Chakotay lifted her, his hands cupping her buttocks as they toppled onto the bed and all the dreams he’d ever dreamed, all the fantasies that had tormented him and all the love that he’d ever had to give were brought to life in that expanse of soft linen.

They made love again and again, until sated and spent, and then fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Chakotay woke with the sunrise and lay there looking at Kathryn as she slept. He was in awe that she was there with him and that she loved him as much as he loved her. Dreams rarely came true, but for him, at last, the gods had smiled.

She roused and her eyelids fluttered for a moment before she looked up at him and smiled. “Good morning.” Reaching up with one warm hand, she touched his cheek before she drifted back to sleep again – safe and secure in his arms.

He couldn’t believe his good fortune and a surge of love so strong shuddered through him and he pulled her tightly against him, and then she disappeared….

His arms flailed in the darkness as he bellowed her name. “Kathryn!”

Chapter 3

Kathryn POV  – Awake

Something rough grazed her cheek and she rolled away from it, snatching at empty air. Her eyes snapped open and she clambered to her feet in the middle of the command deck. With a shaking hand, she scraped her hair back from her face and stared at the viewscreen.

Oh God! Earth?! Where was it?

Where the hell were they?

And what the hell had happened?

No familiar star systems lit the screen; Earth was nowhere in sight. A chest kick of disappointment robbed her of breath and clamped her throat shut.

Tom pulled himself up onto his seat and his fingers darted across the helm console.

“Where?” It was all she could utter.

He confirmed her worst fears. “We’re still in the Delta Quadrant.”

Disappointment swamped her, closely followed by a tsunami of despair. She wanted to scream and rage at the universe. But she couldn’t. Not in this lifetime. Not ever.

Duty demanded her attention.

Fuck duty! She wanted to scream.

But duty always won.

She approached the helm. “Scan the wormhole. Find out what went wrong.” Her voice sounded strange even to her ears.

The news only got worse. “It’s gone. I can’t find it on sensors.”

Kathryn’s cool exterior belied the turmoil beneath.

How could it be gone? Why were they back in the Delta Quadrant?

She could still taste Chakotay’s kiss; could feel his arms around her, his breath on her neck and his gentle hands in and on her body.

Harry’s voice broke through the vivid but brutal flashes of memory.

“Captain, Bridge controls have been routed to Engineering. Ops, tactical, helm, all of it.”

Now for some answers. “Bridge to Engineering.”

Seven’s even tones answered the hail. “Yes, Captain.”

“Seven? What’s going on?”

“The Doctor will explain. I will file a complete report in the morning, after I have regenerated.”

Was that the sound of smug superiority in her voice? If Kathryn hadn’t been so devastated, she might have taken the young woman to task, but she had to find answers before she made any decisions… about anything.

She tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Chakotay.”

“Cha…” His voice faltered and he tried again. “Chakotay here, Kath…Captain.”

Her heart throbbed at the sound of his voice but her tone remained rigidly professional. “Meet me in Sickbay.”

“Aye, Captain.”

If hearing his voice affected her so profoundly, seeing him was going to be a cruel reality check.

Had any of it been real?

They met outside Sickbay and he looked as devastated as she did. The urge to step into his arms was almost overwhelming.  She would have done almost anything if only he would hold her and tell her that everything was going to be all right. Their bodies even swayed towards one another as though propelled by some invisible force. His tortured expression caught her unawares; the yearning and desolation that dulled his dark eyes caused a pain to spear into that tender spot just beneath her sternum.

The moment hung in space longer than it should have but this reality was their life and in it, they were Captain and First Officer. Nothing more.

Kathryn was the first to look away. She cursed herself for her cowardice but the ship, the crew and the mission took priority. God, how she hated them all at that moment!

Side by side – but galaxies apart – they turned and stepped through the Sickbay doors. The stifling mantles of their ‘real’ lives wrapped around their shoulders, tight, confining and unrelenting. Kathryn felt as though she might suffocate under the weight of responsibility but she stood firm, knees locked and her face set in the grim lines of bitter determination.

She wanted to cry. She wanted to be held, but most of all, she wanted to be able to love him.

Chakotay POV – Awake

She looked beautiful in her devastation. He could see it and he could feel it – it came crashing off her in waves, adding to the turmoil of his own shattered emotions. Her hair was tousled and her makeup a mess – she looked like he’d just made love to her – but it hadn’t been real.  Moments before, he’d watched her rouse from sleep, hair mussed, her body warm and fragrant from sleep and sex, and he’d thought that nothing could be more beautiful. But he was wrong. Her eyes shone with an intensity of sorrow that wrenched so hard at his heart that it hurt to breathe. The searing pain within their blue depths pierced his soul and she was exquisite.

If only he could hold her, mend her broken heart and shattered dreams, and in turn repair the mortal wound to his.

It was too cruel. Earth and the Alpha Quadrant had been so tantalizingly close, almost within their grasp, but once again home and hope had been snatched away at the last moment, leaving them bereft. Now they were expected to simply absorb the disappointment and carry on as though nothing had happened. How could they? They were crushed, traumatized. How many times were they expected to do this before they were unable to put the pieces back together again? He knew his resilience was wavering and from the tremor in her hands and the anguish in her eyes, Kathryn was close to the brink as well.

There was no other option but to battle on. It was their duty, their mission and their responsibility. And even more so, it was his obligation to her. He would be the strength she needed to find her way through this. That was his silent promise to her – in lieu of being able to love her.

It was going to be difficult, if not impossible. It had all seemed so real. He could still taste her lips, the sweetness of her kisses and the heat of her surrounding him.

He’d held her in his arms as they danced, as they’d kissed and as he’d made love to her in the early morning light. It had all felt so real, so perfect, but it hadn’t happened.

His heart shattered.

Chapter 4

Kathryn POV – Reality

Kathryn stood in rigid silence, Chakotay by her side – close but not touching – as the Doctor explained, as best he could, what had happened. The ‘wormhole’ had been nothing more than space dwelling lifeform in search of sustenance, a telepathic entity that used a neurogenic field to induce illusions in the minds of its prey. It tapped into their deepest desires and gave them what they wanted most, before luring them to their deaths.

Seven had tried to warn them but the delusions had been too strong to resist.

After the crew had fallen into unconsciousness, and with the help of the alien, Qatai; Seven and the Doctor were able to save the ship and the crew.

Kathryn was reeling, shocked and savaged by grief.

Earth, her mother, Indiana. Chakotay. She stifled a groan. Their kiss in the snow, making love under the light of the stars, their declarations of love and their promises of a future together – none of it had happened. It had all been a figment of her demented imagination. Her insides felt raw, scoured and vulnerable. She couldn’t take a proper breath. Everything hurt but her heart hurt worst of all – crushed and broken, it bled regret like an open wound.

How would she ever recover from this?

Had she been saved, or simply returned to a living hell? Alive, yes, but did this qualify as a life?

She glanced at Chakotay and he met her gaze. As their eyes met, she felt an almost tangible wrenching on her soul. Did he feel it too?  It felt as though something had cracked open inside her, a secret vault of awareness and need, one that mirrored a corresponding yearning within Chakotay. She could almost hear his thoughts and see his dreams. Was she imagining this or had the alien done something to them? The neurogenic field had tampered with their perceptions – was it possible that they were somehow more acutely attuned to one another than before? She was tempted to ask him if he felt the same deep tug of need, but in their roles of Captain and First Officer, it wasn’t appropriate and, more importantly, what if he answered, no?

Coward! She admonished herself. He deserved better than that, and so did she. There had to be a way. She was afraid that if she didn’t do something, eventually, the crushing responsibility of her captaincy would consume her.

They left Sickbay and headed back to the Bridge. The memories were still too close and too real, though Kathryn had a feeling that they would always be that way. She wanted what they’d had so badly that this – the here and now – felt more like a dream than what had happened while under the alien’s influence.

Confused, angry and heart sore, Kathryn retreated to her Ready Room after giving Chakotay the order to deploy warning beacons near the entity so others wouldn’t suffer this torment.

Chakotay POV – Reality

As hard as he tried to stop, Chakotay’s eyes kept straying towards the doors of Kathryn’s Ready room – his worry for the woman behind them overshadowed all other thoughts.

He’d deployed the warning beacons as ordered, and Voyager had resumed a course for Earth.

The shock had worn off and he was numb now. His heart so bruised and battered that he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to feel again. Perhaps it was better this way – better for Kathryn, better for him, better for the ship.

He’d overheard snippets of some of the crew’s experiences. Each one of those experiences had left behind a shattered soul and an emotionally wounded individual. To have one’s greatest desire fulfilled and then ripped away was the bitterest of pills.

B’Elanna had seen all the Maquis – alive and well – and she was now reliving the grief of their loss all over again. Tom had been reunited with his father – all his past indiscretions forgiven; Tuvok had been greeted by his wife, T’Pel and returned to his family and life on Vulcan; Neelix’s arrival on Earth had been a gala event as he mingled with ambassadors from all over the quadrant. The fallout from this disaster was going to take a long time to overcome.

He needed to stay strong, and so did Kathryn. It was up to them to show the crew the way, but just at that moment, he wasn’t sure if he had the wherewithal to save himself, let alone anyone else.

Their shift ended with Kathryn still behind closed doors in her Ready room. Every cell in his body urged him to go to her, and as much as he knew that it was probably a bad idea, he couldn’t leave the Bridge without knowing she was all right.

Without analysing his reasons too closely, he rang the chime on her door.

Chapter 5

Kathryn POV – Salvation

Kathryn half-heartedly sipped her coffee. The bitter brew tasted rank and metallic. Her mother’s coffee was still fresh in her mind and although, in the scheme of things, it was of little importance, in her mind, it represented her overwhelming failure. She placed the unfinished drink on the table and returned to her vigil. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for but more often than not, the stars pointed her in the right direction.

Voyager had resumed a course for Earth, and her heart throbbed painfully with the wrenching truth that they were still half a lifetime from home. As tempting as it was, she couldn’t allow depression to gain a foothold. She’d been there before and nothing good had come of it; this wasn’t the first time they’d been down this road. The Delta quadrant had a cruel habit of dangling the tantalizing promise of home before them, only to snatch away the prize at the last minute. There had to be a reason. What that was, she had no idea, but until she knew, it was her duty to endure. It was all she could do.

But some things were going to have to change. She couldn’t bear the burden alone anymore. Being with Chakotay, even if only in her deluded imaginings, had shown her that there was another way. If a quick trip back to Earth was not meant to be and they were to live out their lives here on Voyager, changes had to be made. Early in the journey, she and Chakotay had discussed the concept of a generational ship. They still had well over fifty years of travel ahead of them and she, for one, didn’t intend to be captaining the ship in her 90s. For their survival, if nothing else, they had to encourage the crew to form stable relationships, have families and live their lives here on the ship as they would back in the Alpha quadrant.

If, and it was a big ‘if’, the crew were to see their commanding officers in a committed relationship, it might encourage others to do the same.

Kathryn stopped and took a moment to examine her reasoning. Was she simply looking for a way to justify a relationship with Chakotay or was this a legitimate undertaking necessary for the survival of her crew? They had encountered generational ships in their travels, and each one had faced this moment in their history. Now it was Voyager’s turn. They were the only Federation ship in the quadrant, and unless they decided to settle on a planet along the way, their options were limited.

The prospect wasn’t any less daunting than it was all those years ago when Chakotay had first couched the idea, but the time had come to seriously consider it.

Her door chimed and she knew who it would be.

Chakotay POV – Salvation

The Ready room door opened with a familiar muted hiss and there she was, right where he expected her to be: standing in front of the viewport on the upper level, abandoned coffee mug on the table behind her, staring at the unfamiliar stars of their Delta quadrant home.

It was then that it struck him. This was their home and would be for the foreseeable future. It was up to them to make it everything that home was meant to be – family, acceptance, sanctuary, love. The truth was that they might never reach Earth or the Alpha quadrant in their lifetimes. They might not make it past next week but that wasn’t a good enough reason not to embrace the fact that they were all still alive, and part of an extraordinary group of beings who lived, loved and would lay their lives on the line for each and every one of their fellow shipmates.

He’d found the silver lining in, what up until now, had been a horrendous and harrowing experience, and it was up to him to convince Kathryn that it wasn’t the disaster that it first appeared to be.

She turned slowly and met his eyes. “We can do it, can’t we?”

He frowned at her ambiguous question. “Whatever it is, I’m sure we can. What do you mean though, Kathryn?”

“This. Us. That.” She gestured between them and then at the space outside the viewport. “I’ve been thinking that as much as I miss home. I would miss this, too.” She turned and held his gaze. “I would miss you.”

He nodded, the beginnings of a smile softening his mouth. He knew she’d find her way through this. She was courageous, uncompromising and the strongest person he’d ever met. “I’d miss you too, more than you will ever know, but for now, Voyager is our home, the crew our family and we will be okay.”

She nodded and the tension eased from her shoulders. “I’ve been thinking along those lines too, in fact.”

“You have?”

She nodded. “I think it’s time to consider making Voyager a generational ship. It’s been five years now and we can’t assume that we’re going to find a quick way home. We need to prepare for the long journey.”

“It makes sense.”

“Do you think the crew will understand?”

“I think they’ll be relieved.”

She stood there for a long moment, not saying anything and then she spoke, her voice quiet and steady. “I love you. You know that don’t you?”

He nodded and slowly climbed the stairs, moving towards her until he was standing by her side. “I love you, too.”

They were close enough that he could feel the heat of her body. He ached to touch her, but that would be Kathryn’s call.

She barely moved, but he could feel her hand searching for his, and turning his palm outward, she clasped it tight and wove her fingers through his. They stood there for several minutes, watching the stars and revelling in the connection.

She’d made the first move; now it was up to him to take his tentative step forward. “We were lovers in my dream of our homecoming. Not at first, but we found our way to one another, and it was more than I could ever have imagined. It seemed so real. I thought I would go mad when I woke up in Engineering without you in my arms.”

She gave his hand the slightest squeeze. “We were lovers in my dream as well. It was so beautiful; my heart broke when I found myself on the Bridge and realized that it was nothing but an illusion.”

“We can do this, Kathryn. I have great faith in us.”

She turned her back to the window and placed her hand over his heart in a gesture so dear to him. She gave him a ghost of a smile and spoke the only words he needed to hear.

“I do, too.”

Epilogue

Kathryn POV – The Other Side

Kathryn sat across from Chakotay in the Mess hall. The dinner rush was on, and the crew busied themselves with gathering their meals and socializing. She cast her eyes around the room and smiled. It had been several weeks since their encounter with the ‘Pitcher Plant’ – as named by Naomi – and the crew was almost back to what passed for normal in the Delta quadrant.

There had been changes – some dramatic and some not. She and Chakotay were now together. He had moved into her quarters the day after the encounter with the ‘wormhole’ and the move had caused barely a ripple in Voyager’s day-to-day life. She was happier than she’d ever been, and Chakotay constantly wore such a contented smile that it made her question why they hadn’t done this sooner.

Others members of the crew had followed their lead and there had been a rush of crew quarter reassignments for a couple of weeks, but things had quickly settled back into a regular routine. The tone of the ship seemed to be more tranquil and harmonious. It wasn’t that they’d given up the search for a short cut home, but everyone seemed more at ease with the reality of their life on Voyager. It was their home for the present, and accepting that gave everyone a certain feeling of serenity. She wasn’t fool enough to think that there wouldn’t be problems along the way, or that they wouldn’t encounter belligerent aliens, warlike races and other terrifying anomalies in their quest for home, but her personal happiness allowed her the latitude and the peace of mind to know she’d be ready to deal with them when they crossed their path.

They still had many decades of travel ahead of them and many wonders to encounter along the way, but for now, on this day and at this time, they were home and at peace.

 

fin

One thought on “The Other Side of Bliss

  1. Karin

    Thank you for uploading a new story. I liked it a lot. You could write a sequel: what happens between the ready room and the epilogue? Would love that!

    Reply

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