Summary: A post-Endgame fixer upper for Delta on her birthday. Hugs.
Thanks to Kim J for the beta.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Kathryn wriggled her bottom further into the seat of her command chair and then ran her hands up and down the armrests. She heaved a heartfelt sigh. Damn, she was going to miss this old thing. Over the years, it had moulded itself to her outline and now fit her like a glove. Her behind nestled snugly into the seat, and she’d managed to coax the lumbar rest into exactly the right position. It had taken years of sitting, squirming, twisting and pummelling to get her chair to be this comfortable and it pained her to know that she had to leave it behind. She frowned. It was just another regret to take with her when she left Voyager for the last time.
It seemed pathetic in light of the catalogue of monumental regrets she’d acquired over her years as captain, but in a way, it encapsulated everything that she was feeling now. Her ship, her crew and her life aboard Voyager had become like a cosy old sweater or a well-worn pair of shoes. She was content and comfortable with them; they’d tailored and shaped themselves to fit both her form and mode of leadership and she, in turn, had fashioned her command style to suit them. It was a match made in heaven. It took time for things to yield like that; to find the proper fit and the longer one was surrounded by this easy give and take, the harder it was to say goodbye.
God, she was going to miss everyone and everything about Voyager so much.
It was their ship and the mere thought of hordes of nameless Starfleet engineers traipsing all over it – ripping components from their housings and removing bits of the home that she and her crew had so meticulously put together – made her almost shake with sadness.
She was so torn. On the one hand, she was ecstatic about being back in the Alpha Quadrant, of achieving her goal and bringing her crew home; well, most of them. However, on the other hand, she was floundering at the prospect of finding a new direction in her life – specifically one that didn’t involve travelling thousands of light-years towards a single goal – and securing a comfortable place for herself that would fit as well as this old chair.
She hadn’t credited just how much it would hurt to say farewell to all of this. She loved her ship, she loved her crew and it was going to break her heart to hand over the reins. A strident voice inside her head tempted her to lock all the shuttle bay doors, turn the ship around and head back into space. She wondered what Starfleet would do. Probably beam her directly into a straightjacket and padded cell. Her mouth twisted into a grim smile; they might just do that anyway once they read the logs from her latest escapade. Who else but a crazy person would let a doppelganger from the future develop mutant nanoprobes in order to hijack transwarp conduits, just so that she could hitch a ride in a Borg sphere and cross half the galaxy? She certainly had some explaining to do.
In light of what had happened, Kathryn figured that the likelihood of retaining a command – let alone getting Voyager back – was remote to nonexistent, and over the last few days she’d begun inuring herself to the inevitable grisly outcome of her debriefings. She’d lain awake for several nights, imagining the baffled looks on the faces of her superiors, their gasps of incomprehension and incredulity as they read her most recent reports. Perhaps they’d think it was a fabrication, the bizarre ramblings of an overworked and overwrought captain, but then again, Voyager had burst from the innards of a Borg sphere right on Earth’s doorstep; it was going to be difficult to get them to overlook that cold, hard fact.
Again, her mouth curled into a cynical smirk. There would be interesting times ahead but she was a Janeway and she’d muddle through – she always had.
She squeezed the chair’s armrests for emphasis then pivoted to her feet to walk one last circuit of the Bridge before returning to her quarters to pack. She stepped down to the helm, ran her hand over the console and spun Tom’s chair. It would always be ‘Tom’s chair’ although others had piloted the ship. In her mind, though, it was Paris with his smart mouth and kind heart who she would always picture in that position. Just as it would always be Samantha Wildman seated at the Science Station, Harry Kim whose smiling face would haunt the Operations console, Seven at Astrometrics, Tuvok at Tactical, B’Elanna at Engineering and…
Taking a deep breath, Kathryn stepped down onto the command deck once more and ended up in front of the two chairs that took centre stage. Chakotay would always be there by her side, always her right-hand man and the finest First Officer with whom she’d ever had the honour to serve.
It was the end of an era, the end of an amazing adventure and an extraordinary love story. One that sadly had remained unrequited – neither consummated nor acknowledged by either her or Chakotay – but one that had nourished her soul and kept her sane for all those years.
It was a tragedy of almost Shakespearian proportions and entirely her fault. She’d allowed their unique bond to be slowly strangled and stifled by her inability to see past her command commitment and her single-minded obsession to get home. An obsession that had paid off but as a result, their love for one another – something as rare and precious as any of the wonders they’d seen or experienced – was no more. The realisation was truly heart breaking.
Looking at Chakotay’s chair, with his body outlined as distinctly as hers in her own, Kathryn felt a deep and searing sense of sorrow for what had been and what she’d let slip through her fingers. But there was nothing to be done about it now. That ship had sailed and even if she had her time over again – something for which she seemed to have an unhealthy penchant – nothing would change. Even though it was another bitter realisation, this was no time to start second-guessing herself.
What’s done was done, and there was no point crying over spilt milk. Things happened for a reason and with the closing of that door, hopefully a window somewhere would open. There was no point fighting the inevitable and it was best to leave sleeping dogs lie. Kathryn rolled her eyes and groaned. She’d turned into ‘homily woman’.
All the excuses under the sun wouldn’t make her feel better about what had happened and spewing metaphors ad nauseam was hardly the cure for an unalterable reality. Chakotay’s relationship with Seven was just something she was going to have to accept. Obviously, she’d managed to do so; the Admiral was living proof that she’d survived the loss of his love and their longed-for life together. At that moment, however, the wound felt decidedly mortal.
Kathryn refused to let anyone in on that particular piece of information. She still had her pride, although it was somewhat battered and, as she saw it, rather overrated; it was the most likely culprit for the very predicament in which she’d found herself. Pride could be a bitch.
Before she let her brain spout more trite adages, Kathryn turned away from their chairs and the sadness they evoked to face the viewscreen. It showed Earth in all its brilliant blue, shimmering glory. There wasn’t a planet like it anywhere – well certainly none that she’d ever seen and, she thought sarcastically, she’d seen a few. They were passing over the west coast of Africa at the moment – towards the deep azure blue of the North Atlantic ocean – and soon they would be crossing over the North American continent and her home. She wondered briefly what her mother and sister were doing and had visions of Gretchen frantically baking brownies and Phoebe busily scrubbing her offspring until they shone like pins for their Auntie Kathryn.
On her arrival, there would be new nieces and nephews to meet and get to know, her sister’s husband and reunions with friends and extended family. Mark and his new wife would be coming to visit – something she dreaded.
Sucking in a deep breath, Kathryn was struck by the sudden but glaring truth that she would be doing all this on her own.
She was alone, for the first time in years. Yes, she’d been on her own here, living a solitary and lover-less existence, but she’d never felt ‘alone’. There was invariably someone around to speak to or sit with – even in the quiet hours of the morning when sleep was elusive. Neelix was always in the Messhall, Tuvok was available at all times to give counsel and the Doctor rarely passed up an opportunity to boast or pontificate about his latest obsession. Seven was never far away with some sort of challenge or problem; B’Elanna, Tom, Harry, Sam and Naomi, plus many other members of the crew, happily welcomed her company. And Chakotay was always there by her side whenever she needed him; whether it be as a confidant, combatant or co-conspirator. She was going to miss them all so much but it was the commander’s absence that bit hardest into her resolve.
Damn, now she was on the verge of crying. She shouldn’t have come to the Bridge. It was an unnecessary indulgence, an indulgence that had achieved nothing other than making her maudlin and miserable. It was a blatantly transparent form of procrastination. She should be packing. They were leaving first thing the next morning. All personnel and their belongings were to disembark by 1000, as ordered by Admiral Hendricks. Kathryn checked her chronometer. It was 1800, which meant she had sixteen hours left on her ship before it was hers no longer.
Damn; that thought made her chest ache with sadness.
It was time to say her final goodbye and get on with things. She resisted the urge to sit one last time in her chair and after brushing her fingertips lightly over the armrest, she turned away and marched up to the Turbolifts. They opened and without looking back, she stepped inside and snapped out a brusque. “Deck three.” The last thing she saw as the doors closed was a glimpse of Earth from the forward viewscreen.
It seemed fitting.
Kathryn slumped back against the lift wall but straightened just before the doors opened. She strode out of the lift towards her quarters and was keying in the code when she heard footsteps behind her. Just as her door opened, she turned. It was Chakotay.
She smiled warmly as he approached and greeted him as usual. “Hello there. How’s the packing going?”
He returned her smile and came to stand close, leaning against the bulkhead by her open door. “Almost done but I’ll have some sorting to do once I find a place to stay. There’s a lot of stuff I’m sure I’m not going to need down there.” He jabbed his thumb towards the exterior bulkhead of the ship. “How are you going with yours?”
Kathryn shrugged. “Slowly. I’ve been putting it off.”
He raised his eyebrows in question.
Giving him a guilty smile, Kathryn shrugged. “Captain’s prerogative, but I’m getting there. I can’t believe how much I’ve ferreted away. I’ve become a pack rat. I’ll have to do some serious culling once I get home as well.”
He chuckled. “I’m glad I’m not the only one.” He glanced at the Turbo lift. “I was coming to find you. The computer said you were on the Bridge.”
Kathryn tried to brush off the fact. “Yes, just having a look around.”
She nodded. Damn him for knowing her so well. That lump in her throat began to press upwards making it difficult to speak.
Chakotay seemed oblivious and continued. “I was up there earlier. It’s going to be strange not stepping onto the command deck every day. Our new lives are going to take some getting used to.”
Kathryn nodded briskly. If only he knew how difficult it would be for some. Were he not with Seven, she would have discussed with him her trepidation about what lay ahead but it wasn’t appropriate anymore, so she smiled grimly instead and gave him a bland reply. “It’s to be expected after being away for so long but I’m sure we’ll muddle through.”
His brow knitted and she knew that she’d underestimated his perceptiveness. “Are you all right, Kathryn?”
She smiled broadly and patted his arm. “Of course. We’re home. I couldn’t be happier.”
His frown deepened and Kathryn hoped against hope that he wouldn’t question her more directly. As much as she was hurting inside, she didn’t want him to know, and she certainly didn’t want to ruin his excitement about beginning his new life with Seven. She was his best friend after all and if he were happy then she would be, too – eventually.
She could see that she hadn’t fooled him however. He placed a supportive hand on her upper arm and looked her squarely in the eye, studying her intently. “You’re not happy, are you? I can tell.”
His hand burned hotly through the layers of her uniform. He hadn’t touched her like this in years and she silently cursed him – this was a hell of a time to start. Although tempted to snatch her arm away, she refrained. To do so would only confirm his suspicions, so instead, she laid her hand on his chest, as she’d done a hundred times before, and reassured him. “I’m fine, Chakotay. Really, I am. It’s just a big change and quite overwhelming in some ways.” With that, she pulled back and made a move to enter her quarters. She smiled over her shoulder. “I’d best get packing or I’ll be left behind.”
Those last words had just slipped out and, although unintentional, they’d hit right at the core of her grief. Much to her dismay, she jagged to a stop and tears welled in her eyes. Fighting grimly against the urge to cry, she muttered a quick, “I’ll see you later.” and smacked her hand on the control panel.
The door slid shut between them.
* * *
Kathryn stood stock still for a moment then teetered forward, her head thudding dully against the bulkhead. Damn, damn, damn. She should have avoided speaking to him. After that first hello, she should have made her escape. Now he was bound to be suspicious of her state of mind and would begin to gauge her reactions and watch her closely – or maybe not. She had to keep reminding herself that he was with Seven and that they were home; his captain’s wellbeing was no longer his primary concern. Despite all her efforts, a tear tipped over her lashes and trickled down her cheek. She swiped at it angrily and swallowed any others that dared to follow. Now was not the time.
Pressing her sadness down deep inside, as she’d done so many times before, Kathryn returned to the task at hand and flipped the lid open on a large cargo container to finish her packing.
It took most of the evening to put away the bulk of her belongings but a call from Chell informing her that there was an impromptu farewell party in progress in the Mess hall hauled her away from the onerous task. With only a few loose trinkets left, she decided that they could wait until the morning to pack and without a second thought, she marched out of her quarters and headed to Deck two.
Kathryn could hear the noise of the party the moment the lift doors opened and she had to smile. The flood of laughter and happy voices washed down the corridor in a great wave, buoying her spirits immeasurably. This was what she should be focussing on – the joy and delight of her crew, their accomplishment of this mammoth task and the many lives that had been saved thanks to her older self’s determination. Those sixteen years were a gift – a priceless gift she would refuse to squander from that moment forward.
With her resolve and purpose re-established, Kathryn took a deep breath and entered the Mess hall smiling.
There was a gradual hush in proceedings as all heads turned towards her, and then the applause began. It quickly crescendoed to a thunderous ovation, the noise of which permeated the bulkheads, leaving Kathryn to wonder if it could be heard planet-side.
She stood just inside the doors, overwhelmed by her crew’s generosity. Somewhere from the back of the room, a voice yelled drunkenly. “We love you, Captain Janeway.” A wave of good-natured laughter followed and then a rousing chorus of “Hear hears,” cheers and whistles. She grinned as she cast her eyes around the room. A sea of smiling faces looked back at her, all so familiar and all so loved.
This was how she wanted to remember them all – happy and joyous. Determination gripped her and in that moment, all the regrets, the losses and the personal sacrifices seemed worth it. This was what she’d been fighting for all these years and no matter what had happened or was going to happen, nothing and nobody could take this away from her. With the help of all these wonderful people, they’d achieved the impossible – they’d traversed a lifetime of space in seven years and returned home with a wealth of information, technology and experience in their keeping. It might not have been the mission she’d set out on all those years ago but as she’d once told Chakotay, Starfleet captains didn’t choose their missions; their missions chose them. And never had that been truer than for Kathryn Janeway and Voyager.
Her next mission would be to ensure that all her crew successfully settled back into their Alpha Quadrant lives. Only then would her promise to them be truly fulfilled.
But for now, it was time to drink a toast to their good fortune and the future.
Three months later, Kathryn left Starfleet headquarters for the last time. Her debriefings were over and after many weeks of concurrent counselling and deep deliberation, she’d decided to put her career on hold. As promised, she’d made certain that each member of her crew was settled and happy, and with that, her responsibilities to them and Voyager had come to an end.
She stood on the top step of the Administration building and, with only the merest tinge of regret, looked across the manicured gardens and lawns of her alma mater. Casting residual doubts aside, she knew she’d made the right decision. Time to herself was what she needed; time to find all the parts of her that had been abandoned, stifled and cast aside in the Delta Quadrant. She needed to learn to breathe again and let go of the constant knot of tension that had been her unrelenting companion since her encounter with the Caretaker.
After taking her first deep, cleansing breath as a free woman, she trotted down the steps and headed into the gardens to take her final leave.
She was momentarily accosted by the memory of her last farewell visit to Voyager’s Bridge but she brushed that pang of sadness aside and continued her stroll along the path that led through the brightly coloured flowerbeds. She passed the rose bushes that old Boothby had nurtured for countless years and the arbours and ancient trees that predated the Academy – some by centuries. The real Boothby had passed away during her time in the DQ but she remembered the curmudgeonly old gardener fondly and thought of his Species 8472 counterpart, wondering if somewhere out there, half a galaxy away, he might still be shuffling around in his dungarees coaxing blooms from rose bushes.
She stopped to admire a bush in full bloom, the peach coloured blossoms reminding her of Chakotay and she smiled. The ache persisted but she was slowly coming to terms with the fact that he wasn’t part of her life anymore. They hadn’t spoken since arriving home and although his and Seven’s relationship hadn’t survived the transition from Voyager to Earth, there had been a corresponding fracture in her friendship with him and she wasn’t sure how to go about repairing it. It saddened her, but for the moment, there was nothing to be done. Perhaps they both needed space and time to heal.
In the meantime, there were a myriad of things she could do. Perhaps she could learn how to grow roses. She certainly had time to spare. Bending forward, she inhaled the scent from one of the blooms and smiled. Yes, she would do that and more. So much more.
After taking one last look around her, Kathryn pulled her shoulders back and strode towards the transporter station and her new life.
Kathryn Janeway’s retirement made headline news around the Federation and for weeks afterwards, her comm. console ran red hot. Messages of support and concern came in from friends and family but also from people she didn’t even know. It had taken her days to sort through them all. The ones she most cherished were those from her crew and she made a point of sending responses to each of them, reassuring them that the decision to leave Starfleet was her own and that she was happy and content with her choice.
Her mother and sister had been wonderfully supportive of her decision. Kathryn was well aware that both of them were none-too-secretly relieved that she wouldn’t be going back into space again. The day Kathryn had told her mother of her plans to resign her commission was the first time the worry lines had smoothed from Gretchen’s forehead since her daughter’s arrival. Over the years, her mother had endured too many losses and Kathryn appreciated her anxiety. The thought of her daughter heading back out into the dangers of space again after the miracle of her return was almost too much for the elder Janeway to contemplate. For her mother’s peace of mind alone, Kathryn was confident that she’d made the right decision.
Her mother’s wellbeing was of great importance to her, as was that of all her close family and friends. After the disbanding of her crew, the significance of family had become even more sacrosanct in Kathryn’s mind. She’d fallen in love with Phoebe’s children – Teddy who was five and Emma, three – and Phoebe’s husband, Nate was a delightful man and welcome addition to the Janeway clan. With her mother as her close confidante and her sister living nearby, Kathryn closed ranks on every familial front and cherished each moment spent with them.
Even so, she missed her crew. And although she was in regular contact with a good number of them, it was taking some getting used to. B’Elanna, Tom and Harry had taken to dropping in a couple of times a week and since her retirement, the dynamic of their relationship had changed – they had become her dear friends.
The Doctor had transformed into another close companion. It hadn’t taken Kathryn long to realise the depth of his loss and suffering. The ship and its crew had been the holographic physician’s entire world – the only one he’d ever known – and although he was happy for everyone else, it had been a grievous blow when he’d been wrenched from that safe and familiar environment. He would never admit to it openly, and undoubtedly deny it if ever asked, but he truly loved his Voyager cohort with a passion that was uniquely his own. The ‘man’ was becoming more and more human every day.
He was still fighting diligently for holographic rights and Kathryn had no doubt that he would eventually succeed. She had a feeling that the Starfleet ethics committee would grant them purely as a means of ridding themselves of his incessant and dogged nagging – he could be tenacious when he wanted to be. Kathryn smiled as she thought of him.
Seven had also become a permanent fixture at the Janeway home. She’d contacted Kathryn as soon as debriefings had finished and although their initial conversations had been stilted and awkward, it hadn’t taken long for them to regain a solid footing with their relationship. Seven’s reliance on her former captain remained immovable and Kathryn’s attachment to the young woman was equally steadfast.
The much talked about liaison with Chakotay had fizzled out almost before it had begun but according to the Doctor, embarrassment about the relationship had been the motive behind Seven’s reserved approach. Once Kathryn understood this, she tackled the problem head on.
Always a believer in ‘clearing the air’, Kathryn broached the subject with the young Borg woman. Seven opened up immediately, relieved at last to be able to discuss the seemingly disastrous and obstacle-strewn undertaking known as a romantic relationship. She displayed a startling degree of emotion compared to her usual restrained and undemonstrative demeanour as she apologised most sincerely for making such a grievous error by beginning the relationship with Chakotay.
Kathryn was a little baffled at first and assured her that she’d done nothing wrong, but Seven had stared at her with that wide-eyed but knowing look before blatantly asking Kathryn how she felt about the Commander. Did she love him as most of the crew contended?
Trust Seven to cut right to the chase. Subtlety was still irrelevant apparently.
Kathryn had tried to divert the conversation but the young woman was nothing if not a quick study and stood with her hands behind her back, giving Kathryn a more than passable impersonation of the famed Janeway ‘death glare’. It was so remarkably like looking in the mirror – apart from the obvious differences – that it almost made Kathryn laugh.
Seven hadn’t been fooled however, and displayed another unnerving wave of perceptiveness by stating matter-of-factly, “Your vacillation and silence is answer enough, Kathryn. You love the Commander and you must tell him.”
Kathryn had opened her mouth to argue – only to snap it shut again, realising that it was a waste of time. There was no point trying to deny something that was such an intrinsic truth. If Seven could see through her guise of feigned indifference, then anyone could. Her cover was well and truly blown, but what to do about it was the dilemma that now presented itself.
Apart from this quandary, life had become a wonderful and life affirming adventure. Since Seven had come to live with her in Indiana, Gretchen had taken a great shine to the young Borg woman. The elder Janeway mothered her indulgently and Seven, in turn, had become devoted to Gretchen. It pleased Kathryn to see Seven letting go of some of her emotional inflexibility. The removal of her cortical suppressant had done little to change her basic personality but she was coming along and Kathryn was proud of how she’d learned to fit in with her human hosts.
As for Kathryn, she’d begun a list of things to do. Growing roses was the first item on the agenda – followed by learning to cook and write poetry – but the list also contained other less noble pursuits such as bungee jumping, riding an ostrich and skiing down K2. Anything that came into her head she inventoried, figuring that she could edit it later when good sense prevailed or she thought of something even more ridiculous to do. Phoebe had helped with the list – which explained some of the more bizarre escapades contained therein – and it had become a running joke amongst her family and friends, each of them offering up increasingly ludicrous suggestions.
One afternoon, while Kathryn sat in the living room having a post-lunch coffee with the entire family as well as Tom, B’Elanna and Seven, the list had again become the topic of conversation. Nate very helpfully suggested nude lawn-bowls as something Kathryn might want to look into. Not moments after he’d been howled down, B’Elanna suggested they all go swimming in the Antarctic and that last one in was a chicken. Tom’s plan was to do a road trip with everyone riding vintage motorbikes and wearing black leather outfits. Laughing, Kathryn had shaken her head and crossed all three suggestions off the list with a grand flourish. But nothing had quite the impact of Seven’s input. The young woman had brought the mirth to an abrupt end by suggesting that they invite Chakotay to the house so that Kathryn could tell him of her feelings for him.
The silence had been deafening until Gretchen had muttered, “From the mouths of babes.”
And while furtive glances were exchanged between those gathered, Phoebe had finally huffed out an irritated snort. “Oh for God’s sake, at least Seven has the gumption to bring up the most talked about secret of all time.” She turned to Kathryn. “She’s right. You have to talk to him. This is ridiculous. You’ve invited everyone here except him. That’s a bit obvious and, if you want to get really pernickety about it, not very good manners. The man was your First Officer and, from what everyone tells me, your best friend for nearly seven years; grow some cojones Kathryn and ask him over for coffee.”
“ ‘Cojones’? My chromosomes make that impossible, my dear sister.” Kathryn gave her a scathing look.
Phoebe rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so pedantic, you know what I mean.”
Kathryn didn’t dare look at any of her old crew and really didn’t want to have an all out brawl with Phoebe in front of everyone but she wasn’t going to be bullied into this either.
The best way to deal with it was to pretend that she didn’t care so while keeping her voice light and breezy, she shrugged nonchalantly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about; besides, he’s just as capable of contacting me and I haven’t heard a word for weeks.”
Phoebe’s lips narrowed but before she could counter her sister’s stubborn assertions, Seven intervened.
“I surmised that both you and the Commander might be equally inflexible so I took it upon myself to extend an invitation to him to join us this afternoon. He should be arriving at any moment.”
So much for her feigned indifference; Kathryn bolted to her feet and gawped at Seven. “You invited him here?! Why on earth would you do that?!”
Seven frowned, obviously confused by Kathryn’s reaction. “I calculated that a suitable period of time had elapsed since the end of my relationship with the Commander and that it was now appropriate to expedite a resolution to your much anticipated reunion and declarations of affection.” She glanced at B’Elanna and Tom, then at Gretchen looking for reassurance. “Did I not do the right thing?”
Kathryn was still too shocked to answer but Gretchen reached across and patted Seven’s hand. “You did exactly the right thing, dear. It was just… unexpected, but in situations like this, it’s probably best not to have too much warning. How about you come with me and Phoebe, while we organise some more coffee for everyone?”
Seven stood with Gretchen and began moving towards the kitchen with Phoebe bringing up the rear. At that precise moment, the doorbell rang and Tom and B’Elanna stared at one another before leaping to their feet as well. “We’ll give you a hand, too, Gretchen. Nate, are you coming?”
Kathryn glared at her brother in law but he merely gave her an apologetic smile before he shot out of his chair as though fired from a gun. “Wait for me, you guys.”
Two seconds later the room was deserted. Kathryn let her head drop forward and, chin on chest she heaved a huge sigh. The doorbell rang again and she muttered an irritated. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”
She could see his silhouette through the door and taking a deep fortifying breath, she pulled her shoulders back and held her head high. Plastering a broad smile on her face, she yanked open the door. The smile faded almost instantly. She’d never seen this person before in her life.
The man looked up and pulled a PADD and stylus from his top pocket. He put the stylus in his mouth and chewed the end of it as he peered at the PADD. “Kathryn Janeway?”
Kathryn nodded. “Yes.”
“Delivery.” He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. Kathryn peered around the deliveryman and at a large box at the bottom of the porch stairs.
“Uh huh; that’s what it says.”
“Who’s it from?”
The man looked up and gave her a cursory shrug. “Beats me, love. I just deliver ‘em. Sign ‘ere.”
He thrust the PADD towards her, pulled the stylus from his mouth and handed it to her.
Kathryn took the implement gingerly and initialled the box marked ‘sig’ then handed it back to the deliveryman.
He tipped an imaginary hat, spun on his heel and tossed over his shoulder. “Have a good day.”
Before Kathryn could question him more, he was down the stairs, up the path and gone. She stood looking at the box wondering what on earth it could be. Without turning around, she bellowed. “Mother!”
A moment later, Gretchen arrived at the door and peered over Kathryn’s shoulder. “What’s that dear?”
Kathryn’s shoulders slumped. “That’s what I was going to ask you.” She spun around to find all her family and friends crowded in the hallway leading from the kitchen. They all looked as guilty as hell. “Anyone care to enlighten me?”
“Perhaps I can, Kathryn.”
All the guilty faces in front of her broke into broad grins and B’Elanna pointed to someone behind Kathryn. Not that she needed directions; she knew exactly who was there. Gretchen sidled away and with shooing motions, herded everyone into the kitchen again stranding Kathryn at the front door with her visitor.
She turned slowly to face Chakotay.
His eyes crinkled at the corners and a smile hovered around his mouth. He held her gaze and with a quirk of an eyebrow said, “Hello.”
She glanced past him at the large box. “You weren’t in that were you?”
His smile broadened. “No, but good thought. Going freight is probably cheaper than going coach.”
“Where did you come from?”
Kathryn couldn’t think of a thing to say and waited for Chakotay to enlighten her further but he seemed content to stand there and stare at her.
She took a breath ready to say something innocuous about the weather but he beat her to the punch.
“You look well. How have you been?”
“Fine, thank you. I resigned my commission.”
Still at a bit of a loss she muttered, “Apart from that, nothing much has happened.”
He nodded. “That’s restful I suppose.” They stood looking at each other for several more seconds before Chakotay cleared his throat and gestured towards the hallway. “Umm, do you think I could come inside? I’ve been travelling since this morning and could kill for a cup of coffee.”
“Huh? Inside, of course. Sorry, I’m just…” She gave him a puzzled look. “Coffee? I didn’t think you liked coffee.”
“I love coffee.”
“But on Voyager, you always had tea when I asked if you wanted coffee.”
“Not always but I lived in hope that you’d join me for a tea. I was trying to encourage you by example to cut down on your caffeine intake.”
Kathryn shook her head and her frown deepened. “I’m not three years old, you know. You could have just said something.”
“Would you have listened?”
“Maybe. But how do you know? You never tried.”
“I can’t imagine you would have given up coffee for tea?”
“Apparently I did.”
As they were talking, they’d wandered into the living area and Kathryn indicated that he should sit. She took a seat opposite, the table and coffee pot between them. “Yes, can you believe it? I gave up coffee. I’m not sure when but the Admiral said that she’d been drinking tea for years.”
“Perhaps I finally got through to you.”
Kathryn was fairly sure that whatever the reason was – and despite her older self having never elaborated – he was at the heart of it. In a way, Kathryn was glad, because she had a dreadful feeling that the motive behind it wasn’t a happy one. She gave him a grim smile. “Perhaps you did, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”
He grinned broadly. “Neither would I.”
Smiling, Kathryn poured him a cup of coffee. “Milk and two sugars, right?”
Chakotay nodded. “You remembered.”
“It’s hard to forget. I still can’t believe you contaminate perfectly good coffee with that stuff.” She gave an exaggerated shudder. “It’s a sacrilege.”
He shrugged. “We all have our weaknesses.” There was a heartbeat’s silence while she handed him his cup, then without warning he asked, “Why have you been avoiding me Kathryn?”
Kathryn nearly dropped her cup but recovered quickly. “I haven’t been avoiding you, it’s just that I hadn’t got around to contacting you. You were on my list.” Her head snapped up and she glared at him accusingly. “Why didn’t you contact me?”
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted to speak to me.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because I’m the only member of the crew whom you haven’t spoken to and I figured there had to be a reason. Seven maybe?”
“She’s here you know.”
“Yes, I know. We speak once a week.”
“I keep in contact with most of the crew. Everyone, it seems, but you. What happened, Kathryn?”
“What do you mean ‘what happened’? You’re assuming it’s my fault.”
“Not at all, I just want to know what I can do to mend our friendship. After that night on Voyager when you went to the Bridge and we spoke outside your quarters, you never mentioned that you were upset with me or that there was anything wrong. Everything seemed fine but afterwards I didn’t hear from you for months. Then Seven invites me here, saying that there’s something important that you need to tell me. What is it?”
“Seven said that?”
“She used longer words but essentially that was the gist of it. Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.”
Some of the tension left his shoulders and he huffed in relief. “That’s good. I was worried.”
“Why was I worried?” He looked genuinely surprised by her question.
He chuckled. “I’ve spent the last seven years worrying about you, Kathryn. It’s not so easy to stop.”
“I give you permission to cease forthwith.”
“Thanks, I think. But it’s not as simple as that. Some habits are hard to break. Have you even considered the fact that perhaps I don’t want to stop?”
“I don’t need you to worry about me anymore. Your responsibilities to me ended when Voyager touched down and besides, I’m in Indiana and you’re in Arizona; geographically speaking, it seems a bit pointless.”
“There are these things called transporters, Kathryn. They make it incredibly easy to get from one place to another.”
She gave him a deadpan look. “I think I’ve heard them mentioned once or twice.”
A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. “I thought you might have.”
Kathryn sat back in her chair and looked at him. He was the same man who’d been by her side for all those years – her best friend – and she could feel the connection between them, the easy ebb and flow of their conversation, the almost uncanny ability to read each other’s minds and the invigorating parry and thrust of their banter. The link was as strong as it had always been and looking at him now, she wondered why she’d been so worried about seeing him again. Even if they could never be more than friends, it was worth a little pain just to be with him. The sense of calm acceptance that she felt in his company couldn’t be a bad thing. “I’m sorry.”
Now he looked surprised. “What for?”
“For not contacting you. It was wrong of me and although I don’t really want to go into the reasons why – they now seem ridiculous – I’m ashamed of myself.”
“Wow, they must have been something. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me?”
She shook her head. “Positive.”
He shrugged. “Okay, but if you change your mind…”
Kathryn nodded. “You’ll be the first to know.”
“Before we get too comfortable, I did bring you a little something.”
“A little something?”
“That box outside. It’s from me.”
“Oh, I’d forgotten.”
“Why thank you. My presence is so awe-inspiring that you can overlook a giant box on your front porch. I’m flattered.”
“Don’t be. It’s probably just old age.” He merely laughed and Kathryn gave him a withering look. “You’re supposed to disagree.”
“It was a laugh of denial.” He held his hand over his heart. “You have to believe me.”
Her eyes narrowed but then she smiled. “For now, but you’d better be quicker off the mark next time.”
“Noted.” He stood and gestured towards the door. “Shall we?”
As Kathryn stood and looked at him. “ You’ve got me worried now. You haven’t got a Vidiian hidden in there or an Entharan isokinetic canon. If it’s the latter, I hope it’s in florals so it fits with my mother’s décor.”
Chakotay shook his head. “No, it’s none of those and it’s not alive so you don’t have to arm yourself.”
“Well that’s a relief.”
They were outside now and standing next to the large box. Kathryn turned towards him. “Do you have the code to open it?”
“I do. Try 05202336.”
Kathryn began tapping the numbers into the keypad but halfway through, she turned. “That’s my birthdate.”
Chakotay nodded. “I chose something I wouldn’t forget. You’re not the only one who has lapses.”
Kathryn tapped in the last number and the sides of the box folded down to reveal the item inside.
Stunned, she took a slow step towards it and ran her hand down the armrest. “Oh my God! My chair.”
A massive wash of nostalgia and sorrow hit her; it took her breath away. She couldn’t speak. Her chest ached and before she could stop it, a wrenching sob escaped her and she slammed her hand over her mouth. Not knowing what else to do, Kathryn bolted up the porch stairs and through the front door.
She didn’t look back or stop running until she’d rushed through her bedroom door and slammed it shut behind her. She could only imagine the look of shocked surprise on Chakotay’s face at her reaction and scrunched her eyes tightly shut to stop the tears and blot out the vision, but it was useless. Why did he have to do something so… so… wonderful and thoughtful? She sat with a thud on her bed and dropped her head into her hands.
How the hell did he know?
Kathryn was now making strange hiccuping noises and she grabbed a handful of tissues to stem the flow of tears while she laughed and cried at the same time. He was going to think she was insane. Kathryn Janeway finally loses her grip on sanity after clapping eyes on her command chair.
Her thoughts zigzagged from one thing to another. How on earth did he get a hold of it? Another deep shuddering breath and a fresh flood of tears accompanied that thought. It must have taken some doing and he wasn’t even in Starfleet anymore. Kathryn wondered for a crazed moment if he’d stolen it before immediately dismissing the idea. His criminal past was behind him – surely. But even if he did, it was still the most heartbreakingly wonderful gesture and she loved him for it.
That realisation brought with it another gush of tears and laughter. She was officially a wreck, but a happy wreck.
Suddenly there was a tentative knock on the door. Kathryn quickly mopped her face and took a deep breath. “Come.”
Chakotay poked his head around the door and mumbled apologetically, “Your mother sent me up. Are you all right? I’m sorry the chair upset you. That wasn’t what I intended.”
Still sniffling, Kathryn waved him in. “Shut the door and come and sit.” She shuffled down the side of the bed.
Chakotay sat down and waited. Kathryn sniffed once more and pointed to the box of tissues on the bedside table. “Could you pass those to me, please?”
“Sure.” He picked them up and handed them to her.
Kathryn took several, dabbed at her eyes and then blew her nose. The hiccups had stopped, thankfully, but she still had to explain why she’d reacted so dramatically. She pointed towards the door with her handful of tissues. “I’m sorry about that.”
Chakotay shrugged. “I should have thought more carefully about it, I’m the one who should be apologising.”
She turned towards him and grabbed at his forearm. “No, don’t apologise. It was a marvellous surprise and so thoughtful. It was just unexpected. I’ve been trying so hard not to think of Voyager and it brought it all back with such a wallop, that I wasn’t prepared.” She looked down and stared at her hands where they were gripping him so tightly. “That last evening on board when you caught me outside my quarters, I’d just been to the Bridge to say my final farewells and spent an hour just sitting in my chair and thinking about how much I was going to miss the old thing. In my mind, it came to represent everything that I was losing with the end of our mission. My ship, my crew, my command, my mission and…” Kathryn swallowed. “… and you.”
He frowned. “Kathryn you didn’t lose me.”
She squeezed his arm, then let go but kept her eyes on his. “I know, but you don’t realise just how close a call it was.”
Shaking his head, his frown deepened. “You would never lose me, Kathryn. You couldn’t, even if you tried.”
Kathryn smiled gently, the tears close to the surface again. “Temporal mechanics and altered timelines beg to differ but we won’t go into that just now.”
He frowned. “Kathryn?”
She shook her head but smiled to soften her refusal to explain. “Later maybe.” Wiping her eyes one last time, she patted his hand. “Thank you for my chair.”
His frown disappeared and he smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Like it? I love it.” Then twisting so she was facing him, Kathryn leaned a little closer. “How on earth did you manage to get hold of it?” Her eyes widened momentarily. “Good God, you didn’t steal it did you?”
“Please tell me that Starfleet security are not going to be landing on my doorstep and hauling both of us off to jail.”
Chakotay shrugged evasively and then his face broke into a broad smile. “Don’t worry, Kathryn. I’m sure they won’t arrest you. Besides, possession is nine tenths of the law and I’d like to see them try to take it now that you’ve got it.”
“Good point.” She took a deep breath and stood. “Should we join the others; they’re probably wondering if I’ve completely lost my mind.”
“They’d love you anyway.”
“They’re very forgiving.”
He tentatively took her hand and tugged it gently. “Would you sit for just a moment more? There’s something else I wanted to say.”
Kathryn wasn’t sure that she wanted to hear it. Although she’d spent weeks inuring herself to the likelihood that he wouldn’t be a part of her life. The fact that he was here was miracle enough but if he only wanted to be friends…. Better to not even contemplate that.
Her instinct was to tug her hand from his and run a mile but she sat again, although reluctantly.
It was apparent that he sensed her lack of enthusiasm. “This won’t take long.”
She nodded and tried to smile, although it didn’t really meet her eyes. “I think I know what you’re going to say.”
“I doubt it.”
Kathryn’s whole body tensed as if she was waiting for a body blow but he didn’t say anything for a long time. Then he began to look concerned. “Kathryn, please don’t look so worried.”
“It’s hard not to.”
“I thought my gift would be a hint.”
Kathryn’s eyes opened wide. “You want me to be a captain again? Go back to Starfleet?”
“No!” He frowned. “Of course not. Where did you get that idea from?”
“You just gave me my captain’s chair. It’s not that big a leap.”
He shook his head. “I suppose, but it’s a leap in the wrong direction.” And then he shrugged. “You know that I rescued mine as well.”
Kathryn quirked her brow. “What other bits of the ship did you shanghai?”
“A nacelle or two.”
Kathryn looked astounded.
Chakotay grinned. “I’m joking. I only got the chairs. It was difficult enough to get those. I wasn’t going to push my luck.”
“Hmmm.” They were silent for a long moment, and then Kathryn turned to him. “You still haven’t told me what you wanted to say.”
“I know. I’m working my way towards it.”
“It must be really something.”
Silence filled the room and Kathryn started to feel decidedly uncomfortable. She couldn’t wait forever so she prompted, “Chakotay?”
“I’ve designed a house.”
“Good for you.” Kathryn waited for him to say more but when he didn’t, she urged again, “Is that what you wanted tell me?”
He nodded. “Yes, part of it.” There was another pause and then he added. “I designed the house so that there was room for the chairs. Both of them.”
“I’m going to have to visit your house to see my chair? What are we going to do? Pretend we’re on Voyager?”
Chakotay gave her a puzzled frown. “No, nothing like that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Kathryn, I’m asking you to come and live with me.”
“Me and my chair, live with you and your chair?”
“In the house that we’ll build to accommodate all of us.”
It was Kathryn’s turn to look puzzled but inside her, a small eddy of excitement was building. Her innate sense of self-preservation was still firmly in place but if he was suggesting what she thought he was, then life looked as though it had taken a U-turn.
Kathryn took a deep breath. “Let me get this straight. You want me to live with you?”
Chakotay nodded, his eyes softening as he smiled; his frown returned however, when Kathryn asked her next question.
“It’s obvious isn’t it?”
“You’re going to have to enlighten me.”
Chakotay huffed and gripping her shoulders, turned her fully towards him. “This is ridiculous! Kathryn Janeway, I love you and I have for a very long time. I apologise about the insane thing with Seven, there were reasons but they don’t matter anymore. I want you to come and live with me because I want us to be together.”
That small eddy was quickly expanding into a tornado but she was well practiced at hiding her emotions and still didn’t react; besides she had another question.
He let go of her shoulders and gestured with wide-open hands. “Anywhere you like.”
“Here in Bloomington?”
He nodded. “If you want to be near your mother and family, that’s fine with me. I want you to be happy.”
Kathryn studied his face for a moment. It was the picture of sincerity and she adored him for it. Nodding slowly, she whispered, “All right. I’ll live with you.”
His shoulders slumped and he gripped her hands. “Oh thank God. What a relief.”
Kathryn laughed. “That’s not quite the reaction I expected.”
Chakotay’s eyes sparked with delight. “I’ve had that bottled up inside me for a long time. It’s just so good to get it out.”
His thumbs were rubbing back and forth across her knuckles and his touch was soothing in an arousing sort of way. Taking a deep breath, Kathryn addressed him. “In the spirit of full disclosure, I love you, too.”
He grinned. “See, that wasn’t so bad.”
Kathryn’s mouth twisted into a wry smile and leaning forward, she shoved him softly with her elbow. “You’re impossible but that’s part of your charm.”
“You’re stubborn as a mule but it’s what makes you so endearing.”
“You know, I think this just might work.”
“Oh, I know it will.”
There were some noises from downstairs and then Phoebe’s voice bellowed up the stairwell. “Kathryn, the party is moving to my house. We’ll see you there later. Take your time and, for God’s sake, be gentle with the man. It’s been a long time between drinks.”
Kathryn’s eyes widened in horror and her mouth fell open in shock.
But before she could say a word, Chakotay yelled back. “Thanks, Phoebe. See you later.”
The front door slammed and the sound of voices faded into silence.
“I can’t believe she just did that. And my mother and… all of them!”
Chakotay shrugged. “It does give us the house for the afternoon.”
“I know and everyone will know what we’re doing.”
He leaned closer. “And what will we be doing, Kathryn?”
There was a heartbeat’s pause and then a tornado touched down. With a flourish, Kathryn threw decorum to the wind. “Oh, hell. We’ll be doing…this.”
Grabbing the front of Chakotay’s shirt, she pulled him towards her.
Delight filled her as his face broke into a broad grin just before her lips crashed onto his. They tumbled back onto the bed and in a flurry of clothes, and amidst laughter and groans of pleasure, Voyager’s command team made love for the first time. At last.
As Kathryn lay beneath Chakotay, her body yielding to welcome him, she closed her eyes and gave herself over to the pleasure of the moment. The smiling face of the Admiral flashed behind her closed eyelids and her face broke into a corresponding smile. She wondered briefly if this had been a part of her older self’s plan all along, but any further thoughts were banished from her mind as the sheer joy of making love with Chakotay filled her senses.
Tender but confident, he pushed her to the limits, his hands and mouth teasing and arousing her until she cried out in utter abandonment and came apart in his arms.
* * *
Lying sated and wrapped in Chakotay’s embrace, Kathryn ran her fingers over his chest and sighed happily. It seemed so right – the perfect ending to their long and convoluted story of love and adventure.
He tugged her close and kissed her temple. Kathryn sighed again. “We should probably think about going to Phoebe’s and joining the party.”
“We probably should.”
Neither of them made any move to get out of bed.
Kathryn kissed his chest. “Or, we could just stay here and pretend we lost track of the time.”
“That idea has great merit. We have seven years of lovemaking to catch up on; we might not emerge from this bedroom for weeks.”
“Mom could just slot some ration bars under the door.”
“That’s officer thinking, Kathryn. You can take the girl out of Starfleet…”
Kathryn chuckled. “So they can party without us?”
“I think they’ll manage; besides, we have to give them time to alert the rest of the crew. I think there’ll be partying aplenty over the next while. We won’t miss out.”
Kathryn slid over his body until she was lying on top of him. “Not anymore.”
Sitting up, she settled herself over his hips and thought briefly that life was now as close to complete as it could possibly be. And as she grinned, the delightful notion occurred to her that there were places as comfortable as her old chair where she fit perfectly and belonged. With that thought, she leaned forward, kissed Chakotay’s lips and whispered. “I promise to be gentle.”