This Is How It Goes

Summary:A post Endgame fixer upper. Chakotay meets Kathryn in Indiana a week after they arrive home. Fic101 prompt: Blame

Rated PG13

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


“I was thinking….” Kathryn picked up a cantaloupe and sniffed it. Her stomach churned but she tried to appear unruffled. God, she was so out of practice with this sort of thing. “If you’re not doing anything this evening, would you like to come to my mother’s for dinner? She would really like to meet you.” Kathryn knew she was being ridiculous. This was Chakotay, her best friend in the world, and of course he’d love to come to dinner. She continued to pretend she was looking at the fruit while waiting for his answer.

Silence.

She turned around. He was gone. Damn! All morning she’d been practicing this, and he’d wandered off while she was fiddling with the fruit.

They were at the local produce markets in Bloomington and he’d met her here earlier that day, after spending his first week back on Earth with his cousin in Ohio.

Looking around she found him waving to her as he stood next to a patisserie stall. She moved towards him. “Over here, Kathryn. Come and see these. Neelix never made anything that looked like this.”

She couldn’t help but smile. There was an impressive array of pastries and sweets arranged like an edible mountain of cream, chocolate and icing sugar. Everything looked delicious.

“I’ve got to get a couple of those.” He was pointing to some chocolate éclairs. The proprietor came over and within a few minutes they’d acquired a large bag of various French pastries. “Now all we need to do is find some coffee and we can picnic in the park.”

“Chakotay?”

He was looking around trying to find a café or coffee stand. “Hmmm?”

“Did you want to stay for dinner tonight?”

He glanced down at her and gave her a distracted smile. “That sounds great. Hang on, over there looks promising.” He took her hand in his and pulled her along with him. “I think I can smell it. Kathryn, I need your coffee sensors on wide dispersal. Are you getting a whiff?”

Kathryn could smell coffee on the air and after pointing the way they found themselves standing in front of a café that had a steaming coffee machine fronting onto the street. “Here, hold these, Kathryn. Your usual?”

She nodded as he handed her the bag of pastries and ordered their coffees. Kathryn watched with a frown as the young woman behind the counter flirted mercilessly with Chakotay, giving him lascivious looks and whispering so only he could hear. The girl looked like she would eat him alive if given the chance. After their coffees were placed on the counter and he reached over to collect the change, the coffee ‘piranha’ pulled his hand towards her and wrote something on his palm. He looked surprised, but smiled good naturedly. Chakotay picked up the coffees and they walked off towards the park. Kathryn could feel the hot gaze of the coffee vendor drilling into their backs.

They found a spot in the shade and sat down. “Here, Kathryn.” He passed her a coffee and she opened the bag of pastries. As he reached down to take one, Kathryn couldn’t help herself, she grabbed his hand to see what was written there. “Penny 147684.” Kathryn looked up at him with a raised brow. “She gave you her comm address? Another conquest, Commander?”

Chakotay looked at the number and then rubbed it with his thumb. “She’s a child, Kathryn.”

“Not the way she was looking at you, she wasn’t. Let me tell you, that was no child.” What was wrong with her? She sounded like an old harpy.

He shrugged. “If Seven was too young for me, then…” He checked his hand. “…Penny wasn’t even in the picture.” He picked up an éclair and took a bite. “Mmmmm, delicious. Try one.”

Kathryn couldn’t swallow. His affair with Seven was like a raw nerve and the fact that he could blithely toss offhand remarks around like it was of no consequence, undermined her whole mindset. He obviously thought that she wasn’t at all affected by that particular liaison.

Then again, why would he think otherwise? They were just good friends, best friends, and friends spoke to one another about things like that, didn’t they? It wasn’t as if he was in love with her or that she was in love with him.

Bullshit.

Of course she loved him. Was in love with him. She always had been, but she’d been a fool and left it too late. And as much as it broke her heart, if given the choice, she would do the same thing again.

She’d done what she had to do to get through the last seven years and she would have gone on doing it, had they remained out there. Admiral Janeway’s solitary existence was vivid proof of her stubbornness in that department. But, what was done was done and there was no point rehashing it for the zillionth time. It was a pity though that her heart refused to listen. She’d told herself more times than she could count, that they were friends, the very best of friends, and that would just have to suffice. It was a whole lot better than the future Admiral Janeway had painted for her – Chakotay and Seven married, Tuvok insane and twenty two crew dead. And then three years from now, Seven dead and she and Chakotay estranged.

Kathryn honestly didn’t know how the Admiral had survived. All she’d had was her work, and sadly, Kathryn realised, in that regard, she and the Admiral had a lot in common. A long lonely life lay ahead. She placed her uneaten pastry back in the bag and sipped her coffee, trying to swallow past the stricture in her throat.

“You’re not eating, Kathryn?”

She shook her head, still not trusting her voice.

He smiled. “Well, there are plenty to have later if you do get hungry. Should we pick up something for after dinner? Oh and I’d like to get your mother some flowers too.” He was licking the last remnants of cream from his fingers, and then chaffed his hands together to get rid of the crumbs. “What time are we due at your mother’s tonight?”

“A…” She cleared her throat. “About nineteen thirty, or there abouts. So you’re free then?”

“Free as a bird.” He grinned. “Isn’t it wonderful?” He lay back on the grass and looked at the sky. “I think I’m only just coming to terms with being back on earth. I keep thinking that the holodeck doors are going to open and we’ll have to walk out into the corridors and back to the bridge. It’s quite a strange feeling. Very surreal.” He turned to Kathryn and placed his hand over hers. “What about you, Kathryn? Is it everything you thought it would be?”

She looked down at him and tried desperately to mask her look of disappointment. Beaming a smile, she faked it. “Yes, it’s been wonderful.”

His eyes narrowed, but she looked away. He was too perceptive where she was concerned and she really didn’t want him asking too many questions. They would be well aimed and most likely penetrate her shields without leaving a dent. Time to change the subject. “You haven’t told me about Ohio. How was your cousin?”

“Ohio was, Ohio. It was fine. My cousin was well, but I hadn’t seen him since I was in my teens. We really don’t have a lot in common. It’s a shame really. Apart from my sister, he’s the only living relative that I have. I’ll keep in touch, but I doubt we’ll see much of each other.”

“That’s a pity, but I suppose there’s nothing you can do about it. Just because you’re related doesn’t mean you have to be close. Have you heard from your sister and is she coming to visit?”

“Yes on both counts, but it’ll be a few months before she gets here. I offered to go and visit her, but she insisted on coming here. I think she’s worried that I might get lost between here and Dorvan.” He chuckled. “I’m looking forward to seeing her, although, that’s going to be difficult too. I haven’t seen her since before my family were…lost.”

It was Kathryn’s turn to comfort. She placed her hand over his and squeezed. “If you need a friend, you know where to find me.”

“Thank you, Kathryn.” He was giving her another penetrating look. She wished he wouldn’t do that. It made her feel so exposed and vulnerable and she didn’t like either of those feelings.

She deflected his scrutiny by tidying up their cups and closing the bag of pastries. “We should get moving if we want to see the rest of the markets.”

He made a grab for her hand. “There’s no hurry, Kathryn. It’s still early and it’s been a long time since I’ve laid on the grass and looked at the sky. Come on. Join me.” He tugged at her hand and she reluctantly lay back and looked up at the blue Indiana sky. He wriggled his arm under her shoulders and pulled her close to his side. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop herself from stiffening with the close contact. “Relax, Kathryn. We’re just looking at the sky and there’s no one here who’s going to care about a couple of middle aged people having a cuddle in the park.”

“Is that what we’re doing?”

“Being middle aged? I’m afraid so.” He turned towards her and grinned. She rolled her eyes then gasped as he kissed her forehead, and whispered against her hair. “Yes, Kathryn, we’re cuddling. It’s nice, isn’t it?”

Nice didn’t quite cover it, but it was a start. Her voice seemed to have deserted her, so she nodded and wriggled a little closer. She hoped he understood. He kissed her hair, so she figured he did.

Kathryn looked at the blue sky above her. Surely it couldn’t be this easy. They couldn’t just slide from best friends into lovers without some sort of cataclysm or calamity. Could they? Maybe this was the best way. A gentle easing into a different life. The trouble was, there were so many issues that needed to be dealt with and she wasn’t sure how to begin.

“About Seven, Kathryn. I wanted to talk to you about that.”

Her head swung around and she looked at him disbelievingly. “How do you do that?”

“What?”

“Know exactly what I’m thinking. Either you’re a mind reader or I’m broadcasting and I need to get a lead hat.”

He guffawed. “A lead hat? Attractive, Kathryn.” He shook his head as he tugged her close. “I can do that because I know how your mind works.” Rising up on his elbow, he leant over her and toyed with her hair. “I know you well, Kathryn Janeway. Sometimes better than you know yourself.”

She gave him a look. “Oh, really?”

He nodded confidently. “Yes, really.”

His smug self assuredness needed to be knocked down a peg or two. Maintaining her bland expression she stared at him for a few heartbeats and then grabbed his head and hauled it towards her. Latching her lips onto his she kissed him soundly. After kissing him thoroughly, she yanked her lips away from his and jumped to her feet. Looking down at his shocked face, she put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “I bet you didn’t know I was going to do that, huh?” She turned on her heel and marched off towards the markets.

He lay there for a long moment looking stunned, as he watched her stride away. A happy smile slowly broke over his face and he shook his head. When would he ever learn? Never underestimate Kathryn Janeway. He’d have to have that tattooed somewhere prominent. Leaping to his feet, he gathered up the bag of pastries and their empty coffee cups and jogged after her.

“Kathryn!” He caught up with her and fell into stride beside her. “Kathryn?”

She stopped and turned towards him, a slight scowl on her face. “Yes.”

“I love you, too.”

Her mouth fell open and her face flushed. “Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“What you just did.”

“Tell you that I love you?”

“No… I mean yes…I…” Her fists clenched. He was so frustrating. “Oh, crap. I don’t know what I mean. All I know is you make me want to hit you.”

“That’s hardly a way to treat your husband to be.”

“See… you’ve gone and done it again. You’re all over the damn place and I can’t get a grip on where you are.”

“I’m right here, Kathryn. Right here…” He held out his hand.

She looked down at his hand and then back up at him. “Are you really, Chakotay? Because a few weeks ago you weren’t.”

His hand dropped to his side and he sighed. “Come on, Kathryn. Come and sit with me and let’s talk.” He looked around and saw a bench in the shade over on the edge of the park. “Over there in the shade. Is that okay?”

She followed his gaze and nodded, taking off at a brisk pace.

He heaved a deep sigh and took off after her. She was already sitting rigidly, staring straight ahead, by the time he got there. Taking a seat beside her, he waited until she relaxed a little before he started to explain. “First of all, I’m sorry that my liaison with Seven upset you, but I’m not going to apologise for beginning a relationship with her. As far as I was concerned, there was no chance of you ever dropping the barriers and allowing us to consummate a relationship that should have happened years ago.” Kathryn swung around and glared at him. He held his hand up. “I didn’t entirely disagree with the idea of protocols and parameters, but I did disagree with the idea that we couldn’t even acknowledge our feelings.” He looked at her pointedly. “What harm could that have done, Kathryn? At least then we could have had some sort of life on board Voyager, even if it wasn’t as lovers. But…” He threw his hands in the air. “That’s a moot point.”

Kathryn sat listening, unsure of how she felt about his explanation. She did know that she felt hurt and guilty for being the one who hadn’t allowed their relationship to flourish, but there were reasons. Valid reasons.

His voice softened as he looked at her, reading the distress on her face. “But as far as Seven was concerned it started almost by accident. She asked me to dinner. She’s an accomplished young woman with a quirky sense of humour that appealed to me. We enjoyed each other’s company. We still do, and at the time we were both lonely. We had a good deal in common. She missed her friend Axim and I missed you. We both loved someone else. Her lover was geographically distant, mine was emotionally distant and neither of us could do anything about it.”

Kathryn gritted her teeth and thought to herself, ‘Here we go again.’ The blame was being landed squarely in her lap again and she wasn’t sure if she could take anymore. She was chock full of blame and guilt. Pretty much filled to the brim. Enough was enough and besides, she was sick and tired of always being the one having to carry the can.

Anger surged. He could have said ‘no’ to Seven. It wasn’t a hard word to say. For some people. She turned on him. “If blaming me makes you feel better then you go right ahead. But give me a break, Chakotay. Don’t you think it may have had something to do with an attractive young woman paying you attention? You wouldn’t be the first middle aged man to fall for that. You could have refused her advances. All it takes is a bit of common sense and the ability to say no. Just think how you would have felt if it had been the other way around. There were plenty of opportunities for me to take a lover from the crew. But at least I had the good sense to know how ridiculous I would have looked.” She stood up. “If it makes you feel better, then by all means I’ll take the responsibility, but you’re due a major reality check.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going home.”

With that she strode off into the crowded market, leaving him sitting there staring at her retreating back.

She couldn’t believe she’d said that. It wasn’t true. She would never have taken a lover from the crew. Hell, that was the damn problem in the first place, but she needed some sort of ammunition to fight his flimsy excuses for taking up with Seven. Surely he wasn’t that naïve. She grunted to herself. No fool like an old fool. And that applied to both of them. What did he think he looked like prancing around with Seven on his arm? Up until a few months ago, he was threatening to blow her out an airlock. It came out of nowhere. Seven was young, inexperienced and vulnerable. He’d had no right to do what he did, her feelings notwithstanding. The more she thought about it the angrier she got. It was a bitter betrayal. Seven was like a daughter to her. The idea was abhorrent and she hated him for doing it.

She seethed all the way home.

Her mother met her at the door. “Hello dear. You’re home early. Did you enjoy the markets with Chakotay?”

Kathryn strode into the house and snapped out a “No, I didn’t”, then marched up the stairs to her bedroom. Gretchen’s shoulders slumped and she followed her daughter.

Knocking gently on the door, she eased it open to find Kathryn sitting on her bed staring out the window. “What happened? Did you meet with Chakotay?”

Kathryn turned to her mother with eyes sparking. “Yes, I met with him. I don’t think he’ll be coming to dinner tonight. I left him there.”

Gretchen sat beside her on the bed. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”

Life did a fast rewind and she remembered several similar conversations she’d had with her mother when she was in her teens, and that thought made her feel foolish. Kathryn sighed. “Don’t you think I’m a bit old for this, mother?”

Her mother shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Are you ever too old for this? And I suppose it depends on whether you’ve been behaving like a child or not.”

With a frown, she turned to her mother. “Probably, but I’m not the only one. Nor have I been dating one, I might add.”

“Oh, I see. The Seven of Nine and Chakotay thing. I suppose he tried to explain why and it sounded ridiculous?”

“You’ve got it in one. How could I have been so stupid? The man’s a fool and so am I for thinking that we could move past it. He implied that it was my fault for not allowing us to have a relationship on the ship. That I drove him to it.” Kathryn gripped the bedcover in her fist, then hit the bed in frustration. “God, that’s the oldest excuse in the book and doesn’t he know that there was nothing I wanted more than to be with him, but I couldn’t.”

“Did he really say that it was your fault?”

Kathryn frowned. “Well, no, not exactly, but he implied it.”

“Are you sure your guilt isn’t putting words into his mouth? I’m sure he’s sorry about what happened. And he’s here, isn’t he? If he really loved Seven, don’t you think he’d be with her? I think you’ve both got a lot to think about. And be honest with yourself, Kathryn. You did assume that he would always be there. With little or no encouragement, you expected him to wait for you. Was that really fair?”

She hated the way mothers could do that. They were uncanny in their perceptiveness and could hone in on your weaknesses. Like a guided missile they could blow all your well constructed arguments right out of the water. “No, I suppose it wasn’t, but I didn’t take up with a man half my age to make myself feel better.”

Gretchen took her daughter’s hand and held it. “No you didn’t, but I doubt it would have solved anything if you had.” She gave her daughter a candid look. “Kathryn, you’re a forty-five year old woman who’s had her life on hold for the last seven years. Now it’s time to get on with things. You’ve got the rest of her life ahead of you, and I think you’ve got to ask yourself what you really want. Do you love him? If you do, can you forgive him? And if you can, where do you go from here?” Gretchen bent forward to see her daughter’s face. “Would you be happier with him or without him?”

Kathryn closed her eyes for a moment. “Damn it, Mom, you know the answers to those questions, but I’m still angry with him.”

He mother patted her hand. “I think that’s fair enough, but you’ve got to get past that and see what you can salvage from this. Maybe you can’t be anything more than friends, but you have to find out. Nothing is worse than living with regrets like that for the rest of your life. You just have to take the bull by the horns.”

Kathryn frowned. “Mother, that’s a terrible analogy. Now I have a picture in my head of dragging him around by the ears.” Gretchen smiled and Kathryn’s face twisted into a half grin. Entirely against her will of course, but the mental picture was quite funny, and if she was honest with herself, quite satisfying.

She kissed her mother on the cheek. “Thank you, Mom. I’ll think about things and let you know. I might even head down to the tree for a while.”

Gretchen stood up and stroked her hand over Kathryn’s hair. “You go and have a think. So just two of us for dinner then?”

Kathryn gave a shrug. “I’m afraid so.” She huffed out a breath. “Thanks, Mom. You’d think by now I’d have my life in some sort of order. I promise to grow up one day.”

Gretchen smiled. “There’s no hurry. I’m just glad to have my baby back, but I’m sure it’ll work out for the best. These things always do.”

Kathryn gave her a sad smile. “We’ll see.”

With that her mother left, and heaving a sigh, Kathryn got up and dragged an old shawl out of her cupboard. Wrapping it around her shoulders she trotted down the stairs and out the back door.

For half an hour or so she wandered around the outbuildings, visiting all the nooks and crannies she remembered from years gone by. Finally she meandered her way to her tree. It still looked the same and after clearing away the sticks and leaves she plonked herself down at its base and looked out over her small part of the world.

Now it was time to think. It was time to start asking the pertinent questions.

Number one. What did she really want? Chakotay! Her mind was far too quick with that answer so she gagged it for the moment. She couldn’t concentrate with his face so prominently etched in her mind. Next question. Could she forgive him? Or more importantly, should she forgive him? That was an easy one really. Of course she should. They’d both made mistakes over the years. God, look what she’d done with Michael Sullivan, not to mention Jaffen. Although, to be fair, she’d been brain washed for that one, so it probably didn’t count. But Michael…she still blushed when she thought of Fair Haven. And had Chakotay really done anything worse than the Michael fiasco?

Again her mind leapt in with the answer. Yes! It was Seven and that was just plain wrong. But could she forgive him? Delving deep she came to the conclusion that yes she could.

She understood his need to maintain some pride after an incident like this, and she knew that was what he was attempting to do. He probably felt foolish for what he’d done and his ego was more than a little bruised. Seven had dropped him like a hot potato once they’d arrived home and that must have hurt.

Okay, two big questions answered. What was the other question? Oh that’s right. Could she live without him? Well, if she absolutely had to, yes, she could. Did she want to live without him was more to the point, and the answer to that one was an emphatic no. Being with him once they’d got home had been her fantasy for so many years that it was indelibly stamped on her psyche. Taking a deep breath she tallied the score. Yes, she wanted to be with Chakotay. Yes, she could forgive him and without a doubt she loved him. She had for years and she wasn’t about to stop now.

Now for the hard part. How did she go about telling him, mending that rift that she’d managed to create this afternoon, and somehow find a resolution to the whole mess before they were both too old to care?

“Kathryn?”

She jumped and banged her head on the tree trunk. “Damn. Chakotay, don’t you know not to sneak up on people like that? You scared the life out of me.” Glaring at him, she rubbed the lump on her head. She’d been so deep in thought that she wouldn’t have heard a stampede. It was also getting dark, so it must be late.

“I’m sorry. I tried to make some noise, but you were so still. I wasn’t sure if I should disturb you. Your mother sent me out to find you. Do you mind if I join you?”

Kathryn shook her head and shuffled over a bit. He slid down the tree trunk and sat beside her then looked up. “So this is your tree?”

She followed his gaze. “Yes. This is it. My ‘thinking’ tree.”

“And have you been doing some? Thinking, that is.”

Kathryn nodded.

He studied her profile, trying to read her expression. It wasn’t easy.

She tugged her wrap more tightly around her. It was getting chilly in the evening air. “I didn’t think you’d be coming tonight.”

“I wanted to meet your mother and I needed to see you. I needed to apologise for this afternoon. I had no right to treat you like that. It was thoughtless. Can you forgive me?”

Kathryn nodded again. “Yes, and I need to apologise to you too. I’m too quick to judge and it wasn’t my place. I’m sorry, Chakotay.” She extended her hand to shake on it but he took her hand in his and brought it to his lips, kissing the back of her fingers. She watched him, and then reaching out she touched his cheek. He needed a shave. The whiskers rasped across her fingertips. “We’ve both made mistakes and I’m the last person who should take you to task.”

“No, Kathryn. You were right. I was just trying to cover my own embarrassment. You saw it for what it was. I looked like a fool, then got dumped and looked even more ridiculous.” He shrugged. “I think I’m getting old.”

Kathryn smiled. “No, neither of us is getting old. I refuse to allow it.”

“Good. You’ve got it covered then. I’ll stick with you.”

“I’d like you to.”

He still held her hand in his and he covered it with his other hand. “Are you sure, Kathryn?”

“Yes. That’s what I’ve been sitting here thinking about all afternoon. What about you, Chakotay? Are you sure?” This time she laid her hand over his. “This is a life time deal. I can’t do this if you’re not absolutely certain.”

“I don’t have a doubt in the world. I love you, Kathryn. I’ve loved you for years and I don’t think I could stop if I tried.”

“I did try, but it didn’t work. It seems we’re stuck with each other.”

“I could think of worse things.” It was almost dark now and there was a real chill in the air. “Shall we go in and break the news to your mother?”

“Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a surprise. She’s one of those mothers who ‘knows’ things. Drove me nuts as a kid.”

“Well, in that case, when I ask her if I can marry you, it won’t be a surprise.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” He stared at her and she shook her head. “God, what am I saying? Of course it’s a wonderful idea. I’d love to marry you. Boy, have I got a few bad habits to break. Are you sure you’re game to take me on?”

He smiled. “I’ve been taking you on for years. I’m an old hand. Come on, before we freeze.” He stood up and pulled her up and into his arms.

“Before we go in, Chakotay.” Her hand slid around the back of his head. “I’d like to kiss you. The one in the park doesn’t really count. That was for shock value.”

He grinned. “Any kiss counts, Kathryn. And I have to say for shock value it worked well and was more than pleasant.”

“Let’s see if we can do better than pleasant. How about we aim low and try for mind-blowing?”

“I’m game if you are. But I think it’ll be a cinch.” He grinned. “Come here.”

“No, you come here.”

He chuckled. “Are we going to argue about this as well?”

“Who’s arguing? I’m ordering.” She grinned up at him. “Oh, by the way, I love you.”

“Those are the magic words. I love you too.”

And with that they both moved towards one another and kissed. There was a duet of moans as their mouths moved together, sealing a pact that had been made over seven years before. Kathryn felt the tingles way down in her toes as his warm lips moved over hers, and she felt him tremble as their mouths opened and tongues began to dance and play. As a kiss, it didn’t disappoint. Mind-blowing was a conservative description. Neither could ever remember a kiss like it. Ever. And it went on and on and on, one kiss became many, and only when they realised that the moon had risen did they pull apart and make their way back to the house.

Gretchen watched from the veranda and smiled. It looked like there was going to be a permanent third placing at the table. What a relief. She turned back into the kitchen and set about putting her flowers in a vase and the French pastries on a plate for dessert. Still smiling she began humming happily to herself. It always amazed her how life could be. From last week to this, things had changed dramatically. She had her Katie home, and now it looked like she would have a son-in-law to boot.

She wondered what other wonders life had in store for them all.

Hearing their footsteps, she smiled, just as the oven chimed.

Dinner was ready.

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