Summary: Written for the Vamb 2013 Secret Santa. My recipient was eydiemunroe and her request was for ‘a J/C story set within the first 48 hours after their arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. They can be hailed as heroes, or victims of a witch hunt – whatever makes for a good story, but I want to know how things shake out. J/C get to have a happy ending, but it doesn’t come easy and they have to work for it. Rating R or above.’
I hope this fit the bill.
Many thanks to Audabee and Corinna for their outstanding betaing skills and help, however, I’ve fiddled with it since, so all mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Kathryn bit back the stinging rebuke before she launched at an unsuspecting Chakotay. She pressed her lips together in a thin line to ensure her silence but it was a close thing. The harsh words weren’t warranted and, to be fair, undeserved, but they still sat there, burning a hole in her tongue, itching to be unleashed.
Oblivious to the venom aimed in his direction, he caught her eye from across the consoles in Engineering and smiled. She tried to return the gesture but her mouth refused to co-operate. A twisted grimace was the best she could do but she quickly averted her gaze rather than witness his reaction.
How could he be so blind? By rights, he should be drowning in a Kathryn-generated tsunami of anger and resentment, but he didn’t seem to have a clue.
That fact enraged her even more and she wanted to smack him – hard.
She wouldn’t, of course.
Kathryn Janeway – feted captain of Voyager, renowned for her fair and judicious leadership expertise – didn’t do that sort of thing.
But glowing epithets and captainly kudos aside, she still wanted to smack him – really hard.
They’d been home for a day – a mere twenty-four hours – though it felt like much longer. Exhilaration, anxiety, impatience and exhaustion all vied for dominance in the swirling eddy of her emotions and she’d had no time to relegate these feelings into any sort of order. Everything was moving so fast and there was so much to do that it was almost impossible to centre herself.
The cumulative lack of sleep didn’t help matters either. She’d hardly set eyes on her bed since they’d stumbled across the Borg transwarp hub all those days-that-seemed-like-weeks ago. Her expertise had been needed in nearly every aspect of their homecoming mission – refining intricate tactical details, upgrading ship’s systems and installing technology from the future – not to mention having to deal with the rather gritty and obstreperous version of her future self.
On the eve of their return, the Doctor had insisted she go to her quarters and rest and, although she’d tried to relax, the thought of what awaited her the following morning – Voyager pitted against the malevolent might of the entire Borg Collective; overseeing the inaugural thirty-thousand light-year dash through a transwarp conduit using untried technology and jury-rigged adaptations that had in essence turned Voyager into something of a ‘grandpa’s axe’, and the very real possibility that none of them would survive the leap – made sleep impossible. The memory still haunted her.
To compound matters, the demands on her time had only intensified since their arrival. Visits from inquisitive Admirals, Starfleet medical staff, technical experts and a constant procession of Federation envoys, aides and garden variety sticky-beaks had kept everyone on their toes; especially Kathryn. When she wasn’t in her Ready room fielding enquiries, deflecting interviews and logging a constant stream of official and not-so-official communiqués, she was in the Transporter room, meeting, greeting and pressing the flesh. Her face ached from smiling and her stomach curdled with the thought of having to pander to the endless parade of ingratiating admirers and sycophantic hangers-on.
She took a deep breath and tried to centre herself. Perspective was the key. What she needed to do was focus on the positives, of which there were many. The most obvious being the fact that they were home and despite all other annoyances, real and imagined, she was happy to be here – deliriously so.
It just wasn’t how she’d imagined it would be.
But then again, she thought cynically, was anything ever how one imagined it would be?
Thanks to Admiral Janeway and her none-too-subtle disclosures outside the Astrometrics lab, Kathryn was now saddled with a hefty load of unwanted revelations.
Revelations that had the potential to change her life forever.
More regret – as if she needed it – had been heaped upon her already overburdened heart. Tuvok’s illness, the potential loss of twenty-two members of her crew and the clincher – ‘Seven of Nine will die three years from now in the arms of her husband – Chakotay.’
She hadn’t seen thatcoming. But after the initial kick in the guts had knocked her senseless, she’d been overwhelmed by an intense wave of bitterness, resentment and dismay. However, what really twisted her in knots was that she still loved them both just as intensely. It was like some sort of sick ménage-a-trois joke and only she knew the punch line.
As usual, protocols and Starfleet regulations reared their ugly heads ensuring that she keep all knowledge of their would-be futures to herself. The burden was one she carried alone but at the same time she was finding it a struggle to discern where the present ended and the future began. What of that future was still likely to happen? Who was at risk? Was it all moot now that the timeline had changed or was their fate already written? The unanswerable questions and their ramifications were driving her insane, so, she did the only thing that made sense.
She got angry.
Angry with the Admiral for shattering her dreams and taking such delight in the misery she’d caused; angry with Seven of Nine for being young, beautiful, available and adolescent enough to not be able to see beyond her own needs and wants. But most of all, she was angry with Chakotay for forgetting and moving on. How dare he?!
But just when she’d gathered all her anger into a seething ball of fury, ready to hurl it at the universe, it turned inwards and she railed at herself. Why wouldn’t he dare? What could she possibly offer him to compare with Seven of Nine and her infinite attributes?
Not a thing, nothing, nada!
Her chest gave a throbbing ache somewhere in the vicinity of her heart and her jaw was clenched so hard she thought her teeth might crack.
She glared at him across the room as he went about his duties, blissfully unaware of her anger and disappointment. She was surprised he hadn’t picked up on it. By rights, his back should be sporting two neatly singed holes, but he was in love and happy, which made him impervious to it all.
She heaved a weary sigh, her anger deflating like a burst balloon as the slow burn of grudging acceptance seeped into the empty space.
A mere twenty-four hours after completing her mission to bring Voyager home, Kathryn Janeway was ready to throw in the towel.
She’d had enough. For seven years, she’d given her all – every last scrap and morsel of her mind, body and soul – and she was spent. She wanted to go somewhere – be somewhere – that was anywhere but here. A quiet place where she didn’t have to think, or worry, or feel responsible for anyone but herself. Enough was enough, already.
“Kathryn, are you all right?”
She’d been staring off into the distance, her unhappy thoughts and anger sizzling and spitting just under the surface, and she hadn’t noticed Chakotay’s approach. By the worried look on his face, her expression must have been something diabolical – bitter, twisted, sad – pathetic. His kind eyes were brimming with questions and concern; genuine warmth oozing from every pore – and it only irked her more.
She wondered if he looked at Seven that way or did his gaze soften into something more loving, more heated, more wanting and needful.
Seven’s husband, Chakotay.
She averted her gaze and glared at the console as she snapped out her response. “I’m fine. What’s the status of the shielding?”
She sensed his withdrawal and glanced at him for a split second. He frowned and appeared vaguely hurt by her rebuff but she didn’t care and wondered idly if it were possible to not be able to forgive someone for something they hadn’t done yet.
It must be, because that’s exactly how she felt. Chakotay, husband of Seven of Nine.
Goddamned, temporal conundrums! They were the bane of her existence.
He still looked confused but he didn’t ask her again how she’s feeling. Smart move, Kathryn thought.
Instead, he stood a little straighter as he gave her an update. “Seven’s begun a level one diagnostic and will send through a report as soon as it’s done.”
Kathryn’s eyes narrowed. Was he saying Seven’s name differently? Did it seem to be sliding off his tongue in a way that suggested an intimacy that wasn’t apparent before?
She couldn’t tell but just the idea of it was enough to fan the embers of another internal brush-fire of jealousy and anger – not that she had the right to feel those emotions either.
What Chakotay did in his own time was his business; it had nothing to do with her beyond her status as his captain. She had to stop this or she was going to send herself insane but her eyes were drawn to him once more.
He didn’t appear any different but then again, how would she know what he looked like when he was in love. She thought she used to know but over the last few years she’d made a point of not looking too closely. If she looked, then he might look back and she couldn’t risk him seeing past the barriers she’d so carefully constructed.
She didn’t have Seven’s expertise with emotional ablative shielding and where Chakotay was concerned, her shields had always been flimsy at best. At the moment, they barely existed at all.
It suddenly occurred to her that it wasn’t so much the knowledge that he would marry Seven that had triggered her anger. If it made him happy, she’d be happy – she was generous like that. What broke her heart was the realisation that the friendship she cherished, the closeness that had been her mainstay throughout this journey, could be so easily compromised. What the hell had happened to them in that other timeline that could damage their friendship so profoundly? By rights, they should have comforted one another after Seven’s death and been there for each other. Whom else did they have to turn to in the face of such a tragedy?
So, something must have gone terribly wrong.
Was it her fault or was it his?
She watched him as he smiled at a young ensign and helped him lift a console bracket out of the way. Always kind, always thoughtful.
It wouldn’t have been Chakotay.
It must have been her. What the hell had she done? Her chest ached just thinking about it.
Suddenly, all the fight went out of her and a swamping wave of guilt numbed her from head to toe. With it came the unwanted and unfamiliar burn of tears. She didn’t want to believe that they could end up that way. ‘He’ll never be the same after Seven’s death, and neither will you.’
She would simply refuse to let it happen. All of it.
Distracted by her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed that Chakotay had moved to her side. The next thing she was aware of was his hand on her elbow urging her to accompany him to the far corner of Engineering. “If you don’t mind, Captain, I’d like you to have a look at these readings.”
God, she was pathetic but it was just so typical of him to notice her distress. She’d never been able to hide anything from him.
How the hell was she supposed to stay angry with him when he was so goddamned considerate. She hated him, she really did.
But then again…
Kathryn glanced sideways and frowned to hide her reluctant gratitude. “Certainly, Commander.”
He nodded but she could still see the shadow of concern in his eyes. Double damn him!
She whispered so only he could hear. “I’m all right, but thank you.”
They both hunched over the far console, shoulders pressed together. He glanced at her and gave her a knowing smile. “We’re all feeling it, Kathryn. It’s wonderful to be home but a little overwhelming.”
Even though he’d completely misread the situation, Kathryn couldn’t deny the comfort his closeness brought her. The thought that they might never be like this again made her chest ache anew and she began frantically swallowing back more of those dreaded tears. But as hard as she tried, one escaped and splashed onto the console.
She swiped it away, and using every last ounce of will power, forced back any others that might have the audacity to make a break for it.
Captains do not weep! It was practically the first rule of command and although she’d had occasion to break that particular rule a few times over the last seven years, she’d trained herself to only indulge in private. However, it wasn’t the only rule she’d broken as captain of Voyager. The most glaring breach of code was the fact that she’d fallen in love with her first officer. On the scale of what not to do when in command of a starship, it rated pretty high up there.
He looked at her with those soulful – ridiculous word but so applicable – eyes again. Damn!
“Stop being so nice, for god’s sake?!” The harshly whispered words rushed past her lips before she could stop them.
Ever aware of the crew close by, he frowned and asked, sotto voce, “You want me to be mean to you?”
“Yes.” She hissed. “That way I’ll be angry and less likely to cry.”
He pondered her response for a moment and then huffed a quiet laugh. “Your cheeks are blotchy and your nose is all red.”
She rolled her eyes and the tension of the moment was broken. The tears retreated, thank god. She gave him a withering look and with her hands planted firmly on her hips, she demanded, “That’s it. That’s all you’ve got?”
This time, he laughed out loud and Kathryn could feel the telltale tug of a smile at the corner of her mouth. As an uncertain equilibrium returned, she dispensed a friendly elbow jab to his ribs before turning back towards the rest of the Engineering crew. Several of them were surreptitiously smiling, hiding their grins behind conveniently held diagnostic tools and PADDs.
Relieved that everyone seemed relaxed and no one appeared particularly interested in what their command team were doing, Kathryn felt some of her melancholy lift.
There were still little shards of hurt pricking at her – mostly in and around her heart – but she was the captain and for now, her only option was to ignore the discomfort and remain focused.
Besides, if the temporal theorists were correct, the instant the Admiral opened the rift, the timeline was forever altered and that unravelled skein had the potential to be woven into a new destiny of Kathryn’s making – if she had the courage to take the risk. There was every chance that the loose edges of her and Chakotay’s lives could be stitched together to shape a new future for them both.
No one ever dared accuse her of being a coward, but where her heart was concerned, her courage often faltered. Perhaps it was time to reassess that aspect of her character and take a chance.
She inhaled a deep breath and huffed out the exhale before she shot a steady smile Chakotay’s way. She’d intended it to be reassuring but he looked too closely and for too long and Kathryn had a horrible feeling that he could see right through her upbeat facade.
Nevertheless, it was time to move things along.
Thanks to the crew’s efficiency, there was little more they could do to prepare Voyager for the following morning’s arrival of Starfleet technicians.
Thus far, all reports logged between the last data stream and Voyager’s arrival had been downloaded to headquarters. Engineering and Operations had catalogued every item of acquired Delta quadrant technology along with their specifications, and Astrometrics had sent through their most recent star charts to Starfleet’s Stellar Cartography unit, who were – according to Icheb, using one of his newly learned and delightfully appropriate colloquialisms – ‘over the moon’.
Their mission had been a success. They’d gathered enough information to keep Starfleet scientists busy for decades. Chakotay’s prediction had been correct.
With one more glance around the well-ordered and organized Engineering bay, Kathryn chanced a look at her second in command. “Have you been to see the baby yet?”
He shook his head. “No. Have you?”
“No, not yet, but we have time now – join me?”
He smiled. “I’d love to.”
That was encouraging.
Kathryn took a deep breath and braced herself. When she’d invited him to lunch the other day, he’d asked for a raincheck. She didn’t want a repeat of that with a dinner invitation – it would be excruciating – but if she didn’t ask, she’d never know, so she gave it her best shot. “If you don’t have anything planned for dinner…?”
He shook his head. “No, nothing.”
“Very well, my quarters then, after we’ve seen our newest crewmember.”
He didn’t baulk or look uncomfortable. “Sounds great.”
Kathryn breathed a silent sigh of relief, before nodding towards the exit. “Shall we?”
Side by side, they strode through the doorway and headed up the corridor to the turbo lift.
“Do you know what Tom and B’Elanna have called the baby?”
Chakotay shook his head and gave her a half smile. “No, but I have some ideas.”
Kathryn raised a questioning eyebrow but Chakotay refused to acknowledge the unasked question.
She gave him a thoughtful look as they stepped into the turbo lift and ordered it to Deck Five.
The scene that greeted them in Sickbay was one that Kathryn would forever hold dear to her heart.
B’Elanna sat propped up on the biobed looking serene and beautiful; her loving gaze rested on Tom as he talked quietly to a small bundle tucked into the crook of his arm. They looked so tranquil and happy. The memory of an angry, snarling young woman and a brash, disillusioned young man suddenly flashed past Kathryn’s mind’s eye. What they had become was a universe away from that memory.
Could the last seven years have been worth it after all?
She knew she couldn’t be prouder or more delighted for the young couple. It occurred to her then that perhaps she should use this as a measure of her success and not her own failings. It was something worth considering.
B’Elanna and Tom both glanced up and smiled at their visitors.
“Captain, Chakotay.” B’Elanna beamed.
Tom was smiling as well as he walked around the biobed towards them.
Before Kathryn knew what was happening, he’d placed the baby in her arms. “Say hello to Miral Kathryn Torres-Paris.”
Stunned, Kathryn looked at both parents. “Miral Kathryn?”
“What else?” B’Elanna looked very pleased with herself.
Kathryn was astonished. What could she say?
“Thank you; both of you. I’m deeply honoured.”
She pulled back the swaddling to find a small scowling face glaring back at her. Delicate brow ridges and piercing slate blue eyes that would eventually lighten to the striking blue of her father’s, spoke of her mixed heritage. She was amazing; so small, so fragile, so extraordinary.
“B’Elanna, Tom, she’s beautiful. Congratulations.” A broad grin lit her face.
Chakotay peered over Kathryn’s shoulder and she had to fight her reaction to his closeness. Her heart started beating at an alarming rate and to put some distance between them without making it too obvious, she turned and handed him the baby. He grinned at her, dimples on full wattage, and the thud, thud, thud of her heart pounded in her ears. It was so loud; she was surprised no one else could hear it.
Damn it! Her reaction was ridiculous. Why, after all these years? Maybe being angry with him was a better option after all.
Kathryn moved past him and gave B’Elanna a kiss and a warm hug. “Well done, B’Elanna. And you too, Tom.” She kissed his cheek.
The couple were clearly delighted with themselves and their baby girl, as well they should be.
A sudden hush came over the room and their gazes were drawn to where Chakotay was standing with Miral. Kathryn turned in time to see him kiss Miral’s forehead and whisper something close to her ear. With gentle, unhurried movements, he shifted the baby until her tiny body rested along his forearms and her head nestled safely in his cupped hands. He closed his eyes, his lips moving silently as he whispered ancient prayers and blessings to the universe.
Miral’s face was so still, her eyes – all-knowing and wise – were riveted to Chakotay’s face. It was so quiet but the silence was filled with a reverence and solemnity that caused a swell of emotion to press against the walls of Kathryn’s chest. She glanced at B’Elanna and Tom; both were captivated by the scene and a suspicious glint of moisture shimmered in their eyes. The entire scene wrenched at her heart.
Kathryn inhaled a shaky breath just as Chakotay once again nestled Miral against his chest and looked up. He gave them a self-conscious smile, followed by a shrugged explanation. “I’m welcoming her to our tribe.”
Cursing him again, Kathryn felt those stubborn tears threaten once more but she held them at bay; although, she wasn’t the only one looking a little misty-eyed.
Clearly moved, Tom extended his hand towards Chakotay, who graciously acknowledged the gesture and clasping the outstretched hand, gave it a firm shake.
“Thank you, Chakotay.”
In its own way, it was a peace offering; an end to hostilities that signified the beginning of a friendship and shared responsibility – father and uncle. It was yet another step forward.
After the intensity of the moment eased around them, Chakotay handed Miral back to her mother and he and Kathryn said their good byes.
As they made their way towards the turbo lift, Kathryn mulled over Chakotay’s explanation and the more she thought about it, the more the concept appealed to her.
They were halfway there before she spoke. “I rather like the idea of being a member of Voyager’s ‘tribe’.”
He smiled and seemed pleased. “I’ve always thought of us that way. In essence, the same dynamics apply to Voyager’s crew as they do to any isolated group of individuals – a village, a tribe, a clan. Our ordeal has bonded us together in exactly the same way tribes are bound by evolving customs, the need for protection and the connection of shared experiences.” She had a sudden vision of him standing in front of an Academy class, imparting this wisdom to a sea of enraptured cadets. “We will always be of this tribe – no matter where life or circumstances take us.” He shrugged again and met her gaze. “I find that immensely reassuring.”
Kathryn nodded, thoughtfully. “As do I.”
His eyes held hers for a long moment and then the turbolift arrived.
They reluctantly looked away from one another and boarded the lift.
Kathryn stared at the closed doors. “Deck three.”
As much as she wished it otherwise, dinner was a strained affair; nothing at all like the usual working meals they’d shared over the years. A debris field of unasked questions and potential misunderstandings still lay strewn between them and Kathryn didn’t know how to navigate through the mess.
They tiptoed through stilted discussions about the crew, Starfleet’s roster for debriefings, the rescinding of the Maquis’ warrants and, in a roundabout way, how good it was to be home; both of them making a concerted effort to avoid anything contentious, personal or god forbid, emotional.
Eventually, the conversation ground to a halt and unable to think of anything else to say, Kathryn filled the silence by offering him some more wine. Chakotay nodded his thanks as he held out his glass, his eyes searching her face.
She avoided his gaze by watching the rich plum-coloured Syrah flow into his glass. “This is my last bottle of Picard 2353. I was saving it for a special occasion; I guess this qualifies.”
Chakotay smiled and raised his glass in a toast. “To home, to friendship and to moving on.”
Kathryn almost choked. To friendship and moving on!? Was this his way of breaking the news to her about his affair with Seven? If that were the case, he was doing a lousy damn job of it. Anger surged again and she covered it by taking a big gulp of wine and swallowing the biting comeback that had pinned itself to the tip of her tongue. She could barely taste the wine over the bitter rancour that threatened to sour every conceivable response.
Suddenly, sick and tired of avoiding the issue of his liaison with Seven of Nine, she gave him a tight smile and decided that it was now or never. “I’ve been informed that the ‘moving on’ part of your toast holds significance. Congratulations, Chakotay, to both you and Seven. The Admiral told me and I’m very pleased for you.”
She half expected him to be shocked or defensive but he simply shrugged as though it were of no consequence. “Well, it was hardly anything to write home about and nice while it lasted but Seven called an end to it. She’s decided to go with the Doctor to Jupiter Station.”
Kathryn couldn’t hide her surprise. Not only because it seemed that the relationship was over but that Seven had changed her plans without discussing them with her. “Jupiter Station! When I spoke to her this morning, she planned to stay with her Aunt in Sweden.”
“She’s still meeting with her Aunt and cousins tomorrow but until she feels more settled in the Alpha Quadrant, she insists she’s happier being with the Doctor.”
Although understandable, Kathryn was still thrown by the news. She dug deep for the appropriate tone and words to match. “I’m sorry.”
He gave her a sceptical look. “Really?!”
She thought she’d sounded convincing but apparently not. “I’m sorry that your feelings have been hurt. I’m trying to be a friend.”
“Oh. Fine.” Chakotay took a deep breath and his eyes narrowed.
He looked annoyed and Kathryn had no idea why. He had no reason to be – not with her anyway. She wasn’t the one who’d broken his heart and decided to run off with the Doctor. How dare he lay this at her door!?
She placed her glass on the table with a decisive thud and his head snapped up. He stared at her, clearly not aware of her seething anger. “Is there something wrong?”
“I can’t believe you need to ask?”
“Well, I do. I’m having trouble understanding what’s been happening with you. You’ve been short-tempered and upset ever since we arrived in the Alpha quadrant and I don’t know why. I know that it’s a huge change and there’s a lot on your plate but there’s no need to be…”
“… such a bitch. Go on, you can say it. I know that’s what you’re thinking.”
“That’s not what I’m thinking.” With deliberate movements, as though he were carefully choosing his words whilst calming a wilful child, he placed his drink on the table next to hers and turned towards her. He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I want to help, Kathryn. I’m worried. Is there something you’re not telling me? Does it have anything to do with the status of the Maquis or the Equinox crew? Is your family all right? Please tell me. You don’t have to deal with this on your own anymore.”
“Hmmm, well that’s up for debate.” She ground out the words, sounding harsh and bitter. He frowned and looked so concerned that she felt bad and answered his question in a less biting tone. “It’s nothing to do with any of the crew. The Maquis and Equinox are fine, as are my family.”
“Then help me to understand. I hate seeing you like this. This is your moment.” He gestured towards the viewport and the shining blue arc of Earth’s northern hemisphere visible across one corner of the window. “You’ve been working towards this for the last seven years – every moment of every day. Every risk you’ve taken, all the sacrifices you’ve made have been for this.”
Kathryn’s shoulders sagged. He was right, of course, but how could she explain her feelings without exposing the soft underbelly of Kathryn Janeway? The vulnerable and easily wounded part of her that she’d kept hidden from everyone for so long that even she feared acknowledging its existence.
Never show fear. Never show weakness; especially when you’re vulnerable and frightened. That, my girl, is the measure of a leader. Helpful advice from her long dead father, drummed into her almost from the time she could talk. Those words had stood her in good stead over the years but there was a time and a place for such stoicism and perhaps now wasn’t the time.
She picked up her drink again and took a healthy swig before placing it back on the table. Where to begin? Another deep breath and she sallied forth. “You’re right. I have been angry,” She looked him in the eye. “…with you.”
Chakotay visibly slumped and a troubled frown marred his brow before he leaned towards her. She could see the questions coming and forestalled him with a raised hand. “I’ll tell you why in a minute but I want you to know that I’m trying very hard to stop being angry with you. I have no right to be but sometimes knowing and doing are two entirely different things.”
“I think I understand.”
“I doubt it.” She was so tempted to roll her eyes but she resisted.
“Okay then, why are you angry with me?” Understanding dawned on his face. “Is it because of Seven?”
Brilliant deduction! Give the man a prize.
Biting the inside of her cheek, she gave him a brisk nod and mumbled, “Yes, in part.”
“God, Kathryn. I know you’ve put your heart and soul into rehabilitating Seven and you’ve done an amazing job. She’s an extraordinary young woman and she has you to thank for that, but there was a reason we didn’t tell you about our relationship.”
Her raised eyebrow and cynical look were question enough.
Chakotay spread his hands in supplication. “It all happened so fast and Seven wasn’t sure that you would approve. Obviously, you don’t, so she was right to be cautious. But it’s over, nothing happened, so you can relax. Seven is fine, no harm done.”
It was in that instant that Kathryn realised, he had absolutely no idea. He’d completely misread the reason behind her hurt and anger. He thought she was worried about Seven but entirely oblivious to how she felt about him. Yet another cruel blow to add to the rapidly growing collection.
Shit, shit, shit!
It took every ounce of willpower for her not to scream or cry – neither would do her any good in the long run. Her lips thinned. “Yes, well, as self-aware as Seven might appear, she still has a lot to learn. And so do you.”
His mistaken admission was the final blow. She couldn’t bring herself to sit there and deal with this any longer. It was all too sordid and pathetic and she had more pride than that.
As tempting as it was to wallow in her own personal misery-fest, she was still the captain and as such, she had responsibilities – onerous ones – and far too many duties vying for her attention to allow self-pity to win.
Tomorrow morning she had to meet with more Admirals, welcome a battalion of technicians aboard to dismantle her ship, and then be on hand for the family reunions. She didn’t need the distraction of Chakotay’s girlfriend issues. She’d been a fool – it wasn’t the first time and it probably wouldn’t be the last – but for now, she needed him to leave. Why had she even considered that after all this time he nurtured any feelings for her? She was an idiot!
He was staring at her, probably trying to read her mind but she wouldn’t be falling for that one again – so much for the uncanny connection she always thought they’d shared. Hello, to yet another deluded notion. What a fool she’d been to hang her hopes on something as nebulous as love.
Without the energy for another round of mental self-flagellation, she slapped her hands on her knees and stood up.
The idea being that he’d get the hint and make a move to leave. But he wasn’t cooperating and appeared to require a verbal prompt as well.
She began putting some distance between them – both emotional and physical. “I’ve changed my mind, I really don’t want to discuss this after all. There’s nothing to be gained from dissecting it.” She picked up their empty wine glasses and dropped them in the recycler. She turned towards him once more but much to her annoyance, he still hadn’t moved.
Well, he could go to hell for all she cared.
In a flinty tone, she gestured towards the door. “I have an early start tomorrow. You can let yourself out.” She headed towards the bedroom. “I’ll see you on the Bridge, Commander.”
It felt good to have the last word and a small starburst of triumph flared behind her sternum.
Win #1 for Kathryn.
A smug smile tugged at the corners of her mouth but it soon faded and a defeated scowl took its place. What the hell did she have to be so smug about? Absolutely, nothing. She’d just learned that the love she’d treasured for close on seven years was entirely unrequited – it never existed except in her own deluded imaginings.
It was a fucking tragedy.
Her shoulders sagged with reluctant acceptance but she decided that there was no point dwelling on what she couldn’t change. Once her duty to the crew and Voyager had been discharged, she would take the time, and hopefully find the solitude, to tend to her emotional wounds. For now, however, she needed to sleep; especially, if she expected to conduct herself with any degree of dignity tomorrow as she handed over command of her ship to a group of strangers.
Her eyes burned again with unshed tears and the ache in her throat felt as though she was choking on her own heart. This was hell.
She shrugged out of her jacket, half listening for the hiss of the door as he left but there was nothing; not a sound. What the hell was he doing?
Determined not to care, she turned towards her dresser to dig out a nightdress but stopped mid-movement. Chakotay was standing in the doorway of her bedroom, arms crossed and a thunderous frown creasing his brow. It was a look she’d rarely seen and was glad of it.
Ever undaunted, she brazened it out. “I thought you’d left.”
“I’m not leaving until we work this out. I’m floundering here, Kathryn. I don’t know what you want from me or what I’ve done to deserve your anger.”
“You’ve done nothing. It’s me, all right. I’m the one with the problem, not you. You did the sensible thing; you got on with your life instead of waiting around like a fool for something that never existed. My stupidity isn’t your problem; I inadvertently made it so and I apologize.” She thought that sounded frank and to the point, and waited a heartbeat for some sort of reaction but when none was forthcoming, she huffed quietly and stated. “I’m going to bed.”
“Good, I’m coming with you.”
“What!?” Her heart and body were screaming, yes, yes, yes, but her head was mortified and urging her to run away as fast as she could. Fight or flight – she’d been there before. She met his gaze with what she hoped was a steely stare but she had her doubts. “I don’t think so.” Oh, that sounded very convincing, Kathryn.
Chakotay was completely unfazed. “We’re home. We’re free. I’m technically not your subordinate anymore so there’s nothing to stop us doing what we’ve both thought about more times than we’ll ever care to admit.”
“You’re presuming an awful lot, Commander.”
“Am I? I’m not the fool you think I am, Kathryn.”
She debated that silently to herself for a moment before she responded, “I don’t think you’re a fool.”
He shrugged. “I was a fool to begin a relationship with Seven but don’t worry, there have been plenty of people setting me straight on that one.”
“Who? They have no right to say anything.” Her innate instinct to jump to his defence was alive and well, it seemed. Old habits die hard.
“What they think doesn’t matter; I only care what you think.” His eyes hadn’t wavered from hers but she could see a glimmer of doubt in their depths. He wasn’t as sure of himself as he would have her believe – thank god. “Will you be honest with me, Kathryn? I need to know. Do you have any feelings for me at all? I know we once shared something unique; something so special that I didn’t think I could survive without it.”
“But you did.”
“And so did you.”
She exhaled a shaky breath and glanced away. “I’m not so sure about that.”
She looked back to see his frown soften and felt her resolve weakening as well. Curse her traitorous heart.
“Kathryn, I’m sorry I hurt you.”
She glared at him, a frown snapping into place. The last thing she wanted was his pity. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for, as I said; it’s your life and your choice. It has nothing to do with me.”
“It has everything to do with you, not that I knew I had a choice.”
“I…” Oh, crap! “Whether you had a choice or not is beside the point. You chose Seven.”
“But I didn’t. She chose me. I should have said no but I was lonely and you were so distant…”
She refused to give an inch and stood stoically as he pleaded his case.
He tried again. “I’ve admitted I was wrong and I’ve apologised.”
“God! You’re so damned frustrating.” He smacked his hand against the wall beside him, his eyes flashing with something between anger and pain. His voice dropped to a gruff whisper. “You will always be my first choice; I have no choice about that. I’ve loved you from the moment I met you but you made it clear that there could be nothing between us while you were captain and I was your first officer. And I accepted that. I didn’t like it but again, no choice.” He took a determined step towards her and suddenly Kathryn was on the defensive.
She didn’t like that one bit. “I don’t believe you.”
His eyes flashed dangerously, but after taking a deep breath, he remained calm. “That’s your prerogative but don’t expect me to pretend that you don’t understand. I know you loved me once.” His voice hitched, Kathryn heard it and it tugged painfully at her heart. But he wasn’t finished yet. “It’s been a long seven years and I’m well aware of the sacrifices and decisions you were forced to make and how each one them has chipped away at those softer and less resilient parts of you. It was what you had to do to survive. What you’ve been through, Kathryn, no one should ever have to endure so I understand why you’ve forgotten what we once had.”
“Forgotten?!” It was more a gasp than a word. She could barely breathe. How could he be so right and so wrong at the same time? Yes, she was damaged; wounded mentally and emotionally by the compromises she’d had to make and the crushing weight of guilt and sole responsibility she’d had to bear, but she hadn’t forgotten a thing. She could never forget.
Anger aimed at his flawed logic and mistaken accusation stormed up inside her and she took a belligerent step forward. The urge to smack him tingled in the palm of her hand and her words were like daggers, each one precisely aimed to find its mark.
“Forgotten?! I haven’t forgotten a thing. Not a moment, not a touch, a gesture or look. They’re what kept me whole, what got me through each hellish day. I remember them all. From that first moment on the Bridge when you stood a breath away from me, angry beyond measure but still willing to see reason; B’Elanna’s life more important to you than revenge. I knew then that I could trust you with my life and the lives of my crew, and that trust remains unshakable. I remember the moments when I faltered and you were there; your solid and steady presence beside me, giving me support when I wavered, strength when I weakened, room to bend but never letting me break. I remember the warmth in your eyes, the clasp of your hand, the strength of your arms and I remember the moment I knew I loved you more than life itself.” She inhaled a shuddering breath; those accursed tears had won and she swiped at them as they spilled down her cheeks. Emotion choked her voice; her final words barely a whisper. “I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s – all – still – here,” Her fist pressed into her sternum. “and I will always love you.”
What followed was the longest second of her life.
And then he kissed her.
Just like that.
He hauled her into his arms and his mouth found hers.
She kissed him back.
The press of his lips on hers wrenched the breath from her lungs and dredged all the love from her heart.
A groan came from deep in his chest and it vibrated against her, making her knees weak and her legs leaden at the same time. His arms wrapped around her, his hands shifting, kneading, stroking as he tried to haul her closer, his body enveloping hers, imprinting her on the hard planes of his torso.
They were moving, not that she’d noticed, but all of sudden her back was against the wall and his hands were pressing, probing, touching – oh God – in all the right places.
She arched into him; her fingers gripping convulsively at his shoulders, nails digging into muscle – there would be bruises tomorrow – but she didn’t stop.
They shouldn’t be doing this, a small voice in the back of her mind warned her, but then her hands were in his hair, her fingers tugging harder than they should, not that he seemed to mind. His lips were on her neck, brushing over her cheek, her eyelids and then on her lips again, teeth nipping – almost painfully – and his tongue – wonderfully soothing – swept through her mouth to taste her.
All coherent thought evaporated in the heat of his mouth and touch of his hands.
Clothes disappeared, discarded in piles on the floor, kicked out of the way, as they swayed and staggered across the room, gasping, writhing, skin to skin.
He was murmuring words against her neck and her breasts, his breath scorching trails across her chest – moisture and gooseflesh. Her nipples ached, hard and needy until his lips clamped around one, a perfect fit.
Her heart was racing and she could feel its pulse between her legs, loud, demanding and drenched in need.
They tumbled onto the bed, a tangle of limbs and sweat-beaded skin, salty-sweet. Her open-mouthed kisses pressed against the thudding pulse in his neck as his hand slid between her thighs – slick and hot – his fingers moving, driving, hard – in and out, back and forth, over and over again.
She was going to come. It was embarrassingly quick but it had been so long and she wanted him so badly that it was impossible to hold back the flood. Her body began to hum, her belly taut and her back rigid as she ground against his hand. She stifled a cry, pressing her face into the crook of his shoulder as she was hit by a sudden sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. She’d spent so many years hiding those parts of her, she didn’t know how to do this with him – although she knew him better than anyone in the world – she didn’t know him like this.
He read her hesitation – of course – and gently wove his fingers through her hair, bringing her head up so he could see her. “Look at me, Kathryn. I love you and I need to see you.”
She couldn’t look away, even if she’d tried.
His thumb pressed and his fingers glided, slick and agile, and with his eyes riveted to hers, Kathryn’s world exploded in a cascade of light, her eyelids closing against the glare but he was still with her, she could feel him and hear him.
There was heat and light and lightness – she felt like she was a breath of wind, a zephyr, weightless and free, the rhythmic throb of her body like the beating of wings, taking her higher and higher until breathless, she gasped and reality reasserted itself and she was in his arms again.
She slumped against him, her face pressed against his neck, her lips already plucking at the skin there and she felt him hot and hard against her. She wanted to see him too, to witness this moment and add it to the memories of them.
She draped her leg over his hips, turning him onto his back as she straddled him. Her hands pressed into the yielding flesh-over-muscle on his chest – he wasn’t a young man anymore – the once hard outline of him now slightly blurred but it was just one more thing to love.
Without preamble, she rose up and took him inside her. The stretch, the fullness, the heat – it was all there but even better because it was him. She kept her eyes open – she had to – and she met his soulful (yes, it was true) eyes and her inner muscles drew up and tightened all on the own. He groaned and arched, pressing deeper. She moaned. It felt… it felt… oh god, it felt…
His fingers dug into her hips – more bruises – but she didn’t care. He was fighting his climax, holding back but she didn’t want that. She wanted it all, everything, all of him. Her hips began to undulate – oh yes – and she watched him watch her; the connection like a living thing.
She was going to come again; she could feel a throb and fullness deep inside her, different from before but just as devastating.
He took control, fingers gripping as he angled her hips, soft rhythmic grunts keeping time until it all unravelled in a thrusting, messy jumble of bodies and limbs. She cried out, he pushed deeper, once, twice and again before holding her there. His face contorted as he moaned a garbled version of her name to the cosmos. She could feel the throb of him inside her, the heat of him spreading, the warmth of them, together. Her muscles twitched once more with the thought as he rolled them over and tucked her against his side.
They were slick with sweat, deliciously sated and sore. It had been a long time for Kathryn. She wasn’t sure about Chakotay but from his reaction, she figured it had probably been a while for him too. She liked that idea more than she thought she should.
His hand was still moving, skimming over the slick skin of her belly, his thumb stroking the hollow of her hipbone and his lips moving against her temple, his breath warm on her skin. She thought it might be a prayer but she didn’t ask.
She could feel him, though, hardening again against her thigh. It made her smile. Not bad, old man.
“What are you smiling about?”
His lips clamped over her nipple and her mind went blank. How on earth did he expect her to think of a coherent answer when he was doing that?
She sighed and then jolted. An explanation would have to wait.
Kathryn glanced at the chronometer – it was just after 2300. They’d been back in the Alpha quadrant for thirty six hours now and she was one of the happiest women in the known universe. What a difference half a day made.
They’d made love again – the man was insatiable – which was yet another attribute in his favour, and she’d catalogued more than a few that evening.
It had been her intention to ask him to stay the night but much to her delight, the question was made moot when he tucked her against his side, kissed her until she was in a breathless stupor and after telling her once more that he loved her, promptly fell asleep.
She smiled, nestled closer and let his breathing and steady heartbeat soothe her into slumber.
The morning came too quickly and it was as busy as she imagined it would be.
A hum of excitement pervaded the ship – today they were going home.
She and Chakotay went about their assigned duties as they would have on any other day but it was all so different. It felt as though someone had turned up the lights and everything was brighter and sort of gilt-edged. She’d been reading too many of B’Elanna’s romance novels it seemed but nonetheless, it was true. She made a concerted effort not to appear any different; cool efficiency and whip-smart organization were her trademarks, so she made a beeline for the Bridge and began snapping out orders the instant she exited the turbolift.
No one seemed unduly perturbed and by 0900, she’d convinced herself that no one would ever guess that she’d spent the night howling in ecstasy with Chakotay in her bed – and in her. She blushed a little when she thought of it and quickly wiped the satisfied smile from her face. She was busy silently congratulating herself on her excellent evasion techniques, when Chakotay sidled up to her at the Science station.
“It’s okay, Kathryn. They know.”
“What?!” The word came out as a strangled squeak that attracted the attention of several crewmen nearby. They smiled at her and went back to work without batting an eyelid. “You told them?”
He smiled. She was glad he was amused but this could be disastrous – she wasn’t sure why, but with her luck, it stood to reason.
“No, I haven’t told a soul but they know us, and we’re a small ‘tribe’.”
He looked up and Kathryn followed his gaze. There were few crewmen still working at stations close by and they all seemed content and unfazed. Ensign Baytart noticed them looking and gave them a grin and Crewman Dalby nodded and smiled in their direction.
Kathryn acknowledged their smiles with a tight one of her own and then dipped her head to stare at the blinking console. “I’m not sure how I feel about them knowing.”
“I gathered, and it’s all right to feel that way – it’s all very new – but I know you’ll figure it out.” His hand skimmed down her forearm, his touch leaving a hot trail along her skin even through the layers of clothing.
She wanted to touch him too but she was worried she mightn’t be able to stop. The thought of grabbing him and throwing him on top of the science console and having her way with him right there in front of everyone, brought a pinkish tinge to her cheeks.
The thought wasn’t entirely unpleasant – understatement of the century – and she wondered how Mister ‘Cool, Calm and Collected’ would go about explaining that to the crew.
But because she was the captain, she simply nodded, and didn’t touch him – for safety’s sake – and watched him walk back to the Ops station, slap Harry on the shoulder and get back to work.
She admired his ability to remain focused – it was proving to be something of an uphill battle for her.
She kept remembering.
They’d woken up in each other’s arms that morning and the temptation to stay in bed and let the world look after itself was almost impossible to resist. When she refused a second time to get out of bed, Chakotay picked her up and carried her – kicking and complaining – but not that much, to the shower.
Those half-hearted complaints didn’t last long. He found a very effective way of silencing her by hoisting her higher in his arms, pressing her against the cool tiles of the stall and making love to her under the drenching warmth of the shower. She’d requested that wakeup call every morning from now on and he said he was more than happy to comply – oh, glorious mornings to come.
They’d laughed their way through breakfast – toast and coffee – and then made their way to the Bridge, just like any other morning. That was when her inability to remain on task had started but now that she knew that the crew knew, she’d try to relax – really, she would.
Under control once more, she moved away from the Science console and headed towards her Ready room, handing the Bridge to Chakotay with a nod.
Tuvok acknowledged her as she passed – his manner towards her no different than usual. It seemed that all those years of controlling her yearnings was standing her in good stead at last – who’d have thought they’d come in handy?
As was her habit, she headed straight for the replicator and ordered a coffee. But as she lifted the mug to her lips and closed her eyes to inhale the delicious aroma, the door chimed.
Tuvok entered and made his way to the bottom of the stairs. “Good morning, Captain. The Technical team has just beamed aboard; I thought you would like to be informed.”
“Thank you. I’ll go and meet with them shortly.” There really was no need for Tuvok to deliver that message in person. Something was up and Kathryn had a funny feeling she knew what. “Is there something else, Tuvok?”
“If I may, Captain.” He gestured towards the couch and she nodded.
“Some spiced tea?”
He took a seat and inclined his head in thanks as Kathryn handed him the steaming cup of Vulcan blend. He held it between his hands but didn’t take a sip.
She sat beside him and waited while he gathered his thoughts, thinking to herself that there must be a lot of long meaningful silences on Vulcan. Thought gathering, wool gathering, whatever.
He suddenly looked at her. “I have known you for many years, Captain, and I count you as a friend.”
She smiled and placed her hand on his arm. “As I do you, my old friend. Is there something wrong?”
“No. To the contrary in fact, and although it is not a practice followed on Vulcan – our mating rituals are vastly different to yours – I would, however, like to bestow upon you and Commander, my blessing. I am aware that this new intimacy you share is a recent development and you have my unconditional support and I wish you every happiness in the future. You have made a sound choice in your selection of a mate and as spokesperson for the crew, I have been petitioned to forward their congratulations and well wishes. It is my honour to do so. Congratulations, Kathryn.”
Shock, embarrassment, delight and a surge of warm affection tumbled through her in quick succession.
There wasn’t much she could say after that speech, so she settled for a quiet. “Thank you, Tuvok and please relay our thanks to the crew. We will both do so personally once things have settled down a little.” She sipped her coffee; it was her turn to gather her thoughts. “I’m very pleased you approve and I know Chakotay will be relieved.” She smiled at his raised eyebrow and the ghost of a wry smile that tugged at his lips – emotionless Vulcans, phhht! “Your opinion matters to me a great deal, Tuvok and your blessing is gratefully accepted.”
He gave her a solemn nod before placing his untouched tea on the table and standing to leave. Kathryn stood too and before he had a chance to escape, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. His arms slowly rose and to hold her in a loose embrace – hugging wasn’t a Vulcan’s strong suite. After an all too brief moment, she let him go and stepped back. “Thank you, for everything, Tuvok and will you please let me know how your treatment progresses and how you’re faring once you’re home on Vulcan?”
“It will be a priority, Captain.” He raised his hand in salute. “Live long and prosper, Kathryn Janeway.”
“You too, my dear friend, you too.”
With that he turned and left the Ready room.
Kathryn swallowed past the aching lump in her throat. This was just the first good bye of many she would experience today and although happiness and relief were the emotions most prevalent amongst the crew, there was also a real sense of sorrow accompanying the joy. For so many years, she’d been so focused on getting home that she hadn’t given much thought to what it would be like once she got there. Silver linings and clouds – there was never one without the other, it seemed.
The hours of that last day slipped by far too quickly for Kathryn’s liking. She made her rounds, bidding farewell and individually thanking each crewmember. She made certain that everyone had accommodation organised and family or friends waiting for them planetside. She also made a point of assuring each crewman that she and all of the senior staff were only a comm. call away if needed.
It pleased her no end to hear that there were already plans in the works for a reunion within the next few weeks.
The hardest good byes came towards the end of the day. Tom, B’Elanna and Miral with a small entourage of medical personnel and Admiral Paris looking on proudly were the first of the senior staff to leave. Kathryn was thrilled to see that B’Elanna had been enfolded into the Paris clan without question – although her ex-Chief engineer looked a little bemused by all the fuss. Before they were whisked away, Kathryn organised a time to catch up with them in the next few days.
Kathryn hugged Harry good bye and he cried as the transporter took him home to his mother and father. She shed a few tears as well, but this time didn’t feel the need to hide them from anyone.
Another emotional good bye, and one that she’d been dreading, was that of Seven and the Doctor. There was a split second of awkwardness when they entered the Transporter room but when Seven stepped forward with tears on her cheeks and wrapped her arms around Kathryn, all was forgiven. Chakotay was right, she was an amazing young woman and Kathryn hoped with all her heart that she’d find a place for herself in the Alpha quadrant. The Doctor hugged Kathryn as well – very enthusiastically – and gushed his assurances that he would take the very best care of Seven, and insisted that when their schedules allowed – very soon, he hoped – they would visit Kathryn in Indiana.
At this point, Chakotay dismissed Starfleet’s Transporter tech to man the controls himself.
He kissed Seven on the cheek and she smiled before looking back and forth between him and Kathryn. “I was informed this morning that you and the Captain have at last consummated your relationship.” Kathryn blinked slowly, ever grateful for Chakotay’s forethought in dismissing the technician. Oblivious to their embarrassment, Seven ploughed on, this time addressing Kathryn. “I am very pleased and hope that my clumsy attempts to explore different aspects of my humanity with the Commander as my guide have not caused you any pain.” Her visible swallow the only clue as to her discomfort. “I was concerned. However, the Doctor assured me that now that you are having sex, that everything will be all right.”
Kathryn glanced towards the Doctor, her eyebrows raised – the question was there but it was rhetorical – really, how does anyone respond to that? He simply grimaced and gave a small shrug.
They’d no doubt laugh about this later but it was further proof that Seven still had a long way to go before the Alpha quadrant would be ready for her special brand of forthrightness.
Kathryn watched them disappear in the swirl of the transporter beam and finally it was only her and Chakotay left.
Their bags were packed and sitting by the platform. “Well, this is it, I suppose.”
She knew that he understood her reluctance to leave, even though she was desperate to see her mother and sister. She’d spoken to both Gretchen and Phoebe, of course, but it wouldn’t seem real until she’d hugged them both.
Stupidly, she realised that she and Chakotay hadn’t discussed where, how and when they’d see each other again. The question hadn’t seemed important until this moment but Chakotay had neither volunteered any information nor shown any interest in finding out what her plans were for the next few days, weeks – errr, years, and she hadn’t volunteered the information either.
She needed to tell him and plan something before the transport tech returned. “Ummm, I’ll be in Indiana until debriefings.”
He smiled. “I know.”
“I was hoping we could see one another… soon? That is, if your plans… you know, allow.” She was stuttering – Kathryn Janeway never stuttered – and she was staring at him, but he didn’t seem to be getting the hint. How obtuse could he be?
She tried a different tack. “Shall I contact you? That might be a better way of doing things. Where will you be?”
She was waiting for his answer but just as he was about to say something, the door opened and the technician returned. “Captain, Commander, I’ve been sent word that they’re waiting for you. Are you ready, Captain?”
Chakotay, picked up her bag and placed it next to her on the platform.
Kathryn refused to panic. They’d sort this out. He loved her and she loved him – it would all be all right, she knew it would – surely.
Before she had time to dwell on the problem, the transport tech nodded. “Welcome home, Captain.”
She sent a panicked look towards Chakotay but he just smiled. “I’ll see you soon, Captain.”
The grey walls of the Transporter room faded and she found herself standing on the front porch of her mother’s house; her beloved childhood home. Her heart lurched but before she’d even taken a breath of crisp Indiana air, the door burst open and she was enveloped in her mother’s arms.
“Oh, Kathryn, my darling girl, my girl, you’re home.” Gretchen held her so tightly that she could hardly breathe but before she fainted from lack of air, her mother stepped back and cupped Kathryn’s face between her hands. “I can’t believe it. You’re here at last. Look at you, just look at you.” She laughed and cried, and then hugged her again.
It felt so good that for a moment, Kathryn forgot all about Chakotay, Voyager and the Delta quadrant; everything except her mother’s arms and home. Nothing could touch her or hurt her – she was five years old again, safe and sound in her mother’s embrace.
Then she spied Phoebe and grinned. “Phoebe!” Gretchen let her go and moved aside while Kathryn hugged her sister.
Phoebe’s voice was muffled against Kathryn’s shoulder and it sounded suspiciously like she was crying too. “I knew you’d make it home. You’re so damned stubborn; you just bullied your way through didn’t you, just so I couldn’t have your old room.”
Kathryn laughed through her tears. It was an amazing feeling. Phoebe finally stepped back, brushed the telltale dampness from her cheeks and then quirked an eyebrow, glancing at something over Kathryn’s shoulder. “I see you brought us a souvenir from the Delta quadrant. Not bad. It certainly beats a fridge magnet.”
Kathryn had no idea what Phoebe was talking about until she turned and found Chakotay standing there, his bag at his feet and a broad smile on his face. “I said I’d see you soon.”
Relief and anger and everything else simply exploded inside her and she took a giant stride towards him and smacked him – hard, right in the middle of the chest. He looked a little worried until she curled her fingers into the fabric of his jacket and pulled him towards her and kissed him – almost as hard. She pulled back, glared at him and then kissed him again for good measure before wrapping her arms around him and whispering in his ear, “You did that on purpose, you are so going to pay for that.”
He laughed; the sound rumbling through his chest as he whispered against her hair. “I’ll look forward to it.”
Her eyes narrowed but she was smiling and loving this sense of freedom. “Be careful what you wish for, Commander.”
He grinned and she stepped out of his arms, urging him forward to meet her mother and sister. “Mom, Phoebe, this is Chakotay and he’s here to stay.”
Gretchen reached up and cupped the side of his face. “Welcome home, young man and welcome to the family. I’m so pleased to finally meet you.”
Phoebe gave him a wide grin and looked at Kathryn. “I suppose you didn’t think to bring me home one like this, did you?”
Kathryn tucked her arm possessively through Chakotay’s and shook her head. “Not this time, Pheebs and I’m not sharing either. Get your own.”
Phoebe poked out her tongue and then laughed. “It’s good to have you home, Kathryn. Now I have someone to pick on.”
Kathryn reached for her sister’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I missed you too. I missed you all, so much.”
The sudden rush of emotion affected everyone but it passed quickly and Gretchen leaned forward and kissed Kathryn’s forehead. She then turned and headed inside. “I think we could all use a cup of coffee. Kathryn, when you’re ready, bring Chakotay and we’ll introduce him to my caramel brownies.”
Phoebe followed her mother but Kathryn stayed for a moment, looking out across the fields before she turned back to Chakotay.
She smiled; her heart full and truly happy for the first time in many years. “I love you.”
He leaned forward and kissed her sweetly on the lips. “I love you, too.”
After one last look across the fields and distant hill, Chakotay draped his arm around her shoulders and turned them towards the front door.
They stepped over the threshold and Kathryn sighed contentedly. A mere forty-eight hours after bursting through the fiery remains of the Borg Sphere and with Chakotay by her side, she was finally home.
The door clicked shut behind them and Phoebe yelled from the kitchen. “Better hurry up, Kathryn. The coffee’s getting cold and I’m eating all the brownies.”
Kathryn stopped and looked up at Chakotay. “Are you sure you’re ready for this? There’s still time to make a run for it.”
He shook his head as he heaved an unsteady sigh and she realised that without any family of his own, this was truly momentous for him.
She slipped her arm through his and tugged him close to her side. As they entered the kitchen, full of the warm smells of her youth and the family she loved so dearly, she turned to him and whispered. “”Welcome home, Chakotay. Welcome home.”