March 12th, 2001
Paramount owns all things Trek. I only pretend J and C belong to me.
Voyager has been home for a few days now, and Janeway begins to sort out her feelings for her now ex-First Officer.
My dear friend, Sandy Z.
"I beg your pardon?" Kathryn asked. She hadn't expected this, but suddenly realized she should have. She was just out of practice.
"I wondered if you'd care to have dinner with me tomorrow night, Captain, or may I call you Kathryn?" When she didn't answer right away, Admiral Crighton continued. "I know you have a lot on your mind, Kathryn, but it might do you good to relax a bit." He smiled a winning smile, and Kathryn's heartbeat increased. She might be out of practice, but she definitely knew what he had in mind.
"I'm sorry, Admiral. Will you excuse me?" Kathryn Janeway put down her glass of champagne on the small table in front of her and moved away quickly, yet gracefully, before the Admiral was able to respond.
This evening was necessary, Kathryn reminded herself yet again. She moved through the crowd quickly, scanning it for the familiar face of her Commander. Ex-Commander, she mentally corrected herself, and felt the small tug at her heart.
Voyager had returned home nearly a week ago, but the press and the parties were in full swing. They crew had been quarantined for a matter of hours, then had spent the next four days debriefing. Captain Janeway had made her pleas on behalf of the wayward Marquis she had been sent into the Delta Quadrant to round up nearly seven years before. And she had pled for Tom Paris's sentence at the Penal Colony to be considered "paid in full." She had pled her own case, as well. Now they had only to wait for the verdicts, which would be handed down in two days' time. She and the former Maquis, and Tom Paris, would appear before the Board of Inquiry to hear judgment From all indications, it seemed things would go well, but one never knew for sure. Kathryn learned a long time ago never to make assumptions where Starfleet Command was concerned. They were known to throw a few irons in the fire from time to time.
Meanwhile, everyone was supposed to enjoy the parties that were being held in honor of the returned Voyager, her Captain and crew. The past three evenings had been filled with celebration, while the press and Starfleet Command made the most of the occasion.
Kathryn was tired, and tonight's formal dinner party for nearly 1000 people was a bit overwhelming. Her entire crew and many of their rediscovered families were here tonight, as well as all the brass at Starfleet Command, and other dignitaries from the council of the United Federation of Planets.
Her own mother and sister were still in Indiana. Though she spoke with them everyday, she had asked that their private celebration begin when things died down a bit, and although they didn't say it aloud, Kathryn knew that both her mother and sister realized her true meaning. She had to know if she would be free to continue with her life, or if the Board of Inquiry would have other ideas. She needed this time alone, and she needed to focus on making sure that, at the very least, her crew would go free. Kathryn was grateful that her family understood. Coming from a Starfleet background, with an Admiral for a father and a husband, the Janeway family had learned how to be understanding a long time ago.
Tonight, Kathryn was growing wary of the focus, the attention, the same questions over and over again. How did it feel to be home, what was it like "out there," and on and on. She was a very patient person when she had to be, but only when she had to be. She would just have to wait this one out. It was outside her control, which she detested immensely, but that was the reality of the situation. She was anxious for all of this to be over with as quickly as possible, so she could get on with her life, so her entire crew could get on with their lives.
Tonight had become a huge media event, too, which only threw more focus on Voyager's Captain. She hadn't had a moment alone all evening. Now it was late, nearly midnight, and the crowd was thinning out. She had hoped to get away early, but Admiral Paris had informed her that everyone was here to see her, most of all, and it would be rude to leave before most of the guests were gone. She didn't have the strength to argue.
Everyone was in full dress uniform, which looked quite impressive, as she scanned the room, but since the uniforms were made simply for functions such as this, and not for practical purposes, Kathryn was already beginning to miss the feel of her everyday Starfleet uniform, which was like a second skin to her.
Now, she put all other thoughts behind her and concentrated on the task at hand. She had looked through most of the rooms, the Ball Room where the meal had been served, the bar area, the lounge, and even the outdoor terrace. Her heart began to beat faster, thinking that he had already left the party, but she quickly told herself he wouldn't leave without telling her goodnight. He wouldn't just slip out like that. Or, would he?
Chakotay liked the parties even less than she did. And he did everything in his power to fade into the background, to bide his time, to get through the events and escape as quickly as possible.
Where was he? She looked across the room at Tuvok, and couldn't help smiling. He was as bored as she was, and most people would think his uninterested look was typical of the Vulcan race, but she knew him well. He caught her eye, and nodded. She nodded back, feeling an unexpected gratitude from knowing that Tuvok looked out for her, whether she was his Captain or simply his friend. Kathryn turned away quickly, not allowing the tears to come. She wouldn't allow herself to become sentimental now. That time would come soon enough.
Where the hell was he? Kathryn looked out across the room, making sure no one was watching her. Then she moved quickly through the bar and out the back way, onto the rear veranda. This was more like it. He would have made his escape this way. She smiled. She knew Chakotay well, too.
Kathryn took one last peek behind her, then slipped down the stairs. As she stepped onto the sand, she groaned. Her boots certainly weren't made for walking on sand, but what the hell. She sighed and looked ahead at the grove of palm trees about a quarter of a kilometer ahead. He wouldn't have walked that far, would he? But even as she thought it, she knew he would. He'd do most anything to get away from tonight's affair.
She glanced behind her, and up at the party still going on inside. Tonight's extravaganza was held in a private dining cottage owned by Starfleet Command, and was used for special events only. It was built on stilts high above the ground so the tidewaters wouldn't harm it. It was a stunning and peaceful location, sitting right on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. And though it was nearly midnight, the surrounding area was dimly lit by what was once known as fairy lights. They cast a warm glow over the sand and water.
The breeze off the water was cool, but not chilling. The tide was low now, Kathryn mused, looking out at the ocean. And the ground was wet. She looked ahead at the grove of trees again. Yes, he had gone this way. It felt right. And she always trusted her instincts.
Kathryn threw back her shoulders, which she unconsciously did whenever she'd made up her mind about something, and took off in the direction of the palm trees. The sand was wet and heavy. After walking for a few minutes, she stopped. There had been movement on the verge of the strand of trees. She held her breath, waiting. There it was again. A distant form was standing at the edge of the water, looking at the sky. It was him. She knew it was Chakotay from the way he stood, holding himself proud. And he was looking at the sky. She would do the same thing, she realized. Not looking over the water, dreaming the dreams of sailors, but looking at the stars.
They were the same, she and Chakotay. They were adventurers; they would always seek other worlds, other civilizations. They would always be wanderers. And she couldn't help but ask herself if a seven-year mission in the Delta Quadrant would satisfy both their needs for the time being, or only make them want more.
Kathryn continued walking, a feeling of peace and comfort flowing over her. He was her friend, her best friend, and a true companion.
Suddenly, when she was only a few meters away from him, he turned and looked at her. Kathryn stopped, and they regarded each other. "You don't seem surprised to see me," she said, and smiled. She was surprised at how fast her heart was beating, and even more so at how very happy she was to see him.
"I'm not," said Chakotay, knowing that Kathryn could only take so much of the lavish attention she was receiving at the party, too. He grinned at her slowly, though she detected a note of sadness in his face. "I don't know how you managed to sneak away from all of it, though," he said gesturing in the direction from which she'd come, "but evidently you were successful. I don't see a posse forming yet."
"Maybe I'm better at blending into the background than you give me credit for," she said.
His grin became larger. "Kathryn, if there's anything I know about you, it is that you do not, and will never, 'blend' into the background."
They smiled at each other, and Kathryn chuckled softly. Chakotay knew her well.
Chakotay's smile faltered, and Kathryn saw the sadness in his face again. She suddenly realized what it was. Their mission was over now. For the past seven years they had had a purpose, a goal, and duties and responsibilities they took very seriously, knowing that failure to perform them could result in dreaded circumstances. And failure might also mean they would never reach home again. She and Chakotay had worked together diligently, striving to maintain crew morale while moving them firmly toward home.
And now, suddenly, it was all over. No matter how prepared they thought they had been to reach home, it was still a shock to wake up each day to a whole lot of nothing. Oh, there were protocols and procedures, there would always be those, but no urgent need to reach one common goal. They'd reached home and everything had stopped. Now there was time to think about other things - things that had been, things that might have been.
And things that might still be, she told herself with sudden heart.
And she understood, too, that she already had an answer to her earlier question. The past seven years had served only to make both of them yearn for more. More of a lot of things.
Kathryn looked away, and saw the stars. Now the tears threatened more than ever before, and she forced herself to turn back to Chakotay. He was watching her.
"What is it, Kathryn? Why did you leave the party and come out here?"
"I was looking for you," she told him honestly.
She paused. Why, indeed. "You and I have spent the past seven years together, Chakotay. We sat beside each other on the Bridge, took care of ship's business day in and day out, and had dinner together at least once a week."
He nodded, and waited.
She took a deep breath. "We haven't had dinner together in over a week now."
"Dinner. I miss our having dinner together."
Chakotay knew there was more to her sudden appearance than this. But he also knew she would tell him in good time. He nodded. "Yes. I've missed it, too."
They were both quiet. Kathryn relaxed a bit, knowing that Chakotay was going to give her the time and space she needed. "Even though I expected things to be different when we returned home, I somehow thought we would still have dinner together," she finished lamely.
"Did you?" he asked.
"Yes," she said quickly. "Yes, I did." She sighed. "As silly as it sounds, Chakotay, I didn't think things would change between us." Her voice had suddenly become quieter. "But now I see how quickly, and easily, it could happen."
"Just because we don't see each other as often, that doesn't mean our relationship has to change, Kathryn," he said, knowing he wasn't being truthful, but not being able to help himself.
"Oh yes, it does, Chakotay. We'll see each other less and less, and then one day we'll both wake up and wonder what the other is doing now. Things will change." She paused, and swallowed hard. "If we let them."
"Do you want things to change between us, Kathryn?" His voice was soft, and he knew it was strained. His heart rate was increasing, too. Finally, they were having the conversation he'd wanted them to have for years.
"No." Then she looked deeply into his eyes and whispered, "Maybe."
"No," she said, and held up her hand to stop him from continuing. "Let me finish, Chakotay!" She took a deep breath and put her hands on her hips. "Damnit, I really dislike being unprepared for a situation like this!"
"You mean a 'First Contact' situation?"
Kathryn looked up at him slowly, realizing that he was trying to make things easier for her. She smiled at him tentatively, and when he smiled back so easily, and with that grin she loved so much, she suddenly realized how easily he disarmed her, how quickly he could manipulate her mood.
"Something like that," she said softly.
Chakotay nodded. After a moment, they both let go of their grins and glanced away from each other, knowing they needed to conclude this conversation.
"I was so prepared for everything out there," she continued, finally, glancing at the sky toward the Delta Quadrant. "At least I tried to be."
"You performed your duties better than anyone else could have come close to doing, Kathryn," he said softly. "And I'm damned proud of you for it."
Kathryn looked back into the face of the man who had stood beside her for seven long years. Her voice was gentle when she spoke. "You always believed in me, no matter what. I appreciated that more than you'll ever know."
"I do know, Kathryn." His voice softened. "Most people thought you to be stoic, unreadable, but I knew your every mood."
"Yes, you did. And yet you stayed beside me, and believed in me."
"Always, Kathryn. I'll always believe in you."
She didn't ask about the staying part. "And in all that time, we never spoke very much about this. About now. About what we were going to do when we got back to Earth," she said.
"You never wanted to look that far ahead, Kathryn. You wanted to focus on the day to day, the problems before us. Your only concern was getting our crew home."
She nodded, thinking.
Finally, Kathryn spoke again. "So, tell me: do you know what you're going to do now?" she asked.
Chakotay shook his head. "I have ideas, some things that keep rolling around inside my head. But I've not sorted them out yet." He paused, then looked her in the eye. "You?"
She shook her head, but maintained eye contact with him. "I'd like to hear them. Your ideas." She paused. "And maybe some things will come to me."
Chakotay studied her intently, and waited for her to say more. Finally, she did.
"I thought maybe, if you don't already have plans, we could have dinner together tomorrow evening." She swallowed hard. She'd had dinner with Chakotay hundreds of times in the Delta Quadrant, on Voyager, and it had always been easy to ask each other, and to make plans. Replicated meals in her quarters, or home-cooked meals in his. But now, somehow, things were different. This was more difficult than she could ever have imagined. "If you already have plans...I understand completely," she said quickly, when she realized he was staring at her, and hadn't spoken.
"No," he answered, just as quickly. "No, I don't have plans. I'd like that." B'Elanna and Tom would forgive his breaking their dinner invitation at the last minute. They'd even understand, he realized.
"Fine," she said. "Well. I'd better be getting back before they do send out that posse."
Chakotay looked back at the bungalow. "I'm surprised you haven't been missed already," he said.
"Tuvok saw me leave. I'm sure he's stalling anyone who might be asking for me."
Chakotay smiled at her. Yes, Tuvok would always look out for his Captain. As would he. He could only nod.
Suddenly, Kathryn closed the distance between them, and looked into his eyes. His heart stopped beating for a moment and he forced himself to breathe. Only Kathryn was able to open the door to his soul so quickly, so easily. And whenever she did, he always wondered if she saw his love for her inside, waiting....
"Chakotay," she said in a low voice, "Perhaps tomorrow we can both put some closure to the past seven years." He nodded. "And perhaps we can also explore some...new possibilities."
Chakotay knew exactly what she was referring to - there was positively no mistaking the hint in her voice, the smoky look in her eyes, and the way she was searching his in a way he'd never seen her do with anyone else. He felt a tingle run throughout his entire body, and he knew that he would do anything for her, and that no matter how he might try to convince himself otherwise, he would always love her.
"I'd like that," he said, and heard the depth of his own emotions reflected in his voice.
"I'm glad," she said in a soft whisper, then raised her hand and gently traced his tattoo. Her touch was so gentle, so fleeting, that he later wondered if it had happened at all.
"I'll see you tomorrow evening, then," she said, and they both knew it would be much more than a simple dinner date between friends.
"Tomorrow evening," he said softly. His heart was dancing, and he prayed that it wouldn't jump right out of his chest.
Kathryn smiled at him gently. The pact was sealed, and she had never felt so free in all her life. She turned and began to walk back toward the dinner party. The sand wasn't quite so heavy now, and the walk was invigorating, and pleasant.
Chakotay watched her go. The entire conversation had taken only minutes, yet they were in many ways the most important minutes of his life. They brought the past seven years into sharp focus, and allowed him to be more hopeful than he'd ever been where Kathryn Janeway was concerned.
He closed his eyes and realized that he was a different man now than the one Kathryn had found on the beachfront only a short while ago. That man had been preparing himself to leave her behind, to accept the fact that Kathryn Janeway would no longer be a part of his life. He had been asking himself who he was without her. And now, this same man knew without doubt that he was incomplete without her. She had taken the first step, the one that had been up to her to take, and now that she had, he would do everything in his power to remain a part of her life.
Kathryn Janeway was the most intriguing woman he'd ever met. She could make him angry one moment, then calm him with a look the next. She could move him, bring him to tears or laughter with just a smile or a comment, and she could make him ache with need at the slightest touch. She challenged him, then competed with him; she drove him to better himself, and she never judged him. She was stubborn and determined, cool when in command, yet full of warmth for the spirit of an individual. She upheld her beliefs to the end, stood toe to toe with her enemies, and never yielded from doing what she knew to be right. She was fiercely loyal and strong, and refused to accept defeat no matter how bad the odds. She was a worthy opponent, a strong Captain, and the most sensual woman he'd ever known. She was the wind and the sea, the calm before the storm, and the soothing gentleness afterward. She was as volatile as Nature herself, and as frustrating as that could be at times, he loved it about her.
He smiled to himself as he saw her disappear ahead.
She had opened the door. And he would do everything in his power to keep it open.
Kathryn sneaked back inside the bungalow, and through the bar, nearly running over Tuvok, who was just inside the main Ball Room. "Oh. Tuvok. I'm sorry."
"I'm glad you have managed to find your way back, Captain."
"Oh? Was I missed very much?" she asked innocently.
Tuvok nodded across the way, and Kathryn thought she saw a look of distain cross his face, or the closest thing to distain Tuvok could muster. "It seems you have an admirer, Captain."
Kathryn followed his gaze, just as Admiral Crighton caught sight of her from across the room. He smiled, and began to make his way toward her, grabbing two glasses of champagne from a passing tray as he walked by.
"Tuvok..." Kathryn turned, but saw that he had already made a quick exit.
Kathryn forced a smile, as Admiral Crighton reached her.
"Where did you manage to disappear to?" he asked, handing her a glass of champagne.
"I wasn't aware that I had disappeared," she said, somehow managing to keep her smile firmly in place.
"You didn't answer my question before," he said in a low voice, moving the conversation forward.
"Oh? I apologize, Admiral. Refresh my memory?"
"I asked if you'd like to have dinner with me tomorrow evening." He looked deeply into her eyes, and smiled a handsome smile.
"I'm sorry," she said in a most engaging voice. "But I already have a dinner date." Then she smiled and sat her drink on the passing waiter's tray. Champagne always gave her a headache. "Good night," she smiled graciously, and turned to make her final rounds before leaving for the evening.