After the demise of Admiral Janeway and the Borg, Captain Janeway and the Voyager crew find themselves back in the Alpha Quadrant, and begin their journey back to Earth. But now that the Admiral has changed the course of Voyager's future, will the last-minute relationship between the First Officer and Seven of Nine continue into the new timeline?
Paramount still owns the show, but they sold the characters' souls long ago.
In my previous stories, I've assumed that J and C never made love when they were stranded on New Earth, in the episode Resolutions. This time I'm assuming they did.
Captain Kathryn Janeway bid a second farewell to Admiral Paris and Reg Barclay from her Bridge aboard the starship Voyager. Her senior staff was present and accounted for, and was there to witness the entire conversation. They were nearly home.
The first farewell had occurred when Voyager suddenly appeared right in front of Starfleet's eyes in the Alpha Quadrant, only yesterday. And then today, Captain Janeway had received instructions and course coordinates from Admiral Paris for their final trek through familiar space toward Earth.
Yesterday's jolt through the Borg sphere had thrust Voyager back into the Alpha Quadrant, and approximately one light year from planet Earth. Voyager herself had sustained some damage, but repairs were being made during their final leg of the journey home. By following the coordinates given to them by Admiral Paris, Voyager and her crew would be welcomed home in grand style in six days' time, Spirits willing.
Captain Janeway stifled a sigh. Six days. They would all be home in six days. Somehow it still didn't seem real.
She shook her head slightly and listened to the silence on the Bridge. Every person there was quiet, and she knew that each one was reflecting on his or her own sudden predicament - just how many family members would be there to welcome them home, how would the Maquis and Tom Paris fare amidst the paparazzi and the Federation claims? For that matter, how would she fare in the same arena? And what about B'Elanna and Tom, and their new baby, Miral? They'd always considered their real home to be Voyager, and now they were going to have to start over again in so many ways. Then again, she mused, they weren't the only ones with a long road in front of them.
And what about Chakotay and Seven, she wondered. Would they begin their life anew, together? Did it matter that Admiral Janeway had gone back in time and pushed Voyager home sixteen years earlier? Did that have any bearing on how Chakotay and Seven's relationship would develop?
Kathryn suddenly rubbed her temples. Questions about time lines, what ifs and what nows always gave her a headache.
"Headache?" Chakotay's sudden question brought Kathryn back to the present quickly.
"Slightly," she said automatically, then turned back to her station. She wanted to check that Tom had entered the appropriate coordinates from the Helm. But mostly, she didn't feel like accepting her First Officer's empathy.
Not for the first time, she wished Admiral Janeway hadn't given her so many details of what would have happened had she, Captain Janeway, not turned her ship around and headed back for the Borg hub. Sixteen more years in the Delta Quadrant, Seven of Nine dead, Tuvok insane, twenty-two more crewmembers dead, and Chakotay and Seven of Nine married. She smothered another sigh. It was enough to make her head spin every time she thought about it. No question - Admiral Janeway had known exactly what she was doing. She knew herself well enough to know how to throw her own emotions into overload.
She knew herself well enough to know how to manipulate herself. And that's exactly what Admiral Janeway had done - she had manipulated Captain Janeway by telling her about the things that would matter to her most.
Janeway finally admitted to herself that she needed some time alone to clear her head. She stood. "Commander, I'll be in my Ready Room. You have the Bridge." And she was gone before her First Officer could reply.
Although Chakotay responded with a "Yes, Captain," she was gone before the words were finished. He knew she needed some time alone, and hoped she would lie down a bit and rid herself of the headache he knew she'd been fighting all afternoon.
Reflecting on the past few days, Chakotay tried to put the events into perspective. For him, it had been difficult enough, and he hadn't had to play host to his future self, as Kathryn had. That would take its toll on anyone, yet she had held up admirably, as usual. He smiled to himself. Kathryn Janeway was nothing if not stubborn and determined.
But his smile disappeared as soon as it had surfaced. Kathryn was being evasive with him, and nearly non-communicative. He had been trying to discover the reason for it for several days. He'd chalked it up to the fact that she usually wrapped herself into a cocoon when times were tough, not allowing herself to tire, or to be manipulated. She'd told him more than once that this was her way of keeping focused. It was nothing personal. And the past few days had taken their toll on her, he knew.
But this was different. He'd known it for days, but hadn't accepted it. He kept telling himself she was busy with Admiral Janeway. But now the Admiral was gone and Captain Janeway was still unusually cool with him, reserved. And he wanted to know why.
Chakotay went over the events of the past few days, and weeks, in his mind. True, he had spent a good part of it trying to develop a relationship with Seven of Nine, at Seven's prompting. They'd dated a bit, mostly while Kathryn was occupied with the Admiral. But now that the Admiral was gone, Kathryn was still preoccupied. He wanted her to confide in him, to bounce ideas off him the way she used to. They would be home in six days. This was the goal he and Kathryn had worked so diligently toward for seven years. He wanted to be working beside her, readying Voyager for their return to Earth in six days. But evidently he'd been so engrossed with Seven that he hadn't noticed when the Captain began to pull away from him. He hadn't picked up even the first clue. And now she was no longer confiding in him, sharing her innermost thoughts with him the way she usually did. And he didn't know why.
Chakotay sighed. He hated it when things were amiss between he and Kathryn. It made his job harder, and damnit, it sent his peace of mind into turmoil. That was just the way it was between them. He sighed again, and felt rather than saw Tom Paris glance back in his direction.
Now he knew he had to do something.
Chakotay stood. "Mr. Tuvok, you have the Bridge," he said, as he moved with purpose toward the Captain's Ready Room door. She'd been in there alone for nearly an hour, so his timing wasn't inappropriate.
Chakotay rang the buzzer, and was met with silence. He rang again, but there was still no answer. He didn't want to alert the Bridge staff, and especially Tuvok, by calling her on the com channel, so he discreetly keyed in his override code and entered the room. The doors closed quietly behind him.
At first, Chakotay stood still. The lighting had been lowered, so he gave his eyes a moment to adjust.
Finally, he saw her. The Captain was sleeping on the couch up in the corner of her Ready Room. He moved quietly, but quickly, wanting to be sure she was all right. It wasn't like her to sleep so soundly that she didn't hear the sound of a doorbell.
But when he finally stood next to her, he saw that she was breathing evenly. Her hair was lying in disarray around her, and her face was relaxed, soft.
He stood staring. She was as beautiful as she'd been seven years ago when he first saw her on the viewscreen of his Maquis vessel, when they'd just landed in the Delta Quadrant. If anything, she was even more beautiful now, more defined. Her hair was still a lovely golden-auburn, and her skin was still like porcelain. He'd always been mesmerized by her, and he was sure he always would be. She was unlike any other woman he had ever known.
Suddenly, Chakotay snapped to. He was here to check on his Captain, not to romanticize about a woman he could never have. He felt a sudden surge of anger, of betrayal. His body was beginning to react in a manner he thought was long past, and he was confused. Chakotay moved silently away from her, back toward the door. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself, trying to steady his breathing.
Just then, he heard the Captain take a deep breath. He looked up toward her, and heard her moan in her sleep. He opened his mouth to speak, to awaken her, but closed it instead and swallowed hard. She had moved slightly, and he could see her profile lit against the backdrop of the viewport. She was definitely as beautiful as ever, and he cursed himself for the jealousy he was already feeling for the man who would gain her attentions once they were back in Starfleet territory. And there would be many there for her to choose from.
He cursed himself again, and then forced himself to speak loudly enough for the Captain to hear him. "Captain?"
She moved quickly, sitting upright. Immediately, Kathryn ascertained where she was and who was in her Ready Room with her. "Computer, lights to full." She stood. "What is it, Commander?" Her voice had only a slight trace of after-sleep in it.
"I apologize, Captain," he said calmly. "I entered my override code when you didn't answer the door. I wanted to be sure you were all right."
"I'm fine, Commander," she said, smoothing her hair back into place with one sweep of her hand, and moving down to her desk. "I must have fallen asleep."
He nodded his approval. "You needed it."
"That's no excuse. I have a great deal of work to catch up on."
"Anything I can help you with?"
"No, thank you," she said. "I want to get everything in order before we reach Federation space. After we're home, there won't be time to go back and tie up loose ends."
"Agreed," he said, then tried to lighten the mood. "How's your headache?"
She finally looked at him. "Much better, thank you." Then she snapped back into command mode. "Is there anything else, Commander?"
He sighed softly. "No."
"Good," she said and turned to her waiting computer screen.
He left the Captain's Ready Room and continued on to the turbolift, letting Tuvok know the Bridge was still his. He tried to tell himself that at least the Captain hadn't actually dismissed him. It had been a long time since they'd practiced formal protocols such as that when they were alone, and he found himself grateful that she hadn't done it this time. Whatever was wrong, he still had no idea, but at least she hadn't reduced their relationship to that.
Kathryn sat across from her computer screen and stared at it. It held no interest for her. More data, more scrolling figures, more calculations. They were nearly home, but these last few days were proving to be interminable.
She'd wanted more than anything to relax and talk with Chakotay about . . . anything. Just to be able to sit and talk with him like a friend, the way they used to do - until Admiral Janeway had shown up. But now, everything was different. They were back in the Alpha Quadrant, and Chakotay and Seven of Nine were involved with each other. Romantically.
She leaned her head into her hand and rubbed her brow. The damnable headache was threatening to return. If it didn't completely disappear soon, she'd be forced to seek treatment from the Doctor, and that was something she certainly didn't want to add to her agenda today. She took a deep breath and leaned her head back on the chair's headrest. She told herself to relax, and take continuous deep breaths.
Besides, what Chakotay and Seven did with their personal time was none of her business. They were certainly allowed to socialize.
Suddenly, Kathryn stood and marched to the replicator. "Computer, coffee. Black."
Who was she kidding? For the first time in her life, Kathryn Janeway ached to hold a man who would never be hers again.
Another woman now held the man Kathryn had turned away repeatedly out of her dedication to her crew, and her silent promise to get them home again at the expense of her own wants and needs.
Another woman held her Angry Warrior, the one real love of Kathryn's life, the one man who had taught her long ago that true happiness only came from within, and that the present should never be sacrificed for a future that might not happen. Maybe she should have listened more closely to that second part, she thought bitterly.
But then, Kathryn Janeway knew herself as well as Admiral Janeway had. Once she set her mind on something, nothing and no one could change it. And Captain Janeway had made a promise to her crew, and to herself, to get them all home again, back to the Alpha Quadrant, and Earth. She had refused to be drawn into a personal relationship that might affect her ability to command.
A person's perspective could change a lot over seven years.
In the back of her mind, though, Kathryn had hoped against hope for years that she and Chakotay might have a future together when they arrived home again. But now that they were nearly there, and it might be possible to forego a command relationship for a romantic one, it was too late. Finally, it was too late.
She took a deep breath and blinked back the moisture from her eyes. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, and chased it down with coffee.
So that was that. She wouldn't cry over spilt milk, especially when she'd spilt it herself.
She would learn to accept the fact that Chakotay and Seven of Nine were involved with each other, and she would move on with her life. And if neither of them came forward to tell her of their relationship before they reached Earth, she would go to them and congratulate them. Surely she could swallow her pride and do that much.
She would accept the hand that Fate had dealt her.
Kathryn already missed her First Officer, her friend, her confidante, her Rock of Gibralter. And she mourned the loss of future love and all its possibilities.
A sudden image of Admiral Janeway came to mind, and she thought about how some things simply couldn't be changed, no matter how far back in time one went.
She felt a throb in her left temple, and knew the headache was still there, buried just beneath the surface, for now. Damn it. She ordered another cup of coffee from the replicator, and headed back to her desk to get some work done.
Chakotay walked into Astrometrics and straight over to Seven of Nine, noticing immediately that she was the only crewmember present at the moment. "Seven."
He sighed. "Commander again, is it?"
"Very well." He sighed, and realized that he'd been doing a lot of that today. "Seven, the Captain seems preoccupied this morning. Do you know why?"
"Perhaps she is finishing her reports for Starfleet Command."
"Yes, that's what she says."
"Yet you doubt her?"
Chakotay was a bit irritated with Seven's cavalier attitude, but he knew she didn't realize she was behaving this way. "It's not that I doubt her, Seven. She's just not herself today." When Seven remained quiet, he changed the subject, and his tone. "Why don't you and I have an early dinner this evening, and then perhaps we can take a moonlight walk on the holodeck?" He smiled.
"I am unavailable this evening, Commander," she said in her usual brief manner. Then she seemed a bit uncomfortable, and added, "But thank you." She didn't look at him.
"Seven, is something the matter?"
"I am simply unavailable this evening, Commander," she said, finally.
"You didn't answer my question, Seven. Is something the matter?" he asked again.
"No," she said shortly.
"Good." He was more than prepared to accept a simple answer to his questions today.
"I feel we should not see each other again. Socially."
He sighed yet again. Today was not turning out to be a good one. "Seven, we've been through this once before. I thought we agreed that whatever Admiral Janeway told you might or might not happen in the future was to have no bearing on how we live our lives today."
"This reason is not the same."
"Then what is it?" He suddenly felt weary.
"I feel we are not . . . compatible."
"Not compatible? In what way, Seven? And what makes you so certain? We've only had four dates, and we've taken things very slowly. We've shared meals and conversation, and a kiss or two. That's all."
"That is enough."
Chakotay felt his temper threatening to get the best of him, but he forced himself to hold it down. Kathryn wouldn't be the only one with a headache today, he thought absently. "Something must have happened between last night and today, Seven. Mind telling me what it is?"
"Commander, I wish to discontinue our socializing together. That is all. Now, I have work to do." She moved away from the console to another one, leaving Chakotay behind. He moved over to the new console and stood in front of it.
"Seven, stop working and look at me."
"I have . . ."
"Seven, I think that even a person you've only had four dates with deserves to be looked in the eye when you break up with him."
Seven of Nine forced herself to stop moving her hands over the familiar console. She took a deep breath and looked Commander Chakotay in the eye.
"Now tell me what prompted this."
Seven knew she owed him a true explanation. "Very well." She paused, searching for the right words. "You are too . . . emotional . . . for my comfort level."
"I'm . . . emotional?" Chakotay continued to stare at Seven. He simply didn't know what to say to that. Since the ship had no official counselor on board, he was often sought out by various members of Voyager's crew to act as an unofficial advisor. People respected his opinions, his slow and careful consideration to their problems, and the advice he gave them. He had certainly never been called "emotional" before. In fact, Kathryn had called him her "Rock of Gibralter" on more than one occasion. Somehow, remembering this made him feel better.
"The Doctor has assured me that oftentimes a human male is more emotional than a human female, though they do not like to admit it."
"The Doctor? You spoke with the Doctor about us?" He was flabbergasted.
Seven began to work the console in front of her again. "I needed advice, Commander, and the Doctor has always been kind enough to give it to me."
He pulled in a much-needed breath. "Yes, I'm sure he has been." But the sarcasm was lost on Seven.
She paused a moment to collect her thoughts. "And there is something else, another reason for us to discontinue our social engagements, as well."
"And what is that?" He was frankly getting tired of constantly needing to reassure Seven that it was all right for them to see each other.
"The other night, after you and I dined together in your quarters . . ."
"You were tired. You had worked a double shift. And I suggested that you lie on the couch and rest while I put the remains of our meal in the recycle bin."
"You fell asleep," she said.
"Yes, and when I awakened you had gone."
"You left me a very nice note saying you understood that I needed to rest and that you would see me the following day," he added.
"Yes." She paused.
"I don't understand the problem, Seven. What aren't you telling me?" he asked.
"When you were asleep . . ."
"Go on," he prompted.
"You called her name."
Chakotay's heart stopped, but only for a moment. There was only one woman he had ever dreamed about, desperately, repeatedly, but he didn't remember having had one of those dreams in a long time. "Whose name, Seven?" he asked cautiously, though he was certain he already knew the answer.
"The Captain's." She returned to her console and began tapping in numbers. This time Chakotay didn't try to stop her.
"Seven, I've worked side by side with the Captain for a long time. It's only natural that in an exhausted state, I was recalling something . . ."
"No, Commander." She stopped working and looked into his eyes. "You called her name. Kathryn. And you said it in an . . . intimate way." She turned back to the console, her confidence stronger when she worked. "You had . . . longing . . . in your voice."
"Seven, I don't know what to say . . . I . . ."
"It is all right, Commander. My . . ." she searched for the appropriate phrase. "Feelings are not hurt." She looked at him again. "It makes sense to me now. Every time we have been alone together, I feel the Captain's presence. She is always in the room with us. Her . . . spirit . . . is between us."
"Seven, that's not true . . ." He faltered, not knowing what to say, and upset with himself for having been caught short, but his heart was beating faster. When did Seven of Nine become such an expert on relationships, and why was she talking about something that was long past?
"You are still in love with her, Commander."
"What?" He jerked out of his wonderings, and looked straight into her eyes. "What do you mean . . ." he swallowed hard. "I'm in love with her? Still in love with her?"
"Since that night, I have had a conversation with Ensign Kim. He told me of a time when you and the Captain were alone together on an alien planet for a period of several weeks."
"Seven . . ." So, Harry had told Seven about New Earth. At least someone other than he remembered it.
"Ensign Kim said that when the two of you returned to Voyager after being cured of your disease, your relationship was different."
"Seven, the Captain and I returned to our command positions, and resumed our duties, as before."
"Yes. Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Paris believe that you and the Captain fell in love on that planet, and when you returned to Voyager, you sacrificed your interests in each other for the good of the ship and her crew."
This was too much! "Seven, what did or did not happen between the Captain and me is not Ensign Kim's nor Lieutenant Paris's business. They had no right . . ."
"I asked them about the incident, Commander. They were simply answering my questions."
"But why, Seven?" He had to fight to keep his voice strong, but his heart was still beating fast, and he knew the color had drained from his face.
"I wanted to know if my thoughts about your being in love with the Captain were justified. And I believe now that they are." She paused, trying to find the words for what she wanted to say. "Commander, I have been on this vessel for four years. Prior to that, the only true human relationship I was aware of was the one between my mother and my father. They were scientists, and very devoted to their life's works, yet they were also devoted to each other. I recall this still. They were . . . in love with each other. I have watched you and the Captain interact for four years, and you behave in much the same way as my mother and father did before they were assimilated by the Borg. I did not pay attention to the similarity before now, but it is true."
"You're wrong, Seven."
"No. You are wrong, Commander, if you do not tell the Captain of your feelings."
"Seven, what happened between Kathryn and me happened a long time ago . . ."
"No. It began a long time ago. It is not yet resolved," she stated matter-of-factly.
"Seven . . ." he began, forcing down the anger that was beginning to erupt inside him.
The doors to the Astrometrics lab opened quickly, and Icheb entered. He nodded to the Commander and Seven of Nine, and then moved silently to his console in the corner.
Seven turned back to her console. "Is there anything else, Commander?"
"No, no there's not."
Seven nodded, and Commander Chakotay exited the Astrometrics Lab quickly.
Chakotay had had no idea what today would hold in store for him when he'd awakened this morning. And somehow, he didn't think he'd have believed it if he'd been told.
But right now he was angrier than he'd been in a very long time. Seven of Nine no longer wanted to continue to explore a relationship with him because he was too emotional, and because he was still in love with Kathryn. He didn't know which part of it made him angrier.
And now, he was getting a headache of his own to show for it.
The Captain had sat glued to her desk for hours. She'd had four cups of coffee at last count, and had either acquired a new headache or enticed the old one out of hiding.
Either way, she wasn't getting a damned thing done.
She stood and moved to the viewport to watch the familiar star systems flash by at Warp 4. These were Alpha Quadrant star systems, familiar systems. Funny, she'd thought for seven years that seeing the clusters she knew so well outside her window again would bring her a great peace of mind. But it all seemed empty somehow.
Oh, there was satisfaction in knowing they'd all be back on Earth soon, that she'd gotten her crew home at last. After all, she'd promised.
But she was already feeling sad, melancholy. She'd never liked that word, but right now it was the right one, it was how she felt inside. That, and alone. No, the correct word was lonely, she amended. She was sad and lonely.
She sighed, and rubbed her temples again. If this damned headache wasn't gone in another hour, she was going to have to see the Doctor after all.
Chakotay entered his quarters and stormed to his desk. He had work to do. He eyed the console, then turned away from it. He ordered an herbal tea from the replicator, and then ignored it when it appeared in the replicator slot.
He paced his quarters and cursed them for being too small. After seven years in the Delta Quadrant, they'd suddenly become too small only days, hours, before reaching Earth.
He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes and tried to focus his energies, but he couldn't forget his conversation with Seven of Nine, and the ghosts of times past that had come to mind because of it.
He still cared about her, of course. He was sure he always would. She was the first woman he'd ever truly loved, completely loved. And she was the only woman he'd given his soul to. But then, she'd handed it back to him just before they left New Earth and were beamed back aboard Voyager.
They'd have to forget everything that had happened between them, she'd said. He'd told her he wouldn't, couldn't. He told her she was everything to him, his reason for living. He existed only to love her, to care for her, to watch over her and protect her. He was her warrior and she was his goddess.
But she'd only smiled a sad smile and told him things were different now. They had to go back to Voyager and get the crew home again. After all, she'd promised.
So they had returned to their ship, and their duties. And after awhile, a few days really, they'd stopped mentioning the planet, the shelter, the monkey, the plasma storm that had destroyed her equipment and brought her to his arms, the lovely sunrises and glorious sunsets, the boat he was planning to build, her bathtub. The lovely garden of Talaxian tomato vines she'd lovingly cared for. They never again acknowledged the nights they'd spent in each other's arms, making love until dawn. And they no longer discussed their dreams.
And one day a long time later, when he'd casually mentioned to her that a year had passed since Tuvok had returned to New Earth for them, she'd smiled absently and said "that long?" and had gone on her way.
And his heart had broken anew.
Now, over five years later, after he'd fought his heart and lied to his soul, he realized that Seven of Nine was right. He still loved Kathryn Janeway. He'd never stopped.
He sat down heavily on his bed and dropped his head into his hands. And he cried for all that was lost and all that would never be again.
"Well, that's one way to let go," she said, after noting that all of her research equipment had been destroyed in the plasma storm.
"What will you do now?" he asked gently.
"Move on," she replied so softly he could barely hear her.
And she had.
Three nights later, he had come to her. She was asleep, but awakened when she heard an unfamiliar sound. She sat up in bed and saw him standing in her doorway, lit from behind against the darkness of her room.
He was waiting, she realized, waiting for her to ask him to stay, or tell him to leave. And she'd pulled back her bed cover, inviting him in. There had been no debate, no question, no thought. There was only a need, a burning desire that had grown between them.
And they had made love - slow, deliberate, delicious love all night and into the early morning hours. And when she awakened hours later, it was nearly noon and she could smell fresh coffee making in the other room.
And she'd never felt so happy in her life . . .
The sound of a padd falling onto the floor jolted Kathryn awake. Her neck was sore, she realized, from falling asleep at her desk. As she reached to pick up the padd, her headache pounded violently against her temples, and she massaged them once more and sighed.
It had been a very long time since she'd allowed herself to remember. She'd put away all memories of New Earth when they'd returned to Voyager. And she'd told him to do the same. He'd argued, he'd tried to make her understand that they could be a good command team as well as a perfect couple, but she'd disagreed. And she was the Captain.
Oh, there were still times every so often when they looked into each other's eyes, and she would swear they were both thinking about all they'd shared back then, during that brief time they'd had together. She could feel the fire begin to fuel between them, could feel the embers begin to ignite . . . but then they would turn away and continue with business as usual, because all those years ago she had told him that was the way it had to be.
Ah, but what they'd had for that short time had been magic. No man had ever made her feel the way he made her feel. No one had even come close. He'd touched her so gently, almost reverently, and caressed her as no one had done before. And when the passion had burned between them, and the clothing and the inhibitions had been stripped away, he had loved her as though his heart depended on it, and she had loved him back.
She had loved him back.
She closed her eyes against the moisture that was building there. It was far too late to cry, and now it was too late to remember, as well.
Chakotay moved quickly down the corridor. He was headed for Sickbay to get something for this headache.
After he'd gotten his wits about him, he'd paced his quarters for another hour, stubbornly denying anything and everything Seven had said to him. He told himself he did not love Kathryn Janeway, hadn't for years, and he tried in vain to be upset that Seven had broken up with him, but he found that this bit of information was the least important of his thoughts. He even tried to feel as though he missed her, but the truth was that he didn't.
But he did miss Kathryn. After all these years, he still missed her, and he still loved her.
Seven had been right. Kathryn had been there all along. She was the woman he wanted to be with, the one he still wanted to share his meals with, the one he wanted to share his life with.
The problem was that Kathryn didn't want to share her life with him. She had made that abundantly clear a long time ago, and though they had remained friends, with undertones of more every now and then, she still pushed him away whenever he got too close.
And so Chakotay had tried other avenues. He'd tried to fall in love with other women, to no avail. They had all paled in comparison to Kathryn. He couldn't help himself; he was doomed to forever love a woman he couldn't have.
And now that they were only hours away from getting back to Earth, Chakotay knew that he would have no one to love, no one to care for once they got home. There would be no one waiting for him, and no one arriving home with him who cared about him, either. He'd often hoped that maybe the Spirits were keeping watch over he and Kathryn, and that they could turn to each other once again after they were finally home, but she was already pushing him farther away. And soon, after Voyager was back on Earth, he wouldn't be seeing her every day, as he did now. He probably wouldn't see her at all anymore. There was no reason for a Starfleet officer and an ex-Maquis Captain to socialize, even if they had been very special to each other once upon a time. He had to try harder to put those memories away, to bury them, as Kathryn had.
With his anger turning to sadness, Chakotay walked into Sickbay, where at least the Doctor would be there to comfort him in his own way, and could at least give him some pain medication for this awful headache.
"Just give me the medication, Doctor, and be done with it," said the Captain.
"Captain, it would be a very nice thing indeed to have a current medical profile of the Captain herself in my medical database upon our return to Earth. Starfleet will question me about why there isn't one if you don't give me another ten minutes of your time."
"Sorry, Doctor. If you have problems with Starfleet Medical after we get home, refer them to me. Just get rid of this headache, and I'll be on my way."
Chakotay came to a sudden stop in the outer room, surprised to see Kathryn in the medical bay with the Doctor. He remained in the shadows, and took a deep breath.
He looked at her again for the first time.
She was still indomitable, still the Captain. She was still beautiful, strong, bold, daring, incomparable. She was still the woman who captivated him. It was her strength, and her will, that had brought Voyager home again, of that he had no doubt. And he would still do anything for her.
He sighed. It was true. For years he had blinded himself to the fact that he still loved her. He had pretended to himself that he'd gotten over her, that he no longer cared for her in that way. He'd had to, he supposed, as a means of self-preservation, for to remember her as she'd been when he'd first fallen in love with her, to recall their love for each other, was something that would have tortured his heart repeatedly had he clung to the memories.
Oh, those memories. New Earth. Kathryn laughing, teasing him, luring him into the woods to show him her newest specimen. Then later, Kathryn kissing him, stroking his face, looking deeply into his eyes, and smiling that smile that made the sun rise and set.
They had loved each other with abandon the last week they'd had together on New Earth. It had felt as though the world finally had meaning to him. He was meant to be there, on that planet with Kathryn. They'd laughed and talked and discovered new things together. He'd watched her bloom, like a Peace Rose, like a butterfly taking flight. She'd slowly let down her pretenses, her guard, and let him in. She'd let him in completely, taking him into her lair and loving him as though he was the first man she'd ever truly loved. And he'd fallen fast, and hard. She was the sun and moon to him, his reason for living.
Then suddenly, it all changed.
Tuvok had called them back to Voyager, back to their command positions. And Kathryn had bid him a fond good-bye - good-bye to the love they'd shared together. They were to return to Voyager and devote their lives to getting their crew home again, like she'd promised.
Chakotay closed his eyes briefly now. It wasn't fair. He loved her, had always loved her, yet he would never be able to touch her like that again.
Chakotay understood Kathryn's obsession. She still felt guilty for stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, and he knew she'd not rest until they were all home free. Yet his inner voice, and his heart, had suffered tremendously. He'd fought her, argued that they could still love each other and command Voyager. But she'd refused, saying she wasn't that strong.
But he knew different. Kathryn Janeway was the strongest person he'd ever known. He'd believed in her, even when she didn't.
He still believed in her, even when she didn't.
And now, seeing her again after today's jolt back to reality, he knew immediately that she was still the person he'd fallen in love with. Oh, she was different, but so was he. They'd both had to change in order to survive. After all these years, she was still his Kathryn, still beautiful and determined, still the woman he loved. He'd had to delude himself in order to survive the heartbreak.
And now, five years after they'd fallen in love with each other, they would be home. Kathryn had long forgotten the special time they'd had together, but he never would. He couldn't. He'd go away, he'd spend some time alone, find his roots, try to re-connect with his Spirit Guide. He needed some time away, some time to figure out who he was now, who he was without her.
"Well, this is a rare occasion indeed," said the Doctor, bringing Chakotay out of his reverie. "It's not every day I get a visit from both the Captain and the Commander, without harassing them both first," he continued in his usual manner.
Chakotay forced himself to enter the examination room, just as the Captain was sliding off one of the bio-beds. "I . . . have a slight headache, Doc, and I thought maybe you could help me out."
"Hmmm, headaches," said the Doctor, sarcastically, as he ran a medical tricorder over Chakotay's upper torso and head. "It certainly seems to be the day for them. Not very challenging, but at least it gives me something to do. Please sit on that biobed," he said, gesturing to the bed next to the one the Captain had just vacated. "I'll prepare a hypospray."
The Doctor moved into his office, and Chakotay slid onto the bio-bed as casually as he could manage, considering he was nearly face-to-face with the one woman he'd just realized today that he was still in love with.
"I didn't realize headaches were contagious, Commander," she said, with a smile in her voice that reminded him of the old Kathryn.
He felt his body respond, and a tremor ran through him, yet he had gotten very good over the years at hiding what he was truly feeling. "Somehow I don't think they are, Captain," he managed to say in a relatively relaxed voice, "Or I'd have spent a lot more time in here with them before now. Not everyone can persevere through a headache the way you can."
"Oh, I don't know about that," she said. Then she moved closer to him and said in a low voice, "When one thinks of the alternative, here in Sickbay, one questions what pain really means."
They looked at each other a moment, the beginnings of smiles on their faces, and an old familiar feeling of belonging and friendship, and maybe a bit more, between them. Then, the moment was gone as quickly as it had surfaced. The Doctor returned to treat the Commander, and the Captain quickly excused herself to return to her Ready Room.
"Captain?" Chakotay called to her before she could get away.
Captain Janeway turned back to Chakotay. "Yes, Commander?"
He wanted to be with her, even if they were working. He had to know why she was so distant with him. If they couldn't be together, if she didn't want him, then fine. So be it. But it was important to him that their friendship remain strong. "Are you sure you don't need some help with all that work in your Ready Room?"
Her smile was sad. "No, thank you, Commander. Besides, I'm sure you have other things to do this evening." And she turned and exited Sickbay, while Chakotay thought about how he, in fact, did not have anything else to do this evening.
After leaving Sickbay, with only a dull reminder of the roaring headache she'd had all day, the Captain made her way once again to her Ready Room. Paperwork or no, it was still her favorite retreat. And she really did have to buckle down and concentrate. It seemed that the closer they got to Earth, the harder it was for her to force herself to do the most mundane tasks. But then, she did have something else on her mind these days, something she was determined to put behind her. She knew she was stubborn, and had been reminded of it on many occasions by her First Officer, and now, damn it, she was going to put that particular quality to good use and move on.
She silently wished Chakotay and Seven well, and entered her Ready Room.
The Doctor had told her that all remains of her headache would be gone by the time she sat back down to work again, but something told her that today she'd overturned enough memories and sorrow to conjure up a lifetime of headaches.
And seeing Chakotay a few minutes ago in Sickbay had only stirred the pot. After her midday indulgence down memory lane, the very sight of him had stunned her, and she'd had to work very hard to act casual yet keep her distance, Captain to Commander.
Chakotay knew she was being distant with him, she could tell. They knew each other well, and she could see it in his eyes. But she couldn't bring herself to discuss Seven with him just yet. If he brought it up first, she'd have to, of course, but meanwhile she needed a little more time to prepare herself for that conversation. It would be a difficult one, at least for her, and she had to be ready for it, she had to convince him she was genuinely glad for them. She would have to pretend their time together on New Earth had never happened.
Kathryn ordered yet another cup of coffee from the replicator and sighed. Out of habit, the Doctor had told her again today to cut back on her coffee, and out of habit she'd agreed. And also out of habit, she'd automatically ordered another cup just now.
Some things never changed. And some things did.
Time to move on.
Kathryn sat at her desk and pulled her computer screen to her. There was work to be done.
Nearly an hour later, the door chimed. Kathryn looked up, and called out "Come."
Seven of Nine entered. "Captain, I have discovered that if we change our course heading only slightly, we can reach Earth 1.5 days earlier than if we continue to follow the course Admiral Paris has given us." She handed the Captain a padd with her calculations.
Kathryn sighed. "I know that, Seven." Sometimes explaining things to Seven required a patience that even Harry Kim had never needed from her. "Sometimes the best path to take between two points is not a straight line."
"Captain?" Obviously, Seven of Nine's sense of logic was not able to make use of the Captain's analogy.
"Seven, there may be other things we do not know about that has dictated Admiral Paris's decision about when and how we arrive home."
"If that is true, he should have informed us about them," Seven stated flatly.
"Not necessarily, Seven," the Captain said evenly. "Admiral Paris has authority which far surpasses mine. It is my duty to listen to him and obey him."
"Even if his logic is flawed?"
The Captain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Whether it is or isn't flawed, Seven, it is not my place to question him." And then she amended her statement. "Not unless I felt his orders put my ship and her crew at risk."
Seven seemed to consider the Captain's response. "And that is why you questioned Admiral Janeway when she ordered you to take Voyager into the Borg hub? Because her orders violated your own sense of duty to your crew?"
Kathryn was unprepared for this line of questioning. It would be difficult to explain her perspective on Admiral Janeway to anyone, least of all Seven of Nine, with her logical mind. "There was a great deal more to it than that, Seven," she said softly.
"She was your superior officer."
"Yes. And she was also me. I knew her well." Kathryn paused. "I questioned her motives."
"Her motives?" Seven was obviously confused. "Her motives were to protect Commander Tuvok, to prevent more of our crewmembers from dying . . ." She stopped. Seven was suddenly uncertain whether she should continue. She was unsure how much of the future timeline Admiral Janeway had shared with Captain Janeway.
But Kathryn had heard it all. "She told you then?" she asked softly.
Seven took a deep breath. "She told me . . . some things." She paused. "She wanted me to use my influence with you to convince you to return to the hub."
"But you didn't."
"No. I felt it was unfair, to you. You are my Captain, and I trust your decisions."
"Thank you, Seven," said the Captain softly.
"Admiral Janeway . . ." said Seven, searching for the proper words.
"Yes, what about her, Seven?" Kathryn prompted.
"She seemed . . . driven," said Seven, uncertainly. "I believe she would have done anything necessary to achieve her goal."
"Yes . . ." said Kathryn so softly Seven barely heard her. "But to what end?" And not for the first time, Kathryn wondered if Admiral Janeway hadn't had another reason for her visit to the past. If the Admiral thought the Captain would interfere with Chakotay and Seven's relationship, she'd been sadly mistaken. The Captain wouldn't risk their happiness in order to regain her own.
"Sorry, Seven." She handed Seven's padd back to her. "I appreciate your sharing this with me, but that extra day and a half does give us all time to tidy up loose ends."
"Of course, Captain," said Seven, dutifully, then glanced at the chronometer across the room. "I have volunteered to work the beta shift as well today, to compartmentalize many . . . loose ends."
The Captain nodded. Seven would need to report to Astrometrics in ten minutes for beta shift. "Dismissed."
As Seven of Nine left the Captain's Ready Room, Kathryn wondered if the reason Chakotay had volunteered to help her this evening was because Seven was working beta shift. She took a sip of her coffee. In a way, it would be good to have his relationship with Seven in the open. At least there would be no more pretending, and maybe she could even mend some fences with her First Officer, she thought absently, as she turned back to her computer terminal. Maybe they could somehow remain friends.
And maybe someday she would even be able to look him in the eyes again without it hurting too much.
For the next three days, Chakotay checked ship's logs, spoke subtly to various members of the senior staff, and went over and over all the things he and the Captain had said to each other since Admiral Janeway first came aboard Voyager.
He knew he was missing something, but at least he had pinpointed an approximate time when Kathryn had begun to push him away. And that's what it was, he thought. She was pushing him farther and farther away.
He'd tried twice more to talk to her about it, but she still wouldn't discuss it. The best he got from her was that he was imagining it.
And so, because outside of his usual duties there wasn't much else to do except slowly go crazy with his desire for her, he tried instead to figure out what was the matter.
And just this morning, he'd decided that Kathryn had begun to change toward him during the Admiral's second day aboard Voyager. According to his memory and the ship's logs, that was just after Captain Janeway defied the Admiral and brought Voyager back out of the hub after discovering the Borg vessels there.
She'd been angry at Admiral Janeway for setting her up - for ordering her to take Voyager into the hub without telling her the entire truth of what awaited them there.
And then she and the Admiral had gone for a walk.
And the next time Chakotay saw the Captain, she'd seemed different, evasive. They'd made plans to work together into the evening, but she'd dismissed him nearly as soon as he'd arrived in her Ready Room, saying that she was preoccupied, and tired. And she wouldn't look him in the eye.
Chakotay sighed softly. She hadn't looked him in the eye since then, either.
"Commander, you have the Bridge," the Captain said, momentarily bringing Chakotay out of his reflections, and left for her Ready Room without looking at him, or waiting for a reply.
She'd spent more time in her Ready Room than on the Bridge over the past few days, too. He knew she was anxious to get home - he saw the anticipation in the faces and actions of every crewmember. The closer they got to Earth, the more nervous people seemed to get. Of course, everyone was concerned about their reception, their families, their futures.
But with Kathryn it was different. She was reassuring to other crewmembers, and went out of her way to be seen in public places such as the mess hall, and at the various holodeck parties that were being thrown nearly each evening in celebration of reaching the Alpha Quadrant again. She knew it was important to keep crew spirits alive, yet she also knew the importance of keeping them firmly in place until the moment Voyager set down for the last time.
But that didn't change the fact that she was only distant, cold, with Chakotay. And today, he vowed, he would find out why.
"Come," the Captain called out from near the replicator where she'd just gotten a fresh coffee. As she reached her desk, her First Officer entered her Ready Room. She instinctively took a deep breath and braced herself. Lately, he was pushing her, asking her why she was being distant with him. And she really wasn't up to another of those conversations just now.
Besides, what was she supposed to say? That knowing about his relationship with Seven was tearing her apart? That, try as she might, she couldn't sleep at night, wasn't eating properly, and wanted desperately not to have to sit beside him on the Bridge or at staff briefings, and look into the face of the man she'd fallen in love with such a long time ago?
She sighed heavily. "What is it, Commander?" she asked, as she put the coffee cup on her desk and picked up a padd.
"I thought you might like to join me for lunch," he stated matter-of-factly.
"Thanks, but I have work to do," she said, staring at the padd. When he didn't answer, she glanced at him quickly. "Is there something else?"
"You haven't been eating properly."
She sighed again, pointedly this time, and sat. "Commander, I'm fine. We'll be home in a few days, and I'll eat then."
Now he sighed. "Part of my job is to make sure the Captain takes care of herself."
"Commander, we're close enough to home now that I think if something happened to me, you could get Voyager back to Earth all by yourself." She hadn't meant her words to sound so brutal, but she really didn't have time for this.
"No good." He held his breath, willing his anger at her tone to subside.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I'm not leaving until either you join me in the mess hall, or we order something from the replicator. Either way, we're having lunch together."
Kathryn opened her mouth to retort, to tell him he was out of line with his tone, but then she caught herself. He was right, after all. It was his job to advise her in all aspects of her job, including taking care of herself. There were also a lot of things she needed to get done before they reached Earth, and becoming too tired or ill now would only add to her problems. Besides, she was wrong in the way she'd spoken to him a moment ago, and she felt guilty for it. What harm could it do to spend a few minutes having lunch together? Besides, he'd told her he knew she was uncomfortable with him recently, and she could show him he was wrong by having lunch with him.
"All right," she said. "Why don't you order something for us from the replicator while I finish this. I'll only be a moment," she said, indicating the padd in her hand.
Chakotay nodded. She'd given in without a fight. He ordered sandwiches from the replicator and a cup of tea for himself. He noticed that she already had a fresh cup of coffee. Just as he returned to her desk with the food and utensils, she put the padd aside.
"Hmmmm . . . a ham sandwich," she said, looking at the plate in front of her and lifting the edge of bread. She suppressed a grin.
"With mayonnaise," he said. "And lots of vitamins and protein."
"Haven't had one of these in a long time," she said and took a bite. "It's wonderful, Chakotay!" She grinned at him, and her eyes shone. And then she remembered, and looked away.
Chakotay noticed the change immediately. For a moment, she was the Kathryn he knew, the one he missed. His friend, his Captain. The woman he loved. And then she had gotten a look on her face, and the smile had disappeared as quickly as it had come.
"Kathryn . . ."
"I know what you're going to say, Chakotay." It was better to nip his question in the bud than to wait for it. "I'm just feeling the strain of seven long years, that's all. I don't mean to be distant, but I need some space just now." But she didn't look him in the eye when she spoke. She couldn't.
"Don't push me away, Kathryn," he said, wishing she would look at him.
She closed her eyes a brief moment, and when she opened them, she felt stronger. "I'll try not to." She took another bite.
"I want to ask you something."
"All right." She felt generous, since he hadn't pushed her to explain herself.
"Admiral Janeway . . ." he began.
"What about her?"
"Other than the fact that she was beautiful?" He couldn't help himself.
"What?" She looked at him quickly, but saw only admiration in his eyes.
He smiled. "It's not everyday we get to see what we'll look like 25 years from now, and frankly, I'm glad we got to see what you'll look like, and not me. I already know you'll look better."
And he might even be dead, she thought. If Chakotay and Seven continue their relationship the way it happened in the other timeline, Seven will die soon in the arms of her husband, Chakotay. And Chakotay will die a long time from now, a broken man.
She looked away and put down the remainder of her sandwich. "I have to get back to work now, Commander. Thank you for the lunch."
It was a dismissal, Chakotay knew. But he wouldn't let her get away so easily this time. "You haven't let me ask my question."
"What? Oh." She took a breath. "All right, what is it?"
"What did Admiral Janeway tell you about the future?" As soon as his question was out, he realized his instincts were true. Kathryn's very reaction to his question told him what he wanted to know. Admiral Janeway had indeed told her things about what was in store for them, things that would happen unless Captain Janeway turned Voyager around and headed back into the Borg hub.
She grabbed hold of herself quickly. "What do you mean?"
"She told you something. I want to know what it is."
"Chakotay . . ."
"Don't tell me there's nothing. I saw the look on your face just now. I was right. She told you some things about the future, didn't she? Some things that would happen if you didn't take Voyager into the hub."
She paused to get her bearing. "She told me some things, yes. But I can't tell you what they are." She stood and gathered the remains of their meal, and took them to the recycle bin.
"Why can't you tell me? What difference does it make now? The very fact that you turned the ship back and took us through the hub has changed the entire future timeline that Admiral Janeway was familiar with. Nothing will be the same now."
"We don't know that," she said.
"I think we do," he responded, standing. "What is it you don't want to tell me?"
"There's nothing, Chakotay," she said moving back to her chair. She forced herself to look at him across the desk. She sighed. It was best to give him something. After all, it was very probable that much of Admiral Janeway's timeline would not come true. But some of it might. "All right." She turned her back to him to gather her words, then began to pace the floor. "Tuvok has the beginnings of a disease not unknown to Vulcans. He has just found out about it himself. The Doctor is treating him the best he can." She paused. "Getting home 16 years from now would be too late, and Tuvok would be committed to a mental ward after our return."
Chakotay sat back in his chair. It was no secret how Kathryn felt about Tuvok. He'd long been her advisor, her friend. Hearing Admiral Janeway tell her about Tuvok's disease must have been devastating for Kathryn. But as he looked back into her face, he knew there was more. "And?"
She looked away again. "And in the next 16 years, we'd lose another twenty two crew members," she said, and then whispered, more to herself than to Chakotay, "Twenty two."
"It must have been difficult for Admiral Janeway to tell you," he said softly.
"Not at all," she scoffed, and Chakotay looked at her. "She told me for one reason -- to ensure she'd get what she wanted. She knew what buttons to push to get her way." And then her voice cracked slightly. "I've always been a good manipulator, Chakotay. You know that."
"You've always known how to get your way, Kathryn, that's true. But you've only pushed buttons that have needed to be pushed when you knew there was no other way." He looked her firmly in the eye, but she looked away. He knew there was something else she wasn't telling him. He'd seen it in her eyes just before she turned from him. "What else?"
"That's all." But her back was to him.
She wouldn't, couldn't tell him the rest. "No."
Whatever it was, it was also the reason she was pushing him away. "What is it, Kathryn? I have to know."
She turned back to him. "Chakotay, I've already told you more than I thought best. But that's all I'm going to tell you. The rest of it is between the Admiral and me."
"She's dead, Kathryn. And her timeline died with her."
"Why is it all right to tell me some of it, but not all of it? What are you keeping from me?" His voice was rising, but he tried to maintain control.
"I'm not keeping anything from you, Chakotay. It has nothing to do with you. It's me. It's something I have to accept as something that might still happen." Her voice was strong, controlled.
"Why might this other thing still happen, yet Tuvok will now have the treatment he needs, and our twenty two crewmembers will not die during the next 16 years, trying to get home? Why is this other thing so different?"
She spoke softly, and once again turned her back to him. "Because it's just started. It's . . . different. It still has possibilities . . ."
"Why won't you tell me?"
"I can't, Chakotay!" She turned to him, her anger building. "You'll just have to accept that."
"Damn it Kathryn, you cannot control everything!" His rage had built, as well, and he'd kept it under wraps, but now she was being stubborn just as he was about to find out what it was that was driving her away from him.
He expected her to remind him that he was out of line, he expected her fury to explode in his face. But instead, he saw the initial flare of anger reflected in her eyes, then watched as it faded to defiance, and then hurt, and then sadness of a magnitude he'd never imagined her capable of, didn't want her to be capable of.
"Oh, I do realize that, Chakotay," she whispered softly, then turned on her heels and left him alone in her Ready Room.
Kathryn Janeway entered her quarters exactly eight minutes after leaving Chakotay alone in her Ready Room.
She stood in the middle of the room, and didn't know what to do. She ordered coffee, something she knew how to do.
She paced the floor, and sipped her coffee. Her hands were shaking, and she cursed herself for being weak.
Why was it the more she tried to let go of the past, the more it hurt? The more she told herself he was no longer hers, that there was no hope he'd ever be hers again, the more it hurt? She walked to the viewport and stared out at the Alpha Quadrant star systems she could identify in her sleep, and found herself wishing for the unknown star systems of the Delta Quadrant. And just a little more time . . .
But she'd never been good with time. She always seemed to have too little of it, and abused it when she had too much of it. And now, time had run out. Finally, after all they'd been through together, she was going to have to release the man she loved to Seven of Nine. It was time to let him go. The battle was over, and she'd lost. They were on Earth's doorstep at long last, and she was alone. He'd made a choice, and was moving on with his life, and so it was time for her to throw in the towel and move on, as well.
Oh, gods, just the thought of it brought fresh pain to her heart, and tears to her eyes. She didn't know what it was like to be without him anymore. He'd become such an integral part of her life that she didn't know who she was without his constant advice and reassurances.
And she didn't know if she'd like who she was without him, either.
Chakotay had been her friend for such a long time, her steadying hand when she was weak, her brave knight when she'd needed to be rescued. He told her when she was wrong, and congratulated her when she was right. He trusted her even when he questioned her decisions, he took her stubbornness in stride, and he calmed her when she needed to be calmed. He was without question her Rock of Gibralter.
She forced herself to take a deep breath. And as the tears fell down her cheeks, she held her cup of cold coffee tightly and tried to take comfort in the stars she'd wanted to see outside her window for seven years.
But somehow it just wasn't enough . . .
"Come outside with me."
". . . sleeping . . ." he muttered, and tried to turn over.
"You can go back to sleep soon." She put her hand on his shoulder and shook him gently. "The night sky is too beautiful to miss. Come, just for a few minutes." Finally she had wakened him enough to coax him out of his bed. "Here, put on your robe. It's cool outside." He didn't argue, and so she helped him into his robe and led him quietly outside, where the lovely sky looked down upon them. "Isn't it beautiful?" she asked softly.
But he was awake now. He glanced at the sky, then looked at the woman beside him. "More beautiful every day," he said.
She looked at him, and then realized what he meant. She smiled. "I meant the sky," she said in what he thought of as her sexy voice.
"I know you did," he said, and then wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her to stand in front of him. He buried his chin in her hair and held on tightly. No matter what happened, no matter what the future held in store, she was his. She was finally his . . .
Chakotay snapped awake and sat up in bed. His heart was racing, and his breath came in ragged gasps. He hadn't had that dream in a long time, a very long time.
He pushed himself out of bed and grabbed his robe, then stumbled into the other room and ordered a glass of water from the replicator while he belted it tightly around him.
The one he'd had for weeks after they returned from New Earth. The time she'd awakened him and taken him outside to look at the night sky. The time he'd truly felt that she belonged to him, would belong to him forever. He'd felt invincible that night. They'd gone back inside and made love until dawn. No one could ever take her from him.
But, of course, he'd been wrong. Voyager had taken her back.
He picked up the glass of water and noticed his hands were shaking. He took a deep breath and tried to steady himself.
He needed to go on a Vision Quest. It had been a very long time since he'd done that, he suddenly realized. His faith had faltered since he'd lost Kathryn. And that had been a long time ago.
Well, there was no time like the present. Hepulled out his long-neglected Medicine Bundle. It felt like dead weight in his hands. Maybe, just maybe, he could regain a bit of his courage, and maybe even find his soul again.
But then he put the bundle on the table in front of him and stared at it. How could it help him? He needed Kathryn, and no Vision Quest could return her to him. He would have to accept the fact that she no longer cared for him the way he still cared for her.
Somehow, some way, he had to embrace his future, a future without Kathryn Janeway.
Kathryn wasn't faring any better. "Computer, lights." She sat up in bed, and rubbed her temples. When were these damned headaches ever going to go away? She touched her commbadge. "Janeway to the Doctor."
"The Doctor here, Captain," came the reply.
"Doctor, I seem to have another headache," she said. "Is there something more you can do for me than what you've been doing?"
"Of course, Captain. Please report to Sickbay."
But she wasn't going to be taken in so easily. "Not unless you can promise me you can get rid of this headache." She heard a sigh on the other end.
"I'll do my best, Captain. If you report to Sickbay."
Now it was her turn to sigh. "I'm on my way," she said, throwing off her bedsheets.
The Captain entered Sickbay exactly fifteen minutes later.
"It's about time," said the Doctor, casually, escorting her into the back medical bay.
"I went to bed early, Doctor," she replied. "I was trying to sleep. I had to dress before leaving my quarters." She would never have walked Voyager's corridors in her nightclothes.
"Of course, Captain," said the Doctor. The Doctor never had to worry about tedious or nonsensical things like dressing for an occasion - well, not unless he wanted to. Being a hologram did have its advantages. "Now, just sit on this biobed and I'll prepare a hypospray."
"It had better be stronger than the last one," she said, pulling herself up onto the bed.
The Doctor began to prepare the medicine from a nearby medical table. "Don't worry, this time your headache will disappear." Then, as casually as the Doctor could muster, he continued. "Captain, are you eating properly?"
"I'm trying," she said, curtly. "Let's just get this over with."
"Captain, sometimes proper rest and diet can . . ."
"Please, Doctor," she said, then took a deep breath. "We'll be back on Earth again soon. I promise I'll get more rest and eat better once we've arrived. Meanwhile, please just relieve me of this headache."
"Hmm," said the Doctor. He knew that ploy. She was placating him. Take care of me now, and I'll make you a promise for later. But, he thought, what she said was true. They were nearly home. And then she'd be someone else's problem. He gave her an injection from the hypospray. And suddenly, he felt ridiculously territorial. "I sincerely hope Starfleet Command recognizes the excellent job I've done in the past in taking care of the Voyager crew," he spurted.
"I'm sure they will, Doctor," she said, sliding off the bio-bed and rubbing her neck. "Thank you," she said, as she started for the exit doors.
"Captain?" said the Doctor.
She turned. "Yes?"
"Aren't you at least going to stop in Holodeck One tonight for a bit? We only have a short time left together, and there's a party . . ."
"There have been parties every night for several days now, Doctor. I'm sure no one will notice that I've missed just one."
"Well . . ." he faltered.
"Well what, Doctor?" She just wanted to get back to her bed.
"It's just that I am going to be there, later. And so is Seven of Nine, after her beta shift ends. And I thought you might like to see that I've taught her the Rhumba." He smiled. "In fact, she and I are quite good together." His smile became a bit smug.
Kathryn momentarily wondered how Chakotay would feel about that, but then shook the thought away. "I'll see how I feel once I've returned to my quarters, Doctor. If this headache is gone, and I feel up to it, I'll see you there." It was, after all, nearing the end of their days together as a family, and she knew her duty.
She nodded at the Doctor, and exited Sickbay.
By the time the Captain reentered her quarters, her headache had miraculously disappeared. Although she was naturally glad about this, she also realized that she owed the Doctor a favor.
Besides, it would be best if she attended the party for a bit, just to make an appearance as the Captain. She absolutely refused to allow any feelings she might have left for Chakotay to cloud her last couple of days as Captain of Voyager. And, she knew her duty better than anyone.
She shook her head. That was that. She was going to the party, at least for a few minutes.
She looked inside her closet for something suitable, since no uniforms were allowed tonight, and chose a basic dress from the back of her closet. It was a soft grey and matched the color of her eyes. It was strange, she thought, that she didn't miss wearing civilian clothing. Her Starfleet uniform suited her just fine.
She picked up a pair of shoes that matched the dress, and decided to take a quick sonic shower instead of her usual bath. A bath would give her time to change her mind about going tonight.
She sighed, and headed for the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, the Captain left her quarters for Holodeck One. She told herself she only had to put in an appearance. And then she could return to her quarters and get some much-needed sleep.
The party was already in full swing when the Captain entered the holodeck. It seemed that everyone who wasn't on duty was there, and Chell had outdone himself with the party buffet. Of course, he'd been allowed to take a few extra liberties with the replicators since they were so close to home now and didn't need to watch their rations so closely.
Even though Chell did a nice job as new chief cook, she missed Neelix so much. Neelix had been cook, morale officer, ambassador, and most of all, her good friend. And even though she'd bid him farewell on her viewscreen only a few days ago, it felt as though it had been much longer. Yet she knew in her heart that someday she would see him again.
Kathryn smiled to herself. It was good to see the crew enjoying themselves. And then she immediately felt a stab of pain as real to her as if she'd actually been wounded. She'd always thought she and Chakotay would be enjoying this time together, when Voyager was finally so close to home they could practically see Earth on their viewscreens.
But it wasn't meant to be. She wondered what Chakotay was doing, and where he was.
Suddenly, she stopped and looked around. A holowaiter brought a tray of multi-colored drinks in fancy glasses around to her and she absently chose a green one. Where was Chakotay anyway? He wasn't on duty, and she'd at least expected him to be here with Seven of Nine.
But then she saw Seven across the way with the Doctor. She was wearing a soft red dress made for dancing, and the Doctor was wearing a matching dance costume of black silk with a red shirt to match Seven's dress. Kathryn smiled.
The music started, and the Doctor began to twirl Seven out onto the dance floor. They moved well together, and it was obvious they had been practicing. After a moment, the music changed and as promised earlier, the Doctor and Seven danced a perfect rhumba. When the music stopped, and they ended their dancing with a sharp finale, everyone in the room applauded, including the Captain. They truly were good together!
And just as the Captain was looking again for Chakotay, Seven and the Doctor walked over to her.
"Ah, Captain," said the Doctor. "I'm so glad you could make it. How is your headache?"
"Much better, thank you, Doctor, and you were right - you and Seven are well suited for dancing together," she said, smiling.
"Thank you, Captain," said the Doctor, beaming. "Well, I don't know about you, but I think I'd prefer a glass of champagne to those," he said nodding at the colorful glasses on the passing waiter's tray, and then at the green one in the Captain's hand.
"Yes," said the Captain, "but this seems to be all that's available."
"Nonsense, I'll be right back. Ladies," he said, nodding at the Captain and Seven, and then left to find the champagne.
"He's quite pleased that Lieutenant Torres was able to modify his program so that he can consume liquids more easily," said Seven, as she watched the Doctor move away.
The Captain was suddenly becoming aware of the look on Seven's face. "Seven . . ."
"I . . . thought I might find Chakotay here tonight."
Seven tore her gaze from the Doctor's retreating back. "Commander Chakotay? I have not seen him since this morning in Astrometrics. Perhaps he is resting."
Things were starting to come together for Captain Janeway, although a bit more slowly than usual. "Seven?"
"I . . . don't understand. What about . . . Chakotay? Isn't he . . . supposed to be here?" She didn't know how else to say it just now, especially since her head felt as though it were spinning out of control. And this time she couldn't blame it on a headache.
Just then the Doctor returned with three long-stemmed champagne flutes and handed one to each of the ladies. He was beaming. "Well, Seven, I've just had several compliments on our dancing techniques."
Seven actually beamed back at the Doctor. "I am pleased, Doctor."
The Captain looked at them both.
They beamed back at her.
"Excuse me," said the Captain suddenly, handing her champagne flute to the Doctor. Her voice was calm, but her heart was beating wildly. She turned and headed for the holodeck doors before anyone could say another word.
As the Captain exited Holodeck One, the Doctor turned to Seven. "I don't understand, Seven. Where is the Captain going in such a hurry?"
"I believe she has something important to discuss with Commander Chakotay," she said, thinking that the Doctor's lessons about relationships were finally beginning to make sense to her.
"Hmm. I can't imagine what could become so important so quickly," he said, then took Seven's arm to lead her back into the crowd. "I was thinking, Seven, about after we return to San Francisco . . ."
The Captain stopped outside Commander Chakotay's quarters. She was still trying to catch her breath, but her heart wouldn't stop racing. She'd hurried as quickly as she could to his quarters without actually running. If passing crewmembers saw their Captain in a hurry, it would undoubtedly alert them unnecessarily. And tonight, she didn't want anything to stop her from what she had to do.
While en route, she'd asked the computer for Chakotay's whereabouts, just to confirm he was in his quarters. He was. He was just on the other side of this door.
She took a deep breath, but it didn't help calm her much. She had to do something, before someone saw her standing idly outside her First Officer's quarters. She took another breath and rang the bell.
The doors opened immediately. Her heart stopped, and she froze. She berated herself quickly, and forced herself to step inside Chakotay's quarters. The doors closed quickly behind her.
Chakotay looked up from his desk, and immediately rose. Of all the people he'd expected to see, Kathryn Janeway wasn't on the list.
Oh, but she looked beautiful in that dress, he thought. She'd obviously been to the party on the holodeck, or was on her way there. And she had an odd look on her face. Earlier, he'd lowered the lights a bit in an effort to relax, but it hadn't helped much. Now he was convinced that the expectant look on the Captain's face, the flush, the soft glow in her eyes, was an illusion. It had to be the dimmed lights, reflecting off . . . something.
Kathryn Janeway hadn't looked at him like this since they'd left New Earth all those years ago.
She forced herself to walk toward him. He'd been working at his desk, but he'd stood when he saw her enter the room. She could tell he was surprised to see her, but even through the shock on his face she saw the appreciation for her dress in his eyes. She'd forgotten she wasn't wearing her uniform, but now she was glad she wasn't. She'd come to him as a woman tonight, after all, and not as his Captain.
"I . . ." she swallowed. "I thought . . ." There was no delicate way to say what she had to say. She continued to look into his eyes, those eyes that held her world inside them. She had to tell him, and in doing so, she would be admitting how she felt about him. Even if he didn't still feel the same, she'd have to tell him. She took a deep breath. "I thought you and Seven . . ." She couldn't finish. A lump had formed in her throat, and she could barely see him through the moisture in her eyes. But she swallowed again, and blinked back the tears. She had to finish . . .
. . . But he understood what she was trying to say. Suddenly, he understood everything. Seven. She'd known about he and Seven. That was what the Admiral had told her. Admiral Janeway had told her that he and Seven were romantically involved. That was what had been bothering Kathryn. She thought . . . and suddenly he realized that it also mattered to her. It mattered. That could only mean one thing. "There's nothing between Seven and me, Kathryn."
He did understand, after all. "I know that now," she managed, softly.
His eyes were dark, and he couldn't take his eyes off her. "Kathryn . . . that's what's been bothering you? That's why you've pushed me away?" His voice was soft, but his eyes burned with a need to know the truth.
"Yes," she whispered, and forced herself to move another step closer to him, although to do so only made her heart beat even faster. "I'm sorry, Chakotay. It wasn't right, I know. But I can't help how I feel."
"How do you feel, Kathryn?" His heart was thundering in his chest so loudly he thought she had to hear it.
But she could only hear the beating of her own heart. And she could see the look in his eyes - that look he'd tried to hide after they'd returned from New Earth, the one she tried so hard not to see when she turned to look at him and caught him before he'd cleverly disguised it. The look she hadn't seen in his eyes for a very long time now. "I'm in love with you," she whispered. It was time for truths to be told.
Now his heart seemed to stop completely. Time, in fact, seemed to stop as well.
"You're . . ." he tried to speak, but his voice didn't seem like his own, "Kathryn, you and I . . . it's been a long time," he managed to say.
"Yes. But I remember, Chakotay. I remember it all." Her voice was smoky and rich, and it held promises of days to come and brought sweet, sweet memories of another place and time.
"Kathryn . . ."
"Yes?" She moved another step closer. His eyes had grown even darker, and she saw a deep, rich passion inside them. And the intensity that was growing between the two of them was nearly unbearable.
She was standing so close, all he would have to do was reach out and draw her to him. But he had to be sure. "If you come any closer, Kathryn, I'm going to touch you."
"And then?" Her voice was filling his head, his thoughts.
"I'm going to kiss you."
"And then?" If possible, her voice was even huskier, more seductive than he'd ever imagined it could be.
"And then it will be too late to go back."
"I don't want to go back, Chakotay," she said. "I want to move forward. I want to be with you."
"Not just tonight," he said. "I can't do this, Kathryn, if it's only for tonight," he said and then swallowed hard. Of the many nights he'd dreamed of holding her just once more, he couldn't believe he had the strength to tell her this now.
"I don't just want you tonight, Chakotay - I want to be with you always," she said in a low voice.
He tried to hold strong, but she was so close, and the scent of her was nearly more than he could bear. "But a long time ago, you said you had to get your crew home first." He closed his eyes. He couldn't last much longer. He wanted to touch her more than he'd ever wanted anything in his life.
"We're in the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay," she whispered, so close now she was nearly whispering in his ear. "And only a matter of hours from Earth. Some would say we are, in fact, home."
"And you, Kathryn?" He opened his eyes again. "What do you say?"
She smiled, and his heart melted anew. "I am home, Chakotay. And evidently I've been home for a very long time." She turned her head slightly and her mouth was only inches from his. She looked at his lips, his strong jaw, the tattoo above his left temple that had surfaced in her dreams many times throughout the years. "It's up to you, Chakotay. This time it's entirely up to you," she whispered.
That was all it took. He moved his arms around her as he placed his lips on hers, gingerly, almost hesitantly. He still wasn't sure this was really happening, after waiting for this moment for so long. But the moment his lips touched hers, he remembered it all, and felt the rush of memories sweep over him, engulfing him. Her taste, her touch, the way her body fit against his, the way she moaned in the back of her throat when he kissed her.
The tentative kiss became deeper, more insistent. He grazed her lips, licked them, teased them, and heard her moans become deeper. She opened her mouth for him before he could encourage it open, and then she met his tongue when he entered. They both gasped at the contact, and felt the electric chills slice through their bodies.
Each reacted with the wonderful pleasures of knowing each other well, of having loved each other before. A fresh newness was there as well, the newness of a love long denied, but found again, along with the satisfying knowledge of what made the other feel good, and feel loved.
They enjoyed the feel of each other all over again, and it felt like the first time, yet it was also familiar, missed. Nothing had ever felt better.
Kathryn moved her arms from his chest to his shoulders, to his face, his jaw. She felt his strong body, and his constant love for her, and the years suddenly began to melt away. She'd missed him, gods she'd missed him! And if this man was still hers, if he still wanted to be with her, then she'd take him away with her forever. He was never going to know another day without her.
"Chakotay?" she whispered, moving her lips away from his only slightly.
"Hmm?" He kissed her chin, not wanting to miss a moment of what she was offering him.
"Make love with me."
He stopped. "What?"
He picked her up from the floor and carried her in his arms to his bed. She emitted a half-cry of surprise when he lifted her so quickly and so easily, but leaned forward in his arms and kissed his ear, and then his neck. He was hers again, and this time it was for good.
Chakotay put her on his bed gently and took a moment to stare at her.
"What are you looking at?" she smiled at him.
"You. Always you, Kathryn," he said, nearly choking on the words. "Only you."
He leaned over and kissed her again, and she folded her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. She unzipped his uniform jacket quickly and began to slide it down his back and arms. He moved just enough to allow it to fall to the floor. She began to pull his under layers of clothing from his pants, and he allowed her to tug them over his head, where they fell by the side of the bed quickly. Then she moved her hands to the zipper of his pants . . .
He placed his hand on hers. "Not so fast, Kathryn. We've got all night."
"But I want to feel your body against me," she whispered in his ear. "I've missed it so much."
And he suddenly remembered her passion, the way she gave her everything in whatever she did. The Kathryn Janeway he had admired, respected, and grown to love had indeed loved him in return - but she had never loved him partly, or half-way. She had given him her everything when they were together on New Earth, and truth be told, he was the only person she'd continued to give herself to after they'd returned to Voyager. The gift was different, it was everything but physical. She'd never denied her feelings for him, he thought now - just her body, her physical love. But she'd still given him all she could allow herself to give. He'd still been hers, and she'd still been his.
After all these years, he was finally beginning to understand it all in a brand new light.
"Hmm?" She continued to pull at his clothes, and he let her.
"I've never stopped loving you." He had to tell her, wanted her to know it all right now before they went further.
She looked at him, and stopped what she was doing. Her eyes suddenly became moist and she said, "I know that now."
He leaned over and kissed her, softly and gently. Slowly. He inhaled her scent, the scent he'd tried to ignore over the years, but couldn't possibly. He kissed her chin, her nose, her ear lobes, her eyelids. He moved back to her mouth, her perfect and soft mouth.
Her skin tasted of springtime, of the things he loved best. And when he kissed her neck again, she moaned and he smiled. It was always her neck, he thought. That was something else he'd tried to forget, too. She loved to have her neck kissed, nuzzled.
Kathryn no longer had control over her body - it belonged to Chakotay now. It always had, really - he had just taken possession again, finally. At long last her body was being satisfied, and by the only man who could satisfy her completely. She moaned deep in her throat and turned her head to touch his lips again. She'd missed him so much, and even more than she'd admitted to herself on the rare occasion she'd allowed herself to think of him, of making love with him. The only time in her life she'd felt truly sated, emotionally and physically, was with Chakotay on New Earth.
She once again moved her hands down his chest, caressing every inch of his glorious body. The moment she touched his waist, his stomach clinched and he gasped. "Kathryn, not yet." He grabbed both her wrists with his hands and gently placed them onto the bed, above her head. He leaned over her face and whispered, "I won't last very long if you touch me there, Kathryn. And I don't want to rush. I've waited for this too long."
She smiled softly and looked deep into his eyes. "I want to feel your body against mine, Chakotay. I need to feel you," she whispered.
His body shivered slightly at her words. He couldn't hide what she did to him. Kathryn Janeway was still in control of his heart, she was the love of his life and he could never change that.
He slowly lowered his lips to hers and gently kissed her yet again.
And then he moved his mouth over her chin, his tongue down her throat and further, to the top of her dress. She began to gasp and tried desperately to move, but Chakotay held her arms still. "Oh no," he whispered into her ear as he nibbled at it, "Not yet."
"Ohhh, Chakotay," she moaned softly, her eyes closed. "Please . . ."
"Not yet." He continued to tease her, to set her body on fire. He knew how, remembered it all from years ago. It came back to him now so vividly. He could see her in his mind's eye, back in their bed on New Earth, her long hair in disarray around them, a stunning look of sheer pleasure on her face. He saw the same look on her face now. And her always-perfect hair was in disarray now, too. Though a bit shorter, he loved it just the same. And somehow, some way, he loved this woman even more than he'd loved her before.
He continued to kiss her. He ran his tongue over her bare shoulders and watched her skin shiver with excitement and longing. Gently, he moved one of his hands beneath her and unzipped her dress, all the way down her back. She never noticed, never realized he'd released one of her hands for a full minute, even when he moved it back to hold hers again.
Chakotay continued to kiss her neck and arms, slowly moving the dress down her arms, and down her chest with his teeth, nudging it lower with his chin. She was moving slightly beneath him, wanting more, needing more. Her eyes were still closed, and her body seemed to be made of electricity. She had long lost control of it.
Gently, Chakotay brought her arms down to her side and then let go of both of them, though she didn't seem to notice. He slowly moved the straps of her dress down, off her arms, and began to do the same with her bra. He'd undone it when he unzipped the dress, and now it slid down her body easily. He discarded it onto the floor with the other garments that were already there.
He gazed at her breasts. They were still beautiful, familiar, an image he'd seen for so long in his dreams. She was looking at him now, watching him look at her. There was no embarrassment, no hesitation. She was giving herself to him again, letting him know she belonged to him, would always belong to him.
He looked into her eyes, and saw a desire so deep it took his breath away. "Kathryn," he managed to whisper, and his eyes became moist. "I've missed you so much," he said, and leaned forward to kiss her gently on the mouth.
She touched his face, and broke the kiss to look into his eyes. "I've missed you too, Chakotay. More than you'll ever know."
"I can't lose you again."
"You won't," she whispered, then kissed him once more.
He deepened the kiss until they were both breathing heavily again. He moved back, and gently grazed her breasts with his fingers. He watched her already hard nipples become even more taunt, and she pushed her breasts into his hands. He lowered his mouth to them and kissed them, then ran his tongue over them and nipped them with his teeth gently. She sighed, trembled beneath him, then whispered his name over and over again.
"Chakotay . . . ?" Suddenly she moved back to his remaining clothing, and began to tug at it again. "Please . . ."
"Not yet, Kathryn. Trust me."
She lay back again, and looked into his eyes. Of course she trusted him, but that didn't make not touching him any easier. Her body wasn't her own, and she was drowning in his touches. "Oh, I do, Chakotay. But I want to feel you inside me," she said in a low voice filled with need.
Her words alone nearly made Chakotay lose the last of his control, but he forced himself to pull back. He knew his erection was pushing into her side, and she was desperately trying to rub against it, but he couldn't let her, not yet.
He closed his eyes briefly, then slipped the rest of her dress down her hips and legs and dropped it onto the floor. She'd lost her shoes somewhere along the way, and now all she wore was a pair of soft silky, and very small, panties. Chakotay grinned. Not exactly Starfleet issue.
"Somehow proper uniform underclothes didn't go with the dress," said Kathryn, trying to make her voice sound steady. Her heart was still racing and the way he was looking at her made her skin ache for closer contact.
"I have to agree this looks much better," he said, still grinning, and skimmed her thighs with his hands, barely touching her. Her body practically vibrated, and he watched as she closed her eyes and moaned again. One of the reasons he'd never been able to forget making love to her was that she enjoyed it all, gave her all, passionately. No other woman had ever made him feel the way she did. He sighed softly to himself as he watched her, enjoying the way her body reacted to his touches. She was beautiful, and impossible to forget.
Chakotay continued to touch her with gentle caresses, and he watched as she arched her back and cried for more. He knew what she wanted, and he wanted it too, but they would both have to wait a bit longer.
He moved further down her body and ran his hands over her feet, her calves. He lowered his mouth to her toes and ran his tongue over them, then teased and sucked on them gently.
She nearly jumped off the bed. The sensation his tongue was causing was driving her mad with desire for him, and she didn't know how much more she could take before she exploded.
He slowly made his way up her legs. He kissed her knees then slowly spread her legs so he could run his tongue behind them. He felt her tremble, and he could see her chest rise and fall as her heart began to beat faster still. He watched her perfect breasts move, the nipples straining for attention. He nipped the back of her legs and heard her make a sound in the back of her throat, the sound of passion that only Kathryn could make, a sound that moved him, a sound he thought he'd never hear again.
As he moved further up her thighs, she began to breathe faster. She began to writhe beneath him, encouraging him, reaching for him. He took her hands in his just as he reached her upper thighs. She moaned. He continued to move higher, licking, kissing, until he reached her center. He gently separated her folds with his tongue. She was warm and wet and so very ready for him. He knew she wouldn't last much longer, and he didn't want her to.
"Kathryn," he whispered, as she continued to move above him, "let go. Let it go, for me." Then he moved his tongue back to her clitoris and gently teased it as he took it into his mouth. That was all it took.
She felt an incredible explosion course throughout her body, a lovely burst of fire and feeling unlike anything she'd known in years, not since the last time this man had touched her. She cried out and grabbed his hair, pulling him even further into her.
Chakotay felt her let go and give herself to him completely. His name tore through her throat as though it was the most natural thing in the universe, as though he had always been a part of her. He knew that she had always been a part of him.
When her breathing began to return to normal, Kathryn started to pull him up to her. She once again reached for the front of his trousers, and he once more stopped her. "Soon, Kathryn," he said.
"Now, Chakotay, I need you now," she whispered. "I want us to be together- we've waited long enough."
That much was certainly true, he thought. And there was no need to wait any longer. Kathryn had already told him she wanted them to be together forever. He didn't doubt her, and there was no need to try to make up for all their lost time together in one night. There would be plenty of time for that now.
He moved slightly onto the bed and began to remove the remainder of his clothing. Kathryn helped him. She looked into his eyes as she did so, and then suddenly she kissed him deeply, tasting herself in his mouth. But it was him she wanted, this man she'd loved for a very long time. Over the years, they'd worked together day in and day out, and they'd had their share of disagreements. They had learned together, defended their ship together, even attended ship's parties together. And they'd shared many meals together through the years, even a few candlelit dinners. But nothing had diminished their love for each other.
Nothing had changed the days and nights on New Earth, and the love they felt for one another then. It hadn't been a temporary love, it had been real. It had endured, and survived all the years in the Delta Quadrant.
Right now they were practically on Earth's doorstep. Life might just be worth living after all.
When Chakotay's clothing had joined Kathryn's on the floor, she reached toward him. He tried to still her hands, but she wouldn't let him. "No. Let me touch you," she whispered in his ear. And as her hands folded gently around his erection, he closed his eyes and buried his head in her neck, in her hair. He inhaled her scent, the soothing scent of Kathryn. His Kathryn.
He tried to hold himself back, told himself he would not lose control, but he felt himself slipping. "Kathryn," he whispered, "I can't hold out much longer."
"I don't want you to," she said, in a low voice. And when he lifted his face and looked into her eyes, he saw they were dark, hungry for him. She guided him to her, and he pushed inside, into the place he knew so well, and missed so much.
Kathryn gasped and cried his name, and he was brought back to his senses. He didn't want to miss this. He leaned over her and looked into her eyes. She was panting slightly and moving her body to meet his with each thrust he took. "Chakotay," she whispered his name in a way no one else could. And when he thrust even deeper inside her, she moaned then threw back her head and screamed his name as the climax hit her, erupting into an intense heat of passion she'd only known with him.
He was floating, then flying, then soaring high above all known galaxies. Kathryn was with him, laughing, kissing him, caressing him, touching him in places he only wanted her to know, and when he cried out her name in an explosion of gratitude, she only held him tighter and then kissed him deeply.
He fell against her, panting, feeling his heart try to still itself, and he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her against him. He willed himself not to cry, not to question again whether she was actually here with him. He would take the gift the Spirits had given him, and never take her for granted. She was the most important thing in life to him, the reason he'd gotten up every morning for years, even though he had deluded himself for most of those years.
When their breathing had returned mostly to normal, Kathryn moved away from him. She looked into his eyes and saw the look she'd made herself forget about, the look he'd given her in their final days together on New Earth. It was a look of love, a look of true love. She felt the tears swell in her eyes. She'd turned him away, she'd turned his love away all those years ago, out of a sense of duty.
Yet she knew she would do the same thing again if she were to go back in time to make that decision anew. There could have been no other way, not for her. At least, if there was she couldn't see it. She had needed to focus on getting her crew home, a crew who was lost because of her, because of another decision she had made, and it was her single duty to spend her life returning them to their homes. If it took her entire lifetime, she was duty-bound to devote one hundred per cent of her time and focus toward that single goal. That focus, that goal, had served to push her forward, to struggle toward home every day for seven years.
And any and all personal happiness was a dear price she had to pay for her devotion to duty, her obligation to her crew.
Ah, but she had fallen in love with this man, and loved him deeply for such a short time, long ago. And he had loved her, given her his heart. And now he said he still loved her. How that could be, after all this time and all they'd been through together, she had no way of knowing. But she wouldn't question his love, not ever, and she'd never turn her back to him again. The gods were smiling down on her, on them, and she would be forever grateful.
Chakotay saw a single tear spill down her cheek. He recalled one other time a single tear had fallen down her cheek, and how in love with her he'd been at that moment. He would remember it to his dying day. He moved his hand to her cheek and wiped the tear away gently. This time he could, this time she belonged to him. "Don't," he whispered.
"It's all right," she said, "I was just thinking . . . about us."
He smiled. "And?"
"I'm never going to let you go again, you know." She tried to make her voice sound light.
"I'm counting on it," he said. "I couldn't go through this a second time."
Her smile disappeared, and he saw a look of intense desire replace it. "Neither could I." She took his face in her hands and kissed him sweetly, gently, reverently. "I love you," she said, and kissed him again.
He let her. Her kisses were sweet, gentle, loving. She tasted of lazy days in the sun, of days to come that had been well earned.
"Hmm?" She kissed his chin, his nose.
"What will you tell Starfleet?"
"About what?" she said between kisses.
She stopped and looked at him. "What do you want me to tell them?" Her voice was smoky, seductive, yet businesslike at the same time. He'd never quite figured out how she managed to do that.
"Whatever you want," he said, and looked intently into her eyes.
"All right," she said and kissed him again.
He gently pulled away and looked into her eyes. "What will you tell them?" he asked.
"Does it matter?"
He thought about that a moment. "I'm not sure. But I would like to know."
She paused a moment. "I will tell them I have returned their Captain Chakotay, and my First Officer. I will tell them that Voyager would not be home today if it weren't for his efforts, and the efforts of my entire crew. Then I will tell them they are not to subject the former Maquis to further inquiries." She paused. "And then I will say that I intend to take the former Maquis Captain into my own custody for further investigations."
He smiled. "And what will they say to that?"
"I'm not sure. I might have to play it by ear from that point forward."
"Sounds good to me."
She was quiet a moment, and then turned to him, taking his face in her hands again. "Chakotay, I can't tell you that I know precisely what will happen when we return to Starfleet Command in two days' time. But I will promise you this: I will stand behind you, always. I will stand behind you as your Captain, and as your lover. I will do everything in my power to protect you and fight for you." She took a deep breath. "And I would have done that yesterday, as well."
"I know that, Kathryn." He blinked back the moisture that had suddenly appeared in his eyes.
"What is it?" she asked.
He took her hands in his and pulled her over to lie next to him. "I just wish it were all over. I wish we were home and everyone was debriefed and allowed to go free. Somehow, these last few days are not so easy to get through."
"Everyone will go free, Chakotay," she said quietly.
"You're sure of that? Admiral Janeway told you?" he asked.
"No. I just feel it."
He laughed softly. "You feel it."
"Yes. And if they won't let us go easily, we'll punch our way out."
He laughed again. He hadn't heard her say that in a long time. "All right. But give me a moment. After seven years of fighting Delta Quadrant battles, I need a rest."
She laughed softly. "I'm tired too, Chakotay."
"I believe you're tireless," he said.
"No, I just tell myself I am," she said, "And I'll be glad when I can stop pretending."
"I'll be glad when we can stop pretending a lot of things, Kathryn," he said, turning to her. "I love you."
"And I love you," she whispered.
He kissed her again, still awed by the fact that he could. And she was beautiful, as beautiful as he'd remembered, as beautiful as his dreams still told him she was. She was the Captain by day, but his breathtaking love by night. She always would be.
He continued to kiss her, to feel her softness, taste her lips, inhale her scent. And he felt himself become aroused again. So suddenly, so incredible was this woman.
He started to move toward her, but caught his breath as she brought herself up on top of him as easily as if they'd been together for years. Of course they hadn't.
But she had done this very thing on four occasions on New Earth. He remembered them all vividly.
After she straddled him, she leaned over slowly and kissed him. He wondered how she'd remained so lithe, so fluid over the years. It seemed as though no time had passed them by at all. He kissed her back, and felt more aroused than he thought he could be in such a short time. She murmured his name softly, then lifted herself easily onto his erection. They both gasped, and she sat back fully onto him so he could penetrate her as deeply as possible.
He began to thrust inside her. She kept time with his movements and knew when to thrust against him and when not to. They both moaned and gasped and whispered each other's names, until she suddenly felt the familiar tingle of kindling igniting, then becoming a fire in her belly, and then in her loins. As the fire gained momentum, she threw her head back and moaned deep in her throat, and then she felt the explosion rip through her body, her mind, her soul. She screamed Chakotay's name one last time as her body shook with spasms and her vaginal muscles began to tense and relax, tense and relax.
Chakotay felt her climax and watched her face as she accepted it. He felt her body jerk and spasm around him, and he knew without question he hadn't seen anything so beautiful in years. Not since the last time they were together, the night before Voyager reclaimed them from New Earth.
Suddenly, Chakotay knew he couldn't last another moment - he wanted to be with her, to join her in her world. He felt it in his gut first, and then he thrust one last time and spilt his seed into her, claiming her for his own once more. He grabbed her buttocks and held her to him as he exploded into her, and she leaned over to kiss him.
When their breathing steadied she sat up, and he cupped her breasts into his hands. They were still beautiful, still erect, still very full and very much in need of attention. He rolled her over onto her back and began to leisurely taste her breasts. He sucked her nipples and teased them, licked them, and gently nipped at them. And it did his ego good to hear the passionate sounds of desire coming from her, that low pitch in her voice that had kept him spellbound for years.
"Chakotay," she whispered.
"If you keep this up, I promise you'll have more than you bargained for this evening."
He stopped what he was doing and looked at her with the huge grin she adored, the one he'd kept only for her. "I've already had much more than I bargained for this evening," he said. "I'd planned to drink a cup of herbal tea and catch up on crew reports until bedtime."
"Oh. Well, I do need those reports first thing in the morning," she said, with a purr in her voice that would have sent him to his knees had he been standing.
"You'll have them," he said simply.
"I will?" she asked, surprised. It was already the middle of the night.
"Of course," he said. "Can't keep the Captain waiting."
"I'll tell you what," she said, pulling him up next to her and moving her mouth close to his. "As long as I have them by 10.00 hours, there won't be a problem. All right?"
He grinned again. "Sounds good to me. I can actually catch a bit of sleep tonight."
"That's what I had in mind," she whispered as she kissed him again. Gods, it felt so good to kiss him.
"Stay with me tonight, Kathryn." His voice was gentle, soft, but his underlying tone told her he didn't want her to leave him. Not ever again.
"I'm here, Chakotay. This is where I belong," she said.
And he wrapped his arms around her, kissed her again, and didn't let go of her the whole night through.
The following morning, Harry rang the buzzer early at the Paris's. He knew he wouldn't wake anyone; he'd heard the baby crying through the closed door.
Tom answered the door on the second try. His hair was still ruffled from sleep and he hadn't had his sonic shower yet. "Harry . . . aren't you up early?" he asked and started back inside, motioning Harry to follow him.
"Uh . . . no, I worked third shift last night. I haven't been to bed yet," said Harry, watching Tom prepare a replicated formula for the bottle.
"Harry, Harry . . . still trying to suck up to the Captain. We'll be home in less than two days, Harry ole' boy. I don't think you'll get promoted before then."
"Tom," said Harry, in a low voice so as not to disturb B'Elanna in the other room, "I need to talk to you about something."
"I'm just preparing Miral's fourth breakfast. Can we talk here?" asked Tom, as he picked up the infant from her bassinet. She immediately quieted.
"Sure, I guess," said Harry, and Tom suddenly realized that Harry didn't want B'Elanna to come into the room unexpectedly.
"B'Elanna didn't sleep much last night," said Tom easily. "It was her turn to feed the baby, but I'm sure she's sound asleep now that it's my turn." He noticed Harry glance at the bedroom door again. "Why don't we sit over here," he continued, taking Harry across the room to the furthermost end. "We can talk over here without waking B'Elanna." Though Tom used that as a reason, he could see in Harry's face that Harry didn't want B'Elanna or anyone else to be privy to whatever was on his mind.
"Sure," said Harry, following Tom across the room. "Okay." They both sat and Tom began to feed Miral her bottle.
"Well?" asked Tom. Harry was really getting his attention now. This must be good.
Harry sighed again, and glanced at the empty doorway across the room. "Like I told you, I worked third shift."
"Right," said Tom. He knew from vast experience that Harry had to get to a point in his own way.
"Well, last night I saw some fluctuations in some of the readings the Captain had told me to keep a close watch on. Nothing big, just minor fluctuations."
"Okay," coaxed Tom.
"The Captain is not a sound sleeper, and as you know, she's often up and about at all hours of the day and night."
"Right." It was best just to let Harry do this his own way.
"So, instead of disturbing her if she was asleep, I asked the computer her whereabouts first." Harry paused.
"And?" asked Tom.
"Well, she was in . . . Commander Chakotay's quarters."
"She's often in his quarters, Harry," said Tom. He was disappointed. He thought Harry had something better to tell than this. "And he's often in hers. They work together a lot, in case you haven't noticed. Ship status reports, crew reports . . ."
"I know that, Tom," said Harry, trying not to be irritated. Tom always wanted quick answers. "But that was 01.00 hours."
"That's not entirely unusual, Harry. Besides, we'll be home in a matter of hours and I'm sure they're just finishing up reports they've put on hold. Now's the time for cleanup, and if they've put things on the back burner, they'll need to take care of them now." He stood. Miral was asleep. Finally. He carried her back to the bassinet and gently put her inside.
"I checked her location again at 03.00 hours. And again at 05.00 hours," said Harry in a firmer voice.
Tom turned to him, suddenly much more interested. "And?"
"Still in Commander Chakotay's quarters," said Harry, looking squarely at Tom.
"You don't say?" said Tom, genuinely interested now.
"Needless to say, I didn't contact her."
"I don't blame you, Harry. I wouldn't have either," said Tom.
"Tom," Harry leaned forward. "You don't think this has been going on . . ."
"No. I don't." Tom sighed. "Harry, I've checked ship's logs, sensors, crew locator logs, everything, for years. They've not spent the night together in either of their quarters before now." He paused. "You're absolutely sure of this, Harry?"
"Yeah, I'm sure," said Harry, casting one last glance toward the bedroom door. "Listen, I just had to tell someone. You're not going to go start some kind of last minute betting pool, are you?"
"Harry, Harry . . ." began Tom.
"I want your word this will go no further, Tom. We're almost home now. And you're a husband and a father."
"Harry . . ."
"This is no time to risk getting demoted again, Tom."
That did the trick. Tom took a deep breath. No, it would not do to get demoted just as he was due to see his father again after seven years. And, though he loved his wife and baby girl, every once-in-a-while he missed the throw-caution-to-the-wind gadabout he used to be. Not often, but every now and then. Like now. He'd love to follow up on this lead and start a new, and final, betting pool aboard Voyager. But it seemed that even Tom Paris had to grow up. "Harry, ole' boy, you're absolutely right. And I hope you're right about the Captain and Chakotay, too. It's about time those two did something about all that whispering they've done behind me for years."
"And the laughs," said Harry.
"You know - chuckles. The Captain has a certain . . . chuckle . . . she uses when she's with Commander Chakotay, even on the Bridge. And when they're not fighting." He shrugged.
"I think you're right, Harry," said Tom, thinking back. "And, I sure hope you're right about last night, and she didn't just fall asleep on his couch and he let her sleep there."
"I don't think so, Tom." Harry started to move toward the door.
"Well, we'll see how they behave on the Bridge this morning." Tom walked with Harry to the door. "You won't be there, will you, Harry? Since you worked third shift."
"Actually, I'm getting a few hours of shut-eye, then joining the Bridge shift at 11.00 hours."
"Harry, Harry . . . you're just a glutton for punishment."
Harry smiled. "Not at all, Tom. I just don't want to miss anything now that we're practically knocking on Earth's door."
Tom shook his head. "See you later, then."
"See you," said Harry, and left.
Tom stood for nearly five minutes in the same spot by the door. It would really be something if what Harry said were true. After seven years, maybe the Captain and Chakotay would finally admit they were in love with each other. Hell, the entire crew had known it for years, watched them together, saw them fight and then make up again, over and over. There had been much speculation that they had been lovers back on that planet a few years ago, when they'd been left there for several weeks after contacting a virus. He'd thought so. He still thought so.
Miral stirred, and let go with a mild wail. Tom ran over and soothed her, and she stopped almost immediately. He hoped he would always have this sort of rapport with his daughter. He sighed. All bets aside, he really wished the best for his Captain. She was the reason he had all that he had now. If she hadn't given him a chance to prove himself, to pilot her ship and take on the responsibilities of a senior staff member, he would still be playing pool in Sandrines, which wasn't a bad thing in itself, but definitely not something to do for the rest of one's life.
Tom smiled. And there was Chakotay, too. The Captain sure knew how to keep Chakotay on his toes, that was for sure. That soft spoken, calm demeanor had been broken a time or two by the Captain's orders. Well, Chakotay needed that. He'd waste away without the Captain's stubbornness. And charm. He had certainly benefited from both ends of that one.
The two of them were known to have a bout in the Captain's Ready Room from time to time - a difference of opinion, so to speak. And not too far down the road after that, rumor would have it there'd be a nice candlelit dinner in the Captain's quarters. To go over crew reports, or some such.
And then Tom laughed aloud. Yes, Chakotay needed the Captain to wake him up every now and then. Then he thought about last night. Yes, maybe she woke him up for sure. He knew what living with a half Klingon was like, and he was sure the Captain was a handful too. She would keep a man on his toes. And Chakotay was the perfect man for the job.
God bless them, he thought suddenly. He wished them as much happiness as he felt in his heart now. He had everything he thought he'd never wanted, but he had wanted it. He'd just been too afraid to admit it for fear it would never happen. Not to Tom Paris.
But it had happened to Tom Paris. He leaned over to kiss his sleeping daughter's forehead.
Sometimes Fate stepped in to help a situation out. He believed that now. And he hoped that Fate would be kind to Captain Janeway and Chakotay. They deserved to be together.
And unbidden, Tom Paris felt a single tear escape down his cheek as he watched his baby daughter sleep. Who knew he could be reduced to this?
But it sure felt good.
Chakotay opened his eyes at 06.00 hours. He hadn't had much sleep, and his body felt oddly sore, but he also felt at peace. It was a quiet peace, a peace that filled his soul. He hadn't felt this kind of peace since . . . the last time he made love with Kathryn, a long, long time ago.
He looked over at the rumpled but empty side of the bed next to him. She was gone. He sighed. Of course she was gone. She was either never there and he'd dreamed it all, or she'd gotten up earlier than necessary to walk the bowels of her ship, which she often did. She said it brought her peace.
Chakotay smiled to himself. It had been real. He knew it. He could still smell her scent. He would know that scent anywhere, at any time. He always knew when Kathryn had been in a room if he happened to walk in within five minutes of her departure. He could smell her. She was always there, in his mind, in his senses. He sat beside her on the Bridge daily, and often dined with her in the evening. And he always went to bed with her on his mind. How he had denied that to himself for so long, he'd never know. But he had. And he'd nearly lost everything.
He stood from the bed and realized that what he'd thought for some time now was true. He wasn't as young as he used to be. His body ached. But he smiled again anyway. It had been worth it. He headed for the bathroom. A quick shower, a fresh uniform, and he would report to the Bridge. It was time to sit beside her and inhale her fragrance again.
But today it would be different.
Today, he would enjoy it immensely, knowing that she was his once more, that he would be able to touch her, hold her, kiss her, make love to her again when they were alone together. He would be able to satisfy that constant yearning in his gut
He took a deep breath and grinned. Life was good again.
Captain Janeway checked the Engineering report on the computer screen in front of her. It was simply a matter of pride that she wanted her ship to be in tip-top condition when they arrived back on Earth. And according to B'Elanna, the engine room would be exactly as it needed to be, and maybe even a bit better. Leave it to B'Elanna to leave her bed so soon after giving birth to make sure things were shipshape in Engineering herself. She didn't want to leave it to chance or to anyone else to do her job for her.
Kathryn smiled to herself. She knew precisely how that felt.
She turned to glance at Chakotay. Somehow it was different sitting beside him today. Different, yet not all that different, too. He was still steady, reliable, her Rock of Gibralter. She was accustomed to feeling his self-control, and the constant strength radiating from him. She always knew he was there, and she could depend on him.
Yet this morning there was more. There was an unspoken tie between them, a bond that felt familiar, yet somehow more secure at the same time. She sighed softly to herself. How had she been able to ignore the true depth of their relationship for so long? Somehow, some way she had.
They had not spoken privately to each other this morning yet. She had awakened very early, showered and dressed, and took a long walk through her ship before stopping in to the mess hall for a quick cup of strong black coffee before reporting to the Bridge for alpha shift. She never stayed long in the Mess anymore. She still missed Neelix so much, and the ache was still so raw, that she tried to ignore the fact that he was gone. Sometimes it worked best that way, at least for a time.
When she'd reported to the Bridge at 06.45 hours, Commander Chakotay wasn't due to report for another 45 minutes. She had caught up on reports that were waiting for her from the night before and studied Harry's report on the minor fluctuations he'd detected during the last shift. It was a good thing he'd left the information for her in the form of a report rather than contacting her in the middle of the night. That might have made for a difficult situation. She smiled to herself, and sent a copy of the report to Commander Chakotay's terminal.
When Chakotay walked onto the Bridge, she threw him a glance and her heart skipped a beat. She wanted to touch him, to wrap her arms around him and touch her lips to his. She felt his presence in such an unexpected way, and she was completely unprepared for the sudden reaction her body was having at his arrival. It was a good thing they would be home in 36 hours, she thought as she took a deep breath and willed her heart to beat normally. She was already having difficulty keeping her mind on business at hand.
Chakotay glanced at her as he moved by her to sit in his command chair. She'd glanced over her shoulder at him when he'd entered the Bridge. Now, she was studying her monitor, but she moved her eyes to his for one brief second and his heart began thundering in his chest. The look in her eyes had said it all. He wanted to touch her, hold her against him and kiss her. Last night was the most incredible night he could remember, yet he yearned for more. He knew without question he would spend the rest of his life trying to satisfy his need for her, but he also knew he'd never quite manage to do so. That was how it was to love Kathryn Janeway. She was everything to him, but he would never quite feel sated. The more she gave him of herself, the more he wanted of her. He'd pined for her for years, and he always would. He knew that now.
He recalled a saying of his People: You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person. Kathryn was his world, and she would always be. He sighed softly, and heard her do the same beside him. Hopefully they were both subtle enough that Tom Paris hadn't overheard them.
But Tom had heard them. Something was definitely different today. They were both being very businesslike behind him this morning, but he could feel the difference. It was in the air all around them. It was as though there was even more electricity than usual being tossed between those two command chairs. It seemed as though ole' Harry had been right, after all. And it figured that Tom Paris couldn't cash in on it. But then, who needed replicator rations anymore, anyway? He heard himself sigh this time. It was just as well they were home. Certain pleasures just couldn't be enjoyed anymore, and other new duties had taken their place. He grinned. All in all, he was a very happy man. He wouldn't trade his lovely wife and beautiful child for all the replicator rations in the Delta Quadrant. He guessed it was an even trade. And the Captain and Chakotay certainly deserved some downtime and happiness, too. He sincerely wished them the best from the bottom of his heart.
Finally, Captain Janeway stood. "I'll be in my Ready Room, Commander," she said in her clipped Captain's tone. Chakotay nodded, and watched her leave the Bridge as she'd done more times than he could recall over the past seven years. Then he turned his attentions to the copy of Harry's report she'd just sent him, and tried to figure out why she'd sent it.
The report was about some fluctuations that the Captain had been interested in yesterday, but it wasn't information her First Officer needed to know about. It would also be interesting reading for those with like scientific minds, and not a spiritual mind, he decided. And then he saw the time of the report, and the times the fluctuations were discovered during third shift, Harry's shift. He took a deep breath. It was a good thing Harry had put it all into a report instead of contacting Kathryn last night. That might have made for a difficult predicament. He smiled.
Today he felt more at peace than he ever had in his life. Strange how telling oneself the truth set one free. Admitting to himself that he still loved her had nearly killed him, but loving her again freely had revitalized him, made him fresh and strong.
Now Chakotay started to think about the rest of their life together, as the Captain tried to take her mind off him in her Ready Room to begin preparing for their return to Earth in just under 36 hours.
"Come," called Captain Janeway. She was clearing her computer monitor and pulling up the Astrometrics report from last night.
Chakotay stepped into her Ready Room and the door closed behind him. They smiled at each other.
"Well," she said, putting her coffee down on the desk, and rising. "I wondered how long it would take you to come here."
"Thirty five minutes. Somehow I thought I was more irresistible than that," she said in a way that made his heartbeat erratic again.
"Believe me, you are. It took every ounce of will power I had to wait this long," he said, and grinned.
She moved around the desk to him, and put her arms around his neck. "I used to think about kissing you right here in my Ready Room," she whispered as she moved her lips closer to his.
"I wish you had," he whispered back.
"I couldn't. That would have made me weak," she said. "And I had a ship to get home."
"How soon I forgot about that," he said, then closed the distance and kissed her long and hard. They broke the kiss finally, and both were breathing hard.
Kathryn removed her arms from around his neck and placed her hands on his chest. "I have something to show you," she said, and moved back behind her desk. Chakotay smiled as he watched her pull up the star chart of the Alpha Quadrant. "What do you think? Is this a strange-looking star, or has another planet been discovered since we became lost in the Delta Quadrant?" She slid her computer toward him.
Chakotay pulled the computer in front of him and sat. When Kathryn wanted to talk about business, that's what they talked about. "I'm not sure what we're looking at, but Stellar Cartography might want to see this."
"I already have them looking into it," she said, and turned the computer back toward her. "I just wanted to see if you're as confused as I am."
"I'm not confused, Kathryn," he said. "I love you more today than I did yesterday, and that's saying a lot."
His unexpected answer made her smile. "I like hearing things like that," she said in Kathryn's voice, which was quite different from the Captain's.
"Good. I have a lot of them stored up." He smiled for a moment, but then the smile faltered.
"What?" She saw an odd look pass over his face.
"There's something I want to talk to you about."
"I realize we're in your Ready Room, Captain," he said, using her title intentionally. "We're also in the middle of alpha shift, but I need a few minutes for a personal discussion."
She looked him in the eye. "Since we're so close to home, I think I can allow that."
"Good." He took a deep breath. "I've been thinking about our return to Earth. We both know that Admiral Janeway's time line is not our current time line. That's all changed now."
"We don't know how much of it has changed, Chakotay, or how much will stay the same." She thought about how Chakotay had nearly moved away from her and into the arms of Seven of Nine. Kathryn shook her head and forced the thought away. "Some things will surely stay the same, and others will not." She didn't know where he was going with this, and she started to become uneasy.
"Kathryn, in Admiral Janeway's time line, the Maquis were released when Voyager arrived back on Earth. Even though I served as their Captain, I was released as well."
"We don't know if that will happen tomorrow afternoon when we arrive home. For all we know, the Maquis will be taken into custody, stand trial and be sent to prison for past crimes committed against the Federation, and Cardassia. We may be given a long sentence. There's no way of knowing. On top of that, we're arriving home sixteen years earlier than Admiral Janeway did. Memories are better served today than when she arrived home with her Voyager."
"What's this about, Chakotay?"
He sighed. "I just want you to be prepared for the fact that things might not be easy for us tomorrow."
"I am prepared for that, Chakotay. I've always been prepared for that. And I have already thought about everything you've just mentioned."
"Kathryn, if you and I allow our relationship to be known, and I am served with a prison sentence, it will certainly affect your Starfleet career."
"You don't know that." She didn't like where this was headed.
But he wouldn't be deterred. "You won't make Admiral, Kathryn, if you are romantically involved with someone who is serving a prison sentence." He paused. "And I want you to go on with your life. Don't wait for me. Find someone else who can make you happy." He looked away. It broke his heart to say it, but he wouldn't hold her back, not now. "You've worked too hard, and for too long, to lose it all now."
She took a deep breath. "First of all, I don't want to become Admiral for a very long time, if ever, Chakotay. Do I look like someone who wants to push paperwork around on a desk and teach classes at Starfleet Academy?" He managed to smile at the image. "Secondly, I do not accept that you told me you love me yesterday, and today you want me to walk away from you."
"That's not what I said, Kathryn," he said. Kathryn Janeway was very good at turning words around when it was to her advantage.
She stood and circled the desk to stand in front of him. "Chakotay, I have loved you for a very long time, even though I didn't tell you or admit it to myself. And even though we hadn't made love in over five years, until last night." She paused and her voice softened. "And I don't see that changing anytime soon."
He stood. "Kathryn . . ."
She held up her hands in that way she had of halting everything and everyone in front of her. "I don't want to hear further discussion on that particular issue, Chakotay. Understood?" He didn't answer. "Chakotay . . ." She took another stop toward him and now they were nearly toe-to-toe. "I'm beginning to think you don't want anyone at all to know about our relationship."
"Kathryn," he said, and took a deep breath. She could be so frustrating. He knew she was trying to turn the issue around and make it something it wasn't. She was great at diversion. "I would have married you on New Earth, or the moment we returned from New Earth. I would have married you at any time during these past years on Voyager. I may have been deluding myself by pretending I had fallen out of love with you, but I believe I could have faced the truth any moment that you might have proposed marriage to me."
"Really," she said flatly, and crossed her arms in front of her.
"I love you, Kathryn. I've loved you for a very long time." She was quiet now. "I just wanted to tell you that I don't want or expect you to wait for me if I am forced to serve a prison sentence." It was her turn not to respond. He took another deep breath. This was more difficult than he'd thought it would be. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said.
"Good," he said.
"So you've thought about marrying me?" She was still standing in front of him, and her proximity was driving him to distraction.
"Kathryn, where you and I are concerned, I've thought about marriage more times than you'll ever know. And after we get home and find out what the future holds for me, I fully intend to bring up the subject in a very serious conversation. If I'm allowed to go free. So keep that in mind. Think about it. Decide what your answer will be." He touched her face and pressed his thumb against her lips. "And be gentle with me if the answer is 'no,'" he said softly, and kissed her on the cheek.
"I believe we're having a very serious conversation about marriage right now," she said calmly.
"But not the one I want us to have," he said.
"Hmm. But, you're still interested in marrying me?"
He sighed softly. "I would marry you tomorrow, Kathryn, if it were possible."
"But let's first see what the future holds in store for us."
"Our future starts in just a few hours, Chakotay." She paused a moment to swallow a lump in her throat. "I thought I'd never see this day," she said softly.
"You've certainly put on a good front then. You're the very reason we are here, Kathryn. It's only because you refused to give up, refused to surrender to the guiles of the Delta Quadrant, that Voyager is home again."
She smiled, and he could see she was tired. "I spent seven years sacrificing the present for a future I was certain would happen. Is that what you're saying?"
He smiled back. "Something like that. But you're the Captain. It was your right to do so."
She touched his cheek. "And even when you disagreed with me, you stood by me." She looked deeply into his eyes. "Thank you for that," she said so softly he barely heard her.
"I'll always stand by you, Kathryn. Always."
"I believe you," she whispered, and her eyes became dark with a need he would satisfy later.
He kissed her then, in the middle of the day, in the Captain's Ready Room. He was certain that wonders would never cease.
"On screen," said Captain Janeway, standing on the Bridge behind Tom Paris, near the Helm. Admiral Paris appeared in front of her. "Good evening, Admiral," she said.
"Captain Janeway," he said formally, but his eyes hinted at a satisfaction he hadn't known in years. Both his son and his former protégé were coming home at last. His son actually had a wife and new baby, and Captain Janeway was bringing home a lost starship, full of new knowledge and technologies never before known in the Alpha Quadrant. What a glorious few days this was turning out to be. "How are your repairs coming?"
"Fine. They're nearly complete, Admiral. We're ready now to set the final coordinates, and dock at the appointed time." B'Elanna had assured her Voyager would be a splendid sight to behold when they appeared within Earth's visual parameters.
"Good." He paused and took a deep breath. There was really nothing left to say. "We'll see you in about 22 hours, Captain, but we'll maintain contact and continue to check in at the designated times."
"Understood." She paused, and her tone softened just enough so that those who knew her recognized it. "One more thing, Admiral."
"Would it be possible for you to rendezvous with us in a shuttlecraft just prior to our entering Earth's atmosphere?"
The Admiral looked at the Captain. "To what end, Captain?"
"I plan to be married tomorrow morning, and since I can't perform the ceremony myself, I'd like for you to officiate. If you would do me the honor, Admiral." She looked Admiral Paris in the eye from her position on the Bridge, and he was again reminded of how very proud of her he was.
And then slowly, Admiral Paris smiled. "Married, Captain?"
"Yes, Sir." She felt, rather than heard or saw, her First Officer slowly stand from his chair behind her.
"To a crewmember, Captain?"
"To a senior staff member, and my First Officer, Admiral."
He paused. "And a Maquis."
"Ex-Maquis, Admiral," she said, not wavering eye contact for a nanosecond.
"An ex-Maquis would have me officiate at his wedding ceremony, Kathryn?" Admiral Paris asked, with an uncharacteristic glint of mischief in his eyes.
"He said he would marry me tomorrow, Admiral. We didn't exactly discuss who would conduct the ceremony, but I'm sure he will be more than happy to know I've asked you," she said in a strong voice.
"Then I'll not disappoint you, Kathryn. It would be my honor to officiate at your wedding."
"Thank you, Admiral," she said, and willed her voice to remain strong.
"Thank you for asking me, Kathryn," he said sincerely. And then his voice became the Admiral's once again. "Would it be convenient for me to board your vessel at 10.00 hours tomorrow?"
"That would be convenient, Admiral."
"I'll see you then, Kathryn." He paused. "And I look forward to meeting the man who owns your heart." And then he managed a hint of a smile, which was no small feat, to which Lieutenant Paris could attest.
And then the Admiral was gone from the viewscreen.
Tom held his breath and looked at Harry, and Harry held his breath and looked at Tom. Tuvok looked straight ahead.
Captain Kathryn Janeway slowly turned around to make eye contact with her First Officer. She was well aware of the silence on the Bridge.
"Kathryn," said Chakotay softly, "May I see you in your Ready Room?"
"To what end, Chakotay?" she said in a voice of silk, then placed her hands on her hips in that pose they all knew so well. "Just today you said you would marry me tomorrow, and I've just made arrangements for that to happen. Do you wish to change your mind now?"
Chakotay remained standing and slowly inhaled fresh air into his lungs. He felt his head spinning, and this time he couldn't blame it on a headache. Kathryn had made arrangements for them to be married. Tomorrow. And now she was standing on the Bridge with her hands on her hips, in front of the entire Bridge crew, waiting for an answer to her question. He swallowed hard. And he could swear not a soul was breathing on that Bridge. And then he smiled slowly. She was the most damnable woman he'd ever known. She was telling him in no uncertain terms that she would never, under any circumstance, desert him. She was with him for the long haul.
Slowly, she grinned back, and her mouth turned up at the corner in that way she had that always endeared her to him, even when she was at her most stubborn.
"Just tell me what time, where, what to wear and what to say, and I'll be there," he said. He wouldn't miss this for the world.
"Eleven hundred hours, Holodeck One, dress uniform. And you can say anything you want, although I'm sure Admiral Paris will have words of his own as well."
"Sounds good to me," he said, staring into the eyes of the woman he loved.
"Me too," she said softly, and her eyes twinkled with amusement, and a whole lot more. Then she moved back to her command chair to sit beside her First Officer, and soon-to-be husband.
But before they could sit, Tom Paris stood. "Uh . . . Captain?"
"Yes, Mr. Paris?" she responded, but her voice didn't quite get to that command level she usually directed at him.
"Uh . . . is this a private ceremony, or can anyone attend?"
The Captain and the Commander looked at each other, and then they both looked back at Lieutenant Paris. "Anyone aboard ship who would like to attend will be welcome, Lieutenant," she said gently.
"Thank you, Captain, and congratulations," he said softly, and his eyes shone with respect. She gave him a nod of appreciation. Then Tom shook Chakotay's hand and gave him a smile of approval, then returned to his seat to send a shipwide announcement of the Captain's invitation. Well, that's how it would read anyway. And he hoped that the Captain and Chakotay were ready for about a hundred and fifty crewmembers to witness their marriage ceremony.
Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay took their usual command seats. The Captain looked down and saw his open hand on the console between their chairs. An invitation. A deal being made, a contract between them. And simple contact, she thought. She smiled and placed her hand in his. Since they were so close to home, she figured she could allow that.
She looked up, into those warm caring eyes, and returned the smile. Yes, they were home at last. Maybe they hadn't been so far away from it all these years, after all.
The Captain sighed, then turned toward the viewscreen, and her Helmsman. "Mr. Paris?"
"Set the final coordinates, and maintain our course for home."
And as the starship Voyager made her final leg of the journey home, Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay held hands on the Bridge, and silently thanked Fate and the Spirits above for bringing them together again.