The End Of The Road by D.A. Kent


E-mail:

D.A. Kent

Date:

December, 2000

Series:

Voyager

Codes:

J/C

Rating:

PG-13

Disclaimer:

Paramount owns Star Trek Voyager, and all the characters therein. I only borrow them once-in-a-while.

Dedication:

This story is for Sandie, who never gives up on The Dream.



Commander Chakotay stood at the entrance to the Bridge, his gaze taking in the familiar area quickly. It seemed almost eerie. In seven years' time, he'd never seen the Bridge deserted, devoid of some sort of activity, and without there being someone in charge. The display panels were lit, but still.

Voyager had returned home only days ago, and another life, another way of life, awaited him. He didn't know what that was, and wasn't really interested. He hadn't yet put the memories of the past seven years behind him, and until he could do that, until he could move on emotionally, he couldn't be concerned about anything else.

Things had changed, certainly. But at this moment one thing remained the same. He'd asked the ship's computer for the Captain's location and had heard the familiar intonation with the familiar words: "The Captain is in her Ready Room."

He had come to see her, yet he still didn't know what he would say when they were face to face. Not that he hadn't been tongue-tied on many occasions where the Captain was concerned, but this was different. They weren't in the heat of battle this time, they weren't commanding a ship together anymore. They were simply a man and a woman now, although he knew it would be some time before he could adjust to the now non-existent command line that had been drawn in front of them for seven years. A command line that was so real he swore he could see it at times, a line neither of them was allowed to cross.

Ah, but there had been times they'd come close to crossing it.

A glimmer of a smile crossed Chakotay's face, as the sweet yet faint memories washed over him. He still had moments like these.

Chakotay forced himself to take a deep breath. He had come to see her with a purpose in mind. He'd known for years that this moment would arrive, but now he couldn't remember one word that he'd rehearsed, one single complete thought. It was all a blur, scrambled words lost somewhere in his mind. Lost in time, somewhere in the Delta Quadrant.

He closed his eyes, and his mind. He needed a moment to center himself, to steady himself, to prepare. Finally, he opened his eyes again. It hadn't helped. At best, he'd slowed his heart rate somewhat.

In all the days since they'd arrived home, he hadn't had one moment alone with Captain Janeway, which was Starfleet Command's intention, he knew. But she'd been busy with the Admirals and the Board of Inquiry. They'd had her locked up in rooms for hours at a time, asking questions, debriefing her. He'd been debriefed himself and had some idea of what she was going through. She never complained, though. She had brought her crew home again, and that's all she had ever really wanted for the past seven years.

And he knew that she had gone through a lot more rigorous debriefing than he or any of the others aboard Voyager had been through. But no one would ever guess it, or would ever know what went on behind those closed doors. She would never say.

And now the Captain had managed to hide from the probing questions and the holoimagers for awhile, and escape to her safe haven, her Ready Room. He managed another brief smile.

It was now or never. He knew this moment wouldn't come again. He might never get another opportunity to see her alone. And he had promised himself a long, long time ago he would do this. He had to know for sure that she didn't want him to be a part of her new life, back here on Earth. He had to know now, before he could even try to go on without her.

Chakotay forced himself to move forward. He began to count the fourteen steps he knew it would take to get to her Ready Room door from the uppermost deck by the turbolift, where he now stood. He had counted these steps on more than one occasion. They provided just enough time to prepare some reasonable answers for the Captain, or time to dread a confrontation. One, two, three, four . . . he stopped. Now he could see that the door to her Ready Room was standing open. He had never known it to stand open.

The strangeness of her open door spurred him onward, until he came to a stop just outside of it.

*

Captain Kathryn Janeway stood with her arms crossed in front of her and her back to the door of her Ready Room. She was looking out the viewport at the space station Voyager had come to. They had returned home a week ago. She and her crew had worked with officials from Starfleet Command and, when the timing had been right, she had taken her beloved ship into an innerspacial rift, a geodasic fold of sorts. Voyager had been spit out on the other side, and was at long last, home again.

They were back in the Alpha Quadrant and miraculously enough, even in their own century.

It had all happened so fast. No matter that she and her crew had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant for seven long years. If it had been ten years, or twenty, this sudden jolt resulting in their being home again was taking some getting used to.

She and her crew had undergone rigorous debriefing, and Kathryn and her senior staff had been kept from the rest of the crew, and from each other, for several days. It was The Starfleet Way. The Board of Inquiry didn't want the ship's Captain to mingle with her crew. After all, she and other members of the crew might try to make sure their stories match regarding certain events they had been involved in way out there in the Delta Quadrant. As though they hadn't had plenty of time to do that already, if they'd been so inclined.

The crew had finally been released late today and allowed to go home to their families. They were given time to pack whatever items and souvenirs they wanted from their quarters on Voyager and even given the option of spending one more night aboard ship if they so desired. They were dismissed late in the day, to be sure, but Kathryn couldn't imagine any of her crew spending another night on Voyager. Their initial short mission of only a few days had taken seven long years, and they had all spent far too many nights aboard Voyager as it was.

Now, Kathryn was trying to become accustomed to seeing a space station outside her window rather than the more familiar star systems of the Delta Quadrant, or of the Alpha Quadrant, for that matter. She'd always preferred seeing a quiet star-sprinkled blackness outside her window instead of some busy space station. It must be in her genes, she thought. Her father had been the same way.

Suddenly, Kathryn became aware of someone behind her. She knew who it was, she didn't have to ask him to identify himself. In a way, she'd been waiting for him.

"Come on in, the door's open," she said, with a small attempt at humor.

"I can see that," said her First Officer, stepping into the Ready Room and stopping several feet behind her.

"Strange thing. The door worked just fine for seven years in the Delta Quadrant, then as soon as we got home, it stopped closing," she said.

"Maybe B'Elanna should take a look at it," he said, smiling.

She smiled back at his distant reflection in the viewport glass in front of her.

"While she's at it, see if she can fix the chronometer, too."

Chakotay looked across the room. The chronometer had stopped at the exact moment Voyager had entered the Alpha Quadrant. It was a moment many would remember for a long time to come. And some would never forget.

"I can't say good-bye to you, you know," she said softly, unexpectedly, with her back still to him.

He stood behind her, quietly, in that way he had, and in the way he'd done for so long now.

"Do you expect me to just go away without saying something to you?" he asked, just as softly.

"There's nothing left between us to say, Chakotay," she said.

"There has to be something, Kathryn."

"Like what? What can I do, or say to you, that would close the chapter on the past seven years of our lives?"

He paused.

"Why close the chapter, Kathryn?"

"Because it's the end of the road, Chakotay. We've brought our crew home. And that was our ultimate goal, after all."

"It was your goal, Kathryn. And I'm glad we achieved it."

She turned to him then.

"You're implying that it wasn't your goal, as well?"

"It was one of them."

They looked across the way at each other, lost in thought, lost in memories. And lost in feelings they'd both pushed away for so long. Suddenly, they both turned away, Kathryn with her back to Chakotay once more, while he looked down at the floor. They had shared so much, knew what sort of ghosts the other carried, the fears, and where to find the peaceful place in each other's hearts. They knew what touched the other, and what buttons to push to upset each other. They had learned how the other was put together, what type of mortar held all the pieces in place, and even how to recognize the signs when one of those pieces needed to be mended, or cemented more firmly into place.

And sometimes, they knew each other better than they knew themselves.

Kathryn sighed. She didn't turn to face him, though, couldn't bear to look into his eyes.

"We're at the end of the road, Chakotay," she said again. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she forced them away.

"My People have a saying, Kathryn," he said gently.

Kathryn laughed softly.

"Do they?"

"The end of the road may instead be the beginning of a turn which leads to a new road on the other side."

Even with her back to him, Chakotay watched Kathryn shake her head.

"I'll keep that in mind," she whispered to him. They were both suddenly quiet.

Chakotay paused. The moment of familiarity had passed quickly.

"Kathryn, I believe we are all responsible for our own happiness; it doesn't just come to those who wait for it."

Kathryn nodded.

"Sounds plausible."

"What do you believe?" he asked in a gentle voice.

She forced herself to turn to him again.

"Chakotay, right now I just don't know. All I want to do is finish the good-byes to the crew tomorrow, and get through the next few days, more of the same questions and answers, the interviews and the limelight. After this is finished, I'll worry about what comes next."

"Where will you look for the answers?"

Chakotay was persistent, but then, she knew that about him and had been glad for it - most of the time.

"I don't know, Chakotay," she said, finally. She had to be honest with him, she owed him that, no matter how sad the truth sounded out loud. After a moment, she looked up at him. "What about you? Where are you off to now?" she asked, and for one brief moment Chakotay thought he saw something more than friendly concern in her eyes.

"I'm not sure," he said softly, looking away from her. He wanted to remember that flicker he'd just seen in her eyes. He so wanted to believe it was more than what he was sure it truly was. "I still need to pack up the things in my quarters. I thought I'd strike out first thing in the morning, in one direction or another, and see what I can find."

She smiled at him.

"You've given it no more thought than that?"

"I have. I just haven't found any easy answers," he said, looking at her again, and returning her smile. She was still the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, even though her eyes had changed over the years. Now they held even more wisdom than they had when he'd first met her. And wisdom has a way of calming the fire in one's eyes, he thought.

But then, sometimes, when she looked at him in that way she had of looking right into his soul, he still saw that fire. And his heart would stop beating for a moment.

Kathryn nodded at him, knowing how it was, and then they both looked away again.

"I know the feeling," she said in a voice that he barely heard.

She would lose him now, she thought to herself. She'd known it would happen eventually, but knowing it well in advance wasn't making the pain in her heart lessen any now.

"Kathryn. I thought that maybe . . . maybe you and I could continue to travel down this road awhile longer, a bit further."

He suddenly had trouble swallowing.

"What?"

She turned back to him with the question still in her eyes. Had she heard him correctly? Maybe she'd read too much into his words, heard things that weren't there, couldn't possibly be there after all this time.

He'd promised himself a long time ago that when this moment came, he wouldn't walk away from her without knowing the truth about her feelings for him. And he didn't intend to let her walk away from him, either. He couldn't stumble about for the rest of his life, always wondering if she would have given him a chance to be more to her than just a friend.

"Together," he forced himself to say. "See where it takes us, see if we both want to follow the same road for a little while. Or, for a long while . . ."

His voice trailed off, but he forced himself to keep his eyes trained on hers.

"Chakotay . . ."

"Just hear me out, Kathryn."

He knew he'd cut her words off, but his heart was suddenly in his stomach. His hands were cold, and he was afraid. The big Maquis fighter was afraid of hearing Kathryn say the words he dreaded, the words he didn't want to hear. She would say she was only interested in him as the friend he had become, that she was going to move on now, alone, and embrace Starfleet life fully again, maybe someday find someone else to share her life with . . . She would say she was sorry, and that it was too late to redefine those parameters she had set so long ago. She would be kind in her words. But he suddenly couldn't bear to hear them, not after waiting so long to hear different words instead.

"Kathryn," he paused just long enough to swallow the lump that was stuck in his throat. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was reminded of eating Neelix's Talaxian oatmeal. "I can't promise you anything of myself that you don't already own," he said, forcing himself to look deeply into her eyes. He would never have this moment again. "And I can't offer more comfort and security than what we've already shared. But I'm steady and solid, and I'll always be here for you. I'll never choose to leave you. Not if you want me to stay."

He continued to look into Kathryn's eyes for a moment longer. She hadn't been expecting this, he realized. Maybe she thought his love for her had come and gone; maybe she had thrown his feelings for her to the back of her mind where she filed long dead and forgotten memories. Unimportant memories. Things which resurfaced now and then for a quick unexpected moment, but were pushed back safely into place with a firm hand. He knew this was often how she dealt with uncomfortable moments; they had certainly had their share of them.

"Think about it, that's all I ask," he forced himself to say. Her eyes still held his, but he could see that she wasn't prepared to have any sort of conversation about his feelings for her. "I'll see you again, in the morning," he managed to add, knowing in no uncertain terms that he had just made a complete fool of himself in front of Kathryn Janeway, something he hadn't done in a long time. Then he turned quickly and left the room.

Kathryn stood still. Her heart was pounding, and she was having trouble breathing. Damn! A vague and far away thought went through her mind that she should have brushed up on all those survival courses Tuvok constantly forced upon the crew. She was standing here, nearly hyperventilating, while Chakotay was running away from her - no, from the words he was sure she was going to say. She knew it in her heart.

She had to make things right between them, though, before they each went their separate ways. She had to make sure he understood that things hadn't changed between them just because they had reached home, that everything remained the same now as they had been before.

Taking a moment, Kathryn forced herself to calm down.

"Computer," she said, "Where is Commander Chakotay?"

"Commander Chakotay is in his quarters."

Of course, she thought. He had let her know he was staying in his quarters for one more night. He hadn't had the time to pack his things, just as she hadn't, and his quarters were still his for another night, if he wanted them to be. For a moment she felt uncomfortable, even slighted. She'd wanted Voyager all to herself for just a little while, for just tonight.

After seven years of being forced to sleep in ship's quarters, she hadn't imagined that any of her crew would actually choose to stay here now. But Chakotay, as she well knew, was unlike anyone else.

She laughed ruefully. And she'd planned to stay here, hadn't she? Her mother and sister would be arriving from Indiana the day after tomorrow. She had asked them not to come earlier because she would be tied up at Headquarters and wouldn't be able to see them. But there was more to it than that, she finally admitted to herself. She just needed the time to herself. She needed some time to put the past seven years behind her, to accept the fact that she was just Kathryn Janeway now, and not Captain Janeway. Things were different now. The Captain had brought her ship home, and now she was just a person again, a human female. A woman.

Captain Janeway had planned to spend one more night - alone - on board her ship. For old times' sake, she told herself. She wanted to walk the decks once more, take a trip down a seven year long memory lane, replay it, digest it all, and wonder where in the hell the time had gone, what had been so compelling about getting home so quickly? But she knew why they'd had to come home. It had been her fault that Voyager was stranded in the Delta Quadrant all those years ago, and therefore her responsibility to get the crew home to their families, and as quickly as possible.

She had lost Mark along the way, but that was all right, somehow. Things had a way of working out the way that Fate intended them to work out. But Kathryn Janeway had defied Fate all her life; she had taken roads less traveled, roads that were daring, dark, lonely, daunting to most. And she had weathered each one, walked each one alone. She had proved herself, but now she couldn't even remember why she'd needed to do that.

Well, she reflected, if she was to be truly honest with herself, she hadn't traveled every one of those roads alone - she hadn't been alone for quite some time now, had she? Chakotay had been there with her, on this last, and longest, road she'd traveled. He'd been behind her to push when she'd needed pushing, and in front of her to pull her up when she'd needed coaxing. He'd looked her in the eyes and told her when she was wrong when no one else would, and he'd always been the first to congratulate her when she was right.

Kathryn smiled. And Chakotay always let her have the last word.

Not just any First Officer was capable of supporting Captain Kathryn Janeway, but she'd found one who could. Or, maybe it was Fate who had intervened once again, and threw them together.

Maybe Fate had a way of looking out for her in the end, she thought suddenly. And for Kathryn Janeway, someone who had always thought of Fate as a thing that had to be bested, this was a monumental realization.

Kathryn slowly sat in the chair behind her, and leaned her head over her knees in an effort to stop the world from spinning. She sat this way for two full minutes, forcing herself to take deep breaths, trying to keep her mind quiet, the images still.

When she felt better, she sat back in her chair, her head resting on the cushion behind her. Her eyes were closed, and she tried to relax. Instead, she felt the beginnings of a familiar headache in her temples. She tried to tell herself it had been a long day, that the headache was a result of having said good-bye to so many of her crew already. But she knew better. This wasn't just a tension headache.

No, she knew what sort of headache this was. She was trying to force away something that she didn't want to face. It was that sort of headache. Her father used to tell her these headaches were the result of her stubbornness refusing to accept defeat. It was the same headache she'd had off and on for months after her father and Justin died, and it was the same as the one she'd experienced just after receiving Mark's letter on Voyager, telling her he'd moved on with his life. It was the same headache she got whenever she even began to entertain the idea of letting Chakotay into her heart.

Her eyes snapped open. No, she was not going to allow herself to fall into this state. But she had to get rid of this damned headache. And then she would go to see Chakotay, set the record straight once again, once more and for all time.

Kathryn rubbed her temples gently. No amount of pressure would relieve this headache, she knew from experience. She looked at the chronometer across the room, forgetting for a moment that it was no longer working properly. Just as she'd told Chakotay earlier, it had stopped working the moment Voyager entered the Alpha Quadrant. Strange thing. It had worked just fine for seven years, for the entire trek through the Delta Quadrant. But the moment the ship reached home, it had quit. Its job was done, she thought absently to herself. It had done its part to keep them on track, to remind them it was time to get home, time to get home, time to get home . . . and once Voyager was safely in the Alpha Quadrant again, its job was done. It had died.

Kathryn stood quickly.

"Computer, what time is it?"

"It is 22:10 hours," replied the automated, and somehow comforting, voice of the computer she had listened to for seven years.

"Computer, has Voyager been secured for the night?"

"Affirmative," replied the computer.

"How many people are aboard this ship?"

She wanted to be alone, to be free to wander the corridors and relive her memories without fear of being discovered. She didn't want to be Captain tonight, she wanted to be able to cry if she felt like it, and a Starfleet Captain would never cry. At least no one would actually see a Starfleet Captain cry.

"There are nine people aboard Voyager."

Kathryn sighed. Nine people. Who in their right minds would stay another night aboard this ship? Well, other than the Captain. And hopefully, she still had her right mind. It had to be crewmembers; no one else was allowed to remain on board Voyager over night. And the hatch had been scheduled for lock down at 22:00 hours. Maybe it was just a few of the crewmen who decided to have one last party in one of the holodecks before their families arrived to take them home. Then her heart clinched. Or, maybe it was a few crewmembers whose families hadn't waited for them, didn't want to see them anymore. That would be her fault, of course. She was the reason they had been gone from home so long.

"Who are the nine crewmembers?" she asked the computer, already knowing that she and Chakotay were two of them.

"The nine crewmembers are Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, Commander Tuvok, Lieutenant Torres, Lieutenant Paris, Ensign Kim, the Doctor, Mr. Neelix, and Seven of Nine," said the computer.

Kathryn smiled to herself. Her senior staff. What in the hell were they doing here? Then her smile faded. She had wanted the ship all to herself tonight, but it wasn't really her ship, was it? She was just the Captain; this ship really belonged to all of them. They had all taken part in getting her home.

Kathryn closed her eyes and tried to get her bearing. It had been a long day, and she desperately needed this evening, this night, to steady herself, to make a mental transition back to the Alpha Quadrant. She had to get rid of this headache and the Doctor was the only one who could treat her for it. She just wish she had known him when she'd lost her father and Justin, she thought to herself, as she exited her Ready Room and started for Sickbay. The Doctor had been able to bring her relief quickly after she'd gotten the letter from Mark.

*

Captain Janeway entered Sickbay and looked around for the Doctor. Sickbay was deserted, of course, but it made Kathryn feel lonely somehow. And the Doctor was nowhere in sight.

"Computer, activate the Emergency Medical Hologram," she said, for the first time in a very long time.

"Please state the nature of the . . . Captain!"

"Hello, Doctor," she said, trying to sound as normal as possible.

"What's going on? Why was I deactivated?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Well, I . . . I was deactivated. I tried to reactivate myself, but it seems I've been locked out of that particular privilege."

The Doctor sounded upset, but Kathryn understood why. He'd been allowed to control his own program for many years in the Delta Quadrant, and now that Starfleet officials had locked him out of it, he felt helpless, deprived.

"Doctor, I have one of my level two migraines, and I was wondering if you could help me get rid of it," she said quietly.

Immediately, the Doctor jumped into his role, showing real concern for his Captain.

"Of course, Captain," he said. "You haven't had one of those headaches in a long time."

"No, perhaps it's been the strain of these past few days that's done it," she said, but they both knew it was more than that. The Captain only developed one of these headaches when she allowed herself to become overwhelmed by guilt or grief, yet refused to acknowledge it.

"I'm certain you're correct, Captain," he answered her, already moving to his instruments and choosing the appropriate hypospray. "Please sit on that biobed, Captain."

As the Captain raised herself to sit on the bed, she watched the Doctor move about his business, and realized how much she was going to miss him, and miss walking into Sickbay on her ship, knowing that her chief physician was so highly skilled. He had been a great thorn in her side on more than one occasion, but he was a good doctor and a true comfort to her at other times. Suddenly, her headache became worse.

The Doctor knew quite well the sort of headache the Captain was experiencing. He could see it in her eyes. After all, he had treated her for every ache and pain, and a lot worse, over the past seven years. He knew each of his nearly 150 patients well, especially the senior staff, but most especially the Captain. And though she had often caused him a great deal of grief, both as a patient and as a Captain, he admired her greatly. Someday he might even tell her so. She was smart and attractive, bold and headstrong, stubborn and persistent.

And by far the worst patient he had ever treated.

For seven years, Captain Janeway adamantly refused to visit Sickbay for her scheduled physicals at the proper time. It was a matter of principle, she once told the Doctor. He never understood what she meant by that, but he suspected she was merely trying to disguise the fact that she was one of those people who still thought doctors existed only to treat the sick, and not offer inoculations and precautions against actually becoming ill. Why, as not only the Chief Physician on staff, but the only one, the Doctor had on several occasions had to literally hunt her down for her medical appointments! And it was quite a waste of time for a hologram in his position, really, to have to hunt down the Captain on her own ship like . . . like . . . like prey, as the Hirogen would say.

He sighed. But now she had come to him to ease her pain, as she had on several occasions in the past, when the pain was so severe she couldn't ignore it. And he, though a mere hologram, was very understanding of both human nature and severe pain. Of course, because he had indeed learned a great deal about human nature - especially this particular human's nature - he would treat her without adding a lecture to it, for her benefit.

The Doctor walked over to the Captain and injected the contents of his hypospray into her neck. She rubbed the spot absently, and he moved behind her and began to massage her neck and upper back, the way he always did when she had these headaches. He heard her take a deep breath and knew that she had closed her eyes and was trying to concentrate on absolutely nothing. Long ago, he had told her the serum would work more effectively if she would clear her mind and try to relax after receiving the hypospray injection. The truth of the matter was something close to that.

He had learned to treat the Captain's headache with a combination painkiller and neck rub. But more important was her attempt to clear her mind. The Captain's headache was the worst sort of tension headache - the kind that comes from the heart - and there was really nothing he could do about it. He merely tried to coax her into relaxing. Once in a while, he was even successful, for a time.

And now, the Doctor wondered if Captain Janeway would ever find peace in her soul. He knew that she attributed her past sleepless nights and her anxiousness to being responsible for stranding her crew over 70,000 light years from home. But the Doctor knew there was more to it than this. This was part of it, yes, but he knew better than anyone that she tried to shoulder her burdens alone, and had never really shared her burdens of the past seven years with anyone, not even Commander Chakotay. And the Doctor was more than convinced that her refusal to acknowledge her feelings for the Commander was a big part of her problem, and a huge reason for those headaches.

"Is the pain beginning to subside, Captain?" he asked gently, after a few minutes.

"Yes, yes it is, Doctor," she said, opening her eyes. The Doctor stopped massaging her neck, and she pushed herself off the biobed. "Thank you, Doctor."

"You're welcome."

He turned away, not wanting to acknowledge the Captain's apparent exhaustion. He knew she didn't need a lecture right now, particularly since she didn't have much choice about attending all these Starfleet meetings and dinners, and the like. For once, he was glad to be a mere hologram - until he recalled his own helplessness at not being able to control his own existence anymore.

"How are you faring, Doctor?" she asked him.

"I'm fine, Captain," he said, dispensing with the used hypospray, and moving the medical cart back into its proper position. "I am not looking forward to being downloaded and read like some sort of medical encyclopedia, but other than that, I'm well."

Kathryn smiled slightly. Starfleet Medical, and their teaching staff, was scheduled to begin a series of downloads of the Doctor's database first thing the next morning. They would in no way tinker with the Doctor's program, nor would they modify it in any way, they promised.

"Just think of all the things you will be able to teach them, Doctor," she said reassuringly, and moved to touch his shoulder. "And thank you, I feel much better," she added quietly, as she started toward the door.

The Doctor turned to see that the Captain had stopped at the main console just outside his office door.

"What are you doing, Captain?" he asked.

"Making sure you once again have access to your systems," she said, working the console. "That privilege should not have been taken from you."

"Thank you, Captain," he said in a quiet voice, wondering if what he was feeling was what people described as a lump in the throat.

"And I took the liberty of adding an override code, which no one can deactivate without my knowledge. Good night, Doctor," said the Captain, as she turned and exited Sickbay.

The Doctor took a deep breath. He didn't know what was in store for him past tomorrow, or what his new assignment within Starfleet might be, but he would certainly miss Captain Janeway.

*

Captain Janeway continued through the corridors of her ship toward her quarters. At least the view from there would show a bit more of the sky. She rubbed her neck absently, and was silently grateful to the Doctor for not lecturing her. And it was good of him to allow her to believe his hypospray did the trick on her headaches, when it was actually the massage and the moment of relaxation that helped the most. She smiled. Some things were best left unsaid.

Entering her quarters, she moved to the replicator and ordered a cup of Chamomile tea. A little more relaxation was what she needed, and not the caffeine stimulant that coffee would provide.

She sat on the couch with the warm cup in her hands and closed her eyes. Voyager felt empty, large. Sad. She knew her ship, actually felt her ship around her. She knew it as well as she knew any other member of her crew. And Voyager didn't like being held hostage, linked to a docking station. She liked moving at warp speeds among the stars.

Kathryn opened her eyes. Most people would say she was projecting her own thoughts and likes onto Voyager, a starship with no feelings, no sentiment. But they were wrong. She knew her ship.

She stood and began to pace the floor. She no longer knew what it was like not to feel the responsibility of running a ship. She looked at the chronometer. It was nearly midnight. Her headache was almost gone, but she was too wound up to relax. This was to be her last night aboard her beloved ship for a very long time, or maybe for good.

Voyager was scheduled for an in-depth inspection, beginning tomorrow at 0900. It would soon be determined whether Voyager was worth retrofitting with new equipment and sent back into space, or whether she would be retired. Kathryn was already trying to prepare herself for the news that Voyager would be retired to some museum and left there for people to walk by her, and stare at the ship that had survived seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Kathryn sighed. Maybe she should be retired and put into some museum, too.

Kathryn suddenly felt a powerful surge of loneliness, emptiness, hit her. She put the cup down and quickly moved down and out the doors of her quarters, and into the corridor. She took a deep breath, and stopped. It was nearly midnight, and she had nowhere to go. No Bridge crew to check on, no one in Engineering. Maybe spending this last night on Voyager wasn't such a good idea.

Kathryn Janeway walked slowly down the corridor, feeling seven year's worth of memories begin to sweep over her. She intentionally walked in the opposite direction from Chakotay's quarters. She didn't want to take a chance of running into him just now. Tomorrow she would explain to him that he had to let go of those old memories and the thought that they should be together.

She turned the corner, and stopped. She'd stood in this very spot during the Void, after the ship had been thrown into total darkness. She had run from her quarters with a phaser rifle, defying anyone to take over her ship. At that moment, she'd felt better than she had in days, weeks. She'd felt needed. She had rushed to protect her ship and crew from another assault, and by any means possible.

Shaking her head, she smiled to herself. Here she was, already recalling the good times. She turned the next corner, and headed for the Mess Hall. Neelix was sure to be there, she thought. Maybe the kitchen hadn't been entirely shut down yet and she could get a cup of soup. That might make her feel better, lift her spirits. And Neelix had a way of making her feel better about most anything. Tonight she'd sure let him give it a try.

Kathryn stopped, suddenly remembering the time she'd nearly fainted from exhaustion in this very spot. She and Chakotay had been a part of an Away Mission that had gone badly. It had been a very long and difficult fifteen hours, and she had refused to eat any of the rations they'd managed to scrape together amongst them. There wasn't a lot of food, and she had insisted the others eat it. She returned to Voyager tired, hungry, dirty, and not in the best of moods. When she felt her knees start to buckle beneath her, Chakotay had discreetly moved next to her and gave her his shoulder to lean on so that the others didn't notice. He had physically protected her on the alien planet that day, and then later protected her dignity in the corridor when they'd returned to Voyager.

That was six years ago, she thought. And she'd leaned on him ever since.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn pushed on. That cup of soup was sounding better and better.

Kathryn turned another corner, and entered the turbolift. She directed it toward the Mess Hall, then on impulse changed her mind. Instead of heading for the Mess Hall, she exited the turbolift on a different floor and found herself outside Holodeck One.

Without thinking, without asking herself why she was doing it, she entered the holodeck.

"Computer, is the Sandrines program still active?"

"All holodeck programs have been temporarily taken off-line."

Of course. Starfleet security personnel had already been tampering with her ship.

Her ship. Voyager was a Starfleet ship, really, and Kathryn knew she would have to learn to share Voyager again, to remember that she no longer had complete control over what used to be her ship, or over the crew, for that matter.

Kathryn looked around her. She stood alone in the empty holodeck and stared at the grids lining the walls and the floor. How many times had she walked in here and initiated a program? She had enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the Maestro Leonardo de Vinci here, had taken walks by the beach, and through the cornfields of Indiana. She had sailed the waters of Lake George on more than one occasion, with Chakotay. Always with Chakotay. The program wouldn't have held her interest if he hadn't been with her.

When alone, Kathryn always preferred more interactive, busy programs - physically challenging programs usually, such as skiing, tennis, Parisi Squares. It was only with Chakotay that she knew how to relax, how to appreciate the little things life had to offer. He had taught her how to appreciate nature, the simple shape or color of a leaf, the smell of fresh rain in the air, the feel of rich soil beneath her feet. And in her hands.

And Chakotay had taught her that there could be true satisfaction in mucking around in the dirt with Talaxian tomato plants.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could remember so many things, just standing here in the holodeck. Neelix's parties - holiday extravaganzas and birthday parties, the silly but entertaining Captain Proton program that many crewmembers had eventually participated in, including herself. She smiled at the memory of playing Queen Arachnia, and the costume she'd worn. Mostly, she remembered the expression on Chakotay's face when he first saw her in it. Although he was very good at concealing his emotions most of the time, he hadn't been too successful that day - his mouth had fallen open and his eyes had nearly bulged out of his head. Yes, she remembered his expression, and the light in his eyes that day when he looked at her.

Kathryn's smile slowly faded, and she opened her eyes. She had that awful feeling in the pit of her stomach again.

They had brushed up on Starfleet field training in this holodeck. Tuvok had promised her the first year they were in the Delta Quadrant that he would keep the crew fit and well trained. She still felt exhausted whenever she thought of it. He had made sure the Captain wasn't exempt from this little program, either, no matter how hard she tried to talk him out of making her attend the sessions. But he had done his job, and done it well.

She had played Parises Squares with Seven of Nine here, and skied with B'Elanna. And she had bested Tom Paris eight out of ten games of pool in one evening. They had both paid the price for it on the Bridge the next morning. Both were exhausted, having stayed up far too late in the night. And they were sore, too, yet neither of them would admit it. She recalled Chakotay's looks of amusement throughout the entire Bridge shift the following day. He'd given her that wily, knowing smile, and she hadn't been able to say a word about it. And he knew it.

She'd battled Hirogen in this holodeck, and she'd fought Borg. She'd even had dinner with Q here, though no one else knew it. He had finally proved himself to be nearly human - in some ways - and had risked his life for hers in that silly Civil War he'd started within the Continuum. But he'd also named her godmother to his son, and that gesture had genuinely touched her.

Kathryn turned to leave, then stopped. She'd even tried to forget Chakotay in here. She turned again, and looked around. She'd created a hololover here, too, though he was a poor example of a true man when compared to Chakotay. She had tried, though. Tried, but failed. No matter which way she turned, Chakotay was always there. He was her rock, her touchstone.

And damned if she didn't compare every man she met to him.

Kathryn took a deep breath. She was home again, she assured herself. Home in the Alpha Quadrant. And she had to get her feet on the ground and move on. She walked purposefully to the door, then turned back for one last look at the empty holodeck that had played such an important part of her life for seven years.

Chakotay's spirit was still here, she knew, and so was hers. She felt it. They were both here, and probably sailing the waters of Lake George right now, or skiing down some mountain. But they were here. They'd always be here.

Kathryn blinked back the tears and quickly hurried out the door.

*

She had to get back to her Ready Room. Only there would she feel completely at ease. She thought she would be able to reminisce, to say good-bye to Voyager, tonight. But she was beginning to realize this idea might have been a terrible mistake. She wasn't ready for warm reminiscing yet; the memories were too fresh.

Kathryn stopped the tubolift and entered the corridor leading to the Mess Hall. She'd decided to have that soup first, talk to Neelix, then get back to the safety and comfort of her Ready Room. She was sure to find something that would need her attention there. She had to, for sanity's sake.

She turned the corner and halted. The muffled sound of laughter came from just ahead. But it couldn't be. Laughter? The sounds were familiar, and she found herself moving toward them. She stopped just outside the Mess Hall doors and listened. She could hear people inside. Then she heard the subdued sound of laughter again, and more quiet talk.

For the first time in her life, Kathryn Janeway hesitated. She could go inside and see what all the merriment was about, or she could walk away and pretend she'd never been here. Either way, she would feel alone.

But for tonight, this was still her ship, damnit. Kathryn Janeway continued through the doors of the Mess Hall and forced herself to behave as a Captain, as she had for seven years, on this ship.

B'Elanna, Tom, Harry, and Seven were sitting at a table across the room, and Neelix was standing beside them, having just served everyone a piece of cheesecake. They all looked up and froze as they saw their Captain come through the doorway and stop just across the room.

She forced herself to speak.

"Hello Everyone."

"Captain!" said Neelix, rushing toward her. "You're just in time! We pitched in the rest of our replicator rations for this . . . this . . . New York Cheesecake, and some fresh Earth coffee. Come over and have some with us."

Kathryn looked up and saw Tom Paris standing just in front of her.

"Please, Captain, we'd love for you to join us."

He looked earnestly into her eyes.

"Just for a bit then," she said softly, then moved back to the table with them. Neelix cut her a generous slice of the cheesecake and B'Elanna poured her a cup of coffee.

She took a bite of cheesecake.

"Hmmm . . ." she said, but somehow it tasted too rich, too thick. This was definitely New York Cheesecake, but her taste buds must have adapted to Neelix's food over the years, after all. She looked up at the others sitting at the table with her. They had all eaten a polite amount of their cheesecake, too, but had left plenty on their plates. Neelix had only managed to eat one bite.

Now they all sat quietly together, at a table where they had laughed, eaten, and made plans and discussed options on countless occasions. Kathryn took a sip of her coffee. Somehow it wasn't what she'd expected, either. She couldn't possibly have come to prefer Neelix's Talaxian blend coffees over good Earth grown coffee beans, could she? She put the cup down again.

Maybe the grass only seemed greener on the other side of the universe.

Kathryn looked up at Harry. Her dear young Ensign of seven years ago had become a grown, mostly mature man. And he had a wonderful gleam in his eyes just now. She suddenly realized that out of everyone in this room, Harry was probably the most glad to be home again.

That realization made her heart skip a beat. After all their efforts, and her daily worries about getting home, most of the people in this room had no reason to be here in the Alpha Quadrant. B'Elanna and Tom, both outcasts on Earth, had become lieutenants under her charge, and had matured and performed their duties well. They had earned their dignities. Neelix, a Talaxian, was a stranger on a planet that had never even seen a member of his race before, and Neelix didn't exactly blend in around other races easily. Seven of Nine, who would always be part Borg, would more than likely suffer her share of rejections and animosities along the way.

Only Harry actually fit in here, on Earth, and at Starfleet.

Now she wondered about herself. Did she fit in here anymore? Was this truly a place she could call "home" now? She'd become someone else, somehow, some time during this long journey, and now that they had returned to the Alpha Quadrant, and the planet Earth, the end result seemed anti-climactic.

She knew that other members of her crew were happy to be home, and of course, there had been no other real alternative but to return here, but now what? What would she do now? And what about the other people in this room?

As though to answer her unasked question, B'Elanna spoke.

"Captain, before you arrived, we were discussing our . . . well, our futures." It sounded strange, yet it was true. "None of us here, except for Harry, have families to go to - anyone waiting for us - and Tom and I want a chance to start a new life together. Seven and Neelix don't have anyone or anything waiting for them here, and well, we have all agreed to find a place to settle down together. I mean, to live together, in a manner of speaking, until we sort things out. Even Harry wants to come along with us."

"Yeah, kind of like a commune," said Tom. At B'Elanna's glare, he added, "Well, sort of, anyway."

"We believe it would be the most efficient use of our time, Captain, until we have determined our best course of action," said Seven.

"And everyone said they didn't know if they could go back to eating Earth food again, after having my cooking all these years, Captain," beamed Neelix.

Kathryn was beginning to feel the same way.

"Well, I'm not sure that's exactly what we said," laughed Harry.

"That's wonderful to hear," she said in a soft voice, and realized too late that it had had none of her Captain-like qualities in it at all. She looked up and saw that they had all noticed the same thing evidently, and were looking at her with a bit of concern etched across their faces. She tried to sound more Captainly. "I can understand how you might all fare better together, at least initially."

She stood, knowing she had to get out of this room. She would have to say good-bye to all these people, her friends, her senior staff, tomorrow. Her stomach was beginning to churn, and her heart was beginning to ache.

"Well, I have some things I need to take care of." And then she added, "I'm glad you're all sticking together," in a more gentle voice. She really had to get out of here. "I'll see you all tomorrow."

They all knew tomorrow would be a difficult day.

Kathryn put her arm around Neelix's shoulder, and he walked a few steps away from the group with her.

"Neelix," she said quietly, "Do you think you could bring a pot of your special-blend Talaxian coffee to my Ready Room?"

Neelix beamed.

"Absolutely, Captain. Just give me time to brew it, and I'll be right there," he whispered.

"Thank you, Neelix," she said softly, then turned to the group. "Good night, Everyone," she said as heartily as she could muster.

"Good night, Captain," came their voices from across the room.

Kathryn turned and got the hell out of there as quickly as she could.

*

Twenty minutes after Kathryn had returned to her Ready Room and was putting things into better perspective in her mind, Neelix appeared at her open doorway with a tray in his hand.

"Uh, Captain?" he asked hesitantly.

"Come on in, Neelix. The door's open," she added in a voice she hoped sounded light-hearted.

"I uh . . . I can see that." Neelix entered the room and sat his tray on the Captain's desk.

"And your chronometer's not working, either, Captain."

"No, it and the door seemed to stop working at the same time."

Neelix nodded, noting the time on the chronometer. It was a time that he would always remember. He turned to Captain Janeway. She looked tired, and pale. He knew she hadn't eaten. Over the years, he'd learned to recognize the signs. He knew her well, and respected her more than he had ever respected anyone in his life. He couldn't imagine not serving her after today, not looking out for her in his own way. He felt his throat begin to close, but forced himself to swallow.

"Can I fix you something to eat, Captain?"

Kathryn suddenly remembered the soup she'd gone to the Mess Hall for earlier. But that had been a pretext mostly, in order to gain Neelix's company. She smiled.

"I'm fine, Neelix. I'll replicate something later. I have some work to do, some loose ends to tie up."

Neelix glanced at her empty desk, but was discreet enough not to say anything about it.

"I understand, Captain. Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me."

"Thank you, Neelix."

Her words were full of meaning, and she knew that Neelix was aware that she was thanking him for more than just the coffee.

He nodded.

"Well, then . . ." He turned to go, and Kathryn suddenly wanted to be alone very badly. She knew Neelix, and she knew what was coming now. "Captain . . ."

"Yes, Mr. Neelix," she said in a Captain's voice, hoping to head off his next question, but somehow knowing it was too late.

"What about the Commander?"

"What about him, Neelix?"

"Well, you and him. I mean, you're not just going to split up, are you, go your separate ways?"

"Our jobs here are finished, Neelix. That is what the Captain and the First Officer do. When their jobs are finished, they go their separate ways."

"But . . ."

"I appreciate your bringing the coffee, Neelix."

Neelix knew she wanted him to leave, to not bring up an uncomfortable subject. But he couldn't help himself.

"Captain, he's in his quarters."

Kathryn turned away and sighed.

"Yes, I know that, Neelix."

"Maybe if you went to him, talked to him . . ."

"Neelix, Commander Chakotay and I have said all that needs to be said." She turned back to Neelix and looked at him pointedly. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good."

Neelix turned once more and began to lumber toward the doorway. Suddenly, he turned back.

"He's still in love with you, Captain. That's never changed."

Kathryn's heart lurched and she opened her mouth to speak, but Neelix was too quick for her.

"Good night, Captain," he said gently, then exited her Ready Room.

She closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath. How could Neelix possibly think she and Chakotay . . . But then she opened her eyes. It was time she stopped lying to herself, stopped denying what was true, stopped pretending that she and Chakotay had never had feelings for each other.

But it didn't matter. They were home now, and they both had their own lives to get on with. The fact of the matter was that they had been involved in a Command relationship only.

She intended to take some time off from Starfleet and rest, get her feet back on the ground, and put in for a new assignment, either with a retrofitted Voyager, or even a new ship.

That last thought wasn't particularly pleasing, she realized. She didn't want a new ship, she wanted Voyager.

Where was her sense of adventure, of hope? Once, she would have been elated at the prospect of learning everything there was to know about a brand new starship, and particularly one that would be hers. But now she just wanted the one she knew as well as she knew herself, the ship that had gotten her crew home again. She sighed heavily. Maybe she really did need some time off.

Or, maybe she just wasn't as eager to meet new challenges alone anymore. Now there was a thought worth exploring - some other day, but not today.

She had wanted to spend a few quiet moments with Neelix, the way they used to do. She had often visited him late at night, tired, or uneasy, and he would magically know how she was feeling. And he would tell her a story or an anecdote that would make her feel so much better. She would be on her way within twenty minutes, usually feeling ready to face the world again.

But not tonight. Tonight, Neelix was uneasy, too, and unsure of his future in the Alpha Quadrant. He had been sensitive to her feelings, though, but she hadn't wanted to discuss Chakotay, or things that weren't meant to be.

Kathryn poured herself a cup of Neelix's fresh coffee. She took a tentative sip, and smiled. It was true. After seven years, her taste buds must have adapted. Neelix's coffee was tastier than the Earth coffee she had remembered, and dreamed about, over the past few years.

She shook her head. Well, well. Some things did change, after all. And she decided to take that little stroll around her ship. She needed a distraction from some of the thoughts that were swirling around somewhere in the back of her mind. Tonight she just wanted to forget everything. She wanted to say thank you to Voyager in her own way. She needed to walk the bowels of her ship, to touch her, feel connected to her one more time.

*

Commander Chakotay was restless tonight. He paced his quarters, and finally, after what seemed hours, he asked the replicator for a cup of Chamomile tea and took out his medicine bundle.

He sat cross-legged on the floor and removed his Akunah from the small bundle, then placed it in front of him. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He needed to relax first; otherwise his animal Spirit Guide would not come to him.

Finally, when he felt he was as ready as he would ever be, he placed his hand gently on the Akunah and closed his eyes again.

"Ahkoocheemoyah," he said, beginning the process that would take him away to a place where his Spirit Guide hopefully awaited him.

When Chakotay opened his eyes, he was sitting beside a campfire in a clearing. He was surrounded by tall trees on three sides, and in the distance on the third side was a river. His heart jumped inside his chest, and he closed his eyes again to steady himself. He knew exactly where he was; he would never forget this place as long as he lived.

Opening his eyes slowly, he searched for his Spirit Guide, knowing that she liked to watch him from afar for a bit before joining him. He scanned the low branches on the trees, looking for her beneath them. Finally, he saw her grey tail move. She was sitting beside a fallen log. Slowly, deliberately, she stood and stretched. Her fur stood on end for a moment, and then she shook herself. Her grey fur fluffed up, and she walked steadily, stealthily, confidently, toward him. She reminded him of another female he knew well.

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked her, when she was close enough. His heart was still pounding.

"I don't take you to places," she said. "It is you who decide where you want to be."

"I don't want to be here. I would not have come here," he said softly.

"It must be a place that is close to your heart, or your subconscious would not have brought you here," she said simply.

"I need to forget about this place," he said.

"You sound nearly distraught. If this is a special place for you, why would you not be at peace being here?"

"I used to be at peace here, but no more."

She nodded, but remained quiet.

Chakotay looked out over the water. This is the last time he would come here. He had to forget her, he knew it now. He had gone to her one last time and she had rejected him. He had to move on.

He turned to see his Spirit Guide watching him.

"I fell in love with her here."

"I know." She looked out over the water. "It is a nice place to fall in love."

"She wore her hair down everyday. She would move through the woods so easily, so beautifully, looking inside her traps, taking whatever specimens she could find. The light would shine off her hair. She smiled a lot, and we laughed together. And at night, she would work tirelessly, trying to find a cure so we could leave here."

"Yes. I remember."

"It wasn't long before I forgot why we wanted to leave here. I was content. And the more I was around her, the woman I'd come to know, the more I wanted to be here with her. And the more I forgot about our old way of life, aboard a starship."

"Yes."

"I just wanted to be with her."

His voice cracked, but he didn't care.

"And you were, for a time."

He closed his eyes and fought back the lump in his throat.

"But it wasn't enough. After we were back on Voyager, I knew she didn't feel comfortable in pursuing a relationship with me, but I always thought that someday we could be together, someday after we reached home . . ."

"And now you are home."

"Yes. And today she told me she wants nothing more to do with me."

He swallowed hard.

"Did she say that?"

"More or less," he managed to say. Now she was quiet, and he turned to look at her. "What are you thinking?"

Chakotay's Spirit Guide turned to him slowly, a thoughtful look on her face.

"I was just thinking about the time I discovered my father sitting quietly and staring up at the stars in the night sky. I watched him, then looked at the sky. It was beautiful, and I was glad my father was enjoying looking at it. We didn't often have such a lovely image over our heads. I sat next to him and asked him what he was thinking. I expected a profound statement from him, but he merely said it was going to rain."

"I don't understand," he said.

"I assumed to know what was inside his mind, his thoughts. But no one knows another. Not unless they ask."

Chakotay turned away.

"I won't ask her again."

"Pride is often the cause of misconceptions," said the Sprit Guide.

Chakotay turned to her again, but she was gone. He saw her running through the trees, free and alive.

He opened his eyes, and was exhausted. He would not go there again. He couldn't take it. His heart was broken, and now so was his spirit.

*

Kathryn Janeway walked out of her Ready Room and climbed the stairs to the center of the Bridge, a place she'd stood more times than she cared to know over the past years.

She looked at her Command chair, and then at her First Officer's chair. Chakotay had sat beside her, and stood beside her, from the moment he accepted the position as her First Officer. Oh, there'd been times he had disagreed with her, and had certainly told her so. And so many of those times he'd been right. Chakotay was calm, even-tempered, when she was headstrong and stubborn. And, on the other hand, while they both understood the benefits of diplomacy, she never hesitated to take an upper hand, to punch her way through, so to speak, when she felt the situation called for it.

And Chakotay had often calmed her when she'd needed tempering.

She looked at the Helm console and wondered just how many times Tom Paris had been entertained by the lighthearted bantering he heard behind him.

Chakotay had saved her life once by grabbing her arm at just the right moment, only a short distance from where she stood now, when Kazon firepower had nearly destroyed Voyager's force fields. And that was only one occasion he had been responsible for saving her life. There were others, countless others.

Kathryn shook her head, hoping to clear it of all the old cobwebs. Was she thinking about Chakotay so much just because of their earlier conversation? She knew she had to talk with him in the morning, but not tonight. Tonight was hers. Tonight she just wanted to be alone.

Looking up, she saw the viewport and began to think of all the races she'd met through this window into the Galaxy. She'd met her enemies, the Kazon, Vidiians, Hirogen, Borg (of course), Species 8472. Voyager had dealt with countless enemies through this forum, but they had met many friends, as well.

She was first introduced to Neelix here. And she had been welcomed by rulers of civilizations too numerous to remember at the moment. She'd been threatened, taunted, mocked and shot at. She'd done her own share of threatening and shooting, too.

Here is where she first met Q. And where she saw him last. Somehow, he was the one being she figured she would see again someday. When it pleased him, he would show up.

Countless faces had appeared on this very screen. But now it was dark.

Kathryn walked behind the Ops station and glanced at the controls. She had been told by several crewmembers that Harry kept messages of inspiration on hand at any given time, and had even keyed some of them into his control panel as daily inspiration. Funny, she'd known it for years, but had never taken the time, or had the inclination, to look for herself.

She turned up the lighted display, looked quickly for some message or notation, then reached out to turn it off again. But a small, lighted panel in the back, along the far side, caught her attention.

"The Captain is always right."

She smiled and, unbidden, tears came to her eyes. Dear Harry. She knew without a doubt that this one had been left behind just in case his Captain happened to look for it.

Kathryn shut down the Ops console and entered the turbolift. She opened her mouth to ask for a particular location, but nothing came to mind.

Chakotay.

Chakotay came to mind. She and Chakotay had halted the turbolift on more than one occasion. Crew discipline had been discussed between them in this very turbolift, and so had holodeck parties. She and her First Officer had discussed Kazon tactics here, and how to outwit the Borg.

And once, a very long time ago, he had nearly kissed her in this very spot.

Kathryn felt her heart beat increase, and she shut her eyes. Damnit. What was the matter with her anyway? She forced herself to think of other things.

"Commander Tuvok's quarters," she instructed the turbolift. She knew Tuvok was alone, and probably meditating, but he always made time for her. She knew that T'Pel and his children would arrive in the morning, and she wanted to wish him well now, before they said their good-byes publicly tomorrow.

Kathryn exited the turbolift and walked down the corridor toward Tuvok's quarters. She turned the corner, then stopped. It wasn't all that long ago that she had hurried down this very corridor with the antigen bomb the Doctor had made. The macro viruses were attacking her ship, and had nearly beaten her out of it. The thought of her ship and her beloved crew had forced her to go on. She still recalled the feelings of desperation, and the fear of losing them all, the fear that no one knew about to this day.

Except maybe Chakotay. She remembered the way he had looked into her eyes a few days later, when things were mostly back to normal aboard ship. She felt as though he was searching her soul, trying to determine how she was holding up, and knowing she wouldn't tell him the truth if he asked. She would say she was fine. He knew it, and she knew it. And so he had looked inside her, trying to see for himself.

Chakotay often looked inside her soul.

Kathryn found herself in front of Tuvok's door, and quickly rang the chime. Enough reminiscing about things that no longer mattered.

Tuvok came to the door, and Kathryn smiled. He actually seemed surprised to see her.

"Hello, Tuvok. May I come in?"

"Of course, Captain." He stood aside and Kathryn walked inside his quarters. "Would you like a cup of tea, Captain?"

"That would be nice, Tuvok," she said gently, already missing her old friend.

As Tuvok ordered her tea from the replicator, she looked around her. Tuvok hadn't packed his belongings yet, but then, he had very few personal items. It would take him an hour to prepare to leave Voyager, maybe less.

"Captain, please," he said, gesturing to the couch.

Kathryn sat, and suddenly realized she didn't have anything to say. Tuvok must have sensed it; he reached for his own cup of tea and sipped it. He wore the long blue robe he often wore when he meditated.

"I hope I haven't interrupted your meditation, Tuvok," she said.

"Not at all, Captain. I've finished."

She nodded. And sipped her tea.

"T'Pel will be here in the morning, then?"

Tuvok nodded. And she nodded back.

"I look forward to seeing her again."

"As do I," he answered.

Kathryn sighed.

"I don't know why I'm here, Tuvok," she said. "I just wanted to see you, and to say 'thank you' before we part ways."

"You are welcome, Captain. I am glad for any assistance I might have been throughout the years."

Her eyes teared, but she looked away and took a sip of her tea. She answered Tuvok without looking at him.

"I couldn't have done it without you, Tuvok." She felt her voice choke with emotion, and she quickly put her cup on the table in front of her and rose. "I'll leave you now. We'll see each other again tomorrow."

She walked purposefully toward the door.

"Captain?"

She turned.

"Yes?"

"Will you be seeing Commander Chakotay now?"

Kathryn didn't quite know what to say.

"Why do you ask, Tuvok?"

"I am merely curious," he said.

"No. I'll say good-bye to him tomorrow," she said.

Tuvok nodded, and Kathryn started to turn back to the door.

"Captain, Commander Chakotay was your First Officer for seven years, two months and four days."

"Yes?" she asked.

"It might be . . . thoughtful . . . if you were to thank him for his efforts, as well."

"Tonight, you mean?"

"Yes."

Kathryn sighed. Was Tuvok trying to play matchmaker now?

"Tuvok, the Commander and I are friends. But that's all."

"Of course, Captain," replied Tuvok, in his stoic voice.

She couldn't tell if there was more to come or not. Finally, Kathryn nodded once, and left. Maybe she was meant to be alone tonight, after all.

Kathryn walked along the corridor, lost in thought. Things were different now. She couldn't walk to any viewport on her ship and gaze at the star systems outside. Now there was a space station, and people, lots of people, moving about. She'd fought to get her crew home for seven long years, and now she wasn't sure she really belonged here anymore. She felt alien to her own planet.

And she missed the stars. Gods, how she already missed seeing the stars.

Was this how the Maquis had once felt? This sense of loneliness, of not belonging anywhere, or to anyone? Of course this is how they must have felt, but worse maybe. Chakotay had tried to explain the Maquis cause to her on more than one occasion, but this was the first time she'd come close to experiencing their sense of helplessness for herself.

And, Kathryn hadn't really needed anyone before. Kathryn Janeway had allowed people to come into her life, and to mean something to her, but it was always on her terms. First Justin, and later Mark. They had both understood her, and they knew that no one could or would come between Kathryn Janeway and her goal of becoming a Starfleet officer. Justin had known the young Cadet, and then the Ensign, who was bound and determined to be the best scientist Starfleet had ever known. Mark had known the Lieutenant, and then the Captain, and he had known not to make her choose between him and her career. He was smart enough to take what she had to offer him, and let it be.

Suddenly, Kathryn felt tears sting her eyes, and her knees wanted to buckle beneath her. There was no one around, and she leaned against the wall and shut her eyes. She took deep breaths and tried to clear her mind, but the tears were still there, still just behind her lids, and they didn't want to go away. She felt weak, strangely enough. And Kathryn Janeway never felt weak.

Finally, after what seemed like minutes, Kathryn was able to pull herself together. She stood upright and continued to move forward. Suddenly, she realized she was near her own quarters again somehow, and went there gratefully. She activated the code to her door, and went inside. Some things were tugging at the back of her mind, and she needed to think about them, whether she wanted to or not. They weren't going away.

Both Justin and Mark had become important to her, but they were just memories now, distant thoughts. And she missed each of them at times, but they weren't in her constant thoughts anymore.

But there was one man who could be more to her than either Justin or Mark had ever been. She shut her eyes. She didn't want to think about it. She was tired and alone, and she needed to get some sleep. It was nearly 0300 and she had an early meeting in the morning.

She had to think about this, though. Now was the time. There wouldn't be another. Her heart began to beat more quickly, and she suddenly realized what had been holding her back. Fear. The formidable Captain Kathryn Janeway was afraid. She could fight the Borg, and she could tame the wild beasts of the Delta Quadrant - well, some of them. She had brought together two crews as diverse as Starfleet and Maquis, and made the mix work. She had trusted a Maquis as her First Officer, and they'd worked well together.

They had even fallen in love.

Kathryn heard herself gasp. The time for denial was over. Yes, she'd loved him for years, had known it in her heart, but would never admit it in her mind.

And yes, she knew he loved her, too. She still saw it in his eyes, didn't she? Sometimes, when she glanced at him quickly, she saw it - the look of undying love in his eyes. But he would quickly camouflage it and look away from her.

What in the hell was she going to do now?

She was tired, and lonely. And she wanted company. She wanted to laugh and talk with someone who wanted to be with her, who wanted to be with Kathryn, not The Captain. Damnit, she wanted to be held and loved. She closed her eyes again.

She missed Chakotay already.

Kathryn began to pace her quarters. She tried to relax, but she felt more and more restless. She couldn't go to him. She had nothing to give him. What did they have to base a relationship on anyway? A Command relationship was entirely different from a relationship between two people who loved each other, who depended on each other.

But, they had depended on each other already, hadn't they? Out there in the Delta Quadrant, they had needed each other, they'd supported one another in ways that were special and important in their own right. And she wouldn't short-change it now.

She and Chakotay had spent a lot of time together over the years. She had entrusted him with her ship many times, and he had come through for her. They had enjoyed each other's company over countless dinners and games of tennis, and pool at Sandrine's. They knew each other's passions and dislikes, faults and strengths.

And yet they still smiled warmly at each other.

No one had ever known her the way Chakotay knew her now, and yet earlier today he had asked her to stay with him, to . . . travel the same road with him. He still wanted to be with her, even after all they'd been through together.

How could someone possibly know her the way he did, and still want to be with her? She wasn't exactly the easiest person to get along with, after all.

And what in the hell was she thinking anyway? Just because he wanted to be with her now, it didn't mean they would continue to be happy together. What if something went wrong, what if he stopped loving her somewhere down the road? What then?

Kathryn paced the floor and considered her options. She was used to this process, but the subject of her dilemma was very different this time. She took a deep breath. She could walk away from Chakotay, just as she'd decided to do a long time ago. She would take some time off, maybe visit her mother and sister in Indiana. And Chakotay would go his own way. Perhaps they would meet again, but probably not. She knew there was no love lost between Chakotay and Starfleet Command.

Her heart jumped, and she felt sick again. She couldn't imagine Chakotay not being within commbadge reach. But if she let him go, he wouldn't be wearing a commbadge when she just wanted to talk, when she reached up automatically to tap her badge, wanting to hear his voice.

Kathryn looked at the chronometer. It was 0400. Oh gods, where had the time gone? Why hadn't this night worked out as she'd planned? More importantly, why was she sitting here, alone, and with the worst headache she'd had since the alien scientists had infiltrated Voyager and run tests on her for weeks without her knowledge? So much for the Doctor's miracle cure.

There was only one thing to do now.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and left her quarters. She would never recall the actual walk to Chakotay's quarters from her own, just that she was suddenly there, in front of his door.

She rang his door chime before she could change her mind.

A sound behind the door responded, something akin to a mumble, and she knew she had probably awakened him. The door slid open and she entered Chakotay's quarters.

The lighting had been dimmed to 75%. It wasn't dark, just subdued. Kathryn saw him across the room, standing in front of the replicator with a cup of tea in his hand. So he hadn't been asleep, after all. She tried to smile, but her heart was thumping so violently in her chest, she had trouble concentrating. Chakotay certainly looked surprised to see her, though.

"I've been doing some thinking," she said softly, and without preamble, trying to sound in control of her emotions.

Chakotay continued to look at her, but didn't say a word.

"Since I don't have other plans, I thought I would . . . travel that road with you, if the offer's still open. The road you spoke of earlier," she finished. This was not going well.

Still, he didn't speak.

Kathryn didn't know what to do. This was the most difficult thing she'd ever done, and he was looking at her like she'd lost her mind.

"I want a ceremony," he said, suddenly.

"What?"

"Any type. A bonding ceremony, a marriage ceremony, anything. Your choice."

She nodded, and if anything, her heart was beating faster.

"Fine."

Both of them stood silently, thinking a thousand thoughts. Suddenly, Kathryn said, "I want you to understand from the start that this - union - will be an equal partnership. We will both make all the decisions in our lives, together."

"Fine," he managed to answer her somehow.

She shook her head. Fine.

"Although I have a feeling things will be a little more equal on your side," he said, grinning a little.

She looked at him, then smiled slowly.

"But I don't mind, Kathryn. It's worked well for us so far." He managed to put down his tea without spilling it. "When do you propose we have the ceremony?" he asked, looking back into her eyes.

"You choose the time, since you're so good at proposing," she said in a voice full of promise. She wondered if he could see inside her soul.

"The day after tomorrow."

"What?"

She couldn't have heard him right.

"Tomorrow we invite our family and friends, and have the ceremony the following day. I don't want you to change your mind."

"I won't," she whispered.

"Then the day after tomorrow is all right with you?" he asked.

"Fine," she said. He was certainly persistent, but then, she already knew that about him.

"Good."

"Good."

They both just stood there a moment longer. She thought they must both be crazy, really. They hadn't discussed what they would do, where they would live, nothing. But looking into each his eyes somehow made all those questions go away. She no longer cared. She finally managed to pull her eyes away. She had to go. There was only time for a couple hours of sleep before she had to prepare for the many meetings on tomorrow's agenda.

Strangely enough, she knew she would sleep well for the next two hours. Everything felt right for the first time in a very long time.

Kathryn looked back at Chakotay and nodded briefly, then turned to go.

"Kathryn."

She stopped. Then she felt a tingle run down her spine. He was right behind her. She could always feel him when he was this close.

She turned toward him slowly, as he took her by the shoulders. He looked deeply into her eyes.

"You realize you belong to me now, and you can't change your mind about this."

"I've always belonged to you, Chakotay, more than I ever realized before tonight."

His hint of a smile disappeared altogether, and his eyes became moist. He touched her cheek gently, then leaned down to touch her lips with his.

As their lips met, Kathryn Janeway forgot all about sleep, meetings and everything else. All she knew was the man in her arms.

THE END


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