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The Captain stood looking out the viewport in her readyroom. It had been seven years since she had seen the blue orb she studied so carefully now; seven long and often difficult years. They would be home, on Earth, in only a few days and it would finally be over –or maybe just beginning.
Kathryn knew there would be long months of debriefings but she expected no surprises. Starfleet had long had all of Voyager’s logs and any potential problems had been worked out months ago; all but one. And Starfleet couldn’t fix that one for her. If this one was to be worked out she needed to do it on her own.
Kathryn sat down closing her eyes as she rested her head on the back of the couch. Her mouth curved slightly into a crooked smile as she let her mind wander back in time, back to the beginning.
She had seen his pictures, practically lived with that file until she committed to memory everything Starfleet knew about him. She knew he was intelligent, a well trained competent officer, he had strong principles, which she respected even if she didn’t agree with his choices. Everything she read about the man told her he was strong and silent, a peace loving man, which made his choice to join the Maquis all the more intriguing. Kathryn found the man fascinating not to mention attractive, from the moment she had opened his file. The first time that he appeared on the view screen the Captain had known she could trust this man but for the first time Kathryn wondered if she could trust herself.
Having just sacrificed his own ship for hers, he stood on her bridge tall, bronze and proud. There was no fear in the dark brown eyes that met hers when she blocked his path to Mr. Paris. That day he had willingly deferred to her authority but was in no way intimated by it. Those eyes had haunted her dreams ever since.
Kathryn always knew she could find truth in his eyes; Sometimes they were painfully honest. She had seen his love early on, years before she ever admitted her own feeling, even to herself. She knew too well the pain her constant rejection cause him even when he tried to hide it. There were things their eyes conveyed that their mouths were never permitted to speak out loud.
More than his words could have, his eyes had shown his anger, his disappointment when she had ignored his advice and made a pact with the Borg. In them she had see his jealousy over Kashyk; as much as she protested he knew it was more than a strategy.
There were good times, many, many good times. Times when she relaxed in the love that shined there, drew comfort from the concern and joy from his laughter. There was that special time they spent together on New Earth. They were free to express their emotions then. They shared their sadness and their joys, their fears and hopes, but only briefly and then it to was taken from them. They came away from that small paradise with a promise spoken with word as well as actions; a promise she still held locked away in her heart.
Kathryn remembered other times when he found it hard to hold her eyes and it hadn’t always been her doing. The pain and embarrassment of Seska’s betrayal lingered longer there than anyone else knew. Kathryn knew, it took many months to nurse him back and a small part of him had never recovered.
There had been a few shore leaves, the unusual ones that they hadn’t taken together, when they avoided looking directly at each other for days. She hadn’t needed to see them to know the guilt his eyes held, hers often held the same.
And other times, like when he read her the crumpled hand written note about a woman called Kellin. There was confusion and pain, his eyes begging forgiveness for an indiscretion he wasn’t even sure he had committed.
Kathryn remembered his guarded looks the day he had returned to the ship with Dr Fraiser in tow. He didn’t need to explain the nature of their connection, the guilt in his eyes told her it went beyond anything the Borg were capable of.
Chakotay had encouraged her to see Michael, he was only a hologram after all, but the pain in Chakotay’s eyes had been real. She needed this small reprieve for the stresses of her life as Captain, they both understood and accepted it but he couldn’t quite hide his sorrow.
Through it all their promises of this future life remained unbroken, carefully tucked away from the harshness of their daily lives in the Delta Quadrant, held safe for the day they were free to fulfill them.
Kathryn raised her head and looked back at the blue sphere that represented that future. But now there was Seven.
As if on cue her chime sounded; Kathryn smiled, took a deep breath and ordered the door to open.
“Captain?” He came forward his concerned eyes taking in all of her then locking with hers.
“I’m fine, Chakotay.” She smiled and rose to meet him, reaching out to take both his hands. “I’m a little overwhelmed I think.”
“You did it, Kathryn.” He smiled down, so proud the enormous accomplishments of this tiny woman.
“We did it, Chakotay.” Kathryn dropped his hands and stepped closer to hug him. “I could never have done this without you.”
“Yes, I suppose we have.” Chakotay welcomed her into his arms, closing his eyes and allowing himself to be lost in the essence that was Kathryn. “It won’t be long now and we will all be able to go on with our lives.” He felt her stiffen slightly but he didn’t release her. “What is it, Kathryn?”
Kathryn only shook her head in answer. She turned burying her face in his neck breathing deeply of his warm spice scent. He would never settle for that answer but it gave her a few more moments in his arms. Kathryn knew the time had come, she needed to know before she left this room just how she would face the rest of her life. The answer she needed could only come from him but only if she found the courage to ask the question.
“Kathryn?” He voice was soft, his warm breath ruffling her hair as he spoke. When she didn’t answer he took her shoulders and eased her back gently. “What is it? Can I help?”
Chakotay’s question almost made her laugh he was the only one who could. She sighed and stepped away.
“It’s been an long journey, Chakotay.” She moved to stand beside the viewport.
“Yes.” The direction of his answer told her he had followed, standing behind her, just far enough away as to not be touching.
“I’ve been thinking about it.”
“I thought you might be.”
“Remember that first day,” Kathryn warped her arms around herself. “when I had to come between you and Tom?”
“I remember…” He waited but she didn’t continue so he did. “I looked down at this tiny woman and was met with piercing blue eyes, eyes filled with determination. I knew then you were a Captain I could respect and follow and…” he hesitated. “and a woman I never wanted to be without.”
Kathryn’s head jerked up her questioning eyes meeting his in the viewport. Chakotay stepped forward and placed his hands gently on her arms.
“It’s been a long journey, Kathryn.”
“Yes, it has.” She bit her lip and looked down. “We’ve been through a lot since that day; it hasn’t all been good.”
“But we came through it, Kathryn. A few minor hull breaches a couple of course changes, assorted system failures, nothing we couldn’t mange.”
“I’m not talking about the ship.”
“Neither am I.”
Kathryn looked up and studied his face. Was that it was that her answer or was he just telling her their friendship would continue? She needed to know. Kathryn stepped away.
“Come and sit down, please.” She ordered tea from the replicator and took the seat next to him on the couch. “Chakotay.” She took his hands and smiled at him, working hard to swallow the fear the welled up in her throat. “I know about Seven.” She saw the surprise register in his eyes but he only nodded. “The Admiral told me.”
“I see.” He wiped a tiny tear from the corner of her eye. “So this is about, Seven?”
“Yes—No—not exactly.” She swallowed hard. “This is about us.” It was barely a whisper and she closed her eyes to hold back the tears that threatened there. “Promises were made a long time ago. You promised to always stand by me and you have.” She opened her eyes, reaching out to caress his face as she studied the sadness in his eyes. “You have kept that promise even when I pushed you away you have been an exemplary first officer and a dear friend. When I said I couldn’t have done this with out you I meant every word.”
“There were other promises.”
“I know and now is the time to revisit those.”
“Revisit them how?”
“It’s been a long time since we made those promises, things have changed—we have changed. It’s time to look at those promises and consider their validity.”
“Kathryn, are you releasing me from those promises?”
“We are home now. In a few days our lives will change drastically. I though maybe it was time we released each other.”
Kathryn tried to look away but he took her chin and turned her back to him. After a few moments she opened her eyes and met his. He studied the soft watery blue of her eyes through her unshed tears; his heart breaking at the pain he saw there. He could see this was very difficult for her to do. It was the first time she had even acknowledged those long ago promises; many times he had wondered if she even remembered. Clearly, she did remember and those memories were causing her pain. If she wanted to be free he would let her go, but he needed to hear her say it, he could not walk away while his heart still held hope.
“All right, Kathryn. I will release you from those promises and accept that you have released me.” He watched her bite her lip as she nodded her acceptance.
Kathryn bit her lip, closed her eyes and concentrated hard on holding back her tears. So this was it. Five year of waiting, hanging on to the promise and the hope—so many years of loving him and it was over. Her greatest professional accomplishment had just become her greatest personal failure. In spite of her best efforts the tears slipped silently from her eyes, she dropped her head to his chest to prevent the pity she knew would be present in his eyes.
He watched her pain leak slowly from her tightly closed eyes, when her head dropped to his chest his arms automatically closed around her. Although he suspected she had cried many times over the years, it wasn’t often that Kathryn had allowed him to witness what she felt was a weakness. Each time he had held her like this, feeling helpless, it had torn at his heart.
“Sorry.” Kathryn finally lifted her head and accepted the tissue he offered.
“You don’t have to be.”
“I know. You have been a wonderful friend to me all these years.”
“That sounds awfully final. I hope I’ll always be your friend.”
“I’d like that.” She forced a smile. “I’d like that very much.”
Kathryn started to get up from the couch but Chakotay held her hands keeping her seated. They quietly studied each other each trying to see beyond their own hopes.
“Kathryn,” Chakotay finally broke the silence. “I want to be more than your friend.” There he had said it and now he held his breath waiting for her answer.
“Chakotay, you don’t have to say that.” Kathryn’s eyes moved about the room, her lips pursed then she focused on him again. “I have already released you from that promise.”
“I didn’t say that because I promised, Kathryn; I said it because I love you.”
He watched the clear blue of her eyes cloud once again with tears but this time he saw no pain.
“I love you, Chakotay.” Kathryn closed her eyes briefly and sighed the words she so longed to speak. And this time when she opened them and gazed into his eyes she could see their future.
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