Coming Home, Again

By Dawn

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: None

Summary: J/C - Chakotay returns to Earth for the first annual reunion.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns them. I'm just helping tell their story a little better.

Thanks: Many, many, many thanks to Caffey for her beta work - both for her wonderful suggestions and for tolerating my odd use of commas. This smiley is for you... :-)

Kathryn set down her key card on the entryway table and bent over to remove the leash from Prixie’s collar.  “Off you go, girl.”  She ushered the hyper puppy into the kitchen.
She and Prixie had returned from their evening run.  Kathryn downed the rest of the water in her bottle as she watched her puppy splatter water from her bowl all over her furry face.  She reached down to ruffle up her dark red fur. “You’re a mess, do you know that?  You’re a mess!”
Before she had a chance to take off her running shoes, the com terminal indicated she had an incoming call.  She sat down to answer it.
“Hello Kathryn.”
Surprised by Chakotay’s unexpected call, Kathryn was delayed for just a moment before answering.  “Hi.”  Her full smile lit her face at seeing him. “Are you here?”  His smile immediately warmed her spirit and she found herself longing to see him.
“On Earth?  Yes.  I’m at a hotel near Golden Gate Park.”
“I just ran near there.  Oh – I wish I’d known.  Prixie and I would have stopped in to visit.”
“You do look like you just ran a marathon – and you look great.  Wait – who’s Prixie?”  The name didn’t ring a bell, but he figured she had a new friend.  Regardless – she looked like she was full of energy and happy – something he was very glad to see.
“Molly’s grand-daughter.  She’s almost a year old.”  Kathryn called Prixie over and picked her up to proudly show her off.  “I call her Prixie because her fur…” Kathryn tugged on the long fur under the puppy’s face, “reminds of Neelix’s whiskers.  And… she is very cheerful and perceptive of my moods.”  Kathryn leaned forward to whisper, “and I didn’t think I should name my dog after a member of my crew.”
Chakotay chuckled, “So might as well name him after his favorite holiday?”
Kathryn smiled and set the puppy down.  “Something like that.  So how long have you been back?  Are you here for the reunion?  Where you have you been?  What’s going on in your life?”
Chakotay laughed. “So many questions!  Have dinner with me and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Gladly.  Where should I meet you?  I need to take a shower first.”
He wrinkled up his nose. “Please do.”  He picked up a guide map and started studying it.  “I don’t remember what restaurants are good.  Where would you suggest?”
Kathryn smiled. “Why don’t I come to your hotel and we can decide from there?  Some place casual where we can talk?”
Chakotay’s eyes were warm with gratitude. “I’d like that.  Take your time and come up to my room when you get here.”  He typed something into the keyboard of the terminal.  “I’m sending you the address and my room number.”
“Will do.  See you in about an hour?”
“I can’t wait.”
After they cut the connection, Kathryn looked over at her puppy.  “Well kiddo, can you manage an evening without me?  Maybe I’ll bring him over to meet you?  Would you like that?”
Kathryn laughed as Prixie’s tail moved so fast that her little rump wiggled with it.  “I better go get ready.  Want to help me pick something out to wear?”
Kathryn showered and changed into a lightweight pantsuit.  It was a beautiful May evening and she looked forward to enjoying the city at night – not to mention the company.  She pulled the front of her hair back into a clip and let the long strands hang down her back.  It had grown quite a bit longer than last time she had seen him and she was sure he’d like it.  She remembered how tragic he thought it was when she cut it off in the first place.  He just had no idea how freer she felt when she cut it all off.
Since she still had 30 minutes before she said she’d be there, she made her way to the old-fashioned trolley station and took the next one to Golden Gate Park.  She knew of the hotel he was staying at and this trolley would go right by it.  She looked around at the people riding with her – most were tourists enjoying the city.  She silently hoped that none would recognize her.  Her fame had diminished in the last year, but she often had well-meaning people offer her a warm welcome home.  Not that she minded it – it was great to be home – but sometimes she just wanted to be an anonymous face in the crowd.  The news service had been discussing the one-year anniversary of their return, but she hoped that most people would see it as old news and not pay it much attention.
She got off at the corner near Chakotay’s hotel and made her way inside and to the lift.  The nervous butterflies that began moving around in her stomach surprised her.  She hadn’t seen or heard from Chakotay in almost 9 months and missed him terribly.  The three months after they got back were very hectic and she felt like she hadn’t really had a chance to spend much time with him for over a year.
They had one long conversation before he left.  He had broken off his relationship with Seven and felt the need to “get away”.  She could tell there was something distressing him deeply, but he shut down the conversation when she asked.  She urged him to stay, but he insisted that he had some old ghosts to put to rest and that he needed some time away to organize his thoughts.  He promised to keep in touch if he could, and that he wouldn’t stay away for too long.  Kathryn had wanted to tell him that she wished he would stay for her, but she knew his spirit was troubled and didn’t want to add to his burden.
She got off the lift on his floor and made her way to his room.  The old hotel didn’t have an automatic door chime so she knocked firmly on the door.  The butterflies were doing flip-flops as she heard his footsteps walking towards the door.
As soon as it opened, she found herself pulled into a very tight hug.  She barely had a chance to look at him, much less a chance to say hello before she was smooshed against his strong chest.  She inhaled his dearly missed spicy scent and let herself relax completely into his strong arms.
They stayed tight in their embrace for several minutes, each re-memorizing the way the other felt.  He finally spoke, “I have missed you so much.”
Kathryn pulled herself away just far enough to look up into his eyes. “Me too.  You promised you wouldn’t stay away too long.”  She rubbed his back with the hands that still embraced him.
His kind smile infused her with warmth. “I’m back now.”
“To stay?”
“I think so.”  There was a hesitation in his answer.
She tilted her head. “You’re not sure?”
“Pretty sure, but that’s just one of the many things I’d like to talk to you about.”
“I’m all ears.”  As she looked into his eyes, she could tell that some of his troubles were still bothering him.
He shook his head in delight. “I can’t even see your ears.”  He pulled her long hair into his hands and leaned down to plant a light kiss just in front of her right ear.  “You look terrific and your hair has gotten so long!”
If his kiss had been about 4 centimeters lower, she was sure she would have lost all coherent thought.  “I thought you would like it.  I decided to go back to the bun when on duty now that we’re home.”
He closed his eyes to avoid picturing it.  “No…please not the bun-of-steel.”
She smiled. “Not quite that severe, I assure you.”
He reluctantly let her go and went to slip on his shoes.  “So where would you like to go?”
“There’s a quiet little bistro overlooking the bay.  We could sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.  What do you think?”
“Sounds great.”  He opened the door for her and they made their way out of the hotel and onto the sidewalk.
“It’s only a few blocks away.”  She threaded her hand through his arm to catch it on his elbow.  He held her hand there as they walked toward the restaurant.
They looked around, enjoying the fresh air, the people, and each other’s presence.  Chakotay felt a sense of comfort that he hadn’t felt for awhile.  “Every time I’m here, I’m amazed at all the activity.  It’s so refreshing to see so many happy, healthy people.”
She looked up at him. “You’ve been somewhere unpleasant?”
He shook his head. “Not unpleasant.  Just not as vibrant.”
He didn’t say any more and she didn’t want to push it.  “That’s the bistro over there.”  She led him across the street.  “In a way – this reminds me of our trip to L.A. a few years back.”
“But thankfully, this time we don’t have to once again save the universe from certain annihilation.”
“It sounds so glamorous in retrospect, doesn’t it?”
Chakotay thought for a moment. “Glamorous?  Not sure.  To me, it sounds like a lifetime away.”
She nodded. “It does that too.  Hard to believe we’ve only been back a year.”
The host showed them to a secluded table out on the deck overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.  “This is a fantastic view, Kathryn.”
“I’m glad you like it.  This place has a variety of vegetarian entrées as well.”
They looked over the menu and made their order.  When the waiter brought the wine, Chakotay offered a toast.  “To home.”
“To home.” She smiled graciously at him.
“So – it’s been a year?”  He continued when she nodded.  “The year has been great to you.  You look fantastic… and like you’re full of energy and very happy.”
“I am happy.  After the first three months of P.R. craziness, I took another six months leave.  I’ve only been working since the beginning of March.”
“What did you do on leave?”
“I slept.”  She smiled at his amused expression.  “A lot.  I had a lot of catching up to do.”
He nodded. “Yes, you did.”
“I got to know my niece and nephew.  Katie is 6 and Brian is 4.  They are very precious children.”
“And your mom and sister, how are they?”
“Oh, they’re fine.  I let mom fuss over me for a few months before I started looking for a home here.  Phoebe is busy with the two kids and her art gallery, but we’ve become better friends than we ever were.  I try to spend most of my weekends in Indiana.  I’ve found that I don’t want to miss even a week of their lives.”
“Well, it certainly sounds like you’ve enjoyed yourself.  Have you missed Voyager?”
She laughed. “Do you have any idea how many times I’ve been asked that question?  My stock answer is yes and no.  I miss my Voyager family, but I’m very happy to be home.”
“And what’s your real answer?”
“That I miss my Voyager family and I’m happy to be home.”
He shook his head with a smile. “No…the real answer.”
She took a sip of her wine and looked out over the bay.  “Well, I was getting pretty bored until I went back to work.  Now I’m only a little bored.”  She smiled at herself.  “I do miss the crew – I miss having a close family.  I think that is why I probably spend so much time with my sister’s family.”
“I’m sure they love having you back.”
Kathryn nodded. “Yes, they do.  And they’ve been very patient with me.”  She paused in thought. “However, I find myself wishing for my own family.”  She looked up into his eyes hoping he could read what she wasn’t saying.
It was something that he had been hoping to hear her say, but he wasn’t ready to have that conversation yet so he changed the subject. “And your position?  Are you happy with that?”
At one point in their relationship, she appreciated it when he steered the conversation into safer territory, but not now.  However, she went with it.  The evening had only just begun and the reunion was still several days away.  She had time.  “My position?  Admiral Janeway.  Every time I hear that, I think someone’s asking for my father.”
He smiled. “What do they have you doing?”
“They’ve assigned me to head a task force to evaluate and create a strategy for dealing with the Romulan threat.”
Concern washed over his face. “That’s quite a job.  If something happens, will you have to go there?”
“I’m not sure.  It’s unpredictable right now.  They asked me to lead it because I’m not emotionally biased by their actions during the war.  What I’d like to do is keep away from any of the conflicts so I can remain objective.”
“I like the sound of that.”
She smiled. “Are you protecting me again?”
“Always.”  He reached across the table and took her hand.
“Besides, there are others who are more gifted in diplomacy and tactics.  My job is to create a long-term strategy and to put the right people in the right place so the best decisions can be made in the field.”
“As much as I’m glad to hear you say you’re keeping your distance from any fighting, I have to disagree with the rest of your statement.  You are the most gifted Starfleet officer I’ve ever met.”
Kathryn blushed a little under the compliment. “You’re biased.”
He smiled before taking a sip of his wine.  “Completely.”
He let go of her hand when the waiter arrived with their dinner.  “Kathryn, this is wonderful!”
“I thought you’d like it.”  She smiled as he dove into his entrée.  “So… you haven’t told me how long you’ve been back?”
He looked up. “Just got back today.”
“Today?  You must be exhausted?”
“Not really – I had a nine-day trip on a transport shuttle to recondition myself for the time difference.  I’m more restless than tired.”
“I could take tomorrow off – we could go sailing or hiking?”
Chakotay shook his head. “I don’t want to take time away from your work.  Besides, I think I need to go see B’Elanna.”
“First of all – I want to spend as much time as possible with you while you’re here and I’ll gladly take off work to do so.  Second – B’Elanna works during the day too.”
“Oh.  Well, maybe. We’ll see.  I need to call her.”
Kathryn stopped eating, realizing why he was so hesitant. “You haven’t called her yet?  She doesn’t know that you’re here?”
Chakotay guiltily looked up. “No – I wanted to see you first.”
Kathryn smiled. “I’m flattered, but you’re going to be in serious trouble when she finds out.”
“Maybe so, but I still wanted to see you first and I know that if I had called her, I’d be over there tonight.”
“Well, I’m glad you did. But I would have been over there with you.”
“Have you remained close to them?”
“Very.”  Kathryn smiled.  “When I’m not spending time with my family in Indiana, I’m usually with Tom, B’Elanna, and Miral.  We’ve become much closer now that I’m not their commanding officer.”
“How are they?”
“They are doing well.  B’Elanna is working on a ship design project and Tom is a test pilot.  Miral is going to take her first steps soon.  She’s growing up so quickly!”
“I can’t wait to see her – even if I didn’t get to be her godfather.”
“Still sore about that?”
“I love the Doctor” At Kathryn’s questioning look he added, “Really, I do.  I just thought that after all B’Elanna and I have been through together that she would at least let me be the godfather.”
He was laughing about it, but she could tell that he was a little hurt.  “It was something that she needed to do at the time.  He’s not even around her much so I’m sure she’ll love and adore her ‘Uncle Chakotay’ as much as if he were named her actual godfather.”
“I’m sorry – I should have put that behind me a long time ago.”
She squeezed his hand across the table. “Hey… don’t worry about it.  Besides, you could have the other end of the spectrum.  Do you know what I get?  I get kids named after me.  Did you know that 5 babies have been born in the last 3 months from our crew and 4 of them are named Kathryn?”
He was glad that she changed the subject. “In addition to your niece and Miral Kathryn?”
“Yes.  It’s going to be really confusing when they’re older.  Can you imagine in about 25-30 years when they are all getting married?  We won’t know which Kathryn is marrying who and when.”
“However… at the reunions when a little girl is misbehaving, everyone can just yell ‘Kathryn’!”  He was having difficulty containing his mirth.
“Great.”  She was honored, but it was a bit much.  “Well, I hope we have a batch of boys very soon – so we can have a bunch of little Chakotays running around.”
“Somehow, I don’t think anyone is going to choose to use my name for their child.”
“I don’t know.  Might at least have a Tay or two.”
He sighed.  “I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone.  So…what are the plans for the reunion?  I came back knowing that it would be soon, but I don’t know exactly when or where.”
Kathryn was close to making a comment that he would have known had he not disappeared from their lives, but decided against it.  “A weekend full of events.  Friday is the first official event, but on Thursday night, the senior staff is getting together at Harry’s parents’ home.  His mother is insisting on being our hostess.  Harry, Tuvok, Seven, the Doctor, and you have been off planet for a while so this will be our chance to catch up before the rest of the crew surrounds us.  As much trouble as you’re going to be in with B’Elanna, I’m glad you and I have this chance to talk alone.”
“Me too.”  He smiled warmly at her for a moment.  “So what happens Friday night?”
“Friday is the official Starfleet event.  It’s a reception in the grand ballroom on campus.  It will be similar to the welcome-home ball.”
“And that was so fun.”
Kathryn smiled at his sarcasm.  “It’s a chance for the Federation to show that they are proud of us – nothing more.”
“That was very political of you.”  He rolled his eyes.  “What you mean to say is it’s the brass’s chance to gain some PR points for Starfleet.”
“Hey.”  She pointed her fork in his direction.  “I’m part of the brass now so watch it buddy.”
He crossed his hands on his chest. “I’m so sorry, how can you ever forgive me?”
She grinned at his melodrama. “You’ll just have to make it up to me by being my escort.”
Chakotay smiled. “Gladly.  But can I abandon you once we’re inside?”
She shook her head. “No – I fully intend on keeping you by my side all evening long.”
He sighed. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
“Hey…try to show some excitement.”  She smiled, knowing how much he hated formal events.  She hoped that she could make it more fun for him if he’d let her.  She continued her description of the reunion plans.  An all-family picnic was planned for the day on Saturday.  Saturday night would be a party for the former crewmembers only.
They continued their easy conversation throughout dinner.  Kathryn talked the most, catching Chakotay up on all the news she had heard.  She thought it was an ironic turn of events, seeing as he was usually the one to tell her about the personal lives of her crew on Voyager.
Chakotay didn’t bring up anything about where he’d been or what his future plans might be.  Kathryn didn’t want to push him, but his silence only increased her curiosity.  After they finished their dessert and coffee, Kathryn suggested they walk down towards the bay.
They found a bench in a secluded spot and sat down.  The tide was rolling in and they could hear waves crash onto the shore in the distance.  After a long period of silence, Kathryn reached over and took hold of his hand.  “Did you put your old ghosts to rest?”
He was quiet for a while before he spoke.  “Most of them.  I still haven’t told you what I’ve been doing.  I’m not sure I know how.”
“Do you think I’ll disapprove?”
“No…  There are just things about my past that I’ve never told you.”  He paused a moment before continuing, “If there is anyone who believes in me – no matter what – I know it’s you.  I’ve been trying to work through this on my own, but I feel like I’m going crazy.  I had to try even though I know that you didn’t want me to leave.”
“Do you want to tell me or do you feel like you have to?”
“Both.”  He watched the waves for a while longer before he began speaking.
“I killed a man.”
Kathryn waited quietly for him to tell her more.  This declaration didn’t startle her because she, herself, had ended people’s lives – both directly and indirectly.  It was part of being in a military organization – something that couldn’t be avoided.  However, his admittance of this act meant that it was more than a military act and she somehow knew that it wasn’t necessarily a direct result of being in the Maquis either.
“Did Starfleet ever tell you why you were sent to capture me?”
“Beyond the obvious?”
He nodded.
“Nothing except that I was to get Tuvok back and arrest you.  I assume there was more to the story?”
“Did you find it odd that Starfleet would put Tuvok in my cell to begin with?”
“I assume it was because you were the leader of the Maquis?”
He shook his head. “I wasn’t.  I never even fired on a Starfleet vessel.  We always avoided it – that was very important to me.  Our fight was not with Starfleet – it was with the Cardassians.”
“You weren’t the leader?”  He shook his head.  “You never committed crimes against the Federation?”  He shook his head again.  “Why haven’t we had this conversation before?”
“I didn’t want to.  There didn’t seem to be a reason to trudge it out in the open.  I just figured Starfleet made a mistake and that it would all be straightened out in the end.  It didn’t have any impact on us being in the Delta Quadrant or even on our command relationship.  The Liberty would have been in the Delta Quadrant regardless of whether you had followed us out there.  When I realized you were there, I was actually thankful that we weren’t alone.”
She gazed at him in empathy, “I never told you… but I felt the same way.”
He squeezed her hand. “I know.”  His story continued, “After the debriefings were over, Admiral Kennelly asked to speak to me about your original mission.  After hearing what he had to say, I was actually hoping Starfleet would punish me, but they didn’t.”
“I wouldn’t have let them.”
He turned to smile at her. “Do you think you could have stopped them?”
“I would have died trying.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and hugged her close to his side.  “I know, and I’m glad we didn’t have to face that.  But they didn’t give me a reprimand or anything.”
“You wanted one?”
“A little.”  Kathryn thought hard, trying to interpret what he wasn’t saying.  “So why then, was I afforded the opportunity to spend seven exciting years getting to know you?  What did Kennelly tell you?  Who did you kill?”
“Gul Dumek.”
“And he was… ?”
“He was the Cardassian responsible for killing my people.”  He paused for a moment.  “I wasn’t supposed to kill him, but when I found out what he had done, the fury in me was so great that I acted without giving it a second thought.”
Quietly she said, “I probably would have done the same thing.”  She could hear the pain in his voice, but resisted the urge to console him.
“What I’m telling you now can’t ever be repeated.  I’m telling you because I need to tell someone and I need you to know the full truth about my past.”  He waited for her to nod before he continued.  “What I didn’t know until Kennelly told me was that Starfleet had planted several agents in the Maquis.  Not Tuvok – not yet.  These agents were given orders to capture Gul Dumek and question him about Cardassia’s activities.  Starfleet was using the Maquis to gather intelligence.  Several cells came together for the mission, but he was brought on board my ship for questioning.  When he recognized my tattoo, he was only too glad to tell me all about his actions on Trebus.  That’s when I killed him – before he could tell us anything.  It was personal revenge.  I have never felt such anger and hatred.”
Kathryn squeezed his hand between both of hers and patiently waited for him to tell her the rest.
“So when I met with Kennelly last summer, he decided it was in my best interest to know the full story of why you were sent to arrest me.  I spoke to Tuvok about it as soon as I could get to him and he didn’t even know about the earlier agents.  His orders were to infiltrate my cell to keep an eye on me.  He said Starfleet thought I was a loose canon and needed to be contained so that I wouldn’t be a catalyst to war.”
“A loose canon?  For killing one Cardassian?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Starfleet would have had other ways of gathering intelligence on the Cardassians.  Anyway, why would Starfleet be so interested in you specifically?”
“According to Kennelly, Starfleet was secretly funding the Maquis and using it as a front.”
“Starfleet started the Maquis rebellion?”
He shook his head. “No – it started to get Starfleet to take notice of what was going on.  Well, Starfleet did notice and secretly used the Maquis to fight the war that they couldn’t fight because of their damned treaty.”
Kathryn looked at him in disbelief. “That’s a little hard to believe.  I know that Starfleet has their secrets, but they were adamantly opposed to the Maquis.”
He shook his head. “I know.  They used the Maquis to do what they didn’t have the courage to do.  There were some in Starfleet that would betray their brother if it meant stopping a war.  In my tribe’s case – they sold us out to keep the peace.”
Kathryn didn’t want to get into the debate about his tribe refusing to leave Trebus.  It was sacred to his people and he was angry that the Federation didn’t honor and respect that.  The more she learned about his history and beliefs, the more she understood his anger.  “So where do you and Dumek come into all this?”
Chakotay cringed. “Please don’t say our names together like that?”
Kathryn’s composure softened.  She realized that she had gotten so caught up in the subterfuge that she wasn’t realizing the full extent of his anguish.  “I’m sorry.  Let me rephrase – Why did Starfleet really send me to get you?”
He took a deep breath and willed his pain and grief to the back of his mind.  Over the last 10 months, his emotions had run so hot and cold that he had a hard time maintaining his self-control.  The thought of losing control terrified him.  “Because someone in the Maquis set me up.”
She inhaled softly in surprise and quietly pleaded, “No”.  At that point, she knew why his pain was so great.  Not once, but twice, an organization that he believed in and committed his life to betrayed him.  “Do you have any idea how or why?”
“There was a lot of internal fighting among the Maquis cell leaders.  I tried hard to keep my cell out of it.  We had work to do and the bickering was halting our progress.  Other cell leaders started getting sick of the constant clashing and decided to ally with me.  I didn’t think of it as a division in the Maquis at the time – I was just glad that others were refocusing their efforts on our mission.”
Chakotay ran his hand through his hair in frustration.  Saying all of this out loud was like reliving the past.  “The man who actually was the leader of the Maquis – Rajel Ornon – and the source of all the bickering was the one responsible for allowing Starfleet to use the Maquis.  He had a lot of plans to use the information gathered from Duvek to try to stop the war.  I had no idea that Ornon’s hidden agenda was to stop the fighting by helping Starfleet.  I honestly believed he was making it worse.”
Kathryn was trying to form a theory. “So in the eyes of Starfleet, the division was for and against stopping the war?”
Chakotay nodded. “And I had no idea that Starfleet saw me as the leader of an anti-Starfleet, pro-war terrorist sect… and all because I was trying to avoid the internal politics of the Maquis.  When I killed Dumek, it just made matters worse.  Starfleet thought I had done it to escalate the war.  Ornon knew that wasn’t the case, but he allowed Starfleet to think that to get me out of the way and reunite the Maquis.”
“How does Kennelly know so much?  Was he involved?”
“No.  He was involved in the investigation when most of the Maquis were arrested.  Ornon was trying to get leniency by implicating his Starfleet contacts and the truth came out.  The whole situation was swept under the carpet because the war had already started.  To keep from tarnishing the record of those Starfleet officers involved, the Maquis were sent to prison and the logs were erased.”
Kathryn was enraged at Kennelly for putting Chakotay through this, “Why the hell did he tell you about this?  What purpose could it possibly serve?!”
Chakotay willed himself to stay calm even while Kathryn was irate.  “He honestly thought it would help me.  Although ignorance can be bliss, I felt like a fool that once again, I could be so easily deceived.”
“You had no way of knowing.”
“If I had stayed involved in the leadership of the Maquis, I would have.  I hope you understand why I couldn’t stay in Starfleet.  I can’t allow myself to be put in that position again.  I’m too trusting and obviously not capable of detecting deception.”
She was quiet for a minute before she decided that he needed to hear about Tuvok’s report.  “Has Tuvok told you what his report to Starfleet would have been?”
Chakotay thought about her question for a moment. “No, I don’t believe he did.”
“He told me the day that I destroyed the Caretaker’s array.”
“Do I want to hear this?”
She smiled. “I think you do.”
He took a deep breath. “All right.”
“He told me that your cell’s activities were strictly focused on disabling Cardassian supply ships, stealing their cargo, and rescuing any hostages that they were carrying.”
Chakotay nodded. “That’s true.”
She continued. “He said that you were angry and resentful toward the Cardassians because they destroyed your home, but that you spent most of your energy focused on helping the remaining colonies survive and defend themselves by providing much needed supplies.”
“He wasn’t around for my moment of glory.”  Chakotay’s response dripped with sarcasm.
“No, but he also said that you were an excellent Captain and had the full admiration and respect of your crew.  He said that you took the rescued hostages and focused their anger and resentment on assisting the colonies or becoming productive members of your crew.”
Chakotay was silent for a moment.  “I had no idea that he felt that way – eventually, by the time we got back to Earth, maybe – but not at first.”
“It was he who made the recommendation that you be put into the position as first officer on Voyager.  He said your tactical skills were exemplary and that you had a special talent to calm, reassure, and motivate people in the most dire of circumstances.”
Chakotay smiled for the first time since they had begun talking about his past.  “So you’re saying that Tuvok convinced you to ask me to be your first officer?”
Kathryn nodded, “I hadn’t even had time to think about yet, but it made perfect sense.”
He chuckled. “And all this time I thought it was because of my good looks.”
She smiled. “Well…there’s that too.”  She paused for a moment before continuing.  “I knew from the first moment that I saw you that I could trust you.  I hope you know that?”
“I knew it was either trust or stupidity when you stood between me and Tom.”
She smiled. “Maybe a little of both.”
They were quiet for a while, absorbed in their thoughts about this conversation until Kathryn stated, “Starfleet was seriously misinformed.  I doubt they or the other Maquis knew about your connection to Dumek before or after he died.  If they had, it would have been a tactical error to send you in, regardless of any division in the Maquis.  You have to know that?”
Chakotay thought about that for a long moment. “You’re right.  I had never considered that.  I’ve been so caught up in feeling angry and guilty about the whole mess, that I completely missed it.  I just assumed that I was set-up to be the one to capture Dumek in the first place.”
“Why are you feeling guilty?”
“If I hadn’t killed him, Starfleet might have gotten the information they needed to stop the war from ever starting.  Maybe they would have found out about the Dominion sooner.  Maybe it was my fault that all those people died in the war.”
Kathryn frowned. “That’s an awful lot of conjecture.  Do you really think they would have put all their eggs in one basket like that?”
Chakotay said, “I don’t know.  It took an awful lot of planning to get Dumek.  It’s possible that he was the one they needed or the only one they could get to.”
“Maybe, maybe not.  You don’t know.  You’re also assuming that the knowledge gained from Dumek would have been enough to stop a war.  If he really had that much power, Cardassia’s plans would have been damaged pretty severely when they lost him.”
“I’m not sure about any of it anymore.”
She turned to face him. “Chakotay, where have you been for the last 9 months?”
He looked at her. “Mostly in the Bajoran system.  I helped some of the more damaged colonies and outposts with their reconstruction.  I felt like I needed to serve penance for my actions.”
“Because you thought you could have single-handedly stopped the war?”
He nodded. “Sounds kind of ridiculous when you put it that way.”
She relaxed back into his side and took his hand again. “Did you find any peace while you were away?”
He looked out at the bay and thought carefully about how to answer that question.  His peace was in his arms, but he had gone away to avoid adding to her burden.  Now he was asking for her help, but he was uncomfortable accepting it.  He had wanted to regain his confidence and emotional stability before coming back to her, but found that he couldn’t stay away any longer.  His spirit needed her strength, but his heart was just beginning to heal from the pain he had felt during the last year.  He hesitantly answered, “I think I’m much closer, but I’ve still got some work to do in here.”  He pointed to his heart.
She placed her hand on his chest. “I’d like to help.”
He covered her hand with his. “I’m pretty sure that I need your help.”  His words were choked. “I don’t know anywhere else to go.”
She sat up and reached both arms around his neck to embrace him.  “I’m here and we’ll get through this.”  She pulled back to look into his eyes.  “I promise.”
He nodded his gratitude and pulled her back into a hug.  Silent tears rolled down his cheeks as an enormous weight was lifted from his shoulders.
They sat together in their embrace for a very long time.  No words were needed – just the comforting presence of each other was enough to start healing the wounds.
Chakotay yawned and Kathryn looked up at him. “We need to get you back to your hotel.”
Chakotay shook his head. “Now what kind of gentleman would I be if I let you walk yourself home this late at night?”
She smiled and stood up, reaching out for him to stand with her.  “That’s exactly right – you are a very gentle man.”
Her words were soothing to his battered heart.  “Thank you.”
They walked in silence to the transport station, and then on to her house.  When they got to her door, Kathryn said, “Would you like to meet Prixie?”
Chakotay nodded. “I’d love to.”
Kathryn opened the door and led Chakotay into her living room.  She opened the back door to let her puppy in.  Prixie immediately ran up to Kathryn and gave her hands sloppy, wet kisses.  As soon as she saw Chakotay, she showered him with similar affections.
“She’s beautiful, Kathryn.”
“Thank you.  I think she’s absolutely precious and she keeps me company.”
He looked up at her from his position on his knees petting Prixie. “I’m very glad that you have her.”
“Me too.”
“I should go.”
Kathryn nodded and walked him to the door. “I’ll work in the morning and get anything urgent taken care of so I can take the rest of the week off.  You should sleep in.  I’ll call B’Elanna and let her know that you’re here and we’ll make plans for tomorrow afternoon and evening.  Call me when you’re up and about?  Will that be okay?”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
Before she opened the door, she reached up to give him a hug.  “Will you be okay until then?”
“Yes.  I already feel a lot better than I did yesterday.”
She pulled back. “Good.  Then the rest of the week should only get better.”
He opened the door and kissed her cheek.  “Goodnight, Kathryn.”
“Goodnight.”  She laid her hand on his back and guided him out the door.
After the door closed, she turned back to her puppy. “Well, Prix, we should get some sleep.  Tomorrow is going to be a very long, and I think, a very wonderful day.”

Kathryn rose early the next morning.  She had a lot to take care of at work and she wanted to have as much free time as possible to spend with Chakotay.  She felt fairly confident that he was on Earth to stay, but she didn’t want to waste any time while he was here just in case.
As soon as she arrived at headquarters, she jumped into her work with vigor.  It was well after 09:00 when a call from Chakotay interrupted her.  She answered it immediately. “Hi there!  Sleep well?”
Chakotay scrutinized her carefully. “Look to the side, I have to see this new bun of yours.”
She smiled and did as he asked. “It’s not too bad, is it?”
“Hmm.” Chakotay scratched his chin. “I don’t know. It’s very ‘admiral-like’.”
“Imagine that?”  She shook her head at him,  “So did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I did.  Better than I have in a long time.”
“Good.  Listen, I haven’t had a chance to call B’Elanna yet.”
“That’s okay.  Something has actually come up this afternoon.”
“Oh?”  Her curiosity peaked. “What’s that?”
“I was going to tell you about it last night, but I never got to it.  Late last July, the head of the archeology department at Berkeley contacted me about a research position.  I wasn’t interested then, but I decided to give him a call yesterday to see if he was still looking for someone.  There was a message waiting for me when I returned last night that he’d like to take me to lunch and meet with me this afternoon.”
Kathryn’s smile came out in full force. “That’s wonderful!  What kind of research?  Would you go on expeditions?”
“I’m not sure, but I would certainly enjoy that.  I’m looking forward to talking with him.  Maybe I’ll have something to tell everybody at the reunion about what I’m doing now.”
“Maybe so.  Well, I’ll keep working here then.  Call me or come by when you’re finished?”
“All right.  Will you still be at your office?”
“Yes, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.  However, I will leave at about 16:00.  If I haven’t heard from you, I’ll leave you a message telling you if I’ve gone home or over to B’Elanna’s.”
“Okay – I’ll call her right now and let her get in touch with you about plans for tonight.”
“Fine.”  She reached out to touch her screen. “Hey – good luck this afternoon.”
He returned her touch. “Thanks.  Bye now.”
She sighed in joy at his news.  She really hoped that he would find a position that would be interesting and rewarding.  He desperately needed to feel contentment again in his life. Being near her would even be better.  Life hadn’t been the same without him.  She knew that she had enjoyed his company on Voyager, but never realized how much until he was gone.  She stopped herself before making plans in her mind about their future together. “One day at a time, Admiral,” she told herself.

B’Elanna stepped back into her office at Utopia Planetia.  Her assistant had told her that there was a call on hold and that the caller was insistent that she would want to be interrupted to answer it.  B’Elanna grumbled at the interruption and started forming words that she intended to have with whoever this person was.  She flicked on her screen and just stared in surprise at Chakotay’s smiling face.
“Hello B’Elanna.”
Her response was almost a growl, “Who the hell do you think you are disappearing from my life and then showing up unannounced like this and interrupting my day!  You’ve got some nerve, p’tak!”
Chakotay laughed. “It’s good to see you too.”
She sat down with a huff. “You better have a damn good explanation about where you’ve been – do you have any idea how worried we’ve been about you?”
“Sorry about that – but I had to get away.”
“You could have at least called to let us know that you were still alive!”
He nodded. “Yes, I should have.  I’ve been working in the Bajoran system – helping some of the colonies rebuild.  I just needed the time away to think.”
“Well, if you ask me, you weren’t thinking at all.”  She jabbed her finger at him on the screen.  “Kathryn is going to have a mild coronary when she sees you.  I hope you know that.  Do you have any idea how upset she was when you left?”
Chakotay took a deep breath.  He had been worried about Kathryn when he left, but he knew in his state of mind that he wouldn’t have been much help to her.  He was glad she had her family and friends around – he wouldn’t have left her otherwise.  “Don’t worry.  I’ve already seen her.”
“You have?!”  When he nodded she replied, “You went to see her before you even called to tell me that you were here?  You’re a p’tak!” She crossed her arms in playful anger.  Secretly, she was glad that he went straight to Kathryn.  Her friend would have been very happy about that.
“Yes, I probably am.  Kathryn and I had dinner last night and a long talk.  We’re fine and she didn’t have any type of coronary – I promise.”
“I can’t believe she hasn’t called me yet this morning to tell me.”
“I just spoke to her – she’s been swamped with work and hasn’t had the chance.  She’s trying to clear her desk so she can take the rest of the week off.”
“Hm.  Some excuse.  You’d think she was some important admiral or something?”
Chakotay laughed. “Yeah – something like that.”
“So – when are you coming to see me?”
“I was hoping you’d invite Kathryn and I to spend the evening with you?”
“Kathryn’s always welcome – you on the other hand – you’ll have to earn your keep.”
He chuckled, thankful that she was being the aggressive, feisty friend that she had always been.  He needed some things in life to have not changed.  “All right, what do I need to do?”
She typed something into the computer terminal. “You’re going to meet me at this address at 16:30 and help me pick up Miral from childcare.”
“Gladly.  However, I have an appointment this afternoon at Berkeley and I don’t know when I’ll be finished.”
“Berkeley?”  She was pleasantly surprised.  “Moving up in the world, are you?”
“Maybe – this is just to see if they have any interest in me.”
“Well – if you can tear yourself away from your busy schedule – meet me to pick up Miral.  Otherwise – you will come by our house as soon as you’re done.  Got that?”
He gave her a mock salute. “Yes ma’am!”
Her demeanor softened considerably. “I can’t wait to see you and hear all of your stories.  I really have missed you.”
He smiled. “I know.  I’m looking forward to seeing you too.”
She broke the moment, “Well – I’ve got to get back to work before the p’taks around here mess everything up.”
He chuckled. “Okay – see you later.”
B’Elanna stepped out of her office for a minute to check on the work before returning to place a call to her favorite admiral.
As soon as Kathryn’s image was on the screen, B’Elanna said, “So – how did it go?  Did you kiss him?”
Kathryn smiled. “Nooo.”
“Humph.  What are you waiting for?”
“The right moment?”
“Fine – take all the romance out of it.  You and he are coming to my house for dinner.”
“Did he tell you about his appointment at Berkeley?”
“Only a little.  He’s going to either meet me to pick up Miral or come directly to the house.”
“Sounds good.  He’s supposed to call or come by here when he gets done.  Do you want me to bring anything?”
“No – I’ll make flyboy run the errands.”
Kathryn chuckled. “All right – see you later, then.”
“And you’re going to give me all the details?”
“Maybe.”  Kathryn smiled.  She wasn’t going to share Chakotay’s secrets, but a little romantic suspense was all B’Elanna really wanted.
“Humph.  Okay bye.”
Kathryn shook her head in amusement after B’Elanna cut the link.  She enjoyed the friendship that she and B’Elanna had developed over the last year enormously – kept her young and not too serious.
Kathryn’s day progressed rather quickly.  She realized that once again, she had forgotten to eat lunch until her assistant dropped a sandwich onto her desk.  Kathryn couldn’t help but think of Chakotay when she did that.

It was almost 16:00 when her assistant interrupted her.  “Admiral, there is someone here to see you?”
Kathryn looked at the chronometer and instinctively knew who it was.  “Let him in, Susan.”
Susan wondered how the Admiral knew that it was a man – albeit an extremely attractive man – standing outside her door.  But then again, there were a lot of things about her Admiral that amazed her.  “Right through there.”  Susan indicated the doors on her right.

Chakotay said thank you and entered the doors to find Kathryn moving around her desk to greet him with a hug.  “How did it go?”
He pulled back to look at her. “Great – they offered me a position to teach three freshman classes and write a book about our discoveries in the Delta Quadrant.”
She was excited to see his eyes shining with joy.  “Wow!  They want you to write the book that you’ve always wanted to work on?”
“Yes – and he seemed interested in also funding a project to chronicle the history and beliefs of my people.”
“That’s wonderful!  I’m assuming you accepted?”
“Not yet.  I wanted to run it by you first.”
“Whatever for?”
He looked away hesitantly. “Because I feel so uncertain… ”  He returned his gaze to her, “…about so many things that I’m not sure I’m in the best frame of mind to make objective decisions about my future.”  He smiled, trying to lighten things up. “And I was certain that you’d have an opinion.”
“What makes you think I, of all people, would ever have an opinion?”  She laughed and urged him to sit with her.  She was worried about his emotional state – it was not like him to need her or anyone else’s validation to make decisions, especially personal ones.  “You sound like you’re thrilled about it?”
“Yes, I am.  I will get to do one small expedition each year… to supervise the freshman students in their first dig.  We would only be gone for a month, but at least it will allow me to get my hands dirty.  And… who knows what we might find?”
She was relieved to hear his eagerness about this opportunity that was well suited for him.  “Well, if you really want my opinion? I think it sounds perfect for you.”
“I wouldn’t start teaching until the fall semester, so I’d have all summer to study the textbooks and get ready.” He quickly added, “But I would start working on the research right away.”
“Why is Berkeley sponsoring the writing of the archeological chronicles of the Delta Quadrant?”
He smiled. “You know about the partnership they have with Starfleet?  Cadets interested in specific sciences and literature can take classes at Berkeley?”
Kathryn nodded. “Yes.  I took one class there myself.”
“I took several.  They requested the rights to do this and Starfleet gave it to them with me in mind.  Over the past year, they haven’t had the time or personnel to start working on it.  The director of the department was very pleased to hear from me.”
“I think this is almost too good to be true.”
“I know.  I hope I’m not dreaming.”
She stood and bent over to kiss his cheek. “I think it is definitely time for your dreams to come true.”
“I hope so too.”  He watched her as she returned to her desk and called Susan in.  He hoped that he was reading her accurately and that she would be interested in fulfilling the rest of his dreams.  However, the thought of jumping into that right now made him more than a little nervous.  He still needed to regain control over his emotions before he started an intimate relationship.
Susan walked in and Kathryn introduced them. “Chakotay, I’d like you to meet Ensign Susan Peak.”
Chakotay stood and reached out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Susan took his hand in surprise when she heard his name. “And I’m honored to meet you sir.  I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize you earlier.”
Chakotay smiled graciously. “That’s all right, I don’t mind not being recognized.  The fame when we first returned was more than enough in one lifetime.”
Kathryn interrupted, “Chakotay, you’ll be glad to know that Susan has taken over your job of putting food in front of me.”
“Oh really?”  He turned to look at Susan. “Does she actually eat it?”
Susan laughed and gestured to the half eaten sandwich on the desk. “Not usually.”
Susan watched the two of them exchange a knowing smile.  She had noticed the Admiral’s energy was unusually high today and now she knew why.  Her thoughts were interrupted when the Admiral spoke to her.
“Susan, I’m calling it quits for the week.”  Kathryn typed something into a PADD.  “Can you take care of these things and reschedule my remaining appointments for late next week?”  Susan nodded and Kathryn continued speaking while she stacked a pile of PADDs on her desk, “These reports will wait.  If anyone pesters you about them, just tell them they can have them back without my approval.”
Susan smiled. “Will do.”
“I want you to take Friday off and get ready for the reception.  You’ve received your ticket and security clearance?”
She nodded. “Yes, Admiral, and I’m looking forward to it.”
“All right then.”  She turned to Chakotay.  “Are you ready to see our favorite pair of Klingons?”
Susan watched the Admiral squeeze Chakotay’s hand and walk with him out the door.  The Admiral had mentioned Chakotay more than once in passing and she suspected that there was more to this relationship than was outwardly visible.  She hoped his presence today meant something more than just a visit for the reunion.

They arrived at the childcare center by 16:30.  Chakotay jumped in surprise when a very fast moving B’Elanna tackled him with a hug.  Kathryn stood by and watched with a warm heart as the friends embraced each other.
Not one to draw out a sentimental moment, B’Elanna pulled away from him and punched him in the arm.
“Hey!  What was that for?”
“Like you have to ask?”
Chakotay frowned. “I don’t suppose I do.”  His grimace turned into a smile as he looked at her. “You look terrific!”
She turned as if to model. “Yeah – not bad for someone who’s had a baby and got another one on the way.”
Chakotay smiled. “Really?!”  He turned to look at Kathryn. “And you didn’t tell me?”
Kathryn shook her head. “There are some things that people like to announce on their own.”
He picked B’Elanna up in another hug. “Congratulations!”  He sat her back down and took a good look at her. “How far along?”
“Just two months.” She shrugged. “But I’m already driving Tom crazy again.”
Kathryn smiled. “We better get your little angel before she starts getting impatient with us.”  She knew from experience that Miral had an amazing internal clock and got very upset when she wasn’t picked up at the proper time.
“Angel?”  B’Elanna looked at Chakotay and jerked her head toward Kathryn. “I think your friend there is delusional.”
Chakotay grinned. “Is that so?  Angel or not, I can’t wait to see her.”
They went in to get Miral and found her surprisingly happy and talkative.  As soon as she saw her favorite Aunt Kathryn, she jumped up and yelled, “Ka ka! Ka ka!”  Chakotay laughed, as this one year old was almost too much for Kathryn to handle when she got into her arms.
Miral was re-introduced to her Uncle Chakotay, but didn’t really have the patience to get to know him.  She was rather intent on showering her Aunt Kathryn with very sticky hugs and kisses.
On their way to B’Elanna’s home, Chakotay couldn’t help but smile.  He felt like the Spirits had definitely blessed him to have these two, now three, wonderful women back in his life again.  He vowed to himself that he would do everything he could to protect and care for them for the rest of his life.
The evening was relaxed and revealed the very strong and binding friendship that these four people had grown over the last 8 years.  The months that Chakotay had spent apart from them seemed like only weeks as they jumped right in where they had left off.
After they finished dinner, B’Elanna pulled Chakotay onto the back patio to talk and left Kathryn and Tom to clean up inside.
As Tom handed Kathryn the last item to dry, he asked, “How is he doing really?”
“Chakotay?”  Tom nodded.  “He’s… ” She hesitated, not sure what to say. “He’s had a difficult year, but I believe he’s back with us to stay.”
“Did something happen that made him leave?  He never said anything.”
Kathryn wasn’t sure what to say that would make Tom understand enough not to keep asking questions. “He needed time to deal with something on his own.  I can’t tell you anything else.”
Tom nodded in understanding. “I was just worried that one of us said or did something wrong.  I never told you or B’Elanna that because I was afraid you would think I saw something.”
“Did you?”
Tom shook his head. “No.  But I did see that he was deeply troubled.”
Kathryn laid her hand on his shoulder. “I saw it too.  And I know that it wasn’t something that he would have let any of us help him through at the time.  But now – he’s here and he needs our support and friendship more than ever.”
Tom smiled. “He’s got it.  Without a doubt.”
Kathryn squeezed his shoulder. “Thank you, Tom.”  Kathryn thought for a moment. “It would be best if B’Elanna didn’t push him to talk to her.  I think if I tell her that, it’s only going to make her more curious.”
Tom nodded. “Understood.  I will begin ‘Project:  Focus B’Elanna on the Future, Not the Past’.”
Kathryn smiled. “Exactly.”
B’Elanna and Chakotay came back inside, looking as if they had shared a few tears and a few hugs.  Chakotay winked as soon as he saw Kathryn.  She wondered how much he told B’Elanna, but decided that it was best to not indulge her curiosity and let it go.
B’Elanna put Miral to bed and they spent the rest of the evening catching up on the current events of their lives.  Tom knew a lot more about the status of the former Voyager crew than Kathryn had.  As Kathryn and Chakotay sat near each other on the couch, they resisted holding hands or other signs of affection.  Kathryn was worried that they were either falling into old habits or Chakotay didn’t realize that she wanted to be more than friends.
After they left, Chakotay walked Kathryn back to her house.  They laughed and reminisced about the past – mostly about Tom and B’Elanna.
Kathryn invited Chakotay in and he hesitantly accepted, making an excuse.  “Sure – I need to say hi to Prixie, don’t I?”
Kathryn smiled at his nervousness and realized that he was unsure of her feelings.  After they had adequately greeted and loved the dog, she decided it was time to let him know what she was looking for.  She walked over to where he was kneeling with Prixie and reached her hand out to help him up.  She stayed close and wrapped her arms around his neck.  She smiled at the surprised look in his eyes.  Closing her eyes, she drew her lips up to give him a soft, warm kiss.
He pulled back. “Kathryn,” he shook his head, “I can’t…”  He pulled out of her embrace and his heart broke looking at her concerned face.  “I’m sorry.  I just can’t do this.”
“It’s not you – I’m sorry.”  He left as quickly as his feet would carry him.
Kathryn’s heart hammered in her chest as her hand lay upon it, willing it to calm.  It ached from the pain and sorrow that she had seen in his eyes.  She wanted nothing more than to run after him, but knew she couldn’t.  She had pushed too far and now had to give him time.
However, there was one thing that she could do.  She sat down at her terminal to record a message that she hoped he would see when he got back to his hotel.
Chakotay’s mind was in turmoil.  He had so many dreams about their first kiss, but this was definitely not how it was supposed to go.  After he left the transporter station, he made his way down to the water to stare out at the bay.  He was relieved to know that Kathryn wanted to further their relationship.  However, he wasn’t ready for it.  First, he had to find his way back to the confident, strong, independent man that he had been a year ago.  She deserved the man he was then – not the angry, uncontrolled man he had become.
He couldn’t explain to her why he wanted to wait to be together.  He knew she wouldn’t wait long without a reason.  He silently wished that he hadn’t had the strength that it had taken to leave her.  He let himself imagine losing his worries in her embrace.  He thought about the way she had held and played with Miral earlier that evening and imagined her with their child.  He thought about growing old with her and spending time with their grandchildren.  He looked up and closed his eyes, letting the visions soothe his spirit and give him strength.
He stopped himself before he got too caught up in his dreams.  He had both of their futures to think about and he had to get his emotions under control before he took that step.  How could he love her when he didn’t love himself?  He knew that she would forgive him for tonight, but he wasn’t sure if he could forgive himself if he became dependent on her for his emotional stability.  What if something happened to her?  Would he end up becoming the crazy old man that haunted his dreams?  He had always been the strong, emotional center of their relationship – she needed him to be that.
He stayed by the water for over an hour before he walked back up to his hotel room.  He noticed the light blinking on his com terminal as soon as he walked in the door.  He sat down to check the messages.  One was from Berkeley – the Director had sent him the texts and other documents to look over.  The other was from Kathryn.  He checked the time to see that she had sent it immediately after he left.  He took a deep breath to gather the strength he needed to hear her message.  He touched the terminal to begin the playback.
Kathryn’s face came up.  Her eyes were moist, but it didn’t look as if she had been crying.  She was silent for almost a minute while she just looked at the screen.  She shook her head slightly as if to clear her head. “I’m sorry.  I’m just sitting here trying to figure out what to say.  Other than, I’m sorry, maybe?  I don’t know what’s going through your mind and I think I had better not let myself speculate.”  She looked up directly at the screen. “Chakotay – you have to know that you are the most important person in my life and I would do anything for you.  My biggest fear right now is that you are going to leave again.  Please don’t go.”  Her eyes pleaded with him.  “I…  didn’t mean to push you.  I know you’re in pain and I want to help, but I went too far.”  She looked down at her hands while she took control of her emotions again.  Her eyes were red when she looked back up.  “As you know, I’ve got tomorrow off.  I’ll keep myself busy here at the house in case you want to stop by to talk.  The gathering at Harry’s mother’s house starts at 18:00 – we had to make it early enough so that Miral could get home and to bed on time.”  She smiled.  “Anyway – I hope you get a good night’s sleep.  Maybe things will look better in the morning.  Goodnight, Chakotay.”
The message ended and he sat in the quiet room, staring out at the stars.  He decided that he would get some sleep and go back over there first thing in the morning.  He would tell her that he needed time and ask that she leave it at that.  He had hoped that they could remain friends as she helped him sort through his past and find peace.  Her kiss tonight had changed all of that.  He didn’t want to cause her pain, but he knew he might have to leave her again for a short time until he found himself again.  She was a strong woman and she would be okay.  He just hoped she would forgive him when he decided he was ready.

Kathryn woke with a heavy heart.  She looked over at Prixie who was not her eager, hyper self this morning either.  Prixie’s chin was down on the bed and her eyes were sadly looking up at her human.  Kathryn’s heart constricted a little. “Well, Prix – this is not good at all.  Now I’ve got you all blue.”  Kathryn caressed Prixie’s head for several minutes before deciding to get up and face the day.  “Come on – time to go outside.”
After sending Prixie out to tend to her morning needs, she put a pot of coffee on the stove to brew and returned to her room to wash her face and pull a brush through her hair.  The door chime rang while she was walking back to the kitchen.
Her heart leapt when she saw that it was Chakotay.  She tied the sash of her robe and opened the door.
“I hope I didn’t wake you?  I saw Prixie outside so I thought you might be up.”
Kathryn smiled warmly. “Of course not, come on in.  I’m glad you’re here.”
He had a small bag with him. “I thought perhaps you might like to go running or something?”  When he woke that morning, he decided to try to salvage their friendship while putting a delay on a more intimate relationship.  Going running with her felt like a good way to start.
Kathryn smiled. “I would like that.  Come on in.  Would you like some coffee?”
They walked into the living room and he nervously looked around. “Sure.”
After she fixed the coffee, she went back into the living room to find him standing at the back door looking outside.  He took the coffee, but got lost in thoughts as he stared into the cup.  He knew that he needed to have this conversation, but he wasn’t looking forward to it.  He was worried about making everything worse.
She noticed his unease and set her cup down on the table.  “Chakotay?  Can I hug you?”
He looked up and smiled. “Of course.  I’m sorry.”  He set his cup down and took her into his arms.
They held onto each other as if it were a lifeline.  Kathryn pulled her arms tightly around him and said, “I was so worried about you.”
“I know – and I’m sorry I left like that.”  He waited for her to ask him why, but she didn’t.  She was giving him the space to tell her on his own.
He pulled back and smiled. “Let’s sit.  I know better than to keep you away from your morning coffee.”
She laughed. “Too right you are!”
They sat in silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts, but glad that they were at least together. Chakotay interrupted the silence.  “Kathryn… I don’t think I should go to the reception tomorrow night.”  The potential intimacy of the formal occasion might encourage their friends and the media to push them into a relationship, and he didn’t have the strength to fight them all.
She looked at him in surprise. “Why not?”
“I’ve been thinking about it and I’ll just feel out of place.  There will be so many there, that I don’t think I’ll even be missed.”
Her shoulders sagged. “Of course you would be missed.  Not only would I miss you – but you were Voyager’s First Officer and this is a reception to celebrate her crew.”  When he didn’t respond, she added, “You don’t have to be my escort if that’s what you’re worried about.  I can go by myself and just see you there.”
He shook his head. “That’s only part of it.  I just don’t think I want to be around all the people and the media.  Saturday will be easier – I’ll know everyone.”
Her heart ached when she realized he didn’t want to go with her.  She really didn’t expect that would be his reason.  However, she tried to find a way to tell him that they could still enjoy it as just friends.  “If you’re worried about the questions you might receive – I can deflect them.  I’m pretty good at that, you know?”  She could see how tense he was and hoped her offer would relax him.
He closed his eyes in frustration.  He was worried about the prying eyes of Starfleet and the media and embarrassed at his lack of self-control.  She wasn’t making this easy for him.  “NO, Kathryn. I’m NOT going.”
She inhaled deeply at his forceful tone.  “All right.”  She was shocked to see his demeanor change so much since the night before.  She had no idea that he would react so negatively to an advance from her.  If he didn’t want a romantic relationship, she expected him to at least be gracious and gentle about turning her down.
He ran his hand through his hair, angry with himself for the way he was acting and responding.  “I’m sorry, Kathryn.  I’m just feeling…”
To soothe his obvious anxiety, she tried to help. “It’s really okay Chakotay.  I can make an excuse for your absence.”
“I don’t want you making excuses for me!”  He willed himself to take a deep breath and calm down.  He was getting angry at her attempts to coddle him and he knew she was only trying to help.
Her patience and tolerance for his behavior was wearing very thin.  She was getting angry and willed her diplomatic skills to come forth.  She thought perhaps the best thing to do was say nothing at all.  This was not some ensign being difficult; this was her best friend lashing out in pain and frustration.  She just didn’t understand why he was lashing out so harshly at her.
After some silence, Chakotay finally spoke, “I’m not handling this well at all.  I came here to tell you that I need time before I can start a relationship.”
She nodded. “I can see that.”  She knew that his anger wasn’t really directed at her, but she loved him and would stick by him no matter what.
He looked up her. “You are the best friend that I’ve got and I need that more than I need a lover right now.”
She raised her eyebrows.  Did he really think all she wanted to be was his lover?  “Well I’m not exactly looking for just a lover.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
She knitted her eyebrows in frustration.  He didn’t understand what she was trying to say anymore than she understood him and it wasn’t getting them anywhere.  “What I’m trying to say is that I’m ready to be more than just a friend – I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  That kiss was an invitation to a deeper relationship – not to foreplay.”
“And I’m trying to say that all I can be right now is a friend.”
His words stung, but she had to push him to clarify.  “Is that all you ever want to be?”
He wanted to say no, but was struggling with whether or not to admit that.  He wasn’t sure he could bear her persuasions.  However, in order to spare her feelings, he had to answer her question honestly, “No – but I can’t be that right now.”
She gathered hope in his honesty.  She took his coffee and set both cups down onto the coffee table.  Her hands gathered his. “Then we won’t.  The last thing I want to do is pressure you.  I thought you didn’t know how I felt and I wanted to make myself clear.  I’ve waited many years to be with you and I’ll wait for however long it takes.”
He squeezed her hands, relieved that she wasn’t going to push.  “Thank you.  I just hope that you’ll still be interested when I’m ready.”
She smiled. “I promise.  In the meantime – let’s put this aside and just enjoy being with each other.  And I promise not to kiss you anymore.”
He smiled at her last statement.  “It was a nice kiss.”
Seeing that he was on the downhill side of his emotional roller coaster, she relaxed. “I’m glad you liked it.  I’m about 8 years out of practice.”
He laughed. “Not true Kathryn – you kissed Kashyk and Jaffen.”
She shook her head. “Those don’t count.  Kashyk was all part of that horrible game we were playing and it thoroughly disgusted me to have to do it.  With Jaffen – I didn’t even know who I was and I assure you that if I had all of my memories at the time, I wouldn’t have let anyone kiss me but you.”
Chakotay’s heart warmed at her admission. “You would have let me kiss you?”
Kathryn smiled at his question. “Maybe so.”
“I don’t believe it.”
She chuckled. “Okay – well, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have thrown you in the brig afterwards, but I am sure that I would have enjoyed it.”

"What?  The kiss or throwing me in the brig?”
Relieved that their conversation had returned to more reflect their close friendship, she avoided answering the question altogether and said, “So… you want to go running?”
“If you think you can keep up with me.”
She laughed. “Sounds like a challenge to me.”

He stood to take their cups into the kitchen and accidentally tripped over a dog toy, spilling coffee on the carpet.
She jumped up to help, took the cups from him, and grabbed a towel.
“I’m sorry, Kathryn.”
“No need to apologize, I should keep these picked up.”  She stopped him from trying to take the towel from her. “I can get this.”
“Kathryn – I made the mess, I can clean it up!”  He really didn’t want her coddling him like this.
Taken aback by his tone of voice, she looked at him in concern, “It’s okay.  I’ve got it.”
His anger returned, and he took the towel. “Would you please…!”  His frustration kept him from finishing his sentence.
She couldn’t believe that he was acting this way.  She couldn’t keep the questioning glare off her face.  “What did I say?”
He was very disconcerted with his erratic emotions and felt like he had to get away – go outside – be somewhere other than here.  He had trouble maintaining control when his anger fluctuated like this.  He felt like he was going crazy and he couldn’t subject her to this.  “This was a bad idea.  I should go.”
She stopped him as he started to leave.  “Don’t run away from this.  I feel like everything I’ve said today is wrong.  What is going on?”
He closed his eyes and steeled himself.  He had gone too far and they both knew it.  “I just have some things that I need to resolve.  I’m sorry for getting angry, but I think perhaps we should not see each other until I can get myself together.”
She shook her head. “Not an option.  How can you tell me everything you told me the other night, and not explain what these issues are that you need to resolve?”
How could he tell her?  How would she react if she knew that he was going crazy and an emotional basket case?  He couldn’t take care of himself, much less her.  He refused to let himself become dependent on her.  His pride wouldn’t allow it.
He paused – realizing with a jolt what he had just told himself.  Pride:  excessive belief in one’s own abilities.  His ancestors and most certainly his spirit guide would be mortified.
He sat back down on the couch and put his face in his hands.  He was silent for a long moment while he tried to re-order his thoughts.  “It’s pride, Kathryn.  Just pride.”
She knelt down in front of him, putting her hands on his knees.  “Pride?”  When he just nodded and didn’t offer anymore of an explanation, she said, “I don’t understand.”
He looked into her caring eyes to see how much love was there.  His explanation started pouring out so fast that he couldn’t stop it.  “Pride in myself, in my ability to be a strong husband.  Kathryn, I want to marry you, have children with you, and be all the things that I think we have both dreamed of for a long time.  But I can’t love you and take care of you until I can do that for myself.  I need time to find my own stability before I can be with you.”
She tried to comprehend what he was saying and couldn’t believe that her conclusion could be correct. “This is about you needing to take care of me?”
He shook his head.  “Not just that.  I need to be the strong, confident, independent man that I was a year ago.  Right now I feel like I’m going crazy with my turbulent state of mind, and I don’t want to start building a relationship with you until I’m back to the man that I think you fell in love with.  I wanted to come back, find something productive to do with my life, and then come to you; but I needed your strength to sort through this.  Now I’m afraid I’m going to become dependent on you and I won’t do that.  I don’t expect that you’ll understand, but it’s just something I have to do.”
“You’re right, I don’t understand.  I would think that after all that we’ve been through that you would know me well enough to know that I’m strong enough to take of myself.  As a matter of fact, it’s insulting.”
He wished he had the emotional strength to argue with her, but he didn’t.  “That’s about how I thought you would react.”  He didn’t even want to mention that he felt like he had been taking care of her for years – he was sure that would have her spitting nails.
She sighed heavily, trying to figure out a way to fix this.  “Well, now that I know what’s really bothering you, I can at least deal with it.  I don’t have to understand it, but knowing certainly helps.”  She was at least a little relieved to find out that he was aware of the turbulence she saw in him.  However, his self-effacing thoughts were more significant than she realized.
They sat quietly, just looking at each other.  He felt completely deflated; she was coming up with a plan.
“Chakotay?  Will you please let me help you?”  She stopped him with a raised hand before he could say no. “Let me explain how.  First, we’ll keep this relationship at the ‘friend’ stage until you’ve had time to find that stable ground you are looking for.  You said you needed my help and I will help you in every way that I can.  As my friend, I want to invite you to be my houseguest.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from our years together, it’s that we make a hell of a team.  I have two spare bedrooms and more than enough room.  I told you Tuesday night that we’d face this together and I meant it.”
He had to smile just a little at her attempt to make it sound like she wasn’t taking care of him.   “You’re not going to let me say no, are you?”
She grasped his hands tighter. “Definitely not.  So you’ll stay with me?”
She was still kneeling on the floor in front of him and he realized that she was wearing her nightgown and robe.  She looked more beautiful and radiant than he thought possible – and he had thought about many possibilities.  He was sure he was crazy to agree to live with her and maintain a platonic relationship.  It was hard enough six years ago when she wasn’t even interested.
He nodded. “Yes.  I will – but you have to keep your promise not to kiss me.”  His mood had definitely improved.
She laughed.  “Deal – but I won’t make you make the same promise, you know?  Anytime you feel like puckering up – don’t let me stop you.”
“Oh good – where’s Prixie?”  He began to move to get the dog to give her a kiss, but she stopped him and they laughed together – a happy, healing laughter.
They ended up holding onto each other on the couch.  Kathryn looked up at him, “Chakotay?  Did I hear you correctly earlier, you plan on being my future husband?”
Her look of adoration filled his heart. “I did say that, didn’t I?”  He watched her smile grow even bigger. “Damn.  I was hoping to surprise you with that someday.”
She squeezed him. “You still can.  When you’re ready – you can tell me by surprising me with that very question.”
He let his head rest on hers and closed his eyes. “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”
She smiled and said, “Do you have any idea how good it is to hear you ask that?  The answer is yes I do, because I feel the same way… and you have absolutely no idea how hard it is to not kiss you right now.”
He laughed. “Okay – one kiss.”  He lifted her chin and softly kissed her lips.  He was still feeling anxious and nervous about his emotional stability, but for the first time in a long time, he felt protected from it.  He thought maybe he could work on letting his pride go and let this amazing woman help him for a change.
She snuggled into his arms and they soon drifted off to sleep.
An hour later, Prixie’s barking and Chakotay’s growling stomach woke them up.  Kathryn stretched. “We fell asleep.”
Chakotay yawned. “You’d think we didn’t get much last night.”
“Prixie’s hungry.  I need to get dressed so I can go out and feed her.”
“I’m dressed, tell me what to do.”
Kathryn smiled. “There’s a big green food bucket right outside the door.  I fill her bowl every morning.  I usually get the water from the sink, but there is a faucet out on the porch.”
“Consider it taken care of.  How about I also fix us some breakfast?”
“It will have to be replicated.  I don’t cook food so I don’t usually keep it around.”
“Well – that’ll do for now, but I think we should also go grocery shopping.”
“Sounds good.  After breakfast, we can walk down to the farmer’s market.”
When Kathryn returned from her bedroom, Chakotay was setting pancakes out on the table.  After they started eating, Chakotay decided he needed to clarify something he mentioned earlier. “Kathryn?”
“Earlier, when I said that I didn’t want to go the reception?”
“I was using it as an excuse to put some distance between us and I am really nervous about all the questions that might come up.”
She smiled. “You really don’t need to worry about the distance.  Just be yourself.”  She held a finger up in the air to emphasize her next words,  “And a wise man told me once that the best way to dispel rumors is to get out there and show them something different.”
Chakotay recognized his own words. “I knew something I told you would come back to haunt me someday.”
She tapped her finger to her temple. “Oh, don’t worry.  There’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Great.”  He groaned quietly.
She chuckled at his teasing. “So, how about we forego the run and get groceries instead?”
Chakotay nodded. “And if you want me to go to this party with you tomorrow, I’m going to need to find something appropriate to wear.”
“How about we move you out of the hotel this afternoon and then go get what you need?”
“Sure.  At some point today or tomorrow, I need time to take care of your birthday present.”
She shouldn’t have been surprised that he remembered her birthday was Sunday.  “I don’t need anything.  Just having you here is present enough.”
“I have something special in mind.  I think you’ll like it.”
“I can’t wait to see it, then.”  She made the decision right then that she would let him do anything and everything he wanted to do for her, no matter how large or small.  She knew that he had always felt a strong need to take care of her, but she didn’t realize until today that it was likely one of his greatest needs.  She would let him do whatever it took to regain his emotional balance… as long as he wasn’t hurting himself in the process.

With all of their errands, the day went by quickly.  They got back to the house just in time to shower, change, and go back out again to join the others at Harry’s parent’s home.  They arrived to find everyone there except Tom, B’Elanna, and Miral.
Harry greeted them first. “Admiral, Commander, it’s so good to see you.”  He gave Kathryn a hug and insisted on pulling Chakotay into one as well.
“Not Commander anymore – just Chakotay.”

“And I told you to call me Kathryn.”  Her mock indignation made Harry cough nervously.
“Yes, Ma’am.”  He never could call her by her given name.
“And I understand that I should be the one calling you Commander, now?”  Harry had quickly excelled up the ranks to his new position as Lt. Commander aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior.
Harry shook his head. “No sir, please, I’m the same old Harry.”
Chakotay put his hand around Harry’s shoulder as they walked into the living room.  “Yes, I’m sure you are – and that makes me even more proud of you.”
Kathryn followed them, grinning widely at the mentor and the apprentice – they had both come so far and she couldn’t possibly be prouder of both of them.
Harry’s mom fussed over them all evening, giving them more to eat than they could possibly want.  Kathryn enjoyed having her family all together again.  She could honestly say that never in her wildest dreams would she have thought they’d be sitting here like this 8 years ago.
She kept an eye on Chakotay all evening.  Since breakfast, their day had gone by without a hint of the discourse from their early morning conversation.  She worried that he was putting on an outward show of happiness, but she also knew that he wouldn’t find peace from just one conversation.  Tonight, he seemed happy and content with life – eager to hear every single moment of the months that he had been away.  She hoped he felt as wonderful as he looked.
Chakotay often stole quick glances at Kathryn.  He knew she was worried about him, but he tried hard to put her at ease by engaging in the conversations.  He also watched to see how she was doing.  He knew he had hurt her that morning, but being the strong woman she was, it wasn’t likely to get her down.  Their years facing the most dire of circumstances should have already given him proof enough that she would be able to cope with just about anything he threw at her.  Somehow, that didn’t make him feel any better.  After all her pain and loneliness, she deserved the freedom to love and be loved without any constraints.  He hoped that he would be able to give her that very soon.

They spent the next day resting and getting Chakotay settled in.  He reorganized the kitchen to make it more user-friendly.  She spent some time watering her plants and playing with Prixie.  He called the Director of Archeology at Berkeley and accepted the position with plans to talk more next week.  Together, they picked up his tuxedo and walked through the shops near their house so Chakotay could get re-acquainted with the area.
Chakotay watched her throughout the day and realized that the exuberance he saw was the Kathryn she had hidden under the Captain’s mask for so long.  B’Elanna had told him that although Kathryn had missed him terribly and worried about him often, she had been strong in his absence.  She did have a difficult time adjusting to not being constantly in command-mode, but now she seemed to be enjoying her more relaxed lifestyle.
When they returned home the evening before, he had successfully contacted his spirit guide for the first time in almost a year.  The message he received was clear – he would find peace in Kathryn.  It was the same message he had received since he met her, but it rang truer than ever this time.  In his efforts to heal, he had also made plans to speak again with Tuvok about his mission on the Liberty.  They planned on talking Monday morning before Tuvok and T’Pel returned to Vulcan.  He hoped that together, they would find some answers to his questions.
A hover-car was scheduled to arrive at 19:00 to take them to the reception.  It was a security precaution due to the high publicity the event was generating.  Kathryn assured him that it was more an issue of getting past the crowd of well-wishers than protecting them from any dangers.
Kathryn emerged from her bedroom dressed in a dark green gown to find Chakotay fussing with his tie in the entryway mirror.  She stepped up to him and turned him to face her so she could fix it for him.  She smiled under his scrutiny of her appearance.
“You are radiant, Kathryn.”  Her hair was pulled up in a soft twist with loose curls falling around her face.
A blush blossomed on her face. “Thank you.  Not too admiral-like, I hope?”
He shook his head. “Not in the least.  Very beautiful and very elegant.”  He was sure he was crazy for turning this woman away.
She stepped back to admire her work.  “You are looking rather elegant yourself, sir.”
He smiled at the compliment. “What in this old thing?  I’ve had it forever.”
She shook her head. “Or at least a few hours?”

“Our carriage awaits.” He held out his elbow and waited for her hand before opening the door and escorting her off to the reception.
They made it inside the ballroom without a problem.  Just as they had a year ago, they were stopped at the top of the grand staircase by a standing ovation.  Kathryn was sure it was all staged, but she accepted it graciously nonetheless.
As soon as they made it down the steps, Kathryn’s assistant, Susan, greeted them, “Good evening, Admiral, Sir.”  Susan was absolutely amazed at how elegant her Admiral looked and how devastatingly handsome Chakotay was.
Kathryn smiled. “Hello Susan.  Have you been here long?”
“Not too long, Admiral.  Is there anything I can do for you tonight?”
“You can enjoy yourself.  No business tonight.  This is a celebration of the past, not an excuse to politic about the future.”
Susan was relieved not to have to follow her Admiral around all night collecting notes as she had to do at most of the official Starfleet functions.  “Enjoy yourself then.”
Kathryn and Chakotay worked their way efficiently around the room.  He was amazed at her ability to greet everyone so quickly and make them feel special at the same time.  She was true to her word – she gracefully deflected most questions about his last year without giving a hint that it had been anything but pleasant.  Whenever they had a second alone, she made him laugh with some story or another about the admiral or diplomat they had just spoken with.
He watched with love as she made her speech congratulating her crew and memorializing those who didn’t make it home.  She told everyone about the 5 new additions (4 of which were named Kathryn) to the family and announced that several more were on their way (hopefully not named Kathryn).  He marveled at her ability to make everyone both laugh and weep, all in just 20 minutes.
Admiral Paris announced the first dance by command team of Voyager.  Chakotay stood at the applause and met her as she stepped off the podium.  Together, they made their way onto the dance floor and gracefully celebrated the evening with a waltz.
Since they were being watched, they waited until the second dance to begin speaking.  “Kathryn, that was a very lovely and moving speech.”
She blushed slightly. “Did it make it worth coming tonight?”
He shook his head. “No – but being with you and watching you all evening certainly did.”
She smiled in surprise.  “I’m glad you think so.”
“I most certainly do.”  He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.  He smiled at her surprise. “I was holding you to your word that you wouldn’t stop me.”
“I wouldn’t think of it.”
They spent the rest of the evening accepting dance requests from members of their crew and diplomats who wanted to meet the famous command team.  Although they didn’t come together again until the last dance, they kept an eye on each other the entire time.
It was obvious to everyone in the room that sparks were flying between them and all watched in expectation to see if they would end the evening with a kiss.  The guests were disappointed in the end, but because of Kathryn’s efforts, they had no idea about the inner turmoil that Chakotay was fighting with.
After they returned to the house, Kathryn kicked off her shoes and immediately headed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
Chakotay smiled and said, “Should I bring up the old ‘coffee-at-bedtime’ issue?”
Kathryn shook her head while she was taking sips. “Not if you value your life.”
He walked over to her and put his arms around her waist.  “Thank you for tonight, Kathryn.  Being there made me realize how blessed I am to have been a part of Voyager.”
She tilted her head into her endearing crooked smile. “I hope you truly believe that.  You are loved by so many people – not just me.  Any one of them would do anything for you.”
He nodded. “I do believe it.  I’m looking forward to spending more time with the crew tomorrow.  I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed them.”
“Me too.  And you get to see my mother.”
Chakotay smiled – he had only met her once, but he instantly adored Kathryn’s mother. “Really?  Is she going to be mad at me for not visiting like I promised?”
Kathryn laughed. “Probably – but I’m sure you’ll be willing to make it up to her, right?”
“Oh…”  Kathryn straightened as she remembered her birthday. “I completely forgot to tell you… I had planned to spend Sunday there.  I hope you’ll come with me?”
“I’d love to.  Do I get to finally see your tree?”
She nodded. “Yes – it’s been eager to meet and talk to you.”
“Does it speak often?”
“Only to me – but I think you’ll immediately feel that special connection.”
He looked deeply into her eyes, rejoicing in the happiness that he saw there.  It took all of his strength to pull himself away. “We should get to bed.  Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Kathryn took a deep breath – just for a second she thought he was going to kiss her, but knew it was just wishful thinking.  “You go on – I won’t be far behind you.”
“Okay.  Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.”  She watched as he retreated back into the bedroom.  He had once again looked happy and content.  She could tell his demons were still biting at him, but the emotional roller coaster that he had been on the first two days of his return had all but disappeared.  She knew that it was either progress or good acting, but she decided to call it progress.

The picnic was full of love and life.  Friendships established in difficult times were revitalized.  It wasn’t just the Voyager crew that had developed close bonds, but the families left behind had shared their pain together.  They now rejoiced at seeing each other again in happier times.  Kathryn beamed as her mother hugged Chakotay thoroughly and made him promise to visit the very next day.  They spent most of the day apart getting reacquainted with their old friends.  She watched him from a distance and was sure she could visibly see Chakotay absorbing strength from his former crew.
Kathryn got a break from the attentions of the group and stood back from the gathering to watch.  She felt like a mother watching her young, savoring every moment.  She wondered if her future self that had enabled them to get home ever had reunions like this with her crew.  Kathryn felt so completely thankful that she had been able to get these people home.  Seeing them happy and living life to the fullest lessened the guilt that she always carried with her.  She couldn’t help but be saddened at what she had taken away from them.  But throughout the past year and confirmed today, she had realized that life lived through hardship could offer rewards beyond measure.
Her eyes caught Chakotay’s as he looked towards her.  She waved and smiled to let him know that she was fine.  She turned at the sound of someone approaching from her right.  She didn’t know the man, but thought he looked slightly familiar.
He asked, “Admiral Janeway?”
She extended her hand to shake his in greeting, thinking he must be related to one of her crew. “Yes, how are you?”
He shook her hand, but did not let go. “Do you know who I am?”
His bearing made her uncomfortable, but she did her best to hide it.  “You’re one of my crew’s family members?”
Chakotay watched the man approach Kathryn and his instincts told him to get to her as quickly as possible.  He wasn’t sure if he was being overprotective or if there was something threatening about him.
Before she knew what happened, the man had pulled harshly on her arm and turned her back against his chest, holding a phaser against her throat.  “Do you know which crew member?”
The combination of Chakotay’s quick movement and Kathryn’s yelp drew the immediate attention of the crowd up the slight incline to where Kathryn and her captor were standing.
Her right arm was pinned between their bodies and her left was held firmly against her side by his tight hold on her midsection.  She stretched her neck away from the phaser to unsuccessfully try to escape its painful pressure.
Her captor yelled angrily in her ear, “Do you?  Do you know who you murdered?!”
Kathryn looked around to see her former crew taking offensive positions around her.  They had been trained to deal with this exact situation and she knew that unless she saw a clear opportunity to save herself, she was to let her crew rescue her.
While she tried to ignore the man yelling in her ear, she scanned the crowd and locked eyes with Chakotay.  She could see the focused anger burning in his eyes that was always there when she was in danger.  He was completely and totally focused on successfully saving her.
She watched Chakotay and Tuvok trying to covertly coordinate her rescue.  She tried to distract her captor so that her crew could move around behind them.  She willed herself to calm down and ask, “What is it that you want?”
She gasped as he struck her in the side of the head with the phaser. “Shut up!  You answer my questions first – do you know who you murdered?!”
The wound stung but she had certainly been through worse.  “Whatever you want – I might be able to help?”
He pushed the phaser against her throat, constricting her airway with its pressure.  He raised his voice to yell out to the surrounding crew,  “Listen up!  This invincible Captain that you celebrate is a murderer!  You celebrate her heroism and your reunion while my brother lies dead in some cold coffin in space.  She’s a murderer!  You hear me?  A murderer!”
Kathryn pulled her neck back as far as possible to escape the suffocating pressure.  She closed her eyes and willed herself to be calm.  When she opened them, she realized the crew had moved and was closing in on them.  Her captor realized this as well and started pulling her backwards.
He yelled out, “Stop where you are and listen!”  He continued ranting and without realizing it, made a critical mistake.  He redirected his weapon at the crew and Kathryn was able to see that the phaser was set on stun.  She knew that at close range, even a stun could inflict serious damage.  However, she knew there were over 300 people surrounding her that would make sure that she received immediate medical attention if it came to that.
She looked at Chakotay and tried to communicate with her eyes that she was going to make a move.  Her captor’s agitation grew as the crew continued to advance on their position.  She could see that Chakotay was trying to communicate with her – willing her not to make any sudden movements, but he had no idea the phaser was set only on stun.  She decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
With all her strength, she threw herself forward to throw him over her shoulder, but misjudged his size and didn’t make it.  She wrestled with him for control of the phaser and discharged the weapon in the process.  She heard Chakotay scream her name off in the distance as she felt her body drift into numb unconsciousness.  Just before she blacked out, she felt strong hands catch her and knew she was in the safe arms of her Chakotay.
The still active members of Voyager’s security team immediately seized the troubled gunman and transported off to Starfleet’s security station.
The Doctor came running over with the medkit he had brought in case of emergency.  Chakotay was cradling Kathryn in his arms and Tom was checking for wounds with his hands.  Chakotay resituated Kathryn so the Doctor could scan her without interference from his body.  He carefully cushioned her head from the hard ground with his hands.
Gretchen Janeway wasn’t far behind the Doctor and took stock of the situation.  She yelled out to the crowd that had gathered, “Back off!  Give us some space!”
Immediately, the crowd pulled back to give them the privacy that was needed.  Several members of the crew jumped into action to help move people back and give their former Captain space.
The Doctor closed his tricorder and pulled out another tool. “She’s okay.  The weapon must have only been on stun.”  He used the tool to reduce the inflammation and swelling from the strike to her head.  He then administered a hypospray. “She’ll have quite a headache when she wakes up so that should help.”  He pulled out a dermal regenerator and treated the bruises that were already starting to form on her temple, throat, and neck.  “Let’s just give her a couple minutes.”
Gretchen left for a moment and returned with a damp cloth and a cup of water.  Chakotay pulled Kathryn back up into a more comfortable position in his arms.  He let her mom lay the cool cloth on her forehead.
Chakotay looked around and asked, “What happened to him?”
Tuvok was standing by and heard the question. “He has been taken into custody.”
Chakotay nodded, knowing that Tuvok would have it under control.  His attention was redirected to Kathryn when he heard her moan.
Kathryn’s body felt like it was weighed down under a very heavy blanket.  She fought her way to consciousness as she heard Chakotay’s voice calling her name.  She opened her eyes to find his very worried eyes focused on her.  “Chakotay?”
He smiled gently at her and smoothed her hair away from her face.  “You’re okay.”
Kathryn looked at the Doctor, her mom, Tom, and then Tuvok, and then back at her mom. “Mom?  How’d you get here?”
She knew her daughter wasn’t thinking clearly if she had to ask that question.  “I walked, dear.”
She thought about her mom’s words for a long moment and asked the only sensible question in a situation like this. “You walked all the way to the Delta Quadrant?”
Her mom refolded the cloth on her forehead and returned it to pat along her forehead and temples. “Yes, Katie, I have an amazing set of space legs.”
“Space legs?”  Kathryn was obviously confused as she looked at Chakotay for help.
He tried to help. “We’re not on Voyager, Kathryn.”
She looked up, still confused.  “I can see that – there’s the sky.”
Chakotay looked at the Doctor. “Should we get her to a hospital?”
The Doctor shook his head as he scanned her again with his tricorder.  “No – she’s fine, just a little disoriented.  I already reduced the swelling and inflammation.  Let’s give her a couple more minutes.”
Kathryn was intently listening and not comprehending a word of the conversation around her.  “Chakotay?”
He looked down and pulled her a little closer. “Yes?”
“What happened?”
He squeezed her hand. “You were stunned with a phaser.”
She focused on his answer for a minute before asking, “Why?”
He smiled. “Because you can’t seem to stay out of trouble.”
“Oh.”  She closed her eyes.  “You’ll stay with me?”
“Always.”  He tucked her hair behind her ears as he watched over her.
She woke again about a minute later and looked around. “Chakotay?”
He smiled at her. “Yes?”
She looked at him in disbelief.  “He shot me?”
He realized that her eyes were clearer and that she was now aware of what happened.  He nodded. “You decided to be the hero and the phaser discharged.”
“Oh.”  She was satisfied with that answer for about 20 seconds before asking, “Who was he?  I didn’t know.”
Chakotay looked up, hoping someone could answer that.
Tuvok spoke, “He was the brother of one of the crewmembers who died as a result of the actions of the Kazon.”
She nodded. “I’m assuming we have him detained?”
“Yes, Admiral.”
She looked at the Doctor. “Can I get up now?”
“Take it slow.”
With Chakotay’s help, she carefully raised herself to a sitting position and held her head.
The Doctor scanned her again to make sure she wasn’t going to fast. “The headache should dissipate soon.”
Kathryn nodded and moved to stand.
“Easy, Kathryn.”  Chakotay lifted her to her feet.  She held onto him as she wavered for just a moment.
She heard thunderous applause all around her and looked up to see her former crew and their families delighting in her recovery.  Holding her head, she whispered to Chakotay, “I’m glad they’re happy I’m okay, but please make them stop.”
Gretchen took care of it for him by putting her index finger to her lips and holding up her hand to indicate that they stop.  She moved away from Kathryn to address the bystanders.   “She’s okay.  The phaser was just set on stun.  Give her an hour and she’ll be as good as new.”
Chakotay guided her into a reclining chair and pillowed a folded jacket under her head.  He sat next to her as she laid back and closed her eyes.  “Would you like to go home?”  He gently dusted some of the grass off of her pants.
“Not yet.  Let me see if this gets better in a few minutes?”
Chakotay stayed with her for the rest of the day, extremely thankful that she was okay.  It only took about 30 minutes for her to start feeling better and within an hour she was walking around, reassuring her worried Voyager family.  She and Chakotay returned to the house early so she could rest, as she had every intention of making it to the party for the crew that night.

She woke to a gentle hand caressing her hair away from her face, and opened her eyes to see Chakotay sitting on her bed.
“Hey there.  I hate to wake you, but you wanted to go the party?”
She closed her eyes again, and snuggled deeper into her side, hugging the pillow between her arms.  “Mmmm.  What time is it?”
“A little after 19:00.”
“It’s already started?”
“Yes, but I wanted you to rest as long as possible.”
She opened her eyes and rolled onto her back.  She had been sleeping on top of the bedding and was still wearing the same clothes she had worn to the picnic.  She yawned and slowly pulled herself up.
Chakotay moved around to the side of the bed she was now sitting on.  “How’s your head?”
She gently rubbed her temples, finding the spot where she had been struck very sensitive.  “It’s been better.”
Chakotay showed her a hypospray. “The Doctor gave me this in case you needed it.”
“Okay.” Kathryn nodded and lifted her chin so he could administer the pain medication.  In an instant, the pain had almost completely receded.  “Thanks.”
“I’ll leave you to get ready.”
She nodded and waited for him to close the door behind him before she moved to get ready.  While she changed clothes, she thought about Chakotay’s reaction to earlier predicament.  He handled it extremely well during the crisis and at all times afterwards.  She knew it was a good sign that he was getting at least a little stronger at controlling his emotions.
The party was held at a small banquet hall on campus.  Kathryn and Chakotay were an hour late, but they knew there was still plenty of party left to enjoy.  The room quieted when they entered and she stopped to laugh at her crew very quietly applauding her.  It sounded like a bunch of birds flapping their wings.  Kathryn held up her hands. “Thank you for the quiet greeting.  And thanks to a little help from our Doctor,” Kathryn gestured to him, “my head feels fine so don’t let me stop you from enjoying yourselves.”
Kathryn and Chakotay spent the evening moving between small groups of conversations.  The three themes that pervaded the evening were more frequent reunions, her romantic involvement with Chakotay, and the incident with the gunman in the park.  When Kathryn was asked to make a speech to mark the closing of the annual reunion, she decided that she needed to address two of the issues.  She certainly wasn’t going to bring up their relationship when she wasn’t even sure what to make of it.
She squeezed Chakotay’s hand and made her way to the raised platform in the room.  She looked out at the group and began:
“I’m glad that we are here together to celebrate the first anniversary of our homecoming.  If there is one thing I’ve heard said over and over this weekend, it’s ‘Has it been a year already?’  I can tell you that this year has flown by very quickly and at the same time, I know I’ve tried to treasure every moment.”
“Despite our hope and optimism during our journey, I’m sure that every one of us thought we might never see this day.  I can tell you now that I had my doubts, but every time I started losing my hope and buoyancy, something would happen to make me realize what a precious gift each of you are to me.”
“Whether it was the engineering team coming up with yet another 11th hour miracle, a smile from Naomi, an impromptu party thrown by Neelix, one of Tom’s more creative distractions (she left it at that, but they knew what she meant), a supportive gesture from Chakotay, or the magic that comes from all of our minds working together, every single member of this family gave me the courage to persevere.”
“Seeing you this weekend reminds me that our life of struggle and hardship has offered rewards beyond measure.  Each of us has been changed by our experiences and I know that we are stronger individuals for it.  It took me a very long time to realize that and I hope it is something that you’ve all found as well.”
She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts.  “I need to talk with you about your reactions to this afternoon’s unfortunate turn of events.”  She looked down at her folded hands before refocusing her gaze on her former crew.  “Richard Peterson was the brother of Ensign James Peterson who we lost on Hanon IV.  We were fortunate to have survived that incident without losing more than we did, but we have to remember that we did lose two very fine officers.  Mr. Peterson is extremely grief-stricken and I do not believe that he had any intentions of actually hurting me.  I believe that his inconsolable pain has caused him to lash out and remind us that not everyone made it back.”
She paused again to keep her composure. “I know that each of you felt as much pain as I did – and still do – at the loss of each member of our family, but we have each other.  Although, I don’t know for sure, Mr. Peterson probably doesn’t have the support of close friends or family to help him through his grief.”
She paused for a moment of silence before she continued, “I don’t want to detract from his pain, but I do want us to focus on the joys in our life.  I wasn’t seriously injured and I’m safe and sound.”  She looked over at Chakotay whose eyes were closed and head bowed.  She hoped he was okay, but knew that he and everyone else in the room needed to hear it.
“I’ve overheard a lot of plans for more frequent gatherings.  I hope you will each carry through on those plans because I, for one, miss seeing you everyday.  If anyone wants to volunteer to coordinate parties and news, I believe we would all benefit from it.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help.”
Tom raised his hand to interrupt her. “Admiral…  Since you all think of me as the host of – what did you call it? – more creative diversions? – I’ll volunteer to keep a master calendar of events.  If anyone wants to work with me to start a newsletter, I’d love the help.”
Kathryn smiled. “Thank you, Tom.  Now, I believe in the tradition of our morale-boosting parties, we should pull back the tables and start the music!”
Amidst many cheers and whistles, Kathryn stepped down to greet a few members of the crew she hadn’t had a chance to speak to yet.
A few minutes later, Chakotay took her hand and led her to the dance floor.  She stepped into his arms and looked up into his eyes, “Are you okay?”
He nodded, “I will be.”  She moved in closer so that she felt like she was holding him more than dancing with him.
He savored the feel of her in his arms.  Her support and presence over the last five days had meant more to him than he thought possible.  He realized that his inner turbulence had drastically reduced since he completely opened up to her.  He was actually surprised that he handled himself as well as he did today – especially when he found out that it was linked back to his apparent inability to see people for what they really are.  If Seska hadn’t been able to deceive him, they wouldn’t have ended up on Hanon IV, Ensign Peterson wouldn’t have died, and his brother would have been celebrating with them instead of lashing out in grief.  He held Kathryn a little tighter, relieved that she was alive and healthy.

Later that evening after they had gone to bed, Chakotay found that his mind was so active that he couldn’t sleep.  He decided to go to the kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea, hoping that would calm his nerves.  He was startled when he heard Kathryn say, “Couldn’t sleep either?”  He turned to see her sitting on the loveseat with her feet stretched out on the ottoman.
“Not really.  My mind is too active – thought some tea might help.”
“Probably more so than this coffee.”
He smiled. “Yes, probably so.”
“Feel like making two cups?”
Warmed by her indirect invitation to talk, he said, “Gladly.”
He made the tea and brought one over to her.  He started to sit on the sofa when she stopped him by patting the seat next to her. “There’s room here if you like?”
He didn’t give it a second thought and stretched out next to her.
“This is my favorite spot for enjoying my insomnia.  As you know, on Voyager, it was the viewports in the mess hall.  There, I had always tried to imagine that I was looking at the stars from my window on Earth.  Now, I take comfort in knowing that I am.”
He took her hand. “Why the mess hall?”
“I’m not sure.  I felt isolated in my quarters.  The ready room felt too much like work.  Maybe it was because the mess hall was where I felt most like I had a family around – whether they were actually there or not.”
“That makes sense.  It and the holodecks were the only places on the ship where we felt like we could let go of our responsibilities, even if only for a moment.”
“And even then it was hard.”
He nodded, not needing to say anything.
She looked over at him. “So do I need to ask what’s got your mind working on overload?”
He chuckled. “Probably not.”
“I was worried that you would get caught up in the connection between Peterson and Hanon IV.”
He nodded. “I was actually surprised that I didn’t completely melt down because of it.”
“You didn’t.  I was very proud of the way you reacted to it.”
He tugged on his ear, indicating his uncertainty. “You don’t know what thoughts were running through my head.”
She squeezed his hand. “No, but I can probably come close.  The point is that you didn’t let them control you.”
He nodded. “I’m trying to look at it as if there wasn’t a connection to Seska’s deception… Somebody died and somebody’s grieving.  We lost a lot of people out there and it could have been connected to any one of them.  It doesn’t matter how or why his brother died, the behavior of that man today was that of someone who was very disturbed.”
“That’s certainly a healthy way of looking at it.”
He looked at her. “You don’t see it that way?”
She sighed. “Yes and No.  I don’t trace it back to Seska, except for my concern that you might.  I’m caught up on the fact that because I made the decision to strand us out there, someone died.”
He frowned at her. “Did you believe a word of what you said to the crew tonight?”
“It’s what they needed to hear.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
She was quiet for a moment. “I know.  I did believe it when I thought it this afternoon.  But then I was painfully reminded of my mistakes.”
“Kathryn, you’ve got to accept that it was the right decision and not dwell on how things could have been different – for better or worse.”
She looked over at him. “That’s not easy to do.”
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her next to him.  “I know.”
They sat together in silence for a long time, immersed in their guilt, but knowing that they would always have each other to pull them out of it.  Chakotay finally understood why he had felt so lost during the first part of his life and again over the last year – he had been away from his soul mate.

Kathryn and Chakotay stepped off the small transport shuttle into the station on the south side of Bloomington, Indiana.
“Come on.”  She smiled and took his hand and led him outside.  “Mom’s house is less than a kilometer from here and it’s a beautiful day.”
Chakotay happily followed her lead. “Whatever you say birthday girl.”
“Are you going to call me that all day?”
He smirked. “Yes, ma’am.”
Since it was still early, they took their time walking toward the edge of town.  Kathryn pointed out locations of note from her childhood.  Chakotay enjoyed thinking about her as a child – red hair, freckles, her nose stuck in a book.  He was sure he would have liked her then – they would have been great friends.
They passed a group of low-hanging trees and stopped at the end of a long driveway that led up to a large, white country house that looked hundreds of years old, but in excellent condition.  “Well, this is it.”  Kathryn looked at Chakotay to gauge his reaction.
“It’s beautiful. Very picturesque.”  His interest in history was sparked. “How old is it?  Is it an historical landmark?”
Kathryn was pleased with his interest. “It’s almost 500 years old, but it has been updated and restored over the years, that almost none of it is of the original construction.”
“But it must have been done gradually, because it looks like it’s probably original design?”
“Yes – mom has a complete history on the house that has been passed down from the original owners.  I’m sure she’d love to show it to you.”
He nodded, still amazed at the wonderful structure in front of him.  “I’d like that a lot.”
They walked up the drive to the porch and rang the bell.
Gretchen came to the door, looking like a part of history with her old-fashioned apron and summer dress.  She hugged Kathryn. “Happy Birthday, Katie.  I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Me too, Mom.”
Gretchen let go of Kathryn, turned to Chakotay and captured him in a bear hug. “And you too – I’ve been wanting to get to know you better for years!”
“Thank you, Mrs. Janeway.”
She pulled back and admonished him. “I thought we covered that yesterday – you call me Gretchen – or Mom would be even better!”
He blushed, knowing that he hoped to call her mom very soon.  “Give me some time on that one.”
Kathryn smiled, delighted to hear his words from so long ago.  She sincerely hoped that he would feel welcome in her family.  She was sure he would find the love and support she knew he craved.
Gretchen cradled Kathryn’s cheeks in her hands. “How are you feeling, dear?”
Kathryn knew to be honest with her mom. “A little achy, but not too bad.”
Thankful once again that her daughter was okay, she kissed her on the forehead and motioned them to sit. “Sit down and rest.  Chakotay, make yourself at home – my home is your home.”
“Thank you.”  He was overjoyed to be in Kathryn’s childhood home.
Gretchen returned with two glasses of iced tea and then left them to relax while she finished preparing dinner – refusing any help from either of them.
Chakotay put his arm around Kathryn while she talked about the house and memories she had from her childhood.  He was transfixed by her enthusiasm and her many stories.  A feeling of peace washed over him like he had never felt before.  His worries and anger over his past weren’t gone by any means, but he knew they would now be taking a backseat in his life.
An hour after they had arrived, Kathryn’s sister Phoebe and her family arrived.  Chakotay could tell immediately that there was a special connection between the sisters and he was delighted to see it.  He was introduced to Phoebe’s husband Ted, and soon the two men were talking like they had known each other for years.  Their two children were full of energy and were anxious to hear all of their new Uncle Chakotay’s stories that their Aunt Katie had told them about.
After Phoebe’s family left following dinner, Kathryn took Chakotay out into the backyard to show him her tree.  “This is where I dreamed all of my dreams.”
Once they stood under the tree, Chakotay pulled Kathryn to him so that she held her arms around his waist.  He fished in his pocket and took out a small box wrapped in green paper with a white ribbon.  “Would you like your birthday present?”
She smiled her lopsided grin. “But you already gave me one.”
He had given her a huge assortment of flavored coffee beans earlier.  “I know.  But this is something that I wanted to give to you in private.”
Her smile broadened and she tenderly took it from him.  He held onto her hips as she carefully unwrapped the small package.  She opened the box and gasped at the beautiful necklace.  “Oh, Chakotay.”  It was a platinum chain that tapered into an intricate swell of flourishes and spirals.
He smiled. “If you’ll look carefully at the design, you’ll see the same design as this.”  He pointed to his left temple.
“It’s beautiful.”  She carefully traced the design that she knew well.
“An old tradition among my people is for a woman who is engaged to wear a sash with the crest of her bridegroom’s family.”
Her eyes quickly looked up into his.  “Chakotay?”
He smiled and pulled her tighter.  “Over the last five days, I’ve finally realized that I can only find my true peace with you.  Friday night, I decided that I wanted to ask you to wear this as a promise to marry me someday.  I had it made yesterday morning while I was out walking.  Last night – at the party and reinforced again when we were up talking – I finally understood what has been missing from my life and why I’ve felt so off-balance.”
She was pretty sure she knew the answer to her question, but asked it anyway, “What’s that?”
“My soul mate.”  He gazed into her eyes and treasured the moment.  “I feel like I’ve finally come home.  I love you, I need you, I want to be a part of your life, and I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Tears pooled her eyes.  She softly whispered, “Chakotay.”
“Kathryn, will you make my dreams come true?  Will you marry me?”
Unable to speak, she nodded her head and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck.  He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, cherishing every nuance of the moment.


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