Summary: J/C - Kathryn has to let go before she can follow her path to happiness.
Disclaimer: They aren’t mine – I’m just fixing things.
Thanks: Many thanks to Jadie, Squirrelly, and Ris for their beta work. Many, many hours on this one!
Part One - Letting Go
Sitting on the back porch of her mother's home in Indiana, Kathryn watched the morning sun float into the sky. It wasn't so much her mother's place of residence as it was a place to store her belongings and stay in between her travels. Gretchen Janeway had taken to "seeing the world" with her gentlemen friend, Richard.
Although she was happy to see that her mom was enjoying life, it meant that no one was around at the moment. After the debriefings, she and her mom had spent two months together until Kathryn encouraged her to go on about her life, claiming that she needed the peace and quiet. What she hadn't expected was just how quiet that quiet would be.
As a crow landed in a nearby tree and began to call, its forlorn caw sounded familiar to the loneliness Kathryn had felt steal upon her this past week. The lack of activity in the house allowed her to spend a significant amount of time thinking about her life and past decisions. As she looked out across the yard, she wondered if she had saved Justin's life, would her children have played on the old swing in the knotty oak tree? Or would she be married to Mark now if she hadn't destroyed the array? There were countless life-altering decisions that she made throughout her life. Decisions that affected not just her, but everyone's life she touched. She couldn't help but think how many lives might be different if she had taken a different path even once.
Last time she dwelled on that topic at length, it took mutiny to pull her out of her despair. Kathryn smiled into her coffee cup as she thought about that day. They were a very special group of people and a more unconventional senior staff would be impossible to imagine. Since the moment she met them, each became an irreplaceable part of her life. She once thought she didn't need anyone, now she felt like parts of her were missing.
She wished that someone would call on her to solve an important problem, although it wasn't likely since there wasn't a ship to take care of at the moment. Looking down at her hands, Kathryn tried to think of something they could be doing to keep busy so her mind would follow. Re-working the replicator or pulling weeds were both likely projects. In the past, she had always managed to find a long list of things to keep her mind occupied on this particular day. It was the twentieth anniversary of the death of her father and fiancée. She couldn't help but think about them as she sat on this porch. As she reached down to scratch her ankle, she remembered the hours spent with her father and later with Justin sitting on the old porch swing.
She studied the swing and considered giving it a new coat of white paint. The last time she remembered doing that was right before she and Justin announced their engagement. The pride was obvious in her father's eyes as he gave them his blessing and told them that together, they would make all of their dreams come true. She was happy then, or at least she thought she was. It was hard to believe she felt happy after being a guest of the Cardassians, but Justin was able to help her forget about it at the time. Or maybe she was just ignoring the whole incident. The only person she ever talked to about it was Chakotay because he knew firsthand what it was like. She opened up to him like she hadn't with anyone else, having even managed to keep her experiences from the Starfleet counselors. She felt secure and protected with Chakotay, knowing he would keep her and that information safe.
Running her fingers through her hair, she thought about that word… safe. That was something she rarely felt. She knew she should feel safe here, at her mom's house, in Indiana, on Earth. It was what she had longed after for seven long years. Why was it that now that she was here, all she felt was loneliness? That loneliness scared her. The whole Federation celebrated her and her crew, but that fame left her feeling isolated. She ached for her Voyager family, but she needed more than just people under her command. She wanted people to love and care for in her life.
Kathryn's thoughts continued drifting among the people who had come into her life. Until she started feeling the warmth of the sun as it moved slowly up into the sky, she didn't realize how much of the morning had passed. She looked down into the flowerbed and came to the conclusion that she needed to do more than pull weeds. Taking a deep breath, she chose to do something about her solitude.
Going inside to sit at her comm. terminal, Kathryn tried to decide which person to call. She knew she could contact Tom and B'Elanna and invite herself over to visit Miral. However, she didn't feel like facing the happy couple when she felt so downhearted, despite the fact that they had spent a lot of time socializing since their return. She knew B'Elanna wouldn't let her spend the day with them without trying to draw the reasons for her melancholy out of her. Kathryn didn't feel comfortable explaining the details of her father's death to B'Elanna because there was a part of her that still insisted that the captain didn't get that personal with members of her crew. She intended for this reluctance to fade over time, but two months hadn't been long enough.
There was one person who already knew more about her than she cared to admit. And she wanted that person's company more than she wanted to consider. However, she hadn't actually spoken to Chakotay since after their debriefings. They parted amicably, but his relationship with Seven had caused a new tension in their friendship that hadn't existed before. Kathryn was ill at ease with them as a couple, and she was sure Chakotay picked up on her discomfort. On the other hand, circumstances on that front had changed. B'Elanna had informed her that the romance hadn't even lasted a month. Still, Kathryn had resisted calling him, not wanting to admit that she felt as strongly about his recent relationship as she had.
Now another month had gone by, and she needed her friend more than ever. Kathryn knew that he would want her to call, but she felt guilty about making contact when she had needs while avoiding him when she knew that he had needed a friend a month ago. Their relationship had been like that from the very beginning… Chakotay was always there for her when she needed him, and she felt like he preferred to keep his troubles to himself. This created a pattern that she decided to fix… finally something to occupy her thoughts. The first step was to set down her coffee and see if he was at home.
While placing the call, Kathryn took a deep breath. Her hands clenched into fists to control her surging emotions as she waited for him to pick up. When his face appeared on the screen she took in a quick breath.
"Kathryn!" His joyous smile calmed her nervousness.
Still unsure how he would receive her call, she smiled hesitantly. "Hello Chakotay. I was hoping you would be at home."
Concern overtook his smile. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Not surprised that he could read her so easily, she forced a smile to try to put him at ease. "I just… needed a friend. I wanted to know if I could see you?"
Chakotay's features softened, but the concern didn't fade. "Of course. Are you in Indiana? It'll take me about 30 minutes to get there."
Kathryn shook her head. "Actually, I was hoping to come see you. I need…" She looked around for a second. "I need to get away from here."
"Is your family troubling you?"
"No, there isn't anyone else here." She hesitated for a moment. "There are just some old ghosts and besides, you and I need to catch up."
He visibly relaxed. "Are you sure you wouldn't like me to come there? I could bring you back here?"
Touched by his consideration, Kathryn smiled and said, "I'm a little down, but I'll be okay getting there. I'm not that far gone… yet." She winked so that he would know she was kidding.
"Okay." His attention focused on his keyboard for a moment and then said, "These are the coordinates for the transporter station in town. I'll meet you there."
"All right." She hesitated before asking the next question. "Chakotay?"
"Yes?" He looked up.
"Would it be okay if I packed an overnight bag?" She asked, smiling uncomfortably.
His smile grew ten-fold. "If you're sure you want to brave the Arizona heat, I would love the company for as long as you would like to stay."
Pleased with his answer, she said, "All right then. I need to pack and lock up the house. Can I meet you in two hours?"
"I'll be waiting." He smiled and touched the screen. Returning his gesture, she said, "Okay. See you then."
As the screen went dark, she pulled in a deep breath and relaxed. She returned to the back porch to collect her emotions before she focused her attention on packing. Leaning on the railing, she let her thoughts roam once more. They drifted to her lost loves, and how she hoped that her aching heart would allow her to reclaim one of them. She admitted to herself that she wanted, no needed, Chakotay back in her life.
Looking up into the cloudless sky, she thought about her past relationships. After she lost Justin, she wrote off love altogether. Mark was a wonderful friend, but she never let herself love him the way she loved Justin. As a result of that dreadful day twenty years ago, there was an armored shield around her heart, stronger than the titanium hulls of any starship. Twenty years ago, she vowed that she wouldn't let anyone else in to avoid the pain that tormented her after Justin's death.
Now, two decades later, all she had was an all-consuming loneliness to show for it. Chakotay had given her the tools to dismantle the shield, but she resisted at every opportunity. She hoped that he would be willing to help her with that now, but knew she would have to restore their friendship for that to happen.
Kathryn closed her eyes and spoke the words that needed to have been said for a very long time. "Justin, Daddy, I have to let you go. I love you both and I still miss your spirit, your strength, and your love. I'm not sure where my heart will take me now, but I'm letting it out to be free again. I love you."
She re-focused her attention on preparing for her future… specifically, on seeing her dearest friend, Chakotay.
Part Two - Holding On
Kathryn materialized on the transporter platform wearing a long sundress, big floppy hat, and sunglasses.
"Kathryn?" Chakotay looked surprised and she guessed it was because of her attire.
Hesitantly taking off the sunglasses, she smiled. "Sorry about that." As she stepped off the platform, she said, "I find it easier to move around in public if I hide my identity a little."
He smiled and reached out a hand to her. "I don't think you'll have that problem here in Arizona. At least, no one has bothered me yet."
Taking off the hat, she took his hand. "I can't even begin to tell you how much I've missed you."
He lightly pulled on her hand to bring her into a hug. "You don't have to… I'm sure I feel the same."
They stayed in each other's embrace for a moment until the station manager cleared her throat and said, "Sorry to disturb you, but I have another transport coming in."
Chakotay chuckled and dropped back from the hug. He looked at her two very large bags on the platform and said, "I'm glad to see that you took my suggestion when you packed."
Slightly embarrassed at the amount of luggage, Kathryn said, "I couldn't decide what to bring, so I brought it all."
Chakotay easily picked up the two bags. "No problem. I have a hovercar just outside."
She followed him through the doors of the station. "I couldn't believe how many clothes I had when I started packing. Last month, Mom took me shopping because she thought everything I had was at least ten years outdated. I didn't realize just how much we accumulated."
As he placed the bags in the storage compartment of the vehicle, he said, "I should probably do some clothes shopping myself, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe you could help me?"
Kathryn smiled. "I'd be happy to."
He helped her into the passenger side before getting in himself. As they started towards his home, he said, "My house is about a ten minute ride from here. I think you'll like it."
Happy to be with him, she said, "I'm sure I will."
"I've been remodeling ever since I bought it six weeks ago. It's in an isolated spot with no one around for miles."
"Sounds very peaceful."
"It is, but I'm glad to have you here. It gets almost too quiet."
"I know exactly how you feel." Changing the subject, she said, "So what sort of remodeling have you been doing?"
"Well, the house is U-shaped with a big deck in the middle. The master bedroom is adjacent to the deck, but it had a very small window that looked out onto it - probably for privacy. I took down part of that wall and put in sliding glass doors in its place. That's been the main project, although I've been working on other little odds and ends too."
"It sounds beautiful."
Chakotay smiled. "It is. I enjoyed the nights when the wall was down completely. It felt like I was sleeping under the stars. And the view is magnificent - the deck overlooks a small canyon."
She took her eyes off of the scenery and looked over at him. "Good subject for sand painting?"
"Yes… and for oils, I imagine?" He quickly glanced at her.
Laughing quietly, she said, "Maybe so, but I didn't bring any painting supplies."
"Another thing to put on our shopping list then."
They continued chatting until they arrived at the house. Kathryn was delighted by the charm of the home as Chakotay took her around on a tour. When they got to the master bedroom, she exclaimed, "You didn't tell me that you have a hot tub!"
Chakotay tugged on his ear. "I wanted to surprise you. I hope you brought a bathing suit."
Shaking her head, she said, "No, but I can probably replicate something."
She examined the tub and the work he had done on the wall. It wasn't quite finished yet, but almost. The tub was on a raised area off to the side of the bedroom, which opened out onto the deck through the new glass doors.
"Does it pass Captain's inspection?"
She laughed. "It's perfect, but I'm not the Captain anymore."
"You're not? Are you retiring?"
Smiling, she looked over at him. "Not retirement. I'm just not your Captain anymore. Whether I'm a captain or anything else, I haven't really decided. Could be an admiral, but I'm not sure what I want yet."
"I was afraid that I had missed an important change in your life." He picked up a nail that he found on the carpet and placed it on a shelf. "Well, there's still a lot of time before our leave is over. I haven't even begun to think about all of the offers I've received."
She stepped down toward him. "Your inbox full too?"
Nodding, he said, "I'll let you get settled while I bring in the groceries." They walked down the hall to the guest room. "I stopped at the market before picking you up because I want to cook you a special dinner tonight."
"What's the occasion?"
"You're here. Do I need anything more to celebrate than that?"
She chuckled. "I suppose not."
"It's that dish I kept trying to make with delta quadrant vegetables and spices. I think you're going to like the real thing much better."
"I've liked every version you've come up with so far."
"Well, this you'll like even more." He put her bags on her bed for her and left her to unpack while he tended to the groceries.
Kathryn was thankful for Chakotay's hospitality. He was tremendously welcoming and obviously glad to have her there. It appeared that the goal of restoring their friendship was attainable and her anxieties about calling on him started to drift away. After she put her clothes away, she wandered out onto the deck and sat on the large porch swing. Chakotay wasn't exaggerating when he said it was a beautiful view. The colors were magnificent.
Hearing the sliding doors open from the kitchen, she turned to see Chakotay carrying a plate and a tall glass of water. He walked behind the swing and set them down on the table to her side.
"What's this?" She smiled at the plate he had set down.
Leaning over the back of the swing, he looked down at her. "A cucumber sandwich with a side of cantaloupe. You tend not to eat when you're upset so I assumed you hadn't had lunch yet. Was I right?"
She smiled a little sheepishly. "Does coffee for breakfast count?"
"No, it doesn't." Squeezing her shoulder, he said, "Enjoy it while I prepare the sauce for dinner. It needs to sit in the refrigerator for awhile."
About fifteen minutes later, Chakotay returned and sat next to her on the swing. "Was your sandwich okay?"
Kathryn smiled and hesitantly moved a little closer to him. "Yes, thank you. You're going to spoil me with your cooking."
"That's the plan." He winked at her. "Maybe you'll never leave."
They sat in silence for a few minutes as if not sure what to say.
Breaking the silence, Chakotay asked, "I'm very glad that you called, although I have to admit that if you'd waited much longer, I would have called you."
She looked at him. "Oh?"
Nodding, he said, "My plan was to give you until I finished my work around what I've been calling 'Kathryn's tub,' and then I was going to invite you over to see it."
Her eyebrows lifted in surprised. "Kathryn's tub?"
"Yes. When I found this house and saw the tub, I immediately thought how much you would love it."
She was quiet for a minute, until she asked, "Why were you waiting to call me?"
Hesitating a little, he answered, "I didn't want you to think that I only wanted to be your friend if I wasn't involved with someone. I wasn't sure you'd be willing to forgive me for my latest dating experience."
Attempting to break the awkwardness, Kathryn wrapped her hand gently over his. "And I didn't call because I didn't want you to think I'd only be your friend if you didn't have a blonde by your side."
He squeezed her hand. "I made a mistake with Seven and I feel like I jeopardized your friendship."
Shaking her head, she said, "Don't be hard on yourself. I wasn't exactly open-minded about it." Kathryn smiled with a little embarrassment as she said, "B'Elanna told me how Seven asked you to help her with dating lessons. I hope you don't mind that we had a good laugh at your expense."
He chuckled. "I'm glad I made you smile… even if it was indirectly."
Her light laughter joined his and she picked up his hand. "Regarding our friendship though… that's something that I would really like to restore."
His eyes were focused on their joined hands. "I would really like that too."
The warmth of his presence and the slow movement of the swing lulled her into a calm serenity. His thumb gently caressed the back of her hand as she thought about how different she felt from this morning. The sadness over the day's somber anniversary was still present, but the loneliness was definitely fading.
"I hate to break the quiet, Kathryn, but I was really worried about you this morning. What was it that had you so upset?"
She looked out to the horizon to think about whether she wanted to dismiss the topic or not. Deciding that she needed to be open so her heart would continue to heal, she said, "Can we go inside to talk about it?"
As she looked at him, she saw his warm smile. Nodding, he took her hand to lead her into the house. On the way to the sofa, he paused to pick up a box of tissue. "You look like we might need this."
Her eyes moistened at the suggestion, but she smiled through it. "I think you might be right."
She sat in the middle of the couch, but stayed at the front edge leaning forward on her knees. He followed her actions and leaned forward with her, his hand rubbing her back gently. "Has something happened Kathryn? Is your family okay?"
She exhaled abruptly in response to his questions. Shaking her head, she said, "Mom and Phoebe are okay. Mom's off traveling with her boyfriend; and Phoebe and her family are fine and living in Europe." She was quiet for a moment as she took a few cleansing breaths. "They don't seem to be affected by this as much as I do. I'm the one having problems leaving the past where it belongs."
He sat quietly and continued his ministrations on her back. When she didn't say anything for several minutes, he drew his hand up and pulled her hair over her shoulder onto her back. "What is it Kathryn?"
"Twenty years ago today, my father died."
"And your Justin too, right?"
She turned to look at him. "I didn't know that I had told you about it."
He smiled softly and tucked loose strands of hair behind her ear. "You did, but it was some time ago. It was a shuttle crash, and you were in it, right?"
"I don't seem to manage well in shuttle crashes, do I?" She smiled sardonically.
He tilted his head in concern. "You're still in one piece…"
She lifted an eyebrow. "Barely. Sometimes my leg still hurts when I think about this one." She rubbed her leg where it had been broken.
He took her shoulders and pulled her back onto the couch. "Tell me what happened."
She leaned forward to retrieve the box of tissues and then returned to make herself comfortable. "We were testing a new shuttlecraft that my father had built… the Terra Nova."
"Everything was going well until solar winds picked up. The next thing I remembered was waking up face down in a snow bank." Kathryn shivered at the memory and Chakotay put his arm around her, rubbing her shoulders as if to warm her.
"The shuttle was broken and I was on the ground near the aft section. Justin and Daddy were in the forward section, both still alive, but injured. They were slowly sinking and I had to find a way to save them. I planned to transport them, but only had enough power to save one, so I began rerouting power from everything possible until I could save them both." Kathryn looked over at Chakotay. "I was too late."
Chakotay drew her closer in a comforting embrace. "It was an impossible situation, Kathryn."
She drew comfort from his hug, but said, "Yes it was, and I came to terms with my actions several years ago. I just haven't let go of my grief over losing Daddy and Justin."
"Tell me about Justin, Kathryn. You met when he rescued you?"
"No, I knew him before that." She thought back. "We met on my first assignment aboard the Icarus. We were assigned to work together, much to his dismay." With a sideways glance at Chakotay, she continued, "There was a tension between us, although I'm not sure whether that was due to him wanting to work alone or because he was developing feelings for me."
"It wasn't until after the Cardassian incident that we began to fall in love." She smiled at the memories. "We had a lot in common… both zealous about Starfleet and both with a passionate love for all things science. We were very much in love and had big plans for the future."
Chakotay tenderly rubbed her arm. "Like what?"
"Our plans?" Seeing him nod, she smiled and continued. "We were going to get posted on the same ship, get married, have kids… the whole works. Be a real Starfleet family and live on a ship like the Enterprise." Kathryn sighed, feeling safe with Chakotay. Whenever she let herself remember before, the loneliness overwhelmed her.
Hesitantly, Chakotay asked, "Kathryn? Would you still like to make those plans?"
She looked up at him, and furrowed her brow in thought. "What? Living on a starship?"
He chuckled. "No, the marriage and kids part."
Kathryn smiled, trying to cover up her unease. "I think I'm a little old for the kids part."
Shaking his head, he said, "Nonsense."
"However, the marriage part…" She looked at him and winked. "…depends on whether I find someone who would want to put up with me for the next 50 years."
His eyebrows lifted. "And maybe someone who you'd want to put up with too?"
Kathryn reached out to grasp his free hand. She was quiet for a moment as she tried to decide if now was the right time to open up the potential for a more romantic relationship with Chakotay. Knowing she wanted to discuss it soon, she came to the conclusion that there was no time like the present.
"Chakotay?" Kathryn looked up at him.
"This morning, after I spoke to you, I made myself a promise that I want to tell you about."
She pulled away and turned to face him. In response, he sat up a little straighter.
Grasping his hands, she said, "When I lost Daddy and Justin, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow myself to fall in love with anyone again. I couldn't stand the thought of that much pain ever again. For twenty years, I've kept that promise."
"What about Mark?"
Kathryn looked up from their hands and into Chakotay's eyes. "I've never admitted this to anyone before, but I…" She smiled in embarrassment, and rubbed one of her eyes before continuing. "Mark and I were childhood friends, and he was there for me a few years after I supposedly got over Justin's death. He was more of a companion than anything. I really did intend to marry him, but I kept putting the wedding off. I was unsure about marrying him because I didn't feel like I loved him enough."
Chakotay seemed surprised by this admission. "Either you love someone or you don't. What's enough?"
She bit her lip. "My love for Justin was enough." She wanted to say that her love for the man holding her hands was enough too, but she held back. "I just wouldn't allow myself to love Mark that much. I haven't allowed myself to love anyone that much. I was protecting my heart from the pain of losing someone."
"That sounds terribly lonely, Kathryn."
She was quiet for a moment before she answered. "It is." Looking up from their clasped hands, she said, "So my promise to myself today is that it is finally time to let Justin and my father go."
He stroked her hands with his thumbs. "What does that mean?"
She smiled. "It means…" She paused for a moment before continuing. "It means that this armor which has been protecting my heart for twenty years comes off today. I need your help, Chakotay."
"I'm not ready yet. But I'd like help rediscovering what love is."
"Are you sure you want that from me?"
Kathryn looked down at their hands, worried that she had misread him. "I could use your help as a friend."
Chakotay was silent for a moment. "Kathryn… I can help you sort through your grief and I can be your friend. But I don't think I can or want to help you fall in love with someone."
She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, determined not to let this bring her down any further. "Okay." Looking into his eyes, she said, "I can understand that. We have been through a lot."
He shook his head. "It has nothing to do with how much we've been through or any relationships that either of us had since we've known each other."
Studying his face to try to figure out what he was trying to say, she asked, "It doesn't?"
"No." He leaned forward slightly and looked like he was carefully trying to find the right words to use. "I can't stand by and watch you fall in love with someone else. And I absolutely refuse to help you do it. As your friend, I do want you to be happy, but…"
"But what?" Kathryn's heart beat heavy in her chest.
"But I'd much rather help you fall in love with me." Kathryn's smile radiated her joy at hearing this. Breathlessly, she said, "Chakotay. I would like that very much."
She pulled a hand away from his to push back a tear that was threatening to fall down her cheek. "Although I don't think I'll need much help falling, just hanging on."
Chakotay pulled on her hand to draw her into his arms. "Come here."
She turned herself so that she was almost sitting in his lap. Her arms wrapped around his neck to hold onto him as he hugged her tightly against his chest. She spoke softly into his ear. "I'm not saying that this is going to be easy, but we will make it work."
He pulled his head back to look into her eyes. "I have no doubts that it will work. I love you very much and I have no intentions of letting you go."
Smiling, she looked down at his lips and asked, "Would it be okay if I kissed you?"
He didn't answer… with words.
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