A Matter of Timing

By Dawn

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: None

Summary: J/C - After Endgame, B'Elanna encourages Kathryn to think.

Disclaimer: They belong to Paramount. I'm just telling their story a little better.

Thanks: Thank you to Caffey, Diana Forester, and Jade for their beta-reading and suggestions.

"We have to do something about this!"

Kathryn raised her eyes from the padd that she had not stopped reading as she responded to the chime. An obviously agitated B'Elanna was standing just inside the doorway of her new temporary quarters on McKinley Station. In the voice that she often used to calm her favorite half-Klingon, she responded. "Do something about what?"

"This…" B'Elanna was so agitated about the subject that she had trouble finding the words to adequately explain. She gestured her hands out into the corridor saying, "This thing!"

Kathryn tried to suppress the grin that was threatening as B'Elanna marched over and plopped down heavily on the sofa. "I'm afraid that you're going to have to explain a little better than that." Kathryn silently hoped that B'Elanna wasn't referring to her new child as a thing.

B'Elanna sat up straighter and looked at her Captain. "Haven't you seen them together? Doesn't it make you furious?"

Realization dawned. "Ah. You're referring to Chakotay and Seven?"

"Hell yes!" B'Elanna stood and started pacing. "What is he thinking? She's a former borg! She's less than half his age! She won't understand him!"

Kathryn stopped her. "What makes you think that?" "He's a very spiritual man! She's an unemotional…well, she's just so stiff and rigid. That's not Chakotay!"

Kathryn took a deep breath. "Have you thought that maybe he could bring out her softer side, maybe introduce her to spirituality?"

"How can you be so calm about this? Haven't you seen them, fawning all over each other?"

"Isn't that a good thing for new couples?"

B'Elanna sat down, hoping to find a way to knock some sense into her Captain. "It's a great thing for new couples - but they aren't the right couple. He doesn't belong with her. He belongs with you!"

She enjoyed the relationship that she and B'Elanna had been developing for the last two years since B'Elanna's near-death experience in Sto-Vo-Kor. A year later when B'Elanna asked her to perform the Klingon ceremonial rights reserved for the mother of the bride, the relationship grew even stronger. Since then, Kathryn and B'Elanna have had many talks about marriage, love, and family. Of course, almost all of these conversations revolved around B'Elanna's marriage. It was implied that Kathryn was in love with Chakotay, but they had never directly spoken about it.

Kathryn tilted her head as she considered her next words very carefully. "Chakotay and I are very good friends."


"Let me say this." She paused while B'Elanna nodded her head. "We are very good friends and nothing more. If he has found happiness and love with Seven, then how can I not want him to pursue that?"

B'Elanna looked at her like she had finally lost it. "Okay." B'Elanna decided that it was time for drastic measures. "I think we need some 'girl talk'."

Kathryn looked at her in mild surprise. "Girl talk?"

"Yes, don't you know what girl talk is?"

Kathryn smiled. "Yes, I know what girl talk is, I just didn't think it would necessarily be your style."

B'Elanna sighed. "Yeah - that's one of the reasons I hated the academy so much. The talk in the dorms always revolved around men." B'Elanna moved her lips as if to snarl, but stopped as another thought occurred to her, "But now - I want to talk about men - one man in particular - our best friend."

Kathryn didn't really feel like reading anymore reports on the status of the debriefings, and thought that perhaps by talking about this both she and B'Elanna could get some perspective on this new relationship of Chakotay's. "All right, girl talk it is. This will get me in shape for what's coming." At B'Elanna's questioning look she continued. "In the very near future, I'm going to be forced into enduring the Spanish Inquisition of girl talk - the interrogation of my love life by my well-meaning sister."

B'Elanna stretched her arms as if preparing for a work-out session. "What we need is some toenail polish."

Kathryn shook her head in amusement. "I'm sorry, but my manicure set is in storage with the rest of my stuff on Voyager." She wrinkled her nose. "Besides, you do NOT want to smell my feet after they've been in these boots all day."

B'Elanna thought for a moment. "All right then - how about some chocolate?"

Kathryn smiled and stood up. "Now that's something that I can do!" She made her way over to the replicator. "Brownies, Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate ice cream, what'll we have?"

It took no time for B'Elanna to respond. "Chocolate fudge sundaes with chocolate ice cream!"

Kathryn approved. "Coming right up!" As she was ordering the desserts from the replicator, Tom paged B'Elanna.

Tom sounded unusually curious about his wife's location. "Where did you run off to?"

"I'm talking to the Captain." B'Elanna was a little perturbed by the interruption.

"Hello, Tom." Kathryn called out as she returned to the sofa with chocolate in hand.

"Hello, Captain." Tom was very interested in what they were discussing after listening to B'Elanna grumble about Chakotay's love life, and then watching her storm out of the station cafeteria. He was sure there was some kind of information exchange that he wanted to be privy to. Masking it in concern, he said, "I wasn't sure where you went. Are you going to be awhile?"

"I don't know, Tom." She wasn't fooled by his sudden concern over her whereabouts. "If you get tired of holding Miral, I'm sure you'll be able to find someone else willing to take over - she's getting used to being passed around."

He suddenly had the idea of nosing around when and if he could drop off Miral. "I don't mind spending time with my daughter - I just don't have the necessary equipment come feeding time."

Kathryn interjected, aware that there was something going unsaid between the two. "If we're still talking when she gets hungry, bring her by my quarters - I haven't had my share of Miral time."

B'Elanna admired her Captain's ability to thwart Tom's unmentioned intentions of 'stopping by' to drop off Miral. "Is that okay, Tom?"

He pondered that for a short moment before wisely deciding to pressure B'Elanna later. "Yea - that's fine." Tom acquiesced - for the moment. "Paris out."

Kathryn watched with amusement while B'Elanna dug into her ice cream with gusto. "So…" Kathryn began in between bites, "you don't understand why Chakotay and Seven's relationship doesn't bother me?"

B'Elanna paused, full spoon held in mid-air. "No Captain. I want to know why you're pretending that it doesn't bother you."

Kathryn sighed heavily. "First of all - during these girl-talk sessions, you should call me Kathryn. No, strike that - from now on, when we're not on duty or at some official function - call me Kathryn. I won't be your Captain for much longer."

B'Elanna smiled. "Okay - but it's definitely going to take some getting used to." She paused a second before she added, "Kathryn."

Kathryn smiled. "That's exactly what Chakotay said when I asked him to call me by my given name."

"When did you do that?"

"On New Earth." Kathryn smiled at the memory. "Didn't make much sense to keep calling me Captain then."

"Did you two ever, you know, 'get-together' when you were stuck on that planet?"

Kathryn focused her attention on her dessert and smiled. "Still trying to win the pool on that one?"

B'Elanna laughed. "No. Just curious."

Kathryn raised her eyebrows and looked at B'Elanna. "Do you think we'd be sitting here having this conversation if we had?"

"Aha!" B'Elanna exclaimed, "I knew you had feelings for him!"

"Had is the right word." Kathryn's gaze was diverted down to the ice cream again.

"Are you saying you don't anymore?"

Kathryn shook her head. "No, not exactly." She studied her dessert for a minute before continuing. "Let me see if I can explain this. Chakotay and I have had strong feelings for each other for a very long time."

"Really?" B'Elanna asked with heavy sarcasm.

Kathryn smiled. "Yes. The problem was that we could never act on them."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm his Captain and he's my first officer."


"Our jobs are difficult enough without adding a difficult relationship into the picture. I would never consider compromising my command, my ship, or my crew by engaging in an intimate relationship with my XO."

"But you're in love with him. What's so different about actually acting on it?"

Kathryn considered her answer carefully. "It's substantially different. Even though we had those deep feelings, it was very important to keep the emotions in check." She sighed before continuing. "You see - we needed to maintain control of everything we could. I couldn't allow either of us to get distracted or complicate command decisions with a personal, private relationship."

"But you two wouldn't have allowed your private lives to get in the way of your duty. You're both stronger than that."

Kathryn raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Perhaps. But perhaps not. The price would be extremely high if it didn't work out."

"So if we had been out there for say, another 10 or 15 years, you never would have allowed yourself an intimate relationship?"

Kathryn shook her head. "Nooo." Her spoon swirled the melting ice cream around in her bowl. "Not necessarily. I wouldn't have let myself have an intimate relationship with my XO."

"So Chakotay would have had to step down from his position to have a relationship with you?"

Kathryn nodded her head. "Or I would have, and that was something we couldn't do."

"But that's expecting too much from you. How can you isolate yourself like that and face the possibility of not experiencing intimacy for most of your adult life?" B'Elanna didn't believe it.

"How many people on board that ship didn't have an intimate relationship or were separated from their spouse?"

B'Elanna tried to count it in her head. "Quite a few - but they weren't in love with someone on board."

"Maybe, maybe not. But do you honestly think that I would have put my own desires ahead of the requirements of my command?"

B'Elanna sighed. "Have you ever had this conversation with Chakotay?"

Kathryn shook her head. "No - but he understood it."

"I'm not so sure."

Kathryn looked at B'Elanna. "Why do you say that?"

"Because I've had many conversations with him over the years."

Kathryn's eyebrows lifted in unease. "And you discussed me?"

B'Elanna shrugged her shoulders. "I can't divulge that. But what I will tell you is that I'm pretty sure that he didn't understand why you kept him at arm's length."

"Did he really not understand or was he just frustrated about it?"

B'Elanna thought for a moment. "Well, I assumed he didn't understand, but maybe you're right."

"Look, Chakotay and I have a very special relationship. We comfort each other in platonic ways and we keep each other on solid ground, emotionally. He is always there when I need him, and I know that I'm not always there when he needs me - but most of the time, he won't let me. He protects me in that way."

"I know - that's when he comes to me."

"And I'm glad he has you for that."

The sat in silence for a moment until B'Elanna asked. "What happens with your friendship now?"

Kathryn sat her partially eaten dessert gently on the coffee table. "That's the only thing I'm not sure of. But I know we will always be very good friends."

"Do you love him?"

Kathryn was surprised by the question, but the answer was immediate nonetheless. "Yes, I do. Very much."

"So what about Seven?"

Kathryn was lost in thought for a moment before answering. "After we docked here, Chakotay came to me and we talked about Seven. He asked for my blessing, and as his friend. I had to give it to him."

"Why? We were home!" B'Elanna didn't understand why she would let him go when they were finally free from their command relationship.

"Chakotay and I have been 'just friends' for so long that I'm not sure we could be anything but. He believes, and so as his friend I have to believe, that he has found something very special with her. I can't tell him to abandon that. It's very likely that Chakotay and I could never be more than friends anyway."

"Why do you say that?"

"How can I be sure that it would work one way or the other without trying it? Is it fair to ask him to end what looks like a successful relationship to start another one that may never work? We are two very stubborn, opinionated, and controlling people."

"And you think Seven isn't? What about me and Tom?"

Kathryn smiled. "Point taken," and then paused. "I just can't ask him to give this up after everything I've put us through."

"I think you can."

Kathryn studied B'Elanna's face for a moment. "Are you saying that because you know something that I don't know?"

B'Elanna smiled. "I know you and I know Chakotay and I know Seven. Isn't that enough?"

Kathryn sighed. "It's just not fair of me to do that to either of them. Chakotay is the closest friend I've ever had and Seven is like a daughter to me."

B'Elanna wanted to get her Captain and friend to be at least open to the possibility so she tried another approach. "What did you dream of at night? About when we got home?"

Kathryn tilted her head to the side, cherishing the memory. "Just what you think I did - that we'd be able to be together without the constraints of our command relationship."

"And after everything you and he have been through - don't you think that's worth fighting for?"

"Isn't it a bit of a childish fantasy that we would live happily ever after?"

"Maybe - but if anyone deserves it - you and Chakotay do." B'Elanna thought for a second. "And I happen to know for a fact that he had the same dreams."

"Possibly. But I doubt that he still does."

"I think you're wrong. I think he stopped believing they'd come true and gave up. I think he needs to be informed that if he still wants that dream - it's his for the taking. How can he make an informed decision without all of the information?"

"So you're saying that I need to talk to him?"

B'Elanna nodded. "I'm saying that you definitely need to talk to him."

"I'll consider it."

"Please do." B'Elanna stood up. "I should go. Tom's probably had about all he can handle with Miral by now."

Kathryn stood up and walked B'Elanna to the door. She embraced B'Elanna tightly and said, "Thank you for being such a good friend. Let's keep this going - no matter what."

B'Elanna smiled. "I'd like that Kathryn."

"Good night."

"Good night."

B'Elanna left and Kathryn got herself ready for bed. She had a lot to think about.

The next day, Kathryn sat through her debriefings, willing herself to focus on the questions she was being asked. She thought the whole process was very random and wished the next three days would move as quickly as possible. Today's line of questioning was particularly disordered, and she hoped the admirals would get to a point.

Starfleet had made the decision to keep the entire crew sequestered on McKinley station for debriefings. The whole process would take three weeks. As each crewmember finished their individual debriefing, they were assigned to pack their belongings, decide where they were going next, and assist with repairing Voyager. Starfleet had decided to land Voyager in an enormous P.R. event, which meant it had to be capable of entering Earth's atmosphere and landing. The journey through the Borg transwarp corridor damaged a considerable number of the required systems. Starfleet also wanted to remove all of the future technology before beginning the process of turning Voyager into a museum. Kathryn wished that she could be helping on Voyager rather than listening to a group of admirals nitpick at her logs.

Exhausted after her very long day, she went back to her temporary quarters to freshen up before dinner. She took a moment to stretch out on her bed and dozed off. When she woke, she checked the chronometer to see that it was getting very late. She realized that if she wanted to see anyone in the station cafeteria, she had better get moving.

Despite the late hour, she found many of her former crew still gathered around the tables. This family was not looking forward to the separation and everyone was spending as much time together as possible. As she made her way over to where most of her senior staff were sitting, she overheard plans being made for various reunions and made a mental note to ask someone to coordinate all of those plans.

B'Elanna beckoned her over to sit with her, Tom, and Harry. Upon seeing Chakotay and Seven at a table nearby, she stopped briefly to tell B'Elanna that she would be back in a moment.

She walked up to Chakotay and Seven and stood next to their table. "How are you this evening?"

"We are well, Captain." Seven's reply was courteous but Kathryn felt like she was interrupting something.

Chakotay answered politely as well. "Just fine."

Realizing that her presence was not desired at the moment, Kathryn decided to quickly make the request that she had been planning since just before she fell asleep the previous night.

"Well, I apologize for interrupting." She shifted her focus to Chakotay. "But, Chakotay, I just came over to ask if you had some time later this evening? There is something I'd like to discuss with you."

Chakotay nodded. "Of course, Captain. Is 21:00 too late?"

"No, that would be…" Kathryn was interrupted by Seven abruptly pushing her chair back.

"Pardon me Captain, but I need to be going." Seven glared at Chakotay and walked swiftly out of the room.

Chakotay rubbed his chin in frustration and sighed. "Sorry about that, Kathryn."

Kathryn turned her attention back to Chakotay. "No need to apologize. Everything okay?" She thought it was a silly question, but didn't know what else to say.

"Oh - nothing serious. She's just a little aggravated because I'm not making decisions quickly enough and wants everything about our future decided tonight. Obviously, she's not happy that I just agreed to meet with you."

Kathryn took a deep breath and nodded. "It's nothing duty-related. I just have something on my mind that I'd like to talk about. I think we should find another time so you can be with Seven."

Chakotay stood and squeezed her forearm. "No, we shouldn't. I'd love to spend some time talking with you. 21:00 in your quarters or mine?"

"Are you sure?" Kathryn waited until he nodded before answering his question. "Your place if that's okay?"

"That's fine." He smiled. "I look forward to it."

He picked up his and Seven's trays. "I should go see if I can calm her down."

Kathryn tilted her head in sympathy. "Be patient. This is her first relationship."

"That is becoming all too clear to me." He shook his head. "But I'll see what I can do."

Kathryn was having second thoughts about talking with Chakotay that evening, but she had already made the invitation so there was no backing out now. She made her way back over to B'Elanna's table and sat down.

"What was that all about?" B'Elanna voiced the question that was lingering in everyone's mind.

Kathryn sighed and shook her head. "They are just having a little trouble communicating."

"No kidding?" Tom feigned surprise.

"What? Trouble communicating?" B'Elanna couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

Kathryn had to stop this before it got out of hand, "All right. That's enough. They are your friends, you know."

Tom asked, "And you're not just a little relieved to see that they are having problems?"

Kathryn glared at B'Elanna before answering. "No, I'm not. I do want them to be happy with whatever path each of them may take."

B'Elanna felt like she had to defend herself. "Hey you two - go get your Captain something to eat."

Harry quickly picked up the implied 'scram'. "Of course, Captain. What would you like?"

Not keen on being waited upon, Kathryn shook her head. "Thank you, nothing."

Harry wasn't taking no for an answer. "We had chicken pot pie - I'll get you one - and some coffee." He took off dragging Tom along behind him.

B'Elanna jumped at the opportunity to redeem herself. "I didn't say anything to Tom. He came up with that all on his own."

Kathryn sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just a little on edge because I decided to take your advice and it isn't sitting well with me."

"Everybody knows that you have strong feelings for him - it isn't a secret."

"It's supposed to be." Kathryn was silent for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "If everyone knows it, then Chakotay has to as well. Are you sure he's still interested?"

"Yes." B'Elanna had no doubts. "He's so caught up in his own uncertainties that he just doesn't see it."

"That doesn't sound much like him. He's very confident and very aware of everyone around him - including me."

B'Elanna shook her head. "Not when it comes to your feelings for him. If he did, he wouldn't be with Seven."

"I'm really having misgivings about talking to him. I feel like a teenager with a crush and I don't like it."

"No." B'Elanna leaned forward. "You have to - for your own benefit. If you don't do it now, pretty soon it is going to be too late."

"Not if his relationship with Seven breaks up. Then I can go to him."

B'Elanna proposed a 'what if'…"What happens if they work it out?"

"Then it's my loss."

"That's why you have to give him the option now, before it's too late to turn the ship around."

Kathryn laughed. "Now that is something I definitely don't want to do!" She quickly added, "Unless it is to escape from these dreadful debriefings!"

Tom and Harry saw her laughing and chose that moment to return with her dinner. The four friends sat together and caught Kathryn up on the plans each member of her crew was making.

A couple hours later, Kathryn found herself standing outside Chakotay's quarters. She had taken the time to change into something less Captain-like and used the time to visualize the stress coming off with her uniform. It was something a counselor told her to do once, and now that her crew was home safe, she thought she could start working on that again. She took a deep breath and rang the chime.

The door opened to admit her and she found herself drawn to the open arms of her dearest friend. It had been several months since they had hugged and she didn't realize how much she had missed it. "Mmmmm. You feel good."

Chakotay drew in a deep inhalation and squeezed her tightly. "We have been severely deficient in our hugs of late. I think I'm going to have to put us on report."

She chuckled against his chest. "Oh no - the last thing I need is more reports to go over!"

He drew back to look at her. "Has it been difficult?"

She sighed. "Let's just say the sooner this is over the better. I'm not enjoying reliving every single decision made over the last seven years. I wish I could tell you about it."

Starfleet had ordered them not to discuss reports or the debriefings. He led her over to the couch. "I know - but soon it will be all over."

She sat down as he went to replicate coffee and tea. "After it's all over - can I be entirely un-Captain-like and start throwing things?"

He chuckled as he took a seat next to her. "As long as it doesn't involve throwing things at me!" He hesitated giving her the coffee cup.

She smiled and took it from him. "I wouldn't dream of it - unless it involved a hoverball, maybe?"

"Just as long as I get to hit it back." He took a sip of his tea and relaxed into the cushions behind him.

"So…" Kathryn changed the subject after a comfortable silence. "Is Seven okay?"

Chakotay took a deep breath. "I'm not sure. She's pretty irritated with me. I'm not sure there is anything I can do about it. I'll just give her some time to calm down. I hope that works."

"Is she unhappy with your decisions or with a lack of?" Kathryn truly was concerned about both of her friends' happiness.

"Both actually. I'm not ready to decide whether or not to stay in Starfleet, whether or not to permanently stay on Earth, or where I might even want to spend my leave."

"That's what leave time is for - to give you time to make those decisions."

"I know, but I can't seem to convince her of that."

Kathryn thought about the situation before asking. "What does she want to do?"

Chakotay took another sip of tea. "That's another problem. She won't make a decision until I do. I've tried to explain that she should make her own decisions - that it is part of being an individual - but she is tying herself to me and I don't think it's healthy."

Kathryn shook her head. "No, it's not." She looked over at him. "You said that she's also unhappy with a decision that you have made?"

Chakotay nodded. "Two actually - one is not to get an apartment and the other is that I want to go to Trebus right away."

Kathryn tilted her head in concern. "You're not going alone are you?"

"Yes - she doesn't understand why I need to go there for closure. Besides - her portable alcove won't be ready in time and it will require a lot of energy that the new colony just doesn't have."

Kathryn grasped his hand. "Please don't go alone. Take me with you. I don't want you to have to face those old ghosts without support."

He smiled at her thoughtfulness. "I'll be okay. What's left of my tribe is there and they've faced the same ghosts. However, I'm honored that you want to go."

She set her coffee down and moved closer to him, holding his arm and looking into his eyes. "I've wanted to see your home every time you've told me a story about it - even though I know it isn't the same anymore. I want to hear the stories all over again in the place where they happened."

He set his tea down and put his arm around her, pulling her close to him. "I'd like that too." He was really starting to have doubts about his relationship with Seven. His dreams and visions of the future for so long had centered on the woman in his arms that he was having trouble adjusting them to incorporate a different person. He truly cared about both of these incredible women and wished they could both find peace in their lives. At that moment he remembered that Kathryn had wanted to talk about something. "Kathryn?"

"Hmmmm?" She had curled up in his side and was resting comfortably.

"What is it that you wanted to talk about? Surely it wasn't about me and Seven?"

She pulled herself up to face the uncomfortable conversation. "Well - it does actually have something to do with you and Seven." She picked up her coffee and took a sip before setting it back down and turning sideways to face Chakotay.

She looked at his concerned face and her apprehensions about having this conversation mounted. She took a deep breath. "I'm very hesitant to even talk to you about this - I…" She paused for a moment before continuing, "I should have had this conversation with you several weeks, or several months ago, I'm not sure."

Chakotay closely watched her discomfort and became apprehensive himself. He braced himself for her disapproval of his relationship and really didn't want to argue with her about it. "Kathryn…" He stopped as she raised her hand.

She relaxed her hand. "I'm sorry - I shouldn't do that. This is Kathryn talking to you, not the Captain." She relaxed her tense shoulders. "But please let me say this?"

She waited until he nodded to continue. "When you came to me two weeks ago and asked for my approval, I had prepared myself to give you my blessing."

"I'm pretty sure you did give it, Kathryn." There was an edge creeping into his voice.

She nodded. "Yes, I did, but what I'm trying to say is that I already knew she was interested and that you had started something. I forced myself to accept it and support both of you."

"And you've changed your mind?" Chakotay was a little aggravated.

Kathryn didn't back down from her intended discussion. "Not really, No. I do accept that you and Seven could find a relationship that is very special and wonderful. Both of you mean the world to me and if you are meant to find happiness with each other, then I will support you by being the best friend that I can be."

Chakotay relaxed a little. "I don't understand…"

"I know." Kathryn focused her thoughts and fought the impulse to jump up and start pacing. "I was planning on doing just that until last night."

"What happened last night?"

"B'Elanna and I had a long talk and she encouraged me to talk to you."

"She wanted you to talk to me about my relationship with Seven?" Chakotay added, "I already know she doesn't approve. What more is there to say?"

Kathryn quickly shook her head. "No, it's not about your relationship with Seven or even how B'Elanna feels about it. It's the…" Kathryn paused. Her heart was telling her to say it, but her mind was flashing red lights to make her stop.

She jumped when Chakotay laid his hand on her knee. "Kathryn?"

She looked up into his very concerned eyes. "I'm sorry." Her eyes were brimming with tears and she was desperately fighting them.

"You can tell me anything. I might get upset - but I promise you that I won't ever let anything hurt our friendship. Please trust me."

She nodded. "I know." She quickly pushed the tears away from her eyes and refocused on the conversation. "This is just very difficult to say." She took a drink of her coffee to calm herself. "Years ago, I'm certain that you and I fell in love with each other."

Chakotay pulled in a deep breath - that was definitely not the direction he was expecting this conversation to go. However, he was more than interested to see where it might be leading. "Yes…I believe we did."

Kathryn nodded. "You told me that wonderful legend, but I never said anything to you in return."

Chakotay turned his gaze towards her. "You didn't have to - I could see it in your eyes."

"A lot has happened since then."

Chakotay nodded, thinking about the stress of the last couple of years. "Yes it has."

"We've developed an amazing friendship that means more than anything to me." She took his hands in hers. "If you and Seven have truly discovered something special, then I want nothing more than for you to pursue it. However, B'Elanna encouraged me to tell you what is in my heart before it's too late. I know it is entirely unfair to tell you this now and I don't know if an intimate relationship would ever work between you and I, but…" She got caught up on her words until Chakotay looked up into her eyes. "But I'm in love with you."

Chakotay felt as though all the air had rushed out of his lungs as he sat in shock over her words.

Kathryn's anxiety increased with his silence. "I know your feelings for me have been compromised by my actions and decisions, but I've been praying every night for us to find a way home quickly. I've wanted to tell you this for so long, but I couldn't. I hope you understand that."

Chakotay almost imperceptibly nodded his head and looked down. She would have missed it had she not been looking directly at him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, carefully thinking about what she was telling him.

Kathryn looked down at their clasped hands. "I'm sorry for not telling you this before." Assuming his silence meant the worst or that he at least needed some time to think, she pulled her hands away and started to stand. "I should go."

Her movement startled him out of his thoughts. "No…" He pulled her back down and looked into her eyes. "No - please don't go."

She nodded and waited for him to explain. He thought carefully for a minute before speaking. "I think I've just made one of my decisions."

Quietly, Kathryn asked, "What's that?"

A smile softened his face as he looked into her eyes. "I'm going to get myself an apartment and stay on Earth for a little while until we can figure this out."

"Chakotay?" She didn't know what to make of his statement. Was he taking time to decide which woman he wanted? Was he going to figure out if he was still in love? The emotions inside her were swelling uncontrollably. A tear escaped and ran down her cheek.

He adjusted their hands so that he was holding onto both of hers in one of his. His other hand rose to her face and a gentle finger traced the tear that had fallen down her cheek. "Oh Kathryn." He delicately touched her hair and then moved his hand to her shoulder. He drew her close and gently touched her lips with his own. He kissed her softly and warmly, with all the tenderness and love that he felt for her. He pulled his lips away and rested his forehead against hers. "My love for you has never disappeared. I just had no idea that you still felt that way and was having doubts that you ever did. It would be a dream come true to be able to love you."

Kathryn's heart constricted at his words. She reached up with her hands and pulled him into a long, passionate kiss that left them both breathless.

Chakotay pulled back and held her hands in his again. "Kathryn, we have been through a lot and I think we should take this slowly." Seeing her nod, he continued with an almost-shy smile. "Would you go on a date with me?"

She smiled. "A date? I'm not sure." She chuckled at the question on his face. "Will you promise to kiss me on our first date?"

He smiled and pulled her close again. "Kathryn - you have no idea how many millions of kisses I have saved up for you." He kissed her once again.

"Hmmm." She hummed with a smile. "I'm very much looking forward to experiencing each and every one of them." She was truly enjoying this. "Tomorrow night then?"

He adored seeing her so happy and hated to dampen her spirits by bringing up another woman. "Thursday night. Tomorrow night, I need to take care of something."

"Oh." The smile lessened, but she understood. "Are you sure? We can give this more time before you make a change in your relationship with Seven?"

He shook his head. "No…I don't need time. You're all I've dreamed, imagined, and wished for. There's no question."

Kathryn's smile came back in full force. "You really know how to make a woman feel cherished."

He touched her hair and tucked a piece behind her ear. "And I plan on doing just that for a very long time."

They sat in silence for a moment, absorbing the dramatic change that had just taken place in their lives. "I should go." Kathryn didn't want to leave, but knew it was time.

Chakotay sighed. "Yes, it's getting late and we both have to be up early." He walked her to his door and stopped just before triggering the sensors to open it. "Kathryn… thank you for tonight… I know it wasn't easy."

She stretched her arms up around his neck and said. "Nothing worth having ever is." She pulled him down for a deep kiss. "Good night." She withdrew from his arms and left him to his thoughts.

The next day, debriefings and repairs continued as expected. Plans were being made for a Friday night good-bye bash onboard Voyager. She was going to land on Saturday and the crew wanted one more chance to celebrate before going their separate ways. Official special events given by Starfleet and the Federation were also being planned, but the crew knew that none of those events could be celebrated in true-Voyager style.

After her debriefings were finished for the day, Kathryn found herself on Voyager. She had planned to walk her ship, but ended up getting her hands dirty in engineering instead.

B'Elanna peeked over a console to find her captain sitting on the floor with tools all around her. "How's it going back there?"

"Ugh!" Kathryn scratched her nose and accidentally smeared soot leftover from a burned-out relay across her cheek. "Great. I only have 23 more relays to replace and I can move on to the next area."

B'Elanna laughed. "That's the spirit!"

Kathryn had asked her for something that didn't require much coherent thought. Her mind was muddled from both the debriefings and her conversation with Chakotay. Not to mention that the fact that they were finally home was still trying to sink in. Kathryn looked up at B'Elanna and could see her eyebrows raised eagerly in question. "You look like you're dying to ask me a question."

B'Elanna took the opportunity and climbed in beside her captain. She picked up a tool to help with the relays before asking in a hushed, secretive tone, "So are you going to tell me about last night?"

"Nooo." Kathryn chuckled at B'Elanna's restlessness. "A good friend of mine has some things to work out with someone he's been dating, and I don't want to make it more difficult for him by discussing his personal life without his consent."

B'Elanna paused. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

Kathryn shrugged her shoulders and continued with her work. "I'm not sure as I really don't know what you're thinking."

"Is he dumping her?"

Kathryn lowered her eyebrows in displeasure. "I'm sure that he will have more eloquence than to do anything that resembles dumping."

B'Elanna's excitement was making it difficult for Kathryn to maintain her composure. "Really?"

Kathryn just shrugged her shoulders, but there was definitely a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes that told B'Elanna everything she needed to know.

After she left the cafeteria the night before, Seven had stopped by Voyager's sickbay before returning to her alcove to regenerate. She wanted to get the Doctor's advice on how to encourage Chakotay to move their relationship along. The Doctor had been one of the few crewmembers, besides the Captain, who had been supportive of their relationship.

She had explained to the Doctor her frustrations with the progression of her romantic affiliation with Chakotay. She was eager to make plans for their future and didn't understand his reluctance to ensure the continuance of their involvement. The Doctor asked if she wasn't thinking more about the logistics of their life than of the relationship itself and suggested talking more openly about their feelings for each other. Seven assured the Doctor that they were inter-related, but would discuss it with Chakotay.

When Chakotay came to find her a few minutes later, Seven asked him to join her for dinner in a private dining area on the station the following evening. She reasoned that she could assist him more efficiently with his thought processes if they had uninterrupted time alone.

Chakotay kept the 'date' because the setting would be good for a discussion of his change in plans. When they first started dating, he and Seven had talked about his rumored secret relationship with Kathryn. He assured her that although he did love Kathryn very much, there was no relationship and would likely never be because of their command relationship. Seven had accepted this, but Chakotay knew she still had some reservations about it. He was pretty sure those reservations drew from Seven's concern about her friendship with Kathryn.

The two exchanged a significant amount of 'small-talk' during dinner. Seven had learned from the Doctor that immediate confrontation was not always the best way to get the answers that she required.

Before she had the opportunity to clear away the dishes, Chakotay decided it was now or never. "Seven, we need to talk."

She took this as her opportunity for a more direct conversation. "Yes. I'd like to list the pros and cons of each of your options."

Chakotay shook his head. "Not about that." He looked directly into her eyes, struggling with how to say this without hurting her. "It's about us."

If it was possible, Seven sat up a little straighter. "You are referring to our relationship?"

Chakotay nodded, his eyes temporarily looking down at the table before concentrating on her again. "Yes."

She tried to discern from his body language what he was not saying verbally. "You don't find our relationship satisfactory?"

Chakotay had known for at least a week that things weren't going well for them, but had been willing to keep trying until his conversation with Kathryn. He answered her question with another. "Can you honestly say that you do?"

"We have a lot of plans to make for our future. Once we do that, our relationship will be satisfactory again." She wasn't sure where he was going in the conversation, and tried to steer it back to her intended plan.

"What I'm trying to say is that I don't think we should make plans together for our future."

She didn't expect that they would. "You do not wish to work together? I didn't intend for us to choose the same career."

Chakotay sighed with guarded sympathy. He was realizing that she had never experienced or probably even overheard the ending of a relationship and was not hearing the unspoken words. "If our careers bring us together on a ship or anywhere else, I would love to work with you." He reached across the table and took her hand. "You are, without a doubt, the most intelligent and gifted person that I have ever known. What I'm unsuccessfully trying to say is that I think our personal relationship is not going to work."

Seven looked at him in surprise. "You want to terminate our romantic relationship?"

Chakotay slowly nodded. "Yes. I believe it is the best thing for both of us."

Seven thought for a moment before quietly asking. "Is it because I'm pushing you too hard?"

Chakotay felt he had to be totally honest with her. "That is just one symptom of a larger issue - we might have been able to make this work on Voyager. However, we now have a substantially larger community to live in. The path that my life will take from this point on should not be the path that your life takes. You are young and have your entire life ahead of you. I'm in my fifties and am thinking seriously about starting a completely new path away from all the things that you should be focusing on. I'm not sure what that future is yet and I won't be the one who holds you back."

Seven tried to find a way to change his mind. "We can make it work. If you want to work in archeology, you could find a position in San Francisco. I could work for Starfleet. We could still be together."

"I'm not saying that we couldn't manage two separate careers and still be happy. I'm saying that we are different stages in our lives and it is something we can't ignore. I know you don't understand that, but in time, you will."

Seven could see that he wasn't going to change his mind. "You are going to Trebus then?"

"Not yet." Now was the time for the rest of the truth to come out. "Seven…" He took her hand again. "All of the reasons I just gave you for ending our relationship have been going through my mind for over a week. I don't want to diminish their significance by what I'm telling you now."

"What do you mean?"

"Last night, when Kathryn asked to speak to me?" He waited for her understanding before he continued. "She told me…" He paused and then changed tactics midway through his explanation. "When you and I spoke about my feelings for her, I told you what I believed - that we were very dear friends, but any romantic feelings that once existed no longer did."

"You were mistaken?" She pulled her hand back.

Chakotay nodded. "Yes. We had both become so good at masking our feelings that we no longer saw them in each other. Last night, Kathryn told me that although she wanted you and I to be happy together, she felt the need to be open and honest with me about her feelings."

"She's in love with you?" Seven was as surprised as Chakotay was.

"Yes, she is. And I'm in love with her."

Their eyes locked and she could see a deeper emotion than she'd ever seen in him before. "I would not have asked you to begin this relationship if I had known."

"I know. And I wouldn't have agreed if I had known."

"The Captain's happiness is very important to me - as is yours." When he nodded, she continued, "Do you believe that you will be happy together?"

Chakotay nodded, unhidden hope and joy shining in his eyes. "Yes I do. Very much."

"Then you are taking the correct action. We will terminate our relationship."

Chakotay smiled in appreciation of her understanding. "I still want to be your friend…and both Kathryn and I will always be there for you if you need anything. I hope you know that?"

"Yes I do, thank you. You have both been an important part of my development as an individual and I don't want to lose our friendship."

Chakotay was silent for a moment before deciding to tell her more. "Seven, there's something else that I'd like you to know, but I don't want it go any further."

"What is it?"

"On Friday night, I plan to ask Kathryn to marry me."

Seven's expression softened. "You are well suited for each other."

Chakotay relaxed, happy with her positive reaction. "I wanted you to know because of our closeness - and the last thing that I would want is to hurt your feelings."

Seven smiled. "Thank you, but I do want both of you to be happy. I hope that I find someone who loves me as much as you love her."

"I want that for you too."

Seven broke the moment by saying. "I'll clean this up so you can go."

Chakotay stood. "No…I'll help you. Then we can go see what the others are up to."

About thirty minutes later, Chakotay and Seven entered engineering on Voyager to find it bustling with activity. Seven saw B'Elanna and immediately walked up to her. "Lieutenant, where can I find the Captain?"

B'Elanna hesitated in her surprise at seeing them together and looking happy. "Umm… she's…" B'Elanna looked around for a minute before answering, "She's on the upper deck working on replacing gel packs in the warp-field assembly."

Seven started off in that direction while Chakotay pulled B'Elanna close as if to kiss her cheek. He whispered in her ear. "Don't look so shocked - I know what you've been up to." He kissed her cheek and winked as he pulled away and followed Seven up the ladder to the upper deck.

B'Elanna watched them for just a second before finding an excuse to quickly get up those steps herself.

Kathryn was standing on a stepladder, reaching around the warp core casing. She smiled when she heard Chakotay's voice call up to her. "Have you misplaced something?"

Without looking down she answered. "No. Just busy getting this ship put back together." She quickly finished what she was doing and closed the hatch over the newly replaced gel pack. She began to step down from her perch but paused when she saw both Chakotay and Seven standing there. She immediately regained her bearings and descended the rest of the way. "What brings you two up here this evening?"

"We came to see you, of course." Chakotay smiled and reached up to give her a light kiss. He winked and unsuccessfully attempted to rub off some of the smudges on her cheeks and nose.

Seven said, "Chakotay has told me that you and he wish to pursue a romantic relationship. I am sad to lose him, but I know that you will be happy and I wish all the best for you."

Kathryn smiled and took her protégé into an unexpected hug. Kathryn closed her eyes, more thankful for this than she thought possible. "Thank you. That means more to me than you can imagine." She pulled back and looked into Seven's eyes, "I was so worried that you wouldn't forgive me for my very bad timing."

Seven shook her head, "As the Doctor told me: you'll know love when it hits you square in the face." She glanced over at Chakotay, "When he told me about you two, I could tell immediately that he was definitely 'lovestruck' - the word I believe the Doctor used."

Kathryn smiled with laughter as she looked at her love, "Yes, I think that definitely describes it." She moved over to him and kissed his cheek. "It took me seven years, but I finally captured him."

Chakotay tugged on his ear and chuckled. "Yes, I do believe you have."



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