"They are happy, aren't they?" she sighs.
"Yes.. They are.. Are you?" Chakotay's voice is soft, comfortable even when its lost the right.
"I want to be. I do."
She's not sure she remembers how anymore, not after seven years of constant strain and heartache.
"Then let yourself be," he tells her, eyes beseeching as ever, "What do you need? Whats wrong?"
"You don't have to look out for me anymore, you aren't my first officer, I'm not your captain..."
“Which means you can’t order me to stop anymore,” he smiles but there’s something hard under there.
She turns away from the gathering of their former crew watching the couple on the dance floor take their first married dance, and leans against one of the french doors to the patio.
“Not in so many words, no,” his voice is soft but committed, “but unmistakably that was the message.”
Chakotay steps out into the starless night, not striding off but testing she thinks… to see if she will join him.
Kathryn is taken aback by how he still treats her like she’s made of something too precious to risk. She didn’t expect the sadness in his voice after everything.
She’s expected him to be cold or angry talking about it now, when it is too late. Despite the kind gestures he has been showing her, she knows it is too late. Still, that’s her fault and she thinks that she owes him an answer now that she’s free to give one.
“I thought it would be easier,” she confesses, walking to stand next to him and placing her hand gently on his upper arm, “On both of us.”
“It wasn’t for me,” he turns and looks her straight on, “I could have told you that if you’d asked me.”
“I couldn’t,” she squeezes lightly, “I didn’t trust myself not to say too much if I allowed us to start talking about it.”
“Tell me, Kathryn… Was it easier for you?”
That one word sticks more violently in her throat than a thousand well worded speeches. She wishes he hadn’t asked, not now, but at the same time there’s something freeing after she says it
“Then why stick to it?” he asks, “I kept hoping you’d change your mind but you never did.”
Kept hoping… past tense. She pushes the thought away. This is her penance she thinks. Seven years they’ve waited to have this conversation; because, she deemed it so. She can endure having it now.
“I was the captain,” she tries to explain, “I couldn’t be weak. I couldn’t waffle.”
For a moment he looks like he is about to protest, to tell her that her thinking is pigheaded and dangerous and narcissistic, but then he takes a deep breath again.
“What about now?” he finally says, “As you keep reminding me, you aren’t my captain anymore…”
Chakotay has never been cruel, not even at his most desperate. No. He wouldn’t keep pushing unless…
Kathryn looks into his eyes and sees hope.
“I haven’t said anything; because, it was too late. After all, you’ve always taken my commands very seriously.”
“I tried, Kathryn,” Chakotay swallows visibly, “Because you wanted it I tried almost desperately to make that true.”
Chakotay reaches out and caresses her cheek gently with his hand, wiping a tear she didn’t realize she’d shed from her face with his thumb.
“That depends,” he tells her, “If you still are asking me to. You aren’t my captain anymore, and you can’t command me, but if that’s still what you want I’ll disappear; because, that’s the only way I’ll ever be able to stop, Kathryn. I wish I could tell you I could manage friendly indifference, but on that front I’ve failed you.”
“Thank heavens for that failure,” she almost cries, “It’s never what I’ve wanted, Chakotay, even when I demanded it.”
She can’t stand it a moment longer, the tightness in her chest, the hope and fear in Chakotay’s eyes. She takes his face in her hands and pulls it down into hers.
“Chakotay?” she murmurs finally, breathless and world almost spinning, safe in the encircling warmth of his arms.
He pulls his head back a little to look her in the eyes, keeping the rest of their bodies pressed close.
“In answer to your earlier question, I’m happy. I’m blissfully happy.”
“I’m not sure whether to say finally or get a room.”
They both turn to see a crowd has gathered on the edge of the patio and Kathryn can feel the flush across her cheeks.
“She’s demoted you once, Tom. Don’t make her do it again,” Chakotay grins widely, beaming.
“Well, I guess that cat is out of the bag,” she can’t help laughing, feeling too giddy and light to question it, “Now, if you’ll all excuse us…”
We’re going to see about getting that room, remains unsaid… but it isn’t a painful omission this time.
“By the way,” she bites her lip as she snuggles her body into his as they wait for the turbo lift, “In case I didn’t mention it-”
“I love you,” he finishes with her.