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Timeless

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The first time he sees her, it's 43 days, 4 hours and 37 minutes since it happened.

He has barely slept. He can't recall the last decent meal he ate and he has no idea where Harry is.

Since their unplanned arrival in the Alpha Quadrant, no Voyager on their tail, they've been prodded and poked by the Federation.
Questioned, interrogated and paraded.

He hates them all.

He hates the councillors and their pathetic phrases, their nods and hums as he speaks, they think they understand, but they haven't got a clue. He hates the doctors and their hyposprays. Their constant questions about his sleep, his eating, his physical state. He hates the sympathetic looks from everyone around him, the supposed words of comfort, the gentle pats to the arm or shoulder. He hates the small talk, the constant hounding from the media. Everyone wanting a piece of him.

He. Hates. It. All.

He wishes he had died back there with them.

He knows that's how Harry feels. But, it's been weeks since he saw him and he can't bring himself to care.

Then the message arrives. From a Mrs G Janeway and he feels his entire insides twist uncontrollably.
He leaves it exactly two days before he brings himself to open the message. He runs his hands through his hair; Gretchen Janeway wants to meet up with him.
He stands and paces his basic room. He can't, he can't meet her. He can't sit in the same room as her mother. He just can't.

He tries to think of what to say to her, how to say no, but he finds himself agreeing to her request anyway. He smiles grimly at the screen as he sends his affirmative reply - it seems he can't deny any Janeway woman. Before he knows it, he's stood outside a large house in the depths of Indiana looking across at a woman he's never met before, but feels an affinity towards.
Gretchen Janeway is just an older image of her daughter. Small and slim in stature, but an imposing presence that captures him immediately. There's just one difference. Even from this distance, he can see the grief etched in her face, her stance, and it hits him like a shuttle. This is Kathryn's home. The place she grew up. He gasps a shaking breath and walks towards the mother of the woman he lost.

"Commander Chakotay," Gretchen greets, her voice heavy with pain. He notices she has the same coloured eyes as Kathryn.

"Just, Chakotay," he says, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry, Mrs Janeway."

Gretchen gives a shake of her head, her grey bob swishing gently from side to side. Even that movement seems to hurt her. "Please, call me, Gretchen."

She takes his arm and pulls him gently, but firmly, towards the house.

He can feel her presence the moment he walks through the door. She's everywhere, in the walls, the pictures, the pure essence of the house. This place is, Kathryn. It hurts, but damn, it feels good too.
Gretchen encourages him to sit in the living room and she sits opposite him. He wonders what she wants to say, but has barely time to settle into the soft cushions of the chair before her first question leaves her lips.

"Tell me how it happened," she begins.

Chakotay sighs and dips his head, "I can't answer that. I don't know the answers."

"I've read the reports. I've had every Admiral in the Federation showing me one report or another, but I want to know how it happened. You were there. You helped make the decision." She's angry, hurting, her voice is sharp, but there's no mistaking that edge of devastation that lingers within each word.

"I know as much as you. We took a risk and it failed." Chakotay tries to keep his voice even, but on the final word, he fails.

Gretchen' eyes soften, but she doesn't let them leave Chakotay's face.

"Do you think she's dead?" she asks, her voice barely a whisper.

Chakotay closes his eyes and lets his head drop to his chest.
"The data suggests..."

"Data!" Gretchen spits, making him jump slightly. "I've read the data and I'm not a scientist, but even I know the odds are too slim. But, do you, Mr Chakotay, think my daughter is dead?" her voice cracking with anger and grief.

Chakotay looks up and reels from the raw emotion in Gretchen's eyes.
"Yes," he nods. "There is no way they could have survived re-entry at that velocity."

Gretchen closes her eyes. "That's the first damned honest answer anyone has given me over this whole thing. They all think they are sparing my feelings, offering me unfounded hope, but, I know she's dead," she opens her eyes and looks at him. "I feel it," she lays a hand to her heart, "I know she's gone."

Chakotay nods. He understands.

"Why?" Gretchen asks suddenly. "Why did you all go ahead with it? The odds were not good and the data suggested it was a disaster waiting to happen, so, why?"

Chakotay looks at the floor. It's a question he's asked himself too many times to count, but the answer is always the same.

"Kathryn thought it was worth the risk," he replies finally.

"Didn't you challenge her?" Gretchen presses.

Chakotay gives a hollow laugh, "I tried. But..."

"She was stubborn." Gretchen finishes.

Stubborn, convincing, alluring, beautiful. Words he thinks, but cannot say.

"I've grieved for her once, when Voyager first went missing, but I knew then she was still alive, I just knew. But, deep down I always believed the job would take her from me. Just like it did her Father."

The silence that follows that statement is deafening. He can hear the blood pounding in his ears.

"Where are my manners? Would you like some tea?" Gretchen gets up and he can tell she's fighting back the tears.

"That would be nice," he replies. He doesn't want tea, but he knows they both need a few moments alone.

As Gretchen leaves the room, it's then that he sees her for the first time. She's stood in the doorway her mother just walked through, leaning casually, arms folded and she's looking at him with that indulgent smile she saved only for him.

He feels the breath leave his body and he folds himself over, covering the back of his head with his arms. When he recovers himself enough to look up, she's gone.

When Gretchen returns, she sees the look on his face and she knows. Knows now why he didn't fight her daughter. Knows now, he will be tortured forever. Her heart aches for him.

"How long have you been in love with her?" she asks, setting the tea down onto the table.

Chakotay can't speak, he's not surprised by her question and knows she deserves an answer. With the little strength he has left, he replies, "Too long."

"And did she know?"

A million thoughts run through his mind, StarFleet, Lake George, protocol, her fiancé, New Earth, but he has to give as honest an answer he can. His mind flows back to that last night.

"Yes, I believe she did."

Gretchen smiles, "Then I am glad she died knowing she was loved."

Hours later and Chakotay finally falls onto his bed and sleep consumes him, but not for long.

He wakes with a start, and as his eyes adjust, he sees a shadow sitting on the edge of his bed. He sits up and the shadow grows clearer.

"Kathryn?" he asks, his heart pounding, his throat tight with emotion and something akin to hope.

The figure stands and moves closer and it's her. She's there with him. Her eyes are soft, her hair falling gently around her face. She kneels before him, resting her hands on his thighs as she does so.

"Chakotay..." she says softly, her face sincere and filled with something he dares not define. She gazes up at him, "I'm here."

"Kathryn..." the name comes out as a moan.

"Are you with me?" she asks, pulling herself upwards, closer to him, one hand moving to rest over his heart in that familiar move of hers.

"Always," he answers immediately.
She smiles at him and he can feel the warmth of her skin as she reaches up to caress his cheek, tenderness flowing from her eyes. It's her. She's here with him, and yet, he knows the truth.

"Stay," he pleads. "Stay with me."

"I can't," she whispers, and then she's gone, and he's alone in the room once more.

He can't stop the gulping gasps that erupt from his body and he crumples back onto the bed, loneliness, guilt and despair consuming him.

It's the first time she comes to him, but it won't be the last.