After so many years, staring into the immensity of Space, the simple beauty of a wheat field, wasn’t lost on Chakotay.
They were finally home. And he’d probably say he hadn’t really felt it until now.
Seven years in the Delta Quadrant had felt like a lifetime, rationing and scheduling and making ends meet with what little they could, learning and growing together, as a family.
Seven years was a long time, but it was now three weeks since their return; he’d watched her pat Seven’s elbow, hug Harry Kim and kiss Miral’s forehead as she bid her farewells, and those three weeks without her had felt like an eternity. Seventy thousand lightyears couldn’t compare to the two thousand miles that had stood between them since they returned.
What he’d thought he had with Seven wasn’t real, he knew that now. He was only ashamed it had taken the image of Kathryn walking away for him to realise that. Seven was learning how to process complex human emotions, she was learning how to catalogue physical attraction and in the beginning, he’d thought what they had was something else entirely.
He was wrong.
He thought that realisation would have hurt more than it did.
B’Elanna had handed him a Padd with an address, and he stood now at the end of a long dirt driveway that split the wheat field down the middle and lead to a tall, stately victorian house with a wrap-around patio and white painted railings, and he wondered how he had managed to stay away at all.
He didn’t deserve her forgiveness. But seven years in the Delta Quadrant, and he’d be damned if he was going to let her slip through his fingers again.
He pulled his coat tighter against the brisk wind that whipped across the field and ruffled his hair. The sun was slowly setting and the warmth of the day was rapidly giving way to a chill. Since they returned, he’d felt out of sorts in the daylight, missing the depth and darkness of space - but mostly he missed the sight of her silhouette against the backdrop of diamond stars.
His boots scuffed on well-travelled gravel and the world was silent but for a few birds, the rustling of the wheat in the breeze and the gravel underfoot.
The house itself was imposing but beautiful. No-doubt built by some ancient Janeway, kept in the family for generations and maintained with the utmost care. He imagined, perhaps none of the building was original - but it looked the part, and he could imagine her here.
Stepping up onto the porch, the sound of wood-panelling underfoot was strange, but comforting. There was a peace in the house that warmed his bones; he liked it. The wooden doorframe was painted a dusky blue, and there was a bench hanging from thin chains that jostled in the breeze, adorned with soft, green and yellow cushions.
He rapped his knuckles on the frame, listening beyond the door for the sound of movement but all he could hear was the pounding of his own heart. What if she wouldn’t speak to him? What if she never wanted to see him again? What if she’d cast aside her memories of candlelit dinners, smooth jazz and the heady buzz of Antarian Cider?
The door opening startled him for a moment, he was struck silent before a husky throat was cleared and a petite, elderly woman with a string of pearls and a familiar smirk, pushed the screen door open, forcing him back just a step so she could meet him out on her stoop.
“You must be, Chakotay?” One eyebrow went up at her own question and he felt his own lips curve up in a smile.
“How did you...?”
She cut him off with a smirk and a brief gesture to the tattoo above his brow. He nodded with a chuckle - she was a sharp one, he’d give her that.
“I suppose I should take comfort that she’s at least mentioned me.”
Her arms crossed over the front of her floral dress, broken in the middle by a ruffled apron and her lips curved, mocking him in a way he knew all too well.
“Oh, I don’t know, you don’t know what she’s said.”
She must have seen the pain that shot across his face for the brief moment fear set in, because her mirth fell away. That fear that had been coming in waves since the moment he’d realised his mistake and that she was so much farther away than the distance of a few bulkheads.
This woman’s smile was kind and painfully familiar; he cleared his throat. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
The woman shrugged. “I was just making dinner, actually. You can go collect Kathryn for me, if you like,” She gestured towards a path that lead around the outside of the house. “She’s down by the lake and these old bones don’t appreciate the incline like they used to.”
Chakotay smiled, his cheeks warming at the gentleness of this woman who reached out and patted his arm as though to reassure him.
“I’ll do that, thank you.”
He didn’t see the smirk on her lips as he made his way back down the steps.
The farm was everything he’d imagined from her stories. Wide open expanse, green pastures, the weathered red of the old barn. The twenty-fourth century technology that ran the place was disguised well - a few blinking lights here, a generator covered by an old wooden door, there, the faint whirr of engines beyond hundred year old wood.
He caught a glimpse of her as he walked towards the glistening blue lake. The banks were spotted with trees but the area was mostly open, green fields that glistened in the fading sunlight.
She sat, facing out towards the sun setting over the water - a silhouette in a white adirondack chair, curled up in a blanket and cradling a book.
That image, to him, was perfection.
He couldn’t see her whole face, not as he slowly made his way across the grass behind her but he smiled at the way the orange hue of the sun cast warm shadows across her features. As he rounded her, letting his lips drift upwards in a smile, he opened his mouth to speak but stopped.
She was asleep. Her cheek rested on her shoulder - a few folds of the blanket bunched up to cushion her head on the back of the chair and the heavy book was slipping from her fingers. He thought about intentionally waking her, of touching his fingers to her cheek and rousing her much the way he had so many times she’d fallen asleep, reading by the light of the stars; but she looked so tired.
Her eyes were sunken and her skin paler than he remembered. She was still beautiful - he’d never see her any other way - but she looked forlorn. He imagined, perhaps, sleep hadn’t come very easily for her since their return. He feared his fault in that.
He crouched down beside her, one knee touching the edge of the chair as the other pressed into the damp grass. The book continued to slip and with a faint smile, he reached for the edges and carefully pulled it from her tentative grip. The movement roused her and he held his breath as she took in a deep one, her eyes blinking up at him with confusion.
“Chakotay?” She croaked, struggling to focus her attention, blinking against the diminishing light from behind him.
“It’s me, Kathryn.”
“Why are you here? What’s happened?”
He smiled, his dimples deepening much the way they always did in response to her. He couldn’t help himself; just the sight of her brought a joy to him he’d thought long lost.
“Nothing,” He breathed, reaching out to curl his broad fingers around her delicate hand, soothing the worry in her eyes. “Everyone is fine.”
There was a long silence; her blue eyes fixed on his face, studying him, cataloging - she let her hand remain in his in her lap. She was calculating all the possibilities for why he was there, trying to ascertain the truth of it without having to ask. She didn’t like to ask, she liked to know.
“I just needed to see you.”
She licked her lips, carefully pulling her fingers from his and straightening up in her chair. Chakotay stiffened, his heart pounding out of his chest as he sat there, crouched on one knee, looking up at the sun setting on her face.
“It’s been three weeks.”
“If you think it’s been easy,”
He cut her off. “I know it hasn’t.”
Silence reigned again as she touched her fingertips to her lips, looking out at the water - he knew that expression - worry, fear. “Every day, for seven years, you were right there beside me.”
“I’m sorry.” Tears welled in his eyes as he looked up at her, wistfully watching the water rippling in the breeze. He knew exactly what she meant and it wasn’t about the seven years he’d spent, dutifully devoted, standing by her side. It was about the three weeks since, where he’d taken her heart and crushed it. It was that somehow, he was able to wait for her for seven years, but one day more was just too much.
He couldn’t say what had come over him, he only knew nothing he said, could possibly make it right.
She hadn’t looked back to him as she spoke, perhaps unable to do so. But at the same time, now that she was right in front of him, he couldn’t bear to look away.
“She needed you.” Her voice was small, soft, the husk and fire of her cadence replaced with the quiet sadness of understanding. But why did she understand? What could he have done to deserve that?
He was shocked. Struck dumb by her words. He knew she wasn’t a spiteful woman, and she’d been close friends with a Vulcan too long to be unreasonable; but he’d never expected such a level of understanding for what he’d done. What he’d done to her.
“You needed me more.” His voice cracked on the words and she finally turned back to him, her blue eyes glistening with unshed tears as he reached, desperately, for her hand again. She let him take it, curling her fingers between both of his large, dark hands. Her palm was dwarfed by his, but he brushed his thumb along the edge of hers with the same reverence as the torch he’d carried for her for so many years.
“What now?” She questioned, her voice cracking ever so slightly.
He lifted her hand, raising her fingers to gently press his lips to them, holding her hand between them as his lips curved into a hopeful smile. He spoke softly, a gentle sound that echoed the quiet beauty that surrounded them. “Let me keep my promise.”
Very slowly, her fingers curled into his hand, her grip tightening in his as she blinked away tears and licked her lip, nodding her head just enough to give him hope.