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Beyond the Voyage

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Admiral Kathryn Janeway strode down the corridor of Starfleet Headquarters' secure level - back straight, shoulders square, head high... eyes down. She was hoping to avoid anyone stopping her to talk. She didn't want to talk. She'd spent all day, every day, talking since Voyager returned home.

All she wanted at this point was to get into the lift - hopefully alone - and ride it to her even-more-secure-than-the-building temporary apartment. It was a bland space assigned to her for the duration of the debriefings from her seven-year trip across the Delta Quadrant.

Tired… she was so tired. Seven long years of long days spent solving whatever new challenge the Delta Quadrant had thrown at her, followed by equally long nights haunted by the repercussions of her decisions… second-guessing each one of them until she thought she would go mad.

None of that had prepared her for these months of validating each of those decisions to a board of Admirals that hadn't been there - hadn't known the true depths of what she and her crew had faced at each turn. At some point during the first week of questioning, she came to realize just how much she had depended on her crew to get her through the difficult times.

For seven years, she had seen herself as the strong one - the one who comforted and supported the crew by her show of confidence. Only now, long after the fact, did she realize just how much of that strength grew from their confidence in her. Now, she couldn't even tell them what it meant to her and how much she missed it - and them.

She did miss them… those happy days between disasters when they had a chance to relax - paresses squares and hoverball tournaments… fun on the holodeck at Sandrine’s, Neelix's beach resort, or Fair Haven… laughter in the galley over the newest culinary adventure. All of them gone. Lost to the life that had ended so abruptly when they returned home.

The entire crew had been sequestered after the welcome home party. Whisked away - again - from their families after the briefest of visits. The quarters provided to the crew had all been on the same floor - Maquis on one end, Starfleet on the other, and the few from the Equinox in between.

But Kathryn had been placed on a floor separate from them and given some excuse about her rank and position affording her the privacy and better accommodations. She knew, though, that if that was truly the case, Chakotay - and Tuvok, if he had been well enough to join the debriefings - would have been placed with her. Instead, she was alone while Chakotay had been housed along with the other Maquis.

The arrangement of their quarters did not deter the crew from freely gathering in the hallways and common areas. It wasn't uncommon for her to hear the raucous laughter from their floor as she traveled past to her own. She never joined them. She couldn't.

Kathryn was well aware of what Starfleet intended. The location of her quarters served to sequester her even further. She suspected that Starfleet wanted to make sure she wasn't meeting with them each night to compare notes.

It was ridiculous. She wouldn't ask her crew to lie for her or protect her from any indiscretions she had made during their journey.  She hadn't falsified her logs - even when she had acted inappropriately. She was confident that they hadn't either. There'd been no reason to hide anything since they had no real expectation of getting home in their lifetimes. To Kathryn, it was further proof of just how much Starfleet didn't understand how their lives had been during the last seven years.

She had to protect her crew from any indications of impropriety, their testimony unhindered by any perceived coercion. She wanted Starfleet to get the full, unedited versions of their journey... to see the progression of the two crews blending together and the trust and bonds that had been formed.

So she accepted the situation, abiding by the unspoken separation no matter how painful it was. She made sure that her departure and arrival times did not coincide with theirs and avoided public areas so she wouldn't run into anyone accidentally. She refused to give in to her desire to stop on their floor when she heard the sounds of goodbye parties as each member completed their debrief and returned to their lives and families.

Little by little, the parties became quieter as the number of remaining crew grew smaller. Eventually, she stopped hearing anything from that floor at all, and surmised that everyone was gone. She could only hope that their debriefs had been simple - even easy. Much easier than hers.

The entire first few weeks of her debriefing centered around her decisions regarding her Maquis crew. They wanted to know why she had merged the two crews and appointed Maquis to senior staff positions over existing Starfleet officers.

They grilled her about Seska's deception and the defection of the traitor Michael Jonas. They asked pointed questions about the integration of the two crews. There had even been an entire afternoon devoted to questions pertaining to her relationship with her First Officer.

It didn't take much to know that her answers were actually testimony for an underhand trial of the Maquis. Since the Alpha Quadrant Maquis were either dead or former convicts, it was safe to assume that the Delta Quadrant Maquis would undergo some form of legal proceedings to determine if they should join their counterparts and be labeled criminals, or be pardoned for their crimes in light of their service aboard Voyager.

She knew she couldn't be seen with any of them - Chakotay in particular - for their sake and hers.

She tried to keep in mind that it wasn't all bad. They were home. She had successfully delivered them back to their families as she had promised so many years ago. Not only did their families and loved ones know that they were alive, they could touch them, hug them, and share their lives with them once more.

Ultimately, the Maquis were pardoned and allowed to keep their Starfleet commissions.  Life was going on; moving toward a new future.

Except Kathryn’s. She was still answering questions about... everything... anything... Whatever Starfleet could think of to rake her over the coals with, they brought it to the table. So many times she just wanted to throw in the towel, raise her hands and say ‘Yep. I did everything you're suggesting I did, and for the reasons you think I did.’ But she didn't - couldn't . If she conceded anything of the sort, she opened her crew up to suspicion. So she answered their questions as calmly and respectfully as she could, holding out hope for the day they said ‘Thank you, that will be all.’

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Oh, just go find her and tell her how you feel!”

“What are you talking about Sekaya?”

“Brother, all you do is dream about her. It's obvious you can't get her off your mind. Just go to her and ask if she wants you as much as you want her.”

Sekaya was talking about Seven - Annika she wanted to be called, now. When he left for Trebus, they'd decided to leave things open between them - each of them wanting to get accustomed to life in the Alpha Quadrant before deciding if they wanted to continue a romantic relationship.

Sekaya knew about the status of their relationship and obviously thought he was pining over her. But he hadn't thought about her in quite a while. His mind had been elsewhere... thinking about another woman. Someone he missed so much it actually hurt. “Actually, it's not Annika I was thinking about at all.”

“Of course not. It's that captain of yours. Kathryn... Kathryn Janeway.”

“What makes you think that?”

“She's all you talk about, Chakotay. Annika disappeared from your conversations a couple of days after you arrived. Since then, it's been 'Kathryn this… Kathryn that'. Frankly, it's getting a little annoying.”

“So you want me to just walk up to her and say 'I love you. Do you love me?' That's a little simplistic, don't you think?”

Sekaya shrugged her shoulders. “It's the simplest way to find out if she wants you. And if the pictures of your arrival are any indication, she does.”

“I can't just up and leave Trebus, Sekaya. There's too much that still needs to be done here.”

“Just... go, brother. We will miss you, but I want you to be happy. The work here does not satisfy you - it never has. We love having you here, but your love and your life's purpose are not here, and will never be. Go and find it. Take it. Make it yours.”

Chakotay spent a week thinking about what his sister had said to him. It was true - at one point he had loved Kathryn more than life, itself.  Although she had never acknowledged it, he was pretty sure she had felt the same. He'd allowed that love to cool into a deep friendship - one that had cooled even further as the years and stresses built up - to the point that he hadn't felt comfortable even telling her of his developing relationship with Seven.

That's what he had told himself at the time.

But Sekaya's words made him realize that he'd been uncomfortable because he still loved her.  His sister was right - on both counts. His life's purpose was not here on Trebus, and neither was his love. It was time for him to return to Earth so he could find both.

Using the colony's antiquated comm system, Chakotay managed to contact Tom Paris and make arrangements to stay with him for a while. The next day he hopped on the small ship that sometimes delivered supplies to Trebus and began the long journey home.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Plopping on her sofa, Kathryn sighed deeply. Funny - she'd never been a ‘plopper’. Phoebe plopped herself anywhere - the floor, sofa, a fallen log - it didn't matter. If Phoebe was going to sit, she plopped. Kathryn, on the other hand, never plopped herself down on anything. Ambitious from a very young age, she’d decided that ‘Starfleet officers do not plop ! They gently sit down.’ So that's what she did.

“It's time to get control of your life, Kathryn.” Then she laughed sarcastically. “What life? I have none.” She mulled over her options for ‘a life’ and didn't find much.

Anyone she might have called friend before she ended up in the Delta Quadrant was either off living lives that had evolved away from their friendship with her, were hospitalized with extreme cases of PTSD, or had died in the Dominion war.

There was her mother, of course, but as close as they had become since Voyager's return, she was still… well... her mom. Phoebe was even further from a possibility as a companion. They had never really shared the same interests, and had no mutual friends that tied them together. Besides, her sister had been oddly distant since her arrival home.

She'd had dinner with Mark, his wife Christine, and their son Kevin a few times. That's about as close to friends as she had these days. She sighed again. “As much as I miss them, my Voyager family and friends are gone - moved on with their own lives. I'm pretty sure they all hate me, anyway. I'm sure I wouldn't forgive someone for turning my back on them.”

Kathryn shook herself. No. It wasn't good to dwell on the past.  There was no future there. Her old life - the one before Voyager - was long gone, as was her Voyager life. It was time to create a new one. Time to make new friends and find new things to do. She headed to her computer to look for activities that she would enjoy, and that would allow her to meet people with similar interests to hers.

 

<<<------>>>

 

After a week’s travel from Trebus to Earth, it took Chakotay no time at all to settle into Tom’s small, cramped apartment. He began contacting some of the crew, checking to make sure that they were acclimating to life back in the Alpha Quadrant, then wandered around the city for a few days. Finally, he forced himself to stop procrastinating and actually do what he’d come back to Earth for.

Now, he was standing at the apartment door that the directory announced belonged to one Admiral Kathryn Janeway. Only she wasn't home. He'd rung the chime several times, but no one had answered.

He'd figured she was at home. Now that they were back, there was no reason for her to work late, and he had simply assumed that she would be here. That had been her pattern on Voyager – work, then quarters for relaxation, then sleep. On and on. A never ending cycle that had been broken only by his efforts to get her to socialize with him and the crew.

Sighing, he turned and headed for the lift. She had a new life, probably a boyfriend or at least a date, causing her to be away from home at 2000 hours. “Well, I guess that answers that .”

He sighed again. “Maybe she'll be willing to be friends again. I'll visit her at her office in the morning.” Lost in thought, he failed to realize that there was someone on the lift when the doors opened, and ended up running into them.

 

Kathryn rode the lift to her apartment floor, tennis racket in hand, a bag filled with tennis balls, and a towel flung over one shoulder. Tonight's practice had been a good one. She'd faced off against the most talented teammate, and had ended up getting a good workout.

She'd been surprised at how easily she stepped right back into her game when she joined the team a few weeks ago. She'd played a little bit in the early days on Voyager, but after… well... later on, she'd switched to velocity as her game of choice. But when she joined the team here, her game had ramped up pretty quickly - along with her teammates’ respect of her as a player.

It had taken some work, but she'd finally gotten them to call her Kathryn instead of Admiral. It felt good. She'd spent far too long being only addressed by her rank.

As her floor neared, she began to consider what she should eat for dinner. It was a given that she would order from Spatola's, like she always did on Tuesdays after tennis. The thought stopped her. She went back over it - Spatola's… her regular… the thing she always did on Tuesdays. 'Well, I guess I am managing to develop a new life for myself.'

She'd even almost accepted a dinner invitation from one of her teammates, but decided it was too soon for her to dive into anything romantic. She told herself that she needed to get her feet completely on terra firma before she even considered anything deeper.

Lost in thought, she failed to realize that there was someone waiting to get on the lift when the doors opened, and ended up running into them.

“Chakotay!”

“Kathryn!”

They spoke in unison.

“I… I thought you were on Trebus.”

“I was, but what I want isn't there, so I came back.”

They stood for a moment, just staring at each other, until Kathryn realized that they were still in the open doorway of the lift. “Why don't we head down to my apartment?”

 

Chakotay nodded, turning to the side so she could pass and lead the way. Following her gave him a few moments to get a look at her without being obvious. She looked as if she had just come from a workout. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail - something he'd never seen - and she was carrying a sports bag over her shoulder. Then he realized there was a tennis racket in her hand. She returned to tennis? Spirits help her opponents!

When they made it inside, she turned to him. “Coffee?”

“Do you have tea?”

“Not fresh leaves, but I programed some blends into the replicator.”

 

Kathryn set down her bag and racket and headed for the kitchen. She was surprised to see that her hands were shaking, making it difficult to pour the coffee grinds into the pot for brewing. She felt his presence behind her.

“How about you get cleaned up and I take you out to dinner?” He reached around her and gently pulled the coffee from her hands.

“Um… I normally order delivery on Tuesdays, but we can go to the restaurant instead.”

He shook his head. “If you don't mind me staying, we can order out. It will give us a chance to talk.”

“Of course I don't mind, Chakotay. Why don't you place the order while I get cleaned up.” She eased away from the proximity of his body. “The restaurant is called Spatola's - it's programmed into my comm. Just tell Enzo I'll have my regular. I don't know what they have vegetarian, but I'm sure he'll give you a rundown.” With that, she disappeared into her bedroom.

 

Chakotay headed to her comm terminal, finding the contact for Spatola's easily. An older man answered the call. “Ahhhh, Admiral! We were wondering if...” The man stopped abruptly when he realized it was not Kathryn on the other end. “Hello. How can I help you?” The suspicion in his voice was unmistakable.

“Hi, I'm Chakotay, Kath... the Admiral's friend. She asked me to place our order while she gets changed.” The other man seemed to relax a little at Chakotay’s explanation. “I'm guessing you are Enzo?” At the other man's nod, he continued on. “The Admiral asked me to tell you she'd have her usual. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with your menu. Would you be willing to suggest a vegetarian dish?”

Enzo relaxed a bit more as he began discussing his restaurant's menu. Chakotay was impressed at the various options available. Eventually, he settled on the baked vegetable penne.

After he ended the call, he headed back to the kitchen to finish setting up the coffee brewer and check out the tea options in her replicator. He was intrigued to see that she had a modified version of his own spice tea blend – something he had served her often on Voyager.

 

Kathryn appeared just in time to answer the door when the chime announced that their meals had arrived. Enzo, himself, was serving as the delivery person. Kathryn could tell that he had come to check up on her. “Enzo, may I introduce you to my friend, Chakotay? He was my First Officer on Voyager.” Her attempt to ease the man’s concern worked. Enzo left with a smile and a request for Chakotay to tell him how he liked the meal.

As they ate, they discussed the terraforming of Trebus. Chakotay's sister, Sekaya, had lobbied the Federation for the process, pointing out that the planet was destroyed because they had abandoned the colony to the Cardassians. Starfleet ended up using the planet as a testing ground for a modified version of the Genesis Device. After Khan had hijacked the device for use as a weapon, Starfleet had pulled the project from active research.

Experts from the Daystrom Institute had been working on an alternate, less volatile system since then, but the research had run into problems. Scientists gathered by Sekaya showed that the combination of the two systems resulted in a smaller scale effect – one that could be used as a rebuilding tool for damaged planets, instead of one that built a habitable planet from scratch. The test had been a success, and Starfleet was in the process of identifying other former colonies for the same process.

Once the planet was deemed safe for habitation, Sekaya's unofficial position as colony representative had been formalized. Regardless, she spent most of her time gathering people of the Tribes, who had been scattered by the war. “They're from all over - any tribe.”

Any tribe?”

“We're kind of forming our own tribe from refugees - even orphans.”

“Orphans!” Kathryn felt her heart break. “I never thought of that...”

“Neither did Sekaya until she came across some in a refugee camp on Bajor. They were being cared for by a Navajo woman who also had her own child. The woman asked Sekaya if she and her biological child could come with the orphans she had been caring for. Sekaya couldn't refuse.

“When she got back to Trebus with them, the others realized that there were probably many First People who needed a place to go. They decided that they would open up the colony to anyone from any tribe. It's a great community of many different people with the same basic beliefs in a simple life and respect for the old ways.”

Kathryn put her fork down and sat back. “That's just wonderful, Chakotay. All those different, but similar, people forming a unified community. Creating a home for children who would have lost their heritage. It's… heartwarming.”

Chakotay nodded, “It really is a great community. My mother has been become what they're calling the Shima Sani - the Grand Mother - for all of the young ones. For the entire tribe, really. She's the hearts' center of the tribe.”

“Wait. Chakotay - did you say your mother ? I thought she died in the Cardassian attack!”

Chakotay grinned. “I thought so, too, but she's actually alive. Imo managed to escape with some of the tribe on a transport ship. It had been in the area when rumors of a Cardassian attack came to them. The captain of the shuttle was in love with my cousin, and raced to Trebus to save her. He also took as many others as he could fit on his ship. Imo was one of them.”

“But… how did no one know?”

“The ship was attacked and crash-landed on one of Bajor's moons. The group got separated, and no one was sure who survived the crash. Sekaya found her and Honovi, our Healer, in a refugee camp. Sekaya didn't get a chance to tell me before we ended up back in the Alpha Quadrant. Once she found out we were here… well...”

She grabbed his hand and gripped it tightly, tears in her eyes. “Oh, Chakotay… I… that… it's just amazing. I can't even imagine the feeling when you saw her again.”

He placed his other hand over hers, tears also in his eyes. “It was the happiest moment of my life.”

They were silent a moment. Finally, Kathryn broke the silence. “Why and how the hell did you leave her?”

Chakotay sighed and let go of her hand, leaning back in his chair. “Trebus isn't the place for me. I had no real purpose there. Sure - a strong back and willing spirit are always welcome, but I had nothing else to contribute beyond that. I don't want to lead Sekaya's nomadic lifestyle looking for refugees.” He smirked at her. “I've had enough of that to last me a lifetime. I want roots - a home . So, Sekaya sent me back here with Imo's blessing.”

“I can appreciate wanting roots back on a planet. I've been away for so long that I'm not really interested in leaving. Besides… nothing compares to Voyager.”

“So, Kathryn, how about you? How's Indiana? Your family?”

She gave a small smile. “About the same as I left it. Indiana never really changes. My mom still acts as if she's fifty instead of almost seventy, and she's still teaching. I don't think she'll ever give it up. Phoebe is… well… Phoebe. She's supposedly engaged, but her fiance is always off-planet. She owns a small gallery in New York City, and she does a lot of commission pieces.

“I've seen Mark several times. His wife Christine is a wonderful woman, and his son Kevin is as precocious as they come. I've spent a lot of time with them - Christine and I have become pretty good friends.”

Chakotay leaned forward again and gently grasped her hand. “Kathryn, why did you go back to work so soon? You barely gave yourself a month. I'd think you needed more time than that just to decompress from the debriefings, much less the seven years on Voyager.”

She gave him a smile and patted his hand. “I'll have you know I took almost two full months! And they gave us all that time to re-acclimate ourselves before we made any decisions about our futures.”

Chakotay sighed inwardly. “And since you already knew you would stay with Starfleet...”

“Actually, I didn't. In fact, I almost didn't come back at all. I seriously considered resigning my commission or retiring.”

Chakotay was shocked. Miss I-never-wanted-to-be-anything-else resigning?

She saw the look on his face and sighed. “Like you said - seven difficult years of constantly being on duty, followed by several grueling months of debriefings, wore me out completely. The moment they set me free, I headed for the nearest transport station. I didn't even stop back at my quarters for a toothbrush. I paid the extra credits for a direct transport to my mom's house, instead of the local station. I was so burnt out that I didn't want to see a uniform, hear a rank, or even think 'Starfleet'.”

Chakotay was aghast. What the hell had they done to her? He was barely able to contain his frustration and anger over the state Starfleet must have put her in for her to even think of feeling that way. “What made you come back, then?”

“Mark.”

Mark ?”

She nodded. “Yes, Mark. He helped me realize a few things, then challenged me to make sure they didn't happen to other captains and their crews.”

 

It was the first time she'd seen Mark since she got back to Earth. They were sitting on her mother's porch swing, an awkward silence between them.

Mark suddenly blurted. “Oh, Kath, this is ridiculous. We were friends for decades before we became anything else to each other. I would like to think we are still - and will always be - friends.”

She twisted in the seat to look at him directly. “You're right. We have known each other for far too long to give up everything we had.” She held out her hand to shake his. “Friends again?”

He took hers and shook it. “Good friends.”

There were a few moments of a more comfortable silence, then she spoke up again. “I don't think I'm going back to Starfleet, Mark.”

Mark's jaw dropped open. “Kath, you must be joking. Starfleet is all you've ever wanted.”

She sighed and looked out over the fields surrounding her. “They've changed, Mark - and not for the better. Not to mention they've done the same thing to me twice. I don't think I could handle a third time. Hell, I barely survived the first one!”

He shook his head. “Again? For heaven's sake, what did they think you did this time? Your ship arrived in one piece, with a good portion of your crew intact.”

“I left a lot of good people out there, Mark, but that's about the only thing they didn't blame me for.”

“You can't tell me any of it, can you?”

“Nope. Everything is classified. Let's just say it was a crazy seven years. Some good… some bad. I won't lie - I made several questionable decisions… things I expected to get called to the carpet for. I just didn't expect to be raked over the coals like that.”

She shook her head. “Yes, the captain is always responsible for everything that happens, but some of Starfleet's regulations weren't written with our situation in mind. There were times I had to make decisions that bent, if not broke altogether, those things. Starfleet didn't necessarily see it that way.” She shook her head, again. “I'm not sure I want to work for an organization that would do that to me twice.”

“The best way to make changes is from within, Kath. How many other officers do you think have been subjected to that kind of scrutiny? Do you think you could get Starfleet to change their attitude toward these debriefs?”

“Mark, fifteen or so years ago, they raked me over the coals for an accident that wasn't my fault - something they readily admitted. Now, they’ve harassed me for choosing to turn left instead of right 70,000 light years from Earth - even if the right turn was certain failure.”

“You're an Admiral, now, Kath. You are part of the group that decides which attitude to take on things. Sure Starfleet has changed - war will do that to you. But you weren't part of that war, and you have some new insights to bring into the Admiralty. They need you.”

“You're telling me to go back? The man who resented my work in Starfleet?”

“I resented your preoccupation - not the organization, itself. You're good at your job, Kath. It would be a shame for you to leave it.”

A week later she cut her leave short and returned to active duty.

 

The conversation moved on to the crew and their lives since their return. At first, Kathryn had kept track of them to make sure that each individual had offers that would suit them - she'd even managed to set up something for little Naomi.  

Once she was satisfied with the opportunities that would be made available to each of them, she stepped aside – deciding that her job as their captain was done and it was time for her to let them go and move on.

“You wouldn't have anything to do with Naomi Wildman's school, would you?” He gave her a sly grin.

Kathryn's expression remained unchanged. “What do you mean?”

“Samantha told me that she'd been contacted by a private Ktarian school. The headmaster sent her a suggested curriculum that Naomi would follow if she were to attend. It exactly matched what Naomi needed, including a privately-tutored history of Ktaria that covered topics most Ktarian children would have grown up knowing.”

He gave her a pointed look. “Sam figured that Starfleet had sent the school a transcript, but I really don't think Starfleet would have been so detailed - or even understand what, or how, Naomi was taught. That kind of detail would have only come from a Voyager; one that cared deeply for the child.”

Kathryn smiled softly. “The Captain's Assistant deserves as much support as the rest of the crew, don't you think?”

“Definitely.” Chakotay leaned toward her in a conspiratorial manner. “I also think that only her captain would have thought to ensure she was provided with such an opportunity. Did I mention that everything is tuition-free?”

This time Kathryn's face broke into a Cheshire grin. “Oh, that's probably a prestige thing. I'm sure it's all over the quadrant that the school has 'the Voyager Child' on its roster.”

“As far as I know, the school hasn't mentioned the situation to anyone. Perhaps the 'prestige' is being placed elsewhere.”

“Chakotay! You know I would never use my name or influence, regardless of the situation!”

“Use it? No. Allow it to be used? Possibly.” Chakotay sat back in his chair. “I don't know how, but something other than credits is in play here.”

Kathryn leaned forward, her expression serious. “Naomi deserves the best opportunities available. She had no choice on where she would spend the first five years of her life. Voyager and the Delta Quadrant are all that she knows. If any of the Voyager adults are struggling to adjust to their lives in the Alpha Quadrant, imagine what it must be like for her! The only friends she has ever known have been adults and freed Borg. Neelix, one of her strongest supports, isn't anywhere near, and the only way to reach him isn't available for anything other than 'official Starfleet business'.”

She went on, jabbing her finger forcefully on the table. “That school is the best in the Ktarian system. It has an excellent reputation for educating children with extraordinary capabilities and backgrounds, and supports a positive environment. Her classmates will be encouraged to appreciate Naomi's unique background, and will be able to share in her knowledge and experiences as Starfleet declassifies it. I can’t think of a better setup to acclimate to life outside of Voyager and develop into the extraordinary woman I know she can become.”

Chakotay reached across the table and grasped the hand whose finger she had been pounding on it a moment before. “Kathryn, relax! I wholeheartedly agree with you. It's just that you are the only one who thought to do something about Naomi's situation. And if a certain private school gets a first crack at Delta Quadrant information, more's the better. Wouldn't you say?”

Kathryn sighed. “Let's just say I had a lot of time on my hands, so I did some research on educational possibilities for her. She was about to be lost in the dust - a single child in a unique situation.”

Kathryn shrugged, and went on. “Icheb passed the Starfleet entrance exam while we were still in the Delta Quadrant and is set to enter the academy this fall. Everyone else is an adult - free to seek their own opportunities wherever they please. Naomi deserves the same kind of opportunity, scaled to the necessities of a young child. I simply found a way for her to achieve it.”

“I wish you could get Starfleet to see reason when it comes to the Doctor.”

“I've tried to be included on the team debating his status - or at least be given the opportunity to speak with them - but I haven't been able to get anywhere.”

“At least they are thinking of him as a 'person' in some sense. His program is currently in Reg Barclay's 'custody', instead of just shut down and held in a computer core somewhere.”

“True… On the flip side, there isn't any regard toward him as someone who would be anxious about the outcome of their decision. I keep trying to stress that point whenever I get a chance to talk to someone who is on the team.”

“Maybe he'll jump ship and run away to Romulus. Can you imagine him working with Romulans?”

“They'd start diplomatic relations with the Federation just to return him!” The hilarity continued as the conversation moved into funny Voyager memories. Finally Kathryn realized how late it was. “Chakotay, it's almost 2400 and I have to work tomorrow.”

“You could play hooky and spend the day with me.” Chakotay wore a mischievous grin.

She smacked his arm lightly. “You know I take my job seriously - as much of a job as I have.”

“What's wrong with your job, Kathryn?”

“Oh, nothing really. It's just monotonous. But that's a story for another day. Come on, let's get this cleaned up. If I don't get at least five hours of sleep, I tend to nod off at my desk.”

Chakotay picked up the dishes and headed for the recycler. “Not exactly conduct becoming an admiral.”

“Not in the slightest. I think my poor assistant would have a heart attack if he caught me.”

“He'd never have survived on Voyager. Although - now that I think about it - Harry Kim might have done the same thing seven years ago.”

“Nate will settle down eventually, just like Harry did.”

 

Chakotay was having such a wonderful time with Kathryn, he didn't want to leave. Seeing her so relaxed and laughing freely was like a balm to his soul. She was shaking off the layers of solitude and stress that had permeated her life on Voyager, and the new Kathryn was a joy to be around.

Unfortunately, after years of harping on her to rest, he couldn't really make her stay up all night just to reminisce. Before he knew it, he was standing at her door saying goodnight.

“It's so good to see you, Chakotay. I'm so glad you came back. Please don't be a stranger - and let me know if I can be of any help while you are looking for your purpose.”

“It's good to be back, Kathryn. And don't you worry about me disappearing anytime soon. I missed you too much.” He gave her a soft smile and headed down the hallway.

 

Kathryn closed the door and rested against it. “I missed you, too, Chakotay.” She stood up and ordered her lights out as she headed toward her bedroom

Chapter Text

Ensign Nathaniel Harrison settled into his desk for another day of work. He checked for any messages that had come in after he left the previous evening and was in the process of lining up his CO's work when she stepped through the door. “Good morning, Admiral Janeway.”

“Good morning Ensign. Anything exciting on the board for today?”

“Just the usual, ma'am. I did hear that the Excelsior arrived overnight. Perhaps they came across something exciting.”

"One can only hope, Nate. One can only hope…” She sighed as she headed into her office.

Nate watched her go, thinking that her smile seemed more… alive… than usual. She always gave him a genuine smile that went all the way to her eyes. He loved it. He loved her .

Even before Voyager's return, he'd been a fan. He loved the way she looked on her crew as individuals with minds and hearts of their own. The way she not simply allowed them to explore new ideas or ways of doing things, but that she actually encouraged their ingenuity.

Her crew's devotion to her further solidified his opinion. Even those who resented some decision she had made ended up praising some part of it later on. There were a few crewmen who even recounted situations where she had personally stepped in and helped them through something difficult.

They'd sacrificed nearly six months of their journey - not to mention endangered their lives - in order to make sure that she and her First Officer could continue the journey with them. It spoke volumes about her character and made him want to be around her.

When Voyager burst back into the Alpha Quadrant, he was thrilled. He hoped against hope that the project he'd been working on would lead to an opportunity to meet her. As soon as he'd heard of her promotion to Admiral, he'd put in his request to be her assistant - even before the position was available. A move that had caught the attention of Admiral Paris, which in turn - he suspected - had won him the position.

The only dark spot was that his original project wasn't truly complete and they often called him back. He always felt like he was spying on her at those times. She'd made him feel comfortable and respected from the moment he met her and he hated having to hide his other duties.

 

Kathryn settled at her desk and looked at the never-ending stack of padds - each one containing ships' reports for missions undertaken by every ship in the fleet. Every… single… basic… uneventful… mission. Reading reports on Voyager had been boring, but at least she'd known the interesting events behind the report. Without that background, all that remained was pure data… extremely dry and boring data.

Of course, she knew that Starfleet had been unprepared for her early return from leave, and that they had pretty much come up with office space and duties for her on the fly. Regardless, the work was mind-numbing.

It was also obvious to her just how many experienced officers had been lost in the war. So many of the reports were sloppy, incomplete, or bogged down with irrelevant details. Typically, officers received some type of training and mentoring so that, by the time they made it to department head and senior staff positions, they would be well-practiced in the art of writing clear, complete, and precise reports.

Sighing, she grabbed the top padd off the stack. It was going to be another long day.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Ensign Harrison checked the time. It was 1130 hours, which meant that he needed to decide what to order for the Admiral's lunch. Early on, he had realized that the crews' reports on 'his' Admiral were accurate - she seldom, if ever, ate. He didn't think she even noticed the time, nose-deep in reports as she was. He'd taken it upon himself to deliver a lunch to her each day, quietly leaving it on the corner of her desk.

Other than looking up and smiling her thanks, she never mentioned it. This, of course, meant that she never gave him any feedback on her preferences. By paying attention to what was left on her plate - or was completely gone - he was able to determine her likes and dislikes. The situation had evolved to the point that the owners and chefs of her favorite establishments were working with him to develop new flavors and dishes to keep a certain variety in her diet.

Perhaps East Indian food would be a nice change, he thought. He knew she always ordered from Spatola's on Tuesday nights, so he avoided Italian dishes on Wednesdays. Yes, he thought, it was a good day for the Bombay Grill - a little out-of-the-way restaurant he'd found quite by accident. Despite the fact that the Headquarters building was out of their normal delivery range, they'd jumped at the chance to feed the Admiral.

The food had been so good, and their chef and staff so accommodating, that he'd actually taken his girlfriend Becky there for dinner several times. He was just keying in the comm address when the door from the hallway opened. In walked a tall, broad-shouldered man, with dark features and kind eyes. Nate knew who it was instantly – even without getting a glimpse of the now-famous tattoo that graced his left temple.

“Is Admiral Janeway available?” The man had a deep, soft voice.

Nate struggled to keep his emotions in check. “I'll check with her. If you'll have a seat it will be just a moment.” As Chakotay settled himself into one of the chairs supplied for visitors, Nate activated the comm to Janeway's office. “Admiral, there's someone here to see you.”

“To see me ?” The Admiral barely kept the surprise out of her voice. No one ever came to her office. “I'll be right out.”

Nate had barely cut the connection when the door to her inner office slid open. The look in her eyes when she realized who was there would stay with Nate for a long time. Her whole being lit up like a child on Christmas morning. “Chakotay.” The name came out quietly - almost reverently.

“Hi Kath… Admiral. I've come to take you to lunch. And don't even try it – I know you had no idea it was time for a meal, and that you had no plans to eat one if you actually knew it was time.”

She smirked and gestured towards Nate. “For your information, Ensign Harrison keeps me well-fed with a variety of dishes every day.

“Well, Ensign, I guess I owe you a debt of gratitude for making sure the Admiral here takes care of herself.” He held out his hand to shake Nate's. “I'm Chakotay.”

“Y-Yes, sir. I know who y-you are. I-It's very n-nice to meet y-you, Commander.” Nate stammered, then caught himself. “I actually haven't ordered her lunch, yet, sir.” He turned to the Admiral. “If you would prefer to eat with the Commander, I would be happy to order for you both.”

Chakotay jumped in before his Admiral could respond. “Actually, I was hoping to get her out of the building altogether.”

“In that case, sir, might I suggest the Bombay Grill? Admiral Janeway is partial to their Chicken Palak. They also make an excellent Dal Tarka, which I think you might like.” Nate leaned in conspiratorially. “Their spices are a little over-the-top, but they tame them down for the Admiral.”

Chakotay's eyebrow rose slightly. “Good to know. Thank you, Ensign.”

“Gentlemen, might I remind you that I am standing right here?”

“I always know where you are, Kathryn. Always.” Chakotay said softly.

There was a heartbeat of silence as Kathryn stared at him. Then she took a deep breath and turned to Nate. “Well, Mr. Harrison, I guess I'll be eating out today. You say I like the Bombay Grill, so I guess we'll go there.”

“Very well, Admiral. I'll let them know to expect you.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

The Bombay Grill was as delicious as Nate had promised. Ensign Harrison had obviously commed the restaurant because their waiter expected Kathryn to order the Chicken Palak. Aside from simply verifying the information, he only truly asked for Chakotay's order. They were both intrigued to find out that the Chicken Palak that was served to her was what she had expected, instead of what the restaurant's menu described - and that the side dish she received wasn't even listed there.

Kathryn and Chakotay easily slipped back into the banter that had signified their friendship on Voyager. It was as if the last five months had never happened. Having covered all the Voyagers' news, they moved on to other topics. Kathryn shared with him the unending monotony of her duties, and her frustrations about the poor quality of the reports.

“Have you considered mentoring them yourself? You said last night that you returned to Starfleet so you could have a hand in moving it in a more positive direction. Wouldn't it be helpful if the lower ranks grew in that direction before they moved into stronger leadership positions?”

His suggestion brought her up short. Chakotay had a point. If she wanted to change the attitudes of the Admiralty, her campaign would be much more effective if it was supported by the officers they directed.

“I… I hadn't thought about it. I couldn't take them all on, but if I chose a few who showed promise – and were open to suggestions – it might have some positive impact. I'd have to be careful about how I went about it, though. I can't be seen as if I was stepping on anyone's toes.”

“And you could end up with a reputation like Admiral Paris.” A sly grin grew across Chakotay’s face. “I can just picture it - an entire force of officers shaking in their uniform boots when they receive a message from Admiral Janeway, tyrant.”

Kathryn laughed loudly, drawing the attention of several diners around them. “Chakotay, you're incorrigible! I couldn't be that harsh!”

“Have you seen yourself, Kathryn?”  He grinned at her. “You can be scary when you want to. Even B'Elanna steered clear of you a few times.”

“Stop it, Chakotay,” she said in mock anger. “I am not at all like that.”

“You see? There it is! Next thing you know, I'll be on the receiving end of the glare .”

“If you don't stop it, you'll be on the receiving end of a lot more than that!” She gave him a mock version of the glare . “I could change my suggestions to Starfleet. How does head plasma relay scrubber sound to you?”

“It sounds like I need to find my own job.”

She sobered. “How is that search for your future going? You haven't really said anything about it since you first mentioned it.”

He tugged his ear, “Oh, I've been working on part of it. It's a two-pronged approach and the first part is going well so far. I haven't gotten very far on the second part.”

 

He hadn't lied - she was actually the 'first part', and it really did seem to be going well. They were becoming as close as they had been in the first part of their journey… before all the stress of their situation began to affect them. Now all he needed to do was convince her that they could be as close as they had almost gotten on New Earth.

The second part wasn't going as well. He still had no idea what he wanted to do, now. He only knew that he wanted to step away from anything he had done before he ended up in the Delta Quadrant. He was a different man than the contrary teenager entering the Academy, or the angry warrior who had started that journey seven years ago. He had a new outlook, and he wanted a completely new life to go with it. Their relationship was part of it, his career was the other part.

“Chakotay?”

“Hmn?” He suddenly realized that she had been talking while he had been thinking. “Sorry - what were you saying?”

“I said , if you wanted to throw some ideas past me, I'd be happy to help.”

“Thanks Kathryn, but I think I need to work some of it out on my own.” She looked a little disappointed. “Don't worry - you'll be the first to know when I have everything worked out.” He gave her a smile, hoping to console her.

She sighed, but then teased back. “I'll be waiting.” Then she looked at the chronometer. “Chakotay! It's almost 1330. I'd better get back before Nate comes looking for me.”

Chakotay was incredulous. “Looking for you?”

“Oh, yes. He's very protective.”

“And very nervous.”

She chuckled, “You picked that up? Of course… how could you miss it? He acts like there are Kazon heading toward us from all directions when it's really just me running out of coffee. Everything makes him jumpy.”  

“Try neurotic. He's a mess, Kathryn.”

“Oh, he's not so bad.” An indulgent smile came to her face. “He just needs a little seasoning. I get the feeling he's been put through the wringer at some point in his life. He'll calm down eventually, once he gets used to working with me.”

Chakotay shook his head. There she went, adopting yet another - what some people would say - hopeless case. The poor kid would probably end up the most efficient assistant in Starfleet due to her patient support.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn had been right about Ensign Harrison's concern for her well-being. When she arrived a little after 1330, he breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Her extended absence was out of character and he'd almost called the restaurant to find out if she'd left - or if she’d even arrived at all. She was so relaxed and happy, though, that his worry faded away completely.

She lightly touched his arm. “I'm so sorry for my tardiness, Nate. The food - and the company,” she gave Chakotay a glance, “were both so good, I lost all track of time. I hope you didn't have to cover for me?”

“Oh, no ma'am - I mean Admiral. There was nothing that required your immediate attention.”

“There never is, is there Ensign?”

Nate couldn't think of an appropriate response, but it wasn't really needed. They were both aware of the un-stimulating nature of her duties, and that she was pretty much ignored by the rest of the Admiralty.

Before the moment could become depressing, Chakotay chimed in. “Kathryn, I really think you should give my suggestion some thought.” He looked at her pointedly. “It might do you some good in several areas.”

“I think you might be onto something, Chakotay. I'll see what I can do.” She took a deep breath and rubbed her hands together. “It's time I got back to work. Chakotay, I had a wonderful time today. Let me buy you dinner to say thanks?”

“You're on - as long as you're not cooking or replicating.”

“Careful - an attitude like that will earn you a one-way ticket to some soggy eggplant parmesan!” Her words were shot over her shoulder as she disappeared into her inner office.

Both men watched her go with smiles on their faces. Nate expected the Commander would leave, but instead, he perched himself on the edge of Nate's desk. “So, I gather that you order lunch for Kath... the Admiral regularly.”

“Yes, sir. And dinner if she's working late.”

“And, yet, she doesn't know what restaurant she likes, or what she'll have before it gets delivered.” He cocked his head to one side. “She doesn't even have a clue that her meals come with special flavoring and spices... or that some of the dishes aren't even on the restaurant's menu. I got the feeling she doesn't even ask you to order at all. Can you explain to me how this happened?”

Nate gulped. Had he done something inappropriate by ordering her meals? “Ahh.. yes, sir. You see… ah… the Admiral doesn't take very good care of herself. She works long hours with no breaks for anything but coffee. I don't think she sleeps much, either. But she'll eat if you put something in front of her.” He went on to explain the evolution of the lunches and dinners he had delivered to his Admiral.

Chakotay listened to his explanation with a slight smile. When Nate was finished, he clapped him on the shoulder. “Excellent work, Ensign. I wish I'd thought of working with Neel...with our chef to narrow down the flavors she liked. That might have helped all of us in the long run.”

Nate laughed along with him. “Oh, I know. She's a great fan of flavor, but overpowering spices like that are decidedly unappreciated.” He hadn't realized his slip until Chakotay gave him an odd look. Damn. I'm not supposed to know that the chef was Neelix, and that he over-spiced everything. At least I didn't say Leola root...

Thankfully, Chakotay seemed to mentally shrug off the comment. “Well, I'd better be going. I'm meeting up with a friend in about a half hour, and I need some time to find the place.” Chakotay held out his hand to shake the Ensign's, then leaned in conspiratorially. “You go right ahead and keep feeding her when I can't. I'll try to get here early enough that you haven't already placed an order. Together, we can keep her well-fed.”

“And, you can keep her well-rested?” Nate spoke without thinking.

Chakotay grinned. “I can make sure she stops working, eats a good dinner, and relaxes. Whether or not she sleeps is something beyond my reach at the moment.”

Ensign Harrison watched the older man saunter out the door with a grin of his own. If Chakotay played his cards right, Nate had no doubt that the Commander would soon be able to track Admiral Janeway's sleeping patterns firsthand.

 

<<<------>>>

 

The door to Kathryn's apartment opened to reveal a harried Admiral still in uniform. “Chakotay, come in.” She grabbed his hand and all but dragged him inside. “I'm so sorry. It looks like I forgot about dinner. But that's not what happened. I wasn't able to get out of my office on time, so I missed the trolley and had to walk. Then I got stopped by tourists asking for autographs and photos with me. Just as I finished with them, another group showed up to harass me and I had to take all the back streets to avoid them. I've only just gotten home, myself.” She spoke in a rush while furiously ripping the pins out of her hair.

Chakotay grabbed her hands and held them for a moment to keep her from pulling more hair out. “Here, let me,” He quietly turned her around and began gently pulling out the hairpins. As the strands fell loose, he ran his fingers through them to loosen the worst of the knots. When all the pins were gone, he gently massaged her scalp to ease the spots where the pins had been.

Kathryn visibly relaxed under his ministrations. After a few moments, she sighed. “Chakotay, I know we had plans to go out to dinner tonight, but I was wondering...”

“It's all right Kathryn. We can reschedule.”

She turned quickly to look at him. “That's not what I meant at all! I just wanted to know if you would mind eating here instead of a restaurant. I'm really not in the mood to be harassed by any more tourists or activists. Quite honestly, I could use some quiet time with you.” She touched him gently on his arm.

“Well, then, you're in luck.” He covered her hand with his. “I would love nothing more than to spend a quiet evening with you.”

A wide grin spread across her face. “Then it's settled. Let me get out of this straight jacket they call a uniform. I'll be right back. Why don't you decide what you'd like to eat while I'm getting changed.”

Chakotay's smile grew as she strode off to her bedroom. He was relieved that she hadn't cancelled, and thrilled that she admitted that she preferred spending time alone with him. As he waited for her to return from her bedroom, he took a look around. He'd been so caught up with being with her the first time he'd been in her apartment, he hadn't really taken stock of the space.

Most of the decorations were items he remembered from her ready room and quarters on Voyager. There were a couple of pictures he hadn't seen before, though. Some of them were new - updated photos of her mother and sister and several shots of open fields that he assumed were Indiana. Several of them were older, showing a younger Kathryn in various stages of her life, posing with her family, Admiral Patterson - Uncle Teddy to her - and one with Admiral Paris, obviously taken the day she graduated from the Academy.

One photo, almost hidden in the back, showed a 20-ish Kathryn standing between her father and a man he had never seen. Her eyes were shining, she had a broad smile on her face and it looked as if she had a diamond ring on her finger - but the man didn't resemble Mark at all.

Over the years, he and Kathryn had shared many stories about their lives - including relationships. She knew all about Hope, his first love when he was 15, and his relationship with Sveta when he was at the Academy. He'd even talked about his relationship with Seska one night when they'd had too much Tarkelian brandy.

In turn, Kathryn had told him about her first boyfriend, Chet, and how and why they had broken up. She even related the story of her Academy roommate's failed attempt to fix her up with none other than Will Riker of the Enterprise.

That same night of Tarkelian brandy had led her to reveal the development of her relationship with Mark from childhood friends to lovers. Never once in all those conversations had she ever mentioned anyone between the ill-fated date with Riker and her re-acquaintance with Mark while she was in Command School. He'd always figured that she was too busy with her studies and career during that time to get seriously involved with anyone. This picture, however, told a very different story.

“That's much better.” Kathryn's return to the living room interrupted his reverie. She'd changed out of her uniform and was wearing a pair of jeans and loose tunic. “Have you decided what you want to eat?”

Eat? Damn, he was supposed to have been thinking about dinner! The photos had completely sidetracked him. “I'm not sure.” He covered while his mind furiously ran through restaurant options. “I was thinking either Mexican or plain old American, but I'm not feeling picky tonight. What did you originally have in mind when you suggested dinner?”

“That's just it!” She laughed. “I didn't have any place in mind. I was going to have you choose. So… choose!” Her mock-stern voice made an appearance.

“Ok, ok.” He held his hands up in front of him, as if defending himself from her glare. “Let's go with Mexican, then.” He wagged his finger at her and gave her his own mock glare. “But you pick the restaurant.”

She looked at him for a brief second, considering the options, then a grin spread across her face. Turning, she headed toward her comm unit. “Cactus George, it is, then. And since you're not in a picky mood, I get to order for you.”

Chakotay gave a small groan – what had he just gotten himself into?

 

<<<------>>>

 

Two hours, a shared platter of bean-stuffed poblano peppers, and several bottles of Mexican beer - the real stuff - later, Kathryn and Chakotay were seated on her sofa, doubled over in hysterics. The batch of peppers used in their dish had been those that were unpredictably hot, which had gotten them on the subject of some of Neelix's more memorable culinary concoctions.

“Remember his attempt at leola root ice cream?” Kathryn gasped, holding her sides in as if she was about to burst from laughter. “Poor Harry should never have mentioned that there wasn't any flavor of ice cream that he didn't like. I thought his head was going to explode when Neelix gave him a huge dish of it then sat down to watch him eat it!” The memory sent them into another round of hysterics.

After they had quieted themselves, they both stood to clear the table. “One of the nice things about eating in is that we can talk freely about our lives on Voyager. Neelix's existence is classified.”

“Ridiculous, isn't it?” She rolled her eyes. “As if knowing about him is a danger to Federation security. I am hearing rumors that they might begin releasing some of the less treacherous aliens and phenomena we encountered. Maybe he'll be one of them.”

Chakotay's face lit up. “It would be wonderful if they started releasing some of the details of our lives. I know I have trouble relating to people because I can't talk about the last seven years of my life. Sometimes I get the feeling that people think we were on a seven-year vacation while everyone at home was fighting a war. Little do they know that we were battling our own wars – without allies or any other type of backup.

“My family's history with all things classified is ingrained enough that it hasn't phased my mother and sister, so far. I have come across a lot of that from strangers – even some lower ranks personnel at HQ.” She shook her head slightly. “If they only knew...”

“Well, thankfully, we have each other.” Chakotay tried to raise the mood back to its previous pleasantry. “I don't think I've ever seen you laugh so hard.”

“It wouldn't do for the Captain to roll on the floor laughing at Tom's antics. She grinned, shaking her finger at him as if to scold him. “Somebody had to keep him in line, and...”

“...he would only have listened to you.”

“I don't know about that. I got the feeling that he was afraid of you.”

“Of me? No. Tom wouldn't ever really listen to anyone but you. The rest of us could only control him with a perceived threat that we'd report any misdoings to you.” Chakotay shook his head. “I'm telling you… B'Elanna was a little jealous of your ability to supersede anything in Tom's eyes. She couldn't help but think he had some kind of crush on you.”

“Well, you can tell B'Elanna she can relax. That kind of element was never a part of the relationship between Tom and me.”

Something about how she'd said that made Chakotay curious enough to let the banter slide. “So what did you have on him that gave you such control?”

“I didn't 'have' anything on him. We just had what you might call a shared history.”

“I guess being Admirals' kids together would give you two something to bond over.” Chakotay couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice – he'd always been a touch jealous of Kathryn's Starfleet pedigree.

Kathryn gave him a hard look, then spoke carefully. “I suppose there would be a kind of camaraderie among those of us cursed with that kind of background, but Tom is around ten years younger than I am. About the time he was huddling in a corner of a ballroom with the other kids who were forced to be there, I was at the Academy working my butt off to be one of the invited guests.” She shook her head slightly. “No, that's not what I meant. Not by a long shot.”

“So, what did you mean?”

She gave Chakotay another hard look - one that lasted long enough to make him uncomfortable. He was pretty sure he'd just tread on something where no-one should ever go. She sighed. “You know that Admiral Paris was my mentor at the Academy?”

“Yes. And a family friend, right?”

“Not originally. The friendship came after…  well, it came later on.” She paused for a moment. Chakotay could almost see her mentally shaking herself. “So, anyway… he was my advisor for my junior honors thesis on massive compact halo objects, which happened to be a fascination of his. About a year after I was awarded my doctorate in quantum cosmology, he received clearance to lead an expedition to study these objects. He chose me to be on his team.”

“That's quite the coup for a junior ensign.”

“I guess my thesis was pretty good.” She grinned at him then continued on. “So, there I was, as green as you could possibly be, facing a year-long, deep space scientific expedition. I'd never been so happy in my life - or more nervous.”

“Nervous? You?” Chakotay laughed. “I guess you are human.”

“Very funny.” She smirked. “Anyway, when Admiral Paris assigned the teams of scientists, he placed me with a man named Justin Tighe. I soon learned that the man was a nightmare to work with. At first, he completely ignored me. After I confronted him about it, he took to using me as a human tricorder.”

Chakotay was incredulous. “And you put up with it?”

She gave him a grin. “I know - hard to believe isn't it? I'd never stand for that now, but I was young and inexperienced.” She shook her head. “Paris pulled me into his office a couple of times and asked me how things were going, but…”

“...You told him you were 'fine'.” Chakotay shook his head. It seemed that attitude was just a part of her nature, not just simply something she developed in the Delta Quadrant.

She huffed a laugh. “Got it in one! He didn't say it outright, but I think he knew I was having a rough time. About three months in, he gave me a break by taking me along on a shuttle ride.”

She paused for a long moment - long enough that Chakotay wasn't sure she was going to continue. He took her hand and prompted. “A shuttle ride?”

She heaved a shaky sigh, then took a healthy swallow of her beer. “A few months earlier, we had installed a sensor array on one of the moons around Urtea II. We were headed to retrieve the records.”

There was another long pause as she studied their joined hands. When she began tracing the veins on his hand, he gave hers a light squeeze. “Kathryn?”

She took a big breath and blew it out slowly, then turned to look at him. “Chakotay, do you know where Urtea II is located?”

“No, not really. I've heard of it, but...” He gave a small shrug.

She squeezed his hand tightly. “At the time we built the array, the system was near the edge of the Cardassian border.”

Chakotay froze. His heart skipped a beat, then lodged itself in his throat. 'Please, no… please, no… please, no...' began running through his head on a repeating cycle, as he tightened his grip on her hand.

She gave a slight, almost imperceptible, nod, then continued. “Somewhere between the time we set the sensors, and when Admiral Paris and I returned, the Cardassians 'annexed' that area of space. With some fancy flying worthy of Tom, the Admiral was able to hold them off long enough for us to drop a distress buoy, but eventually they caught our shuttle in a tractor beam. The next thing I remember is waking up in a pit. It was roughly about a meter and a half square, and just high enough for me to sit up in a bit of a slump. As small as I am, I could only lie down curled up in a ball.”

“Let me guess – it was pitch black in there, everything was dirt, except for the metal 'lid' above your head.”

“You've seen them.” It was a statement, not a question.

“More times than I cared to.”

She looked down at their joined hands again, then pulled them into her lap, unconsciously weaving her fingers through his in a move reminiscent of the gesture they'd shared so long ago on New Earth.

“Shortly after I finished inspecting the space, guards opened it and dragged me before a Cardassian named Gul Camet. He acted very kind, even had his doctor come in and heal the head wound I received when the shuttle slammed against the tractor beam. He spoke to me a little, then asked me a few questions. When I refused to go into any detailed answers, he became annoyed. He showed me a small disk and explained that it was a torture device that they implant into their victims. There was only pride in his voice when he explained that the purpose of the torture was not to gain intelligence, but simply to break you.”

She shivered. “Then he told me that they were in the process of implanting one into Admiral Paris as we spoke. He asked me the same questions again, but I refused to answer at all. I already understood that they would torture me whether or not I spoke.”

“Holding your tongue was a way of giving yourself a little control over the situation.” Chakotay nodded. “We used to suggest that to the Maquis, in hopes that we would be able to rescue them before the actual torture started. It doesn't matter how strong you think you are, you'd sell your own mother to slavers to get them to stop. But if you can hold off long enough for us to get to you, we stand a chance of keeping out of their hands what secrets you have.” He shook his head. “Ruthless, isn't it?

“Not ruthless - practical. It makes a lot of sense.”

“Sense that you have in spades, Kathryn. Are you alright with continuing your story?”

Another deep, shaky breath… another deep draught of her beer, and she picked up her story where she left off. “When he realized that I wasn't going to talk, he gave me to his guards. Their expertise in beatings rivals that of their torture techniques. They practiced on me a good bit, then threw me back in my little hole. A few moments later, the screaming began.” She pulled their joined hands up and hugged them to her, much like a child would hold onto a favored stuffed animal.

“It was horrible to listen to. Paris always came across to others as this demanding take-no-prisoners person. While it's true that he is a hard taskmaster, he also has a softer side, with a devilish sense of humor like his son's. I adored him. To hear those sounds...” She shivered again.

“There was no escape from it. I tried singing nursery rhymes, meditating, putting my hands over my ears, but the sound cut through everything. When they dragged me in front of Gul Camet a second time, I could tell it was close to where they had Paris, because the volume went up the closer we got. I couldn't see him, though. The Gul asked me the same set of questions. I could tell the Gul was trying to use the sound in order to get me rattled enough to talk, but...”

“...it just made you clam up even further.”

A small, cheerless smile briefly crossed her face. “Yes. I already knew I would end up being tortured for no reason. What was the point in telling him anything? It's not like my admitting that part of our mission was to spy on the Cardassians was going to make him leave Paris alone.”

Part of their mission? Is she serious, or just making an exaggerated point? He was so caught up in his confusion that he almost missed what she was saying.

“...got frustrated with me again and handed me back to his guards. Only this time...” She paused for a moment. “...this time, he said 'Go entertain yourselves for a while, then put her away.' I'll never forget those words.” Her breath hitched, and a silent tear began making its way down her cheek. “They took me out to a courtyard, where I soon learned that their form of 'entertainment' is even less fun than their beatings. The only good thing was that when the 'fun' really got going, Paris's screaming stopped.”

Chakotay felt his heart break. From the moment she'd said 'Cardassians', he'd been terrified her story would lead to this. He could feel his blood starting to boil - his abhorrence of the Cardassians coming back full force.

He forced himself to push it away - she didn't need fury, she needed comfort. He adjusted his hold on her hands, leaving his left arm free to wrap around her shoulder and pull her in close to him. Lost in the memory, she laid her head on his shoulder while the tears silently fell.

After a few moments, she began speaking again. “As they were throwing me back in the pit, they started up with Paris again. It was as if they were taking turns with us.” She shuddered. “But once the doors of the pit clanged shut, someone grabbed my feet and hauled me into some kind of tunnel, then clapped a hand over my mouth before I even had a chance to scream.

“I felt their face against mine, then a voice whispered directly into my ear. 'Kathryn, keep quiet. I'm getting you out of here, but I need you to trust me and do as I say.' It was Justin. I've never been so relieved to hear someone's voice in all my life.”

She snuggled into Chakotay's side, unconsciously mimicking the feeling of safety. “He let me go, then handed me a small bundle and told me to go back into the pit where I'd have more space. Everything was pitch black - the tunnel, the pit, even Justin's face was painted black, and I couldn't tell what it was that he'd handed me. But I stretched back into the pit, leaving my feet in the tunnel so I could lay flat, and opened the bundle to find a change of clothes wrapped around a pair of shoes.”

Chakotay broke into her story, incredulous, “He took the time to make you change your clothes?”

She stiffened, “Chakotay, I'd been injured in a shuttle accident, kidnapped, beaten, and… assaulted. They’d taken my boots, and what was left of my uniform was in tatters. For all intents and purposes, I was pretty much naked, which would have made it more difficult for me to move around in the dark and run for my life. Justin thought to bring me things that would make it easier – and keep my dignity while doing it.”

She settled again. “When I was finished dressing, I left my uniform behind and slid back into the tunnel. Justin rubbed some dirt on my face to help camouflage me in the dark, then sent me ahead of him.

Now that she had covered the painful part of her story, Chakotay was able to distance himself a little. As she recounted the story of her escape, he was able to listen from the position of First Officer or Maquis Captain, instead of best friend - or whatever else he wanted to be to her. Even she seemed to relax a little. As her story moved from captive victim to victorious escapee, she became somewhat more animated in her telling.

He listened ardently as she detailed their mad dash through the woods, Justin's broken ankle, and her subsequent hiding of both of them in the marsh. When she described her confrontation with the Toskanar dog, there was a touch of triumph in her voice. Despite himself, he could barely contain his laughter.

“Kathryn, I've seen those dogs. I'm willing to agree that you knocked it out, but crush the skull?”

She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I have a mean backhand and that branch was more like a small tree trunk. Add that to an overdose of anger-fueled adrenaline and you have the crushed skull of a Toskanar dog.” With that, she plopped her head back down on his shoulder with an air of finality.

They sat there in silence for a time while the tears continued to roll down Kathryn’s face and her shoulders shook with silent sobs. She showed no signs of wanting him to let her go, so he continued to hold her tightly to him. After a time, the shaking stopped and her breathing began to slow, and he realized that she was asleep.

Giving himself the time to digest what she had just told him, he remained where he was. There had been several times in the Delta Quadrant when she had been assaulted in one way or another. Why this original one by the Cardassians bothered him so much more was a mystery to him. He chalked it up to her young age and his basic hatred of the race in the first place.

The story did answer one question. He’d always been thrown by her ability to recover so quickly from the Delta Quadrant assaults. Now, he realized that this previous experience had paved a way for her to follow those subsequent times.

As her sleep deepened, her head slipped off his shoulder and landed in his lap. He looked down at her sleeping, tear-stained face. There’s no way I’m leaving her alone tonight.

He slid out from underneath her, then went to her bedroom and turned down the sheets. When he picked her up to carry her to her bed, she mumbled something then curled into him. Once he had her settled, he found a spare blanket and curled up on her sofa.

She woke him up twice, screaming her pain while nightmares gripped her. He ran to her each time, holding her in his arms and whispering soothing words in her ear like he had done once so long ago. He wondered if she remembered that time… or if she would remember this one.

Chapter Text

Kathryn woke to the sun on her face, eyes gritty with dried tears… still fully dressed. It took her a moment to figure out how she had ended up this way. ‘Chakotay must have carried me to bed.’ She got out of bed and headed toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

‘I can’t believe I told him the whole story. I’m not even sure why I did - just because he's Safe doesn't mean I need to tell him everyth…’ The sight of him asleep on her sofa pulled her up short. She studied his sleeping form for a moment. ‘He must have been worried about me.’

She drank her first cup of coffee while watching him sleep. Of course, there had been times in the past when she had seen him sleeping, but they were either emergency situations or long shuttle rides where the crew had taken turns napping in the bunks at the back of the Flyer. Neither one of those had been an appropriate situation for ogling her First Officer.

She finished her coffee and stood up. There was one thing she had learned about him that required caution. Chakotay had spent too much time as a Maquis, sleeping in potentially dangerous conditions. You didn’t want to be near him when you woke him.

“Chakotay.” He didn’t move. “Chakotay.” This time she spoke a little louder, but there was still no movement. She took a calculated risk and moved around to the other side of the sofa, effectively blocking herself. With a soft touch on his shoulder followed by a quick jump backward she spoke his name again. “Chakotay!”

The big man forcefully swung his arm out and flew off the sofa, then crouched into a defensive position while he took stock of his surroundings. Catching sight of Kathryn standing on the other side of the couch with her arms crossed and a smirk on her face, he blushed and relaxed. “Sorry about that.”

“No need to be sorry, Chakotay. I knew what was going to happen.” She tilted her head. “You’ve seen enough to make that kind of reaction inevitable.”

“Yeh, maybe. You’d think I would have mellowed by now.”

“You’ve had little reason to. Life on Voyager was dangerous enough to keep those instincts honed.”

“But I’m not on Voyager.”

“It’s been, what? Six months? Things like that take time… Is it safe to offer you a cup of coffee now?”

“Coffee? No. But tea…”

“I really need to invest in some real tea leaves. I feel bad serving you replicated tea while I’m drinking freshly-brewed coffee.”

“I’ll get you my special blend.”

She turned to him with an excited look. “Do you have plans for today?”

“Not really. Miral is teething, so I’m hoping to stay out of the apartment as long as I can. Why?”

“I'm going to show you my favorite place in the city.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Her favorite place ended up to be a gourmet coffee shop called CuppaJoes, located well off the beaten path. They knew her well - although they pointedly avoided using her name or her rank when they spoke to her. As soon as she introduced him to the man behind the counter, Chakotay was included into the naming methodology.

“That's quite a nickname, Kathryn. How the hell did you come up with it?”

“It wasn't me. And the origin of it is a long story.”

Another young man hurried to their table. “Is this really him? I've been dying to meet you! You simply must tell me what I'm missing!”

At Chakotay’s puzzled look, Kathryn laughed. “This is CuppaJoes’ second owner. He broke with family tradition and began blending teas instead of coffee. We've been trying to figure out your mother’s herbal tea, but we just can't get it right. He thinks there's a secret ingredient.”

The not-quite-the-same tea blend programmed into her replicator suddenly made sense. She was trying to recreate the teas he had served to her on Voyager.

Standing, he clapped the other man on the shoulder. “Let's see what you've got so far.”

The young man turned to Kathryn before he left. “I'll have a cup of your blend sent over?”

“Of course… and one of your muffins?”

“Your wish is my command.” The two men headed off towards the front counter.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Chakotay turned to him with a laugh. “There's no secret ingredient. She's got you looking in the wrong direction.”

“Wrong direction?”

“She's asking you to blend a relaxing tea, when you really should be making a tonic.”

The other man began to laugh. “I knew it! She kept insisting that it was for relaxation, but the mix never worked. Why did you tell her it was something else?”

“Life on Voyager was stressful - especially for her. She never ate or slept properly, and drank entirely too much coffee, but would admit to none of it. I told her it was to help her relax, and it did. It also gave her some things that would help her body maintain itself. Although you could take the tonic ingredients out, it will never taste ‘right’ to her without them.”

“Come back here to the tea bar. Let me show you what I think the blend is. You can tell me how far off I was.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn was elated when they returned with the corrected blend. At the times she was missing Chakotay the most, she had craved his teas - hoping she would feel closer to him through the memory of it. They’d tried so hard to reproduce it for her, but never quite gotten it right. Now, she had both the tea and Chakotay.

“It’s perfect. Tell me what the missing ingredient was.”

“Not going to happen, Kathryn. I will program it into your replicator, though.”

“It really is very good. Do you mind if we offer the brew to others?”

“As long as you advertise it… appropriately.” Chakotay didn't want Kathryn to know about the true nature of the blend, but he also didn't want to have CuppaJoes lie to their customers.

“We’ll come up with a name for it, then discuss it with customers. How’s that?”

“Perfect. Now tell me why you keep turning customers away.”

Kathryn laughed. “You didn’t notice the sign?”

“We don’t offer take-out. Our coffees and teas deserve to be savored - not sucked down in a hurry.”

“That loses a lot of customers.”

“Eh - if they can’t respect our craft and expertise, we don’t want them as customers.”

“Hmm. I guess I can see it. Everybody in this part of San Francisco always seems to be in a hurry. CuppaJoes has earned the reputation of being an oasis. Providing takeaway products would cause a great deal of disturbance in the atmosphere you created.”

“Exactly. Want a refill?”

 

<<<------>>>

 

An hour - and several cups of coffee and tea - later, Chakotay and Kathryn headed back out into what was shaping up as a beautiful spring day.

“Please tell me why they only refer to you by that hysterical nickname.”

“Remember that ‘oasis’ atmosphere you mentioned? They believe it should be extended to everyone who walks in the door. They refuse to call me either Admiral or Kathryn because it might become known that I frequent the place. Keeping me anonymous means both myself and their other customers get to keep our pocket of peace.”

“I’ll forgive them for the ridiculous nicknames, then.”

“You must admit they are a lot of fun. Besides, I’m sure I’ve been recognized by other patrons, but the nickname pushes the point that I’m to be anonymous there.”

They wandered up to Ghirardelli Square, where they found a farmers’ market in full swing.

“Do you smell that bread, Kathryn? I think they’re baking it right here.” He grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the scent. Sure enough, they found a baker who was baking fresh loaves in a portable oven.

“That’s impossible to resist, Chakotay. Let’s get a loaf and share it.”

They purchased a still-warm loaf, along with a block of cheese and a couple of apples. Finding a quiet place along the rocks, they sat down to share the light meal.

“This isn’t a lot of food to be considered lunch. I’ll take you to Greens for dinner to make up for it.”

“Don’t be silly, Chakotay. You know I’m not a big eater. Besides - between you and Ensign Harrison, I’m getting a little too big for my uniform. If it wasn’t for tennis, I’d be rolling from place to place!”

“Why did you go back to tennis, Kathryn? As far as I know, you haven’t played it in years.”

“It’s been a few years, yes. It wasn’t my first choice, but I ended up there by default.”

“By default?”

“I needed something to do in the evenings and to get to know some new people. I came up with a two-pronged approach - one physical activity, and one cultural activity. Each one of them had to be clear of Starfleet personnel.”

“Stepping out on your own?”

“Yes. I needed someplace where I could be just Kathryn. I’d spent so much time as a title that it was important for me to be nothing more than another member of the group. For the cultural activity, I chose a poetry discussion group - I wanted to catch up on what had come out while we were gone.”

“You never mentioned that you had another meeting. I’ve been keeping you from it, haven’t I?”

“Not at all. I dropped the group after only a couple of meetings.”

“Why? You love poetry.”

“You know how I look at poetry. There is always the critical approach - reading it through the author’s intent - discerning the story and emotion they were attempting to convey. There’s also the literal meaning of the words themselves - exploring what they mean to you personally.”

“Yes, like when you read La Vita Nuova during the Doctor’s crisis of conscience. The poem is about a romantic relationship, but you saw it as, literally, a new life .”

“Exactly. The group only wanted to delve into every aspect of the poet’s meaning, but none of what it meant to them. They weren’t internalizing the words - only reading them for symbolism and correlation to the author’s life. It was very single-minded, and I wasn’t happy with it. So, I took the reading list as an overview of the past few years and have been reading them for myself.”

“You didn’t look for another group? One that fit your criteria?”

“The meeting days of the only other one I could find coincided with tennis, which I wasn’t willing to give up.”

“Back to tennis. Just how did you end up there?”

“I looked around for velocity, hoverball - even parrises squares - but all of the teams had Starfleet players. Tennis is ancient - very few Starfleet members even know how to play. I was lucky to find a team free of Starfleet, and that had an open spot. I convinced them to drop the rank early on, and I’m really enjoying it.”

“And to think you would have quit if your parents had allowed you to.”

“Funny, isn’t it? It saved my life once, and now it saved my sanity.”

Hating to spoil the relaxed mood, but dying to know the answer, he forced himself to ask. “Kathryn… your story last night… what did that have to do with controlling Tom?”

She gave him a tight smile. “That did seem to veer off course, didn't it?” She sighed and set down the last bit of her bread. “When I went to get him in Australia, I could tell he hated me - not because I was Starfleet, but me . I couldn't figure out why. Then I overheard him telling Harry that his relationship with his father had taken a nosedive when he was 14. There was bitterness in his voice, but also confusion. He really had no idea why .”

“But you did?”

“I hadn't realized it until then, but I did know why… Tom was 14 when his father and I were captured and tortured.”

“It changes you…”

“Yes... Admiral Paris lost the sense of humor that I loved so much. We both know that you need one in order to deal with Tom. But Tom didn't know why it had gone... no one in his family did. Normally when something like a kidnapping happens, you get put in the hospital for observation, which tips off your family that something is up, even if you can't really tell them. But the ship stayed out there for the remaining nine months. Paris and I underwent observation on board. We’d already been released by the time we got back to Earth. There was no warning for his family.”

“But there was for yours? They had to have noticed that something had changed with you.”

“For me it was different. It was my first real mission… you expect the person to come back slightly different. On top of that, my father and Uncle Teddy both knew what happened. And… well… I went through a lot of changes out there - not just with the Cardassians.”

“But Tom’s family wasn't prepared… Admiral Paris had been on plenty of missions by that time. I'm still lost Kathryn… how is all this helping your relationship with Tom?”

“Once I realized the timing of the breakdown between Tom and his father, I decided that he needed to know the story if we were going to be able to work together.”

“You told Tom about what happened to you?”

“Umm… not the details I gave you. Just that we had both been captured and that his father was tortured. I tried to help him see why his father had changed. It worked. Tom admitted that his problem with me was that his father had held me up as a shining example of what he was supposed to be. Don't you see, Chakotay? His wonderful, playful, proud father left for a year and came back a stone-faced perfectionist who could only find good in what some stuffy Ensign Janeway did.”

“So you set him right… told him the truth of what happened… and he suddenly decided he loved you?”

“I also told him the truth about how his father really felt about him… that the man had been in the middle of bragging to me about his unbelievable piloting skills when we were captured… about how much of the same kind of bragging I'd endured from the moment I met his father. Then I told him that that was the man I expected to see at the con, flying my ship, proving his bragging father right.”

“And he spent the next seven years doing just that.” Chakotay shook his head. “Damn, Kathryn… you really know how to read people.”

She shrugged. “Not always… I got lucky with Tom… he was desperate to be trusted again… to feel proud of himself - and have that pride reflected in the eyes of someone in charge. I gave him the opportunity, but he was the one who decided to take it.”

“Kathryn? Why did you give me all that detail? You could have given me the same simple overview you gave Tom.” He knew he was treading on thin ice, but he had to know…

A deep sigh escaped her. “Because I trust you… because you're Safe … because I was the only person left who knew the whole story and I couldn't bear it anymore.”

Safe ? She’d said the word like it was something more than just a word… it was a label. And why did she say that she was the only one who knew the full story when she’d also just said that Paris and her Uncle Teddy knew what happened? He opened his mouth to ask, but something over her shoulder caught his attention. “Incoming.”

“Tourists?”

“I think it might be locals. Either way, we're getting visitors.”

“It was such a nice day…”

“It's the price of fame, isn't it?”

“I've paid enough, Chakotay. I think I'm owed some change.”

“Admiral! Admiral Janeway! We're so excited to see you!”

Kathryn put her game face on and turned to meet those who had intruded on her quiet afternoon.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Come on, Chakotay. You're the one who said it was the price of fame!” The lift stopped on her floor and he motioned for her to exit first.

“I don't think that falls under the same category.”

“You can't tell me that you've never been recognized.”

“Once or twice… but I've never been followed by a group of teenagers!”

“They were very attractive… even the young man panting behind you!”

Chakotay struck a pose. “What can I say? I'm an equal opportunity sex idol!”

Kathryn stared at him for a split second, then exploded in laughter. Tears streaming down her face and holding her stomach as if it would burst, she leaned against the wall as if she could no longer stand. She tried to speak, but seemed unable to form words.

Chakotay stood laughing at her reaction. He’d become accustomed to the more relaxed Kathryn that had emerged when she shook off the shackles of command, but he’d never seen her quite like this. She was glowing… carefree… even more beautiful.

Finally calmed down enough to move, they completed their journey down the hall to her door. As they stepped through the doorway, still laughing, her comm terminal started beeping with an incoming message.

Kathryn answered the hail, laughter barely controlled. “Mark!”

“Hi Kath. I was calling to remind you about dinner tonight. Kevin is looking forward to seeing his Aunt Kat.”

Chakotay was crushed. They’d had such a fun day and he had been looking forward to a light-hearted dinner. He knew she would not cancel on a young boy, though, so he was going to have to find something else to do. He couldn’t resist teasing her one more time, so he struck another pose and blew her a joking kiss.

 

Having barely reined in her joviality, Kathryn erupted again with a peal of laughter. As much as she was looking forward to seeing little Kevin, she was disappointed that her day with Chakotay was over. As she tried to compose herself, she looked between the two men. Chakotay wearing a look of humor and Mark clothed in one of confusion, she considered her options for a moment.

“I’ll be there, Mark… as long as I can bring a friend along.”

“Is the friend you want to bring along the same one that has you laughing like this?”

“Yep.”

“Then consider them invited. See you both at 5pm.” He cut the connection.

“I’m sorry, Chakotay. I should have asked if you wanted to join us.”

“No worries, Aunt Kat . My only plan for the evening was dinner with you. The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned.”

“Kevin really needs to learn how to pronounce his th sounds.”

“I like Kat - maybe I should call you that from now on.”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Why? What’s so bad about Kat?”

“I’m a dog person, Chakotay. Dogs don’t get along with cats. End of story. We need to get changed for dinner.”

“Are we dressing up?”

“Mark lives in the Colorado mountains. I can guarantee you that beach clothes will not be the best idea.”

“Do we have time to swing by Tom’s place so I can find something to wear?”

“Not if you want a shower. Just replicate something here.”

“I can’t keep using your credits, Kathryn. We may not have to deal with rations anymore, but we do need to pay for these items.”

“You’re right, we do. But I not only have the full seven years of back pay, I have active duty pay. Besides… consider it a reimbursement of the number of times I used your rations on Voyager.”

“Believe me - giving up a few rations was better than facing you without your coffee.”

“You are having too much fun teasing me today! Perhaps I should leave you to a teething Miral and go to Colorado by myself.”

“I promise I’ll behave.”

“Good. Now find something to wear and get ready for dinner. Christine is a wonderful cook.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Heading out her door to the transport station, he voiced what he had been mulling over. “You have quite a few nicknames.”

“Not really. Everyone who knew me as a child calls me Katie and Mark calls me Kath. That’s it except for Rynna and Dash, but that’s history.”

“Rynna and Dash?”

“Justin believed in the power of names - how they define you as a person. He believed that going through a pivotal experience in your life quite often meant that you were a different person at the other end. He called me Rynna - derived from Kath ryn - instead of Katie. As for Dash… that nickname was used by a limited number of people… all of whom are lost to me now.”

“Why don’t you use any nicknames now?”

“I stopped being Katie a long time ago. And Rynna died when… also a long time ago. It’s Kathryn, now. Anyone who calls me something different doesn’t know who I am anymore.”

They had arrived at an attractive home with a well-manicured lawn shaded by trees on either side.  There was a large dog running around through the back yard, barking at their approach. The front door opened and the blur of a three-year-old body came hurtling toward them.

“Aunt Kat! Aunt Kat! You hewe!”

Kathryn knelt down to catch the little boy. “Of course I’m here. Where else would I be?”

“Daddy said he had to ‘mind you.”

“Your father did have to re mind me.” She corrected him. “As soon as I talked to him, there wasn’t anything that would keep me away.”

“Fwiend had to come.” He looked at Chakotay with suspicion.

“He didn’t have to come. I asked if he could .” She turned to Chakotay. “Kevin, I would like you to meet my friend. This is Chakotay. Can you say hello?”

“Hewwo, Tatotay.”

“Hello, Kevin. I’m so happy to meet you. Your Aunt Kath talks about you a lot. Do you think we could be friends?”

“Dunno.”

“Kevin! That’s not very nice!” An attractive woman with blonde hair and green eyes came toward them.

“You say aways honest, Mommy.”

The woman sighed. “You’re right, Kevin. I do say that. And it is true for the most part. There are times when you shouldn’t say anything at all because being honest might hurt the other person’s feelings.”

“Sowwy, Mommy.”

“That’s okay, Pumpkin. Just try to remember next time.” She turned to Chakotay, sticking out her hand to shake his. “Hi. I’m Christine. From the sounds of it, I’m betting you are Chakotay.”

He shook her hand. “Yes, I am. It’s very nice to meet you, Christine.”

“Shall we head into the house? Mark is setting the table.”

As Christine turned to lead them, he leaned over to Kevin, still held in Kathryn’s arms. “It takes time to know if you can be friends with someone. I was really nervous about meeting you because your Aunt Kath loves you so much. Let’s work on getting to know each other, then we can decide about being friends, OK?”

Kevin looked at him wide-eyed in surprise that an adult would speak to him so honestly. Then he simply nodded and put his head on Kathryn’s shoulder.

In truth, Chakotay was nervous about meeting the Johnsons. Not only were they an integral part of Kathryn’s post-Voyager world, Mark was a pivotal person in her life. Childhood friends, turned lovers, then friends again meant that Mark was probably rather protective of her. Making a good first impression was crucial.

“Chakotay, it’s good to finally put a face to the stories I’ve been told.” Mark met him with a firm handshake. “Come sit down in the living room. Christine is a wonderful cook, but she’s not fond of people clogging up her kitchen.”

“Don’t make me sound antisocial, Mark. I just need space to move around. The kitchen is pretty much open to the living room. I can talk to you all long distance.”

“Kevin, you have grown too much for me to carry you like this. Why don’t you get set up with your game so the adults can talk for a bit.” Obviously accustomed to the arrangement, Kevin trotted off to his room. He returned with a tub full of figurines, which he began setting up facing each other.

Mark and Kathryn spent a few moments catching up on her mother and sister, then the attention turned to Chakotay. “How long have you been back from… Trebus, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is… and I’ve been back a couple of weeks.”

“Kath had told us that you would probably not come back. So what made you change your mind?”

“I, ahh… felt that there were better options for me here on Earth.”

“You mean, you fought for a planet you would prefer not to live on? I’m not sure I understand.”

“Mark! That’s not nice! Chakotay fought for his family’s safety!”

“It’s OK, Kathryn. The question makes sense.” He turned to Mark. “I did fight for my planet, and I hadn’t planned on coming back. But I’ve spent too much time in more… modern places. The kind of simple life my tribe leads there is difficult for me to live in permanently.”

“So you came back to Earth so you could have replicators, trolley cars, and transporters?”

“That’s a little simplistic, but essentially true. Although I enjoy cooking and have no objection to walking from one place to another, my skills are a much better fit for this type of lifestyle.”

“You came back to work in Starfleet?”

Chakotay gave a quick glance towards Kathryn. “Well, I’m not really sure that Starfleet is the place for me. I know I am not interested serving on a ship any time soon, but a desk job isn’t really for me. I taught at the Academy for a while, but…”

“You’re not sure what you want?” He also glanced Kathryn’s way. “Just that it’s here?”

Damn! The man was perceptive. “Some of the reasons I came back are clear to me, but I’m still working on clarifying others. At this point, I only know that I don’t want to do what I did before.”

“Tatotay...want to pway Stawfeet an Awens wif me?” He tipped his head to one side. “Pway make good fwiends.”

It took a moment for Chakotay to translate the three-year-old’s blurred wording. “I’m not sure I know how to play Starfleet and Aliens. Will you show me?”

The boy nodded. “Sit hewe wif me. You pway Awens, me Stawfeet. We fight. Awens bad, Stawfeet good.”

Chakotay began lining up the figurines Kevin handed him. Despite the fact that it was a child’s game, Chakotay couldn’t resist correcting the young boy’s impression. “Not all aliens are bad, Kevin.” He held up the figure of a Vulcan. “Did you know that Vulcans were the first people to visit us on Earth?”

“Why?”

“They came to welcome us to the universe we would now be part of.”

“But dey mean. Dey don’ smile.”

“That doesn’t mean that they are mean. They think emotions are not useful, so they work to suppress them.”

“Dat tupid.”

“Kevin, just because someone doesn’t look at things the same way as you do, it doesn’t mean they are stupid. It just means they are different.”

“It is tupid. Why not wan to smile? Feews good to smile.”

“Although they would describe it differently, it basically feels good to them to not smile. Does your mom think that drawing on the wall is fun?”

The boy pouted. “I got in twouble.”

“I expect that you would have. You thought it was fun - even funny - when you did it. Didn’t you?”

“It was funny untiw Mommy made me cween da wall.”

“You never drew on the wall again, did you?”

“I not wike cweenin.”

“A Vulcan child would not have an interest in drawing on a wall in the first place, because it would be an illogical action.”

“Iwwodical?”

“Logic means that something makes sense. It wouldn’t make sense to draw on the wall because it damages the wall and makes it unattractive.”

“Oh.”

“I know a Vulcan - a very good and honorable man. It’s frustrating to work with him sometimes. He didn’t get upset about things - Vulcans don’t get scared or sad.”

“Not wogdical?”

“That’s right. It’s not logical to let those feelings get in the way of what needs to be done. There are times when Tuvok saved the ship because he stayed calm while everyone else was upset.”

“Sip? Woyager? Aunt Kat was on Woyager. You too?”

“Yes, I was there, too.”

“And Tuwok? He dere? He hewped?”

“Yes, he did.”

“Wulcans good.” Kevin took the figurine that Chakotay was still holding and put it on his Starfleet side. He reached over and picked up a Klingon figure. “Dis Kingon? He good?”

Chakotay spent the rest of the time before dinner teaching the little boy about more of the aliens that Kevin had in his collection. When Christine called them to the table for dinner, Kevin took his hand.

“You sit nex to me. Tew me more.”

 

Watching Chakotay with his son, Mark understood what Kath saw in the big man. Most adults spoke to children half-heartedly - only paying attention when the child insisted upon it. Chakotay spoke to Kevin as a small person - treating him with the same attention and respect that he would treat any adult.

“He’s a natural teacher, Kath.”

“He taught Tactics at the Academy before he resigned and joined the Maquis.”

“How did he end up in the Maquis?”

“You know the story - I told you all about him when I was preparing to leave on the mission to capture him.”

“This is not the same man described in that profile.”

“The profile was one-sided. It described the Angry Warrior, but never touched on the peaceful man hiding behind all that anger.”

“It’s difficult to envision.”

“When someone he cares about is threatened, you’ll see it.” She gave him a dark look. “And you’d better make sure that you are not in the line of fire when it happens.”

“Thus, the Maquis membership.”

“What would you do if your entire planet was destroyed, your family and loved ones murdered, raped, or tortured?”

“I don’t know… I don’t want to know. I’m still a little shaken up about the attack on San Francisco.”

“Exactly.”

“I’m glad he calmed down.”

“All it took was finding the true meaning of peace.” Chakotay suddenly chimed in.

Mark saw something he couldn’t quite decipher pass through Kath’s eyes. “I’m sorry Chakotay. I hope I didn’t insult you.”

“It’s no insult when it’s the truth, Mark. I found the peace I’d been looking for all my life.” He began to turn back to his conversation with Kevin, but stopped. “And she’s right - you’d better get yourself out of the way if someone I care about is threatened.”

Chakotay's voice was quiet, but Mark could hear the steel behind it. The look in his eyes told Mark that the angry warrior Kath had mentioned was still alive and well.

“No wonder you’re still alive, Kath.” Christine all but whispered.

A mirthless smile crossed her features. “You have no idea.” She paused a moment to change gears, effectively ending the conversation. “I’m dying to try some of that fruit tart I spied in the kitchen, Christine.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

After dinner, they settled back into the living room for coffee. Chakotay spent a little more time on the floor with Kevin, until Christine finally intervened. “Kevin, I would really like to have some time with Uncle Chakotay. We also need to figure out if we can be friends.”

“Okay Mommy.”

Chakotay sat back up on the sofa. “Thank you, Christine. That floor was getting a bit uncomfortable for these old bones.”

“I know what you mean. I sometimes dream about putting thick padding on it while I play with him.”

“What made you originally leave Trebus for Starfleet Academy?” Mark was back to the interrogation.

“I had no patience for my tribe’s interest in the old ways. My father’s preoccupation with the history of our tribe was frustrating for me, and I rebelled. There was a Starfleet ship posted to the borders and I lied to the captain, telling him that my parents approved, in order to get his sponsorship.”

“So you chose Starfleet as your only opportunity to escape.”

Chakotay had to consider that idea. “I never really thought about it that way, but there’s probably some truth to it. In the end, it was a good fit for me.”

“But not now.”

“I’ve been through a lot since the last time I officially worked for Starfleet. I’m not the same person, now.”

“You not wie, now.” The little boy said as he clambered up the sofa, into Chakotay’s lap.

Chakotay was startled. It hadn’t occurred to him that Kevin would be paying attention to what he said. “You’re right, Kevin. I did lie. It worked out for me on the side that I found what I wanted to do, but the lie ruined the relationship I had with my parents.”

“Why?”

“I left angry that my father refused to understand why I wanted to leave. He let me go, but he was also angry that I had lied to him about something so important and life-changing.”

“Angwy goes away. Mommy cawms down atter I punised.”

“Yes, people usually calm down after a while, but since I wasn’t at home to face them, I could stay angry. I didn’t really talk to them while I was away.”

Kevin stared at him, astonished at the idea. “Not tawk to Mommy and Daddy?”

“That’s right. Then they - and all the people I grew up with - got hurt. My planet… got hurt, too. My father died while we were still angry with each other.”

“No Daddy? No sowwy?” Kevin threw his arms around Chakotay’s neck. “We awways say sowwy. It huwt untiw we do. You stiww huwt?”

Chakotay returned the boy’s hug, unexpectedly touched by his innocent and simplistic interpretation. “It does still hurt, but not as much. My mother and sister survived and I was able to say I’m sorry and get their forgiveness.”

Kevin snuggled down into his chest. “Wies aw bad.”

“Yes, they are, Kevin. Yes they are.” Christine’s eyes were full of tears.

He looked around and realized that both Mark and Kathryn wore similar expressions.  He needed to change the subject before they all ended up in puddles. “So, Mark, after growing up on the plains of Indiana, what made you choose to settle in Colorado?”

The conversation between the adults moved away from the accusatory questions about Chakotay and settled into a light hearted banter. It seems like I’ve passed the test. I hope that’s the end of it.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Look at the time, Mark. We really need to get going. San Francisco may be an hour behind here, but it’s still late. Besides… I think we need to rescue Chakotay from your son.”

Kevin had fallen asleep still snuggled into Chakotay, who had made no move to put him down. He’d enjoyed the peaceful feeling of the little body curled into him. “I guess you’re right. He’ll probably sleep better stretched out in his own bed.”

“I hate to wake him by moving him too much. Would you mind just carrying him to his room?”

“Not at all. Lead the way.”

Once they had Kevin settled into his bed, Mark cornered Chakotay. “You and Kath seem to know each other well. Nothing you said tonight was a surprise to her in the least.”

“I’d like to think we are close, but you’d have to ask her for a full answer. She sometimes tells me only partial stories while keeping parts to herself. As if she doesn’t trust me with it.”

“Such as?” Mark tipped his head.

“Such as... Exactly what is Justin to her? I know the story of how they met, but it ends abruptly. I get the feeling there’s another part to it.”

Shock and disbelief showed on Mark's face. “You know about Justin? She told you that they met on a scientific mission?”

“Er… yes.” Had he treaded somewhere he shouldn’t have gone?

“Did she tell you any details about the mission?”

“Just that there were some… ah… complications while they were out there.”

“Wow. Um. OK….” Mark crossed his arms in front of him. “Anything concerning Justin is her story, alone. I will never answer any questions pertaining to him.”

“Fair enough.” Chakotay headed for the door, but Mark’s voice caught him up short.

“I will say that the mere fact that you know his name - and at minimum a generalization of the circumstances around how they met - tells me several things. First, that she trusts you a great deal. Second, that the reason you haven’t heard the story has nothing to do with you. It’s because she is not ready to speak about it.”

He took a deep breath and went on. “You will eventually hear it. If you ask her about it, make sure that you are alone and have plenty of time when you do. It’s not a happy story.”

Mark led a silent Chakotay back to the living room, where the four adults said their goodbyes.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Christine looked at her husband. “What happened in Kevin’s room?”

“He asked me a question I couldn’t answer.”

“What about?”

“About what came before me.” He held up his hand to stall her next question. “Don’t try - I won’t tell you any more than I would tell him. Let’s just say that they’re even closer than I suspected.”

Christine wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist and rested her head on his shoulder. “Do you think they’ll ever figure it out?”

“I’ll give them a little bit longer. If they don’t figure it out in the next month or so, we’ll have to point it out to them.”

 

Chapter Text

Kathryn sat at her desk with a renewed purpose. She had given Chakotay’s suggestion about mentoring a few young officers some serious thought and decided it had some merit. She hoped Chakotay was giving some thought to Starfleet’s offer of resuming his career teaching tactics at the Academy. Mark was right - he was a natural born teacher.

Tactical planning on board Voyager had been done mostly by Tuvok and herself, with Chakotay deferring to Tuvok’s position as Chief Tactical Officer. He’d only spoken up on a few occasions when his ideas differed greatly from Tuvok’s or hers. Even then, he had usually chosen to share his ideas in the privacy of her ready room.

His ideas were always sound - and creative. It was what had made him such a success as a Maquis. That, in turn, had made him a highly-sought prize among the Cardassians, and part of Starfleet’s Most Wanted list. And it was me who caught him… Or was it him who caught me? She shook her head, releasing the thought back out into the air, and set to work finding her ‘diamond in the rough’.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Several hours and too much coffee later, she’d decided on a winner. It was a young Chief of Engineering aboard the Cochrane , Lieutenant Lizanne Granier. The young woman had taken over mid-flight when the previous Chief Engineer had succumbed to a rather virulent case of Ankaran Flu.

Just two months after being appointed to the position, the ship had experienced several instances where plasma had discharged into the main engineering section. Lieutenant Granier and her team had been able to bring the situation under control in an impressively short period of time. Lizanne’s report, however, was full of apologies for her and her team’s perceived mistakes that had led to the incidents.

Kathryn snorted. Tom had often used a saying from a 20th century movie. ‘Never apologize - it’s a sign of weakness’. She’d picked it up at some point, and it definitely applied here. There were many ways to explain problems without laying blame on anyone - including yourself.

Explaining the differences in the ways of writing logs was more difficult than she anticipated - she had to walk a line to make sure it didn’t seem like she was telling the young woman to lie. Ultimately, she had to make the note sound harsh in order to get her point across.

‘I don’t want your apologies. I want to know what happened and how you plan to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.’ If Lizanne was as smart as Kathryn hoped, she would get a response.

Kathryn was excited to share her news with Chakotay, but then realized that they had no plans for dinner tonight. Over the past few weeks they had developed a pattern - lunch and/or dinner was spent together. They would laugh and talk about everything and nothing. It was like old times aboard Voyager when they shared so much chatting on the bridge, then dinner in her quarters.

Only now, it was better. There was no ultimate command wall that couldn’t be breached. Nothing was stopping them from anything they wanted to do. It was freeing… and depressing at the same time.

Somewhere along the line, she had realized that her feelings for him that had developed on New Earth had never really gone away. It was one of the reasons she had missed him so much - and why his relationship with Seven had actually hurt, instead of simply causing worry for the obvious mis-match.

But Chakotay hadn't said a word about deepening their relationship, not to mention her… situation… standing in the way of anything permanent. Regardless, she wanted him in her life any way she could get him. If all she and Chakotay could be was friends, it would have to be enough.

She shook the thoughts out of her head. Tonight was tennis practice and she had a tournament on Saturday. She needed to be at the top of her game. He’d seemed to understand that, and hadn’t mentioned dinner afterwards.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Tennis practice the previous evening had been great, but it had run late. Which meant she ate dinner late. Which meant she got to bed late… then woke up late. Finally, she arrived at work - not quite late, but just barely on time - without breakfast, and more than a little out of sorts.

She expected Chakotay would show up for lunch, but Nate placed her lunch on her desk at 1215. Just what I wanted to do today. Plow through the tower of padds on my desk. She worked through lunch as she normally did when Chakotay wasn’t there to drag her out.

Her saving grace was that Lt. Granier, her test ‘mentee,’ showed up, asking for advice and clarification of the comments she had made to the Engineering report.

The young woman was even more nervous than Nate. It had taken a few minutes to get her to relax, but then they were able to make some headway.

The majority of the afternoon was spent going over the best ways to handle certain procedures - things that weren’t really taught in the Academy and only came with experience. They also covered how to handle friendships when one was giving orders and making what might be unpopular decisions.

By the time the Lieutenant left her office, Kathryn was delighted with the progress they had made. Granier was whip-smart and had a good head on her shoulders. It wouldn’t take long for her to settle into her position.

Kathryn checked the time. It was almost the end of the official work day and Chakotay hadn’t contacted her. He usually did when they hadn’t shared lunch. She briefly considered working through dinner, but the idea wasn’t appealing to her. Instead, she packed up her things. She’d worked through lunch - she could leave a little early.

Just as she was settling her bag on her shoulder, she heard Chakotay’s voice. She smiled and headed toward her outer office. “It’s about time you showed up.” She crossed her arms in front of her.

“You know, I do have other things to do.” Came the teasing response. “I knew Ensign Harrison would make sure you ate.”

“Hmph… So where are you taking me to dinner to make up for abandoning me?”

He ducked his head and tugged on his ear. “Actually, I can't make dinner tonight, either.”

“Oh…” Kathryn was crushed.

“But I'm going to make it up to you tomorrow.” He grinned. “Plan to put on your best dress. We’re going to the Tadich Grill tomorrow for your birthday.”

“My birthday isn't until Sunday, Chakotay.”

“True. But you need to get to bed early on Friday so you're well-rested for the tournament Saturday. I expect you'll be tired after the tournament, so I don't want to plan anything for Saturday night. It's a given that you'll be at your mom’s on Sunday. You'll probably be worn out by Monday. Soooo… if I want to spend any time with you, I'm stuck with tomorrow.”

“What can I say? I'm a busy person.”

“Busy is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you're happy with what's keeping you busy.”

“Then I guess I'm a lucky person, too. I'm not doing anything with my free time that I don't enjoy doing.”

“You're a lucky lady indeed, Madam Admiral.” He grinned at her. “I will pick you up tomorrow night at your place at 1800 hours. Remember to have your best dress on.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

As promised, Chakotay arrived at her apartment at precisely 1800. Kathryn was ready to go… in a silk pantsuit. “I thought I said to wear your best dress .”

“I’m not really a dress person, Chakotay. I never have been.”

They took a transport to the Embarcadero Station, then set off on the short walk to the Taditch.

Chakotay had still been thinking about Kathryn's dislike of dresses. In truth, he had always preferred the pantsuits she had occasionally worn on Voyager. “You wore dresses almost the entire time we were on New Earth.”

“I know… and I still don’t know why.” She shrugged as she took his arm. “I think we should have called it something more exciting than ‘New Earth’. It seems so trite, now.”

Chakotay nodded. “I know what you mean. It was your fault though.”

“Why was it mine?”

“You were still caught up in trying to get back to Voyager, so we could get back to Earth. You had to name it something that signified that.” It was his turn to shrug. “I figured we could always rename it once you settled in”

“And they came back for us before that truly happened.” Her voice was soft.

They had arrived at the restaurant, so any response he would have made was lost in her reaction to the building's interior.

“Chakotay… this place is beautiful! Such old-world charm!”

“I chose the place for its reputation, but I didn’t realize it had kept all of its original interior.”

“It’s important to create the atmosphere we want to achieve.” The maitre’d waved them toward the dining room. “Your table is ready.” He continued speaking as they followed him into the dining area. “This restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1916.”

“Wow, that's a really long time to be in business.”

“Perhaps so, but things of quality last.”

 They had arrived at their table. After they were seated, Kathryn said, “I can't believe that something like this would last that long.”

Chakotay grinned. “You do know that those denim pants you're so fond of have been around just as long.”

“My jeans?”

“It was first developed as a product for working men… farmers, factory workers, coal miners… made of a strong material that took a lot of abuse. At some point, it turned into a fashion item, and has remained that for hundreds of years.”

“I guess tennis would fall into the same category.”

“Tennis is actually older than either this restaurant or your jeans.”

They ended up spending most of dinner going over Kathryn’s meeting with Lt. Granier. “She’s really open to input - more than I expected.”

“She’s meeting with the great Admiral Janeway, what did you expect?”

Kathryn sighed. “I don’t really know. B’Elanna took a while to settle in - maybe I was expecting something more like that.”

“Well, if you’re looking for B’Elanna, your criteria has to change. Would you ever expect a mea culpa from her?”

She thought for a moment. “You’re right. I found a Harry, instead. I was looking for someone who was really floundering. Maybe I should look for a different kind of leader, now.”

“Perhaps you should simply respond to the reports that scream the loudest. Let them decide if they are going to ask for your input. You might get a few Mortimer Harrens who ignore you - and a couple of B’Elannas who come back swinging.”

“Hmn… Either way, I know who I can work with. Let me see what comes up next.”  

“Just don’t be surprised if you end up with a reputation like Admiral Paris. Tom would have entirely too much fun teasing you about it.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Why are you still living with Tom? You could be out on your own by now.”

“I don’t want to get tied into anything until I know where I’m going to end up.”

“But you could get temporary quarters with Starfleet.”

“I thought that was only until we headed off on our own. I left for Trebus and was gone for a few months. I figured my chance was gone.”

“No way. They offered it for the first twelve months. You’ve got quite a few left.” She wagged a finger at him. “If November rolls around and you haven’t figured out what you want to be when you grow up, I’m going to get really worried.”

Chakotay caught her finger and held it. “I’ll be worried, too. Okay, I’ll check in with the housing department tomorrow and see what they’ve got available.” He checked the time. “It’s time to get you home. You’re going to turn into a pumpkin, soon.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn stared at her reflection in the mirror. It was time to acknowledge the feeling clogging up her mind and sending her heart into spasms. She was nervous.

“This is ridiculous. I led an entire ship through an unknown part of space and survived. I intentionally got myself assimilated by the Borg - and beat their queen more than once!” She finished securing her hair into the ponytail band and stood up.

“It's a tennis tournament, Kathryn, not the end of the world! You've been up all night going over each move and reminding yourself what you learned about each of your possible opponents. You'll make a good showing.” She sighed and reached for her bag.

“Maybe I should have asked Chakotay to come over last night, anyway. He would have kept me calm… and helped me realize that my nervousness was tied up in the feeling that I have to prove myself… that I'm more than just Admiral Janeway .”

She wasn't sure how this would make others see her as more of a person. Most of the people playing against her would probably be trying to beat Admiral Janeway . Still, she couldn't help but think that participating in a simple tennis game would change people's view of her.

She stood in her open doorway. “If you can stand up to the Borg Queen and survive, regular people have no power over you.” She strode the rest of the way through her door and shut it firmly behind her.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay took a seat somewhere in the middle of the viewing area. He'd tried to stay away, not wanting to make her self-conscious about him being there, but he couldn't. As a compromise, he decided to arrive late and sit where she probably wouldn't see him.

Once he settled himself, he took a look around. Tennis wasn't really a popular game these days, but there was still a decent turnout.  Interspersed among the crowd were people in tennis outfits - probably those who had already been knocked out.

Kathryn was actually on the court, about halfway through the match. A quick glance at the scoreboard told him she was doing well, but not as well as he would have expected. He turned his attention to her and studied her form for a minute, then sat back with a smile. This is going to be fun .

The conversation in the seats in front of him brought him up short, though.

“I'm sorry, Clint. You came with me to see how good she is, and she falls apart.  I can't believe she let that guy intimidate her like this!”

“It's okay, Trevor. At least I got to see her in her tennis outfit. You were right. She's got great legs.”

“The butt’s not too bad to look at, either.”

“How's it going with her, anyway?”

“A little slower than I expected, but still pretty good. When I asked her out a couple weeks ago she thought about it enough that I thought she was going to say yes. Maybe I’ll invite her to dinner tonight. She can cry on my shoulder about losing today.”

“You’re going to take advantage of her like that? It’s going a bit too far, don’t you think? Besides, I never pegged you for a guy interested in older women.”

“You see what she looks like, don’t you? I’m guessing she would have pretty good stamina, if you know what I mean. Besides… walking around with the Admiral on my arm will get me set for life! Imagine all the potential clients she would introduce me to!”

It took everything Chakotay had to keep himself in his seat. Kathryn had joined the team, in part, so she could make friends with people who thought of her as a person, not a Starfleet admiral - and definitely not as arm candy to advance someone’s career!

You’re never going to know what kind of ‘stamina’ she has if I have anything to say about it! The words were only spoken in his head. It would do Kathryn no good to have him start a brawl right in the middle of her match. He really didn’t want her to know what the jerk had in mind, anyway.

What he just couldn’t understand was the idea that she had seriously considered the slimeball’s invitation. I certainly hope she turned him down because she picked up on his intentions. She used to have a pretty good radar.

He forced himself to look back to the game. Her opponent had won the last set, but she was starting to pick up. He settled back again to enjoy the show. You show them, Kathryn. I know your game.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn was tired, hot, sweaty… and victorious. She’d beat that jerk who had spent the last week trash-talking her, and was feeling very proud of herself.

“Great finish, Kathryn. I was a little worried there for a bit.”

“Oh, there was no reason to worry, Trevor. I knew what I was doing.”

Trevor gave her a dubious look and turned to the man standing next to him. “Clint, I’d like you to meet Admiral Janeway. Admiral, Clint is a friend and coworker of mine at the law firm.”

“Hello, Admiral. I’ve been looking forward to the chance to meet you.”

“Well, Clint, it’s very nice to meet you. Please, though, call me Kathryn. I’m only Admiral when I’m in uniform.”

“I must say, Kathryn , that I was just as worried as Trevor about the match. You looked like you were floundering for a bit.”

Before she could respond, a deep voice interrupted them. “That was pure strategy, young man. She knew what she was doing every minute of that game.” He turned to Kathryn with a twinkle in his eye. “I bet you played that way all day, didn’t you?”

“Chakotay!” Her excitement over winning and then seeing him, coupled with her supreme annoyance with the two clueless young men she’d been talking to, led her to wrap her arms around him in a bear hug. “I didn’t know you were here!”

He returned the hug, gathering her up in his arms for a second longer than a typical friendship would call for. “I couldn’t stay away.”

She jumped back away from him. “Oh, I’m sorry Chakotay! I’m all sweaty, and I doubt you want your shirt drenched!”

“It’s fine, Kathryn.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “I think we’ve shared quite a bit of sweat… and dirt… and probably a little blood over the years.”

“You’re probably right!” She leaned into him, laughing. The sound of a throat clearing made her realize the two young men still in front of them. “Chakotay, I’d like you to meet my teammate Trevor and his friend Clint.” She turned to the young men. “Trevor… Clint… I’d like you to meet my very good friend Chakotay.”

“Trevor Blankenship, Esquire. Nice to meet you… Commander, isn’t it? You were the Admiral’s First Officer, weren’t you?” He stuck out his hand and shook Chakotay’s vigorously.

Chakotay let go of Clint’s hand as quickly as he could. “Yes, I was Kathryn’s First Officer on Voyager. But we’re not on Voyager any more.”

Kathryn noticed the open-ended description of their relationship and took full advantage of it, standing very close to Chakotay. Her suspicion of Trevor’s intentions toward her had increased in the past few weeks. Introducing her to his colleague as ‘Admiral’ had clinched it. Hopefully, he would get the impression that her relationship with Chakotay was more than ‘just friends’.

“I wish you had told me you planned to come today, Chakotay.” She touched his chest, furthering the suggestion of their bond. “I could have gotten you a good seat.”

“Oh, no worries, Kathryn.” He gave the two other men a piercing look. “I had a perfect seat… for everything.”

“What did you mean by strategy, Commander?”

“It’s just Chakotay, Clint. And I meant that her entire performance on that court was designed to make her opponent think he was winning… until she blasted him off the court.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you. Did she fix the game?”

“Hell, no! I did nothing of the sort. All I did was play smarter instead of harder.” She turned to Chakotay, finger wagging playfully at him. “Don’t you go telling them anything else. Just because you can read me like a book doesn’t mean everyone else can. I might have to play against Trevor in a tournament at some point, and I need to keep my secrets.”

“There you are, Kathryn!” A middle-aged woman with fuzzy grey hair came rushing over to them. “The team wants to go out for a celebratory dinner. You’re coming, aren’t you?”

“Actually, I was going to ask her if she’d like to join Clint and I at the Roanoke. We have reservations.” The haughty tone in his voice was hard to miss - the restaurant was famously booked out.

“That’s very nice of you, Trevor.” She added a touch of disdain to her voice - two could play at that game! She turned to the other woman. “I’d rather eat with the team… as long as no one minds that Chakotay joins us.”

“Of course, of course! The more the merrier!” She stuck her hand out to Chakotay. “I’m Jane… Jane Wenn. That’s W-e-n-n my last name, as opposed to w-h-e-n the adverb.”

“Jane is an exobiology professor at Berkeley, Chakotay.”

“Really? I’d love to speak with you about your work. My interests in anthropology and archaeology tend to run parallel with exobiology.”

“Sounds like great dinner conversation! I’ll save you a seat next to me, then.” The woman grinned at him then scampered off to gather more teammates together.

“You’d better get cleaned up, Kathryn.” He leaned in close, as if to whisper, but still spoke loud enough for the two young men left standing like idiots in front of them. “I might not mind your sweat-soaked body next to mine, but I think a few people in the restaurant might have a problem.”

She gave him a gentle smack in the chest and looked at him, eyes dancing with mischief. “Chakotay!” She sauntered off to the locker room with a hint of a swing to her hips.

 

Chakotay nearly choked when he caught the looks on Trevor’s and Clint’s faces. Leave it to Kathryn to exit the show on a high note.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Ten minutes later a freshly sonic-showered and dressed Kathryn emerged from the locker room to find Chakotay waiting for her. She took his arm, then looked around as they headed toward the restaurant attached to the stadium. “Fan club gone off to their reservations ?”

“They ran out of here with their tails between their legs as soon as you disappeared.”

She snorted. “Serves them right. What a pig Trevor is!”

“Clint’s not that far behind him.” At her questioning look, he went on. “I was sitting behind them in the stands.”

“Oh? What did they say?”

“Nothing you didn’t already seem to know. I’m glad you did know. I wasn’t sure what to tell you.”

“I admit - I’ve let my guard down. It took me longer than it should have, but I eventually got the picture. Thank you for looking out for me, though.”

“Never fear, Kathryn. I’m always here for you… however you need me.”

They were met at the restaurant entrance by Jane. “Come! Come! We were starting to think you had changed your mind and headed off to Trevor’s reservations !” She made a face that described exactly how she felt about it.

Kathryn matched her expression. “Ah, no. I’d much rather celebrate with the whole team.”

“Not to mention your friend Chakotay. Everybody! This is Kathryn’s friend Chakotay! He’ll be sitting next to me!”

Although probably enhanced by their good showing - and Kathryn’s win - in the tournament, the team was a rowdy bunch. They laughed and talked over each other like a large family. Chakotay found himself seated between Jane and Kathryn with each of them vying for his attention.

“Chakotay, I want you to meet Dan. He’s a doctor in Chicago, but he lives in the same neighborhood as the Parises. He’s got even better stories about Tom than I do!”

“As soon as things are declassified, I hope you will tell me as much as you can about the new species you met out there. My whole department is dying to know! Do you think we could set up a seminar?”

“Tell Carol about the waiter we had at the Taditch. She thinks he might be her ex-boyfriend!”

“So, what do you think about my theory on the evolution of the Tortellian exoskeleton? Does it coincide with their cultural development?”

Not only did he feel like a wishbone being snapped in half, Kathryn continued mildly flirting with him. She touched his knee to get his attention, held his hand while pressing a point, leaned in close to speak to him.

He responded with his own mild flirting. He put his hand over hers when she touched his knee, whispered his impressions of her friends in her ear, and put his arm around the back of her chair.

Despite the fascinating people and conversations, part of him wanted to be able to simply watch Kathryn. He’d never seen her so relaxed and lighthearted with other people. She was laughing openly and doing just as much talking over people as everyone else. This is what she must have been like as a young girl, before the pressures of life took their toll.

Jane was much too entertaining, though. Her natural ebullience, fascination with her topic, and almost naive approach to life was comforting, somehow.

“She reminds you of Neelix, doesn’t she?” Kathryn was whispering in his ear, again.

Turning to respond, he found himself so close to her that he could feel her breath on his lips. What would she do if I kissed her right now? came the fleeting thought. She turned her head for him to whisper back to her before his brain could respond to its question.

He leaned into her so close his lips were nearly touching her ear. “I was just thinking the same thing.” He saw the gooseflesh rise along her neck.

This time, she rested her cheek against his when she responded. “I sometimes find myself seeking her out because of it. I miss him.”

Any response he might have had would be too sensitive to share in public. He simply grasped her hand and held it. She gave him a soft smile in return, squeezed his hand, then let it go.

“Jane, Chakotay missed the first half of the tournament. Tell him what happened when you played against Graham!”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn yawned and stared at the pile of padds on her desk. “Chakotay was right - I would have been too exhausted by my weekend to enjoy a birthday dinner tonight. It’s only 10am and I’m already dreaming about my bed!” She yawned again and headed for her replicator, which actually made a decent cup of coffee.

The weekend had been tiring - but wonderful. The early dinner with Chakotay and the win at the tournament, topped off by a wonderful visit with her mother that ended up in her bringing home a full plate of caramel brownies, had been everything she could have hoped for.

Phoebe was off-planet visiting her fiance, so she’d had her mother all to herself on Sunday. Most of the Sunday dinners she had eaten at her mom’s house had included Phoebe, who was an incredible attention-sucker. All Kathryn had wanted since she’d been back was to spend a quiet evening with her mom. Her mind always felt calm when the two of them were alone together.

 

“Katie, tell me what you can about your trip.” Her lifelong relationships with Starfleet admiralty made her ability to talk about classified situations - without actually covering the classified part - possible.

“Trip? Mom, you make it sound like I went for a quick jaunt to Vulcan!”

‘You know what I mean, young lady. Don’t get fresh with your mother.”

“Sorry, Mom. It was… exciting, harrowing, terrifying… how many other adjectives are there in the English language? It was all of them.”

“I bet it was. Did you meet good people?”

“Yes. Some very good people. A couple of them even joined us for a while. I miss them.”

“What happened to them?”

“They stayed behind for one reason or another.”

“Can you still reach them through the array?”

“If Starfleet would let it be used for personal reasons, yes. I could at least reach one of them.”

“You should ask Uncle Teddy. He could probably get you a couple of minutes.”

“I already tried. Starfleet has the whole thing locked up so tight that he can’t even get in there to pass a message along for me.”

“That’s ridiculous, Katie!”

“I think Starfleet is being overly cautious because of the war. They don’t want too many things coming through from the Delta Quadrant without having a strong grip on it. With the Gamma Quadrant, anyone and everyone was welcomed through the wormhole with no amount of supervision or control.”

“I take it you also met some bad people, then?”

“Mom, you know there are bad people everywhere. And yes, we did meet quite a few.”

Gretchen dipped her head so she could see her daughter’s downturned face. “And you survived…”

Kathryn lifted her head and met her mother’s eyes. “Yes, we did. Sometimes just barely. Other times, easily. You never knew until you got into it exactly what you were coming up against."

“But you survived… and came home in one piece.” She gripped Kathryn’s hand.

“I think I left a few pieces out there, Mom.” She looked down again.

Gretchen reached across the table and lifted Kathryn’s chin. “We leave pieces of ourselves everywhere we go. It’s up to us to decide which pieces they are.”

Kathryn held her mother’s hand to her face. “Can I decide now, or should I have decided then?”

“I can’t answer that for you, Katie.” She pulled her hand away and stood up to get more coffee and the plate of brownies. “Now, tell me about this Chakotay of yours. When do I get to meet him?”

“He’s not mine , Mom. And I don’t know when you’ll meet him. I haven’t really thought about it.”

“I’d rethink that ownership part, Katie. The way you talk about him tells me there’s something more there.”

“He’s my friend, Mom. My very good friend. That’s it.”

“Hmph. Is that the part of you that you left behind?”

 

Despite the mom-intrusion into her personal relationships, her mom had seen through her and hit the bullseye on the part of her that still loved Chakotay. That part that she kept as hidden as possible so that she could be ‘simply friends’ with him.

It must have been right on the surface, considering how much flirting I did on Saturday. Why the hell did I do that anyway? Talk about setting yourself up for failure!

She took a large swallow of coffee. It was time to tackle the ever-growing pile of padds. Perhaps she would find another unsuspecting young officer to harass.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“I’m sorry, Sir. There are no more quarters available.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“The Challenger arrived last week and will be undergoing a two-month retrofit. Most of the people live on board and don’t keep a residence on Earth, so they have filled everything we would normally have available.”

“Damn. I’m currently sharing a small space with a slob and a baby. You’ve got nothing?”

“I’m sorry, Sir. All that’s left is Ambassadors’ quarters, and we are expecting a contingent from Benzar next week. There is nothing else available for occupancy.”

A dejected Chakotay left the housing office. He hadn’t realized just how much he hated living in Tom’s apartment until Kathryn mentioned he could get his own. Now, he was stuck there indefinitely.

“Perhaps Kathryn would let me take up residence in her second room.” He shook the thought out of his head as quickly as it surfaced. That would be entirely too tempting. Just waking up to her face after a night on her couch was enough to set his dreams ablaze.

Even flirting with her on Saturday after the tournament had almost sent him over the edge. “Why the hell did I do that? For that matter, why did she ? I understand the part when she was trying to get that snake off of her, but at dinner?” He shook that thought out of his head, too. “She was probably just over-excited about the win.”

Several comments in the past few weeks had given him an idea. He headed off to the library for some quiet time. He had some research - and shopping - to do.

<<<------>>>

Kathryn and Chakotay materialized in Colorado for a second visit to the Johnson residence. This time Chakotay was an official, personally-invited, guest. He held a small package in his hand for Kevin.

“Tell me what it is, Chakotay!”

“No! It’s for Kevin - not you.”

“All the more reason for it not to be a secret from me!”

“You really can't stand secrets, can you?”

“Secrets? Yes. Surprises? Absolutely not!” She jokingly tried to wrestle the package out of his hands.

He held it up out of her reach. “You’re just going to have to wait.” She leaned up close to him, bracing herself against him while she stood on her tiptoes to get as much height as she could. “It’s no use, Kathryn. Nothing short of climbing is going to help you reach it.”

The proximity of his body gave her a flash of climbing him . Wrapping her legs around him... being pushed against a wall... him entering her in one thrust. She could feel her body flush, the pool of desire centering between her legs…

“If the two of you are finished wrestling, there’s hot tea and coffee waiting for you inside.” Mark’s voice cut through her fantasy and she moved back from Chakotay’s body.

“You know how I hate surprises, Mark. Chakotay has something for Kevin and he won’t tell me what it is.”

“Kevin is just inside, Kath. I think you can wait long enough to get there.”

“See? I told you! Even Mark thinks you didn’t need to know!”

“Oh, don’t put me in the middle of this one! Keeping a surprise from Kath is taking your life into your hands.”

“We’d better get inside before you kill me, Aunt Kat .” For that, he received a trademark death glare, then a view of her back as she stomped into the house.

 

“You really should be more careful, Chakotay. She’d have broken your arm to get to that if I hadn’t intervened, and I think I like you better with your limbs intact.” He gave Chakotay a friendly slap on the back.

“You’re right. We’d better get in there before that glare develops true weapons capabilities.”

Rolling his eyes, Mark followed the big man into the house. He’d recognized the flush on Kath’s face when she turned away from Chakotay. Doesn't she realize what's right in front of her?

The package turned out to be a new alien for Kevin’s collection. It was one of the lesser-known species. Chakotay had done some research on it so he had a full set of information to make the species come alive for the young boy.

“Tyrellians don’t have any kind of atmosphere.”

“At-pere?”

“There is no air to breathe on the planet.”

“How do dey wive witout air?”

“They live in domes that hold air inside.” The conversation went on until Christine announced that dinner was ready.

Christine had been dismayed when she discovered that Chakotay was vegetarian and had been unable to eat the meal she had prepared. Since their last visit, she’d done some research on different recipes and was serving tofu chili for the meal.

“You really didn’t need to make a special meal just for me, Christine. It’s not like I left hungry last time.”

“You left full of salad and homemade rolls, Chakotay. That’s not how my guests are treated. Besides, it’s been a great way to introduce new flavors into our diet. Not to mention the additional vegetables I can get Kevin to eat.”

‘Tatotay eat vetabels. I eat vetabels!”

“...And there you have it. One vote in favor. I just hope the rest of you enjoy it.”

One bite later, Chakotay was in heaven. “This chili is wonderful, Christine. Where did you find the recipe?”

“There’s a database of them in the Starfleet systems. I think it was originally meant for ambassadorial visits, but it’s also become a way for cooks to share recipes.”

“Will you show me how to gain access? I’d love to try something new.”

“I didn’t realize you were a cook, Chakotay.”

“Oh, yes. He served me several meals in the Delta Quadrant that were absolutely delicious.” Kathryn turned to face him. “I miss your vegetarian lasagna.”

“I could teach you how to make it.”

“You know I can’t cook, Chakotay.”

“Just teasing - I wouldn’t even subject the entire Admiralty to that!”

“Not unless you want to fill Starfleet Medical with food poisoning victims.” Mark grinned at Kathryn.

“Mark! I don’t poison people! I just serve burnt roasts.”

“Or undercooked… or poorly-seasoned.”

“If you weren’t sitting next to Christine, you would be wearing chili right now, Mark.”

“Okay, okay… I apologize. Your cooking does not induce food poisoning. Just upset stomachs.”

“Mark!”

Christine broke the playful argument. “Chakotay, I’d love to taste your lasagna. Perhaps we can make a trade?”

“I’d love to, Christine, but I don’t think cooking at Tom’s would be a good idea. It’s a little cramped… and noisy. Not to mention that his kitchen is full of baby bottles and pureed food. I really don’t have a proper place to cook at the moment.”

“Why don’t you use my kitchen? I don’t have anything in there but my coffee pot and a few of my mom’s caramel brownies in the stasis.”

“Let me think of something quick and I’ll cook dinner for you next week.”

“Something quick?”

“Kathryn, if I try to make vegetable lasagna for you, it will be past your bedtime before it’s ready. I will think of something that I can get done in less than an hour.”

“You could just get to my place early and have it ready when I get home.” She grinned. “It might be fun coming home to a home-cooked meal.”

“You’re OK with me going into your apartment when you’re not there?”

“For heaven’s sake, Chakotay. You’ve had the codes to my quarters for the past seven years! This is no different.”

“Okaaay… is it the same code?”

“I changed it. Remind me to give it to you later.”

Mark and Christine shared a look as the conversation progressed. ‘He had her entry codes?...Knew her bedtime?’

Christine stood and started clearing the table. “Why don’t you all head into the living room while I clean up this mess.”

“Here, let me help you. It’s about the only thing I can do in the kitchen that won’t result in food poisoning.” Her exit was followed by a round of laughter from Chakotay and Mark.

“Come on, Chakotay. This is my only chance to avoid washing dishes. We can take Kevin and hide in the living room.”

“I heard that! You’ll be washing dishes by yourself tomorrow!”

“And that’s different, how?”

Christine appeared back in the dining room for another handful of dishes. “You’d better get out of here before Kathryn and I are the ones sitting in the living room while you two clean.”

“Point taken.” Mark rose from the table and placed a kiss on Christine’s cheek while Chakotay wiped Kevin’s face off and helped him out of his chair.

Mark considered talking to Chakotay while the two women were out of the room, but decided Kevin was too much of a talker for the adults to have a conversation of that nature. Chakotay had other ideas, anyway.

“Kevin, we’re going to practice saying your Aunt Ka th ’s name properly.”

“Why? See not wike it?”

“I don’t think she cares either way how you say her name, but do you know that she’s really more of a dog person? She’s not really fond of cats.”

“So we caww her Aunt Doggy?”

The question earned a snort of laughter from Mark. “No, Kevin. We call her Aunt Ka th . I think Uncle Chakotay is right. It’s time for you to practice saying it properly.”

“Kevin, I want you to try making a th sound.”

“Teh.”

“Close, but you need to put your tongue further forward. Like this.” He placed his tongue against the tip of his front teeth. “ th

“thhhh” Kevin’s cheeks puffed out as the air escaped around his tongue.

“That's good. You're getting closer. Now, put your tongue where it would be to make the t sound, but don’t make it.”

Kevin had to make the “t” sound several times before figuring out just where he placed it.

“Now, slide your tongue forward until it sits along the edge of your front teeth.” Chakotay modeled the movement while Kevin followed. “That's great, Kevin! Now, pretend you are making the t sound, just starting where your tongue is right now.”

ttthhh ” came a long drawn out sound, which actually was a close approximation of the sound they were going for.

On and on they went, with Chakotay patiently and gently correcting Kevin’s attempts.

Mark sat and watched in amazement. How many times have I tried to do that and Kevin lost interest after the first two tries? Chakotay definitely has a way with young children. I wonder if he wants one of his own? I hope he’s not looking to have them with Kath. Crickets, does he even know?

His reverie was broken by the two women emerging from the kitchen.

“Aunt Kat- th ! You wike puppies, not kitties!”

“That’s right Kevin. I also like how you said my name.”

“Unca Tatotay taught me.”

“Well, you did a great job learning.” She leaned down to hug the boy, and gave Chakotay a soft look over his shoulder.

Christine stood watching the scene before her. She looked at Mark and rolled her eyes.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“That was really sweet of you to teach Kevin his th sound.”

“I figured it was time for him to work on it. He’s a really smart boy - almost too smart. His speech didn’t develop before his thoughts, so he never took the time to pronounce them properly.”

“In other words, he doesn’t care how he says it as long as he says it.”

“Exactly. My sister did kind of the same thing. What I did with Kevin tonight is kind of what we did with her. I have no idea if it’s something an official speech pathologist would do, but it worked for her.”

“And seems to be working for him. Maybe we can get him to learn ch next, Tatotay .”

“Oh, I don’t know. Don’t you think it kind of sounds like tattoo ? It might work as a permanent name change.”

“I think you are already too well known by your tattoo for it to become part of your name, as well.”

“You have a point. Perhaps ch is in Kevin’s future!”

“Not to completely change the subject, but why are you still at Tom’s? I thought you were going to the Housing Office to get your own place.”

“I did, but they’re full. ‘No room at the inn’ I think the saying goes.”

“Starfleet hasn’t got a single place left? That’s ridiculous. They always have spaces.”

“It seems the Challenger is in town for a two-month refit. All those displaced families are clogging up the housing system.”

“I’d forgotten she was in dry dock! I’m sorry, Chakotay. Perhaps you should just get a place. I’m sure you could find someone to let you lease a place on a month-to-month basis.”

“I’m looking at a few options, but nothing seems right, yet. Until then, I’ll just steal your kitchen. You said to remind you about giving me your entry code.”

“Uh, yes. It’s 27J35M41C.”

“It used to be your birthday sandwiched between KT and KJ. It’s much more complicated, now.”

“I don’t live on a starship where every move of every crewmember can be tracked anymore. It has to be a little more complicated, now.”

 

Chapter Text

Chakotay arrived at Kathryn’s apartment with two bags of groceries and a container full of cooking equipment. It was early afternoon, and he had just spent several hours at the farmer's market, gathering supplies for Kathryn’s vegetable lasagna.

It took him an hour or so to prepare the individual ingredients and assemble the lasagna. The salad he planned to go along with it would wait until just before the meal was ready to eat.

He realized then that he hadn't planned ahead for an activity to occupy himself with while he sat in her quiet apartment keeping an eye on the food in the oven. Her apartment was big enough that he could have brought supplies for etching. If he’d asked, she probably wouldn't have minded if he even set up a space to work on a sand painting. Both of them were activities that he enjoyed, but couldn't do in Tom's apartment.

Those thoughts reminded him again of how much he really wanted to get his own space. He spent a little time at her computer researching short-term lease rentals, but there wasn't really anything available. He found a few potential places and sent messages to the owners, inquiring about the possibility of a shorter term lease.

A comm to the Starfleet housing office was next. He had a longer conversation with the Ensign he had spoken with the other day. Mostly, he wanted to know why Starfleet wasn't prepared with residences beyond what could handle one ship's crew. Surely, this was something that happened often enough that they would have additional spaces available. It turned out that the overflow building had been damaged in the attack and was undergoing restoration and upgrades. Although she did say she had found a possibility, it was taking some time for her to get approval.

Without anything else to do, he found himself studying the artwork - which he guessed was mostly her sister Phoebe’s. Ultimately, he arrived at the table full of photos, looking at each one as part of the timeline of her life. The picture of her with the man who he suspected had been a fiance caught his attention, again.

Who was he? Why had she never mentioned having been married? Then it struck him - this could very well be Justin. Mark had said the story was extremely personal - had seemed shocked that Chakotay even knew the slightest thing about him. What did ‘not a happy story’ mean? Had the man dumped her and run off with her best friend, or something? From Mark’s tone of voice, there was much more to it than that.

He was so engrossed in his musings, he almost missed the sound of her keying in her code and opening her front door.

Hastily, he put the picture back in its place on the table and turned to greet her. “How was your day?”

She set her bag down and walked over to greet him. “Long and boring - as usual. Although Nate got the excitement of scheduling an appointment for me. That will be my excitement tomorrow.”

She walked closer toward him while she was talking and put her hand on his chest. “It smells wonderful in here.”

Her touch burned through his shirt. Normally, he braced himself against his body's reaction to her when she was close to him. He’d been so relaxed he hadn't thought of it this time. She was looking up at him with an almost wistful expression - which just made it worse. Close enough to kiss those beautiful lips…

Quickly, he turned away before he did something impetuous that he would regret. “It's going to smell burned in a few minutes if I don't check on it. Why don't you go and get changed while I open the wine and prepare the salad?”

When she had disappeared into her bedroom, he braced himself against the counter and began to breathe slowly. He needed to calm himself down before she reappeared.

 

Kathryn made it into her bedroom and closed the door. Leaning against the wall, she allowed herself a few moments of indulgent fantasy. That whole scene had been almost too… domestic… for her to handle. She’d almost kissed him like a lover would have done when arriving home.

What would he have done if she hadn't stopped herself in time? She could almost feel the awkward silence. Shaking herself, she stood up and began to get changed out of her uniform. Comfortable clothes, a little water splashed on her face, and a few meditative breaths later, she was ready to head back out to join him.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Dinner was delicious and pleasant. She shared what little there was to say about her day, and the fact that her appointment was with another young officer who was looking for advice. She was intrigued because it wasn’t someone whose report she had sent back.

Chakotay shared his housing research and the information that one of the residence buildings had been damaged. He also told her his frustrations about not being able to work on the things that he enjoyed doing.

“Why don't you just set them up here? I've got plenty of space. The second room is set up as an office, but I've never used it. The desk would be a good place for the painting so it wouldn't be in danger of getting knocked around. The drawers are empty - you could use one of them to hold your chisels and other etching equipment.”

“I can't take over your apartment like that, Kathryn.” His protest was weak, he knew, because she’d just said exactly what he’d been thinking earlier. “I'll find a place. Ensign Chernov said she was working on possibilities for me.”

“And until she does find you something, you can relax here. You already have the code to get in.”

“Kathryn…”

Her eyes twinkled at him as she smiled mischievously. “You can repay me with homemade meals while you're here. We spend a lot of dinners together anyway.”

He smiled back at her. “You've got a deal, Kathryn. Consider yourself well-fed on fresh, non-restaurant food.”

Together, they cleared the table and cleaned up from dinner, then settled on her sofa to finish the wine. After a bit of further small talk, Chakotay found that he couldn't resist asking her about the picture.

“You can tell me to shut up and leave if you want, Kathryn, but I have to ask. The man in the photo… is that Justin?”

Glancing over to the table, she was silent for a moment. He was afraid that she would tell him to leave, but he waited silently for her response. Finally, she looked down at the wine glass she held in her hands.

“Yes.”

It was a simple response. Should he pry? He didn't understand why he felt so ridiculously curious, but he had to ask. “I didn't know you’d been married.”

“I haven't.”

Another simple response. Mark had said she hadn't talked about it because she wasn't ready. Had he pushed too early?

A deep breath escaped her and she glanced at him briefly, quickly looking back down at her glass. “He died a month before the wedding… with my father.”

Speechless, he could only stare at her for a moment. Finally, he found his voice again. “I thought your father was alone on that shuttle?”

A mirthless smile crossed her face. “You were supposed to - everyone is supposed to think that. The whole thing was classified so high up that Starfleet had to put out a cover story. But the truth is that Justin and I were also there.”

Shock coursed through him again. She was there, too? He took her hand. “Tell me.”

She downed the rest of her wine and sat back against the sofa, without letting go of his hand. “The ship that crashed wasn't a shuttle. It was an experimental fighter created by my father and his department to defend ourselves against the Cardassians.”

“I had no idea Starfleet was working on anything like that.”

Another mirthless smile. “Starfleet knew the danger the Cardassians posed to the Federation. They combined all the intelligence they’d been able to obtain and began working on ways to defend ourselves. The fighter was one of them.”

“If it was so classified, how did you and Justin end up on it?”

“As a Ranger, Justin had full access to any intelligence he wanted, so he and my father were free to discuss it - which they did. My dad argued that I was already pretty much read in , since the majority of the intelligence they'd used to build it had come from my abduction, and my involvement with some additional… fact-gathering… after that.”

“I take it he won.”

“Yep… so off we went on a test run. But something went wrong - I have no idea what it was. I woke up face down in the snow. One of them must have beamed me out before the crash. Starfleet thinks that, in their hurry, they didn't get the coordinates right and I actually materialized in the air.”

“How did they come up with that?”

“I had extensive injuries and there was a big dent in the snow at the base of a tree. All the branches on that side of it were broken. The theory is that I crashed down through the branches and landed in the snow at the bottom.”

“But you weren't there? You had moved?”

She nodded. “Starfleet doesn't know what happened, but when the rescue crew found me I was passed out in front of a pile of equipment from the debris. Daddy and Justin were lost… the crash had caused the snow around the craft to melt into a kind of lake, and the whole thing sank into it with them still on board.”

“You couldn't tell them anything?”

“I was delirious - nearly dead from my own injuries, coupled with a severe case of hypothermia. For years I had recurring nightmares about some kind of iceberg, but that was all I could ever come up with until it finally cleared up a few years ago.”

“And…?” He knew he was pressing, but he felt that she needed to get it out.

“When I first woke up at the bottom of the tree, the shuttle was only partly submerged.” She went on to describe her attempts to cobble together a transporter unit so she could get the two men out of the craft -  aggravating her injuries so the pain would help her to stay lucid.

“But you passed out before it was finished?” She shook her head. “It didn't work?”

“No, I finished it. It worked. But I only had enough power to get one of them.” She looked at him, tears streaming down her face. “I couldn't decide which one to save.” She looked away again. “I passed out trying to come up with a way to increase the power.”

“Oh, Kathryn…”

“I could have saved one of them. Instead, they both died.” She began to sob wholeheartedly. All he could do was hold her close to him and let her cry her pain out.

So much about her - her refusal to leave anyone behind… her willingness to sacrifice herself for the sake of her crew… her steely decisiveness invariably followed by an equal level of guilt - made sense now. She’d once been faced with an impossible decision, and her inability to make it cost her dearly. She couldn't allow herself to let anyone down… couldn't waver in her decisions… couldn't let herself think there wasn't a solution for every challenge she encountered.

As had happened the night of the Cardassian story, she cried herself to sleep resting on him. He remained where he was, holding her in his arms, reveling in the level of trust she showed him.

As he thought back through her story, though, something struck him. She’d said Starfleet doesn't know . But she did - she’d just told him. Had she lied to Starfleet? But no - she’d said the nightmare finally cleared up a few years ago .

Then it hit him. The nightmare had cleared up while she was on Voyager - lost some 70,000 light years from Earth. She’d done it alone… hadn't even let him in to help her through the trauma of those regained memories.

“Oh, Kathryn…” He hugged her tighter and kissed the top of her head. “Will you ever learn that I'm here for you? People won't leave you if you show weakness. You are still not alone.” His words were whispered softly into her hair.

He sat quietly for a few more minutes. He knew he really should put her in bed like he had the last time. But he found that he didn't want to let go of her. The feel of her in his arms was too strong to resist. Instead, he shifted more toward her and settled them both onto the sofa. He’d indulge himself for another minute, then move her into her bed.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn woke to the warmth of being held in someone's arms, a strong, steady heartbeat gently thumping under her head. Chakotay. She’d know that heartbeat anywhere. How many times had she laid her hand on his chest in hopes that the strong, steady rhythm of him would transfer into her? It had always centered her tumbling mind.

Sighing, she relaxed into him, allowing herself the indulgence of being wrapped in his arms. Crickets! The strength she’d always garnered from his words was amplified exponentially when wrapped in his arms. Pulling herself away was going to be torture.

The thought of leaving his arms posed another question. How the hell was she supposed to get free of someone who woke up so violently? The sun was streaming through her windows, and, by the angle of it, she was pretty sure she was running late.

Did she really care at this moment? Not really. She burrowed deeper into him, letting the Safe surround her.

He stirred… her movements pulling him out of his slumber. She felt the moment when he realized she was there.

“Hey.” She kept her voice soft, still concerned about how he would react.

“Hey… How long have you been awake?”

“Not long… I was afraid to wake you.”

“I won't jump if you're already there, Kathryn. Please don't be afraid of me.” He let her go and they both sat up. “I'm sorry… I didn't move you to your bed. It must have been… uncomfortable… here.”

“Don't be silly, Chakotay. We've both slept in some pretty disagreeable places. Being in y… uh - on my sofa is sleeping on the Taj Mahal of beds in comparison.” She stood and headed for her kitchen. “It is, however, time for some coffee.”

She all but raced into the kitchen. Had he caught her slip?

 

Chakotay sat for another moment, trying desperately to gather himself together. Embarrassingly, he’d fallen asleep with her. What had she thought when she woke up? Part of him didn't really care. The feel of her body wrapped in his arms, head tucked up under his chin, was burned into his mind.

He stood. It was time for him to brew some tea from the leaves he had purchased yesterday. That would help calm and re-center him. On his way in, he became aware of the angle of sunlight streaming in through her window.

“Kathryn, I think you might be running late for the office.”

“I am… Nate is probably worried sick. When I've finished my coffee, I'm going to make myself a little more presentable, then contact him.”

She turned to look at him and he noticed the shadows in her eyes. It wasn't dark circles indicating lack of sleep. No… it was as if some of the spark was missing.

“How about you play hooky? It looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day. We could head down to the wharf - it should be pretty quiet and free of tourists on a weekday morning.”

She gave him a soft smile and touched his arm gently. “That would be nice, but I don't think I should. There's just too much work to fall behind. And, I think it's time I fessed up to Starfleet and told them what I know.”

“About the accident? Is that really necessary? That was over 15 years ago.”

She shrugged. “I know how it feels to have an incomplete report sitting in your systems. Admiral Paris was part of the investigation. He'll know what to put into the report to make it complete.”

“Would you like me to go with you for moral support?”

Relief passed through her eyes. “Would you? I don't want to pull you away from anything you had planned.”

“The only thing you're pulling me away from is research. A little time outside of a stuffy library is perfectly fine with me.”

Her comm unit suddenly chimed an incoming message. “That's probably Nate looking for me. How do I look?” She began running her fingers through her sleep-tousled hair.

“A little rumpled, but still basically presentable.” He followed her to her comm unit, staying out of range of the viewer.

 

Putting her command mask on, she activated the comm. When she saw who it was, it slipped off. “Mark! Is something wrong?”

“Other than your poor assistant being beside himself with worry? Nope.”

Her shoulders drooped. “I really need to contact him, although I thought your comm was him checking up on me.”

“He's afraid that would be overstepping his boundaries. I told him I would let him know if something was wrong.” He tipped his head to one side. “So - is something wrong?”

“I'm fine, Mark - really. I just… overslept. So, tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure of your comm?”

“I wanted to invite you and Chakotay to dinner tonight. Kevin has been working hard on his th sounds and finally got it right yesterday. I figured a small celebration was in order.”

She glanced at Chakotay, still out of range. “I don't know, Mark. I'd have to leave work early, and since I'm already late… Can we do it tomorrow?”

“We have plans to spend the day with my dad on Saturday. That's why I was hoping for tonight.”

She glanced at Chakotay, again. This time, he chanced a response and whispered softly to her. “It's up to you, Kathryn. You already know what my plans were.”

Mark must have heard him, though, and his expression went to a curious gleam. “You're an admiral, Kath. I think you could get away with playing hooky for one day.”

Laughing, she looked at Chakotay fully. “You're not the first person to say that to me this morning. Alright, I give in. How does 1700 sound? I should only have to sneak out a half hour early.”

“Sounds perfect. I'll let Christine know.” He smirked. “Could you inform Chakotay? I hear his calendar is clear.”

Unconsciously, her arms crossed in front of her. “I'm sure I can do that. See you at 1700.” She cut the connection and looked at Chakotay. “Well, I guess I'm playing at least partial hooky today. I'd better get ready.”

“Do you think we have time to swing by Tom's place? I'd rather not replicate another outfit - I'm running out of space to store them.”

She caught herself before she said something about him keeping clothes here. It was too much like asking him to move in with her and she wasn't sure she’d be able to handle it.

“Sure… we can make the time. Once you're this late, another 15 minutes doesn't really make a difference. I'll get ready quickly, comm poor Nate so he can breathe, then we can head out to Tom's.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Tom was standing at the changing table with his back to the door when they entered. “It's about time, mister stud. Who's the lucky lady?”

Kathryn decided she would ‘play it’ by teasing him. “She's standing right behind you.”

Keeping one hand on a squirming Miral, Tom whipped around to see her standing, arms crossed, just inside the door. “C-Capt… I mean Admiral! It's good to see you!” She nearly broke down in hysterical laughter as she watched his face run through several scenarios.

“It's good to see you, too, Mr Paris. But, please, I'm no longer your CO. Call me Kathryn.”

“Sure… Kathryn .”

She gave a curt nod. “Good. Now hand me my namesake.”

Obediently, Tom turned back to the changing table and finished refastening Miral’s clothing, then turned back and handed her the fussy baby. “Be careful what you wish for…”

It took less than a minute for Miral to settle down in Kathryn’s arms. The baby had lighter hair than B’Elanna’s and less pronounced ridges. One look in those serious brown eyes and Kathryn was lost.

Kathryn hadn't seen her since she was an infant, but had instantly fallen in love with the little baby. Miral was now eight months old and solidly built. Kathryn had no doubt that she would walk soon - the intelligence and curiosity in her eyes was too strong. She had places to go and things to see.

“You're going to keep your daddy on his toes, aren't you, little one? We'll have to make sure your mommy comes back soon to keep her little Klingon in check. But know that your Aunt Kathryn has your back. You come see me when they get crazy and I'll set them right.” She went on… speaking softly to the baby - the two men forgotten.

Miral watched her intently, seemingly understanding every word Kathryn said. A welcome peace settled over the apartment as the two quietly communicated - one with words, the other with eyes. The two forgotten men watched the scene without making a sound - afraid to disturb the bubble that had grown around them.

Unable to speak the words she really wanted, Kathryn ran out of things to say and fell silent. This kind of dream was lost to her. It wouldn't do any good to walk down that road again. “I'll just make you my little ray of sunshine, alright?”

There was a gentle touch on her back, and Chakotay’s voice came softly to her. “Kathryn, it's getting very late. We really should go.”

An attempt at getting control of herself partially failed. She had to hope that Chakotay wouldn't catch on when she glanced up at him with watery eyes. “I guess you're right.”

She handed the baby back to Tom. “Thank you for letting me borrow your daughter for a few moments.”

“Hey, it's no problem. That's the quietest she's been in days. Feel free to come back anytime.” Tom escorted them to the door. “You two have a good day. I won't wait up for you this time, Chakotay. Just try to call if you know you'll be out all night.” The young man’s mischievous grin was the last thing they saw as the door closed.

 

Chakotay had expected Kathryn to gush about how cute Miral was - or how much the baby had grown. Instead, she was uncharacteristically silent as they moved out of the building and into the sunshine. He thought he’d seen a sheen of unshed tears in her eyes when she looked up from the baby, but it had gone before he could fully take note of it.

Why was she so upset? I’ll just make you my little ray of sunshine. Did she not want children of her own? Was she offering to make herself an honorary aunt? That shouldn't be cause for tears. Tom may have sisters, but Miral carried Kathryn’s name. It most certainly earned her the right to be an important part of the little girl’s life.

It was just one more mystery that was Kathryn. Every time he uncovered one, another rose to take its place. He tried to remind himself of Mark’s assurances that she hadn’t talked about some things because she wasn’t ready. Still… he couldn’t help wondering if she would ever trust him enough to let him in fully. He tucked her hand into his elbow and sighed quietly, then smiled to himself when he felt her lean into him.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Admiral Owen Paris rolled his eyes as his most recent visitor left his office. Yet another young cadet trying to get him to mentor her for her thesis. When were they going to learn that he didn't do that anymore? Only Katie Janeway had ever been able to convince him to come out of his ‘retirement’ - then ruined him for other cadets by being so damn good.

Rolling his eyes again, he sat back in his chair. There was only one Katie Janeway in the universe. He felt honored to know her. His comm beeped.

*Sir, Admiral Janeway is asking to see you. Are you available?*

He smiled. The solution to his day’s frustrations had just appeared. What did Tom always say? ‘Just what the doctor ordered.’ “Of course, Kathleen. Please send her in.”

Katie appeared at his doorway - head high, shoulders square, back straight. Anyone who didn't know her would see the epitome of officer stance. But he knew her - had been with her through some of the most painful times of her life. So unlike her… she was nervous.

He rose and walked around the edge of his desk to greet her. “Katie! You have no idea how pleasant a surprise your visit is!”

Her smile was tight, but genuine. “Admiral Paris, thank you so much for seeing me last-minute. I know you're busy.”

“Nonsense!” He motioned her to sit, then returned to his own chair. “I always have time for you. You bring a breath of fresh air to this stuffy old office.” He leaned toward her over his desk and whispered conspiratorially. “You know… you're a member of the club, now. Perhaps you should start calling me Owen.”

She blanched. “I'm not really sure I could do that, sir.”

He sat back again. “I think you should practice. There are times when titles aren't… used.” He waved his words away. “Anyway… to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”

Typical Katie, she looked him straight in the eyes. “I remember.”

It took less than a nanosecond for him to realize what she was talking about. “Okaay…”

There was a deep breath, then she dove into the story he’d prayed she would never remember. The personal details she now shared with him broke his heart. Starfleet’s engineering team had been able to figure out that she’d been attempting to build a transporter - had, in fact, succeeded. By the time she was rescued, any remaining power was completely lost, so they hadn't known for sure whether it had worked at all.

But it had worked, forcing her to make an impossible decision. One she ended up not making, leaving her bereft. The counselors had known there was something she was blocking. They knew she had nightmares about it. What had been found at the crash site was enough for them to agree to leave well enough alone - that it was probably better for her psyche if the memories never resurfaced.

By the time she was finished with her story, her eyes were damp and her jaw was working hard to keep her face from crumbling. Owen studied her for a moment. Yes, there were times in the Admiralty when they specifically did not use titles. This wasn't one of them, though. His Katie needed her uniform and title to be her shield. He kept it formal.

“Thank you for filling me in. I'll make sure the pertinent information is added to the incident report. I expect you to take the rest of the day off, now. I will inform your assistant of your absence and let him know to reschedule any appointments you may have.”

“Thank you, sir. I-I'll see you on Monday, then.” She stood to leave, then turned back at the door. “Thank you… Owen.”

He smiled softly at her. “You are very welcome, Katie. Have a good weekend.”

She left the door to his waiting room slightly ajar. It was enough for Owen to hear a gentle male voice and catch a glimpse of a dark-haired man with a tattoo on his face. The man was holding her hands and seemed to be asking her if she was alright. At her nod, he tucked her hand in his arm and guided her out into the hallway while she leaned slightly into him.

Chakotay. He’d heard the man was back from Trebus. He’d also heard stories from his son about how close Voyager’s commanding officers had been.

Crickets help him, he’d always felt rather ‘fatherly' towards her. Perhaps he would inform Katie’s assistant of her absence in person. It was time for him to get some more detail… from probably the only non-Voyager person who would know.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay could barely sit still. When Kathryn left him for Admiral Paris’ inner office, she’d given him a weak smile and a gentle squeeze of his arm. Since then, he’d heard nothing.

Paris’ assistant was a kindly, but businesslike woman, who kept eyeing him. “You can pace if you’d like. There's a path worn into the carpet from all the nervous cadets that come through here.”

That made Chakotay smile and eased a little of the tension in his body. “I'm sorry if I'm disturbing your concentration. I just…”

She waved him off. “I've learned to tune it out over the years.” Kathleen nodded her head toward the closed doorway. “You know he won't hurt her.”

Chakotay smiled again - this time a little more. “Oh, I'm well aware of the depth of their relationship. It's the conversation she planned to have with him that has me unsettled.”

Kathleen’s response was cut off when the door he’d been watching opened and Kathryn emerged. Her face was working to keep her emotions in, and it was everything he could do not to pull her into his arms and comfort her. But he knew she would not appreciate it, so he simply grasped her hands in his.

“You OK?”

She nodded. “He's going to record what needs to be in the report and close it.”

“Shall I walk you to your office?”

She shook her head. “He told me to play hooky. He's going to talk to Nate.” Taking a deep breath, she gave him a hint of a smirk. “If your offer still stands, I'm all yours for the day.”

“My offer has no expiration date and can be used on a repeated basis without limit, Kathryn.” He gave her a gentle smile. “I'll take you home so you can change out of your uniform, then we'll head out into the sunshine.”

Letting go of one hand, he tucked the other one under his arm and guided her toward the hallway. Once again, she leaned slightly into him.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Ensign Harrison was jittery. Despite her earlier comm that she was on her way, his Admiral had not yet arrived. The whole thing was so totally against everything he knew about her that he had no idea how to deal with the situation.

Thinking it was her when the door to the hallway slid open, he began to breathe a sigh of relief. When Admiral Paris walked through it, the sigh got caught in his throat.

“Good morning, Admiral Paris. I'm sorry, but Admiral Janeway is not in her office at the moment.”

“I'm well aware of that, young man. I'm here to inform you that she will not be in at all today.”

“Er… okay… Thank you for letting me know, sir.  I will reschedule her appointment.” Nate thought Admiral Paris would leave now that he had relayed the message, but he pulled a chair over and sat down next to Nate’s desk.

“We need to have an off the record talk, Ensign.”

“Sir?”

“I'm well aware of your last assignment, young man, and I need some answers only you can provide.”

“I'm not sure I understand what you're asking, Sir.”

“It seems that Admiral Janeway has been spending quite a bit of time with Commander Chakotay. Is this a good thing for her?”

Nate’s heart lodged itself in his throat. “I-I-I…”

“This is off the record, Nate. I'm concerned about Katie’s association with Chakotay and I'm asking for your interpretation… based on all the knowledge you have. What was the nature of their relationship on board? What happened with Seven of Nine? How long has he been back, and is he taking good care of her?”

All he could do was stare at Admiral Paris. The man was asking him to evaluate Admiral Janeway’s relationship with Commander Chakotay. What’s more, he was supposed to be answering Paris’ questions based on everything . Nate had been officially informed that use of the knowledge that he possessed outside of the official reporting was violation of his mandate. Paris was asking him to do just that.

But he also knew Admiral Janeway cared deeply for the man - that she trusted him implicitly…

“They shared a deep friendship that bolstered the other through most of their journey. Toward the end of it, things began to cool and Seven asked Commander Chakotay on several dates. I am not privy to what happened with Seven after they arrived home. Since the Commander has been back on Earth, Admiral Janeway has been happier and more relaxed than I've ever seen her. He takes good care of her - lunches and/or dinners out… social excursions… days spent on the wharfs at the farmer's market.”

It all came out in a rush - almost as if he needed to finish before Paris shut him down and arrested him.

Paris’ response was unexpected. A wistful smile came over his face. “So he's good to her - good for her.”

“Yes, sir.”

The admiral’s smile widened. “That's all I needed to know. Thank you for your candid assessment, Nate. I will ask that you please let me know if anything changes.”

“Ah… yes, Sir… within reason.”

“I'm not asking you to spy on her, young man, I'm asking you to keep an eye on her well-being - something I suspect you already do - and let me know if there are changes.”

“Yes, Sir.” Admiral Paris stood and returned his chair to its original position.

As he was leaving, he turned back to Nate. “I'm going to give you permission to leave early today. With her out of the office, I doubt you will have much work to do.” With that, he turned back and walked out into the hallway, leaving the door to close behind him.

Nate sat in the silence for a moment. He’d just been privy to the fact that Admiral Paris did actually have a heart. She’d said as much in her logs, but he hadn't ever truly believed it.

Shaking his head, he activated his comm. He needed to reschedule her appointment with the junior officer who had surprised them with a request for her advice. When he was finished with that, he decided he would contact his girlfriend Becky to see if she was free for an early start to their Friday evening plans.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“You're incorrigible, Chakotay!”

He laughed at her. “What - you didn't think it would be fun to tease those teenagers?”

“I thought it would be funny, but I didn't think you’d actually do it!”

He watched her laugh with a sense of gratification. They’d spent the day doing things he hoped would clean the shadows out of her mind. It had worked.

Their first stop had been to CuppaJoes where the joviality of the two young men had pulled her out of her melancholy. After that, they’d rented a small paddleboat to explore along an inlet off the bay, which served to keep her relaxed.

On their way back to her apartment to get changed for their evening in Colorado, they'd run into a group of teenagers. Chakotay had pretended to report that the teens were involved in some type of mischief so they wouldn't interrupt her day of playing hooky by asking for autographs. The teens had scattered, leaving them in peace, and her doubled over in laughter.

By the time they materialized in Colorado, the hysterics had disappeared, but the wide smile remained. As he’d done all day, he tucked her arm in his as they walked to the Johnson house.

When they reached the edge of the property, she stopped and turned to face him. “Thank you for the wonderful day, Chakotay. You always seem to know exactly what I need.” Her hand pressed against his chest and burned yet another brand into his heart.

Before he could respond, the sound of a door opening heralded the excited cries of a 3-year-old. “Aunt Kath! Aunt Kath! You hewe!” Kathryn laughed as the small body slammed into her.

“Yes, Kevin. Both Uncle Chakotay and I have come to hear your new sound.”

“I sayed youwe name wite, Aunt Kath !”

“Why don't we head inside, Kevin. I think Mom would like to see everyone, too.”

“Okay, Daddy.” Kevin grabbed Kathryn’s hand and began leading her into the house, chatting endlessly about what he’d done in preschool that week.

Mark held Chakotay back a bit. “What was that all about?”

Chakotay could hear the concern mixed with curiosity in the other man’s voice. “She told me… a… painful story last night. I've spent the day cheering her up.”

“And the night…?” This time, his voice was full of suspicion. Did he really think that Chakotay would have taken advantage of her?

“I spent the night on her couch while she slept on my shoulder - where she’d cried herself to sleep.” He couldn't keep the defensiveness out of his voice.

Mark studied him for a moment. “So you know… she told you.”

Chakotay couldn't help himself - he had to one-up the suspicion in Mark's tone. “Yes - more than she told you .” He moved past the other man and headed into the house.

 

Mark watched Chakotay’s retreating back. He’d tried not to insinuate anything, but had seen the intimacy between them and the look on her face just before Kevin interrupted them.

He followed the big man into his house. More than he knew? What did that mean? He didn't know what else there was to know, except… perhaps…

Damn! He had just learned one thing. It wasn't so much that they needed to be told of their feelings as it was that they needed to be assured of the other one’s. It was time to open his mouth.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Dinner was a happy affair. Kevin was so proud if his accomplishment, he tried to use every word with a th sound that he could think of. It made for some hilarious conversation.

After dinner, the two women settled down in the living room with Kevin, while the two men cleaned up the dining room and kitchen.

“Chakotay, I'm sorry if I insulted you. I…”

“It’s alright, Mark. You obviously know I was at her apartment this morning, and she looked like she had just rolled out of bed. You're longtime friends and… more. I would have been just as concerned in your shoes.”

He turned to look directly at the other man. “So you know… I will never hurt her, or take advantage of her.”

Mark sighed. “I know, Chakotay. I just… forgot… for a moment.” He glanced toward the living room. Was this his chance to say something? He settled on a hint. “So you know. Part of my concern came from the knowledge that she would have let you.”

He let his words hang in the air while he turned to set up the coffee. Chakotay didn't respond.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn was having a wonderful time. Kevin's excitement coupled with the wonderful afternoon Chakotay had shown her merged to create a happiness within her that she hadn't really thought possible anymore.

Topping it off, Kevin was completely focused on her. Since Chakotay had been accompanying her, Kevin had paid quite a bit more attention to him. She hadn't realized how much she’d missed the little boy's attentions.

But it was Kathryn’s name that had caused him to learn his new sound, so it was Kathryn whose lap he climbed up into. While Mark and Chakotay cleaned up the dinner, she and Christine chatted - with multiple interjections from Kevin - about his newly-acquired interest in word sounds.

She and Mark had decided against taking the boy back to a speech pathologist. Instead, Christine had started research of her own, tailoring what she learned to Kevin's specific interests and needs. The boy was thriving on it, and Christine had developed an interest in linguistics.

By the time the two men emerged from the kitchen, they were deeply engrossed in a conversation about the evolution of sentence structure while the formerly over-excited little boy was dozing off in Kathryn’s lap. Kathryn barely registered the odd look on Chakotay’s face before being pulled back into the conversation.

Eventually, the conversation moved into the story of her and Chakotay’s afternoon. She forgot all about asking him what he was upset about.

“Well, Kath, I think it's time I rescued you from my son.” The adults had been talking for some time, and it was getting late. She knew it was Mark's way of ending the visit.

Loathe to let go of the little boy, she forced herself to respect the wishes of his father. “Why don't I help you put him down, so we don't disturb him too much.”

“Sounds like a good plan… follow me…”

She shifted the little boy's position in her arms to one that would make it easier for her to carry him. In his sleep, the little boy wrapped his arms around her neck and nuzzled his head into the crook of her neck. It was such a warm feeling that it stopped her short.

Chakotay must have mistaken her movement to mean that she was having trouble getting up with the heavy child in her arms. He put his arm around her back and stood up with her, giving her extra support for her smaller frame. For a brief second, the three of them were wrapped in his arms - the feeling so… She stepped back before she could finish the thought and followed Mark down the hallway to Kevin’s room.

She laid the child down on his bed and, unable to resist, placed a gentle kiss on his forehead before she stood up. “He really is a dear little boy, Mark.”

Mark nodded. “He's the light of my world.”

“I wish you’d been honest with me when…”

“I never lied to you about how I felt, Kath. Even when Christine told me she was pregnant, I was… conflicted. It wasn't until he was born that…”

“You took one look at him and knew that your world was changed forever. That love was redefined. That you would do anything for that new little person in your arms.”

Mark got an odd look on his face. “That’s probably the best description I've heard.”

“I guess Voyager getting lost turned out to be a very good thing for you.” Why was she saying these things? It might have been the truth, but was it really necessary to bring it out in the open? She couldn't help it - Kevin's little arms around her neck had left her heart completely exposed.

“We would have been happy, Kath.”

“You would have been happy because you didn't know what you were missing, Mark.”

“Same for you, Kath - and you know it.”

She couldn't do it - couldn't continue talking about the can of worms she’d just opened. She turned to leave.

“He came back for you , Kath.”

What ?”

“Chakotay… he came back to be with you. You're the part of his plans that he knows he wants. The rest is just a way to make sure he stays near you.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Did he say something to you?”

Mark shook his head. “He didn't have to. It's written all over him. It's written all over you , too. The both of you are too blind - or too scared - to see the truth.”

Her heart was still too exposed right now. She couldn't allow herself to take in Mark’s words. It would be emotional suicide to allow herself to think… “You're out of your mind, Mark. Chakotay and I are friends .”

“I think you're lying to yourself, Kath.”

“I can't, Mark. I can't…” She waved her hand towards the bed where his son was sleeping peacefully, and took a deep breath. “I can't give him what he wants - has always wanted.”

“I don't think he would care. All he wants is you . He loves you . He left his home for you .”

“He shouldn't… I wish he hadn't… Mark, please…”

“I don't know what happened to you out there, Kath, but you're so locked up… Can you just let yourself be happy?”

“I am happy, Mark.”

He nodded. “When you're with him, you are.”

“Mark, please…” She couldn't speak anymore.

Mark came towards her and pulled her into a hug. “I'm sorry, Kath. It wasn't my intention to upset you. I thought knowing his feelings would bring you joy, not pain.”

She buried her face in his shoulder as she had done often in the distant past. But it was the wrong shoulder… the wrong heartbeat… “Mark…”

He held her closer. “I want you to think about it. You've been through so much. The universe has finally seen fit to provide you with joy. Don't brush it off so easily.”

She nodded into his shoulder, then lifted her head. “I was wondering when the philosopher would appear.” She wiped away the errant tear that had escaped her eye, and put on a smile.

He smiled back at her. “Oh, he's never far away.” He lifted her chin so he could see her face. “Are you ready to go back, or do you need another minute?”

Taking a deep cleansing breath to center herself, she nodded. As they reached the door, she stopped and looked at Mark, again. “Do you honestly think so?”

“I honestly think he would pull the moon out of the sky if he thought it would make you happy.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Christine and Chakotay were chatting about Kevin’s speech development when they arrived back in the living room. Mark saw Chakotay’s expression change to worry with one look at her face. He rolled his eyes. The man could read her like a book - except for that one, all-important area.

Chakotay said nothing, though. Instead, he silently took her hand and tucked it into his arm. Mark watched her lean slightly into him and rolled his eyes again. After a restrained goodnight, the couple wandered out into the evening and disappeared around the bend.

“What the hell happened in Kevin's bedroom? She looks like you just stole her best friend!”

Mark sighed and rubbed his forehead. “I just might have…”

What ?”

“I told her how Chakotay felt about her, and it didn't make her happy. She was really upset.”

Christine led him over to the sofa and sat them both down. “Did we read her wrong?”

“Oh, no… we read her right. It's just… she can't give him what she thinks he wants, and I couldn't convince her that it wouldn't matter to him. She's so closed-off.”

“Was she always like that?”

Mark sighed. “Do you remember the night I first told you I loved you?”

“I didn't believe you… thought you were still hung up on Kath… that there would always be a candle burning in your heart for her.”

“I tried to explain the difference in how I felt for each of you. I've loved Kath since we were kids… thought that what I felt was the depth of what was possible. But how I felt about you…”

“...went much deeper than that.” Christine nodded. “You had a lot of difficulty trying to explain the difference. I always felt there was something you weren't saying… like you were holding back the most important piece of the puzzle.”

His eyes shot to her face. “Don't ever doubt my love for you, Christine. I held back because it wasn't really my story to tell… I'm going to share some of it with you, now. Please don't let on to her that you know.”

Christine squeezed her husband's hand. “I don't doubt you, Mark. The day you proposed, you told me that you would die a thousand deaths if you ever lost me. The look in your eyes when you said it… I've never doubted from that moment.” She smiled. “Chakotay looks at Kath that way, too.”

A mirthless smile crossed his face. “Why do you think I even got involved in their relationship? Ironically, that’s the piece of the puzzle you're missing between me and Kath.” He took a deep breath. “Kath was engaged once before me. The man died in a horrible accident that also nearly killed her. It took her six months to even get out of bed.”

She squeezed his hand. “I can imagine that… I'm pretty sure that would happen to me, if I lost you.”

“The same goes for me, my love… which is how I knew the difference in my feelings for each of you. Sure, I held out hope that she would return, and it hurt when she didn't. But I didn't fall apart… didn't take to my bed for six months. I grieved and moved on.”

“So… your love wasn't as deep… on both sides. I admit, I was curious about how easily you slipped back into a friendship.”

“I can't describe how relieved I was to find out that she felt the same way.”

“Her response to your letter was rather… straightforward… matter of fact… I remember thinking how guarded she was with her words.”

Mark nodded. “Emotionally, she's always been a little cautious - even as a kid. When we ran back into each other as adults, she was really guarded… still working on getting back to an even keel. But, even then, she was still open… still willing to connect with others.”

“But now…”

“Now… I don't know what happened out there, but she's almost completely shut down. I tried to tell her the universe was finally giving her joy, but she brushed me off.”

Christine took her husband's hand. “She might surprise you. Kath doesn't seem like the kind of person who runs away.”

“She can run far when it comes to her heart, but I certainly hope you're right in this case. Otherwise, I've just driven a wedge between them.”

 

Chapter Text

It was the same thing he’d done all day - tucking her hand in the crook of his arm. She took comfort in the gesture, breathing a sigh of relief when they were out of the house and in the fresh mountain air.

She half expected him to ask what had happened between her and Mark. Thankfully, he said nothing. Their walk to the transporter station was quiet.

They emerged from the San Francisco station into a chilly June night. The fog was rolling in from the bay, giving everything a soft, muffled sound and softening the details of everything they saw.

“Would you mind if we took a walk, Kathryn? I'd like to show you something.”

She smiled to herself. Her mind was in such turmoil, she would probably have ended up walking, anyway. It would be safer if she wasn't alone.

“That sounds like a good idea, Chakotay. What are you going to show me?”

“It's a surprise. Telling you in advance would ruin it.” He laid his hand over hers where it rested in his elbow. “I think you can handle the wait for a couple of minutes.”

Normally, she would be jumping at the bit, but the many thoughts spinning around in her head were drowning out her curiosity. “As long as it's only a few minutes…” She tried to cover her distracted thoughts by responding how she thought she would normally have done.

He squeezed her hand and the silence once more descended upon them.

Her mind wheeled and tumbled. Did Chakotay really feel the way Mark said he did? Could she handle it? If she told him the truth, would he run? Could she let someone into her heart as deeply as she knew he would end up?

The last time she’d let someone in that deep, she’d ended up broken - both literally and emotionally. Chakotay would move right past the protective barriers she’d put up in the aftermath. But then, he was already leaning against them. What was one more step?

But if Mark was wrong, everything would be lost. She knew already that she couldn't live her life without Chakotay in it. Was it really worth the gamble?

Her thoughts twisted and rolled themselves into knots. She was so lost in them she barely even noticed that they had stopped walking.

“Close your eyes, Kathryn.” Chakotay's voice came gently out of the fog.

Forcing herself to focus on him and his surprise, she closed her eyes.

“Now, we're going to turn a corner and move forward a little bit. You'll end up taking three steps forward, turn right, then five steps forward. He put his arm around her back to steady her.

Kathryn moved forward according to his directions. With his arm still around her waist, he leaned in and whispered in her ear. “Now, open your eyes.”

Kathryn gasped. They were standing in a grotto with stone walls covered in ivy and other climbing plants. Moss grew between the stones covering the ground. Flowers grew out of niches set into the walls and out of small stone pots dotted throughout the space. Worn down statues blended into the greenery. The space was gently lit by hidden panels, which the fog blurred into a glow that gave everything an ethereal quality.

“It's like a secret garden!” She kept her voice to a whisper, unwilling to break the peace of the place.

His mouth was still by her ear. “I thought of you when I found it.”

She moved into the grotto, gently caressing the delicate plants, running her fingers along the statues. It was… magical… a secret fairy garden hidden behind a stone wall. She could almost imagine needing a special word to gain access.

Finishing her tour through the small space, she returned to him. “It's… enchanting… How did you ever find it?”

“I was wandering and tripped across it. We're in Golden Gate Park, if you can believe it.”

The magic of the place was getting to her, she knew, as she moved closer to him. Putting her hand on his chest, she looked up at him, intending to thank him for showing her this wonder.

Then she noticed his heartbeat. It was the right one. Mark's had been wrong when she’d felt it earlier. But this… it was so… right . Her mind fell blissfully silent as her hand moved up his chest, seemingly of its own accord. Reaching the back of his head, she pulled him down to her for a kiss.

There was one sweet moment, then she realized what she was doing and tried to jump back. His arms were in the way, wrapping themselves around her and pulling her close.

“No more running away, Kathryn.” His voice came softly to her through the misty air. His breath warmed her lips as he leaned down to return her kiss.

She was lost… lost to the magic of the place… lost to the feel of his arms holding her in a tender embrace… lost to the warmth of his lips. When his tongue slid along her lips, asking for entrance, she had no resistance left in her. She let him in without thought, his tongue caressing hers as his hand mirrored the gesture across her back.

Breathless when he finally let her go, she laid her head on his shoulder and breathed in his scent. Her hand returned to his chest and rested there. She’d never felt anything so... right. His Safe surrounded her, his heart beat steady beneath her hand, his breathing giving hers a pattern to follow.

Was it possible to freeze time? She’d traveled through it several times, but freeze it? I could stay here forever . She shivered. Was she cold? She didn't know…

He kissed her temple. “It's time I got you home.”

Looking up into his warm eyes, she opened her mouth to speak. He stopped her, cupping her face and caressing her lips with his thumb.

“Later…” He whispered the word across her lips before he pressed another gentle kiss against them. Turning slowly away from the grotto, he once again tucked her hand into his elbow and guided her out. She followed along behind him in a daze..

Lost in each other as they were, neither of them noticed the dark figure that moved deeper into the shadows and slipped away into the night.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn woke slowly, stretching lazily then opening her eyes to view the sunlight pouring in from her window. It was late. Later than she could remember sleeping in a very long time.

After their kiss, Chakotay had walked her home in silence. When they arrived at her door, he had cupped her face and brought it up so she would meet his eyes. The sweet tenderness she had seen there threatened to overwhelm her. But he’d broken the eye contact and simply kissed her on the forehead.

“Good night, Kathryn. Sleep well… dream better.”

Somehow, she’d found her tongue. “Goodnight, Chakotay.”

She’d watched him wander down the hallway, then let herself into her apartment. Once inside, she’d wandered in a daze to her bed, barely taking the time to change out of her clothes.

Now in the light of day, she couldn't hide from what had happened. Not only had he accepted her kiss, he’d returned it - carrying it deeper than she’d been prepared for.

Mark was right. Chakotay did care for her on a deeper level than she had thought. She knew she cared for him just as deeply. But was it enough? Could she chance her heart yet again? Would he accept the loss of his dreams to be with her? Every man she’d loved had been lost to her in one way or another. She couldn't bear the thought of losing him.

“This is getting me nowhere.” Throwing off the covers and pulling on her robe, she headed to her kitchen to make a pot of coffee. As soon as the brewing cycle finished, she downed the first cup in record time, then took the second one out to her living room to stand in front of her large picture window.

The view was rather pleasant. The building was taller than many of the others around it, so she had an unobstructed view of the bay. Although the sunsets were more spectacular, the sunrise was beautiful in its own right. Her floor was high enough up that any people on the streets below were little more than miniature facsimiles.

Nice as the view was, she longed for the multitude of stars set against the deep black of space. She didn't want to go out there - she just wanted her view back. So meditative… watching the stars streak by as the ship raced along at warp. She’d spent so much time watching, it had gotten to the point where she could tell what speed they were traveling at by the length of the streaks.

Even on the rare occasions when the ship had been stationary, she’d enjoyed marking out constellations in the stars surrounding whatever planet they were visiting.

Now, she had sunrises, sunsets, and buildings. Much as it was a wonderful reminder that they were home, it still was not as calming as the stars.

Finding the view unsatisfying, she wandered away and sat on her couch. This was no better. There was nothing to focus on. The idea of finding a video file of space on her console and watching that crossed her mind, but she dismissed the thought.

Perhaps she could use her influence as an admiral to get herself on a ship in spacedock? No - then she would have to deal with strangers trying to be good hosts.

She stood. Perhaps a bath. Yes. A bath would give her a thinking spot.

 

An hour later, she gave up on the bath. All she could think of was the tub Chakotay had built for her all those thousands of light years and life years away from the here and now. It did no good to think about it. She’d long ago buried that place and the dreams that went with it. Things were different, now. She was different. Going back was impossible.

Slowly, she dressed for the day, choosing a simple top and loose pants since she had no idea what her plans were. Her comm unit had beeped an incoming message while she was in the tub. She went to retrieve it, knowing full well that it was from Chakotay.

She was right. His beloved face filled the screen, his eyes showing the hesitation also evident in his voice. “Hey, Kathryn. I was wondering if you were awake.” He ducked his head and tugged in his ear. “I think we should talk. Comm me back at Tom’s place when you get this.”

Closing the message, she walked away from the unit. Not now… not yet . She needed to know her decision before she could have that conversation.

The next couple of hours were spent pacing her apartment. There was no place to go outside. He would know where to find her if she did.

Her comm unit chimed again, but she let it go to message without answering. It would be Chakotay checking in on her again. His face was sad, his eyes pleading, his message short. “Kathryn… please don't run.”

But run, she did. Within minutes, her bag was packed and she was on her way to her mother's house. It was the only sanctuary she had left. The one place he wouldn't follow her.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay was startled awake by a screaming baby. Rolling over and burying his head under the pillow didn't work - he’d tried it many times. Grumbling, he got up from the couch and stumbled towards the kitchen for some black tea. “Do Klingons get all their teeth at once?”

Halfway through the cup, the caffeine had cleared his mind enough for him to ponder what had happened between himself and Kathryn last night. After Mark's comments to him in the kitchen, it hadn't taken a genius to figure out that a similar conversation was going on in Kevin's room.

He’d tried his hardest to pay attention to his conversation with Christine while he waited with bated breath for Kathryn’s return. He had planned to read her face for clues about how to move forward.

But when the two emerged, Kathryn’s face had given him a completely different story than either of the two he’d expected. It had been sad… confused… conflicted. It was even possible that she’d been crying. Unsure of how to react, he’d simply taken her arm and headed home.

The idea of taking her to the grotto came to him as they rematerialized in San Francisco. He’d been saving it for just the right time, and he’d had a feeling that the time had arrived. He’d been just as awed as she was by how Mother Nature transformed what had been a simply pretty spot into a fairy wonderland.

Then she’d kissed him. Crickets, how soft her lips were. When she’d tried to move away, he knew she had scared herself. But he was done sublimating his feelings for her fears. She had kissed him first, he wasn't letting her go without kissing her back.

No more running… that's what he’d said to her. She had accepted his kiss with a touch of hesitance that had disappeared almost immediately, giving way to her own passion in return.

But now, in the light of day, would she run away again? They needed to talk. Now that he’d tasted her sweet lips, he wasn't sure if he could go back to how they had been before.

Moving over to Tom's comm console, he checked the time. It was late enough in the morning that she would probably be awake, so he keyed in her comm address and prayed that she would answer.

She didn't. He left her a benign message asking to talk, and left it at that. Perhaps she had gone out? Wandering the city while she let her thoughts settle? Maybe she would stop by CuppaJoes. He got dressed and went looking for her.

Two hours later, he gave up and went home. The guys at CuppaJoes hadn't seen her, and she hadn't been along any of the routes he knew she traveled. He sighed. She had probably stayed in, knowing he would go looking for her.

She was running. Damn! Should he go to her apartment and confront her? If she wasn't ready to talk, that would be the worst idea. He’d pushed her many times on Voyager, and the times she hadn't been prepared to discuss the decision, he had lost spectacularly. When he waited, she’d been much more open to discussion. He’d still lost often enough, but it was usually with some concessions on her part.

Still… he needed to let her know that he wasn't going to let this go. He keyed in her comm. As expected, she didn't answer, so he left a short message. Please don't run. All he could do was wait.

 

<<<------>>>

 

She’d completely confused her mother, she knew. An appearance at her childhood home on a Saturday afternoon was out of character for her. Unable to explain it without letting the whole thing loose, she’d avoided the older woman. Dropping her bag in her room, she headed out to her thinking tree.

Arriving back at the house around dusk, her mother fed her a simple supper, then put her to bed, sitting with her until she fell asleep as if she was a child. Kathryn wasn't surprised that Gretchen hadn't asked her what was wrong. Too many years of locking her feelings away had made her mother adept at reading her well enough to leave her alone.

The next morning, she was wrung out and empty - still without answers. Her mother had plans for her though.

“Mary Gelina’s son is away for the week. Go take his puppy out for a walk. Get a ball. Throw it around. Play fetch. Train it to heel.” She handed Kathryn a stasis container with sandwiches and fruit. “Don't come back before 4:00.”

Mrs. Gelina was more than happy to hand over the rambunctious puppy, who was more than happy to spend the day outside running and playing. Kathryn did as she was told, teaching the young puppy - named Garth - to ‘heel’ and ‘come'. Garth froliced in the fields chasing the ball and refusing to bring it back to her. She shared her sandwiches and water with him, then they laid side by side, soaking up the spring sunshine and dozing.

She reappeared at her mother's door at 4:30, hot, sweaty… and recentered. Heading up the stairs to shower and change for dinner, she reconsidered her decision against getting a dog.

At the time, her concerns about her long work hours leaving it cooped up in a small space had seemed valid. But, now, she was spending more time away from her office. She and Chakotay could…

“Damn.” She sat on her bed, shirt forgotten in her hands. There she went, making plans with him when she didn't even know what she wanted. “Crickets! What am I supposed to do?”

Finally, the delicious smells of her mother's cooking broke her out of her reverie. She finished dressing and went down to set the table.

“Set it for two, dear.”

“No Phoebe?”

“Do you really think you're in the mood to deal with your sister at the moment?”

Her shoulders drooped. “No.”

“Then set it for two. I've already commed her and told her to make other plans.”

Pork chops were on the menu for the evening. Much as she enjoyed Chakotay's cooking, she decided that she’d missed meat dishes. They ate in near silence while Kathryn’s mind still whirled.

“You came here yesterday more upset than I've seen you in years, Katie. Are you feeling any better?”

“A little… although I still have no idea what to do.”

“What to do about what ?”

Kathryn shook her head. The confusion rolling around in her brain was not something she wanted to share.

The older woman huffed a sigh. “Then I have one question for you.”

She put her fork down and looked up at her mother. “Go ahead.”

“Can you admit that you love him?”

Kathryn’s breath caught in her throat and she stared at the older woman for a minute. I should have known she’d figure it out. True to form, her mother stared back - one of the few people in Kathryn’s life whose eyes had never wavered at her gaze. Chakotay’s never wavered, either.

She looked down at her plate, battle lost (or was it won?). “Yes, Mom. I love him.”

Reaching across the table, her mother grasped her hand. “Does he love you?”

“I don't know… Mark says he does.”

“Then the rest is just useless data.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

He waited all weekend. At some point, he realized that she had probably gone to Indiana. Not knowing how her mother felt about him, he couldn't decide if he should worry more.

Monday rolled around and he decided he’d had enough. She couldn't run from him in her office, and cornering her there was probably better. He knew what his face looked like when he was angry - trapping her in her apartment could scare her.

The look on her assistant’s face when he arrived at her office strengthened his resolve. The young man's hopeful expression told him that she’d come in looking ‘not quite right’. After checking to make sure she was alone and had some time to talk, he strode past the desk and right into her office.

“Not right now, Chakotay…”

“Yes, right now, Kathryn. I'm not going to let you run away from this conversation.

She put down the padd she’d been holding and rubbed her forehead. “I'm not running . I'm trying to figure out what to say - what to do.”

“We can figure things out together, Kathryn.”

Her hand moved to pinch the bridge of her nose. “It's not that simple, Chakotay.”

He sat down in the chair facing her desk. “Talk to me… please.”

Sighing, she crossed her hands on the desk in front of her and looked up at him. Her steady gaze pierced into his.

He didn't flinch - he never had, and she knew it. Was this a test? Was she trying to see if they had changed that much from a simple kiss?

Silence descended over her office. Finally, she sighed and sat back against her chair. “I don't want to have this conversation here. Meet me at my apartment tonight and we can talk when I'm not on duty.”

“Fair enough.” He stood and walked to her door. As he opened it, he turned back to look at her. “If you’re not there, I’m going to find you, Kathryn.”

He saw her head hit the desk as he firmly shut the door. A quick nod at Nate revealed a scared and worried assistant. Fine. He could babysit her today.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Nate Harrison was worried about Admiral Janeway - again. Friday’s last-minute, unexplained absence, then the odd conversation with Admiral Paris had set him on edge. Today, she had arrived looking… not quite as put together as she normally did… with a weekend bag over her shoulder. The bag was nothing new - she sometimes stayed at her mother’s house Sunday nights and came directly to Headquarters from there.

The slightly disheveled look was what was out of the ordinary for her. No matter how tired she was, she always looked the part - hiding the circles under eyes with heavier makeup. Was this what Admiral Paris wanted him to report? Had something happened on Friday that made him think she might come in this way? Was there something wrong with her family?

He hoped Chakotay would join her for lunch. The Commander always put a smile on her face. It seemed his prayer was answered when the hallway door slid open to admit the very person he’d just been thinking about. Then he noticed there was something wrong with Chakotay's expression, too.

“Is she in?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is she in a meeting?”

“No, sir. Not until 1400.”

“Good.” Without giving Nate time to hail her, he strode across the room and let himself into her office.

“Not right now, Chakotay…” The rest of her words were cut off by the door closing. It was enough to make him worry even more.

His head fell into his hands. If Chakotay was the problem, there was no one to fix it. Perhaps he should contact Admiral Paris…

He was reaching for his comm to contact Paris’ office, when her door opened again. “If you’re not there, I’m going to find you, Kathryn.” Chakotay shut the door firmly and strode back across the office room towards the hallway, giving Nate a sharp nod. Nate’s face dropped back into his hands. Chakotay’s face had looked worse than when he walked in.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn held her head in her hands. It was the end of the day, and she really should be packing up to head home. Instead, she was sitting at her desk, bleary-eyed from staring at padds all day.

Despite a last-minute invitation to lunch from Owen Paris - which she had refused - she’d worked through it. The meal Nate had so affectionately ordered still sat, virtually untouched, on the corner of her desk. A smile crossed her face. The dish was one of her favorites. He must have picked up on her unsettled mood, and the meal was his attempt at making her feel better.

There was a soft knock on her partially open door, and Ensign Harrison came in. “It’s the end of the day, Admiral.” Unobtrusively, he picked up her plate and turned to place it in her replicator for recycling. “If you'll pardon the intrusion, I couldn't help but hear that you might have plans for dinner. Were you planning on going, or should I order dinner for you?”

She couldn't help but smile. The young man was terrified just asking her, yet he was worried enough that he was doing it anyway.

“There's no need to worry, Ensign. I was just about to pack up and head home.” She hoped he understood the double meaning of her words.

Some of the tension left his shoulders. “In that case, is there anything else I can do for you before I go?”

Pulling her bag from her bottom drawer, she stood and squared her shoulders. “Thank you, but no. How about we walk out together?”

Grinning, he headed out to his desk and grabbed his own bag. “I'd like that, ma'am.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Standing in the hallway outside her apartment door, she was trying some deep breathing to calm her nerves. He was inside, she knew. There was no way he was going to let her slip away from him.

Oh, this is ridiculous, Kathryn. Be honest with yourself. You need to face him. And perhaps he's right about talking. He's always been able to help you through dilemmas. A sigh escaped her. Just one more reason why she couldn't lose him.

He was leaning against the doorway to her kitchen, arms crossed in front of him and a smirk on his face. “How long?”

“Excuse me?”

“How long have you been standing out there in the corridor?”

She couldn't stop the matching smirk that crossed her face. “Long enough to come in. You know me too well, Chakotay.”

He held her eyes. “Not as well as I'd like to.”

She turned hers away, suddenly uncomfortable in his gaze. “Yes, well… let me change out of this uniform. This is a conversation that shouldn't include it.”

“You're right.” He caught her eyes, again. “Just don't spend too much time standing inside your bedroom door. Your dinner will get cold.” He turned and headed into the kitchen, leaving her standing in the living room, speechless.

Making it into her bedroom, she closed the door and leaned against the wall. Not as well as I'd like to. Could he handle the parts of her that he didn't know, yet? Unbidden, the thought came to her - she wanted him to be able to. Perhaps that was the answer she needed?

Dressed in casual clothes, she headed back out. He was there, waiting for her with a glass of wine. He hadn't held it very far away from him. Taking the glass from his hand would put her in close proximity to him. She could feel the heat from his body… smell the scent that was uniquely him.

As it had on Friday night, her mind went blissfully silent. That was her answer - had always been. He might have outright told her that she was his peace. What she had never admitted, to either of them, was that he was hers , too.

Leaving the glass in his hand, she moved in closer and pulled his face down for a kiss. Initially the gentle one she had given him that night, it quickly morphed into one that matched the intensity of his. She could feel his surprise, then the moment when he met her.

Hands still holding the wine glasses, he could only wrap his arms around her and pull her in closer to him. It didn't matter to her. She could still feel the Safe that radiated from him. The intoxicating scent of him surrounded her. The warmth of his lips against hers.

She was lost… permanently. There was no way she would ever be free, now. He owned her - his heart branding itself on hers forever. Finally, the need to breathe outweighed the need for his lips and she broke the kiss. Resting her head on his shoulder, she moved her hand down from his neck to find his heartbeat. It was faster than normal, but still steady and strong.

When the rhythm slowed to its normal pace, he finally spoke. “Would you like your wine now, or should I just put down the glass so I can hold you properly?”

Laughing, she let him go. “I think you’d better hand me the glass. I could use a drink.”

“You're not the only one.” Handing her the glass, he clinked it with his in a toast. “To the conversation that will now be much easier than I had anticipated.”

“You can wipe that smirk off your face and feed me now. I haven't eaten much today and I'm suddenly starving.”

The smirk morphed into a grin. “Why am I not surprised? Come sit down. I'll get your plate.”

They sat across from each other, while Kathryn wracked her brain on how to start. “Nate was worried about me today.”

“I know. He looked like he was about to cry when I left your office.”

A soft smile crossed her face. “What a sweet young man. He ordered me one of my favorite meals for lunch, trying to make me feel better.”

“He adores you.”

“He's acted like he knew me from the moment we met, but you don't adore a person you've only known for a couple of months.”

“I know I did. You have that effect on people, Kathryn.”

“I liked you, too Chakotay. I just couldn't allow myself to figure out why.” She glanced up at him through her lashes. “I hope you can understand that.”

“I do - did. I had my own reservations. I’d tried that on-board romance and it nearly destroyed me and Voyager. I'm not saying that you would have done what Seska did. I'm saying the distraction could have been dangerous.”

“But you still gave up on me.”

“I gave up on myself . When Seven asked me out, I decided I couldn't allow myself to spend the rest of the journey lonely.  You and I had grown apart… that connection that sustained me had weakened. I went looking for it elsewhere instead of trying to get it back.”

“The Admiral told me that you would have ended up marrying her. And that it destroyed our friendship.”

He blanched. “ Marrying her ? I can't imagine ever wanting that. Although I can imagine that it could have driven a wedge between us. We were already so far apart that...”

“It broke the final cord. Between losing you and Tuvok, I - she - gave up. On everything - the exploration… helping other races… She barely stopped for supplies”

“All she had left was her drive to get home.”

“Exactly.” She willed the tears in her eyes away.

There was silence for a moment, then his voice came softly over the void. “Why did you pull away from me after Quarra?”

Tell him! Her mind raged. Now is the perfect time! But her heart wouldn't allow her to speak the words she should.

She gave him the abbreviated version. “My mind was stolen from me - all the experiences that shaped who I am were lost. I did things I would never have done, and I hated myself for it. It was a long time before I could look in the mirror.”

“And you didn't think I would help you with that?” She could hear the pain - the insult - in his voice.

“You must understand, Chakotay, the bond was already so weak, I… I couldn't… I couldn't open myself up to you about what was truly going on.”

“So you hid in your quarters and tried to deal with it on your own.”

“The Doctor knew. I talked to him about it a little. But, yes, I did my best to get past it on my own. It was just too… personal… to share with anyone else.”

He sighed. “Can I tell you how many times I wished there was a Counselor on board?”

A mirthless smile crossed her face. “I probably wouldn't have talked to him - even if he hadn't been lost in the initial wave. Counselors are not my favorite people.”

That earned her a dimpled grin. “Why does that not surprise me? But, seriously Kathryn. What happened with our friendship? Where was the initial break that never mended?”

“I'm not really sure I could pinpoint it. My deal with the Borg? How I acted toward Ransom and his crew? Maybe it was all the little things that slowly chipped away at us.”

“I think it was Seven, too.”

“I think we've already established that, Chakotay.”

“No - I mean when she first came on board. We were still trying to find a way back to each other and, suddenly, you were teaching a grown woman how to be… a grown woman . It took a lot of your focus.” He ducked his head and tugged on his ear. “You didn't have much time left for me - for us .”

Dumbfounded, she stared at him. She’d never thought about it from his side, but he was right. Aside from her duties with running the ship, a great deal of her time had been spent with Seven. “I'm sorry, Chakotay. Why didn't you ever say anything to me?”

“What was I supposed to say, Kathryn? We were friends and co-workers. I had no claims to you or your free time.”

“Why are we having this conversation? Opening old wounds was not really what I expected to be talking about tonight.”

“Because we have to talk about them… open them up to be cleaned so they can heal properly and disappear.” He leaned forward and clasped her hand across the table. “We need to do this before we can move forward. Face it, they'll pop up out of the blue at times and possibly cause trouble if we haven't cleared them up, now.”

Taking a deep breath, she squeezed his hand. “Okay… what's next on the open wounds agenda?”

They spent over an hour going over the heartaches that marked their journey home, bringing them out in the open, airing them out, then packing them away for good. Chakotay was right, she decided, it was good to get them cleared out of the way up front.

There was one thing left on the ‘old wounds’ agenda. “What happened between you and Seven?”

He ducked his head and tugged on his ear. “Took you long enough.”

“I saved the best for last.”

“After the debriefings were over, we realized how little time we’d spent together during them - that we hadn't sought each other out for support. Coupled with the fact that neither one of us knew what our lives would be like, we decided to part ways until we knew what each of us wanted.”

“And you figured out that it wasn't her.”

He laughed. “Actually, it was Sekaya who pointed out to me that I stopped even mentioning Seven after about two days. After that… it was all you.” The grin turned bashful, and she swore she could see a little pink color his tawny skin.

It was endearing. She’d seen him embarrassed about Seska and the mess that came with her. The Angry Warrior legend he’d told her on New Earth had been made up to hide his discomfort. But this was… simple… like a little boy admitting a crush.

Impulsively, she grabbed his hand. “I'm glad.” They were silent a moment, then it occurred to her that Seven might have had a different epiphany. “How did she take it?”

“Well, I haven't talked to her yet.” He held fast to her hand as she tried to yank it out of his. “I haven't talked to her because I can't find her, Kathryn. I wouldn't have left her hanging in limbo like that.”

“What do you mean you can't find her? Isn't she with her aunt?”

He shook his head. “If she is, her aunt is a very good liar. I've looked everywhere - her aunt, the Doctor, the Daystrom Institute where she’d been planning to go. Starfleet hasn't heard from her, either. She's missed her last five monthly checkups with their doctors.”

“You're kidding me. Where do you think she went?”

“I really don't know. I'm out of ideas of where else to look. At some point, I decided that she also doesn't want to continue any type of relationship with me. Otherwise, she’d be someplace where I could find her.”

“I'll ask Owen. Maybe she's doing something classified that Starfleet wouldn't be willing to share with you.”

“You'll let me know she's at least safe? I'm worried.”

“I'll tell you what I can.”

“Good… Now, back to us . Do you think we've cleared the air enough? I'd really like to kiss you again.”

Kathryn couldn't help but laugh. “I don't know… if I let you kiss me now, will you still help me clean up?”

Still holding her hand, he stood and walked around the edge of the table until he was standing in front of her, then pulled her up on her feet. “I think that can be arranged.” His words breathed across her lips as he cupped her face.

Once again she was lost to him as his lips captured hers in a gentle kiss. His arms wrapped around her in a tender embrace. Feelings she had thought lost forever pushed themselves out of their captivity, setting her free. Her hand threaded itself through his thick hair and pulled him deeper into her.

When the kiss finally broke, both of them were breathless. They remained standing, breathing in rhythm while their hearts settled.

“You can do that forever, Chakotay.” Her words breathed into his chest.

“I plan to, Kathryn.” His arms around her tightened, cradling her in their warmth. She drank it in like a thirsty refugee lost in the desert for a thousand years.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay wandered out of Kathryn’s apartment building into the chilly evening, caught up in the same daze he’d been in on Friday. After cleaning up the dishes, they had moved to her couch to finish off the wine.

Innocuous small talk filled the spaces between breathless exploration of each other’s mouths. Crickets, her lips were so soft! He couldn't get enough… kissing them… running his thumbs across them as he cupped her beautiful face… watching her gently bite the lower one with her teeth as she pulled away from his lips.

Their mutual suspicions about anything romantic between them on board had pretty much proven themselves. The Vidiians could have been standing right outside her door, and he wouldn't have been able to pull himself away from her.

What he had now, though, had been very much worth the wait. Even their original fears about adding this new element to their friendship had dissolved quickly, leaving behind a sense of rightness he had never known.

He took the long way back to Tom's place, hoping that the other man would be asleep. He didn't want to explain what he knew was a grin as goofy as a young teen after his first kiss.

 

<<<------>>>

 

The next morning, he woke to a message from Ensign Chernov of the Housing Department. She’d finally received permission to offer him a place, as long as he was willing to put up with some inconveniences.

One end of the building undergoing repairs and renovations had not been damaged, and Starfleet had allowed several older, retired officers to retain their homes while the construction went on around them. She had successfully lobbied her superiors for permission to house him in a vacant apartment there.

The apartment was located at one corner of the building. The bedroom and living rooms were small, but the building had been built long before replicators had taken over the way most of the people of Earth ate. Thus, the kitchen was larger than what he’d seen anywhere else. One look and he took it, heaping thanks upon the young woman who had worked so hard on his behalf.

What he’d thought would be a quiet week suddenly turned very busy. Most of the temporary residences came already furnished, but because this one wasn't supposed to be occupied, there was no furniture. Ensign Chernov gave him access to the storage area, but he would have to move whatever he found, himself.

Tom got the Doctor to babysit the fussy Miral in order to help, but it still took several days to get everything set up. In exchange for the assistance, Chakotay was forced to tell him about the change in the relationship between himself and Kathryn. Tom only half-believed it.

Despite his desire to get moved in as soon as possible, the pull of Kathryn’s lips still held sway over him. The work was cut short each afternoon so he could shower and make it back to her apartment in time for dinner. She drove him crazy with questions about his new place, but he refused to let her see it before it was done.

Finally, the apartment was furnished and Chakotay was able to move in. The only thing left to do was collect cooking equipment for the large kitchen. Despite his excitement about having all the space to work in, it was a daunting task.

Friday morning, he woke to find a large container in his living room, along with a note from Kathryn explaining that it was a housewarming gift - and apologizing for using her influence to get it beamed directly inside his place. He gasped when he opened it to find a full set of chef-quality cooking equipment, then rushed to his comm unit to contact her.

She was wearing a mischievous grin when she appeared on the screen. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your face this morning?”

“You didn't have to do this, Kathryn.”

“A simple thank you would be appropriate, Chakotay.” Her arms crossed in front of her and a mock glare took over her face.

“Thank you… but you didn't have to do this.”

“Did I get everything right? Christine and my mom said that was what you would need, but…”

“It's wonderful, Kathryn. But you still didn't have to do this.”

She huffed an exasperated sigh. “You're right. I didn't have to do it, Chakotay. You need a kitchen full of equipment, and I want to give you one. End of story.” Her head tipped to the side and a glimmer of humor settled in her eyes. “Besides, I need an excuse to get invited over for dinner.”

He grinned back at her. “Consider yourself invited, then. What would my first houseguest like to eat?”

“Surprise me. I'll be there at 1800.” She grinned at him, again, then cut the connection.

He sat back and laughed. Despite the fact that he felt a little uncomfortable accepting such a gift, he was excited to get a chance to use it. He headed to his kitchen to set the kettle to boil for his morning tea, contemplating the abrupt change in his plans for the day.

 

Chapter Text

Chakotay hurried down the hallway toward Kathryn’s office. His meeting had broken up earlier than expected, and he wanted to spend lunch with Kathryn. It was right around the time her assistant usually ordered her lunch. At the very least, he was hoping to get there in time to have a meal for him included.

“Commander! I'm sorry. I didn't realize you had planned on lunch.” The young man reached toward his comm unit. “I'll cancel her order.”

“Would it be possible to just add onto it? We can eat here.”

“Of course, Sir. Would you like enchiladas refritos? They have tostones, as well.”

Once again, Chakotay was intrigued by how often the young Ensign knew exactly what he liked. “That would be perfect. Thank you Ensign.”

“My pleasure, sir. Please go on in. I'll bring the food when it arrives.”

Chakotay nodded, then headed into Kathryn’s office. “Hi.”

“Chakotay! Two special visits in one day… why are you in uniform?”

He moved around the edge of her desk until he was standing in front of her. “I had a meeting that required it.” Grasping her hand from where it still rested on her desk, he pulled her out of her chair. “I know we agreed to keep our relationship out of this building, but indulge me in fulfilling just one fantasy?”

Before she could respond, he wrapped his arms around her and captured her lips in a passionate kiss. There was little to no resistance on her part as she melted into him, their bodies molding together as if they were made for each other. They remained wrapped in each other’s arms - alternately kissing and coming up for air - until her comm chimed.

“Admiral, your lunch has arrived. Shall I bring it in?”

Chakotay let her go, laughing as he wiped a spot where her lipstick had been smudged. “That's one smart assistant you've got there, Kathryn.”

She smacked him gently on the chest as she activated her comm. “Yes, thank you, Ensign.”

A moment later, there was a soft knock at her door, and Ensign Harrison appeared with two packages. “Shall I put it on the table here?” He headed to the coffee table placed in front of her office sofa.

“Thank you, Mr Harrison. It's very kind of you to include my order.”

“My pleasure, Sir. Please let me know if you need anything else.” He gave Chakotay a wide grin, then moved out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

Kathryn burst out laughing. “Shy and nervous as he is, not much gets by him.” They sat down together and began opening the packages. “So, tell me… what fantasy have I just indulged?”

“To kiss you, while in uniform, at your desk.” He didn't mention that the rest of the fantasy included laying her across that desk while he ravaged her body.

She grinned at him. “It seems we had the same fantasy, then.”

They spent the rest of her lunch break laughing and eating… and kissing. Standing at her doorway to say goodbye, he gathered her into his arms one last time. “Do you suppose we could change that rule to say nowhere in the building outside of this room ?”

In response, he got a wink and a devilish grin. “I'll think about it.” She touched her lips to his one last time, then pulled out of his arms. “Now, go… I have a meeting in an hour with an eager young lieutenant - wanting advice on how to keep leadership decisions separate from personal relationships.”

He caught the grin on her assistant's face as he laughed his way out of her office.

 

<<<------>>>

 

The following week passed in a haze of activity. Between library visits for research, meetings, lunches and dinners with Kathryn, he couldn't ever remember being this happy. The deepening of his relationship with her seemed to be going well.

She still seemed nervous, though. Although she happily kissed him whenever she could, going much further didn't seem like an option. He didn't expect her to jump into bed with him, by any means, but…

He forced himself to take it slow. She’d locked herself away for so long, he imagined it was difficult for her. Over the weekend, she opened up a bit more, changing into a low-cut blouse from her uniform on Friday night. He finally got to taste the skin on her neck and down to her cleavage. It was just as sweet as her lips.

He didn't know how to start the conversation about what was going on. Anything he could think of saying made it sound like he was pressuring her. Knowing at least part of her history, pressure was exactly the opposite of what she needed. Following her pace was the best option. Ultimately, all he truly wanted was to be near her.  

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Kathryn? We're going to be late.” Chakotay had let himself into her apartment, hoping to get her to hurry up. It was funny - he’d never known her to be the type to fuss over what to wear. Finally, she appeared, and he almost dropped his teeth.

She was wearing a low-cut top made of some type of soft, stretchy material and the tightest jeans he had ever seen. They followed every curve of her shapely hips and thighs - he could even see the muscles in her calves.

“I'm sorry, Chakotay. The weather has been so iffy, I just couldn't figure out what would work best.”

Somehow, he managed to get his mouth to form words. “It's alright. We should have just enough time to get there before everything starts.”

“Where are we going? You know surprises aren't my strong point.”

“Ahhhh… you'll just have to wait and see.” He gave her a wide grin. The strength of the not-so-mock glare she gave him threatened to crumble his reserve, but he held it together. “Let's go before the whole thing is over.” He took her arm and led her out of the apartment.

 

Kathryn really was going crazy with suspense. He’d been so excited since he told her about it on Wednesday that she was working really hard to keep her anxiety at bay. So, she followed him as he led her through the Presidio to a small hill. Laid out before them at the bottom of the hill was a concert stadium. It was full of an orchestra warming up.

“Chakotay?”

He smiled at her. “The university symphony stays after classes end so they can completely focus on practicing. Then they do one final performance of the year before they take their own summer break.”

“But you don't like this type of music.”

“It's not that I don't like it. It's just not my first choice. Besides… it's your favorite.”

Touched by his thoughtfulness, she leaned into him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “So, where do we sit?”

He let her go and spread out a blanket beneath a small tree. “Right here. I was told that this is the best spot because the music… blends?... here.

The discomfort he had with the terminology was endearing and she smiled gently at him. “You mean that the acoustics are best?”

“That's what they told me.” They sat down side by side as the conductor came out on the stage.

As soon as the music started, she discovered how right Chakotay's sources were. The music blended perfectly where they were sitting. She settled her head against his shoulder and let the music carry her away.

 

As soon as the sun finished setting, her concern about the weather proved her right. It was getting cold. When she moved to put on her sweater, he leaned down and asked her if she was alright.

“Just a little chilly.” He helped her into her sweater and pulled her closer to him. She leaned into his natural warmth and lost herself into the music again.

She didn't know the piece the orchestra was playing, but it was beautiful. The melody was sweet and tender like summer rain, while the counterpoint was peaceful but heavier… like evening in the forest. Sighing, she snuggled deeper into him.

“You're cold.”

“I'm fine.” The shiver she tried to suppress made a liar of her.

“Here.” He removed his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders, then pulled her back into him.

“You'll get cold, too.”

“I'll be fine. With you in my arms, I'm as warm as the desert.”

But the evening grew colder and she noticed when he slipped his arm under the jacket that it was icy. “Chakotay, you're freezing. Maybe we should go.”

“I have an idea.” He let her go and scooted over until his back rested against the tree trunk. Spreading his knees, he guided her to sit between them, then laid his jacket over her like a blanket. “Now, rest your back against my chest. You can keep me warm.”

When she had settled in, he wrapped his arms around her waist under the jacket. “Are you comfortable?”

His words tickled across her neck, and she instinctively tilted her head to the side. “Yes. Very. Are you?”

“Yes. Very.” He placed a simple kiss on her neck. The gooseflesh that rose there had nothing to do with the temperature.

 

Chakotay was in heaven. She was wrapped in his arms - the heat of her body radiating into his.  The music surrounded them in the spring night… the tree overhead enveloped them.

He placed another kiss on her neck… then another. Crickets! Her skin was so soft, he couldn't get enough. Soon, he was licking and sucking the exposed flesh. She didn't object.

When his arms unwrapped so he could caress his hands up her torso, her back arched in pleasure. It was enough to spur him on. His hands traveled her body as he continued to pepper her neck and as much of her shoulder as he could reach.

He hesitated when he reached her breasts - it was further than they had gone and he wasn't sure how she felt. In response to his hesitancy she raised her arm and turned her head towards him, pulling him into a deep kiss and encouraging him to continue his exploration.

Stroking his thumbs lightly over her breasts, he found her nipples already pebbled. He was lost to the sweetness of her body as it moved under his hands and arched in pleasure. His hands found their way under her shirt… then her bra… thrilling in the feel of her bare skin.

He couldn't get enough of her. She kissed him again as his hand traveled down her bare torso to the waistband of her jeans. He wanted to touch her… to feel her wetness as he dipped his fingers into her warm heat.

But her jeans were too tight. Short of stripping them off her completely, he would not be able to reach inside. Frustrated, his hand continued its journey down until it cupped her mons through her jeans, while his other one continued tweaking and rolling one nipple between his fingers, and his mouth still traveled the skin along her neck.

A small sound like a whispered groan escaped her as he stroked the apex of her thighs, her moisture seeping through the thick material. How much could she feel? Would the movement of his fingers over such a sensitive spot vibrate through the material enough?

Testing his theory, he stroked his fingers across her again, her repeated groan answered his questions. Looking for a way to give her more stimulation, he scratched his fingernails over the spot. She gasped and her hands gripped his thighs where they had been resting against them.

Surrounded by the darkness and the swell of the music pouring over them, he held her to him and pleasured her body while it writhed under his hands and lips. He kissed her as she climaxed, hoping to swallow any cries she might make - then surprised when she barely made any sound at all.

He brought her down gently, then cradled her as her breathing slowed. She brought his face down for another kiss, then relaxed into him. He could feel the absence of the tension that normally held her and delighted in the idea that he had been finally able to free her of it.

 

Kathryn couldn't believe what had just happened. She had tried many things in her life, but something so… public… had never been one of them. The music flowing over her and the sweet gentleness of him had taken over, and she’d been helpless in their combined power.

Looking around, she took note of several other couples wrapped in one sort of embrace or another. Closing her eyes, she allowed herself to relax completely into him, her head rolling to the side until it rested in the curve of his shoulder.

“Are you alright?” His voice was hesitant and warm at the same time.

“I'm fine. Just… relaxed.”

A small chuckle reverberated through his chest and into her back, and he kissed her on the temple before turning back towards the orchestra.

Disappointment coursed through her when the music ended. It had been a delightful piece of music, and being in his arms had made it all the more special.

Wrapped in her thoughts, she was silent as they folded up the blanket. When he put his jacket back over her shoulders, though, she spoke up. “Chakotay, you'll still be cold.” She couldn't resist teasing him. “Especially without me to keep you warm.”

He gave a soft groan and leaned in close to her. “You make me warm just being next to me, Kathryn.”

Again, the gooseflesh from his breath spread down her neck and her nipples hardened beneath his jacket. Crickets! One breath was all it took for her to turn into a puddle. The amount of control he had over her scared her more than she cared to admit.

He cupped her face and gave her a soft kiss, then tucked her arm in his elbow and headed for her apartment.

Meanwhile, the cogs and wheels spun crazily in her head. She’d resisted the pull of him for more than seven years. Why did he scare her so much? The answer was simple: he would push past the protection she had put around her heart.

When Justin died, she’d sworn to herself that she would never let herself be in the position of loving someone that deeply. Until recently, she’d managed to keep Chakotay at bay. Over the past two weeks, though, he had slowly but surely worked his way through those boundaries until there was only one final step.

Could she do it? Could she let him that far in? Or had what just happened during the concert already done that?

Like the night of their first kiss, her thoughts rolled and twisted through her mind. She’d ultimately given in that night and had not regretted it. Would tonight be the same?

It was important to her that he knew just how special this step would be to her. He needed to know. Unconsciously, she slipped her hand from his elbow and grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together. He squeezed it in response and continued moving.

She stopped, nearly pulling him over. “Chakotay, your hand is freezing. You need this back.” She slipped his jacket off her shoulders and handed it to him.

He promptly put it back around her shoulders. “Come here.” Pulling her toward him, he placed her hand on his chest. “My hands might be cold but I'm not.”

The heat from his chest burned through her hand. He was deliciously warm. In that moment, all she wanted to do was sink into him and never let go. There was her answer - simple as it could be… she didn't ever want to let go of him. She would have to risk it all… trust in his Safe … because there was no other choice for her.

She didn't let go of his hand when they reached her door. “Come in… we need to talk.” Following her inside quietly, he waited for her to speak. Taking a deep breath, she blew it out. “About tonight…”

“Kathryn, I'm sorry if I…”

She held up her hand to stop him. “You know me better than that, Chakotay. If what happened had bothered me, I would have stopped you.”

“True...”

Another deep breath - how she wished for a glass of wine at this moment! - it was time. “Before we go any further, I need you to know something…” Squaring her shoulders and stepping slightly away from him, she watched the worry and curiosity fight for dominance on his face. “I was a virgin when I met Justin.”

Watching his face as the information processed through his mind, she saw the exact moment when he realized the full impact of what she had just shared with him.

Pain came to his eyes and he stepped toward her, hand outstretched. “Kathryn…”

Once again, she held up her hand to stave off his words. “As far as I'm concerned, Justin was my first.”

The pain and uncertainty remained in his eyes. She crossed her arms in front of her. “Chakotay, the Cardassians are nothing more than bullies who use whatever means are necessary to get their way. They taunt people until the people strike back - making them look like the aggressors. They lure them into traps to take what they want. Their most favorite way, though, is torture - of any kind. That's all they did to me… torture.”

It was Justin who had taught her that, reinforced it over and over until she believed it, too. It was also Justin who had gently and lovingly helped her through her fears - both from the Cardassians and from long before. She had opened up like a flower in his love… and shriveled like that same flower in the ice that took him from her.

She had sworn on that day that no man would ever touch her heart like that, and had locked it up tight behind ambition and - later - protocols. Chakotay had nurtured and cared for that bud for seven years. It was time for her to let him into her heart - to let that flower bloom once again.

His shoulders sagged. “Kathryn, I’m so sorry. What you’ve had to endure…”

“Has made me who I am today - something that I would not change. I didn’t tell you this so you would pity me Chakotay.”

A reluctant smile passed over his face. “I can’t imagine you ever accepting pity, from anyone .”

“I need you to comprehend just how important this is to me. I don’t do things like what happened tonight casually. You need to know that if we go any further, you will end up on a list that includes less than a handful of people. In fact - come to think of it - you would complete the hand.”

It was true - her list was very short compared to what she had heard from other women. She and Mark had begun to get reacquainted while she was in Command School, but hadn’t yet started dating when she shipped out for her first posting. While she was away, she had decided that it was time to spread her wings and try to move on into other relationships.

She’d tried a one-night-stand on DS4 - something she found very unfulfilling and that left her feeling rather cheap. Then she had been involved in a short-lived onboard romance with a fellow Command trainee. She’d jumped right into bed with him, then lived to regret it. They broke up when she discovered that he was using her to get a good reputation with the Captain.

She’d come away from those experiences with two pieces of knowledge... first - she was not a person who enjoyed casual sex… and second - Justin had taught her very well .

 

Chakotay’s mind was whirling. It was almost too much emotionally complicated information to assimilate at one time. He worked to straighten it out and simplify it in his mind.

She was a virgin when the Cardassians took her, but she discarded the idea of them taking her virginity from her. That prize went to the pivotal Justin - the man she held all other men up to for comparison. He now understood much better why this first love was so all-encompassing for her.

She’d had sex with four people in her life. Some would say that it was four people too many. Others would say she didn’t have a clue what she was doing and needed to get out more.

But what did he say? He’d never thought to count the number of women he’d slept with. It was more than four - that he knew for sure. But then he realized that it didn’t really matter how long someone’s ‘list’ was. What mattered was that it was important to her - that she’d kept it intentionally short because she found sex to be too important to go about casually.

He was honored that she was willing to include him in that list.

She was watching him. Waiting for his response to her unspoken question. He moved toward her, unwrapping her arms from around her waist and clasping her hands in his. What could he say that would tell her how he understood what she was asking of him?

“Kathryn, I… I have always valued you… have always appreciated the gift of your presence in my life. I will never take lightly what you are willing to offer me.”

She smiled, and the room seemed to come alive around her. “Good.” She pulled his hands behind her until they were wrapped around her waist, then wrapped hers around his neck - his jacket falling from her shoulders to puddle forgotten on the floor. The kiss she gave him sent bolts of lightning through his body, then settled in his groin.

A deep moan escaped him as he pulled her closer, plundering her mouth with his. She responded by searching his, as well. They had not moved very far within her apartment, and he felt himself propelled backwards, until his back landed against the wall. Her hands and mouth were exploring his chest where his shirt had miraculously been unfastened.

Her hands... so soft and tender. He’d watched them for years - writhing themselves together… running through her hair… waving through the air to illustrate a point... gently touching someone - often him - as a show of comfort. He’d often wondered what they would feel like gliding over his bare skin. Now he knew. It felt… intoxicating.

Lips and tongue were toying with his nipple, then she sucked the pebbled tip into her mouth and pulled back slightly… letting the tip rasp gently back through her teeth. He groaned and pulled her hips against his burgeoning erection so she could feel what she was doing to him. She responded by grinding against him.

She was wearing too much clothing. She helped him shrug out of her sweater then let go of his chest long enough for him to pull her top off over her head. The creamy white skin he had so recently been caressing at the park shone in the soft moonlight that sifted through her windows.

When she reached for the waistband of his pants, he knew he had to stop her. He wanted her so badly - and had for so long - it would be over before it started if he let her continue. He grabbed both her hands and flipped them around so that it was her back now against the wall.

Still holding her hands, he pressed them up against the wall over her head and held them there, her tiny wrists wrapped in one large hand, so she couldn’t touch him until he was ready. His free hand roamed her body as he took her mouth in another crushing kiss.

She was still wearing too much. Pressing her body against the wall so he could let her arms free for a moment, he unclasped her bra and let it slip down her arms to fall on the floor. When he pulled her hands up above her head again, her back arched and another quiet moan escaped her.

He momentarily lost his breath when she looked at him. The grey in her normally grey-blue eyes had taken over and darkened. “More.” The sound came softly to his ears. He was so focused on her eyes, he hadn’t seen her mouth move. Had she actually said the word? Had she just thought them and he picked them up? Or was it simply his imagination taking over?

Regardless, he gave her ‘more’ - caressing one bare breast in his free hand while he laved at the other with his mouth and tongue. Taking a page from her book, he sucked it into his mouth and pulled back, letting it slide out gently between his teeth. It earned him a loud moan. Her back arched and she fought against the hand still restraining hers above her head.

He refused to let her go. Instead, he continued to ravage her body while she writhed against him. Still wanting to touch her and dip his fingers into her well of moisture, he reached for the waistband of her jeans. They were now in a place where he could strip them completely off her to gain access to what he wanted.

A soft chuckle came from her as he struggled with the fastenings. The material was strong enough that he couldn’t even rip them off her. If he could lay her flat, though, he should be able to slide them down her body in one swift move.

“Maybe we should move to your bed.” His voice was breathless.

“I don’t think I can wait that long, Chakotay.” Her voice was equally as breathless.

“I’m not sure I can, either, but getting these jeans off you is going to be a difficult feat.

Another soft chuckle escaped her. “Let me go.”

Reluctantly, he let her go. She caught and held his eyes as she quickly unfastened her pants and easily peeled them off her body. Then she reached over to him and removed his pants while her agile fingers taunted and stroked his swollen rigid shaft.

He pulled himself away from her hands and pressed her back up against the wall, mouth crushing down onto hers in a bruising kiss. Gone was the idea of sweet gentle lovemaking of their first time together - a vision that had occupied his dreams for so long. It had been replaced by a simple carnal need for each other that had smoldered and burned for seven years.

As soon as her back hit the wall, she hooked her leg over his hip and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling herself up until they were hip to hip. He groaned as her knees clamped his naked hips and her body moved against his. Sweet as her torture was, he wasn't done with her, yet.

Locking her wrists above her head again, he ran his hand down the pale fevered skin of her torso, down over her belly until he reached her sensitive nub, plumb and swollen with desire.

She was dripping wet, his thumb sliding smoothly over her slick little kernel of tormented flesh. Her body twitched with the new assault, hips rocking against his thumb. He was mesmerized by her - head thrown back, face aflame with passion - as he coaxed her body into abandon.

Crushing his mouth against hers, she sucked his tongue in greedily, tangling it with hers in a frantic dance. She whimpered when he pulled away to nip down the curve of her collarbone.

Her back arched and body bucked and writhed against his as he continued to torment her. She fought against the hand that still held her wrists, but he refused to release his hold on her - the sense of power over his bullheaded former captain was just too great.

His entire being focused on her pleasure as he took her over the precipice. She came with a quietness that belied the frenzied passion that led her there. A quick intake of breath was his only warning before her body went rigid then began to convulse as molten waves of pleasure rolled over it.

He let go of her wrists and grabbed her hips, intending to plunge himself into her, but stopped himself short when he realized that it had probably been a while for her, and she may not be able to take that just yet. Instead, he switched gears and entered her slowly, withdrew, then entered her again.

He’d been right. She was tight - unbelievably so. He’d always considered himself of average size, but he could feel her much more than he would have expected. She felt it, too. Her nails dug into his shoulders and she held her breath as her tissues slowly stretched around him.

Finally, he was buried to the hilt inside her, throbbing with need. He held himself together, reveling in the deep sense of completion and giving her additional time to get accustomed to him. After another moment, she let go of his shoulders and cupped his face, giving him a deep kiss that sent shockwaves through his body.

The passionate tide overtook him and he could no longer hold himself back. His body began slamming into her, seemingly of its own accord. Any concerns he had about her disappeared as she met him thrust for thrust. Her nails scraped down his back and she pressed her breasts back into his face.

She let go of his back and grasped his head between her hands, weaving her fingers through his hair. Pulling him in for a greedy kiss, she plundered his mouth with hers, then moved down his neck with small bites.

“More.” The husky voice whispered in his ear while she clamped her inner muscles around him. She was already so tight he didn't think it would make much difference. He was wrong.

Leaning back, he grasped her hips and rolled them toward him, giving him better access to her. He pounded himself into her as deeply as he could go, almost sure he was hitting her cervix with every thrust.

One look at her was almost enough to send him over. Her head was thrown back in unbridled ecstasy, lips parted to pull in great gulps of air. Her eyes were open and flashing the deep grey-blue he'd seen earlier.

He needed her to go with him over the edge - wouldn't leave her alone on the other side. He found her swollen nub, still slick with her juices, now even more sensitive. She gasped as he began teasing it with his thumb once again. It only took a couple of strokes and her inner muscles were quivering around him.

Her orgasm took over her body. It was now the third time he’d heard it - the sharp catch of breath… the second time he’d seen it - the deep flush on her face as her body froze... and the first time he’d felt it - her inner muscles clamped down on him, sending ripples of pleasure up his shaft and through his body. He finally allowed himself to let go, flying over the edge after her, filling her with hot bursts of his seed.

Breathless and weak-kneed, he collapsed on his elbows against the wall and buried his face in her neck, his hot breath coursing over her. She unwrapped her legs and placed her feet back on the floor, but continued to hold onto him, as if she was also having trouble standing.

Voice quavering with the after effects, she was only able to get out one word. “Wow.”

“Are you alright, Kathryn?” Now that his body was calmer, he was worried about how he had treated hers.

“I'm fine, Chakotay.” She pushed gently against him to let her go. “Just a little sore.”

Pushing away from the wall, he caught her eyes. “I'm sorry. I tried to be as gen…”

“I said I'm fine .” She cupped his face and kept his eyes. “You need to understand right now that I will always stop you if I don't like what's happening. I'm sore because I've just used a lot of muscles that I haven't used for a long time.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. “I'll try to keep that in mind. Just… indulge me if I ask every once in awhile?”

Her eyes went playful. “I'll think about it.” She slipped away from him and headed for her kitchen. “Just remember… turnabout is fair play. Although I'll ask you if you're alright, too.”

He groaned and followed her into the kitchen. What had he just gotten himself into? He was more than interested in finding out.

Catching up to her at the coffee pot, he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and placed a kiss on her bare shoulder. “I'd always imagined our first time together would be a little more…”

“A little more, what? Tender? Gentle?” She turned in his arms. “There will be plenty of time for that. We have seven years of pent up… energy… to work through.” Kissing him lightly, she turned back around. “Now, let me have my coffee before you learn just how I'll stop you.”

He laughed, but didn't let her go. The pull of her bare skin was too much. She was like a drug to which he was a willing addict. His hands wandered over her, exploring the deep dips and curves that defined her body while she drank her coffee.

Soon, she was panting. Setting her cup down on the counter, she leaned her head back against his chest. Reaching behind her, she let her hands wander over him. Finding his rapidly-returning erection, she circled his hard length with her hands and began fondling and teasing him.

Almost immediately, he became even more rigid and engorged. Molding her body into his, he stroked and traveled his way down her body until he found the ultimate prize he’d been searching for all evening. Cupping her mons, his fingers explored and teased the apex of her thighs.

Wrapping her arm around his neck, she spread her legs, inviting him into her sweet heat. He circled her swollen nub and stroked behind it, slowly traveling his way to her entrance. He dipped one finger into her and found her wet and dripping with desire.

The hand that still held him stroked in rhythm to his own movements against her. Her thumb traveled gently over his sensitive tip, spreading the precum that was already leaking out.

One finger, then two, entered her and stroked along her front wall, drawing a gasp and then a groan. Letting the palm of his hand provide the outer stimulation she needed, he quickly brought her already-sensitive body over the edge. The rigor of her orgasm brought her hand tight around his throbbing member and nearly pulled him over with her.

Bending her body over the counter, he pulled her hand away from him and, remembering her tightness, slowly entered her from behind. Her inner muscles, still spasming in her orgasm, pulled him in and held him in a torturous massage.

Struggling for control, he slowly slid in and out of her while she moaned. It was a deep guttural sound that vibrated through her body. He increased his pace in small increments, devastating her control bit by bit until she was liquid in his hands, her body responding to him in a blind fervor.

The continued compliance she showed him was both surprising and arousing. He'd never known her to give way in anything. It spurred him on. Straightening up, he grabbed her hips and increased his pace until he was slamming in and out of her.

Stretching out her arms to brace herself against the countertop, she rolled her hips back toward him. Her movement allowed him to go deeper. He pounded into her in a burgeoning frenzy, all technique lost to the feel of the soft warmth between her thighs.

Reaching around her, he began to tease and fondle the tiny bud. Her hips rocked against his, meeting him thrust for thrust. They drove each other over the edge, spasms of pure ecstasy rocking their bodies. Completely spent, he collapsed on top of her, pushing her into the countertop, both of them struggling to catch their breath.

“Chakotay.” She brought him out of his stupor and, weak-kneed, he stood with the help of the counter.

“Sorry.” He was still trying to catch his breath.

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “There’s no need to be sorry. Except for the fact that you kept me from my coffee.”

He pulled her to him and rained kisses across her silky shoulder. “I should have known better, but I couldn’t help myself. If you want complete, unfettered access to your coffee, you need to find a way to make yourself a little less captivating.”

She laughed and smacked him lightly on the chest. “You managed to control yourself for seven years.”

“Ah, but you weren’t standing naked in your kitchen at the time.” He picked her coffee cup off the counter and handed it to her. “Your cup, M’lady. Be careful not to spill it. I might have to lick it off you, which would put us right back to my getting in the way of your cup.”

Laughing, she headed to her bedroom. “Considering you like yours polluted with sugar and cream, you might not want to lick it off me… but you can have a hand in washing it off.”

He groaned and followed behind her.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn woke to the sound of someone softly snoring. Chakotay. She smiled to herself and stretched contentedly. It had been a long time since she had woken up with a man beside her. That fact that it was him made it that much better.

Opening her eyes, she studied him for a few minutes. He was flat on his back with one arm splayed out to his side. The sheet had ridden down to his waist while he slept, leaving the broad expanse of his chest exposed. Why did the sight give her a thrill? She’d seen his chest many times - in sick bay when he was recovering from an illness or injury… on the holodeck when he was doing his boxing workouts.

But this time it - as well as the rest of him - was in her bed. This time she’d spent a great deal of her night touching and kissing it… watching its muscles flex above her as his body brought her to heights she had forgotten existed.

Sighing, she sat up - and barely stifled a groan. She hurt. All over. It wasn’t just the muscles that hadn’t been used in that way for years. She hurt… inside . The Doctor had told her it would probably be this way - that he’d had to remove some tissue as part of the repairs.

At the time, she’d barely taken notice of his warning. It wasn’t like she had any plans to be sexually active while she was captain of a starship lost 70,000 light years from Earth. Now… she wished she could talk to him.

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. Coffee. Yes, she needed coffee. Throwing on her robe, she wandered out into her kitchen to set up the pot.

She moved to the window, contemplating what had transpired during the night. As she had feared, letting Chakotay in gave him power over her. In one swift move, he had breached all her remaining defenses, devastating her control and branding her with his essence. But did she care?

She wasn’t really sure. Despite her best efforts to keep him at bay, he’d branded her long ago. Last night had been more about her admitting it to herself and, in doing so, surrendering to it.

And surrender, she had. As she’d long suspected, he was an amazing lover. Despite his gentle bearing, a certain wildness brewed beneath it. He exuded a primitive maleness - something that had nothing to do with his tribal heritage, and everything to do with his essential nature.

One look at him sent the blood humming through her veins and a gush of heat between her thighs. A single touch of his hands on her bare skin left her shuddering with desire.

He was insatiable. They hadn’t even made it to the bedroom before he’d taken her twice. In the shower, he’d thrown her leg over his shoulder and made love to her with his mouth until she was weak-kneed and limp. Then, in a move so gently affectionate, he’d dried her body, then her hair, before carrying her to bed and gathering her up into his arms.

Wrapped up in his warmth and giving herself over to his Safe , she’d slept better than she had in years. Some time during the night, he’d woken her with small kisses along her neck and his hand stroking along her skin. They’d made love the way he’d first imagined it - sweet and gentle - exploring each other’s bodies with tenderness and love. The shared climax quiet and powerful at the same time.

“And there it is…”

Startled out of her reverie, she jumped and looked around in alarm. “What?”

He chuckled. “The pose that beat the Delta Quadrant. It made the Kazon run, outfoxed the Devore, beat the Hirogen at their own game, and made the Borg Queen shake in her boots until you destroyed her.”

“Well, I’m the one shaking in my boots, now. You really shouldn’t have snuck up on me like that!”

“You were so wrapped up in your thoughts, I could have set off a photon torpedo right next to you and you wouldn’t have realized it.” He tipped his head to one side. “I hope they ask me.”

“You hope who asks you what ?”

“Starfleet. I hope they ask me what your monument should be.” He stuck his hands up as if framing a picture. “Nothing other than that pose would be acceptable.”

She smirked at him. “Can I at least be wearing my uniform?”

“Kathryn, if you had been dressed like you are now, we would still be in your ready room, where I would still have you thrown over your desk.”

A shiver of desire coursed through her at the mental image he had just created. She deflected. “Who says that it would have been me on the desk?”

While they were talking, he had slowly been moving toward her. Reaching her at her last sentence, he groaned and cupped her face. “We could take turns.” His words whispered over her lips as he caught her mouth up in a long, liquid kiss.

She melted into him. It was going to be an eventful weekend.

Chapter Text

“It's only fair, Kathryn.” Chakotay jabbed his fork in her direction. “You - we - have spent a lot of time with Mark and Christine. It's time we saw some of the crew.”

“It's not the same, Chakotay. I know Mark and Christine don't hate me.”

“And you didn't think that would be a possibility when you met Christine? You are her husband's former lover. One whose relationship only ended because he thought you were dead. That's got to be a little… touchy… doesn't it?”

“Mark said…”

“Let me guess. Mark assured you that there was nothing to worry about.”

“Something like that.”

“Well, I'm assuring you that you also have nothing to worry about with the people you're going to see on Saturday night.”

“Chakotay…”

He clasped her hand across the dinner table. “Kathryn, I won't lie.  There are a few of the crew that are… confused… about what you were forced to do during debriefings. Most of that centers around the fact that they didn't hear from you after they were done. But Tom was never one of them, and he's talked to Harry and the Doctor. They all understand.”

Her shoulders drooped. “I'm not getting out of this, am I?”

The dimples came out in full force. “Nope.”

Defeated by the dimples that she could no longer refuse, she gave an exasperated sigh. “Where are we going?”

He let go of her hand and sat back with a mischievous grin. “Well… that's the fun part. We're going to the real Sandrine’s.”

“You're kidding me.”

“Nope. It seems that Tom has rekindled his love for the place, and made Harry and the Doctor love it, too.”

“I guess I should dust off my pool stick.”

He laughed heartily. “That's probably the best idea. I hear Tom has been tutoring Harry. They're both under the impression that they can beat you.”

A competitive gleam took up residence in her eyes. “We'll just see about that.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn stared into her closet, at a complete loss.

“For cricket's sake, Kathryn. I've never known you to take this much time getting dressed.”

“This is different, Chakotay. These people have only ever seen me in uniform. I - I'm not really sure what to wear.” She turned to look at him. “And to be quite honest, I spent seven years wearing nothing but that damn thing.  I'm so out of practice, it's been taking me much longer than it ever did.”

“Would you let me decide for you? I spent a little more time at the holographic Sandrine's than you did. I know what the atmosphere is.”

The idea gave her pause. He had spent more time there. And he did know what she liked to wear. She’d given up a lot of control to him in the past two weeks, but that had been mostly in the bedroom. Letting him dress her was…

“Let’s make a deal. I'll pick out what I'd like you to wear, and you can decide whether you agree. It will at least get the ball rolling.”

“Fair enough.” She stepped aside so he could take a look.

In no time at all, he came up with a silky blouse and casual pants. “I thought about jeans, since you like them so much, but I think that's a bit much for poor Harry. This should be a good compromise.”

“And the bra isn't a bit much ?” She smirked at him.

He smiled and moved closer to her, whispering in her ear. “Oh, the bra is for me . I plan to think about it all night, so I can ravish you when we get home.”

A shiver of anticipation coursed through her. The things he had done to her in the past two weeks were enough to make her want him constantly.

She shook off the image and looked once more at the outfit he had laid out for her. It was something she would have picked out for herself if she hadn't been so nervous about who they were going with.

“Alright… you win. Give me a few minutes to get dressed.” She shooed him out of the bedroom. “Go. If you stay in here we’re going to be later than we already are.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

An hour later, they materialized in Paris. It was a little disconcerting. The time difference between the two cities meant that, although it had been a little after ten in the morning when they left San Francisco, it was a little after 7pm in Paris.

She took his hand, threading their fingers together, as they headed for the bar. “It seems a little odd to be heading for drinks when my body thinks it's still time for coffee.’

“Ha! As if there was a time in the day that you didn't think was good for coffee?”

“Coffee is an essential part of who I am.”

He leaned in close and husked in her ear. “I know. You taste like it.”

Another shiver coursed through her. “If you don't stop saying things like that, we'll never make it to the bar. I don't relish the thought of being caught making out in an alley.”

“Can you imagine? Tom would have a field day!”

“Tom? How about Starfleet? Their precious Admiral Janeway caught in scandalous activities with her former First Officer!”

Chakotay must have caught the bitter tone in her voice, and he put his arm around her shoulders. “Alright, I promise to be good while we’re here - as long as I can be bad when we get home.”

She smacked his chest lightly. “There you go, again. You’re incorrigible.”

“What can I say? You have that effect on me. Ah! Here we are!” They were standing in front of a drab building, a faded sign their only indication that they had found Sandrine’s.

“I don’t know about this, Chakotay. It seems a little…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s go forward with the idea that Harry wouldn’t frequent a place that wasn’t respectable on some level.”

Still, she hesitated at the door, unsure of facing her former crewmembers, feeling exposed without the shield her uniform provided. Suddenly, his hand was on her back, and she felt herself being propelled forward.

“They’re not going to beat you up, Kathryn. They adore you. Not to mention that we need to get off the street.”

They entered to find the warm wood decorations and sultry lighting from Tom’s holographic recreation. “This is amazing, Chakotay. If he ever wanted to leave Starfleet, Tom could have an entirely different career designing holo-programs.”

Chakotay nodded, looking around in his own appreciation. “Definitely impressive. I think we were lucky to have such a talented designer on board.” Tightening the hold he had around her shoulders, he pulled her into him and cupped her cheek. “And a captain who gave him the permission to develop them in the first place… They love you for that, Kathryn.”

“They love me for letting Tom create excellent holo-programs?”

“No. They love you for giving him the freedom to try - like you did for the rest of them in different ways.”

“Well it's about damn time!”

Kathryn looked up to find Tom, the Doctor, and Harry standing side by side with their arms crossed.

“I'm sorry we're late, we…”

Tom waved off Chakotay's words. “That's not what I'm talking about. It’s this .” He moved his hands back and forth at the two of them. “It's about time you two stopped resisting and just got on with it.”

“I win!”

“No, you don't!”

“Yes, I do, Tom. There's still time in my slot and they're together!”

“I hate to say it, but Mr Paris is right. You know the rules.”

“You could have helped me out, Doctor, it's not like you have anything to gain by overlooking that detail. You lost months ago.”

“Hmph. If you had spent the amount of time in sickbay that I did, watching the two of them dance around each other, you would have picked an earlier time, too!”

“And listening to them flirt on the bridge wasn't enough?”

“This is getting us nowhere. Harry, you knew the rules when you dealt in. Why do you think it's still open? I could have called it weeks ago when Chakotay first told me, but…”

Kathryn had had enough of watching them banter. “Gentlemen, please! Tom, explain what the three of you are arguing about.”

Tom had the decency to be embarrassed. “Well… you see, Kathryn, I - we - kind of had a bet going about the two of you getting together.”

“You three had a bet on the nature of my relationship with Kathryn?”

Despite Chakotay's assurances to her that Tom was only afraid of her , the younger man visibly shrank in the face of Chakotay's anger.

“Ah… not technically. It's the whole crew. You must understand, we spent years watching and listening to the two of you dance around each other.”

“For a while there was a pool going on the ship, but it dried up about a year or so ago.” Harry was looking decidedly uncomfortable, but she knew he would never let Tom hang by himself.

It was the Doctor's turn to chime in. “When we knew Voyager would be getting home, the pool started up, again. Unfortunately, not many of us knew about Seven.”

Kathryn couldn't decide whether to be amused or angry about the bet, but the mention of Chakotay's relationship with Seven hit a nerve. She crossed her arms in front of her. “So a lot of people lost… I'm guessing you were one of them Doctor.”

He nodded mutely, obviously afraid to answer to her anger. She allowed herself a moment to gloat about the fact that she could still hold Command power over him, then turned her attention back to Tom. “But there are a few still outstanding.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She turned to Harry. “And you are one of them .”

“Uh, yes, ma’am.”

“In fact, it seems that your time is now . How do these rules work? Why haven't you officially won, yet?”

“Uh… well… The rule is that you and the Commander must be seen kissing by at least two of the crew - neither one of them being the person who would win.”

“And when is your time over?”

“I have until midnight tonight, San Francisco time.”

Kathryn considered the situation. Part of her nervousness about seeing people from her crew had centered around how they would react to her relationship with Chakotay. It appeared that they would react to it better than she thought - had, in fact, been expecting it. All that was left was for her to break the ice. As was in her nature, the decision was swift, the action swifter.

Still wrapped in one of Chakotay's arms, she turned to him and cupped his face. Waiting a split second to capture his eyes, she pulled his face down for a kiss. The teasing he had put her through earlier made it much deeper than she had planned, as he pulled her into his arms and returned the kiss with passion.

Coming up for air, she remembered what had started the display, and she pushed herself gently out of his arms. Smirking, she turned to the three men standing behind her.

“Harry, you win. The first round is on you.” Kathryn turned to the young woman who had been silently standing next to the group and looped arms with her. “You must be Libby. Let’s go spend some of Harry's new credits.”

Libby allowed herself to be led away, laughing at the four men still standing, rooted to the spot, jaws open in shock.

“You're more like Tom’s description of you than Harry's, Admiral.”

“It's Kathryn, Libby… and I'm willing to bet that Harry's vision of me is still a little…”

“Naive? He can be sort of like that sometimes. You know he idolizes you.”

She was startled by the information. “I knew he respected me, but I'm not really sure you would go that far.”

“Oh, I would. He was heartbroken when you disappeared. Since we heard you would be coming tonight, he's been so excited he hasn't really sat down.”

“He was really happy to get home to you, Libby. I know he tried to move on, but there was always this little candle next to him that burned with your name.”

The younger woman blushed. “I know.”

“I'm glad to see the two of you together.”

“We're working on it. Both of us have changed a lot, so we've kind of backed up and started over. We want to see if the changes make us better or worse.”

Kathryn nodded. “That's a sound idea. I'm glad Chakotay and I waited a bit before we started anything. We also needed to know if our Earth lives were conducive to us being together.”

“That's actually why Harry chose this time frame. He says he knew you wouldn't just jump into each other's arms the minute you touched Earth.”

Kathryn smiled softly. The sweet boy she’d met seven years ago had grown into a wonderfully intuitive man. She couldn't be more proud if him.

“He's a keeper, Libby. I hope it works out for you two.”

Libby sighed. “I hope so, too.”

“Are you ladies ready to play some pool?” Tom, obviously recovered from his shock, was holding a cue stick out to Kathryn. “Go easy on Harry, he's been practicing so much I'd hate to see you bring him down before he gets a chance to show off.”

Laughing, she took the proffered stick. “I'll do my best, but I'm not going to throw a game to stroke someone’s ego.”

 

It turned out that Harry's practice had done wonders to his game. He was able to keep up with her for the most part. Unable to resist the young man's earnest attempts, she ended up tutoring him in some of the finer points. By the time she was ready for a break, he was giving Chakotay, as Tom said, a ‘run for his money’.

Kathryn headed to the bar, trying to decide if she should order another drink. She’d already drunk more than she had in years, and was teetering the edge between tipsy and flat out drunk.

“It's been really good to see you, Kathryn. Even better to see you and that big lug finally together.” Tom sidled up next to her and motioned to the bartender to refill both of their drinks.

Kathryn glanced over to where Chakotay was playing Harry. As usual, the sixth sense he seemed to have for her kicked in, and he looked up to catch her eyes. She smiled at him, then turned her attention back to Tom. “I am, too.”

“You know… you can come back to visit my apartment anytime. Miral will only settle down for you.”

“I’m sure it was just that I bored her to death, but I am more than happy to spoil her rotten anytime you want.”

“It’s more than that, Kathryn. You’re really good with children.” Tom’s signature gleam took up residence in his eyes. “It’s not too late for you and Chakotay to have one. I can just imagine a little Kathryn Janeway running around giving death glares to the other kids.

Unable to continue Tom’s line of conversation, she looked away and caught her breath. “Have you heard anything about B’Elanna?”

The mischievous gleam left his eyes, replaced with a mixture of sadness and worry. “No. Nothing.”

“I'm sorry, Tom. I wish I could help.”

“My father has tried, but the Klingon priests won't budge.” His eyes grew teary. “It's not just me , either. She's missing Miral's first everything . Her first real laugh, her first teeth… if she doesn't come back soon, she'll even miss Miral’s first steps!”

“B’Elanna knows what she's missing.” It was Kathryn’s turn to get teary-eyed. “There's nothing more painful than leaving a baby behind. She will race back as soon as she can.”

Tom's head dipped to one side in curiosity. “Forgive me for asking, Kathryn, but it sounds like you speak from experience.”

“It was just a dream, Tom. That's all. Nine months crammed into one week that was so real I could touch it.”

“Only a week, eh?”

“Dreams don't last forever. At some point you have to recognize they're not real and choose to wake up.” Too late, Kathryn realized that she was more drunk than she had realized, and was giving up entirely too many clues to a man who could sniff out the truth with very little to go on.

To anyone else, it might have seemed that Tom had changed gears and moved off the track. She knew better. “The bets on your relationship started after we rescued you two from that planet.”

“Oh?” How was she going to get him off this? Her mind was too fuzzy from the alcohol, and she couldn't think straight enough.

He nodded. “The two of you were overly distant from one another - as if you were trying to put up a show.”

“We weren't trying to ‘put up a show’, Tom. We were trying to get back into the Command positions we had dropped on the planet.”

“How far did they drop ?”

The drink in her system almost caused her to say ‘Not far enough’, but she was able to catch herself. “Not as far as you're thinking.”

Undaunted, the curious young man pressed on. “But it would have, wouldn't it? If Voyager hadn't come back?”

He’d touched the right nerve for the alcohol to defeat her barriers. She looked down at the drink sitting between her hands on the bar. “Let's just say that if Voyager came back a couple weeks later than it did, it would have been more difficult for Chakotay and I to get back into our Command positions.”

“And if we’d waited another month?”

She was too drunk. “In another month, you would have found a completely different Command team. Wait another four months, and you would have had more than that.”

A quick glance up at him showed the wheels turning in his head. Damn! This is why I don't drink…

A few minutes of silence was all it took. Her world crashed down around her as he spoke - out loud - the painful memories she’d worked so hard to wipe from her memory.

“Nine months lived in a week’s time. A week spent dreaming… like the time you were captured by that entity and held in what the Doc called a coma.”

“Tom…” He needed to stop.

“But it wasn't a coma.” He barreled on, so caught up in his revelation he didn't realize what was happening. “The Doc said something was wrong… kept looking at your readings… He wouldn't say what he was looking at... wouldn't let me see them.”

“Tom…”

“He was the one who asked Chakotay to go into a waking dream and pull you out. The ‘dream' was real. You were pregnant when we came back for you months later. It was so real, your readings showed it, too.”

Tom ....” She was near to tears. Oh, please stop!

“The Doc told Chakotay to pull you back… they were afraid you would never wake up on your own. Something was wrong in that timeline, too… the Doc told me you were going to die if you stayed… you would have, too… for that baby...”

“Tom, please …”

“Neither of you would ever talk about it. He saw it, too. Didn't he?”

It was only then that he looked at her, but it was too late. A tear had finally made its escape from her eyes and was working its way down her cheek. “Tom… please stop.”

“Crickets! Kathryn, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize what I was saying.”

Tom's eyes glanced quickly over her shoulder. She knew what it was… Chakotay's sixth sense had kicked in. He knew something was wrong and was coming over to check on her. She couldn't do this here.

Grabbing Tom's arm, she half-pleaded, half-ordered him. “ Never mention this, again. Not to me. Not to him. No one . Do I make myself clear?”

He was visibly shaken to the core - his eyes showing the pain at what he had just done to her. “I'll never breathe a word.”

Nodding curtly, she let go of his arm and wiped the errant tear from her face. Plastering a smile on it, she turned to greet Chakotay. “How did the game go? Have you come to gloat, or to drown your sorrows?”

She saw him study her for a moment, then choose to let it go. “Neither, so far. It's pretty close, so I was hoping to get my good luck charm to stand next to me.”

Needing his solid presence at her side, she readily agreed. “I'm all yours.” Taking his hand, she followed him back over to the pool table, leaving a silent and heartbroken Tom behind.

 

Chakotay was worried. Over the years, keeping an eye on her had become second nature to him. When Kathryn and Tom had become engaged in a serious conversation, he paid attention. At first, it had seemed supportive. Tom looked sad, so he figured they were discussing B’Elanna.

But, then, things had taken a turn for the worse. He wasn't sure what was going on, but Kathryn tensed up. Tom was talking and the more he said, the more her shoulders squared - the Starfleet posture that was her shield taking over.

It was time to step in. He saw her guarded look and read the fake smile on her face. Her willingness to leave told him volumes about how she felt about the conversation with Tom.

Since then, she had been quiet and reserved - a smile pasted on her face and a simulation of laughter when spoken to. Mostly, she had uncharacteristically hung next to him, leaning into him if he put his arm around her shoulder.

Tom left the bar shortly after his conversation with Kathryn ended, making up some story about Miral giving his mother trouble. The Doctor tried to go with him, spouting advice for teething babies. His refusal was short and snippy, completely foreign to his typically genial nature.

Whether Harry had become that good at pool, or he was so distracted by Kathryn’s mood, he didn't know. Regardless, he lost the game handily, leaving Harry more than a little excited.

They took their leave after that, promising to repeat the fun, then heading out into the Paris night.

Now, here they were, standing in line for the transporters with others who had been out enjoying the Paris nightlife. She remained silent, leaning into him as he kept his arm wrapped around her waist.

He didn't bother to ask what was wrong, knowing her well enough to realize there was no way she would talk while they were in public. Promising himself that he would drag the story out of her when they got home, he held her close and bided his time.

The moment the door to her apartment closed, she turned to him, placed her hand over his chest, and hid her face in his neck. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly to him. When he felt his shirt becoming damp from her tears, he decided he’d had enough.

“Tell me what's wrong, Kathryn. Why are you so upset?”

“He knows…”

“Who knows? Tom? What does he know?”

She dropped her hand from his chest, lifted her head from his shoulder and wiped her eyes. “About one of the most painful decisions I've ever made.”

Painful decisions? She’d made dozens of them on Voyager - not to mention the ones she’d made before she ever boarded that ship. She wouldn't be this shaken if Tom had said anything about her father and Justin's deaths.

She must have picked up on his confusion. Turning away to head for the kitchen, she clued him in with a few whispered words. “The dream… the baby… I know you saw it...”

Shaken to the core, Chakotay wandered to her couch in a daze. The baby… the one from that dream - alternate reality - whatever you wanted to call it. She’d been in a coma for days when the Doctor approached him.

 

“It's affecting her… physically. I'm not really sure what, exactly, is happening. She needs to wake up.”

“I agree, Doctor. Go ahead and do it.”

“It's not that easy, Commander. I can't wake her. Believe me, I've tried. You're my last hope.”

“What do you think I can do about it?”

“I need you to join her in that dream.”

“Join her? Perhaps Tuvok could do it with a mind meld.”

“I tried that. She threw him out. He saw just enough to make me worry that she will choose to not wake up. I need you to do that ‘spirit walk’ you did when the crew was trapped by those dream aliens.”

“That was different, Doctor. I put myself in my own dream. I can't enter someone else's.”

The Doctor cocked his head and smiled. “You do it all the time.”

“What?”

“When the both of you are here in sickbay, asleep, you… talk to each other… have whole conversations. I can tell you're sharing a dream by what you say.”

“You never told me that.”

“Just what was I supposed to say? ‘By the way, did you know you live your dream world with the Captain?’ Look… the point is that you can enter her dream, and I think you would be the only person she’d come out of it for. Will you try?”

“Of course I'll try.” Chakotay thought for a moment. “Alright. It's probably going to be easier if I am next to her - touching her would be even better.”

He left to get his medicine bundle while the Doctor set up a chair for him and got monitoring equipment together. When Chakotay returned, he found Lt Paris in sickbay along with the Doctor.

“He's going to monitor you while I keep an eye on the Captain.”

“Let’s get this party started, Commander. I've got a date.” Tom gave him an impish grin… Chakotay could tell the young man was trying to mask his concern for his Captain.

He gave Tom a tight smile and moved over to the chair that had been set next to her bed. As much contact as he could have with her would help, so he laid out his bundle right on her torso. He took the chance and kissed her on the forehead - for luck, he told himself - then took her hand and sat down.

“Akoochemoya…”

He was in sickbay… Kathryn was sitting propped up on a biobed on the far side of the room, next to him - another him. They were arguing. Chakotay moved closer to discover that his dream self was holding a tiny infant - she was too tiny as if she was a baby that had been born before her term was up.

“Chakotay, you have to understand. I have to do this.”

“What if I lose you both , Kathryn? You're already getting sick.”

“That's just it, Chakotay. I'm already sick… it's too late to go back. You'll lose me if I lose her. I can't… I have to try.”

The child was his - theirs - and it was sick. Whatever the cure was, it was dangerous for Kathryn, and she was going to risk her life. He understood why his dream self was so upset. Lose one? Lose both?

Had she told his dream self about the deaths of her father and Justin? It was the same choice, essentially. This time, she would make it, and he knew there was nothing his dream self would be able to do to stop her.

“Are you ready, Kathryn? Commander, please put the baby back down. I can't operate with her in your arms.”

“Let either one of them die, and I will decompile your program. Do we understand each other?”

“I've warned you of the risks, Commander. Now lay the baby down and let me get started.”

Dream Chakotay laid the tiny infant in the bassinet and stood back. There were tears in his eyes as he moved over to Kathryn. “Please stay with me, my love.”

“Listen to me, Chakotay. If it comes down to it, you are to save her. Do you understand?” Her voice was intense… the order given… the choice made for him. Kathryn pulled dream Chakotay close. “I love you.” Dream Chakotay kissed her and stood back to let the Doctor work.

Chakotay didn't understand what the Doctor was doing, but soon, alarms started ringing. The Doctor started racing around between the two patients.

“Sickbay to Lt Paris. I need you immediately!”

*On my way, Doc.*

Dream Chakotay raced over to Kathryn’s side and grasped her hand. “Please don't leave me Kathryn. I need you. Our daughter needs you. Please stay with us!”

Chakotay realized this was the moment when Kathryn would be making her decision to stay in this dream world, or return to reality. She was probably showing signs of distress in the real world, too. He could just imagine the scene in that other sickbay.

Allowing himself to pause in front of the bio-bassinet, he brushed a finger across the infant’s tiny face. She looked back at him with her mother's piercing blue eyes and he gasped at the instant connection. After a moment of committing her face to his memory, he kissed her sweet cheek, then forced himself away.

Moving to the other side of Kathryn’s biobed, he took her other hand. He knew he needed to convince her to leave this dream world, yet it broke his heart to take her away from her baby.

“Kathryn, please listen to me. This world isn't real. It's just a dream. I need you to come back to the real world… the real me. All you have to do is follow me. I will help you wake up.”

“Kathryn, my love… please don't leave me. I need you.” Dream Chakotay was pleading to her from the other side of her biobed. He was now in a tug of war with himself. From the way Kathryn kept turning her head back and forth, it was a real one - she could hear him, too.

“Kathryn, you have to wake up. This world isn't real. We need you in the real one. I need you.” Then he realized the words that would bring her back. The only words that would make her leave this world where she had everything she wanted.

He hated himself for doing it.

“Voyager needs you, Captain. We can't get home without you” She turned her head and looked directly at his face.

“Voyager? My crew… my mission… my fault… I'm selfish to stay here… You're right… I have to go. Take me home.”

He pulled on her hand and helped her sit up and scoot off the biobed, leaving a ghost of a body behind. As he had done, she stopped to look in the bassinet, touching the tiny face and placing a kiss on its downy head.

“Someday, little one. Someday we will see each other again.” She let him lead her, face covered in tears, to the corner of the room where he had materialized.

“Do you see the moon, Kathryn? It's in front of the sickbay doors.”

She looked confused for a moment, then her eyes lit. “Yes.”

“Close your eyes and tap the back of your hand three times…”

The next thing he knew, Tom was waking him from where he had passed out across her body.

The Doctor insisted that he spend 24 hours in sickbay for observation. While he was there, he tried to get her to talk about it, but she insisted that she didn't remember anything. The haunted look in her eyes told him differently.

He didn't push the subject. He was mourning the loss of that little girl, too. It may have been mere minutes, but it was enough for him to fall in love. Leaving her behind - and forcing Kathryn to do the same - had left a wound he didn't think would ever heal.

 

“Chakotay.” Kathryn’s gentle voice brought him out of his reverie, and he looked up to find her standing next to him with a mug in each hand.

Taking the proffered cup, he took a sip and found that it was tea. “No booze?”

“I think I've had enough of that for a month, don't you?”

His smile was mirthless and fleeting. “You're probably right. We’d both probably end up passed out on the floor.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Although it might be nicer than having to deal with this all over again.”

He rested his head on top of hers. “We’d just have to deal with it - along with a nasty hangover - when we woke up.”

The long silence between them spoke of unfinished business.

“Did you ever name her?”

Her head popped up from his shoulder. “You don't know?”

“No. I didn't see enough.”

“I thought you’d been there the whole time.” Her voice was soft… thoughtful… this new revelation seeming to throw her off kilter.

“The Chakotay that was there was also a part of the dream world. I only showed up at the end, when I… forced you to leave her.” Those words were painful… a confession and apology rolled together

“You didn't force me, Chakotay. I came back willingly. I would probably have died in that world if I'd stayed. The Doctor told me I would have died here , too. What good would that have done to anyone?”

“What was her name, Kathryn… please…”

A painful sigh came from deep within her. “Teya… we named her Teya… part of the Nahuatl word for…”

“Warrior… like her mother.”

“That's what you said when you chose it. I prefered to think of it as… giving her strength… to fight… for her life… She was so little, Chakotay… so tiny…”

“What was wrong? Why was she so small? What was happening when I got there?”

He could feel her resign herself to telling the story. “She was born with the virus that had stranded us on New Earth. The antibodies in my system didn't pass over to her. The cure from the Vidiians was too strong for her to accept directly, and the Doctor couldn't figure out how to lessen the potency without rendering it ineffective. She was born early… because of complications.”

The pain came to him - fresh as if he was living it, now. Essentially he was, he realized.

“Why didn't we just go back?”

“It was too late. By the time the Doctor realized what was happening, we were too far away. She would have died long before we got back.”

“What was he trying to do that had you so sick?”

“The only thing he could think of was to implant some of her stem cells into me… let me become re-infected… give me the rest of the cure, then remove the cells that would be flooded with the antibodies she needed and implant them back into her.

“So, what I saw was...?”

“He was preparing to remove the cells from me and give them back to her. I was sick… very sick. He wasn't sure if I would make it through the surgery.”

“And he wasn't even sure if it would work for Teya.”

He felt her flinch at the use of the baby's name. “Correct. We could have both died. I left before I knew what happened with her. I like to think that she survived and is growing up and living happily in that different… reality.”

He held her tightly to him. “How did we… where did she come from?”

“In that dream, Voyager didn't come back for months. By then, we had…”

“By then the relationship that was growing between us came to full bloom.”

“Yes.”

“Tell me… I want to know how we came to be in that world.”

 

“The details of that time have faded to almost nothing, Chakotay. Other than the moments in sickbay when you saw me, the most I have are impressions… a few fleeting memories.” It was true - she’d deliberately avoided thinking about it, forcing the memories away into the fog of the past.

“Such as…?”

“I was very sick… you nursed me back to health… I don't remember how or when, but at some point after that, we came together. We were almost never inside… I remember soft shade under a tree… a sandy spot by the river. There was some kind of grotto… or a field… with a pond… that was important to us.”

“But you don't know why?”

She shook her head. “No…” She lied. Other than the time in sickbay, this was the one thing she remembered clearly - but she was afraid to open the can of worms that would come with sharing it with him. “When Voyager came back for us, I was pregnant… I ended up on bed rest… asked the Doctor to call me Kathryn so I could focus on being ‘Mom' instead of ‘Captain’. By the time she was born, I wasn't even interested in being ‘Captain’ anymore.”

“Ahh… that's why you said you were being selfish.”

She nodded, then sighed. “I may only remember it as a dream, but there's no way it was as simple as that. I remember fighting… making you sleep on the couch… storming out in anger. Why the hell would I dream about fighting with you? A simple dream would have been utopia.”

Keeping the jealous feelings down was becoming impossible. “I wish I had been there with you.”  

“I have no answers for you, Chakotay. Would you prefer that I told you I jumped into the dream at the point where we got back on Voyager?”

“I'd rather know, Kathryn, but it's not going to stop me from being jealous. I want to know what it feels like to make love to you in a field… when there's literally no one else on the planet. We had our own little world, you and I, but you're the only one who knows it.”

She turned to him and cupped his face. “I only know ideas … impressions… not reality . As far as I'm concerned, when we're together there isn't anyone else on the planet and we are in our own little world.”

Sitting up, she moved to straddle him, his body stirring in response immediately. When she kissed him he was lost to the soft warmth of her. He returned the kiss, smoothing his hands up her sides until he reached her breasts.

It was then that he remembered the bra. The silky smooth one he had picked out for her. He’d planned to imagine it - remind her of it to entice the fire of her body - all night, then take her… ravishing her body when they arrived home.

What had transpired that day changed his plans. He needed to feel her… to love - and make love - to her.

His hands found their way under her blouse to fondle her breasts, thumbs gliding along the satin that covered her already taut nipples. Her back arched in response to his touch, pushing her breasts deeper into his hands.

Cold fire spread across his hot skin as she pulled his shirt off over his head, her cool hands skimming along his skin as she did so. Soft lips spread tiny, open-mouthed kisses along his collarbone and up his neck until she sucked his earlobe into her warm mouth.

“Our world, Chakotay… here… together.” She breathed into his ear.

He groaned as he slowly unbuttoned her blouse and let it fall to the floor behind her, revealing the bra that had been the object of his fantasies earlier in the day. His tongue found its way to the exposed skin of her cleavage as he teased her hard nipples through the satin.

Fingers threaded their way through his hair and pulled his face into her, begging him to go on. His fingers slid off the satin cups, and stroked along the band that held the flimsy garment to her body. One pinch at the fastener was all it took to set her body free of its confines.

She let go of him long enough to let the straps fall from her shoulders and down her arms, then gasped as his mouth found one ruby peak. Her hips began rocking against him, her hot core seeking stimulation of its own.

“No one else, Chakotay… just us…” She moaned at him as he pleasured her breasts.

His hands traveled down her body, revelling in the smoothness of her skin, until they reached the waistband of her pants. A gasp came from her as his fingers slipped inside the edge, teasing her as her hips ground against him.

Having chosen the outfit, he knew exactly how the odd fasteners on the pants worked. In no time, he was slipping his thumbs inside, teasing her through her panties, moist with her desire. She groaned and leaned back so he would have better access to her.

All he would do, though, was tease her with light, gentle strokes while her hips strained against his touch, simultaneously grinding into him.

The aching tension between them built until he was panting along with her. Suddenly she was standing, removing the last of her clothing with an air of frustration.

Placing one knee between his legs on the sofa, she leaned over him and gave him a long, liquid kiss.

“Our own world, Chakotay. Right here… right now.” He could feel her breath on his lips as she whispered the words against them. Then her lips were gone from his… traveling down his body with feathery strokes of her tongue and gentle touches with her hands.

Lifting his hips from the sofa, he gave her room to pull his trousers from his body. She tossed them behind her as she remained kneeling on the floor in front of him, delicate hands moving up his thighs.

Did she know what the sight of her pale skin against his chestnut tone did to him? The thought slipped away as her tongue swept across the dripping tip of his swollen member. His eyes slid shut in ecstasy when her mouth captured him and slid down his length.

Her mouth took bold possession of him, alternately gripping him hard with her lips, swirling her tongue lightly around the tip, then opening her throat and taking him all the way in.

By the time she let him go, he was gasping and panting for air… working desperately to keep himself together long enough to bury himself in her… to bring her to the same panting heights she had brought him to.

She must have sensed how close he was because she paused for a few moments, studying his face. He wasn't sure just how much good it did him, as her intense stare stripped him of every piece of willpower he had.

Her hands and mouth traveled back up his body, finally taking his mouth in another deep kiss. She straddled him again, slowly impaling herself with his twitching, engorged manhood. When he was completely buried in her wet heat, she stilled, resting her head against his shoulder. He could tell how close to the edge she was, too.

Tongue leading the way, tiny kisses followed behind, as her mouth moved up his neck. “ Our world, Chakotay. Just you and me… no one else.” Her hands threaded through his hair and his wrapped around her waist, they moved in unison until they quietly climaxed together.

The passion between them remained heady and strong. It kept them wrapped - as she told him it would - into their own little world. Neither one of them heard her comm chiming urgently a few meters away.

Chapter Text

“Chakotay… oh my God…”

Surprised at her outburst, he set down the coffee mug he’d been preparing to bring to her and hurried out of the kitchen. “What’s wrong?”

She was standing in front of her comm unit, staring blankly at a frozen picture of her sister, one hand over her mouth. “It's my mom… she was in an accident last night.” She looked around blindly. “I… I need to get to Starfleet Medical. She’s there…”

He walked over and gathered her into his arms. “Come drink some coffee to calm your nerves, then we'll get dressed and head over.”

She clung to him. “Chakotay…”

“Your mother is a resilient person. She'll be alright. Let's get dressed.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

A half hour later, they walked into Gretchen Janeway’s hospital room to find Phoebe sitting at her bedside.

“It's about damn time you got here, Katie. I've been trying to get hold of you all night.”

“I know. I'm sorry Phoebe, I was… busy last night and I didn't hear my comm.”

It was then that Phoebe noticed Chakotay standing quietly behind her. “What the hell is he doing here?”

“He's here to support me, Phoebe. I'd like you to meet…”

“Oh, I know very well who he is. I won't have that Maquis scum anywhere near my mother.”

“Phoebe! How dare you! Chakotay is very important to me!”

Phoebe crossed her arms in front of her. “He can be as important as you want him to be. It doesn't change the fact that he's not welcome here.”

Chakotay stopped Kathryn before she could respond. Her sister's reaction to him had been one he constantly feared. “Kathryn. This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion. I'll comm Mark and have him come sit with you instead of me.”

“Mark… now there's a real man. Too bad you lost that one, too.”

It was everything Chakotay could do to keep from lashing back at her sister. “I'm going to contact Admiral Paris, too. I want to find out the status of the investigation.”

“There's no investigation, Commander. It was a simple hovercar accident. She lost control and ran into a tree.” Ted Patterson had walked into the room in just enough time to hear the last of Chakotay's words.

“Excuse me, Sir, but I believe there should be one. You're talking about the mother of the well-known and - in some cases - not well-liked Admiral Janeway.”

“Relax, Commander, I think that notoriety has calmed down by now.”

“She’s still stopped everywhere she goes in public - uniform or not. And should we add the fact that this accident is eerily similar to the cover story for Justin's death?”

Patterson studied Chakotay for a long moment. “Not many people know the truth about that accident…”

Chakotay didn't respond.

He turned to Kathryn. “Is it true, Katie? Do people still chase you around?”

Kathryn nodded. “Yes, Uncle Teddy. Most of them are nice, but...

“Why haven't you ever said anything? We could have set you up with a security detail.”

“That's exactly why I haven't. I don't need more people following me around.”

He turned back to Chakotay. “You're right, you know. Gretchen’s accident is similar to the one that was reported for Katie and Justin. It never occurred to me.”

“Apparently you have to be a terrorist to think like one.” Phoebe’s acidic remark came from behind Chakotay.

Admiral Patterson shot a hard look at her. “You keep a civil tongue in your head, young lady. He might have just saved the lives of what family you have left.”

“Hmph. Perhaps he shouldn't have put my sister's life in danger in the first place. If what he says is true, he's the one that caused this whole mess.”

“Phoebe! How dare you! Chakotay isn't the problem, here.”

Still holding her hand, he squeezed it and turned to face her. “Like I said, Kathryn, this isn't the time. I'll go contact Mark.” He cupped her cheek and kissed her gently. “I'm a comm away if you need to talk.”

She rested her forehead on his shoulder. “I don't want you to go.”

Pulling her in tightly to him, he placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. “I don't want to go, either, but it's for the best.”

“I'll walk you out, Commander.” Ted Patterson motioned for Chakotay to precede him out the door.

Giving Kathryn one more squeeze, he let her go and headed out the door. Phoebe’s voice could be heard as the door slid shut. “Good riddance!”

Once in the hallway, with the door to Gretchen's room shut, Ted caught Chakotay's arm. “I must apologize for the way Phoebe treated you. She was out of line. I have to ask you to forgive her, though. She's had a hard time of it, and I think your presence startled her.”

“It's fine, Admiral. I expect that some people's reactions to me are not all going to be positive. If you look at it from her point of view, I was responsible for Kathryn’s disappearance into the Delta Quadrant. After all, she got stuck out there because she was chasing me.”

“Regardless, she was out of line. I'll talk to her about it, later. In the meantime, we have two things to discuss.”

“Yes, Sir?”

“The first thing is that I think you should start calling me Ted when we're with the Janeway women. If what I saw in there is what I believe it to be, I think you're going to be around for a while.”

”I'm not really sure how much I'll be around - especially if Mrs Janeway has a similar reaction to Phoebe's.”

“I think Gretchen will be fine. She has Katie’s interests at heart and she wasn't very fond of that damn treaty, either.” Patterson gave him a pointed look. “She's also not as clueless as Katie thinks. Anyway… moving on… you are aware that the accident you're talking about is highly classified? It's probably not the best thing to be speaking about in public.”

“If Kathryn hadn't told me of your involvement in her relationship with Justin, I wouldn't have said a word in front of you, Admiral. I would have simply said something about it to Kathryn in private.”

Patterson clapped him on the shoulder. “You're a good man, Chakotay. Phoebe will come around eventually. Now, you must excuse me. I have an investigation to get rolling.”

Chakotay watched the older man stride down the hallway. Although Admiral Patterson didn't have the same reputation for being a hardball as Paris, he’d always found it difficult to reconcile Kathryn’s description with the man’s public persona. Perhaps it was just that Admiralty air that made them all seem impersonal.

Shaking his head, he went in search of a public comm unit so he could get in touch with Mark.

 

<<<------>>>

 

It was Christine who answered the comm. Worried about leaving Kathryn alone with her sister for too long, he wasted no time with preamble.

“Mrs Janeway was in an accident last night. Is Mark available today to come sit with Kathryn?”

“Why aren't you staying?” Chakotay thought he caught a touch of accusation in Christine's voice.

“Phoebe is… not a fan of mine. I think it’s better if I stay away. Mark knows the family and I was hoping he could be a good buffer for Kathryn.”

Mark appeared over Christine's shoulder. “Tell me Phoebe's still angry.” He shook his head in annoyance. “She needs to get over it. We all lost people… Of course I'll come. Mrs Janeway is like family to me.”

“She’s always been very gracious and understanding of my… replacing… Kath in Mark's life. She even came to our wedding.”

Mark stroked his wife's back. “You didn't replace Kath, Christine. We've talked about this.”

“It’s fine, Mark. There really isn't a simple way to describe what happened.” Chakotay wondered how many conversations actually had occurred - especially when they found out that Kathryn was alive. But Christine had moved on. “I'd love to come, too, but I don't have a sitter for Kevin. Miss Olgar is out of town this week.”

“Would you trust me with Kevin? I'll have nothing to do today since Kathryn is holed up at Medical with her family.”

“Of course we trust you. The question is if you can survive a day of Kevin.”

“We'll be fine. I'll come up with some ideas to keep him occupied.”

“Then you've got a deal. We'll meet you at Medical and pass him over to you while we head in to see Kath.”

“Sold. See you here in a few minutes.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn had harassed the doctor for a detailed account of her mother's injuries, obtained a preliminary report of the investigation into the accident, and arranged for a security detail for the room. Now that she had run out of things to do, her frustration with her sister came back to the forefront.

The two sisters Janeway faced off across their mother's biobed. Each of them had their arms crossed in front of them and their own version of a death glare plastered on their face.

“How dare you speak to Chakotay like that. You will apologize when you see him next.”

“Hmph. Considering I will never be in the same room as that Maquis scum again, I guess that's something I'll never have to worry about.”

“Oh, you will see him again. I care very deeply for that man - I expect him to be around for a long time. You'd better get used to it.”

“Honestly, Katie, I don't know what you see in him. He’s a terrorist! Did you fuck him across the Delta Quadranr to keep him in line, and like it so much that you decided to keep him? Is he that good a lay?”

“Not that I need to defend or explain myself to you, but, for your information, Chakotay and I didn't get together until several months after Voyager got home.”

“Oh, that's right! He had to finish fucking that Borg bitch, first! You know, it never occurred to me that you would be sloppy seconds.”

“Phoebe!...”

“That's enough !” Ted Patterson had returned to the room in time to witness a good deal of the argument. “Phoebe, you’re way out of line, and you will be apologizing to Chakotay when you see him next - and you will see him again.”

The smirk that appeared on Kathryn's face did not go unnoticed. “ Both of you need to remember that you are grown women . This kind of childish fighting - over your mother’s biobed, no less - is beneath you!”

Kathryn’s shoulders slumped. Angry as she was at Phoebe's treatment of Chakotay, this was not the place to be having this argument. “You’re right, Uncle Teddy. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you for the apology, Katie. I also expect you to apologize to your mother for fighting. Now, both of you need to settle down and remember why you're here.

It was then that Mark and Christine entered the room. Relieved for the new distraction, she hurried over to hug them both. “Did you hand poor Kevin over to Miss Olgar?”

“Actually, Chakotay took Kevin back to his apartment.”

“He had a long list of ideas of things to do. I expect both of them to need a nap by lunchtime.” They all shared a laugh, knowing that the inquisitive child would have Chakotay jumping all day.

They chatted for awhile about nothing, while Phoebe's attitude remained unchanged. Sitting with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face, she refused to be pulled into the conversation.

*Chakotay to Mark Johnson.*

Mark grabbed his civilian communicator and tapped it to open the line. “Chakotay, what’s wrong?”

*Nothing, Mark. Kevin is fine. It’s just that he’s asking a lot of questions about my dreamcatcher and medicine bundle. I wanted to check with you about what answers I should give him.*

Christine broke into the conversation. “Go ahead and answer his questions, Chakotay. You’ve always been very levelheaded with him. I trust you to instruct him without indoctrinating him.”

*If you’re sure…*

“It’s actually good for him to start learning that there are other belief systems out there.” Mark, ever the philosopher, chimed in.

*Thank you both. Chakotay out.*

Mark cut the line on his end. “Chakotay is going to be sorry he started answering those questions. Kevin will drive him to distraction.”

“Thank you for trusting him - both of you.” The constant negativity from Phoebe was wearing Kathryn's patience thin. To hear someone say they trusted Chakotay was like a balm to her frazzled nerves.

“Trusting him? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Phoebe finally came to life. “Perhaps you should think better about leaving my sister for a woman who would trust your child with that man!”

“Phoebe! How dare you attack…”

“Get out of my room.” A weak, but deadly voice came from the biobed.

“Mom!” Gretchen’s daughters yelled in unison.

“Phoebe Marie. I did not raise you to speak to - or about - anyone in that manner. Get out of my room and don’t come back until you apologize to Mark and his lovely wife, Katie, and - if I understand the situation correctly - Chakotay. Then you will apologize to me for creating a scene like a two year old who isn’t getting her way. Now go! Get out!”

Phoebe grabbed her bag and left in a huff.

“Mom, I'm so sorry for this mess. This whole thing could have been avoided if I hadn’t had Chakotay come with me. Instead, we've been fighting since I got here.”

“Nonsense, Katie. You shouldn’t have sent him away. If he gives you comfort, that's who you stick with when you're worried.”

“I didn't send him away, Mom. When Phoebe jumped all over him, he decided it would be best to leave. He commed Mark and Christine to come sit with me.”

“Then he's an even better man than I suspected. At least he knew that fighting with her here at Medical wasn't appropriate.”

Kathryn had the decency to be embarrassed. “I'm sorry, Mom. She was just being so rude, I couldn't let it go unanswered.”

“Hmph, yes. It sounds like I need to have a talk with her about her manners.”

“Can you talk to her about Chakotay, too?”

“Oh, no… I'm not getting into it with either of you. She's allowed to have her own opinions. My only argument with her is how she's treating people.”

Kathryn had known that was going to be her mother's answer. It didn't make it any less frustrating.

“Now… would someone please tell me why I'm here? What the hell happened?

“You crashed your hovercar, Gretchen. You don't remember?”

“The last thing I remember is leaving the theatre, Mark.”

“You were at the theatre? We thought you had been at the restaurant with Lois.”

“I was supposed to, but Lois ended up going to her sister's place in Vermont for the weekend. I treated myself to the theatre. It's been awhile since I last saw Brigadoon.”

“Mom, the theatre is in the opposite direction from the restaurant. How did you end up on Quarry Road?”

“Quarry Road? I wouldn't have ended up there for any reason.”

Kathryn stared at her mom. “Perhaps Chakotay was right. I’d better find Uncle Teddy.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Unca Takotay, can we go to the park?”

Chakotay sighed. Kevin had kept him jumping all morning. First, the young boy had scampered all over his apartment, touching everything and asking rapid-fire questions. The questions about his dreamcatcher then led to a long conversation about his spiritual beliefs.

There had been a talk about words and sounds, culminating in an attempt to correctly pronounce his name - at least getting the ‘k' sound right. Soon, though, the boy's active mind had given way to the need to expend some physical energy. Perhaps a trip to the park would give him a break.

He couldn't have been more wrong. Despite the fact that it was a beautiful day, there were very few children at the park. Chakotay ended up pushing the swing while the boy demanded “Higher, Takotay! Higher!” He waited at the end of the slide and caught the flying body as the momentum launched it off the bottom. Then they moved to the seesaw where he rocked it until Kevin squealed with delight.

When it was finally time for lunch, the two of them headed back to his apartment. Chakotay was relieved to find that Kevin had finally reached the end of his energy.

After a lunch of sandwiches, fruit and milk, he promptly crawled into Chakotay’s lap and fell asleep. Worn out by the morning's activities, Chakotay dozed off on the couch with Kevin's warm little body pressed into him.

 

They were putting a puzzle together when Chakotay's door chimed. He was relieved to find that it was Christine on the other side of the door.

"Mommy! Mommy! Unca Takotay has a spidew-web on his waw! It cates dweam monstews!” Kevin launched himself into Christine's arms jabbering about the things they had done during the day.

Christine laughed at Chakotay over Kevin's shoulder. “It looks like he wore you out.”

“Do I look that bad?”

“Just a little rumpled. I hope you napped while he did?”

“How the hell do you survive every day?”

“Why do you think he goes to preschool? But, honestly, half his energy today was simply due to the excitement of being someplace new - not to mention that it was your place.”

“Mommy, can I come back? It fun hewe.”

“We'll see, pumpkin. Maybe if you promise not to wear out poor Uncle Chakotay.”

“I sowwy. I din’ mean to make you tiwed.”

“It's fine, Kevin. I had fun today, too. You can come back when your mom and dad say you can - and when I have time to spend with you. Deal?”

“Deew.”

“How’s Mrs Janeway, Christine? I've been telling myself that everything is fine. I hoped that someone would have commed me if anything happened.”

“Um… aside from Mrs Janeway throwing Phoebe out of her room, things are fine.”

“Do I need to ask why Phoebe got thrown out?”

“Let’s just say that her behavior - and comments - got worse. Mrs Janeway came to during the worst of it. She got thrown out and Kathryn got reprimanded for fighting.”

Try as he might, Chakotay couldn't picture Kathryn getting reprimanded by anyone .

Christine smirked. “I know what you're thinking, but Mrs Janeway is a pistol. She takes nothing from no one - least of all her daughters.”

“I always suspected Kathryn got that from her mother.”

“Really? Most people would assume that her Admiral father was the source.”

Chakotay shook his head. “Tenacity like hers is usually female energy. Male energy is more brash.”

She stared at him for a moment. “Interesting… I never thought of it that way. I wonder what Mark would have to say about that theory.”

“So, Mrs Janeway is alright, then?” He appreciated Christine’s fascination, but he wanted - needed - facts about Kathryn’s mother so he could understand Kathryn’s state of mind.

Christine hesitated. “She has a broken hip and her internal injuries are extensive, but they're saying she should recover in a few days. She has no idea how she ended up on that particular road, though. She had no reason to be anywhere near it.”

“So I was right.” He hadn't wanted to be.

“It seems so. Starfleet Security is checking with personnel at the theater to see what happened while she was there, and if anyone was with her.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Splitting her time between her mother’s bedside and her office had left Kathryn little time for any kind of real rest. For the first day, she’d had Nate bring padds to Medical and she’d gone over them while her mother slept.

The second day, Phoebe had arrived back on the scene with apologies to everyone but Chakotay. Without an apology to him, Kathryn wasn't able to spend much time with her sister and had stepped aside and returned to work in her office.

Chakotay hadn't returned to Medical. They'd both been afraid to cause too much friction at Mrs Janeway’s bedside, so he stayed away and she avoided mentioning him while she was there. As a result, Kathryn had little time available to spend with him, and his absence caused her to be even more on edge.

It was her mother that finally broke the ice. “It's time I met your Chakotay, Katie. You will bring him with you when you come tomorrow. Phoebe, it's time you apologized to him, so I will expect you here, as well.”

“Mom, I don't know if this is the best time to do this.”

“Nonsense. I am almost completely healed and the doctor is planning to send me home tomorrow. It will be good to have his help getting situated back at the house.”

Kathryn knew that she would be unable to convince her mother otherwise. A quick glance at Phoebe showed that her sister had come to the same conclusion.

She spent the day nervous and unfocused, alternately pacing and reading padds of data. Poor Nate was a wreck, she knew, trying to take care of her without seeming like he was.

She was forever grateful to the young man for his constant attentiveness. She owed him some kind of commendation, but wasn't focused enough to be able to figure out exactly how to word it. It wasn't like she could say ‘because he babied me when I needed it’.

Finally, she heard Chakotay's voice in the outer room and shut off the padd she’d been pretending to read. Relief coursed through her. How was it that his mere presence caused her so much reassurance?

Refusing to think about it for the moment, she stood and began organizing her desk. She was stalling, she knew, but couldn't help herself.

“Excuse me, Admiral. Commander Chakotay is here to escort you to Medical. If you'll allow me, I'd be happy to straighten your desk so you can get to your mother's bedside quickly.”

Damn Nate and his perceptiveness! She knew there would be no further stalling. “That would be wonderful, Ensign.” She gave him a gentle touch on her way out the door. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, Admiral. Please extend my well-wishes to Mrs Janeway.”

She took Chakotay's proffered hand and headed toward the hallway. “I'll be happy to. Have a good weekend.”

True to their agreement to keep their relationship out of Headquarters, Chakotay silently held her hand as they made their way out of the building. Once outside, however, he steered her toward a small grove of trees at the edge of Boothby’s garden, then gathered her into his arms.

“Relax, Kathryn, everything will work out fine.”

“Don't lie, Chakotay. You're as nervous as I am.”

“True. But being nervous doesn't mean that I don't think it will work out. I'm nervous because of what it might take to make it to that point.”

She knew he was lying for her sake, so forced herself to accept his words as comfort. They stayed there for a few more minutes, then separated with a simple kiss. He took her hand and led her on the short walk to the Starfleet Medical building.

 

In truth, Chakotay had lied to her. He was nervous as hell. Even more so than she. Not only was he worried about Phoebe's opinion of him and meeting Kathryn’s mother, he was also worried about driving a wedge between her and her family.

As a Maquis, he was well aware that not everyone in the Federation would consider him a hero. In fact, although he hadn't been faced with it yet, he remained on guard for someone to tell him that he should be in jail - or worse.

When he had been contemplating the idea of returning to Earth in order to woo Kathryn back to him, he had put a great amount of consideration into how her family might react. He’d finally decided that, although they might be wary at first, they would defer to Kathryn’s judgement.

The level of venom in Phoebe, however, was not what he’d prepared himself for. Although Kathryn and her Uncle Teddy had the impression that her mother would accept him, he wasn't aware enough of the family dynamics to be sure.

They’d arrived at her mother's room but paused just outside to gather their courage.

“Do you remember standing outside the shuttlebay while I tried to gather my courage to see who wanted to stay on that planet with Amelia Earhart?” She kept her voice soft and low to avoid others overhearing her mention of classified information.

“You were terrified. As Captain, you were worried the ship would be stranded if enough people stayed behind. As Kathryn, your ego was on the line because you believed that a vote to stay behind was a vote of no confidence towards you.”

“You put your hand on my shoulder and reassured me that it would be fine.” She turned to look at him. “It was the first time you showed me support beyond what a typical First Officer would do. I can't tell you how much that meant to me.”

He took a deep breath to bolster his own confidence, then placed his hand on her shoulder as he had done so many years ago. “If you remember, it turned out fine, then. It will be just as fine, today.”

She smiled at him and placed her hand over his. “Let's do it.” Weaving their fingers together, they walked hand in hand into Gretchen Janeway’s room.

“How long?” Gretchen Janeway sat in her biobed, arms crossed, wearing a smirk on her face.

“Excuse me?”

“How long have the two of you been standing out there in the corridor?”

Chakotay couldn't help it - he burst into laughter. Mrs Janeway had just repeated the question - word for word - that he’d asked Kathryn several weeks ago.

Giving him a smirk that matched her mother's, Kathryn let go of his hand and crossed her arms in front of her. “Long enough to come in.”

Tears were now streaming down his face as his laughter grew deeper.  It wasn't just the mirrored conversation that sent him into hysterics. Between the pose and the facial expressions, Kathryn and her mother looked like twins.

The two women watched him try to pull himself back together, still wearing matching smirks. Finally, Gretchen turned to Kathryn.

“Is he always like this?”

Working hard to keep from breaking into laughter, herself, she looked away from him. “No, Mom. It must be you that he thinks is so funny.”

“Can you explain to me what it is about me that is so funny?”

Any other person would take Gretchen's expression to mean that she was furious. Luckily for Chakotay, the similarity between the two women's expressions made it possible for him to read Gretchen almost as well as her daughter.

With a great deal of effort, he finally pulled himself together. “My apologies, Mrs Janeway. What you said when we walked in was exactly what I said to Kathryn a few weeks ago.”

“Mom, I'd like you to meet Chakotay. Despite his misplaced humor, he really is a rather nice person.”

Mrs Janeway opened her mouth to respond, but Phoebe - who they hadn't even realized was in the room - cut in. “Hmph. I certainly hope so.”

“That will be enough, young lady. I believe you should have something a bit more kind to say to Chakotay.” There was no mistaking the motherly reprimand behind the steel voice.

Turning toward Chakotay, but without looking at his face, she made her wooden apology. “I'm sorry if I insulted you when you first arrived in my mother's room. I should have kept my thoughts to myself.”

Despite the fact that it obviously wasn't genuine, Chakotay accepted it. “Thank you, Phoebe. I hope we can get to know each other well enough for your thoughts about me to… even out.”

Again without looking directly at him, she gave him an empty smile. “I doubt it.”

“I suggest you quit while you're ahead, Phoebe.” The hard mother's voice was still in full play.

Phoebe clammed up and returned to her chair on the far side of the room.

Gretchen returned her attention to Chakotay. “It is very nice to meet you - and to finally put a face to the name I have heard so often mentioned. I hope you will not allow my younger daughter’s attitude to color your impression of our family.”

So like Kathryn’s diplomatic inflections,Chakotay smiled at her formal statement. “The honor is mine, Mrs Janeway. I hope that my history will not color your impression of me.”

He put out his hand to shake hers and she took it firmly. After a moment's eye contact, her eyes flicked to Kathryn - still holding Chakotay's hand firmly.

“You were right about the dimples, Katie. How did you ever resist them?”

Without another word, Mrs Janeway released his hand. Chakotay felt his entire body go flush with embarrassment.

Kathryn looked like she was having trouble keeping her composure. “Mom, give the poor man a break. Haven't we put him through enough?”

“Oh, very well…” Gretchen gave an exasperated sigh, then her expression turned serious and she laid a piercing gaze on him. “So, tell me about yourself.”

Chakotay felt himself squirm under the woman's gaze. Crickets! The woman would have rendered the Kazon speechless and made the Hirogen turn and run. “Er… it sounds as if Kathryn has filled you in on quite a bit already.”

“I would like to hear what you have to say for yourself, young man.”

Chakotay found himself launching into the story of his life, answering her questions as she interjected them. When he reached his time aboard Voyager, he stumbled a bit.

Did he include the part of how Kathryn had given him peace for the first time in his life? Would it seem as if he was piling on, or would his words ring true?

Realizing that if Kathryn had told her mother any amount of her feelings for him, she had probably mentioned his confession, so he included it in his version.

Her smile and nod at his words confirmed his suspicion that, like her daughter, Mrs Janeway expected straightforward information. He included his brief experience with Seven, as well as his sister's comments to him on Trebus.

Finally reaching the end of his story, he breathed a sigh of relief. So far, Mrs Janeway hadn't thrown him out, nor had she shown any anger toward any part of it. Silence fell across the small room as she processed the information.

“I sometimes wondered why my Katie didn't join the Maquis.”

“Her devotion to Starfleet was absolute. There was no way she would have gone against them at the time.”

“But the Delta Quadrant changed that.”

“Our survival forced her to change… to move beyond some of it, yes.”

“But not all of it.”

“She held onto as much as she could. Our survival depended on that structure, as well. Each time we attempted to forgo those main principles, it caused massive trouble for us down the line.”

“And you just fell into line with the principles that you had rejected when you joined the Maquis?”

“I joined the Maquis because I felt the Federation had been the ones to reject those principles. But it was your daughter that I fell in line behind - not Starfleet.”

“I see… She seems to have engendered a great deal of that devotion among her crew.”

“Yes, she did - does. She's a strong and honorable person who places unconditional trust in her crew. They respond with a willingness to go beyond what they think of themselves in order to reach for what she thinks of them.”

“Might I remind the two of you that I am standing right here?”

The repeated statement from months ago received the same automatic response.

“I always know where you are, Kathryn. Always.”

The expression on Gretchen's face was indecipherable. “Well… it seems as if I should invite you to call me Gretchen, instead of Mrs Janeway. Would you mind helping me to stand so I can get out of here?”

Putting his arm around her shoulders, he was once again struck by the similarities between her and Kathryn. The force of their personalities belied their fine-boned build.

Once her feet were on the floor, he realized why Gretchen had asked for his help. Although seemingly healthy and healed, her legs were weak and she was wobbly on her feet. He held her firmly but discreetly - a hold he had become practiced at with Kathryn.

“Where to, m’lady?” He teased her to ease any discomfort she might be feeling at needing his help.

Phoebe snorted and rolled her eyes at his jest.

“Oh, give it a rest, Phoebe.” Kathryn rolled her eyes in return. “This way, Mom. We need to check out at the nurses’ station, then we'll walk to the transporter.”

“Then, by all means, lead the way.” He felt her falter as she took the first step and tightened his hold.

“Kathryn, why don't you and Phoebe go ahead and get the ball rolling. Gretchen and I will take it slow, so I can get a little quid pro quo answers of my own.”

Years of working together made her pick up on what he was trying to say. “Sounds like a plan. Go easy on her.”

“No worries. I'm pretty sure she'll take me down if she doesn't like my question.” They shared a forced lighthearted laugh.

“C'mon Phoebe. Let's go see how many padds they want our prints on.” She led her sulky sister out the door.

“Are you alright, Gretchen?” He leaned down and asked her in a quiet voice so it wouldn't carry out of the room.

“I'm fine, Chakotay.” She patted his arm gently with her free hand. “Just a little wobbly, that's all.”

“You set the pace. In the meantime, give me a rundown of the illustrious Janeway family tree.”

“Actually, it's my side that has all the pips. Eddy had a few lieutenants here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

He gave her a full force of his dimples. “The plot thickens! Give me the scoop.”

She filled him in on the history of Captains and Admirals in her family. “It was actually my stepfather who introduced me to Eddy - and Ted Patterson.”

Chakotay had already heard the story from Kathryn, but he wanted to keep Gretchen talking. “So that's why you're so close.”

She nodded. “Ted didn't really want children of his own - and hadn't met anyone to have them with, anyway. We made him an honorary Uncle - he's actually Katie’s godfather.”

Now, that was one tidbit he didn't know. “I didn't realize that.”

“I'm not even sure if Katie knows - he's always doted on the both of them so much that it never occurred to us to point it out.”

They had reached the nurses station, where Kathryn was just finishing up with Gretchen's check-out process. Phoebe accepted the padd with her home instructions, then turned to where he and her mother were standing.

“You can unhand my mother, now.”

Chakotay didn't really think leaving their mother without the physical support he was providing was a good idea, but didn't want to start another fight by crossing Phoebe. Gretchen saved him.

“Give him the padds, Phoebe. You and your sister can escort me to the transporter.”

“That's a great idea, Mom.” Kathryn, much more aware of what was going on, hooked their arms together and tucked her mother's hand in her elbow. This gave the woman a place to balance her weight while they walked.

Once Phoebe took up a similar position on her mother's other side, they proceeded to the transporter area and were beamed directly to Indiana.

 

When they rematerialized in front of her house, Gretchen let out a deep breath. “It's good to be home. Come along, Chakotay. Let me show you the inside.”

The three women made their way up the steps to the porch, but he was frozen to the spot. Despite the darkness of the hour, the moon was full so he could see the house. It was huge.

Two stories with a steep gabled roof told him there was also a large walk in attic. The deep porch, complete with a swing, wrapped around the corner of the house and disappeared down the side. The building was almost as large as the lodge that housed new arrivals on Trebus.

Realizing that he had not moved to join them, Gretchen turned around. “Chakotay, please come in. You're welcome here.”

He started, then came back to focus. “My apologies, I was admiring your house. It's beautiful.”

She smiled. “It's part of the legacy from the Janeway side - a bit ostentatious, but I love it.” She placed the back of her hand against her cheek, as if telling a secret. “ We have pips, Janeways have houses.”  

Having recovered completely, he started up the steps to join the women at the door. Phoebe stopped him cold.

“I'm sorry Mom, but I can't stay quiet. I don't think having a terrorist in your house is a good idea. You never know what other riff-raff he'll bring with him.”

“Phoebe! How dare you say something like that! Chakotay has been nothing but nice to Mom since the moment he met her!”

“Isn't that what terrorists do to infiltrate the enemy? He's probably on a reconnaissance mission. Hell, that's probably the real reason for getting into your pants.”

His world came crashing down around him. Phoebe was never going to accept him, and her anger was already creating a rift between the two sisters.

Mrs Janeway didn't respond to her, and was beginning to look tired out. He was afraid she would collapse on the porch. “Kathryn, it's fine. I'll stay out here while you get your mother settled.”

“No, Chakotay. This needs to be settled. Now.”

“No, Kathryn. Your mother needs to be taken care of now. There will be plenty of time to settle everything else after that.” He gave a pointed nod in Gretchen's direction.

She shot a worried glance at her mother and tightened her hold on the older woman's arm. “You're right, as usual, Chakotay. I'll be back in a few minutes.”

A few minutes turned into an hour. After a quiet period which he assumed was getting Gretchen settled, loud yelling started. Although he couldn't hear the whole thing, snippets of the fight were loud enough to make it out.

“You're way out of line, Phoebe. Chakotay is a good man!”

“Give me one reason I should believe you!”

“He saved my life more times than you can count!”

“I don't trust him, and nothing you say will change my mind!”

“This is ridiculous! Letting him in the house isn't going to change anything!”

Then came the final blow.

“Why are you so interested in letting him in here? Has he indoctrinated you like he did Mark's son?”

Indoctrinated ? What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know… all that supposedly spiritual mumbo jumbo. Are you two going to feed her some of that weird psychedelic drink and dance around her at the full moon?”

Pieces of him smashed to the ground. He could handle the terrorist accusations. After all, that wasn't far off from what he had done as a Maquis. But she had just attacked his spiritual beliefs - in much the same way as had been done to his ancestors centuries ago. He’d had enough.

Tapping his commbadge, he hailed Kathryn. “I'm heading out. Comm me when you're done here and we'll talk.”

*Chakotay, please…*

“I'll see you back in San Francisco.”

As he turned and headed down the steps, the shouting began again.

“Now see what you've done? He probably heard every insult you just threw out!”

“I hope he did ! He needs to know that I'm on to him - to both of you!”

“That's it! I've heard enough!” Her voice went low and deadly. “You are officially dead to me. I no longer have a sister. I'm not sure I ever really did .”

He heard an interior door slam, then the front door of the house. “Chakotay! Wait!”

He stopped and turned back to her. “Kathryn, you need to stay and straighten this out with your sister.”

Her face was streaked with tears and she was trembling. Crossing her arms, her face went hard. “I no longer have a sister, Chakotay.”

“Kathryn, you can't do this. I know what it's like to walk away from your family. It’s a pain you never really recover from.”

“This is different, Chakotay. You fought with your family over a lifestyle you simply didn't want to live. What Phoebe has said is unforgivable. I'm done with her.”

Chakotay sighed. “You fought so long and so hard to get back to your family. Please don't walk away on my account.”

She took his hand. “First of all, I’m not leaving my mother. I'll keep in touch with her and we will visit when Phoebe isn't here. Second, while it's true that her treatment of you is the catalyst, I really have no patience for someone so prejudiced. Associating with her would be condoning her behavior and beliefs.

There would be no changing her mind. He simply squeezed her hand, and turned to head down the drive. A certain amount of relief came to him. They had been beamed directly here - he had no idea where the transporter station was.

 

They paid the extra credits to be beamed directly to her apartment building. Once inside her apartment, they fell into each other's arms.

“Oh, Chakotay, I'm so sorry. What she said…”

“Shh, Kathryn… I can handle it.” He couldn't say how he really felt. It would simply make things worse for her.

Eventually, they made it to her bedroom, where they quickly undressed and crawled into bed. He wrapped her in his arms, and she cried herself to sleep

Once she had fully relaxed, he let his own tears fall until he also succumbed.

 

Chapter Text

Kathryn woke to the sound of Chakotay's deep, even breathing - her eyes still swollen from tears. It had been a perfectly terrible evening and she was still feeling wrung out.

Sometime during the night, she’d woken and washed the grit from her eyes. Needing to feel close to him, she’d woken him with small kisses and licks to his body. He’d finally come fully awake when her mouth took in his already swollen shaft.

The way he responded to her told her that he was in just as much need of solace as she. They made love quietly and with a great deal of tenderness, falling back to sleep wrapped in each other's arms.

Now, in the light of day, she wasn't sure just how she felt. Phoebe's malevolence had thrown her for a loop, and she was having trouble processing it. Climbing quietly out of bed, she threw her robe over her naked body and headed for the kitchen. Coffee would help her think.

She was standing in front of her window, third cup of coffee in hand, when she heard him get up.

“Are you alright?” His voice was soft and gentle.

She shrugged. “As good as I'm probably going to get.”

“I'm so sorry, Kathryn. I don't know what to say that will make anything better.”

“There's nothing you can say, Chakotay. What's done is done. I've been through too much - faced too much - to allow that kind of vindictiveness in my life.”

He said nothing.

“I have half a mind to head out right now and give that woman a real piece of my mind.”

“Perhaps you should get dressed first. I don't think parading around naked with only a thin robe to cover you is the best idea.”

“I'm not really sure I care, right now.”

Drawing up behind her, his hands slipped around her waist and pulled her into him. “I'd prefer that particular sight be reserved for me alone.” His mouth found her neck and began peppering it with small kisses.

Tilting her head to the side, she held her coffee away from her so she wouldn't spill the hot brew on herself. “Mmm… Keep that up and I might be willing to let go of the coffee.”

Letting go of her briefly, he took her mug away from her and placed it on the end table behind them. When his arms encircled her again she sighed. “Well, that's one way to do it.”

“Oh, I've got plenty of ways to distract you from your coffee - and everything else.” This time it was his tongue that found its way to her neck, drawing gentle lines up to find that sensitive spot behind her ear. One hand slid up the silk robe to her breast, teasing the nipple through the silky material.

Her back arched into him, and her hand rose to thread her fingers through his hair, the movement dislodging the loose knot she had tied in the robe’s belt, and letting it fall open. Lips parted to let a deep breath escape as his hand slid inside her robe. She could feel her desire begin to pool between her legs.

The sunrise made the window's glass reflective and she could see her own body coming alive with desire. It was tantalizing… so much so that she moaned softly.

She felt his lips - oh, those glorious lips! - spread into a smile against her neck. Her hand found its way between their bodies to stroke his quickly swelling member pressed between them.

He separated from her enough to pull her hand away from him, then let her robe drop from her shoulders to pool on the floor between them. Slowly, she felt herself being propelled forward until her body was pressed against the large window.

“Chakotay.” Her voice was breathy with desire. “People can see us.”

“Your window is far higher than anyone else's, Kathryn. I doubt if anyone can even see up this far.” His response was husked into her ear as his tongue encircled it, his mouth ending the tour by sucking the lobe between his teeth. “Besides… do you really care?”

For some reason, she found that she really didn't care at that moment. The thrill she was getting from it surprised her.

Moaning, her hands moved between them again - this time to push his shorts down over his hips. He backed up for a moment to let them fall to the floor, then kicked them away. But he wouldn't let her touch him this time, pressing his body into hers until she was flush against the window.

“Relax… let me make you happy” His words were once again husked into her ear, sending shivers down her spine. Her body ached for him.

“Chakotay…”

“Shhh…”  He moved her hands up the window to lay flat against it on either side of her head. With her forehead pressed against it, and her hands blocking her peripheral vision, she could only see the city and the bay laid out in front of her. “Look out over the view… enjoy the vision of Earth that you brought us home to.”

She felt like she was flying. Her senses attuned to the world in front of her as he set her body on fire. By the time he entered her from behind, she was dripping wet, the proof of her desire sliding down her leg like raindrops on a window.

“So wet…” His voice came softly into her ear again as he began to move slowly in and out of her, caressing her insides with his swollen shaft. Her moans caused vibrations in the glass as she pressed her hips back against his, rolling them to take him in further. He groaned in response, but didn't increase his rhythm, torturing her with his slow movement.

When she tried to increase the speed by rocking her hips against him, he pressed her back flush against the window. “Relax… I'll get you there… just keep looking at the view around you.”

Crickets, she’d never been so aroused. She couldn't see him… couldn't touch him… could do nothing but endure his sweet torture while she looked out over her beloved world… the one she’d yearned for so desperately that she had foregone this intimacy… had denied herself this pleasure.

Inexorably, he picked up his pace, his swollen shaft plunging into her with increasing speed and power. He allowed her to roll her hips back out toward him, increasing the depth by which he could plunder her. She felt him begin to swell within her as he pounded his body into hers.

Then he reached around her hip to tantalize her swollen sensitive nub. It was her undoing and she came hard against him... the contractions of her inner muscles pulling him over with her… the view in front of her lost to her body’s rapture.

Both of their bodies spent, he collapsed against her, his breath coming heavy against her neck while hers made soft clouds against the glass. Finally, he let her go, catching her gently when her knees threatened to buckle underneath her.

She turned in his arms, threading her fingers through his hair and bringing his mouth down to hers for a deep kiss. “That will definitely win over coffee every time.”

He shuffled them backwards so he could perch against the back of her couch, then gave a soft chuckle. “I'm glad to see that I have a fighting chance.”

Sensing that she had regained her footing, he relaxed his hold on her and reached over to retrieve her mug. Handing it to her, he grinned. “At least for a short time.”

She took the proffered cup from him and took a deep draught of the cooled liquid, then gave him a grin in return. “I'm not really sure that was a short time .”

Not wanting to let go of him yet, she leaned into him and cupped his face with her free hand. “Just remember that turnabout is fair play.” He groaned in response as her mouth descended on his for another deep kiss.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn hurried down the corridor to her office. She had overslept and was now officially late. Dammit, if Chakotay had slept over, he would have made sure she was up on time. But she’d been at her mother's house for the evening - checking in on her to make sure she was healing.

Chakotay had not been back to Indiana since the blowout with Phoebe. They’d both agreed that it was too much stress for Gretchen while she was recuperating.

Instead, Kathryn had been going alone - alternating days with Phoebe so the two of them never saw each other. Kathryn had no desire to see the woman who had been her sister and the feeling seemed to be mutual.

The evenings she spent with her mother, she didn't see Chakotay. He would join her for lunch, but the rest of her days and nights were much like they had been before he came back to Earth.

“Good morning, Nate. I'm so sorry I'm late.”

“No worries, Admiral. Your appointment isn't until 1000, and there were no new ship arrivals overnight. I've made no changes to your desk since you left yesterday.”

“I guess that's a comfort.” She laid a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you, Nate. I'm not sure if I say enough how grateful I am for you.”

“Er… thank you ma'am. If I may say, I'm grateful for you, too.”

They shared a quiet moment, then she squeezed his arm. “It’s time for me to see about ‘making some changes’ to my desk.”

“Yes, Admiral. Please let me know if you need anything.”

Something about her office felt wrong when she entered. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. Was it too clean? Walking around the edge of her desk, she realized that it was too clean, in a way.

Although she was a neat person, she wasn't nitpicky. All the items on her desk, though, were in perfect alignment. Stylus placed neatly along the top of her workspace, padds stacked unbelievably straight, nameplate perfectly aligned with her desk - equidistant from each side, perfectly parallel to the edge.

Someone had been in her office. It was then that she noticed a single padd placed perfectly centered on the desk - clear of anything around it - as if it was on display.

Curiouser and curiouser … as Alice would say. She thumbed the padd on… and nearly dropped to the floor. These… these… How did they get in here?

“Ensign Harrison, get in here, now !” Completely unnerved, she had fallen into her full Command voice. The sound of a chair tipping over could be heard as her assistant hurried to respond to a tone of voice he had read about, but never actually experienced.

“Yes, Admiral?”

She shot him a death glare. “You said you had made ‘no changes to my desk’. Is that correct?”

“Y-yes, Admiral.”

“Then who did ?”

“Ma'am?”

“Who has been in my office, Ensign?”

“Er… nobody, Admiral.”

“Are you sure there's been no one here… at all?

“Not while I've been here - no. Nobody has even walked through the door from the corridor.”

“Get Starfleet Security, Admiral Paris and Chakotay. Tell them it's an emergency. Then get out. Stand in the corridor. No one gets in except for Security, Paris and Chakotay. Do I make myself clear ?”

“Yes, Admiral… crystal clear.” A terrified Ensign Harrison hurried back out through her door to carry out her orders.

Kathryn stood looking around at her office in shock. Had she not been concerned about tainting forensic evidence, she would have crumpled to the floor and burst into tears.

 

<<<------>>>

 

One did not run down a Starfleet corridor. It simply wasn't something you did. So far, Chakotay seemed to have mastered a run that appeared to be a hurried walk.

“Commander! Thank the Gnetha, you got my message!”

Had Chakotay not been so concerned about the message Kathryn’s assistant had left for him, he might have stopped to think about why the young man had mentioned an ancient and little-known deity.

“Nate, what the hell is going on?”

“I have no idea, sir.”

“No idea? Then what's this emergency that I ran all the way here for?”

“All I know is that the Admiral was running late this morning. We talked for a minute, then she headed into her office. And then…”

Then ?...”

“She freaked out, sir. There's no other way to say it. She asked me if anyone had been in her office, then ordered me to contact Security, Admiral Paris, and you. When I was finished, I was ordered to come out here and not let anyone in.”

“And you have no idea what made her so upset?”

“No, Sir.” The young man looked as if he was close to tears. “Please… go in… she always… she's better when you're around.”

Chakotay placed a comforting hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I'm sure it will be fine.” He lied.

“Excuse me for saying, Sir, but Admiral Janeway doesn't freak out for no reason. I'm not sure if she's ever freaked out.”

Chakotay sighed. Nate was right, of course. Taking a deep breath, he barreled into the office.

A crew of Security officers was crawling all over the office, scanners out and beeping. Through the doorway to her space, he could see even more.

Kathryn was in a corner, arguing with Paris and a man wearing a uniform he didn't recognize. She was clutching a padd to her chest that she was obviously refusing to hand over.

“Kathryn… what the hell is going on?” He was at her side in a few long strides. One look at her face, and he knew that Nate had been right. Something was seriously wrong.

Owen Paris breathed a sigh. “Oh thank goodness! Maybe you can talk some sense into her. She's like a brick wall.”

“I still don't understand why you have to see them. They're personal. That should be enough information for you to base your investigation on. Someone has access to me… my apartment… my privacy , dammit! I want them stopped!”

“That's what we're trying to do, Admiral, but you've got to let us see them in order to do that.”

“Who the hell are you, and what the hell is going on?”

“I'm Lt Roelph Graaf - Rolo for short. I'm part of a... specialized... security team that works with Starfleet, and have been called in to research the breach of security surrounding this case.”

“And this breach would be…?”

“I arrived in my office to find that someone had… reorganized... my desk. This padd was placed in the center. Nate swears that neither he nor anyone else was inside while he was here.”

“And what is in that padd that has you refusing to let Security see it?”

“It contains pictures… taken through my window . They're private , and I don't want anyone else to see them.”

Pictures? Taken through her window? Chakotay felt the blood drain from his face. “No…”

“Yes, Chakotay.”

“Let me see.” There was a brief struggle when her hands refused to let go of the padd. “They're mine, too, Kathryn. Let me see.”

She opened her fingers so the padd would slide out from between them. Chakotay took a deep breath and thumbed it on.

He’d guessed correctly. In the shot, he was behind her, one arm around her waist, the other hand halfway up her torso. Her head was tilted to the side and rolled back against his shoulder, mouth open in pleasure, while his was against her slender neck. He thought he saw his tongue sliding along her skin.

“There's more than one.” The pain in her words spurred him on.

The second showed much the same pose. Her robe had slid open wide enough to show milky white skin from her neck, down her torso, and all the way down one leg. Whatever else may have been seen was luckily lost in shadows - his arm around her waist keeping the robe from falling completely open. His other hand was inside the robe, almost at her breast. Her back was arched, mouth open in a moan. One hand was behind her, between their bodies. Imagination wasn't needed to figure out where her hand was.

His hands shook as he thumbed to the next page. Crickets! How much did they show?

The next one showed a scene after . Both of them completely naked, he was resting his backside against her couch while she faced him - her backside in full view. One arm was holding a coffee cup away from their bodies, and they were obviously locked in a deep kiss.

A deep breath gave him the strength to page over again. But there were only words on this page. ‘ There are more .’ That was it. Just a thinly-veiled threat that more photos existed, with no additional pages in this one.

Looking up, he discovered that all three of them were watching him closely. His gut clenched. Although he’d never worked in Security, he understood what kinds of evidence they needed to do their job.

They needed the evidence in the padd. These pictures would have to be seen by someone other than him and Kathryn. He dreaded the conversation he was about to have.

“Gentlemen, would you please excuse us?”

Both men nodded and walked a little away from where they had been standing. Chakotay pulled Kathryn as much as he could in the opposite direction.

“We're going to have to hand over the padd, Kathryn. You know it.”

“Those are some very private moments between us, Chakotay. I am not sharing them with all of Starfleet.” Her arms were crossed in front of her and her eyes were flashing.

“Only you and I know what happened between those photos. It's really not as bad as it seems to you.”

“Did you read the last page? How do we know that they were the only ones?”

“All the more reason to give Security every piece of evidence possible before whatever else comes out. Keep in mind that we are not the only ones those pictures can be sent to.”

Her face went white. “Crickets, Chakotay, I…” Her head dropped in resignation. “I grew up within Starfleet, Chakotay. I don't want them passed around to people who knew me as a child.”

He pulled her into his arms and rested her head on his shoulder. “We'll release them to this Lt Rolo with express direction for ‘Eyes Only’ classification.”

He felt her shoulders shake slightly with humor. “Were you going for that pun, or did it happen all by itself?”

It took him a moment to catch up with her. ‘Eyes only’... “It happened all by itself. Apparently, I have a better sense of humor than I thought.”

She lifted her head to cup his cheek. “You always seem to be able to make me laugh - especially when I need it the most.” Giving him a quick kiss, she extricated herself from completely. “Let's do this.”

He caught Rolo’s eye and beckoned him over. “Alright, we will hand over the padd with one serious stipulation. The pictures contained in it are to be classified to the highest level.”

Kathryn glanced pointedly at Admiral Paris. “ No one without express need as part of the investigation is to view them. Is this understood?”

“Yes, Admiral. Completely. Only myself and a few data experts within my specialized team will have access of any kind.”

Taking the padd from Chakotay's hands, he thumbed it on. In a spot-on impression of Tuvok, one eyebrow rose. He quickly thumbed it off and pulled it in close to him. “It will never leave our secure building. You have my word.”

“We will hold you personally responsible if even a description of what is contained in those pages leaks out, Lieutenant.” Her voice was steel. Why did that turn him on?

“Now that that's settled, I think it's time we got out of here.”

“Actually, Commander, I need the both of you to accompany me to my office for interviews.”

“Is it really necessary?” All Chakotay wanted to do was curl up with Kathryn in the safety of darkness.

“It all depends on you, Sir. We could discuss the details of this padd here, if you would prefer.”

“Lead on, Rolo. It's time we moved to someplace less public.” Kathryn hooked her hand in his elbow and they both followed the lieutenant into the corridor - where they found a still-anxious Ensign Harrison.

Chakotay pulled Rolo aside. “Can we let Kathryn’s assistant go, now? I think he’s about to have a nervous breakdown.”

Rolo glanced at Nate. “He always has been a little high strung. I can't blame him, really. He's had it rough.”

Returning to where Kathryn was speaking quietly to the nervous young man, he gave him a friendly slap on the back. “You're in the clear, Harrison. Why don't you take Becky out for lunch and make an afternoon out of it? Obviously, nothing else is going to get done today.”

“You're sure? What if there are questions for me?”

“We know you can't go anywhere, buddy. We'll find you if we need more detail.”

“Nate…” Kathryn stepped back into his line of sight. “It's a security breach - and it's not your fault.”

Ensign Harrison looked at Kathryn as if she was his lifeline. “If you're sure, Admiral…”

“I'm sure.” She spoke firmly, laying her hand on his arm. “You are not at fault in this mess. I know it, Chakotay knows it, and Rolo and his team know it. Relax and enjoy your unscheduled day off.”

Chakotay thought he saw the young man's shoulders drop a little in relief. “Thank you, Admiral.” He turned and headed down the hallway.

They watched Nate walk away in silence. “You're good for him, you know. He adores you.” Rolo huffed a breath. “Now it's really time to head out to my office. Follow me.”

They walked out of the HQ building and headed for a small grey one he had never noticed before. Guessing it was simply an overflow space, he headed behind the lieutenant without question.

Kathryn, on the other hand, began to slow. “This is where your office is? Where your specialized team works with highly classified information?”

“I can assure you, Admiral, that the building is much more secure than it looks.”

“I know very well the level of security this building holds.” Kathryn snapped. “How long has your team worked in it?”

“It's been the headquarters for my division for at least as long as I've been alive - I think, even longer. Why?”

“No reason…” She returned to her original pace, but her hold on Chakotay's elbow tightened.

The security scans to simply gain access to the building were overly impressive. Chakotay had no doubts that there would be no accidental breach in here.

Once through the checkpoint, they came out into a large hall. One wall was filled with individual stars - all platinum - laid out in perfect rows and columns.

Kathryn stopped dead in her tracks. “Which one is Tina?”

“Excuse me?” Rolo’s face was indecipherable.

She turned to look him hard in the face. “Don't tell me you don't know. It's a rite of passage. You wouldn't be a lieutenant if you hadn't memorized them all. Now… which... one… is… Tina.”

Rolo gave her a strange look. “Tina is seven down, five right.”

“Thank you.” She let go of Chakotay's arm and headed for the wall. He could see her counting the spaces as Rolo had directed. Kissing her hand, she then laid it on the star - transferring the kiss - then stayed there for a moment.

There were tears in her eyes when she turned back. Without a word she tucked her hand back into his elbow and motioned for Rolo to continue toward his office.

“Kathryn?”

She shook her head. “Later. Let's just get through this…”

Silence reigned as they made the rest of their way up the lift and down the corridor to Rolo's office. Chakotay could tell something was wrong and that she was brimming with questions she either couldn't or didn't want to ask.

Once seated across from him at Rolo’s desk, they went through the uncomfortable details of when and where the pictures were taken, and if there had been any other threats that they hadn't reported - or strange things that made sense in light of this new development.

Chakotay's patience was almost worn through when they heard the door to Rolo's office open.

“Rynna Janeway, as I live and breathe…”

Kathryn spun in her seat. “Rabbit!” She’d flown out of it and launched herself at the man who had spoken before Chakotay even had a chance to register who it was.

 She began to cry, hugging the man to her as closely as she could. “Crickets, Mike… I thought I'd never see you again.”

Chakotay was astonished. He’d never seen Kathryn act this way. Even at Voyager’s return, she’d been much more reserved in greeting her mother and sister.

He tried to figure out who this could be to her. The man was short - barely taller than Kathryn. His shoulders were unbelievably wide - almost as wide as he was tall. He was very pale-skinned, with blonde hair. Chakotay didn't recognize him at all.

Now, the man was crying with her. “We thought we’d lost you for good.” Both of them were clutching onto each other as if the other was going to disappear.

Chakotay glanced at Lt Graaf to see if he knew what was going on. The other man looked just as baffled as he was.

“That's my CO, General Labbity, but beyond that…”

The crying couple were oblivious to anyone else in the room. General Labbity pulled back slightly and cupped her face. “We thought you were dead… lost to us in the Badlands. We held your funeral... put a star on the wall for you… when we heard you were alive…” The man choked on his words, and pulled her in close again.

“Did it really matter, Mike? We couldn't see each other, anyway.”

“Ah, but we could see you, my dear Rynna. We kept tabs on you… checked in to see how you were doing… made sure you had what you needed.”

She drew back, wiping her tears from her face. “I should have known you would do something like that. Tell me what things in my life should I be grateful to you for?”

The man cupped her face, again. “Nothing, my dear. Nothing at all. Our Dash is a survivor. She makes her own fortune.”

Kathryn smiled softly. “Dash… no one has called me that in years. But I'm not her, anymore, Rabbit. You know that.”

“Oh, I beg to differ. Dash still exists. She just traded jungles for the universe. Only our Dash could have made it. Only she could survive in an unknown quadrant of space, alone with a ragtag crew of rebels and ‘fleeters - and a few random aliens along the way.”

Who was this man? He was obviously someone important to her - someone she had been barred from ever seeing at some point. Was he a former lover - one of those people on her ‘short list’?

Lt Graaf beat him to it. “Wait - this is Dash? Admiral Janeway is Dash?”

General Labbity looked up, as if just realizing that there were other people in the room. “Yes, Rolo. Admiral Janeway - the woman who brought her crew across 70,000 light years, took out the Borg Queen, and used their transwarp conduit to get home - is our beloved Dash. Now do you understand?”

“Yes sir, I understand completely why you insisted on putting her star on the wall.”

Chakotay had just about had enough “Kathryn?”

“Oh, Chakotay, I'm so sorry.” She pulled herself out of the General’s arms, grabbing his hand instead. “This is Mike Labbity - Rabbit to me. He was - is - a very good friend.”

She gave Chakotay a meaningful look and spoke softly. “He was Justin's best friend.”

Rabbit held out his hand to shake Chakotay’s. “It's an honor to finally meet you in person. You proved Trench right when you were a Maquis, but we didn't realize just how right she was until we heard from Voyager.”

Chakotay sighed. The introduction had only exasperated his confusion. “Trench? I'm sorry, I'm at a complete loss, here.”

“Trench is Professor Pole, Chakotay.” She turned to Rabbit. “Why do you say she was right about him?”

Chakotay’s jaw dropped. Professor Pole was a colleague from his academy teaching days. They had become friends when she approached him about their joint interests in the development of a species. Hers from the attitude of biological developments, his from the social. They'd spent many an evening debating which development came first, therefore causing the change in the other.

He had mentioned his conversations with Professor Pole to Kathryn on multiple occasions. Why had she never said she knew the other woman? At a loss for words, he simply stared at the two of them.

Rabbit huffed a small laugh. “After Justin died, she lost the drive for the job. She tried to keep it up, but finally asked for retirement. We set her up at the Academy and asked her to keep an eye out for possible recruits.”

He turned to address Chakotay. “She brought us your name - said you were very good with out-of-the-box thinking and you had a real talent for tactics. We watched you for a bit, and were just about to approach you when you decided to go rogue on us and join the Maquis.”

This conversation was getting more surreal by the minute. “Am I supposed to say I'm sorry?”

“No - we ended up finding a use for you, anyway.”

“A use ?”

“Rolo, go get the Admiral some coffee before she faints… and an herbal tea for Commander Chakotay.”

Lt Graaf, who had been standing, dumbfounded, listening to the conversation, snapped to attention. “Yes, sir, of course, sir.” He hurried out of the room.

“Come… sit.” Rabbit gestured for them to retake their seats, while he took Lt Graaf’s. “Not everyone in the Federation was happy with the treaty - especially the Rangers. We’d seen too much to trust them. But our hands were tied, so we found other ways to protect the people we were forced to leave vulnerable.”

The pieces clicked. “You were my inside source.”

“Technically, it wasn't me.” He glanced at Kathryn. “It was Jeans.”

“He could easily scramble and hide the transmissions.”

“Got it in one.” He smiled at her, then turned back to Chakotay. “We kept tabs on Cardassian movements and colonies that were facing imminent danger, then fed you the information.”

“Even gave me leads on where to find supplies.” He shook his head. “I always wondered why the source was so accurate.”

There was a pause as Rolo arrived with the tea and coffee. “I'm heading out to check in with my team. Please let my assistant know if you need anything else.”

When the door closed behind Rolo, Kathryn asked the question Chakotay realized was the one burning in her.“Rabbit… how is she? How is everyone else?” She was hesitant as if she was afraid of his answers.

There was a moment's hesitation. “How much does he know?”

“He knows everything about Justin, but nothing about you - or anyone else.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything.”

He shook his head. “Well, that's a new development.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I wondered how long it would take you. To be honest, I wondered why you didn't tell him sooner.”

“It was too complicated, Mike.”

Chakotay was stymied by the half-spoken conversation. “If you want me to leave, I can wait outside with Graaf’s assistant.”

“No, no… it's fine. Knowing about Justin is much more sensitive information than the rest of us.”

“Justin wasn't the only Ranger on board, Chakotay. There was a whole team. He got me out while they rescued Paris. We all became very close friends, but when we got back, I was barred from spending any more time with them.”

“Why would Starfleet do that? It's not as if you didn't know who they were.”

“Fleet Admiral Keleetha didn't like her, so he came up with a line that fraternising with us on Earth would blow our covers and convinced our CO to go along with it.”

“They tried to bar me from Justin, too, but we were already engaged. Paris, Patterson, and my dad fought for us.”

Pieces fell into place for Chakotay.  Like with the Maquis, Ranger friendships were forged in fire - closer than family. She’d been one of them - close enough that they actually put a star for her on their memorial wall.

Their reunion today was more than that of someone who hadn't seen her since Voyager was lost. This was deeper - bone deep - soul deep. What would he have done if he was forced away from B’Elanna or Ayala? The way Kathryn protected her heart - how she blocked others out - answered his question...

“We tried to keep in touch through Justin, but when he died…”

“The connection was lost.” He took her hand. She squeezed it and held on.

“We did our best to be there for you, but…”

“I know, Rabbit. I saw Polly and Spider in the security patrol at the funeral.” There were tears in her eyes at the memory.

“Jeans was working the transmissions to the dignitaries who couldn't make it.”

“I didn't see him.”

“There was a glitch in the transmission. By the time he got it fixed, you had passed him.”

“I wish I had known. I would have walked slower.”

“It's not like you were walking all that fast in the first place. They drugged you up and transported you right to the funeral - cast and all… Do you remember Trench and I sitting with you in your hospital room?”

Her head shot up. “That wasn't a dream?”

“No… Paris and your mom worked it out so we could sit with you. They told the nurses some story about us being distant family, or something.”

“My mom did that?”

“Your mom is the source of your royal lineage, Princess. She knew there was something more with Justin than a simple lab partnership. You were too close, and your father knew him too well. When Paris asked for her help, she did it without question.”

“Why didn't you stay until I woke up?”

“Phoebe.” He held up his hand to stave off her angry response. “She didn't know. All she knew was that she came into your room to find two strangers. She threw a fit. By the time your mom got there, the damage was done.”

Silence fell over the room as Kathryn processed the information. Then her voice came softly.

“You still haven't told me about the rest of them, Rabbit.

Tears came to his eyes and he shook his head. “I'm the only one left, Rynna.”

She gave a resigned sigh. “I knew it.”

“I'm sorry, Rynna. I wish I was able to keep them safe for you.”

“Trench?”

He smiled softly. “She was pissed at you when you disappeared. Hell - she was pissed at me for sending you out there!”

Kathryn let go of Chakotay’s hand and crossed her arms in front of her. “Explain.”

It was everything he could do to keep from laughing. Even here, in this place, where she had just gone through so much in such a small piece of time, her command bearing shone through.

“For starters, Trench was pissed because she had just finalized plans to get you to her wedding.”

“Trench got married ?”

Rabbit smiled. “Yes. To a wonderful woman. You know - knew - her, Chakotay.”

“I did? Oh! She married Michelle!” He turned to Kathryn. “She was a wonderful woman. Absolutely doted on Judy.”

Kathryn took his hand and squeezed it. “A recommendation from you is enough for me. I'm glad to hear DeeDee found someone worthy of her.” She turned back to Rabbit. “How the hell was she going to get me in the wedding?”

“Keleetha had retired by then, and Nechayev wasn't much of a micromanager. Not to mention, that mission was several years old. Nobody cared about some footnote regarding fraternization. Trench wanted you to be her maid of honor, but she figured that hiding you as a regular guest amongst the group of colleagues would be safer.”

“I'd have gone without a second thought.” Her voice was quiet. “What happened to her?”

“She and Michelle were coming back from a visit with Michelle’s family when their transport was boarded by slavers. Trench blew up the ship with everyone on it.”

“Are you sure about that? It wasn't just made to look like that's what happened?”

“I checked the forensics myself, Rynna. I'm positive they were lost in the explosion. There are ways Rangers do things. Besides, you know I'd have either found her or died trying if I suspected something else.”

“So, what did you mean when you said she was pissed at you for sending me?”

“Didn't you ever wonder why Starfleet would send a relatively new captain in a brand new ship after such a valuable Maquis captain who was impossible to catch?”

“I just figured that I was being tested.”

“You don't test someone on a mission like that.” He turned to Chakotay. “Let's test your tactical skills. Have you heard enough to answer her question?”

He couldn't help but smile at Rabbit. “You have to send a Ranger to catch a Ranger, Kathryn.”

Rabbit smiled back at him. “Starfleet wanted to send Mikado, but we were able to convince them to send you.”

“You would have been dead, Chakotay.”

“Rabbit is saying she would have never caught me in the first place, Kathryn.”

“Captured you? No. Blew up you and your ship? Possibly - she is very good in that regard. Starfleet didn't care either way, but we wanted you alive so we could engineer an escape, taking a dozen or so other Maquis with you.”

“I couldn't have been that important to you.”

“Yes, you were. You were doing exactly what we hoped - protecting and supplying the people in danger. You only fired on Federation ships when attacked by them - and then only disabling them enough so you could get away. And you did a bang-up job of taking out Cardassians.”

“So you wanted me out there. Why send Tuvok in to spy on me?” Chakotay was still angry about the spies he had discovered.

Rabbit ducked his head a bit, then looked up at Chakotay. “That wasn't us. By the time we realized what Starfleet had done, we were unable to get word to you. Then you were gone and it wasn't important anymore.”

Rabbit sighed and leaned back on his chair. “For the record, we didn't know about Seska, either. Near as we can tell, her identity was created as part of the Cardassian infiltration of the Bajoran resistance. They reassigned her to you when you became such a huge threat to them.”

How the hell did he know about Seska? He opened his mouth to ask, but Kathryn interrupted him.

“We're getting way off topic, Rabbit. You're avoiding telling me about the rest of the team.”

Rabbit gave a resigned sigh. “Shortly after your funeral, we lost Polly on a diplomatic mission that went horribly awry. It was too much for Spider and Jeans - they asked for retirement.”

Kathryn was starting to tremble. Chakotay took her hand again and, threading his fingers through hers, gave it a light squeeze.

“I sent them on one last mission to the Gamma Quadrant, following up on intelligence about a system that had managed to stave off the Dominion. Their shuttle never returned.”

‘Oh, Rabbit. That must have been hard. I know how hard it is when you were the one who sent them.”

Rabbit gave a small smile and an indecipherable look. “I like to think they found a nice planet with peaceful people, and simply settled down there.”

Kathryn’s eyebrow rose and a matching smile appeared on her face. “I see.”

But Chakotay didn't see. The only parts of this conversation he’d followed was when Rabbit addressed him directly. The rest seemed to be in some kind of shorthand. Was this how she felt when he and his old Maquis crew started reminiscing?

Kathryn had moved on again, the smile on her face turning into a smirk. Squeezing his hand, she let go and crossed her arms, again. “So, how’s the harem?”

“The harem is long gone, Rynna.” A wide grin spread across Rabbit's face. “I'm a married man, now.”

“You devil! Was it one of the harem, or did you meet someone new who made it obsolete?”

“Someone from the harem… I'm sure Justin must have mentioned her at some point.”

“You married Millie. What made you finally take the plunge?”

“When we found out about Justin, I went to see her.” A deep blush rose on his pale face. “I kind of never left.”

“So, you married her.”

He nodded. “She proved Justin right… never complained about my disappearances… always welcomed me back. When I moved up the ranks enough that I seldom went into the field, I asked her to marry me.” He fished into a pocket on his uniform and came out with a small portable holo-photo carrier. “This is her.”

Chakotay snuck a look over Kathryn’s shoulder. A woman with the darkest skin he had ever seen smiled up out of the frame. She was beyond stunning - sharply intelligent black eyes with long lashes adorned her face and long slender limbs encircled the pale man’s waist.

He almost laughed out loud. The difference in the couple's skin colors was striking. He suspected that Rabbit enjoyed seeing the contrast as much as he did with the lesser one between his and Kathryn’s complexions.

“She's beautiful, Rabbit. I'm so glad you finally gave her a chance.”

He shrugged. “You and Justin showed me that it was possible. When he died… I realized that life was too short. It turned out that she was sitting by the comm, waiting for my calls.”

“Did Trench ever let you live it down?”

“She mentioned it as often as she could.”

The conversation went silent as the two old friends grinned at each other. Chakotay had hundreds of questions about what he had heard, but decided he would ask Kathryn later.

The door chimed and Lt Graaf stuck his head inside. “Excuse me, sir. I have a security update for the Admiral. Is this a good time?”

“Of course, Rolo. It's time I gave you your office back.” He stood. “Rynna, I can't even begin to describe how good it has been to see you.”

Kathryn stood and hugged him tightly. “Probably as good as it has been for me, Mike. Now that I'm a member of the admiralty, do you think we can see each other, again?”

“Socially? Probably no - you're too high-profile. But I expect that we'll run into each other at various functions. We can catch up, then.” He gave her one last squeeze then stepped back.

“Now I really must be going. I'm late for a meeting with Nechayev.” With that, he strode out of the office.

If there had been any question in Chakotay’s mind about how strong the bond was between Kathryn and Rabbit, it had just been answered. Nechayev was a hardball. You never made her wait for you.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn was silent on their way out of the building. It had been a difficult morning for her - first the invasion of the intimate pictures, then seeing her old Ranger friend and hearing the fates of the others she had been so close to. He held her hand and quietly steered her to his apartment.

“I think we should have gone to my place. I at least need to pack some personal things.”

“We can go later. There are going to be personnel all over the place, installing the new security enhancements Rolo told us about.” He gently guided her inside. “For the time being, you can replicate some comfortable civilian clothes and stay here with me.”

She touched his face. “Thank you for understanding.”

He kissed her softly. “It's been a difficult day for both of us. I, for one, feel like getting comfortable and curling up on the sofa.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. Just… close the curtains?”

Without saying a word, he touched the panel next to his window and the curtains slowly closed.

 

Chapter Text

Watching her sleep had become his favorite pastime. When she was awake, her body usually held some kind of tension, but when she was sleeping it faded away. In its wake, her features were soft and relaxed, her brow unfurrowed, her body pliable.

Although he loved being in the presence of her fire, small glimpses of this Kathryn was what had kept him going those long years. Her willingness to openly share this part of her with him now was something he held dear to his heart.

She had secrets… many secrets. Each turn of their life together revealed yet one more piece in the puzzle that was Kathryn. It would take a lifetime to plumb the depths of them.

After the day the photos had appeared on her desk, she stayed with him at his place, replicating anything she needed. It had taken a week for her to feel comfortable enough to enter hers again. The violation - not only of the photos, but of the Security personnel crawling all over it for evidence, then installing the enhancements - was almost more than she could take.

He understood completely - he’d had his privacy violated, too. The moments captured in those photos were private ones, not to be shared with anyone but the two of them. Even the work at her apartment had not left him untouched. He’d found that out the hard way when Rolo came to him with apologies and a broken slate - the nearly complete etching he’d made for his mother in pieces.

During the week they’d exiled themselves from her apartment, she’d opened up and explained what he’d seen and heard in Rolo's office.

It turned out that the building was the Ranger headquarters. She’d recognized it immediately. Justin had sneaked her in a few times so she could spend some time with her friends. She hadn't recognized Rolo’s uniform because, as an undercover operative, Justin and his team hadn't worn them.

The stars were for personnel lost. Because of security concerns, the stars were never referred to by proper name. Each Ranger had a nickname - ‘Tina’ was Justin's. Barred from the building by a vindictive Fleet Admiral, she’d never seen it.

Although they worked primarily with Starfleet, they were not part of that branch of military cum research organization. Thus, the different uniforms, and the fact that General Labbity - Mike or Rabbit to her - could make Nechayev wait for him. He was, in essence, her equal.

She’d been so close to them that they’d given her her own nickname - Dash, signalling the dash from the Cardassian prison when she’d saved Justin by hiding in the swamp then killing the Toskanar dog.

Her friendship with Trench ‘DeeDee’ - Judy as he’d known her - had been the closest one she’d ever had. Judy's comparable lack of friends had forged a bond that could never be broken - or replaced - and left her refusing to forge other close friendships. She’d hung on every word of Chakotay's stories about Judy because it was all she had of this woman she’d been forced away from.

Spider ‘Mike’, Levi ‘Jeans', and Polly ‘Jeff' had rounded out the team. Each one of them precious to her in their own right.

A huge man with a gentle nature, Spider had worked with her to develop ways to collect the Cardassian data that allowed them to stay out there for the remainder of the mission. In direct opposition to Spider's build, the string-bean skinny Polly had taught her the self defense that wasn't in Starfleet training. Together, the two of them had also taught her how to read another person's face and bearing so she could predict how someone was going to act before they revealed their true purpose.  

As a high-level communications tech, Jeans had made it possible for them all to keep in touch with Starfleet without alerting the Cardassians. He was also an excellent cook, who had tried desperately to teach her how… and ended up using her as a prep assistant.

She’d also filled him in on Justin's personal experience with the Cardassians, and the information about their torture devices that came out of it. That experience - and those of the team, in general - had helped her come to terms with what had happened to her in that prison. Their understanding had helped her to move on into a… full… relationship with Justin - her first.

With her technical and analytical capabilities - along with instinctive tactical advice - she had been the one who had made it possible for the scientists to complete their research. She’d also made it possible to beat the Cardassians at their own game and for Starfleet to come away with an extensive font of data about their ship. Her brilliance, however, had also been the source of Keleetha’s dislike of her.

She’d lived an entire lifetime in the nine months the ship remained in that sector. A lifetime that governed the rest of her adulthood and showed her strength she never knew she had.

While he pondered these revelations, she rolled over in her sleep, turning her back to him and sprawling her body across the bed. The sheet, already low on her body, slipped down at the movement to expose her back… all the way down to the point where it curved into her buttocks.

It was too much skin for him to resist. Reaching out to her, he trailed one finger down her spine. The gooseflesh that appeared in its wake was accompanied by a shiver in her still-sleeping body.

Tongue replacing his finger, he followed her spine up from the curve of her backside to her neck, ending in tiny wet kisses along her neck. Instinctively, her back arched into him, exposing one inviting breast. One hand slid up her side and cupped it, feathering his thumb across the nipple.

She stirred. “Mmm… Good morning.” A sleep-filled mumble came from the vicinity of her pillow.

“Good morning.” His words slipped out between his kisses. When he made it to the sensitive spot behind her ear, she hummed again and rolled over to face him.

“Have I ever told you how much I enjoy waking up this way?” She kissed him, delaying his response.

“Often enough that I keep doing it.” He kissed her back, deepening it, his tongue asking for entrance to the warm depths of her mouth.

She eagerly complied, twining her tongue with his while her hand smoothed along his torso, pulling his body closer to hers. Lips still locked with his, she hooked a leg around his and rolled to her back, pulling him halfway on top of her.

Releasing her mouth, he laid open-mouthed kisses along her neck and across her collarbone until he reached that inviting breast. Twirling his tongue around the nipple, he sucked it into his mouth, drawing a small moan from her as the hand still on his hip slid between their bodies to fondle his already swollen member.

Her thumb stroked gently across his sensitive tip and he groaned against her breast. Not letting up, her hand encircled his length, softly stroking with feather touches.

Crickets! How did she do that? In less than a minute, she’d brought him to the point where he was ready to plunge himself into her warmth again and again, until she came with abandon.

He shook his head and reached to still her hand. Anything more - either her hand or his daydream - would send him over in an instant.

She laughed softly when he stopped her. “That didn't take long.”

“With you, it never does.” He pulled her hand away from him and pressed it back against the bed. “Your turn.” His mouth found its way back to her breast, then worked its way up her neck until it captured her mouth in a searing kiss.

Her leg curled up around his thigh, trapping him against her with just enough pressure to tantalize him further. “Not today. I have other things in mind.”

In one swift move, she had him on his back. Leaning back, she pulled him up towards her until he was sitting upright with her straddling him. Wrapping his hands around her back, she did the same around his shoulders, then tucked her forehead against his shoulder.

She held him there for a moment, then leaned back and kissed him. The kiss was hungry… intoxicating. She plundered his mouth searching for… he didn't know - wasn't even sure she knew.

Shifting her hips, she gave him the space to position himself, then slowly slid down his rigid shaft, taking him in all the way to the hilt, then paused to... savor the feeling?... calm herself down? He didn't know.

Slowly, she began to move, hips rocking against his, massaging his swollen shaft with her inner muscles. She’d purposefully wrapped his arms around her, so he continued to hold her tightly to him. Instead he peppered her neck and shoulders with kisses, sucking, nipping, and licking along the way.

The pressure built between them and she increased her pace. Sensing that it was alright, he unwrapped his arms and smoothed his hands up her sides. Locating her breasts where they were pressed against him, he moved his thumb between their bodies and stroked the nipple.

Holding onto his shoulders, she leaned back to give him more access to her body. He dove in, one hand holding her to him, the other cupping her breast while his thumb teased across her taut nipple, mouth teasing the other one.

She groaned and increased her pace, then suddenly grabbed both his hands and sent him backwards, pressing them into the bed as she writhed on top of him. He kept his mouth on her breast as it bobbed and weaved above him.

Increasing her pace again, she arched her back bringing her chest closer to him. He took full advantage, laving and sucking at her breasts, pulling the nipples between his teeth, nipping the soft skin underneath.

Suddenly, they were gone… pulled out of his reach as she looked down at him and stared into his eyes. He nearly gasped at what he saw there. Alternately brave then meek… bold then cautious… strong then delicate… staunch then yielding… gutsy then timid. The contradictory traits that made her the complex person that she was were all there for him to see.

She’d exposed her soul to him. For one brief moment she was all those things, then her eyes closed and it was gone. The gift remained, however. He would never forget it.

The speed and intensity of her movements increased. Letting go of his hands, she sat up completely. His hands went to her hips, holding hers against him.

Finally able to hold her in place, he met her thrust for thrust as she rode him relentlessly like a wild horse - untamed and ferocious. Taking what she wanted from him, he gave it to her freely. She could have it all. Every part of him was hers to do with as she wanted.

He felt her falter and her inner muscles started to tighten around him. Adjusting his hold, he fused their hips together, her body slick with sweat, as she rode him.

The beauty of it was lost to him as he exploded within her, his body releasing great bursts of hot semen to bathe her insides. Through the fog of his orgasm, he felt her muscles clench around him, milking the last of his seed from him and leaving him breathless.

Spent, she collapsed on him, her sweat soaked body warm against his chest, her breaths coming in great gasps of air.

“Chakotay… the sheet.” Her words gasped between breaths.

It took him a moment to realize what she was asking him for. He reached down and grasped it, pulling it up over them. As she calmed and her breathing slowed he felt her relax into him, her hand stealing up to take its usual place on his chest.

She showed no signs of intending to move from where she lay on top of him. He reveled in the feel of her soft body laying on his, stroking her back and kissing her temple. Ultimately, though, light as she was, he was having trouble taking deep breaths.

Rolling them to one side, he cradled her in his arms, making sure to keep the sheet up over her shoulders. She burrowed into him and he thought he heard her mumble into his shoulder.

“Safe .”

Just the one word. She’d said it before as if it was a label instead of a simple word. “What does that mean, Kathryn?”

“Hmn?”

Safe . What does that mean to you?”

She lifted her head from his shoulder and gave him a searching look. “It's difficult to explain. It's you… your existence … your essence . You're Safe .”

“You mean I'm a secure place to land… when the world around you is not necessarily a good place to be.”

“Yes, and no. It's more than that. It's when I feel un safe… I told you it's difficult to explain…”

But he understood, now. “I'm a place to go when you feel… vulnerable…”

She tucked her head back into his shoulder and he felt her relax once more. “And when I want to feel it… when I need a chance to let go… you're Safe … I can do that with you.”

Random things began to make sense to him. She’d always responded to him with instinctive trust. The times she’d been kidnapped - or worse - in the Delta Quadrant. The times when she’d sought his counsel on seemingly inconsequential things. Even when she went off to be assimilated, she’d held his hand as if it was a lifeline. He had always assumed it was because of their friendship - and her lack of another one on board.

Now, she was telling him something different - almost spiritual. He - his spirit - was a safe haven for her, and had been from almost the moment that they met. That revelation brought another one. She had been the same thing for him, too… also from the moment that they met.

Would her scientific mind be willing to accept the fact that they were soulmates? He held her close. Was it really important that they put a label on it?

 

<<<------>>>

 

“For cricket’s sake, Chakotay. He's not going to know if the bow isn't on straight.”

“But I'll know.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed at him. “Sometimes I think you get more enjoyment out of this than Kevin does.”

“It's more of an even draw, I think.” Chakotay picked up the bag and took her hand. “I'm enjoying the research, and being able to share it with him is fun.”

“Well, come on, then. You can't share it with him if you're not there - and I'm hungry.” She dragged him down the corridor and out of the building, heading for the transport station.

 

<<<------>>>

 

As Kathryn had predicted, Kevin barely noticed the bow as he ripped into the package containing two more ‘a-wee-enz' as his improving diction now pronounced it.

“Unca Takotay, you teww me stowies!” The young boy dragged him into the living room and onto the floor. The other adults laughed as they watched the big man curl his legs underneath him and begin to share his research about the two figurines he had brought with him.

After a jolly meal spent watching Chakotay and Kevin gush about the two alien cultures, Christine and Kathryn took Kevin back to the living room while Mark and Chakotay stayed behind to clean up. He proceeded to crawl up in Kathryn’s lap and show off his new pronunciation abilities.

By the time the two men returned from the kitchen, Kathryn had been through his entire new vocabulary and read him two books. Kevin was now fast asleep, looking right at home curled up next to her with one little arm thrown across her belly.

“Well, ladies, it seems that you have managed to wear Kevin out. That's quite a feat.” Mark was leading the way as he and Chakotay returned from the kitchen.

“Oh, we can't take all the credit.” Kathryn scooted over to give Chakotay space to sit next to her. “Chakotay did a lot of the work towards that goal.”

She smiled softly as he pulled her back in close to her. She leaned into him, but then he bent low to whisper in her ear. His words made her freeze.

“You know, you would make a great mother, Kathryn. If you think about it, you've gotten years of practice ‘mothering’ an entire ship. A kid or two wouldn't be nearly as difficult.”

Was this where they ended? She’d so much enjoyed her time with him. It seemed all too short...

Sitting down next to Christine, Mark broached the subject of Phoebe. “So, has your sister settled down at all?”

“I no longer have a sister, Mark.”

He sighed. “Phoebe needs to get over this anger she’s still holding onto.”

“What do you mean?”

Mark glanced at Chakotay. “A serious boyfriend was killed in a battle with a Maquis ship. That, coupled with your disappearance when chasing a Maquis, has… colored… her opinions ever since.”

She felt Chakotay's body droop in resignation and guilt.

How had she not seen this? “But she's engaged to someone else. I'd think she’d be over it by now.”

“Um…” Mark shifted uncomfortably in his seat and glanced at his wife.

Christine put her hand on his leg. “It's alright, Mark.” She turned to Kathryn. “Mark had just as much trouble with the Maquis after you disappeared. Only when the war broke out did he realize the Maquis had simply been fighting a war that hadn't officially started. A lot of people lost loved ones, and he started to accept the idea that you were lost in the same war.

Kathryn was at a loss for words. She’d had no idea. “Did my mom think that, too?”

“She… ah… was having a rough time trying to come to terms with your loss, but she had a history of heartbreak with the Cardassians. In fact, I think she might have been more of a Maquis sympathizer than she ever let on.”

Kathryn caught his pointed look. “You don't mean…”

“I think she might know more than you think, Kath, although I have no proof.”

“That would explain what she said to me that day at Medical.”

Kathryn’s head whipped around to stare at Chakotay. “What do you mean?”

“Weren't you listening?” Chakotay rolled his eyes at her continued confused look. “She wondered why you never joined the Maquis, yourself.”

“I figured that had to do with my father's work.”

“C'mon, Kath. There was no way you would leave Starfleet for a little jealousy over your father's work. She knows there's more to the story, there - I just don't know how much she knows.”

“Or how much she guesses. Rabbit said as much to you that day at his headquarters.”

The whole idea stopped Kathryn cold. She’d never wanted her mother to know what happened to her in that prison. Had her father said something?

“Look… the fact remains that Phoebe has never taken the path to forgiveness. She remains locked in the hatred she developed years ago, which colors everything else in her life. You should have seen some of her artwork from the first few years…”

“She still has no right to treat people the way she's been treating them.” Kathryn was definitely not in the mood for forgiveness. Phoebe's words had been hurtful and repulsive.

“I agree wholeheartedly. It's just helpful to have an idea where that hatred is coming from.”

“I always knew there were others who felt the same way. I don't know why it never occurred to me that it would come from my family.”

“Part of the problem lies in the fact that none of you can talk about what happened out there. Quite a few serious relationships had developed by the time you got home, but no one can explain how or why. All you can say is that it was difficult, and you had to band together to survive.”

“That sentiment would explain the security breach in my apartment.” Too late, she realized that she was moving from one can of worms and opening another.

Security breach ?”

“Someone took pictures of us through her apartment window, then left them on her desk at headquarters.”

Mark's jaw dropped. “How on Earth did they get through the security barriers?”

“They're still trying to figure that out.”

Christine looked between the two of them. “You're not staying there now, are you? I don't think I could ever go back.”

“It hasn't been the easiest thing to deal with, but they reinforced everything and added new features to boot. Sometimes I feel like I live in a fortress, and other times…”

“...You feel like you're in a fishbowl.” Christine shuddered.

“First your mom, now you. Do they have any idea who is doing this?” Mark huffed an exasperated sigh.

Chakotay shook his head. “We don't even have a clue as to why . All the note said was that there were more pictures.”

“In the meantime, we keep our curtains closed and stay away from the windows.” Kathryn sighed. That had been the hardest part. Unsatisfying as the view was, it had been something to focus on while she thought. Losing the natural light they hadn't had on Voyager had been another blow.

“I think I'd just stay at Chakotay's place.”

“She did for the first week, but then we realized that if this person could get to us at her place, they could just as easily do it at mine.”

Kathryn shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “It's not like I'm not used to looking over my shoulder. I did that for seven years - with an entire ship.”

Chakotay seemed to be just as unwilling to continue the conversation as she was. “We really need to get going, Kathryn. You're slated to see your mom tomorrow, and I think it's best if you were well-rested in case you run into Phoebe.”

Kathryn moved to stand, then realized that Kevin was wrapped around her enough that she was pinned down. “I think I'm stuck.”

Chakotay laughed softly and bent to extricate the warm little body from hers. Again, the feeling of sharing a child between them slammed into her. It was everything she could do to clamp down on the emotions that welled up at the thought.

While Chakotay and Mark settled Kevin into his bed, she and Christine cleaned up his books and the figurines he had fallen asleep before he could put away. Sooner than she realized, they were at the door, saying goodbye.

Christine looked between Kathryn and Chakotay. “You two are so good with Kevin. You’ll make wonderful parents. I hope you're planning on your own.”

Kathryn and Mark went rigid. Chakotay and Christine shared a confused look. Mark caught her eye. There was no doubt about the question in his eyes. All she could do was look away - an answer in itself.

“Now, Christine, don't go getting ahead of things. They've only been a couple for a few months.” He did his best to cover for her.

“Yes, but…” She caught her husband's cautionary look. “You're right. I'm sorry.”

“It’s fine, Christine. Thank you for your compliment.” Kathryn managed to mumble out a response.

Chakotay placed a hand on the small of her back. “We really need to go. I think the transport station locks down in a half hour and we still have to walk there.”

They said final subdued goodnights, then headed out into the Colorado night. She could tell that Chakotay was completely confused about what had transpired, but was unable to open the conversation.

After five minutes of uncomfortable silence, he stopped in the middle of the road. “Alright, out with it. You're going to tell me what is going on… now . I'm not waiting in silence until we get back.”

This was it. “You've always wanted children, haven't you?”

“Not always… it wasn't until Seska tricked me that I realized how I would feel about it.”

“But you want them, now.”

“You don't?”

“Let's just say that you won't be having any with me.” She started to walk away, unable to bear the expression she thought would be on his face.

“Kathryn, not wanting children with me is not a deal breaker. You understand that don't you?”

She stopped walking, but didn't look back “It's not that I don't want them with you, it's that… You won't be having them with me.”

Mark’s house was on the outskirts of a town just big enough for a transport station, but not much else. The majority of the area was filled with a preserved forest where camping and hiking were the major pastimes.

Needing to think, she resumed walking, but took a path into the woods instead of continuing on the route to the station.

It took less than a minute for him to catch up to her. Catching her arm, he turned her to face him.

“Help me to understand. You want to have children with me, but you won't?”

Won't is not really the right word. It's more…” Why couldn't she say it out loud? It didn't change the fact.

She glanced up at him in time to see the understanding settle in his eyes.

“...That you can't .”

She looked away again. “I can't.” She almost whispered the words. It was the first time she’d told anyone. Only the Doctor had known. She’d taken steps to ensure that no one else would ever know unless she told them - something she had never intended to do.

“Is that why you considered Q’s request so seriously? Because he was going to make it possible?” Chakotay asked softly.

“Yes, and no. He offered to make it safe for… what was wrong… at the time. But it doesn't matter, now. Now… I can't… at all.”

He took her hand gently. “Tell me everything.”

She huffed a breath. He wasn't going to give this up. “Alright… I told you I was seriously injured in the accident that killed my father and Justin?”

He nodded silently.

“One of my more serious injuries happened when a branch stabbed into my side. In addition to playing havoc with my intestines, it ruptured my uterus. They managed to basically heal it, but the scar is long and jagged. They told me it would be dangerous for me to carry a child.”

“You and Mark never intended to have children, did you?”

She nodded. “He was… ambivalent… about children, so we decided it wasn't worth the risk. Molly and any puppies she had would be our family. I focused on my career, instead.”

“And this is what Q said he would fix.”

She nodded.

“But something has changed since then? Something that moved the situation from ‘unsafe' to ‘impossible’?”

Tears threatened. She wasn't sure she would be able to get this part out. It would be… complicated… to tell him.

“Kathryn…” His voice was low, but the refusal to back down was liberally laced through it. “Tell me what happened.”

“Quarra…” She tried to pull her hands from his but he tightened his grip. “Quarra is what happened. ”

“And…?”

“I'm pretty sure you know that I slept with Jaffen. I was moving in with him for cricket's sake! That Kathryn only thought to make sure the… physical build… was similar. That's all she thought about.”

“But there was something else…” All she wanted to do was stop talking, but he kept prompting her… forcing her into the whole story.

“Despite that fact that Jaffen said Norvalians have no father, they do , but their… process... works… differently. The, ah, sperm attach to the uterine lining and lay in wait for the egg to join them. But… I was on boosters. There was no egg. So… they stayed where they were… burrowing in… waiting for something that would never come.”

“And that caused lasting problems.”

“By the time the Doctor discovered what had happened, it was too late. They’d formed hard little cysts around themselves and burrowed so deep that they're up against the wall, itself. Any attempt to remove them carries the danger of rupturing the uterus.”

“And there's no place left between the cysts for a human zygote to attach.”

The tears had come and all she could do was nod.

“Oh, Kathryn... This is why you went into hiding after Quarra, isn't it?”

Another nod answered his question, but it also brought a resurgence of the anger she’d managed to suppress at the time. Ripping her hands from his, she began to pace.

“Quarra took the part of me that would never have done what I did there. I would never have moved in with a man I just met. Hell, I wouldn't have even slept with him in the first place! Then, they didn't even let me keep my Starfleet training… the training that would have warned me to check more than… plumbing!”

The tears were coming out in full force, now. Sobs ripped out between sentences… pacing more erratic… waving her hands around to emphasize each statement.

Chakotay caught her mid-pace and tried to fold her into his arms, but she resisted - pulling away and resuming her pacing. Now that the lock on her anger had been opened, there was no holding back the fury of what had been done.

“I'd always held out hope, Chakotay. Always . I regularly asked my doctor about strengthening the scar tissues… kept a lookout for scientific research that would be able to help. The Doctor had become so adept at developing miracle cures and therapies, I'd actually seriously considered asking him to look it over.”

She snapped a look at Chakotay, the unbridled fury written all over her. “But Quarra took that hope away from me… permanently . You know… in all the things I - we - went through out there, I never felt hopeless . Confused, yes. Anxious... afraid… stuck , even. But never once did I lose hope . There was always a way - always a solution - to whatever confronted us… and we found it… every time . Quarra took that away from me.”

She headed through the brush that lined the sides of the path and into the trees… heading toward a small meadow that lay some distance from the path. Chakotay followed silently.

She had no filter left… and she had reached the point where she wanted someone to know the full extent of what that awful Dr Kadan had done to her - to her peace of mind. In truth, the man had shattered it… brought her to her knees in pain and grief. Chakotay thought she’d told him everything, but he was wrong.

Despite the sexual assaults she had endured in her life, it wasn't until Quarra that she’d felt raped. Those other attacks had been to her body, done with malice and under the guise of torture. But her body was just a shell, harboring and protecting what really mattered to her - her mind.

Kadan had delved into her mind, taking out and putting in what he wanted. There’d been no malice in his actions - only selfishness. He’d treated her - and her crew - like property, to do with as he pleased. He’d raped not just her, but her crew . It was her job to protect them, and she had failed… miserably.

The lasting damage to her body had been yet another blow. Her life in the Delta Quadrant had made thoughts of a family an impossible dream. But there had always been hope . Hope that she would get them back in time for her to have a child… hope that that child would be Chakotay’s… hope that she could be with Chakotay. That hope had been crushed, leaving her dreams shattered on Voyager’s deck plating.

But, despite the violation of her mind and the destruction of her body, it was her soul that had been laid waste. The things she had done under that monster's control had not been her - not what she would have chosen for herself. But she’d been happy… in love.

Back on Voyager with her mind restored, the heavy yoke of command once again laid on her shoulders had brought with it a crushing loneliness that had literally dropped her to her knees. The fact that there was no one she could share her pain with had kept her there, sprawled across the deck plating, buried in the dust of her shattered dreams.

By the time she was finished railing against the cold-hearted Kadan, she was frantically pacing the meadow. Chakotay looked shell-shocked, feet frozen to the ground. Had she not been in the throes of the resurgent fury and pain, she might have managed to develop sympathy for him. To her shame, she only felt an empty kind of triumph… as if making him know the pain somehow proved something.

Fury finally spent, her knees buckled and she sat down hard on the soft grass of the meadow. Chakotay sat down next to her and she finally let him pull her into his arms.

“The damage is irreversible, Chakotay. I don't think even Q could fix it, now.”

“There's always hope, Kathryn. Surrogacy… adoption… ask the doctors here to look at it. If you really want a child, it doesn't matter how it happens, does it?”

“You deserve more than that, Chakotay. You deserve to have a child with your eyes and loving nature gracing the galaxy.” Her voice went soft - almost a whisper. “You deserve to find a whole woman who can give you that.”

“Crickets, Kathryn! Is that what you think about yourself? You are more than a breeding ground for children. You are more than most women - certainly much more than any other woman I have met! Consider other options. Isn't that how you - we - came up with all those solutions out there?”

He pulled her to face him so he could catch her eyes. “And, for the record, if you decide you don't want to do any of them, you still won't be able to get rid of me. I'm here because I want to be with you , not because I think you're good breeding stock. Frankly, it's a little insulting.”

Looking away, she huffed a sigh. “You still deserve someone who's good enough to give you everything.”

“I beg to differ. I wake up every day amazed that you are willing to take me into your life.”

She kissed him. The pent up stress of hiding her condition from him was suddenly gone, leaving her hungry for his touch. He matched her passion with his own, leaving them both breathless.

“I think the station is closed. We missed the last transport.” His mouth was moving down her neck trailing small kisses and nips behind it.

“We'll have to go back to Mark's and spend the night there.” She was already panting as her back arched in response.

“Is there a hotel in town?” He pinched her taut nipples through her blouse.

“I don't think so.” She unbuttoned his shirt and rasped her hands across his chest.

“You could call for a site to site from Starfleet.” He captured her lips.

Breaking the kiss, her lips nipped down to his chest. “Imagine explaining that to the higher-ups.”

“Any other suggestions?” He ripped her shirt from her body.

“We could sleep here.” She pushed him down on the grass, straddling him.

“Aren't there wild animals here?” He pulled down her bra strap and followed the skin leading to her half-exposed breast.

“Just elk and a few sheep. Nothing dangerous that I know of.” She ground her hips into his, stroking the erection in his pants with her hot core.

“I don't think we're going to make it anywhere else for a while, anyway.” He unfastened her pants and dipped one finger between her nether lips. She was dripping wet.

“I suspect you're right.” A groan escaped him when she moved off him to rip his pants off his hips and release his swollen shaft to the nighttime air. She began toying with it - nails rasping along his length and thumb stroking not-so-gently across the tip.

Groaning again, he sat up. Pushing her onto her back, he knelt over her. “Then it’s settled. We're staying.” He captured her lips in crushing kiss, then made his way down to nip her breasts through her bra.

This was not the time for finesse - she wanted him… now . She rolled him back over and stood to drop her pants, then lowered herself down onto him, burying him inside her slick heat, and began moving against him immediately, with no pause to enjoy the feeling of him inside her.

He gripped her hips, fingers digging into them as he fused their bodies together. Nails dug into his chest, head thrown back in ecstasy, she rode him with a frenzy as her pent up emotions released themselves. They let the wildness of the setting take hold of them as their hips collided again and again, matching the rhythm of their heartbeats.

They dove over the precipice together, breathing heavy gasps of air into the nighttime air as they rode the waves of ecstasy.

She collapsed on him, her body spent, pressing him into the soft ground. She stayed there, with him still buried inside her, until he softened and slipped out. Kissing him gently, she whispered in his ear.

“It was like this, Chakotay. Just like this. The two of us… making love… in the open air… Our own world, with no one else around.”

He shivered, then rolled them to their sides. “Then we need to go camping - a lot .” They laughed softly together as they laid wrapped in each other's arms.

At the edge of the clearing, hidden in the trees, a pair of silver blue eyes watched the couple’s lovemaking, the ears of their owner still burning with the conversation they had heard. As the couple fell into sated sleep, the shadowed figure slipped away into the darkness.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn gave him the gift of sleeping in, allowing him to watch her sleeping form in this new environment.

He sighed as he thought back over last night's revelations. She had to stop blaming herself for things that had been out of her control. How was she supposed to be prepared for the deception that led to the kidnapping of her crew? The damage done to her peace of mind broke his heart. He knew she would never admit it, but some small part of her did wish that he’d left her there in blissful ignorance.

As many of her disclosures did, this most recent one had answered several questions he’d been unable to ask. She’d alluded to it in the past, but now he understood the full extent of her feelings.

They’d raped her. Not in the literal sense - Jaffen had been completely innocent in everything. No… it was that doctor - Kadan. He’d taken her mind - her essence - and made her do things she would never have done as her true self.

For someone who had spent a lifetime relying on her intellect, having that stripped away was akin to raping her soul. And she’d paid for it - losing a part of her that could never be brought back.

It was no wonder that she’d retreated to her quarters… no wonder that she’d pulled away from him. She was still coming back from the deep depression of the Void, and this had brought her back to that empty feeling.

The part that truly stopped him cold was how she felt about the damage done to her body. Did she really think less of herself just because she couldn't bear a child? Honestly, women were so much more than baby-making factories. But, then, she was Kathryn Janeway - there was little room in her world for imperfection.

She’d tried to hide it at the time, but he knew that she had given serious consideration to Q’s request - and had almost agreed. Now he knew why. He wouldn't have blamed her at all - then or now. Besides… what other human would be able to raise a Q child?  

His eyes smarted with unshed tears. No one person - man or woman - should ever have to experience the pains she had experienced. In her lifetime, she’d been kidnapped… raped… drugged… tortured… had loved ones ripped from her…

Yet she survived - still pressed on with her head held high and her spirit strong. For his part, all he wanted to do was hold her and protect her from further heartbreak.

She’d told him that their lovemaking last night had been like that on New Earth - something only she had experienced, but that he craved to know. She had laughed about his mention of camping. Little did she know that he was dead serious.

Having had a taste of it, he wanted more. He would research every place on Earth to find the most remote spaces, then plan whole weekends there. Even here - he had no doubt that the forest was large enough that he could find a space even more remote. He felt his body begin to stir at the simple idea.

She stirred, turning towards him and burying her face in him. A moment later, small kisses adorned his chest and her hand slid up his naked torso. He was instantly hard.

“Good morn… ahhh…” He sighed, unable to continue, as her tongue discovered his nipple and toyed with it.

“Good morning.” Her words were muffled in his skin and her hand found its way around his thigh to cup him. Gently massaging his balls, her thumb caressed the base of his rigid shaft, drawing a deep moan from him.

He pulled her hand away and trapped it behind her back. “Not so fast. I need you ready, too.”

“I'm always ready for you, Chakotay.”

Releasing her hand, he rolled her to her back, following until he was half on top of her and letting his weight press her into the soft earth. “Hmn… we'll see about that.”

He planted a searing kiss on her lips as his hand traveled down her body to dip between the apex of her thighs. She was ready for him, already wet and slick with arousal.

She moaned in response to his touch, her body pliant and soft, her leg coming up to wrap itself around his hip. He could think of nothing else but plunging himself into her wet heat.

The sight of her tousled hair spread out over the grass, and the wildness of the setting overwhelmed him. Rolling the rest of the way on top of her and spreading her legs far apart, he thrust his aching shaft into her, burying himself all the way into her depths.

“Agh…” She half moaned at the intrusion. He paused, suddenly worried that he’d hurt her.

“Don't stop, Chakotay… don't stop.” She breathed heavily into his ear and pressed her heels into his buttocks, encouraging him on.

It was all the encouragement he needed and he began pummeling into her. She met him evenly, hips slamming against his. Then suddenly the tables were turned on him and he found himself on his back in the grass with her in top of him. She was fierce and untamed - her body glistened in the sun, her nails embedded themselves in his chest. The wild domain set her passion free and spurred him on.

Sweat beaded on their flesh in the warm Colorado morning as they pounded their bodies together. Their shared climax came at them in a rush - bodies convulsing against each other as they panted.

Energy sapped, her fingernails released his chest and her body caved down on his. His legs dropped and his arms spread out across the grass. Gasping lungfuls of air against each other's skin, they forced their bodies to calm.

“Crickets, Kathryn…” He panted into her shoulder.

“I know, Chakotay...” She panted back to him, then pushed at his chest to roll off him. The lovers laid side by side on their backs, arms and legs thrown out to their sides as they finally caught their breaths.

“We're going camping, Kathryn. I'll buy you the sleeping bag, myself.”

“No arguments, here, Chakotay. I'll find a place to go.”

They laid there a few moments longer, enjoying the scent of the crushed grass beneath them mingled with the heady pine scent from the trees.

Finally, she took note of the height of the sun in the sky and sat up. “It looks like there's a small creek at the far edge of the meadow. We need to get cleaned up and moving. I think I'm late for my mom's.”

Sighing, he also sat up. “You're right. I'm supposed to meet up with Tom so he can talk to another adult. It seems neither Miral nor the Doctor are good conversationalists.”

They found the small stream and splashed the worst of the sweat and remnants of sex from their bodies. While their bodies dried in the warm sun, they did their best to comb out her hair and remove the pieces of grass that had wound themselves into it.

Finally dressed and ready, they headed down the path that led back to the road, and walked to the transport station.

 

Mark, who was headed into town on a short trip to the farmer's market, burst into silent laughter as he dropped back behind the bend in the road. Kath would never forgive herself if she knew he’d seen her, and he wanted that glow on her face to remain.

Chapter Text

Ensign Harrison had just finished setting an appointment with one of the Admiral’s proteges when the door to the corridor swung open and an exuberant Commander Chakotay, dressed in full uniform, rushed in.

“Is she in a meeting?”

“No, sir. Just the usu…”

“Kathryn! Come out and see what I have for you!” He laid a garment bag over one of the chairs just as she emerged from her office.

“Chakotay, what on Earth…?” Her words were cut short as he picked her up and swung her around the room.

“We are going out to dinner tonight so I can tell you my news. No arguments. Be ready by 1630.”

“Put me down, Chakotay.” Nate could see the deep blush rushing up her face.

“No.” He gave her a quick kiss.

Nate almost snorted in laughter as her signature ‘death glare’ replaced the blush. In the time they’d been together, the most physical affection he’d seen between them was holding hands or hooking her arm in his elbow - and that had been only when she’d had a bad day.

What made him want to laugh even more was that the Commander seemed oblivious to the glare. He knew he would be shaking in his boots if it had been directed at him.

“Put me down, or I won't go to dinner with you.”

That did it. He let her go, releasing his grip and letting her slide down his body until her feet were back on the floor. She backed off, smoothing her uniform back in place.

“Thank you. Now, what is your big news?”

Chakotay shook his head. “You'll have to wait until dinner… Which reminds me…” He turned to the chair where he had placed the garment bag. “I know you don't normally wear dresses, but I saw this one and simply had to get it.”

“You bought me a dress ?”

“Yep. We're going to the Roanoke, and their dress code is pretty specific. You won't have time to go home and change so I picked up an outfit for you. Honestly… I went looking for a pantsuit, but this stopped me cold. All I could think of was how ravishing you would look in it.”

She glanced over at Nate. “Let's go into my office to finish this conversation.

Chakotay also glanced Nate’s direction, then gave him a wink. “Lead the way…”

Almost the minute the door closed, he heard a clunk, then shortly thereafter, a crash. This time, Nate did laugh softly. Apparently, the rule against displays of affection at Headquarters was limited to public areas.

 

Chakotay has gone out of his mind. Kathryn led him into her office, just as annoyed as he was elated. Despite his excitement, he’d broken their rule against bringing their romantic relationship into the building by, of all things, swinging her around like a child.

When the doors closed, she turned to give him a piece of her mind, but suddenly found herself backed up against her desk, his mouth descending on hers. The kiss he gave her was so fiery, she had no ability to resist.

Seemingly of its own volition, her leg came up and wrapped itself around his hip. It was all the encouragement he needed. Before she knew it, the belt to her uniform jacket was unfastened and the jacket was sliding off her shoulders.

Just as she tried to move away, his lips made their way down her neck and back up to that special spot behind her ear. Her nipples pebbled and her body arched into him.

He was impossible to resist. The driving force of his kiss ignited her constant underlying hunger for him in an instant. She found her hands opening his jacket and untucking his shirts to run her hands up his chest, caressing the bare skin.

Following suit, his hands were almost immediately at her breasts - her bra somehow unclasped - toying with the pebbled nipples underneath. Another fiery kiss blazed through her as he pressed her up against the edge of her desk, his rapidly swelling erection trapped between their bodies.

Crickets! Were they going to do this here ? It was a long-held fantasy of hers, but… He leaned her across her desk, scattering padds everywhere, as he pushed up her shirts to let his tongue run down her exposed flesh.

Yes. They were going to do this here now . She sat up to unfasten his pants and slide them over his hips. “ Quietly , Chakotay.” It was the only resistance she could muster.

He pressed her back down on the desk and grasped one nipple between his teeth. She stifled a moan, feeling him smile against her bare flesh.

One finger entered her - when had she lost her pants ? Still ravishing her breast with his mouth, a second finger joined the first, forcing her to stifle yet another moan.

Suddenly, his fingers and mouth were gone and his hands were smoothing down her torso. When he reached her hips, he grasped them and, pulling them towards him, he rammed into her, burying his swollen shaft to the hilt. She came immediately, a small whimper of delight escaping her.

The fulfilment of such a deep, long-held fantasy on both sides spurred them into a frenzy. The rhythm quickly ramped up - their bodies pounding into each other in breathless urgency.

In no time, her inner muscles clamped around him and pulled him over the edge with her. His mouth clamped down on hers, trying desperately to drown the deep grunts coming from him as his seed pumped into her in great heaving bursts.

When the rigor of his climax released him, his head dropped to rest itself against her chest while her hands caressed his back in soothing patterns. There was no sound in the office, save for their ragged breathing as their bodies calmed.

“Thank you for playing out my fantasy, Kathryn. It just made my day all that much better.”

Your fantasy? That was mine . I guess we're both having good days.”

Chuckling, he lifted his head from her chest. “I guess so.” He stood up and reached his hand out to hers.

Taking his hand, she slid off her desk. “It's a good thing I have a restroom in here. I'm not really sure I could parade past Nate to get cleaned up.”

“Crickets! Can you imagine? The poor boy would have a stroke!”

“He may have, already. That wall between us is not entirely soundproof. Young as he is, he's not a child - and definitely not stupid.”

When they emerged, cleaned up and redressed, from her office ten minutes later they found the outer office empty. After a moment, they found the padd with a note explaining that a ‘problem with his computer’ meant that he’d left the office in search of a technician.

They shared a guilty laugh. Not only could he have simply summoned a tech, he’d left his computer behind on his desk.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“Excuse me, Admiral, but it’s nearly 1600, and I thought you might like a few minutes to change into your dress before the Commander arrives.”

Putting down the padd she’d been reading, she checked the time. “I suppose you're right, Ensign. How can I make a grand entrance if I'm racing around at the last minute?”

She watched, secretly amused, as his nervous expression evened out. Why does he constantly think I'm going to bite his head off?

When he’d returned to the office about an hour after Chakotay's departure, he’d looked as if he was going to have that stroke Chakotay had joked about. She had simply asked him if he’d been able to get everything taken care of, then thanked him for leaving a note so she knew where he had gone.

His whole body had relaxed at her light remarks. She hoped that he’d caught her pause in her thank-you, and realized she was actually thanking him for honoring her privacy.

“I took the liberty of hanging the garment bag in the coat closet. Shall I bring it in for you?”

She gave him another gentle smile. Today he’d earned every ounce of compassion she could give him. “That would be very nice, thank you, Nate.”

His return smile was tinged with joy. He was happy and relaxed, meaning that they were back to some sort of ‘normal’ between them. She sighed inwardly with relief.

He returned quickly with the garment bag, gently laying it across the two chairs positioned in front of her desk. “The bag is rather heavy. I think there must be a pair of shoes in it.”

“Ah… shoes. I hadn't even thought about needing them.”

“You never know. Uniform boots might go with the dress.” She saw his light joking expression freeze.

For crickets sake! She laughed wholeheartedly, gently grasping his shoulder. “I don't know about you, but I've always felt that Starfleet intentionally designed them to be as unattractive as possible.”

She felt his shoulder relax under her hand. “I agree with you. I'd never wear them with anything other than my uniform.”

Smiling as the young man exited her office, she opened the bag to find not only a dress but shoes and a small bag containing a brush and makeup. Chakotay had thought of everything.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Ensign Harrison was cleaning up his desk when Commander Chakotay arrived, dressed in a loose shirt, vest, and dress pants. He’d been curious to see how the Commander would look in a suit, but instantly realized that what the older man wore was a much more suiting look.

“Is she ready?”

“I'm not sure, sir. I brought the garment bag in for her at 1600, but I haven't seen or heard anything since.” He activated his comm. “Admiral, the Commander has arrived.”

“Thank you, Ensign. I'll be out in just a minute.”

True to her word, the door to her office opened a moment later. Nate's jaw dropped when he saw her.

The dress was a deep blue and made of a soft material that followed her form without being tightly fit. The neckline dipped low, but not so low as to be indecent, then gathered to form wide straps that led over her shoulders to criss-cross over her back at a slightly lower level than the front. The skirt flowed gently over her hips and ended slightly below her knees.

Her makeup was deeper than she wore on duty, and she’d let her hair down so it hung in gentle waves that graced just below her shoulders. She was beautiful and feminine. He doubted if many people ever got the chance to see her that way.

A quick glance to the Commander showed that he, too, was struck speechless by her appearance. He recovered more quickly, though.

“You look beautiful, Kathryn.” His voice came out in a soft, breathy whisper.

“Thank you, Chakotay… and thank you for the dress. I actually like it.”

“It certainly likes you .” The words slipped out of his mouth before Nate had a chance to even fully register the thought.

She gave him a gentle smirk. “I take it you approve, Ensign?”

Gulping, he nodded. “It looks… very nice… on you, Admiral.”

Chakotay laughed. “There you have it… two votes in favor. I'll be the most envied man in the Federation.” He took her hand and tucked it in his elbow.

As they headed out the door, she stopped and looked back at him. “I packed my uniform and things back into the bag. Could I ask you to please have it delivered to my home?”

“Of course, Admiral. I'll take it over, myself.”

“There's no need to go to those lengths, Nate. The new security enhancements provide a force field area for deliveries. The code is 23alpha6. Tell them to get it right the first time. It locks down after only one attempt and changes as soon as the delivery is completed.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“Thank you, Nate. When you're finished setting it up, please take the rest of the day off. I doubt if much else is going to happen in the next 45 minutes.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I'll get this taken care of, then shut down for the night. Have a good evening.”

She looked up at Chakotay and grinned. “Oh, I plan to, Ensign.”

The relaxed atmosphere between them during the day almost caused him to laugh out loud. Instead, he smiled back at her. He did allow himself a silent laugh as he watched the Commander - still wearing a slightly dazed expression - lead her out of the office.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn felt beautiful. Sure, she’d felt attractive on occasion, but this was on a different level. The dress felt good on her body, and she felt confident in it, but the expression on Chakotay's - and Nate's - faces when she came out of her office notched up her feelings.

Chakotay had looked at her as if she was the caramel in her mom's caramel brownies. She was pretty sure there had been a drop of drool coming from his dropped jaw. But it was the look in his eyes… the way they sparkled when he looked at her… that's what made her feel this way.

Glancing at Chakotay, she stifled a laugh - he looked a little shell-shocked. “Are you alright, Chakotay? You haven't said anything since we left my office.”

“That's because I'm forcing myself to keep the reservations I had to pull strings to get, instead of taking you ‘camping' in Boothby's rose garden.” He flashed her a full-dimpled grin. “I'm barely holding on, here.”

“You're in luck, then, because I'm forcing you to take me out before you mess up my dress. Not to mention, you owe me the surprise you promised me.” She leaned in close to husk in his ear. “Besides… you're going to need the fuel. You're not the only one with plans.”

They had reached the entrance to the restaurant, but he paused before heading inside and gathered her into his arms. “You look ravishing, Kathryn. Don't make me regret letting you eat before I show you just how much.”

Laughing, she threaded her fingers through his hair and pulled him closer. “I don't think I've mentioned this, but you look just as delicious. I can't wait to taste you.”

He groaned and captured her lips in a passionate kiss. She could feel him hardening against her as the moisture built between her thighs. Just as she began seriously considering finding a dark alley, he broke the kiss and took a step back.

“Sustenance, Kathryn… fuel… my surprise.” He was working to convince both of them why they needed to stop.

She nodded and grabbed his elbow, as they headed into the restaurant. “How in the world did you manage to get reservations here?”

He ducked his head and tugged on his ear. “I… ah… kind of dropped our names. They moved some people around to fit us in. Thus, the early hour.”

“Normally, I would have told you to undo it and give everyone their tables back, but not tonight.” She didn't want to announce in this public space that she didn't want to change their plans because of how beautiful she felt.

The maitre’d arrived to escort them to their table. “Please do not be worried, Admiral. We simply reassigned tables and added another near the entrance to the kitchen. We always leave room for last-minute VIP’s.”

They had arrived at a table shaped like a half circle, with two plush chairs set along the curved edge. Obviously a lovers’ table, it was placed against a wall with two lush plants flanking it, blocking the view of other diners. The whole setup gave the impression of being ‘conspicuously inconspicuous’ - the obvious attempts at creating privacy speaking for themselves.

Two waiters’ assistants pulled the table away from the wall, giving them plenty of room to reach their seats, while the maitre’d held Kathryn's chair. When both were seated, the table was moved back towards them, leaving them room to move without letting the table block the pathway in front of it.

Kathryn was both amused and impressed. She’d been to the Roanoke once before as a child, but it had been a private gathering with members of the Admiralty. As a child, she, Phoebe and the other Admiral’s children had been relegated to a table near the entrance to the kitchen and pretty much left to their own devices.

Now, she was the VIP guest. As someone who always refused fawning attention, she found it a bit comical. A waiter appeared to announce the evening's menu. Chakotay must have mentioned his eating preference because the chef had added a vegetarian option. Kathryn was given the choice between that and the steak medallions. She hesitated, unsure if she should accept something so non -vegetarian, but salivating over the description of the steak entree.

“The Admiral will have the steak.” Chakotay grinned at her. She smiled back and squeezed his hand in thanks.

An assistant brought over an ice stand that held what looked to be a large bottle of champagne. The waiter popped the cork and filled the glasses already set on the table, then disappeared.

“Champagne?”

He shrugged. “I told them we were celebrating something, but I didn't order it. It must be something they automatically do.”

“Either way, it's wonderful.” She raised her glass. “To the man who has made me happier than I've ever been - who has always given me Safe no matter where we were.” She moved to clink their glasses, but he stopped her.

“To the woman who has shown me the peace and joy I've never known. I thank the Spirits every day that you have allowed me into your life.”

They clinked their glasses and sipped the champagne, then shared a kiss. It was about to go deeper when they were interrupted.

“Kathryn… Chakotay… It's so nice to see you both!” They looked up to find Trevor standing in front of their table.

She felt Chakotay bristle at the intrusion, and had to agree. Did the buffoon not realize he had interrupted a private moment, at an obviously private table?

Kathryn gathered her patience and did her best to keep her voice even and controlled. “It's nice to see you, as well, Trevor. I'm surprised you saw us back here. It's rather secluded .”

Trevor grinned, oblivious to her hint. “Oh, I saw you come in. I've got a good vantage point from my table.” He pointed towards the kitchen doorway, where a small table was set for two. “My date hasn't arrived, yet, but I'll bring her over to introduce you when she gets here.”

“Perhaps we can meet some other time…” Her words were cut short when the maitre'd appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Good evening, sir. Your second party has notified us that she will not be in attendance this evening. Would you prefer to retake your seat, or cancel your reservation and go elsewhere?”

“Er… I guess I'll head out, then. Half the fun of eating here is being able to share it with someone.” He glanced at their table with what seemed to be a hopeful look.

Did he actually have the gall to think they might invite him to join them?

“Well, then, have a nice evening, Trevor.” Chakotay looked pointedly away, focusing his attention on Kathryn.

“This way, sir.” The maitre'd escorted Trevor away from the table. “I will have an assistant bring any personal items from your table out to the waiting area.”

When they were gone, Kathryn caught his eyes and snorted a small laugh. “I believe Trevor has just been kicked out of the Roanoke.”

Just then, their waiter appeared with the appetizer. “Our apologies for the intrusion. It will not happen again.”

Kathryn smiled at him. “It's fine. He can be rather slippery.”

“...and dense.” Chakotay rolled his eyes.

“Hmm… yes. We are well aware. Again, our apologies. We were unaware that you were acquainted, and would have taken further steps to ensure your privacy.”

The waiter moved back to the topic of their appetizer, setting the plates down in front of them. After asking if they needed anything else, he again disappeared.

Chakotay broke into silent laughter. “How much would you like to bet that their ‘further steps’ were cancelling his reservation instead of putting him next to the kitchen?”

“I think Tom would give better odds on the Hirogen becoming peace-loving hippies.”

Laughing, they turned their attention to the appetizers. After a few moments of silence while they ate, her curiosity returned in full force.

“So… what is the news that brought us here for a celebration?”

Grinning, he set down his fork. “I found my purpose .”

“Congratulations! What is it?”

“I'm teaching anthropology - at Berkeley.”

“Berkeley ?” Any type of higher education - academic or trades - on Earth was free. Several institutions, however, had retained their exclusive status by relying on donations and grants from private citizens in order to provide higher pay and more robust opportunities to the experts in their fields. Berkeley was one of them.

As far as she knew, Chakotay didn't even have a degree in the field of anthropology. It was simply an interest of his.

He chuckled at the look of confusion that must have shown on her face. “But I am an expert in the topic I'm going to be teaching.”

“And that is…?”

“The official title is The Anthropology of Little-known Species , but it's going to become a little more than that.”

“Alright, Chakotay. Out with it. All of it.”

“It started out with Kevin and the research I was doing to be able to talk to him about each alien I brought him. There wasn't much on some of them and I had to dig deeply in order to get enough information to make them come alive for him.”

“You were really enjoying that.”

He nodded. “I was… Then Jane - from your tennis team - said something about me holding seminars when Starfleet began releasing information on the people we met in the Delta Quadrant.”

“But they haven't, yet.”

“True… But they will be, soon. I'm going to start out with species here in the Alpha Quadrant - both members of the Federation and some that aren't. Either way, these are the species few people talk about because they are insular or have little to offer the Federation in terms of goods or vacation spots.”

“Like the Xeda you told Kevin about the last time we saw him.”

“Exactly. Once Starfleet begins releasing Delta Quadrant aliens, I'll be given advance notice so I can prepare a presentation, which will be given on the official release date. Since they fall under the heading of ‘little-known species’ they'll fit right into the class topic.”

“And Starfleet is on board with this?”

“It was their idea to give me advance notice. They like the idea of having the species presented in an academic manner, before rumors from people who have only read half the information start to spread.”

“That's an amazing idea! You really are the expert, too. You're the one who kept such careful notes and artifacts from each one.” She grabbed his hand. “I'm so excited for you.”

“I'm excited, too. It's too late for it to get on the official class roster for this semester, so it'll be an extra credit seminar, geared toward undergrads who plan on getting doctorates. I'm hoping some of them will choose to write their theses on one of the Alpha Quadrant species I'm covering.”

“It will certainly make them immediate experts in their fields.”

They spent the rest of the meal discussing his new position. He’d first gone to Berkeley with his idea, but the Dean of Academics had insisted upon involving Starfleet. It had ultimately been a good move because of the support Starfleet was providing.

“I'll have to get approval on my Delta Quadrant presentations, though. They want to keep a tight lid on some things that may overlap.”

“That goes along with my theory that they really are concerned about what happened with the Gamma Quadrant. There's a definite control factor going on, here.”

“My thoughts, exactly. Patterson said as much during one of the meetings.”

“Uncle Teddy? He knows?” She pouted playfully. “You promised that I'd be the first to know.”

“I wanted to get everything set before I told you.”

“I could have helped, you know.”

“I know, Kathryn. It was all the more reason for me to do it without you.” He looked away and tugged his ear.

His admission stopped her. How often did she step in to make things easier? Of course he wanted to do it on his own. He needed to know that he was getting the approval for himself , not because she was championing him.

She picked up her glass - they were now into their second bottle of champagne - and held it out for a toast. “To the newest member of the Berkeley faculty - Professor Chakotay.”

He gave her a sly smile, and tugged on his ear again. “Actually… it’s Captain Chakotay, now.”

Her glass plunked back to the table. “Well, you're just full of surprises tonight! I didn't realize you’d be teaching as a Starfleet officer.”

“Officially, I'm a liaison loaned out to the university. They added the promotion in so I have automatic clearance to access the information, instead of going through the motions each time. It's just a formality, though.”

She shook her head. “Don't even think it. I'd already put you in for one back when they asked me about offers for the crew. I recommended promotions for all the senior staff - especially you.”

“Why haven't you ever said anything about it?”

“I wanted it to be a surprise. Once a person decides if they want to take a Starfleet position or retire into the private sector, they will be informed of any promotion awarded. Those who decide to go with something outside Starfleet will be retired at the higher rank or rate. I didn't want anyone making decisions based on status, so we kept it secret.”

“That's some pretty effective lobbying, Kathryn.”

“It's nothing of the sort. Once they decided that your Maquis status was of no consequence, they gave no opposition to my suggestion.” She was neither lying, nor stretching the truth. In fact, she’d been somewhat surprised at their lack of resistance to her promotion suggestions.

“Well, then… I guess we should be toasting Starfleet and its current wisdom.” He clinked his glass to hers where it still sat on the table.

“I'd rather drink to you, Chakotay. You're the one who came up with the idea. All Starfleet did was latch onto it.” She clinked her glass to his, then took a sip from hers.

Downing the rest of his glass, he grinned at her. “I think it's time I got you home.” He leaned in close and whispered in her ear. “There's a bit more celebrating I'd like to do.”

“You're right. I think the gentleman of honor deserves special attention.”

A nearly silent groan escaped him. “Where's that waiter?”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Once they were out in the evening air, Chakotay changed his mind.

“How about a walk through the park? We're rather close to the secret garden.”

“As long as it's not too far. The shoes are beautiful, but not meant for hiking.”

“You don't like them? The salesperson said they went perfectly with the dress.”

“They do, Chakotay, but beauty and comfort don't always go hand in hand. I'll be fine for a while, but no mile-long hikes.”

“Maybe we shouldn't go. I can hire a ground car to take us back.”

“For cricket's sake… I'm fine . I want to see what the garden looks like without all the fog.”

They set off at a slower pace than they usually walked, but she didn't mind. Just being with him when he was so inordinately happy was worth every blister she was getting.

It had occurred to her that he might feel a little… lost… in the shadow of Admiral Janeway . What she hadn't realized was that he might feel uncomfortable with her stepping in to smooth the way. Did he think…?

“Chakotay… do you think I don't believe in you?”

What ? Why on Earth would you think that?”

“I always step in… try to make things easier… make it so you don't have to fight.”

“I think you do believe in me. You step in because you think Starfleet doesn't.”

“You'll tell me if I ever go too far?”

“I don't think it will ever come to that, but I promise I'll let you know.” He pulled her close and gave her a quick kiss on her temple.

They walked on in silence until she noticed that a light fog had rolled in. “I guess I don't get to see the garden without the fog.”

“It keeps the aura intact, though.” They rounded a bend and found the entrance.

“This is where we first kissed. I got caught up in the magic of the place.”

“I'm glad you did. We might never have gotten where we are if you hadn't.”

“Kiss me, again. We'll say it's the magic word that grants us entrance.”

He chuckled. “Kathryn Janeway believing in magic? I never thought I'd see the day…” He gathered her into his arms. “I'm not complaining, though. Anything that gives me the opportunity to kiss you is fine by me.”

Cupping her cheek, he pulled her in for a kiss that tingled all the way to her blistered toes. She returned it, threading her fingers through his hair and pulling him closer until their bodies seemed melded together.

Finally forced to come up for air, they panted against each other's necks. Finally, she moved out of his arms and took his hand.

“You never came in with me that night.” She led him into the space, both of them swallowed by the fog that encased the area inside the walls.

“I wonder if it’s ever clear in here at night. I should bring you back here in daylight so you can see all of it.”

They were both speaking in soft tones - almost whispering - the stillness of the place demanding it.

In the far edge of the garden, she turned to him. “Kiss me again.”

The kiss was soft… searching… lost in the fog that created a cocoon of gentle peace around them.

“I love you, Kathryn. I hope you know that.”

“I love you, too Chakotay.”

Taking her hand, he threaded their fingers together and headed out of the garden, the cocoon of peace still wrapped around them.

Silver blue eyes watched them leave. This will be over tonight. Their owner turned and walked away.

 

<<<------>>>

 

As peaceful as the walk had been, by the time they reached her apartment, her feet were painfully blistered. She let go of his hand and turned toward her bedroom.

“Retrieve my uniform from the delivery field? I need to put some slippers on.”

“I'm sorry about the shoes, Kathryn. I'll bandage your feet when you come back out.”

“I probably would have chosen the same shoes. There's no need to apologize. Although I will take you up on your offer.” She grinned at him and hobbled toward her bedroom.

No sooner had she dropped the second shoe when a bright flash of light came through the door and the loud bang of an explosion reverberated through the apartment.

“Chakotay!” She raced down the hallway to find the front wall of her apartment on fire. Chakotay was laying on the floor, unconscious, flames licking at his clothes.

Grabbing the small blanket she kept laid across her chair, she threw it over him and began slapping out the flames as they were smothered. Reaching for her commbadge, she realized it was still in her bag - which was in her room.

“Computer! Emergency transport to Starfleet Medical!” She was still slapping at the blanket when the transporter beam took them.

 

Chapter Text

Tom would never have heard his comm go off if it hadn't come through at the emergency volume. Even then, he barely heard it. The image that greeted him when he activated it woke him completely.

“Ohmygod, what's wrong? What happened?”

Kathryn Janeway’s hair was mussed - and looked singed. What was probably once a nice dress was spotted black with what looked like soot. There was panic in her eyes. In all the horrible situations they'd been in, he’d never seen her like that… never .

“Tom, I… Is the Doctor there? I-I need him… his help… get answers... the doctors…”  

“He's not here, but I'll get him for you. You're at Medical, right?”

“Hmm? Yes… at Medical… I-I don't know where...”

Crickets, she's completely out of it. “Hang tight, Kathryn. We'll find you.”

He ended the transmission, then activated another one - set to emergency. Reg Barclay appeared just as rumpled as he figured he did. “I need the Doc.” There was no time for polite greetings.

“H-h-he’s r-right here.” Reg’s stammer was even more pronounced.

“I'm on my way to get him. Make sure he's activated and knows that it's an emergency for Kathryn.” In his hurry, he cut the transmission short before Reg could even respond.

The next comm was to his parents. He needed a sitter.

Sometimes it was good to have a parent who was an Admiral. His father activated the emergency site-to-site transport system. Miral was sent to his parents’ house so his mom could watch her. He and the Doctor were each sent to Medical, where they were joined by his dad.

Admiral Paris made quick work of getting the information about where Kathryn was located. As he had suspected, Chakotay was the patient. Also expected, due to the singed hair and soot-covered dress, they were in the emergency burn ward.

His dad got them clearance to enter the ward, then stayed behind to get Starfleet security to Kathryn’s apartment for investigation and to Medical to guard her and Chakotay.

The family waiting room was shadowed and empty, save for a lone figure standing at the window.

“Kathryn?”

Slowly, the small figure turned. “Tom… you didn't have to come.” Her voice was soft… detached.

“Of course I had to come. You need a friend.”

Glassy-eyed, she looked around. “The Doctor?”

“He's talking to the doctors. He'll be here to let you know what’s going on as soon as he can.”

She nodded. “Ok… good.”

Tom couldn't help it - she looked so lost and forlorn. He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms. At first, she didn't respond, then he felt her hands move up to his chest. Grabbing handfuls of his shirt, she laid her forehead against his chest.

It struck him, then, just how tiny she was. From his time helping the Doc in sickbay, he knew her weight and height. Her persona - her life force - had always been so strong, he’d never actually registered how that data translated into her actual build.

She was fine-boned like a bird and short… barely more than a meter and a half tall. Lost and bewildered, he felt as if he was holding a child. Her body was trembling, but she didn't cry.

“Alright, Special Forces have put out the fire and cordoned off the apartment.” His father came bustling in… all business and official. “A few of them are on their way here to provide security for…” The sight of Kathryn wrapped up in his arms stopped his father cold.

Tom caught his father's eye and shook his head.

Pain took up residence in his father's eyes. “Katie?...”

“Well, this is just ridiculous! How dare they throw me out! They won't even verify that he's their patient!” The Doctor came blustering in from a door on the opposite side of the room.

“Doc…” Tom tried to warn him before Kathryn registered what he was saying.

It was too late. Her head rose from his chest. “But… they have to! I need to…”

“Don't you worry, Katie. I'll fix this.” Admiral Paris grabbed the Doctor by the elbow and led him back out of the room.

Still dazed, Kathryn’s head dropped back to his chest. He stood there silently holding her, trying to share his strength, while her body shook like a leaf.

His dad came bustling back in. “I've got the Doctor set up as a walking, talking reference to Chakotay's medical records. Rather than having them work in the dark without knowledge of the classified material, they will include him in everything. If the classified sections are pertinent, he has clearance to reveal them.”

She lifted her head from his chest again and turned it towards his father. “Thank you…” The lost and bewildered voice coming from her scared him more than anything he’d ever experienced. He held her tighter.

“Katie…” He hadn't heard his father speak that gently since he was a small child. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I-I…”

“Let's start with dinner. Ted told me you were having dinner at the Roanoke?”

“Yes… we were celebrating…”

“His new position at Berkeley?”

“Yes… Trevor… was there… they kicked him out…”

“Trevor?”

“From tennis…”

“Where did you go when you left the restaurant?”

“Walked… to the secret garden…”

“The grotto in Golden Gate Park?”

“Yes… told me… loved me…”

His father looked up and caught his eye. There was worry, there. Chakotay wasn't doing well.

“Where did you go after you left the garden?”

“Home… my feet hurt… the sandals…”

“What happened when you got home?”

“I-I… went to change my shoes… asked Chakotay to get my uniform…”

“Why did you want your uniform?”

She shook her head. “Delivered… from my office… I changed there…”

“So, you changed for dinner at your office and had your uniform delivered back to your apartment.”

“Yes… Nate did…”

“I'll ask him about it. So, what happened after he got your uniform?”

“I-I… don't know if he got it… I… was in my room… a light flashed… then an explosion…”

“There was a flash of light, then something exploded? What did you do?”

“I ran out… he was… on fire…” She started to shake uncontrollably. “Covered him with a blanket… called Medical…”

Letting go of Tom's shirt, she stepped out of his arms and wandered back to the window. He watched her a moment then turned to his dad.

“So Chakotay isn't doing well?”

“It's touch and go at the moment. The burns are bad enough, but his chest is full of shrapnel.”

“That was clever, the way you got them to include the Doc.”

“It might have been, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Most of your medical records for the past seven years are classified. We don't have time to go through the channels of un-classifying each item. Not to mention that they wouldn't even know what to ask for.”

“But the Doc will know exactly what they need.”

“Yes, and there'll be a log for exactly what he told them. I'll admit - there are many good reasons to keep him activated.”

“He's a friend, Dad. That's good enough reason for me.”

They stood in silence for a moment, watching Kathryn.

“I've seen Katie in a couple of harrowing situations, but I've never seen her like this.”

“That makes two of us. She's lost her ship, lost some of her crew, been kidnapped and beaten… crickets, she even had her mind stolen from her! But she never folded.”

“She had Chakotay out there, Son. He kept her together.”

“So… now, what?”

His dad huffed a sigh. “Now, we recognize that the strongest woman either of us knows is in shock, and it's time to get her some help.” He clapped Tom on the shoulder. “Stay here with her.”

After his father left, Tom watched Kathryn stare blindly out the window until he couldn't take her silence anymore.

“So… after some research, the Doc finally discovered that babies who aren't full-blooded Klingons can have problems as their forehead ridges begin to harden. He thinks that's what is really happening with what we thought was Miral's teething.”

The only response he got was a glance in his direction.

“Harry and Libby are going stronger. I think they're moving in together.”

That got him no response at all.

“Someone is on their way with a sedative for her.” His dad came back in. “We need to get her changed out of those clothes.”

“I'd go get some for her, but I'm afraid to leave her. Not to mention the fact that I'm not really sure I want to go rifling through her underwear drawer.” He gave a small grin - unable to remain completely serious. “We may be friends now, but that's a little too much for me to know about my captain.”

“I need to stay here to keep an eye on things.”

“I'd say to ask Harry, but he’d probably have a heart attack just thinking about it.”

A small, lost voice came from behind them. “Christine…”

“Christine? Who's that?” At least she’s communicating.

“Mark…” The voice was still lost.

“That's right… Mark's wife. I'll try to get in touch with them.” His father turned to leave again. “That may do us some good on a second front.”

Left alone with her once more, he simply watched her silently. For seven years, she had been his rock… the solid surface he’d leaned on… the boundary that had held his wild side in check - and taught him the limits he could work within. He didn't know what to do…

“Mark and Christine are on their way.” His father came back in. “Any change?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

They stood together for a while, watching her.

“It's a damn good thing you got me in there, Admiral Paris. They'd already spent too much time trying to figure out how to remove the damn Borg implant at the base of his spine. The idiots thought it was shrapnel!” He stopped short at the sight of Kathryn staring blindly out the window. “No change?”

“Just give us the update. We can fill her in when she's ready to listen.”

“They've just finished the surgery and have moved on to the burns. They're extensive, but I think I've got a way to heal them without too much scarring. It's going to take a while, though.”

“I'm not too sure how much she can handle, Doc.”

“Perhaps we should sedate her.”

“I asked for that, but it was a while ago and no one has appeared, yet.”

The Doctor turned and headed back out. “It's possible they need approval. I'll see what I can do.”

Mark and Christine passed him on their way in. “Do we know how he is?” Christine was carrying an overnight bag over her shoulder.

“Stable. They're working on the burns right now.”

Mark eyed Kathryn. “Is she alright?”

“Hard to say… she's been that way since we got here. Tom turned to Mark, a sudden thought coming to him. Realizing that the man's wife was standing right there, he tried to be delicate. “You've seen her in more… umm… private… settings. Have you ever seen her like that?”

“Not even after a nightmare so vivid, she stayed up all night to get her bearings on which world was real.”

That gave him pause. He’d never thought about it, but - from everything he’d seen in sickbay - he could well imagine that horrible nightmares might visit her if her strength disappeared while she slept. He grasped at straws. “Maybe some coffee? That always seems to steady her…”

“CuppaJoes.” The faint, childlike voice came from the windows again.

“What?”

“CuppaJoes… Gilman Street. Tell them it's for me… no takeout…” She turned back to the window as if she’d never spoken.

They all looked at each other, none of them willing to leave her.

Tom turned and headed out to the comm unit “I'll get Harry to do it.”

After a brief conversation, a rumpled Harry eagerly agreed to a trip to CuppaJoes. “Is it alright if I bring Libby?”

“Of course, Harry. Just remember, they don't offer takeout. You'll have to tell them it's for Admiral Janeway. We'll see you soon.”

He returned to find that his father was missing. “Where's my dad?”

“He went to check on the sedative.” They were all still standing around, watching her cluelessly.

I can't take any more of this. Out of habit, he fell back into joking.

“I guess you're into the barefoot look these days, Kathryn. Or perhaps you just lost your shoes…”

She stared at him. “My shoes?” Pulling her skirt out of the way, she looked down at her feet. “I lost my shoes…” The faraway voice took on a panicked note.

Still mumbling about losing her shoes, she backed away from him towards the far wall.

“Kathryn… it's alright. We can get you a pair of slippers.” He reached out to touch her, but the look in her eyes made him jump back.

They were vacant and wild at the same time. Dark… dangerous… he wouldn't cross those eyes for full ownership of Voyager.

His dad stopped just inside the doorway. “What?...”

“I have no idea, Dad. I was trying to get her talking. All I did was tease her about being barefooted.”

Something passed through his father's eyes. “What exactly did you say. Exact words, Tom.”

“I… uh… teased her… said she’d lost her shoes.”

“You told her she’d lost her shoes . Those exact words?”

“Um… yeah.”

His father’s shoulders slumped. “Damn…  that's the exact words Justin put in his report… their code for...”

His dad was speaking to himself, but Tom heard him anyway. Justin? Report? There was something familiar about that name… Damn!

“That's what Justin said about the Cardassians? I've just put her in a full-blown flashback, haven't I?”

His dad did a double-take. “How did you?... Nevermind… Yes, it seems you have. Hopefully, the sedative will work.”

Tom watched Kathryn’s hollow, deadly eyes dart between himself and the rest of the group - still standing awkwardly around her. He wasn't sure the sedative would even get near her.

A nurse's aide came in with a hypospray. “This will just take a minute.”  Kathryn’s hollow eyes focused on the young man as he blindly headed towards her.

Tom saw her take a defensive stance. “Stop! I don't know what she's going to do if you get near her!”

“I'd listen to him, if I were you.” A short man with wide shoulders was leaning against the doorway. “You have no idea what you're up against.”

“Nonsense.” The nurse's aide was a burly man who probably won every bar fight he ever started. Tom could see he was thinking someone of Kathryn’s stature was no match for him.

“You're an idiot, buddy. That woman knows how to fight .” He shook his head as the burly man continued to move confidently toward her.

Tom barely saw her move. One minute, the aide was moving towards her, the next minute he was on the floor holding a rapidly swelling jaw. She had returned to her defensive stance, not even winded. The aide moved to get up.

“Stay down, you fool !” The short man had stood up from the doorway and moved into the room. “She'll kill you!”

The aide sneered. “I doubt it.”

“I'd listen to him. She broke your jaw before you even knew she was moving.” Still awed, he couldn't figure out why the aide hadn't caught on.

“I have seen her kill a man bigger than you in two moves. That was the first one. Do you really want to see the second?” The broad shouldered man’s eyes pierced into the aide’s.

Sufficiently subdued, the aide shook his head and laid back down, cradling his jaw in his hand.

Tom's father sidled over to the other man and nodded his head in greeting. “Mike.”

The man nodded back. “Owen.”

“So what do you think we can do, here?”

“First, tell me what happened.”

“Tom told her she’d lost her shoes.”

Rabbit dropped his head. “Damn… she's back that far ?”

“He didn't know what it meant… Although he seems to know more than I would have ever guessed.”

“She told him. Harrison and I agreed that her reasoning was sound - especially because it worked. I approved her breach of confidentiality retroactively, so it never made it into any reports you would have seen.”

Tom's father looked over at him and gave him a searching look. “Oh…” He shook his head and refocused on the dilemma at hand. “Can you get her out?”

“She recognized me once, but Justin had already brought her out of the worst of it. None of us ever tried.”

“Chakotay can do it. I've seen it several times.”

Rabbit looked back at him. “Which is, unfortunately, why we're standing here.”

“If we were able to distract her, would you be able to get her in a body-lock?” Tom had seen Chakotay body-lock her once, but she’d let him close enough to do it.

Rabbit sighed. “I'm not in field-ready shape, but I'm pretty sure I could do it. What did you have in mind?”

“Did Justin have a special name for her? A nickname of some kind?”

“Rynna… he called her Rynna. But Trench and I also called her that.”

“Still… it’s a name used by only three people. If I called her Rynna, do you think she would look at me?”

Rabbit sighed. “It’s worth a shot. Move over there so she’s facing away from me.”

Tom did as he was told, wondering why he had volunteered and realizing just how much he liked his jaw intact. Rabbit nodded to him, and he moved slightly towards her - taking great care to make sure he stayed out of her reach.

“Rynna!” She blinked. “Rynna, it's safe here.” She blinked again.

“Call her Dash… tell her to stand down.”

“Dash! Stand down… That's an order!” He threw the last bit in both because he thought it might help the atmosphere they were trying to create and because he just wanted to be able to say he’d ordered her around once.

She relaxed a bit. That was when Rabbit pounced, moving up behind her with a quickness that belied his age and size. He wrapped his arms around her waist, grabbing her hands to lock them down.

Struggling, she tried to stomp his foot, but he moved away each time. “Forget it - I'm the one who taught you the rhythm.” He continued to hold onto her as she struggled until she began to tire.

“Rynna… it's me… Mike. Rynna… come back to us.” Kathryn kept struggling. “Dash… you've been ordered to stand down. What would Spider say if you disobeyed?”

Her struggles began to ease. “That's it… calm down, Rynna. You're among friends.”

Rabbit kept talking in low tones, urging her to remember where she was and that the people around her were friendly. “Come on, Princess… see… Admiral Paris is here… he won't hurt you. I'll protect you, just like I promised. Come back, Rynna…”

Tom watched with fascination. He’d seen Chakotay calm her in seconds. From how it sounded, Justin had been able to do it, too. It was obvious that she knew this Rabbit person, but he was not as adept at calming her.

Finally, her struggles began to ease. “Justin?”

“No, Rynna. It's Mike.”

“Where's Justin?”

“You tell me, Dash. Where is Tina?”

Her body sagged. “Seven down, five right.”

“That's right. Where is Dash?”

Her knees buckled and they slid to the floor together. “Ten down, fifteen right.”

“But you're here and you're safe here.” He let go of her hands and she turned into him.

“No more Safe , Rabbit. Safe is gone… seven down, five right…” She began to sob, clutching at his shirt while he held her, curled up in his lap like a child.

Safe is still here, Rynna. It's just someone else. Do you remember who's Safe ?”

“...Chakotay… more…”

“That's right, Rynna. Chakotay is more Safe than Justin ever was. You're the one who said that.”

She didn't move. “Didn't say… wrote…”

Rabbit didn't respond.“He might be Safe for you, but you're Strength for him. Can you be that now?”

She shook her head. “I'm Peace , Rabbit.”

Tom felt like he was back in primary school, learning his vocabulary all over again. This time, though, all the adjectives seemed to be nouns.

Rabbit chuckled. “Yes, you're Peace . With that comes strength instead of fury. You are Strength for him. He needs you to be that, now.”

She lifted her head, still lost. “Kay…”

Christine stepped in. “How about I take Kath to get cleaned up while you gentlemen fill Mark in on everything?”

Taking Kathryn’s hand, she all but dragged her out of the room.

As soon as the door closed behind them, the ‘gentlemen’ closed in on Mark.

“How bad is it? I didn't even stop to take a look on my way here.”

“And you are?...”

Admiral Paris stepped up. “Mark, this is General Labbity. He's head of the special department that's handling the security and investigation of the recent breaches.” Before Mark could make the nasty comment his expression foretold, Rabbit supplied further information.

“I was Justin's best friend, Mark. Trust me when I say that I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing else happens to her - to them .”

Mark held out his hand. “You must be Rabbit.”

Eyebrow risen, Rabbit shook his hand. “She really has little regard for classified information.”

“There were nightmares that I had to contend with. A certain amount of information had to be shared with me.”

“Point taken, Mark… Now, tell me - how bad is it?”

“Bad…” Mark shook his head. “Almost the entire front wall of her apartment is gone. There's damage to the front wall of the apartment across the hallway. The living room is scorched. Everything is drenched from the fire suppression system. She’d better not see it any time soon.”

“That bad?”

“Chakotay must be made of steel. I have no idea how he survived.”

There was silence between the four men.

“I will turn over the edges of the galaxy to find the person responsible.” The gentle Rabbit that Rynna loved so much was gone.

“We Voyagers will do whatever you need to make that happen.” The jolly Tom that made Captain Janeway laugh had disappeared.

“Count me in, Rabbit. You have the full Admiralty behind you.” The stern taskmaster that Katie adored was in full action.

“That makes four of us. We'll make it happen.” The sweet philosopher Kath had once loved enough to marry disappeared.

“When the four of you are finished puffing your chests up like knights of the round table, I'll share my update on Chakotay's condition.” The Doctor rolled his eyes, but then leaned in. “For the record - I'm in, too. That man's body is a mess.”

Tom, recovered enough to crack a joke, spoke up. “Is this where we all put our hands in the middle and yell ‘Go Team’?”

 

Kathryn blindly followed the woman holding her arm. Who was this woman? She had no idea. Where was Justin? He’d been there just a moment ago - hadn't he?

No, that had been Rabbit. He’d said… no… The tears burned her eyes. Rabbit had told her that Justin was dead… made her name his spot on the wall… made her name Dash’s, too.

The woman led her into a hospital room and set down a bag on the bed. “Come on, Kath. Let's get you cleaned up.”

Who is Kath? Oh… it was her… Mark called her Kath… so who else called her that? Christine… that's who did… this must be… “Christine?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, Kath. Do you remember now? Do you know what’s happening?” She guided Kathryn to sit next to her on the bed.

Kathryn fought through the fog in her brain. “Starfleet Medical… bomb… fire… burns…” Panic hit her. “Chakotay! Is he alright?” She stood and looked around blindly. “I've… I've got to go to him! He'll need me…”

Gently, Christine sat her back down. “Not yet. The doctors are working on him. Voyager’s doctor says he'll survive.”

She was still blurry. “Alright…” Looking around, she got confused. “Am I hurt? Why am I in a room, too?”

“We're here to get you cleaned up. You and your dress are covered in soot.” She looked down at Kathryn's feet, hanging off the edge of the bed. “I expect you'll need some work done on those blisters, too.”

Kathryn followed her gaze. “The shoes… were beautiful. I was beautiful… felt that way.”

“You are beautiful, Kath. Let's get you cleaned up so we can all see how much.” She held her hand out. “There's a shower in here. Do you need me to help you?”

“Umm…” Even through the fog still enveloping her brain, Kathryn recognized that it was Mark’s wife who was offering. She wasn't sure how she felt about having the woman wash her like a child.

Christine smiled. “Tell you what. I'll come in with you and get the water turned on, then unfasten the dress. You can take care of the rest.”

“Alright…”

The warm spray of water helped to revive her. She turned it cooler to wake her up even more, then washed the soot from her body and hair. By the time she emerged from the shower, she was feeling much more like herself.

Wrapped in a towel, she headed out to the room where Christine was waiting with the bag.

“I brought you some clothes comfortable enough to sleep in, but presentable enough to walk around in, along with your slippers and a pair of slip-on shoes. There's makeup - and makeup remover - a brush, and some hair ties.

Kathryn sat on the edge of the bed. “Thank you, Christine. This is way above what I would have asked for. Everyone was just talking about something to put on so I could get out of that dress.”

Christine sat next to her. “That's why you ask friends to take care of things like this. Thank you, by the way, for trusting me. I know how private you are. Asking someone else to rifle through your drawers must be difficult for you.”

“Honestly, I was so out of it that I didn't think that far. At the risk of sounding like you were asked by default, I didn't really have anyone else to turn to. My life is surrounded by men - I don't really have female friends.”

“Still… you could have asked Mark. I'm willing to bet that he's been in your dresser at some point.”

“I never even thought about asking him.”

“You see? I'm not the default. You thought of me, specifically.” Christine nudged Kathryn’s shoulder with hers. “Now, let's see about getting you more presentable for the patient.”

Kathryn looked over at her dress, which Christine had laid over a chair. “Did you know I almost never wear dresses? Chakotay bought that for me because he thought I would look beautiful in it.” She looked up at Christine with tears in her eyes. “Now it's ruined…”

“I wasn't sure if you’d still want it, Kath. I set it there so you could decide.”

“Too many bad memories.” She shook the tears out of her head and stood up with purpose. “Let's get moving. I don't want to miss the Doctor's next report.”

In no time at all, Kathryn was dressed, with fresh makeup and hair brushed. A nurse stopped by and healed the blisters on her feet so she could put on the shoes Christine had brought. They dropped the dress in the recycler, packed up the rest of her things, and headed back out to the waiting room.

 

<<<------>>>

 

“You're slacking, Kathryn. That took easily twice as long as it ever did on Voyager.” Tom's devilish grin put a light feeling into what had been a somber room when she left it.

She smirked at him. “That's because I didn't have to hurry back to keep you in line. I have your father here as backup.”

“Ha! Like he’d listen to me!”

“He'll only ever listen to you, Rynna - and his wife if she beats him enough.”

Mark joined in the revelry. “Why does that not surprise me?”

“You're all incorrigible.” Kathryn decided she wouldn't want any of them any other way. “Alright… let's get down to business. I need someone to go to Chakotay's apartment to get his medicine wheel and bundle. I've no idea how to use the wheel, but I'm sure we can look up the directions.”

“I'll go, Kathryn.” She looked over at the edge of the room, where she hadn't noticed that Harry and Libby were standing.

“Thank you, Harry.” She looked between the two of them. “No coffee?”

“Yeah… about that…” Libby shuffled her feet.

“They wouldn't let us take anything out… kept saying that Admiral Janeway wasn't a patron.”

Damn, Harry, I'm sorry. I was so distracted, I didn't even think… Libby, I need you to go back and say this: ‘The Queen is currently visiting a sick friend at Medical, and is loathe to leave the building. She throws herself on the mercy of the Princes and requests that they give her Lady in Waiting a cup of the Queen’s brew, to be brought back to her so that she may enjoy it while not leaving the company of the patient.’ That should get you my coffee.”

The whole room looked at her as if she had two heads. “Are you serious, Kathryn?”

She chuckled. “Trust me. They'll admit that the Queen is a patron.”

Libby left with a look of confusion on her face, reciting the message under her breath.

“Now…” Kathryn turned to look at the rest of the room. “Have there been any updates?”

“The Doc came through a few minutes ago. He said the first treatment went well, but that Chakotay is going to need a second one before he can have any visitors.”

Kathryn felt the uptick her spirits begin to dip again. “What does that mean?”

“It means the burns are deep, Rynna, and the first treatment wasn't enough to close the wounds. No one other than medical staff will be able to get in until the deepest layers are covered.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mark and Owen both bristle at Rabbit's stark honesty. But she and Rabbit had been through hell together. He knew that she wouldn't want sugarcoating.

“Thank you for your honesty, Rabbit. Now that I know what I'm dealing with, I can prepare accordingly.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tom suppressing a grin. From his time in sickbay, he - and the Doctor - also knew that she wanted the straight facts. She gave him a quick wink, which almost sent him into full-blown laughter.

Those lowering spirits ticked-up, again. She’d never admit it to him, but Tom's humor and mischievous ways had been a necessary element in maintaining the crew's positive outlook on Voyager.

She turned back to the rest of the group. “I'm sorry about earlier. I don't know what came over me.”

“It was a flashback, Rynna. A bad one. Neither of the people who can easily snap you out of it are available at the moment. We had to do it the long way.” He searched her face. “Are you really alright? Do you want the sedative?”

“No. It will just make me sleepy. I'm fine, now. I promise.”

Tom held up the hypospray dropped by the nurse's aide, who had disappeared as soon as Rabbit had her restrained. “I'm not sure that guy could say the same.”

She had a vague memory of lashing out at someone. “Who did I hit?”

“An idiot, Rynna. I had to force him back down before you had a chance to kill him.”

She rolled her eyes. “I've really got to stop doing that.”

“It was great fun to watch you take him down, though. I'd lay odds on you in a boxing ring.”

“Ha! That's Chakotay's job - not mine.” Her smile faltered when it clicked with her that his injuries might interfere with that pastime, too.

Tom must have caught on. “We should send Rabbit out and have him start a couple bar fights. The winner gets to try to take Admiral Janeway down.”

“It's best if I stay here. I'm supposed to be guarding her.”

“From others trying to hurt her, or from her trying to hurt others?”

“Both, it seems.”

“Maybe the guy I knocked out will be up for another round?” She tried to get herself back into the joking attitude.

“I think Medical will throw us out if we injure any more of their personnel.” Owen cut in. “Come on, Harry. Chakotay is going to be out of here before we even get his things to him if we don't get moving.” Gesturing to Harry to follow him, he moved out to toward the comm station. “You're going to need clearance to enter Chakotay's apartment. I'll set it up.”

Rabbit followed them. “You're going to need me to clear it, Owen. I've got that place locked down tight.”

 

Tom couldn't take the confusion anymore, and leaned over to Kathryn. “My dad needs his permission to gain entrance? He told Mark he was Justin’s best friend, and Dad said something about him being a General. Who the hell is that guy?”

That guy is Mike Labbity… General Mike Labbity of the Rangers. He's Nechayev’s equal.” She looked at him directly, voice softening. “He was part of the Ranger team that rescued your father, Tom.”

He glanced between her and the two men heading out the door with Harry. “Oh…”

Touching his arm, she beckoned him over towards the window. “You now know a great deal more about me than most people, Tom. I need you to keep it - and anything else you saw here - to yourself.”

Things had been serious for much longer than he could stand, so he grinned at her. “Can I at least tell people I saw you break someone's jaw before the guy even realized you were moving?”

Thankfully, she smirked at him. “And just how would you explain the circumstances surrounding said break?”

“I have no idea… but I've got to tell someone. It was amazing.”

He was awarded with a grin. “So I've been told… Alright - you can tell Harry some other time, but it must be out of context. Got it?”

Unable to resist continuing the lighthearted banter, he snapped to full attention. “Aye, Admiral. Thank you.”

She laughed. “You're incorrigible.” To his amazement, she leaned in closer. “Don't ever let life change that part of you, Tom.” Glancing toward his father, who had just re-entered the room, she squeezed his arm. “Please.”

“One perpetual child coming up, ma'am.” He also leaned in close. “Be careful what you wish for, Kathryn.”

Again, she laughed. “It's already been established that I can stop you in your tracks, Mister Paris.”

Playfully, he rested the back of his hand against his forehead. “Alas, you can, indeed.” Both of them began laughing loudly.

Rabbit snorted. “Yet another truth makes itself known. Tom Paris… court jester extraordinaire.”

“Don't I know it.” The Doctor came strolling in. Giving Kathryn a once-over, he smirked. “Well, it's nice to see you back. I'm not sure I could stand nervous-breakdown Kathryn for much longer.”

“Doctor…”

Put in his place, he began his report. “I'll back up to the beginning for you… Chakotay is out of surgery and stable. There was quite a bit of shrapnel along the front side of his torso and in his hands.”

“He must have caught the blast full-on.”

“That's good deduction.” Despite the fact that the Doctor's impudence meant that the worst of the emergency had passed, it was still tiresome.

“Doctor…”

“Ahem… as I was saying… he's stable. Now that they have all the shrapnel cleared out, they're working on the burns - which are extensive - especially on his hands. It appears that he held them up to protect his face.”

“That would be a good deduction.” There was a snort from Tom behind her. The Doctor must have forgotten how well she could dish back out whatever she’d been given.

“Hmph… The burns can be healed, but we don't know how bad the scarring might be.” He glanced at Kathryn, but his tone remained just as acerbic. “He may lose some fine-muscle dexterity in his hands.”

Tears came to her eyes. Both of Chakotay's favorite pastimes - sand painting and etching - required extreme dexterity in his hands. How much quiet time had they spent together, her reading with the soft scratch of the stylus against the slate in the background? The sound had become more dear to her than any piece of music.

“We won't know for sure until he’s fully healed. He may only need a little physical therapy to get everything moving together.”

“Can I see him?”

“Not until the burns have at least one more treatment - maybe two. Now, if you don't need anything else from me, I have to get back in there. The burn doctors here are not very open to new procedures, and keep on trying to undo my work.” He turned on his heel and stormed out.

Rabbit watched him go, shaking his head. “Harrison is right. You can read about something, but experiencing it is a whole different thing altogether.”

Kathryn stared at Rabbit. He’d said several things since he’d arrived that brought up questions. Most curiously, was the Harrison he kept mentioning her Ensign Nate Harrison?

 

<<<----->>>

 

Libby took a deep breath and entered CuppaJoes for the second time in less than an hour. She’d spent the entire walk memorizing the lines Kathryn had told her to say.

Although she trusted that Kathryn would never make a fool of her, the entire situation was perplexing. She just had to believe that these were fun nicknames.

“Ah… the young lady returns like a boomerang! Perhaps you should simply have a seat and enjoy your coffee here.”

“I-I've been sent back with a message.”

“Out with it, then.”

“The Queen is currently visiting a sick friend at Medical, and is loathe to leave the building. She throws herself on the mercy of the Princes and requests that they give her Lady in Waiting a cup of the Queen’s brew, to be brought back to her so that she may enjoy it while not leaving the company of the patient.”

The formerly jolly man’s face went dark. “Ben! Get out here!” During the few seconds it took for Ben to come out from the back, the other man levelled a searching gaze on her.

At least he was on board with her message…

“What's up, Collin?”

“She really was here for the Queen.”

“No way. The Queen wouldn't ask for takeout.”

“She would if she was stuck at Medical with a friend she didn't want to leave.”

Ben stared at Collin, then turned to Libby. “What's wrong with the King?”

It didn't take a genius to figure out that the ‘King’ was Chakotay. But how much should she say? “Er… the King was… in an accident… and is... injured.”

“She didn't ask for any of the King’s Blend?”

“Um, no, Prince Collin. Only her brew.” She figured she might as well play along with this royalty game.

“He must be bad, then.”

“I'll flip you for it.”

“Nah... You're the coffee guy, Ben.”

“Thanks Collin. Help me get this together?”

Ten minutes later, Libby was on her way back to Medical with a great deal more than she’d been asked to get.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn had reluctantly settled into the waiting game. Everyone tried to engage her in distracting conversation, but she just wasn't interested. All she wanted to do was see Chakotay… to hold him close to her. Not much else would…

She turned to investigate the commotion at the door. Libby had returned… but there was no cup of coffee in the young woman's hand.

“The Princes wouldn't budge on their rule? I’m sorry, Libby, I shouldn't have asked either you or them to do that.”

“Never fear… we will always take care of our Queen.” Ben came into view behind Libby, pushing a cart containing a large urn of what she hoped was coffee and an assortment of pastries.

“Prince Ben! You didn't have to do this. All I asked for was a cup!”

“Your Highness never drinks just one cup.” Ben grinned at her, and she had no choice but to grin back. It took mere minutes for him to set up the service. Pouring a mugful, he brought it over to where she was standing.

“Your brew, m'lady.”

The smell was glorious, the taste heavenly. Her spirits notched up a little more. “Thank you again, my Prince. You really didn't have to go this far.

“Nonsense. We do what we can. Besides… I wanted to meet some of the court.”

One by one, she took him around to meet her friends. Tom, Duke of Klingon - and court jester; Harry, Earl of Voyager; Lady in Waiting Libby; visiting Kings Owen and Mike; then, finally, Sir Mark and his wife, the Lady Christine. Each of them looked to be on the edge of hysterics, but played along with the game.

Before he left, Ben took her aside. “How is the King? Can you tell me what happened?”

“There was an explosion in my apartment, and he's covered in serious burns and shrapnel wounds. The Doctor says he will recover, though.”

He held her hand gently. “That last part is good news. We will be thinking of you. Please let us know if we can do anything else.”

“Thank you, Ben… and my thanks to Collin, as well.”

As he was leaving, Tom, who had descended upon the coffee pot, called out. “Prince Ben, I can't find the cream and sugar. Did you bring any?”

Ben caught her eye and smirked. “Of course not. The Queen’s Brew is not to be polluted with such things.”

He was followed out by a round of laughter.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn was at her usual post, staring out the window, second cup of coffee in hand, when Libby approached.

“Kathryn, as much fun as the game of royal titles was, I have to ask how it came about?”

She laughed. “I'm enjoying the mystery, but since I sent you in blind, I'll tell you - if you promise to keep it secret from Harry and the others.”

Libby’s eyes twinkled with humor. “I promise.”

 

She’d been wandering the city, trying to get reacquainted, when the scent of fresh-brewed coffee led her to a little coffee shop along a small side street. Still craving the ‘real stuff’, she went in.

The first thing she saw was a sign - prominently displayed. ‘Our high-quality coffees and teas are meant to be enjoyed in a calming atmosphere. Under no circumstances do we provide takeout options.’

Her chuckle brought the attention of the man at the far end of the bar, who did the same double-take that everyone else had done since she’d been back.

“Admiral Janeway, I'm honored to have you visit my shop.”

Crickets, she was tired of titles. “Please… call me Kathryn… please.” Her words came out in a beg. She hadn't realized just how much she needed to hear her own name until that moment.

“Alas, I cannot… you must be shown some level of respect at all times…” He paused for a moment. “...my Queen.”

She giggled - actually giggled! If his coffee was anywhere near as good as his humor, she’d just found a spot where she could truly relax. “Very well, Prince …?”

“...Ben, m'lady.” He grinned at her. “Can I offer you some coffee?... Perhaps a muffin? Please note that we make absolutely no concessions to our ‘no takeout’ policy - regardless of status.”

“I wouldn't dream of it. Quality coffee should be savored. If I simply wanted caffeine, I would replicate it.”

He grinned again. “I suspected you were a kindred soul. What's your taste preference?”

Thus, began a beautiful friendship. Prince Ben worked with her to develop a unique brew that encompassed her personal preferences - full-bodied, with a smoky undertone, perfectly balanced as to need no ‘pollutants’ like cream or sugar.

The shop, named CuppaJoes, had been opened many years ago by two men related by marriage, both named Joe. United by their shared love of coffee, they had worked together to develop quality flavors to cater to any palette.

Ben was the grandson of one of the ‘Joes’. He introduced her to his cousin and business partner - grandson of the other ‘Joe' - Collin. Breaking away from family tradition, Collin had developed an interest in blending teas. Thus, CuppaJoes had become a combination coffee/tea shop.

Together, they worked to create an atmosphere of contemplation and relaxation. They stuck to calling her ‘Queen', avoiding the use of either her name or her rank. If she was ever recognized there, she didn't know it. The Princes saw to that.

She’d spent many hours there reading, chatting with one or both of them, or simply gazing out the window. The place became a respite from the almost constant attention brought about by Voyager's fame.

 

“They really care about you and Chakotay, you know. They figured out almost immediately who your ‘sick friend’ was. Then it wasn't even a discussion about what to do - they simply started replicating containers, brewing a full jug, and gathering pastries.”

“They've always been very accommodating to me. The mere fact that they never let my position intimidate them was a great boon to my personal ego.”

“Your personal ego?”

“I'd spent so long as just a title, I really wasn't sure who Kathryn was, anymore. Talking to me as just a person… making it impossible for other patrons to see me as anything more than that… They gave me a place to just be for the first time in seven years.”

“I never thought about how it must have been for you. You’re ‘the Captain’ to Harry. He's never referred to you by anything else. Didn't anyone call you by your first name out there?”

Kathryn sighed wistfully. “Chakotay did… just him.” That choked her up. For seven years she’d only ever heard her name come from his lips. She loved how he said it, too - just a little roll of the tongue when he moved from the ‘r' to the ‘yn'.

The door to the waiting room opened to allow the Doctor entrance. Kathryn hurried over to him for an update.

“The second treatment went well, and the first layer of new skin has begun to grow.”

“Does that mean I can see him now?”

“Normally it would not be enough to allow visitors. But I know you'll end up spending the next 48 hours wandering around this room drinking coffee. I have talked with the other doctors, and they have agreed to let you in.”

He stopped her as she turned to grab her bag. “There are a few conditions that I need you to agree with before you even leave this room.”

“I'll do whatever you want, Doctor. Just let me see him. I need to touch him…”

He leveled his photonic eyes on her. “That's part of the stipulations. His body is covered with deep shrapnel wounds and burns - you can't touch him.”

She took a deep breath. She could do this, she promised herself. As much as she wanted to feel his body next to hers, she would stay clear of him so he could heal. “Alright… tell me the rest.”

“You and all of your belongings will go through a scrubbing field where any dangerous elements will be removed. This may include the simplest of things like makeup. Once inside, there will be little opportunity for you to come and go - no heading out into the corridor to pace about.”

“Why no makeup?” Not that she really cared - she was going to be locked in a room anyway.

“The powders, Rynna. They're fine enough to filter into the wounds.”

“You must agree to follow everything we tell you to do, Kathryn. No sneaking lipstick.”

“I really don't care, Doctor.”

“You know she always needs to know why , Doc.”

“How right you are, Mister Paris. I'd forgotten.”

She’d had enough. “I agree to all of your rules.” She rummaged through the bag Christine had packed for her, and retrieved the makeup case. “There's no sense in letting all of this get ruined.”

“Give him our love, Kath.” Mark gave her a quick hug.

Kathryn turned toward Tom. “Thank you, Tom… for everything. I'd still be standing here, scared and frustrated, if it hadn't been for you getting everyone organized.”  She hugged him, then grabbed her bag and the one containing Chakotay's things that Harry had brought back.

“Let's do this, Doctor. All I want to do is be with Chakotay.” ...and watch him breathe so I know he's alive.

 

Chapter Text

The Doctor hadn't exaggerated. The procedures to gain entrance to Chakotay's room were extensive. She didn't care, except that it caused further delay in getting to see him. Finally, she made it inside.

The lights were very low - around 10 percent, she estimated - and the only sound was the small whir of the equipment surrounding him. Flat on his back, his arms were held out to the sides, stretched out and held down by forcefields to extensions coming from the edges of the biobed.

Naked except for a light sheet laid over his hips, the wounds marring his body stood out starkly. “Oh…” Tears came to her eyes. It was one thing to be told of the damage, but to actually see it was a shock.

“We've been able to heal the wounds enough so that I can say ‘it’s better than it looks’, Kathryn. He has a long way to go, though. I expect he'll be in here for the better part of a week.”

“But… he'll be ok? Everything will heal?”

“The skin and muscle tissues will heal. We won't know how much of the nerves will heal. You need to be prepared for some possible numbness.”

She felt like she was going to faint. “Alright… it's fine… we'll deal with whatever happens.” She noticed something odd. “Why is his head turned? Shouldn't it be straight like the rest of his body?”

“Well, that's a kind of lucky break for him. Remember I told you that he had probably held his hands up to cover his face?”

She nodded, unable to look away from the sight of Chakotay's tortured flesh.

“It seems he also looked away. The left side of his face has only first degree burns - much like a sunburn. His head is turned so the burned neck area is exposed.”

“Just how is that a lucky break?”

“His tattoo is undamaged. If it was burned like the rest of his body, he would have lost it.”

Her gut clenched. His tattoo was an essential part of him. Losing it would have been heart wrenching. “Oh…” She was having trouble taking a full breath. “Can I sit down?”

The Doctor looked at her sharply. “You’d better, or I'm going to have two patients on my hands.” He led her over to a bench and helped her take her seat, then sat down next to her and took her hand.

“As I said a moment ago - it's better than it looks. You've got to breathe, Kathryn.”

Her face was working hard to keep her tears at bay - all she wanted to do was sob into a pillow. The Doctor rarely showed true compassion, but there had been a few instances where he had provided her a certain amount of support. Still, she was surprised when he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Anything that happens in this room falls under patient confidentiality protocols. Let it go, Kathryn.” She turned her face into his shoulder and allowed herself to cry. He held her close and ran his hand along her back in a comforting manner.

A few moments was all it took for her to release enough of the emotional pressure so that she could function. Sitting up, she wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Alright, fill me in. When's his next treatment? I'm guessing you have him sedated - is that because of the pain, or to keep him still? Is this bench where I'm supposed to sleep?”

One by one, she rattled off endless questions. Any of the other medical staff would have shut her down after the first few, but the Doctor knew her - complete details were a requirement. Despite the fact that he rolled his eyes several times, he answered every one of her questions in full.

When the litany of questions was complete, the Doctor left her alone. Unable to touch Chakotay, she laid her head on the edge of his bed and sobbed in earnest, finally letting go of all the emotions that had swirled around in her mind for the past several hours.

Eventually the storm passed and she was able to lay down on the bench for some fitful sleep. She dreamed of his arms around her and his kisses on her neck.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Twelve hours later, she was settled in for the long haul. The nurses had brought her several padds with books and poetry - and one explaining how to use the medicine wheel - to keep her occupied.

After studying the directions, she set up the wheel. Shortly thereafter, she’d witnessed the fourth treatment - even in his sedation, she could see the pain involved in cleaning and healing the damaged muscles and skin.

The Princes had attempted to deliver more coffee for her, but had been stopped by the security set up around the ward. Forced to drink the replicated stuff, she made a mental note to arrange approval for them to at least bring it into the ward. She’d happily share if she was also allowed to partake.

The crackle of the cleansing process alerted her to a visitor.

“You’d think a computer program wouldn't have to go through that thing, every time.” The Doctor came grumbling into the room.

“After all the work we've been doing to make Starfleet see you as more than that program, it's probably best if you follow all the procedures organic people have to go through.”

“Point taken, Kathryn. I'll keep that in mind… You are a popular person, by the way - very much in demand. In the past twelve hours the medical staff has received comms from just about everyone who knows that he's here, including the press.”

“The press ?”

The Doctor gave an exasperated sigh. “It seems that an explosion in the apartment of Voyager's Captain, where her First Officer was seriously injured, is headline news.”

Her shoulders slumped. “Which means that everyone knows where I live, now.”

“Hmph. I expect so. Regardless, they are not the only ones who have attempted to reach you. Admiral Paris, your mother, General Labbity, your assistant - who is a mess, by the way. The list goes on.”

Her mother! She’d been so focused on Chakotay, she hadn't even thought of getting in touch with her mom. “There's no comm unit in here, Doctor. Do you suppose I could go out and return some of them? Even if it's just to set up a single point of contact.”

“I've already arranged it. Once you have that one person identified, please let the medical staff know who it is and give permission for them to share information  with that person.”

She laid a soft hand on the Doctor’s arm. “Thank you… you've been a lifesaver for me.” She was rewarded with a soft smile and a squeeze of her hand. Slipping her shoes on, she followed him out of the room.

The corridor was almost peaceful. With minimal visitors, the medical staff went about their duties with little noise. She nodded to the security personnel stationed outside Chakotay's room, then headed in the direction the Doctor pointed out.

One of the security officers followed her. “Shouldn't you be guarding Chakotay's room?”

“Ensign Tekan will remain behind, Admiral. We are unsure if you were the intended target, so each of you is to be protected.”

Shaking her head, she continued her journey down the corridor. “Well, then, come along.”

Who should she contact first? Nate was a mess, her mother probably angry, Owen Paris was… her best shot at finding out what the rest of her world was up to. She raised the privacy shield around the public unit and input his address.

His face was both anxious and relieved to see her. “Katie! How is he? How are you ?”

“Chakotay is healing and I'm… holding up. How goes the world outside of his little room? The Doctor tells me that the press is bugging everyone?”

He rolled his eyes. “Four hundred years, and they still act like the morons Tom describes from the twentieth century.”

She gave a mirthless laugh. “The nature of people hasn't really changed, Owen. They're all fascinated with anything that is outside of their daily lives. Speaking of which - can I ask you to be the point of contact for any information given to the public? I trust you to know what needs to be kept confidential.”

“Of course, Katie. I'll give them a blank update that they can spend the next few hours tearing apart word for word.”

“Thank you… Now, please tell me what's going on with my personal life. The Doctor tells me that Nate is a mess.”

“Yes… well… unfortunately, we had to question him about the delivery of your uniform. He is beside himself thinking that this whole thing is his fault, and terrified that he'll be arrested.”

“You don't actually think he's involved, do you? I'll personally vouch for him.”

“Relax, Katie. We don't think anything of the sort. We needed the information about what delivery service he hired and who he talked to so we could check them out. You know how nervous he is about everything. Put that together with his concern for you, and you have an assistant on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

“I need to talk to him.”

“I would suggest that. Rolo is doing his best to keep the young man calm, but I don't think Nate will truly trust anyone but you.”

“I had planned to contact him while I'm out here. I'll put him next on my list.”

“I'd suggest you put your mother next, Katie. She's not really happy, either.”

“So I've heard. Finding out about this on the newsfeeds must have been unsettling.”

“You caught a break, there. Mark took it upon himself to update your mom when he left Medical last night. She's just upset that you didn't contact her earlier.”

“Owen, you know what state I was in. Even if I had thought to comm her, I wouldn't have wanted her to come. Can you imagine her witnessing that flashback? And what was said about it? I'd rather deal with the fallout of not telling her.”

“It still doesn't help a mother who's terribly worried about her daughter. She's almost lost you twice - hell, she thought she had lost you the second time. Give her a break.”

She dropped her head and sighed. “I hadn't thought about it like that. I'll contact her after I talk to Nate.” She held up her hand to stave off Owen's reply.

“Worried as she is, she knows I'm alive, and she's stronger than he is.”

“Alright… as long as you talk to her third - I'm not dealing with an angry Gretchen Janeway again.”

“I'm sorry, Owen. There are too many people I need to keep up with. I suppose I should talk to Tom when I'm done with Mom. He'll be the best one to keep any Voyagers in the loop.”

“No worries, Katie. How about I coordinate with my son? I can get the full report and decide what to share with the press. Then I'll work with him to get a little more information out to your crew. He'll be able to control the information he gives them.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. Can you have Tom add Mark and Christine into his group? I expect Rabbit will be kept in the loop by Rolo, who can also keep Nate updated. I'll give my mom updates personally.”

“It's a done deal, Katie. Just put myself and your mom on the approved list for the medical staff. We'll take care of the rest.”

Tears came to her eyes. She had wonderful friends. Why hadn't she realized that six months ago? “Thank you, Owen. Thank you so much.”

“Anything I can do, Katie. Just ask.”

She cut the connection and took a deep breath to center herself. The conversation with Nate was going to take everything she had to give.

He managed to look professional when he answered the comm, but his face quickly crumbled when he saw her. “Admiral! I'm so sorry! I… is the Commander alright?”

“Relax, Nate. Chakotay is responding well to the treatments, and should be recovered enough to leave Medical by the middle of next week.” She studied his face while she spoke. Owen hadn't been exaggerating - the young man was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Nate, I need you to understand that this was not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to prevent this. I don't blame you , and neither does anyone else.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I just can't help but think I should have delivered it, myself.”

“Nate, listen to me. There is nothing you could have done . Whoever did this would have simply found another way. Who knows what that other way would have entailed? I'm fine. Chakotay will recover. End of story. Help Rolo with whatever information you can think of and keep track of my calendar. I actually have appointments for you to worry about, now.”

The young man's shoulders slumped with relief. “Thank you, Admiral. I'll do my best for you.” His voice was soft and small. She couldn't help but think that somewhere along the line in his relatively short life he’d been taken through hell - and had it blamed on him.

She spent a little more time talking to him about her diamonds, just to get him off track of obsessing over what had happened in her apartment. By the time she was finished, he’d become more centered and calm.

“I need to speak with my mom, now. Are you going to be alright?”

He squared his shoulders. “Yes, ma'am. You can count on me.”

“I always have, Nate. And you've always been exactly what I needed.”

She cut the connection and sat back for a moment. That had taken quite a bit out of her, and she needed to regroup before she contacted her mother. Dropping the privacy field, she asked her security officer where she could find a cup of coffee.

Five minutes later, second cup of coffee in hand, she sat back down in front of the comm unit. Raising the privacy field, she braced herself and dialed her mother's comm address.

“Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway, how dare you panic your mother like that!

It was worse than she’d thought. “I'm sorry, Mom. I was… having a difficult time dealing with… everything. Tom was the one contacting people.”

“Tom Paris ? It's nice to know where I rank, Katie.”

“It's not like that, Mom. I commed him in search of the Doctor. They weren't telling me anything, and I was hoping he would intervene. Tom decided to come along and commed his parents for a sitter. Owen decided to come, too. After that, more and more people started showing up.”

“Is Chakotay alright?”

“He's… he's… going to be.” Tears were coming to her eyes again. The genuine concern on her mother's face weakened the hold she had on her emotions.

“Tell me…”

A tear ran down her cheek. “He's covered in burns - bad ones. I'm pretty sure I would have seen muscle if they let me in before they treated him. There's shrapnel, too. It's…”

Suddenly, a hand appeared from behind her and shut down the privacy field. “I'm sorry, Admiral, but we have to go - now .”

“I'm in the middle of…” She started to protest, but her mother cut her off.

“When Security says to go, you go , Katie. We can finish this later.” She cut the connection.

It was then that Kathryn realized there was a great deal of commotion going on in the previously quiet ward. Her guard - she thought his name was Lance - or was it Larry? - grabbed her arm and propelled her down the hallway away from the noise.

It was everything she could do to keep upright as Lance/Larry urged her down the corridor and into the little breakroom where they’d gotten her coffee earlier. He sat her down in the corner underneath the window that looked out on the ward.

“Stay here, Admiral.” He shut the door, then came back to hover over her while he could watch for anyone coming towards them.

She was scared - a feeling she rarely experienced. Normally she would run into the fray and fight, but the Lieutenant was holding her down. Having no idea what was happening made things worse.

“What’s going on?”

“I'm not sure, ma'am. There's a commotion near the nurse's station, and Jaan advised me to take cover.”

“So we're just going to stay here and hide ?”

“Yes, Admiral. It's better if we remain silent, so our location is not advertised.”

She almost snorted a laugh. That was subordinate officer speak for shut up . But she wasn't going to remain hidden and helpless.

“Give me your other phaser.”

“Er… I don't have another one.”

“Lieutenant, I was engaged to a Ranger. Give me your Second .”

The security officer glanced down at her in surprise, then silently reached into the pocket of his uniform. Producing a small phaser, he handed it to her with a touch of smugness.

The model wasn't part of Starfleet issue, and she was pretty sure he thought she had no idea what to do with it. But she had been engaged to a Ranger - and trained in expert fighting by an elite team. Nodding her thanks, she deftly released the safety and powered it up.

His eyebrow rose, but he said nothing. Instead, he returned his attention to the hallway outside the little breakroom. She could hear the commotion, but after a few minutes things went quiet.

“I think it's over, Lieutenant. We should go check it out.”

“I will go, Admiral, but you should stay here in case it's not yet safe.”

Sighing audibly, she nodded for him to go ahead. She was willing to put up with this for a bit longer, but Chakotay's room was near the center of the activity and she was worried.

She only managed to wait for a couple of minutes. Once her guard disappeared around the corner, she got up and moved stealthily down the hall after him.

There was a group of people huddled around a figure lying prone on the floor. Some of the people seemed to be holding the figure down, but the other guard was in the midst, speaking with a doctor.

Other guard? That was Chakotay's guard! The fool had left him unguarded! Any thought for her own safety disappeared, and she raced down the corridor to his room, stopping in shock at what she found.

The room was wide open - the elaborate shielding that kept it free of germs and irritants had been dropped. There was some type of aerosol equipment blowing a fine mist into the air. The markers on his medicine wheel were strewn about the room and the actual wheel had been sliced in half.

Chakotay was awake and struggling against the forcefields that kept his limbs immobilized, unable to call out for help because of the angle of his neck. She could see the mixture of fear and pain written across his face.

“Get a doctor! Get my Doctor! Something's been done to Chakotay!” Suspicious of the aerosol, she ran to the unit and shut it off, then raced over to the console that controlled the forcefields.

Hoping to minimize the damage too much moving would cause, she only dropped the one around his head. Immediately, he turned his head so he could draw deep breaths - then screamed in pain as the open wounds on his neck creased.

“Ka… Ka-thryn…” He was panting in pain and fear. She’d only seen him so openly afraid once in the entire time she’d known him. At the time, he’d been trying to communicate with the warped space aliens who had activated his crazy gene. He’d been terrified of losing his mind… and had done what she asked, anyway.

He’d barely let her help him pick up the pieces, preferring to work out his emotions in his boxing program. In fact, he’d never really leaned on her at all. For seven - almost eight - years he had been her rock… her Safe . Although she knew she was his Peace , he’d never asked her to be anything else for him.

She could do that, now. He was in pain and unable to move his body. She wouldn't release the other forcefields without a doctor's permission, but she could calm him. Breaking her promise to the Doctor, she gently touched the tattoo on his temple - a spot she knew was only slightly burnt.

He leaned into her touch as she cradled his face in her hand.

“Chakotay, I know it hurts. The Doctor is on his way and will take care of it for you.” It occurred to her that he might not be aware of everything that happened. He’d been unconscious when she’d found him, and had been kept under sedation since he arrived at Medical.

“You're at Starfleet Medical, in the burn ward. They have you restrained so you won't move the areas where the burns are the worst.” He relaxed a little, the weight of his head in her hand increased as the muscles let go of the tension. She’d been right.

“Someone broke into your room and woke you up from the sedation. They'll put you back under when they get here so you don't feel the pain.”

He became agitated and tried to move his head, wincing in pain. “No…”

“You don't want them to put you back under?”

The Doctor came bustling in. “What the hell happened?” His tricorder appeared and he started to scan Chakotay.

“Someone woke him up and set up that thing over there. It was spraying something when I came in. I shut it off and released his head to keep him from a full-blown panic.”

“Hmph. I have no doubt he’s in incredible pain. His body is covered in microparticles and impurities. I'll have to put him back under so I can clean his wounds again.” He reached for a hypospray and loaded it.

Chakotay became agitated again, his head moving against her hand. “Doctor, he’d rather stay awake.”

“There's no amount of painkiller I can give you, Chakotay. It's going to hurt worse than anything you've ever experienced.”

Chakotay's eyes were boring into hers. The naked fear she saw in them nearly broke her heart. “I know you're scared, but the Doctor needs to do this. I'll be right here the entire time, and we'll wake you up as soon as we can.”

He closed his eyes in acceptance, his head once more relaxing into her hand. “Go ahead, Doctor. I'm breaking my promise to you, though. I will touch him in places free of burns… here on his face… his legs… anywhere he can feel my presence.”

The Doctor sighed. “Agreed.” He put the hypospray to Chakotay's neck, just below her hand, where the light burns had been almost completely healed.

She watched lines fade from Chakotay's face as the sedative took hold. “Keep his head free? I won't be able to touch him if you restrain it again. Not to mention that it's why he panicked in the first place.”

The Doctor silently repositioned his head then, without reactivating the field, began the deep tissue treatment needed to clear the irritants and germs that had been introduced into the room.

She had to move her hand off Chakotay's face for it, but she simply moved it down to where she could hold onto his leg. She swore she felt a muscle twitch in response to her touch.

While the Doctor worked, technicians reactivated the shielding at the entrance to the room. Once the Doctor was finished, she placed her hand at his temple again. “I have to see what's going on with the investigation into the breach. I'll be right back.” She was taking no chances in case he could hear her.

By the time she made it out of the room, she had allowed her fury at the situation take hold of her. The first person she saw was Rolo.

“You will tell me how Chakotay came to be in this state. Now .” He voice was deadly… the fear she’d felt for Chakotay pouring into it, turning it to steel.

Several members of the hospital staff suddenly found something pressing in another part of the ward. The guard who had gone with her and protected her in the hallway visibly cringed. The other one - the one who was supposed to have been protecting Chakotay - was nowhere to be found.

“Where is he? I want to speak with him.”

To his credit, Rolo had only flinched. “Rabbit took him to our headquarters for questioning. And, no, you cannot speak with him.” His voice softened a little. “As I understand it, you know how we handle serious breaches, Admiral.”

After a sharp, searching look to see if Rolo was telling the truth, she relented. She was aware of what the Rangers would do. The guard would be questioned relentlessly, censured, and either relieved of duty to the Rangers permanently or placed on administrative duty - for perhaps the remainder of his career.

Seeing that she had accepted his actions, Rolo went on to brief her on the situation. “It seems that a patient from another ward somehow got into this one and created a scene. We are currently looking into how that happened. In the meantime, additional guards have been placed outside the entrance to the ward and three of our more seasoned personnel have been assigned to you and Captain Chakotay - one to accompany you if you need to leave the room, leaving two to remain behind.”

A small smile quirked at the edges of her lips. “Just one for me?”

He met her with a full smile. “We are well aware that you can take an… active… role in your own safety. Although you won't officially be able to carry your own weapon, the guards have been instructed to provide you with their Second should an unsafe situation arise.”

“Agreed.” Giving a curt nod, she turned to the personnel who had managed to retain enough nerve to remain in the vicinity. “Now, introduce me to the security team. I will not be fooled by someone posing as a guard.”

One by one, Rolo introduced her to the members of the security team - both investigators and guards - who had been assigned to the case. She questioned each of them in full to ensure her own level of satisfaction. Ranger or not, she would no longer trust anyone else's decisions in regards to Chakotay's safety.

Once satisfied, she turned her attention back to Rolo. “Thank you for your thoroughness. The people you have chosen seem to be of the same par as Tina and Rabbit.”

Rolo nodded. “If I may say, Admiral, the rest of us are appalled at the actions of Ensign Tekan. One of the reasons General Labbity took him back to headquarters was to ensure fair and uninterrupted questioning.”

The team’s attitude served to reassure her. They would channel their anger into being extra vigilant. “Good.” She turned away and focused her attention on the nurses’ station - the action effectively dismissing Rolo.

One lone person remained at the counter, forced to stay due to the nature of her position. Fury spent on the people it was meant for, she leveled a kind and gentle look on the mature woman.

“I need to make arrangements for approved access to Captain Chakotay's records. Can you help me with that?”

 

<<<------>>>

 

The Doctor had been right about the amount of time it would take for Chakotay to go home. Although the sabotage by the assailant had caused some trouble, they had caught it in time before any infection of the wounds could take hold.

Unfortunately, the Doctor had also been right about residual effects. The areas where the burns had been deepest were numb to the touch, and Chakotay had great difficulty moving his hands.

Although he hadn't said a word, Kathryn could see the fear and frustration in his eyes as the physical therapist worked to restore his hands. She did her best to reassure him, but didn't think she was getting through.

Finally, the day came when he was released to go home. Her apartment was still under investigation, and reconstruction hadn't even begun. She took him back to his place and did her best to make him comfortable.

Still weak from the treatments that stole his body's energy, she put him right to bed. Worn out by the constant worry, she crawled in after him.

“Kathryn, it won't do any good. I can't feel your touch.” Frustration was turning to anger.

“You may not be able to feel me right now , but that will change as the nerves continue to heal. The point right now is that I can feel you . You're not the only one of us that needs the other one.”

He relented, allowing her to pull him into her arms and laying his head on her shoulder. It was the first time she’d laid next to him in over a week. As he drifted off to sleep, silent tears wet the pillow below her head.

 

<<<------>>>

 

No one other than Kathryn had been allowed into the burn ward. Although Tom had kept everyone updated with basic information about his recovery, the need to see him for themselves was overwhelming. Thus, the following days were a flurry of visitors, as each of the crew who lived on or near Earth came to see him.

He did his best to be pleasant, but she could detect the terse quality in his tone of voice. Finally, she reached the point where she could no longer abide it.

“Being rude to the people who care about you is not going to solve anything.”

“I'm not being rude, Kathryn.”

“Yes, you are, and it needs to stop. Almost all the feeling has come back and your hands are becoming more nimble with every therapy routine. It'll come back, Chakotay.”

His eyes grew wet. “Will it, Kathryn? You know the Doctor said there might be permanent loss.”

She’d never seen him cry… never . It broke her heart. “It will , Chakotay. I believe that with everything I have. Your fine motor muscles were well developed already. The physical therapist said muscle memory would kick in.”

“And when will that be, Kathryn? I can't do anything I used to. Etching… sand painting… touching you… all lost.”

It was then that she got it. They hadn't made love since before the explosion. She’d thought it was because he’d been so tired. Was the real reason because he was afraid he couldn't please her?

They were sitting next to each other on the couch. Sliding closer to him, she threaded their fingers together. “Can you feel that? Can you squeeze my hand in return?” His fingers slowly curled around hers. “That's the only touch that I need, Chakotay. Even if you couldn't do that, I'd still love you - still want to make love with you.”

With her free hand, she cupped his face and turned his head to look at her. “I love you , Chakotay. Isn't that exactly what you told me ? I have an… injury that I know for a fact is permanent. You said that didn't change a thing for you. Were you lying to me? Do you not trust how I feel about you?”

He leaned his face into her hand. “I wasn't lying, Kathryn. I love you regardless of anything. It's just… I'm supposed to be strong for you. Not the other way around.”

“Then get used to the idea that we're both strong for each other .” She pulled his face toward her and kissed him. It was the first time she had really kissed him since that night before the explosion. It lit a fire in her that was not going to be quenched without him.

Her mouth traveled along his neck, to his collarbone. “Do you feel that, Chakotay?”

His damaged hand came up to cup her cheek. “Yes, Kathryn… I can always feel you.”

“Then feel me, now.” She leaned back on the couch, pulling him with her until he was on top of her.

His mouth moved down her neck, sending gooseflesh across her body. Since they’d been a couple, they had never gone this long without making love. She was hungry for him.

When his hand moved up her side - a move that usually ended up with his thumb feathering across her nipple - he stopped, groaning in frustration. She caught him before he was able to retreat, kissing him with a fire that he would not be able to pull away from.

She felt the moment when he gave way, letting his hunger for her overtake his discomfort. His mouth crushed against hers, tongue plundering the depths until she was breathless.

Yes! Crickets she wanted him… now.

She pushed him away slightly so she could pull her shirt off. “Your mouth, Chakotay… it's your mouth I want on my body.” She was already breathless.

Eagerly, he complied, wrapping his tongue around one nipple and pulling it between his teeth. Hooking one leg over his hip, she pulled him against her, his rapidly growing erection trapped between their bodies.

The groan that escaped him reverberated against her breast where he had her nipple encased in his mouth. She ripped his shirt off so she could feel his skin against hers. The remaining wounds on his chest rasped against her, creating an unusual - but not unwelcome - feeling.

“Don't stop… please don't stop.” Normally she didn't really talk when making love, but she felt he needed the encouragement. Worried that the limited dexterity in his hands would make it difficult for him, she unfastened her pants as his mouth began to travel down her body.

In an effort to avoid unnecessary delay, she unfastened his, too, and pushed them down over his hips.

“Don't rush me, Kathryn. I want to taste you.” The words, spoken against her belly - already hypersensitive from the marks on his chest - made her moan.

Unconsciously, her fingers dug themselves into his shoulders. The action brought a welcome chuckle against her skin.

“Now that I felt.” Sitting up, he ripped her pants from her body and settled himself down between her legs and nipped her inner thigh. “Don't hurt what nerves I have left.”

The small joke about his condition made her smile. Sometimes making love healed wounds nothing else could touch. Her thoughts were lost to her as his lips took hold of her sensitive nub and sucked it between his teeth.

“Ahhh…” The sigh escaped her when he let go and ran his tongue down the sensitive space behind it and slipped into her slick, wet opening.

Another chuckle reverberated against her hot flesh. “You've got to stop doing that or I'm going to come before you even get started.”

Unfortunately - or was it fortunately ? - her words elicited another chuckle. Her hips bucked against his mouth. Crickets, she really was going to come if he continued to laugh!

Letting go, he raised his head to look at her. “Shall we test that?”

“Crickets, Chakotay, I don't think…”

Her words were cut off when his mouth once more descended on her, tongue sliding into her to massage the front part of her opening, laughing at her breathless response.

As she had threatened, she came against him, the edge of the cushion crushed in her hand as she gripped it. Although he slowed a bit, he soon sped back up again, sucking in her swollen nub now overly sensitive from the orgasm whose waves she was still riding.

She came again - harder this time. Her entire body bucked and rocked at the ferocity of her orgasm. His mouth remained against her, slowly bringing her down as he lapped up her offerings.

Finally he let her go, kissing his way back up her body until he reached her lips. She grabbed his face and pulled him into a scorching kiss that left him as breathless as she was.

“Crickets, Chakotay…”

Smiling, he kissed her again then laughed. “I guess you really do only need my mouth.”

Shaking her head, she hooked her toe in the waistband of his pants, still hanging between his hips and his knees. “I need all of you, Chakotay.”

She kissed him as he kicked his pants off his ankles. Breaking the kiss, his mouth traveled down her neck then back up to the sensitive spot behind her ear.

“You can have it, Kathryn.” Slowly, he entered her. “You already do.”

Smiling at the sense of completion she always felt when he was inside her, she wrapped her legs around his hips. “Then I guess we're stuck with each other, because you already have all of me .”

He captured her lips in another deep kiss - passionate, but full of love at the same time. “I'm never letting you go, Kathryn.” He began to move within her. “ Never .”

“Please don't, Chakotay.”

The depth of their words to each other spurred them on. The passion rose between them as the worry and fear of the past two weeks released them from its grip.

They came together, their bodies locked against each other. Finally spent, his head dropped against her chest as they struggled to catch their breath, bodies still trembling.

Eventually, he sat up, pulling her with him. He cupped her cheeks and kissed her gently. “We need to get cleaned up. Tom is due any minute, and I don't need him catching us like this.”

She kissed him back, hands still roaming his chest as they mapped out the new terrain the Doctor said might never completely fade. “As long as you promise to come back to this.”

“Always, Kathryn.” He stood and held out his hands to help her up. Keeping hold of one, she laced their fingers together and headed for the shower.

 

Chapter Text

The next two weeks flew by. The time lost while Chakotay recovered in Medical made both of them behind schedule. Unlike her previous unscheduled days off, this time around Kathryn had appointments to reschedule - on top of catching up with her regular ship's logs.

Chakotay was starting from scratch. Attempting to create a seminar from little more than an idea was made more stressful because of the lack of time remaining before the first class. Although he decided to ‘take the easy way out’ by covering one of the aliens he had already researched for Kevin, the stories had been geared toward a small boy and had to be reworked for college students.

His efforts were further hampered by the continuing weakness and stiffness in his hands. Although the feeling had mostly returned, he was rather clumsy - dropping padds, his stylus - even a spoon while he was trying to cook. Touching a knife was completely out of the question. He’d prided himself on being able to cook healthy, fresh food for Kathryn. Now they were back to nightly meals out, orders in, or replicated. Frustration was a constant companion. Although he did his best not to take it out on Kathryn, he wasn't always successful - which only added to his frustration.

They were both still living in his apartment - a bright spot in all his aggravations. The reconstruction on hers was almost complete, but she hadn't shown any signs of even being interested in visiting it.

A couple of female Rangers had packed up her personal items and delivered them to his apartment. She promptly got to work moving his things around in the dresser and closet to make space for hers. In order to protect them from the construction, they had also brought many of her decorations. He stood aside, laughing at her mutter to herself while she adjusted the knick knacks and pictures.

The sight of their things mingled around one living space brought him a great deal of peace. The one dark spot was her refusal to hang Phoebe's painting.

“It's your sister's work, Kathryn, and it’s wonderful piece.”

“I don't have a sister, Chakotay. I don't want the constant reminder of it.”

All he could do was sigh as he watched her pack it up for storage. She’d reassured him several times, but he couldn't stop the feeling that it was his fault the Janeway sisters weren't speaking to each other. At least she hadn't thrown the painting away.

Busy as they were, they managed to carve out the following Sunday to visit Kathryn’s mother. Mrs Janeway - Gretchen, she insisted he call her - had a much different opinion of him than her younger daughter, and had insisted that he accompany Kathryn for dinner.

The moment he walked in the door, she took his hands in hers and began to inspect them. Next up was his face, which she turned and held up to the light then leaned it back a bit so she could see his neck.

“Let me see your chest.”

“That's enough, Mom. You are not undressing him in the foyer.”

“Alright, let's move into the living room. The light is better there, anyway.”

Chakotay couldn't be sure if she was joking or not. Although he had so far been able to read the older woman because of her similarities with Kathryn, this time was an odd mix of several tones. He could almost swear that one of them was worry.

“Mom, he's a grown man, who had great doctors fawning all over him for more than a week. Give him a break. The scarring is going down and the numbness has all but disappeared.”

Gretchen dug her eyes into his, searching… testing. Although she was more intense, Kathryn had done this to him once or twice. He held fast, meeting her eyes and doing his best not to flinch.

Finally, she let him go. “Very well. He’s healed in the most important place. Come along, Chakotay, let me give you the tour.”

When she turned her back to lead them into the rest of the house, he bent down and whispered to Kathryn. “Most important place?”

She shook her head. “I have no idea.”

Gretchen turned back. “Your spirit, Chakotay. It's whole. I've seen burns like that before. It can break a man - or woman. My Katie has a tendency to fall in love with men who don't break. I'm glad to see you're one of them.”

Chakotay grabbed Kathryn’s hand. “She has a tendency to heal broken spirits, Gretchen. That's really what it is.”

She looked between the two of them. “Hmm… I'll have to give that some thought.”

After a tour of the downstairs, Gretchen left them to explore the second floor on their own. “Katie’s room is pretty much how it was when she left for the Academy. I have to check on dinner. Why don't you have a look?”

With that, she left them and disappeared into what he now knew was the kitchen.

Kathryn broke down in silent laughter. “I think she likes you.”

“I'm glad I passed the test, although I'm not really sure what the questions were.”

“She judges character, Chakotay - something you have in spades. All that conversation during your ‘tour’ was to see what yours was.”

“So, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over decor and window views shows character?”

“It's more how you handle yourself, how close the face you show the world is to your actual person. She looks to see if your responses are genuine. Did you also pick up on the amount of information she got out of you?”

Information?

“As she took you around, she talked about me growing up here, you responded with anecdotes about your own childhood. She learned a lot more in a half hour than I did in seven years. I had no idea you got yourself trapped in a shuttle pod - in a junkyard, no less.”

They had reached the top of the steps. Kathryn turned to the right and headed down the hallway.

“She should work with the Rangers interrogating criminals, Kathryn. I didn't realize what she was doing at all.”

“Oh, that was nothing. Imagine being caught doing something you weren't supposed to when you were nine. That's something you won't soon forget.”

She opened a door and reached in to flip an old-fashioned light switch. “Here we are… the room where Katie Janeway grew up.”

The room was feminine, but not frilly. Although the walls were white, the lack of color was smothered by various photos, awards, and even a print of Albert Einstein. Together, they showed the life of a young girl who aspired to be a scientist.

He could see her at the small desk, studying diligently while the other children her age were out playing tag. There was the bed, covered in an old-fashioned quilt. This was the place where the future scientist dreamed about exploring the stars, studying nebulae and quantum singularities, then discovering something completely new.

“Will you show me your tree?”

“If you want… We’d better go now, before we lose the light.”

Taking his hand, she led him out of the room and back down the steps. “Mom, we're going outside for a minute.”

“Don't be too long, Katie. The eggplant will get soggy.”

“We're just heading out to the treeline. It won't take long.”

Gretchen's head poked out of the kitchen door. “I've heard that one, before, Katie.” She glanced at Chakotay. “At least he's worth the risk.”

Her head disappeared back through the door, leaving a laughing Kathryn and blushing Chakotay behind. “She's rather… direct.” He dipped his head a bit and tugged on his ear.

“Where do you think my sis… Er... it runs in the family.”

He sighed at her slip, then squeezed her hand. “We’d better get moving. I am not facing her if we take too long.”

“Spoilsport.” She winked at him and headed out the back door.”

They emerged onto a large brick patio. Laid out before him was an even larger lawn. To one side there was an inground pool. To the other was an elaborate swingset. The edge of the lawn was marked with a low fence bordered by flowers of every kind and he could see a grove of trees in the distance. If it hadn't been for her dragging him, he would have stopped cold.

“Beautiful, isn't it?”

“I can see why you longed for it.”

“It was more the people, but yes, I did long for it.”

“Have you thought of commuting?”

“No. It wouldn't be special if I saw it every day. Even once a week was making the edges start to dim… Thank you for letting me see it through your eyes. It looks a lot different than I ever saw it.”

“How so?”

“It’s the house I grew up in. Many of the houses around here are similar in design. I never thought about how big it was… how many rooms it has. You haven't even seen the guesthouse.”

Guesthouse?

“See? There it is… It never occurred to me how unusual something like that might be. Mark grew up around here. I'm not really sure how he sees it, but it was never anything new to him. And Justin…”

“He was from a mining colony, wasn't he? That would probably have been as much of a glaring difference for him as it is for me.”

“He didn't talk much about it - his impressions of the house, I mean. He also wasn't outwardly expressive around people he didn't know, so there wasn't really any ooh-ing or ahh-ing to speak of. I'm not really sure how much my mom was able to read from him… Anyway - my point is that I haven't really experienced it through someone else's eyes.”

They reached a gate in the fence and went through it. To his surprise, she led him away from the treeline he could see at the far edge of the property.

“I thought we were going to your tree, Kathryn.”

“It's not in the grove.”

After another minute they reached the edge of a small rise and looked down upon a large oak tree, standing alone in the field.

This is my tree.”

Smiling, he followed her down the small hill. Of course her tree would be hidden away from the more public grove. She liked silence and isolation when she needed to think.

Reaching the tree, she nimbly climbed up the first two branches then reached her hand down to him. “Come join me. I want you to see the view.”

As he tried to remember the last time he’d climbed a tree, he followed her route up the limbs until he straddled the one she was sitting on. The tree was old and the limb was more like a trunk - he was pretty sure he could build an entire treehouse supported on it, alone.

“Lean back against the trunk.” He did as he was told, resting his back against the main trunk, then she leaned back against him.

“Now… look out at the view.”

He gasped. The earth ahead of him was almost completely flat, stretching out as far as he could see. The area between was dotted with houses, spread well apart from each other, with farms and fields of grass between them. Off to one side, he could see the lights of Bloomington in the distance.

It was the sunset in front of him, though, that held his attention. The air was clear, leaving the reds and oranges of the sun’s glow to spread across the vast expanse of the horizon.

“Beautiful, isn't it?”

“Wow…” Struck speechless, it was the only response he could manage.

They sat together, nestled between the trunk and branches of the tree, and watched as the sun slowly sank below the horizon, the final orange-pink giving way to the soft glow of the moon. Finally, she stirred.

“We’d better get back to the house. Mom is going to be upset if her eggplant gets soggy.”

 

When they reached the house, her mother met them with a smirk. “I don't know why you even try to tell me that you'll just be a minute, Katie. You just make a liar out of yourself.”

“Sorry, Mom. I'd like to say it won't happen again, but that would also make a liar out of me, wouldn't it?”

Laughing, her mother waved them into the dining room. “You're just lucky I was prepared for that little delay.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Dinner was, as he suspected, eggplant parmesan. Gretchen set down the platter with a warning.

“Don't you go thinking that I went looking for something to feed you in a panic. This dish is an old family staple.”

Chakotay knew she was telling the truth. The eggplant was cooked to perfection. You couldn't do that without a certain amount of experience. He settled in to enjoy the conversation and family atmosphere.

Chatting with Gretchen was different than he had expected. Although she and Kathryn shared many of the same mannerisms and expressions - and that death glare - Gretchen was much more open. He would even go so far as to say she was saucy.

They laughed at her stories of the family antics and adventures. Her repertoire was not limited to Kathryn. She also shared interesting tidbits of her and Edward, including his clumsiness on the night they met. He did notice that, although she mentioned Phoebe as one of the characters in the stories, there were none where her younger daughter was the star. It was a concession he very much appreciated.

Although he tried to help clear the table, his efforts were refused.

“You are a guest in my home, Chakotay. After you've been here a couple of times, I'll let you help.”

Kathryn leaned down to whisper in his ear. “After a couple of times, you're not a guest anymore - you're family.” She kissed his cheek then followed her mother into the kitchen with several dishes in her hands.

Reluctantly, Chakotay sat at the table while the two women bustled around him. He couldn't help feeling like an old-fashioned chauvinist and vowed to himself that he would force the issue the next time he was here.

Finally, Gretchen appeared with dessert. It was a cake decorated with several candles.

“Katie told me that your birthday is coming up, but I doubt if she's going to share you that day. I hope you like chocolate.”

She set down the cake in front of him. One look at the swirls of dark frosting that decorated it and his mouth was watering. “Chocolate cake is my favorite. Thank you.”

“I'm not sure if your culture celebrates birthdays the same we do, but I'm hoping you at least know that you're supposed to make a wish and blow the candles out.”

Kathryn’s eyes were twinkling with humor. “He knows, Mom. I always gave him a cake on Voyager. Just, please, let’s spare him the birthday song. Neither of us can sing.”

It was true - she had given him a cake for each of his birthdays. Although his family didn't celebrate birthdays the same way, being in Starfleet had exposed him to many different cultures. What he hadn't known was the simple song that went with it - which she promptly taught him. That part was also true - her singing voice left a great deal to be desired.

He made his wish - that Kathryn and Phoebe would find their way back to each other - and blew out the candles. Gretchen handed him a knife.

“The birthday boy gets to cut the cake.”

“Big pieces, Chakotay. That's Mom's best cake. You'll just go back for seconds, anyway.”

Although he struggled to hold the knife properly, he managed to get several basically straight pieces cut. Gretchen put them on plates and handed each of them a fork. “Eat up.”

Kathryn was right. The cake was beyond delicious - moist and chocolatey, without being overly sweet. Had he not been so full from dinner, he might have gone for a second piece.

“Tell me, Chakotay. What does your family do for birthdays?”

“There's a large gathering. Each guest brings a special dish in honor of the one whose birthday it is. Then, when we're all full, my mother makes fry bread, and we all find space in our bellies to make room for them.”

“Katie didn't do that for you?”

“He didn't want it, Mom. He wouldn't even give me codes to replicate the fry bread. So, I stuck to the cake and made him use my rations for the dinner.”

“And gave me a gift, Kathryn. You always gave me something you'd found on one of the planets we visited.” Sometimes the planet where the gift came from had been months behind where they were at the time of his birthday. He knew that she had thought of him when she saw it - which made it all the more special.

“I could never get a straight answer out of you about why you wouldn't share the fry bread with me.”

Chakotay sighed. He’d been unable to describe the way he felt about that particular item. But now that he knew about her mom's baking… “For the same reason you wouldn't let me try to make your mom's caramel brownies, Kathryn. It just wasn't the same.”

“And you never threw a party?”

“When we had the chance, we would roll every birthday of the month we were in and have one big party. But my actual birthday was always just the two of us.”

“As was mine. We’d pull out a bottle of good wine and put aside ship talk for the evening. A party meant that we were on duty. Dinner with only the two of us was just… dinner.”

Gretchen rolled her eyes. “I'm willing to bet that each of you thought of it as ‘date night’ without admitting it to the other one.”

They shared a guilty laugh. “You’d win that bet, Mom.”

The conversation moved away from birthdays and her mom began grilling Chakotay on his family traditions. Before they realized it, the hour had become late.

“Why don't you two stay for the night? The guesthouse is always ready for last-minute guests.”

“That's very kind of you, Gretchen, but I didn't bring anything with me.”

Gretchen waved the thought away with her hand while Kathryn grinned. “Nonsense. There's a replicator there. Just replicate what you need.”

Before he knew it, the dining table was cleared and Kathryn was leading him toward a small house on the other side of the pool.

“Kathryn, I'm not really sure how I feel about doing this. It's one thing to use your credits, but…”

“Forget it. If you back out now, Mom will be insulted. The replicator always has a store of credits that she never touches.” She took his hand and squeezed it. “My mom likes you, Chakotay. She wouldn't do this if she didn't.”

The guesthouse was a small building containing a living space, eating area with only a replicator, and a bedroom.

“Remember my family history with Starfleet. This was a space where visiting officers could stay when they came to visit.”

“And she still keeps it ready for guests? I can't imagine she has that many Admirals on her doorstep these days.”

“You’d be surprised. She still has many friends there. Not to mention how much power she still holds in her own right.”

Why was he surprised? He’d already figured out that you didn't cross Gretchen Janeway. Given her history, it made sense that the Admiralty wasn't immune.

They replicated sonic toothbrushes and cleaned their teeth, then undressed and crawled into bed. At least he didn't have to blow credits on pajamas.

 

<<<------>>>

 

She woke to warm sunlight on her face. It took her a minute to realize where she was, then she turned her attention to Chakotay's sleeping form. Her mom liked him - a lot . The knowledge left a calm in its wake. She hadn't realized just how nervous - and worried - she had been about it.

The sun kissed his bare chest, highlighting the scars that were quickly fading away. She didn't know why, but she missed them. Perhaps because they gave him character? A representation of his history shown on his body?

Unable to resist, she reached out to run her fingers along them… following the map she’d made in her head several days ago. She chuckled to herself as the sheet, slung low over his hips, began to tent up as his erection grew in his sleep.

Leaning forward, she replaced her fingers with feather-light kisses across his chest. Moving her hand down under the sheet, she gently caressed him until he grew fully erect. Although he moaned softly in his sleep, he didn't wake.

Her lips extended their journey down his torso, moving the sheet out of its way as she reached his hip. His swollen member twitched at the friction of the sheet across its tip, but he still didn't wake.

Her fingers had still been softly stroking him, but now she moved them over to feather over his inner thigh. His leg moved out to the side. She did the same with his other leg, and got the same response. He stayed asleep.

I bet he's having the best dream ever . She giggled to herself as she moved between his legs, fingers still softly stroking him.

It was when her mouth took hold of him and pulled him all the way in until his tip struck the back of her throat that he woke with a gasp.

“Good morning.” She mumbled around his swollen shaft as she pulled back, running her tongue along the large vein that ran the length of him.

“Go… ooh… d mo… oh… r… oh… ning.” He panted his response as she circled the ridge around his swollen tip.

She took him in again, her tongue wrapping around him as she moved, then buried her face in the warmth of the patch of dark hair at his base. He groaned and gripped the sheets. She kept moving, pleasuring him as he panted and squirmed.

“Ka… hath… ryn st… oh… hop. I'm go… oh… ing to…”

“Come for me, Chakotay. She let go of him briefly to speak, then ran her tongue across his tip.

“Aghhh.” She could tell how close he was to the edge. Wrapping her fingers tightly around him, she took him all the way in again. When his tip reached the back of her throat, she hummed softly so the vibrations in her throat would add further stimulation.

He came with force, spurting great bursts of semen directly down her throat as she continued to toy with him. Sucking and wrapping her tongue around him, she finally pulled back, releasing him at the same time she milked him dry.

With soft kisses, she made her way up his body until her lips were at his neck. He grasped her face then planted a smouldering kiss on her lips, leaving her as breathless as he was.

“Crickets, Kathryn. That was a hell of a way to wake up.”

“You didn't like it?”

“What’s not to like? I woke up from a fabulous dream into an even more fabulous reality.” He kissed her again, then let his lips wander down her neck to her throat. When his hand found her breast, she stopped him.

“I’m going to be late, Chakotay.”

“Then be late, Kathryn.” His muffled reply came from the region of her chest, just before his tongue circled one hardening nipple.

She stifled a moan. “Stop… really…”

He rolled on top of her, grabbing her hands and holding them out to her sides. “Make me…” His teeth grasped her nipple gently as his tongue flicked across it.

“Ahhhh… stohhh… p.” She tried to sound stern, but even she could tell it hadn’t come out that way. They needed to go, but it had been so long since he’d held her down like this… She couldn’t stop him - couldn’t even stop herself as her back arched against him.

He chuckled as he pulled her hands over her head and, holding them together with one hand, whipped a pillowcase off one of the pillows with the other. Using the pillowcase as a makeshift rope, he looped it through one bar on the ornate iron headboard and tied her hands to it. She managed a slight struggle against the restraint, but he only chuckled as he tightened it.

He devoured her mouth in a kiss that obliterated any further thought outside of what he was doing to her. Nipping and sucking his way down her body, he spread her legs wide, exposing her to him fully. Nipping her inner thighs, he blew hot breaths across her center, teasing her and making her hips buck against him.

Then he moved up to face her, teasing her lips apart in a tender, passionate kiss. She’d been prepared for something more wanton. The tenderness made her want him more.

The kiss was all the tenderness she received. As his mouth abandoned hers to begin its route back down to her core, it left tiny nips in its wake. He paused for a moment to suckle her breasts, teasing and gently biting her nipples until her moans drowned out the sounds of her hips bucking against the bed.

Crickets, she wanted to wrap her legs around his hips and pull him into her. She struggled against the pillowcase that held her tightly to the headboard. He had to be hard again by now. All it would take was a little encouragement and he would drive himself into her, pounding his hips against hers until they exploded together.

Her fantasy only served to make her more excited, as he moved away from her breast and made his way down. Nipping her hip, he settled himself down between her legs then drew his tongue across her entire clit. She fought against her restraint again, drawing a chuckle that sent hot breath against her.

He held her thighs wide as he swirled his tongue around her swollen nub then dipped it into her entrance. The pressure on her thighs made it difficult for her hips to move as he pleasured her.

Tongue swirling and dipping, he tortured her as he brought her to the precipice then back again until she was moaning and begging him to stop. The response she got was more sweet torture until he finally pressed one finger, then two, into her opening and began to stroke along her front wall.

She came with abandon, her inner muscles gripping his fingers as her body bucked and swayed against him. Her back arched and pulled on her binding until she grabbed onto the bar to relieve the pressure. Body still rocking from her orgasm, she suddenly felt his hands grab her hips and surge into her.

Every nerve in her body was on fire as she came again. Seemingly oblivious, he continued to pound into her as her quivering inner muscles massaged his swollen shaft. Once released from the fog of her orgasm, she met him thrust for thrust until she was at the edge once more.

Then he was gone, pulled out of her and left her whimpering at the loss.

“Turn over.” His voice was breathless and husky. With her hands tied, she needed his help but she was on her knees in very little time. No sooner than she had set her knees than he was gripping her hips and plunging back into her from behind.

His fingers toyed with her nipples, squeezing and pulling them in rhythm with each thrust. She gripped the bars of the headboard for leverage and pushed back to meet him.

Letting go of her breasts, he grasped her hips again and pounded them against his. He began to swell within her and she knew he was on the edge. She was on the edge, too, but…

One hand curled around her hip to tease and stroke her. The orgasm was so intense she almost blacked out. Somewhere in the fog, she felt him plunge into her a few more times, then locked her hips to his. Grunting, his hips rocked as he spurt great bursts of semen into her.

Her body went limp. Were it not for his hands holding onto her, she would have collapsed face first onto the bed. She heard him panting heavily behind her and wondered absently if he would do the collapsing for her.

Instead, he scooted forward on his knees, leaning her back until she was sitting on his lap with her back resting on his chest. They sat like that for a few more minutes as each of them worked to slow their breathing, their combined juices flowing down her legs and onto his.

Chakotay reached forward and worked on the knots keeping her strapped to the bed. Her movements had pulled them tight and he had some trouble releasing them.

“You really pulled these tight, Kathryn. Perhaps you should be a little more careful.”

“Perhaps you should be a little nicer and not make me thrash around so much.”

“Ah, my love, where would be the fun in that?”

A little more work and her hands were finally free. When he took one in his to massage the blood back into her fingertips, he discovered deep red friction burns around her wrists.

“Crickets, Kathryn. I need to remember how sensitive your skin is. What the hell are we going to do?”

“We are going to get showered and dressed, then hurry to headquarters. If we get my mom to take us to the transport station, we should only be a few minutes late.”

“But these…”

“...Will be hidden by my uniform sleeves until I can get home and take care of them.”

“I'm sorry, Kathryn. Do they hurt?”

“They sting a little, and will probably not like the sonic shower, but I'll be alright. As for the apology - stop. You know I would have…”

“...stopped me if you wanted - I know. Still… will you let me apologize for doing it where we don't have access to a regenerator?”

Turning her head, she kissed him on the cheek. “As long as you promise to do it then .”

He nuzzled her neck and ran his tongue along that special spot behind her ear. “As long as we have the regenerator with us, I promise to do that whenever and wherever I choose.” He tweaked her nipples to emphasise his point.

A thrill went through her, and gooseflesh appeared all over her body. His mouth was still at her neck, tongue circling the edge of her ear then sucking the lobe into his mouth. One hand smoothed its way down her body, as the other tweaked her nipple a second time.

Moisture began to pool between her legs, again. Crickets, if she didn't stop him now, they were going to be in the same place they were a few short minutes ago.

“We really do need to go, Chakotay. A few minutes late is barely noticeable. An hour late is rescheduling appointments and working through lunch.”

“I know, Kathryn. I want you in this state all day until you're off duty.” He nipped along her neck and tweaked her nipple again, then husked in her ear. “Then I'm really going to have my way with you.”

Her whole body shivered with anticipation. It was going to be a very long day, and she had two appointments lined up already. She needed to move… now … before he could do anything else.

She moved off his lap and kissed him. “I'm getting in the shower. You clean up the bed and I'll replicate our clothes while you're taking yours.” She kissed him and headed into the small bathroom.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay's first class was on Thursday. He spent the majority of Tuesday and Wednesday putting the final touches on his presentation. Nervous, he even visited the classroom to get the feel of the space.

There were ten students officially registered, so the university had allotted him a small classroom in the archaeology department. He was pretty sure it was typically used for storage.

The class was set for 1400, so Kathryn took him to lunch in an effort to calm his nerves. It only partly worked.

“You've taught before, Chakotay. Why is it that you're so nervous?”

“I taught Tactics , Kathryn - something I was educated and qualified for. This is… I don't have a degree in this topic. My students have had more education than me.”

“I knew students in my doctoral classes that got decent grades, but had no real clue about what they were studying. Life experience goes a long way toward knowledge. Even if you hadn't graduated from the Academy, your time with the Maquis makes you more qualified than any cadet - or recent graduate.”

He sighed. “Thanks, Kathryn. I still think this is different. I don't really have the experiences they do.”

“You're right - you have more . How many new species have you met and catalogued? A great deal more than any other Starfleet officer outside of us Voyagers. And you've done extensive research on an Alpha Quadrant species they've probably never even heard of.”

He sighed again. “I guess you're right. It's just…”

“It's just that you're worried no one is taking the class for the actual topic. You think they only registered in order to get direct access to Voyager's First Officer.”

“Yes.”

“Alright, then. The first thing you do is announce that you will not respond to any questions outside of the species you're covering. Then you invite the students to leave if that's all they registered for.”

“And if they all leave?” He managed a mirthless smile.

“If they all leave, you have your answer and don't have to waste your time on them. Cancel the class altogether. You can start the seminars with the Delta Quadrant species as open speeches.” She took his hand. “You might lose one or two. I don't think they'll all leave, though.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn walked him to the classroom and kissed his cheek. “Do you want me to stay for moral support?”

She could see the fight going on in his eyes while she secretly hoped that he would say no. Just as he’d had to set up this whole seminar by himself, he needed to do the actual class on his own. The last thing he needed was to be overshadowed by ‘Admiral Janeway’.

“No, Kathryn - thank you. I'll be fine.” He squeezed her hand.

Squeezing back, she kissed him again. “Good.”

“Wish me luck?”

“You don't need it, but I'll wish it for you, anyway.” She let go and gave him a playful nudge on the shoulder. “Now, go dazzle them, then come see me when you're done.”

He disappeared into the classroom, while she gulped down the nerves for him. It was odd how nervous he was. He’d never shown that particular emotion before. That unsettled her more than anything else.

Perhaps this had been the reason for the way he’d treated her in bed the past two days. Not that she hadn't liked it - on the contrary, she wanted him to do it more often.

After the morning in the guesthouse at her mom's, he’d made good on his threat to ‘have his way’ with her. He’d visited her a couple of times in her office, each time pulling her into his arms to taunt and tease her.

By the time she arrived home, she was ready to pounce on him. He wasn't there - instead, she found a note telling her to undress and lay down on the bed.

When he arrived about 30 minutes later, she was curled up under the covers, her excitement dissipating. He’d ordered her back on top of them, then teased her back up until she was moaning. At that point, he tied her hands and feet to the bed, leaving her spread-eagled, and left.

For the next hour or so, he’d returned to tease her again several times - leaving her no chance to settle down, but no chance for release, either. By the time he’d finally stayed, her entire body was strung tight with desire, moisture dripping from her unheeded.

What happened after was unforgettable. He’d dominated her physically, forcing her into submission, ordering her into positions she never would have tried. She’d stopped him only once with a simple no in a strong voice, and he had acquiesced immediately.

Surrendering herself to someone fully - without reservation - was something she’d never done. She’d loved every minute of it. He was tender and harsh at the same time, pulling her completely out of Command and putting her back down into cadet.

At the time she was an actual cadet at the Academy, she’d been working hard to be more than that. Now, after so many brutal years of being in charge of not only her life, but the lives of 150 other people, she thrilled in the feeling of giving everything up.

At the same time she surrendered, she realized it was only Chakotay she would be willing to do this with. There was no one else in her life - past or present - that she trusted enough. She was pretty sure he knew that - he’d thanked her for allowing him to treat her that way when they woke up the following morning.

She shook herself - she was standing in a hallway at UC Berkeley, turning herself on with the memory of an amazing night of sex. What would people think if ‘Admiral Janeway’ was found dripping in her own pool of desire?

Forcing herself down the hallway to head back to her office, the fleeting image of him strapping her to the pedestal in the classroom passed through her mind.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay was on a high. Aside from the night Kathryn had first kissed him, he had never felt this good in his life. The class had gone extremely well - even better than he’d hoped.

He’d taken Kathryn’s suggestion and announced that he would not answer any questions about Voyager and invited anyone to leave. Three students gathered their things and walked out, which left him with… eight? The math wasn't right.

A few questions later, he discovered that one of them was a reporter for the school newspaper. He reiterated his rule, only to find that the young woman was assigned to the Archaeology Department ‘beat'. Her article was focused on the class topic and how he had come to be teaching it.

In addition, he set another rule that he would not discuss any species he covered during any following classes. Although it wasn't necessarily that important right now, he wanted to have the rule in place before the Delta Quadrant species came out. Otherwise, the subsequent seminars would simply be a rehash of the previous one and there would be no real chance of moving on.

After several students objected to the lack of opportunity for follow up, he agreed to make himself available for questions within the first day after each class. Berkeley hadn't provided him with an office, so together they decided that he would hold a table in the student lounge for a few hours on Wednesday and Friday mornings.

Because of the small group, he’d developed an atmosphere of conversation rather than a lecture. His students had responded with rapt attention and intelligent questions, sometimes breaking into debates over why the culture had developed the way it had.

After the class, he’d answered a few questions from the reporter. Because he saw the need for background information, he’d allowed a couple of generic remarks about how his experiences with meeting new aliens in the Delta Quadrant had further developed his interest in anthropology. Otherwise, he kept his statements to the class, itself.

The reporter had been respectful of his focus and kept the majority of her questions away from the Delta Quadrant. She’d even asked what the subject of his next lecture would be, and whether or not unregistered students could also attend.

Reaching Kathryn’s office, he forced himself to remain calm in front of her assistant. Once inside her private area, however, he swung her around and planted a smouldering kiss on her lips.

She was panting slightly when they separated. “I take it the class went well?”

“Better than that.” His emotions were on the surface, singing through every vein in his body. Crickets, he wanted her… right now . He kissed her again.

She pulled back with a note of caution. “Chakotay… I have an appointment in twenty minutes.”

“Then we've got plenty of time.” The next kiss he gave her brooked no denial and she melted into him. “Take off your clothes… all of them.”

Something like refusal flashed through her eyes, but she acquiesced, pushing him away slightly to give herself room to maneuver. She never took her eyes off him as she peeled off each layer of her uniform.

He watched in silence, growing harder with each layer of clothing that dropped to the floor. Finally stripped down to nothing, she reached over and unfastened his pants, letting them fall to the floor around his ankles. Gently, she stroked him, running her thumb across the sensitive tip, spreading the drops of precum that had appeared.

She sank to her knees, pulling him into her mouth and encircling him with her tongue. He panted as she pleasured him - running her tongue along the large vein that ran down his length… opening her throat and taking him all the way in… grazing her teeth lightly along his shaft.

At the moment he about to come, he pulled away from her. “Move against your desk.”

Leaning back on the edge of it, she spread her legs. “Like this?”

Crickets, yes! “That will work.” He waited a moment, studying her, as she spread herself before him, reveling in the power she was giving up to him. She was glistening with moisture, waiting for him… asking for him.

He couldn't wait any longer. Grasping her hips, he plunged himself into her as deeply as he could, feeling the moment when he reached her cervix. She gasped at the intrusion and moaned quietly, then gripped his arms and wrapped her legs around him.

Already near the edge, he knew it would only take him a few thrusts to take him over. He had to reward her for her submission, though. Angling his thrusts to give her the most pleasure, he let go of one hip to gently massage her with his thumb.

Months of being together and taking note of her signals, he knew the minute before she was going to come. Grasping her hips with both hands again, he pummeled her with his swollen shaft.

“Come for me, Kathryn.” He growled the command. “Come now .”

Her inner muscles clamped around him as she came, pulling him over with her… milking him dry as he continued to thrust into her, their bodies quivering and convulsing as they rode the waves of their shared orgasm.

When the waves finally calmed, he pulled her in close to him and, kissing her gently, cradled her in his arms. “Thank you, Kathryn.”

She was still breathing heavily. “Promise me you'll do that on the podium in your classroom.”

He grinned. “I don't have a podium - but I'll find one.”

Snuggling into him, she laid a hand on his chest. “Good.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

The school reporter had turned her article into more of a review of the class - a glowing one. That, plus his original students’ enthusiasm, served to bring in several more students intrigued by his topic and teaching style. The class size was doubled for the second lecture.

Even with the larger group, he still managed to keep the atmosphere conversational. The added students made the debates more lively and fascinating - even for him.

On the Wednesday following Chakotay's  second lecture, two of his students showed up asking for details that would either backup or refute their side of a debate that had apparently continued long after the class was over.

They’d ended up in another lively discussion which still had no resolution when the students had to leave for another class. He’d given them copies of his research materials and sources, then challenged them to come up with a theory they both agreed on.

He vowed to himself that, next time, he would revisit his research sources so he was fully prepared to answer follow up questions Friday morning in the student lounge.

It had been a good call. The students had challenged him at every turn, re-envisioning the anecdotes he’d shared with them by seeing them from other facts about the culture. They’d ended up in a spirited debate that had actually changed his mind in an area or two.

After that, he always came prepared with as much of his research materials as he could. The conversations with his students energized him in ways he couldn't really explain.

He’d never been so happy with a career choice. Teaching tactics had been enjoyable, but never as fulfilling as this. Tactics were molded to each particular circumstance in the field. What was taught in the classroom was the structure on which these individual circumstances could be built.

As a result, tactics was rather dry and more of an information dump into the minds of his students. The only discussions he ever got was when he challenged his students to use what they’d learned in real life scenarios. Even then, it was rather… robotic, with the cadets simply spitting out formulas. Tactics was a required class - and it showed.

What he was teaching, now, was completely optional. His students were there because they truly wanted to be there. He was having a wonderful time.

His relationship with Kathryn was even better. She’d surprised him on his birthday with a candlelit dinner - prepared by her mother, of course. The meal had been delicious… the lovemaking afterward unbelievable.

It fascinated him how much she surrendered to him. She allowed him every bit of control over her - tying her up… ordering her to do things she might never have done otherwise. When he wanted to, he could command her to do anything, and she obviously loved it.

She’d even asked him to do things on occasion. He was still looking for a podium suitable for what she’d requested. The minute he found it, she was in for the ride of her life. It was intoxicating.

How had they ever resisted each other on Voyager? He had no idea - although he suspected it was her willingness to submit to him. On Voyager, any loss of control would have been disastrous, as far as she was concerned. At least they’d arrived home in time to have what they had, now.

His reverie was interrupted by several uniformed guards. “Captain Chakotay, you need to come with us.”

 

Chapter Text

Kathryn was watching the time instead of reading the padd in front of her. She had an appointment in ten minutes, then lunch with Chakotay, which she was hoping would be as much fun as the previous Friday.

He’d arrived late that day, but so excited about his follow up conversation with his students that she forgave him. His mood carried through their meal as he gushed about the debates. She was looking forward to a repeat.

She was startled by the beep of her comm unit. Had her appointment arrived early?

“A-a-a-Admiral J-Janeway… I-I wanted to let y-you know that I-I’m going to be away. I, uh... Starfleet w-will be sending a r-replacement.”

“Nate? What's wrong?” She was already moving to her door when his reply came through.

“N-nothing, m-ma'am. I-I…”

Her door opened to reveal Ensign Harrison flanked by security officers. The nervous young man was on the verge of tears.

“What the hell is going on, here!?! Unhand my assistant immediately!” She reached out to grab Nate's arm, but hers ended up in a vice grip - the hand belonging to none other than General Labbity.

“Rynna.” His voice was hard, his bearing stiff… the order for caution unmistakable.

“Mike, what the hell…?”

“Rynna, calm down… this is for the best. Hopefully, it will only be for a day or two.”

Only a day or two? Hopefully? ” She was ready to spit nails. “Mike, how could…?”

Rabbit tapped his commbadge. “I was right. Send Ted in to speak with her.”

A moment later, Admiral Patterson appeared at her door. “Come back into your office, Katie, so we can talk.”

“I'm not going anywhere until you tell me why security officers are dragging my assistant out of my office.”

“We're concerned about a possible breach of security. Ensign Harrison is being questioned in conjunction with that.”

“You think Nate is a security risk?”

“Rynna, go back into your office. No one is going to say another word until that happens. You can stubbornly stand here in silence all you want, but we will still leave with Ensign Harrison.”

Kathryn glared at the two men. Both of them of them flinched, but held their ground. She turned her attention back to her poor assistant.

“Nate, don't worry. I will get this cleared up for you.”

“Th-thank you, Admiral, but I d-don't… th-there’s n-nothing you can do. I-I have enjoyed w-working for you.”

“Don't talk that way, Nate. This is all a misunderstanding. You'll be back before you know it.”

Nate glanced around at the other men's faces. “I-I’m not sure, ma'am.”

The guards escorted the young man out into the corridor. Rabbit turned to follow them, then turned back. “I will do my best for him, Rynna. You have my word.”

“You’d better do more than your best, Mike. I want him back.”

Rabbit simply nodded in Admiral Patterson’s direction then turned on his heel and left.

“Alright, Uncle Teddy. Start explaining why I just watched a young man who hasn't done a thing wrong walk out of my office under guard.”

Ted sighed. “Come on, Katie. Let’s get you a cup of coffee and sit down for a chat.”

A minute later, coffee in hand, Kathryn sat down facing her honorary uncle with an expectant look.

“How much do you know about Chakotay's next subject?”

“Other than he had difficulty finding anything on them… nothing.”

“You can't tell me he doesn't talk about it at home, Katie. What has he said?”

“I'm being honest, Uncle Teddy. We really don't talk about it. After he pointed out how often I step in trying to make things easier, I've made a point to stay out of this.”

“He doesn't even tell you the species? Why does he keep it a secret from you?”

“It's not a secret. I knew the name of the first species ahead of time because it was one he’d taught Kevin about. I didn't ask about the other ones.”

“You say it's not a secret and yet, he hides his research.”

“How the hell could he hide it? He spends days in the library shuffling through old books trying to find anecdotes and more detailed information.”

Books ?”

“Yes, books . He says he likes them better for research. Something about the character, I think. He's been able to find materials there that haven't been in any database, too - even a few padds with old personal logs.”

“Well, that would explain at least part of why there's no trail…”

“Please explain to me what this has do with Ensign Harrison.”

Patterson squeezed the bridge of his nose. “Have you ever heard of the Serr’at?”

“No.”

“You're sure? Harrison has never mentioned them… Chakotay hasn't, either?”

“I'm sure . Now tell me who they are.”

“The Serr’at are a classified species, Katie. No one is supposed to know they exist. Yet, the Serr’at are the subject of Chakotay's next lecture.”

“And Nate?”

“There's a great deal of concern that Chakotay got the majority of his information from Ensign Harrison.”

“So… what - you think they've been meeting in dark alleys to pass information about some classified little-known species? And why do you think he got it from Nate?”

“We don't think they've been meeting in dark alleys , Katie. The two of them have time while he's waiting to see you, or after you return to your office. As for the why … let's just say that Harrison is very knowledgeable about them.”

“My assistant is knowledgeable enough about a classified species to help Chakotay prepare an entire two hour lecture. That sounds a little… farfetched, don't you think?”

“Unfortunately, in this situation it isn't.”

Then it hit her what Patterson hadn't specifically pointed out. “Chakotay is under arrest, too.”

Pain crossed the older man’s face. “First of all, neither one of them is under arrest . They are simply being detained for questioning.”

Kathryn snorted. “It's pretty much the same thing, Uncle Teddy. Neither one of them will be able to leave under their own volition.”

He specifically avoided responding. “Second - I can't really reconcile the idea that either one of them would do something like this.”

“Then let them go. You can ask them about it without taking them in.”

“Katie, we have to follow procedures to make sure we can fully clear them. Neither of them are in the position to have any questions looming over their heads.”

Her shoulders slumped. “Chakotay's Maquis background.”

“Yes.” He took her hand. “Like your sister, not everyone is in agreement about letting the Maquis go free. We have to protect him from any implication of special treatment.”

“You can't tell me that Ensign Harrison was a Maquis.”

“Ah… no. He… has a complicated background. Any suspicion against him is serious… and will have severe consequences if he is found guilty.”

Severe ?”

“He will go into solitary confinement at a maximum security prison - for life.”

Her heart stopped. It was enough for Chakotay to face some prison time, but Nate? “Uncle Teddy, what the hell did Nate do to get that kind of punishment?”

“Owen, Rabbit, and I are working to get you clearance for that information. Unfortunately, it will be hindered until Chakotay can be cleared.”

She was dumbfounded. The Borg Queen could have shown up on her doorstep asking for tea and a chat, and she would have been less shocked.

Patterson squeezed her hand. “Go home, Katie. Give yourself some time to take this in. Your new assistant should show up in a couple of minutes. They can handle anything that might come up.”

Still in shock, Kathryn simply nodded and stood to gather her things. Admiral Patterson headed toward the door. “I'll keep you updated if anything happens.”

Following him out, they discovered a young woman sitting patiently in one of the chairs.

She stood the moment she saw them. “Admirals! I… ah…”

For a brief moment Kathryn thought the young woman was her ‘replacement’ assistant. That was until she realized the woman was wearing the blue uniform signaling her position in the sciences.

“You must be Haley.”

“Yes ma'am. There was no one here when I arrived, and I thought you were in a meeting with your assistant. I figured I should wait.”

“You've been waiting quite a while.”

“It was quite alright, Admiral. I understand things can come up that supercede scheduled appointments.” She looked back and forth between the two Admirals. “As happens to be the case at the moment.”

Despite the current mayhem, Kathryn smiled to herself. She’d been right about this one - sharp mind and good instincts. All the young woman needed was a little seasoning and she would be an exemplary officer.

“Unfortunately, that is the case today.” Looking towards Nate's empty desk, she found herself a little lost. “Er, my assistant is… unavailable at the moment. I am heading out for the day. I will leave a note to have someone contact to you reschedule.”

With another glance between the two Admirals, the woman picked up her bag. “Thank you, Admiral. I will look for the comm.” With that, she disappeared out the door.

“Who was that?”

“Ensign Morgan is a young officer who seems to be floundering. I had planned to give her a few… ah… pointers to help her settle into her role.”

“Tell me, Katie, is there anyone you can't avoid nurturing?”

“If I can, I will, Uncle Teddy. Is there a reason why I shouldn't?”

“None at all, Katie. I can't think of a better person to find those people with hidden qualities and mold them into exemplary individuals.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

She arrived at Chakotay's apartment to the sight of her mother and the odor of caramel brownies. “Mom?”

“Owen commed to tell me you were having a difficult day.” Gretchen pulled her daughter into a hug. Kathryn held on as if her life depended on it.

“They arrested Chakotay and Nate. I don't know what to do, Mom.”

Her mother let go and held her shoulders. “What you do is to be strong and ready when they come home worn out. Now, come sit down and tell me what's going on.”

Kathryn gave her a brief overview of the situation. Gretchen agreed with the others’ position that they show no favoritism at all toward either man. With her mother's reassurance, she began to see the logic in it - as much as it frustrated her.

After a lunch of tea and brownies - “ Comfort food, Katie ” - they settled down into trying to figure out Nate Harrison’s involvement. Neither of them could think of anything that made sense.

Reaching the limit of her nerves, Kathryn cried on her mother's shoulder for a while. She had faced down the Borg Queen because she had known that Chakotay would be there to pick her up when it was over. Without him, she felt just as weak and lost as when her father and Justin died.

Once the tears dried, she realized that Nate's girlfriend Becky probably had no idea where Nate had disappeared to. The aspiring doctor had begun her burn ward rotation shortly before Chakotay was released, so Kathryn had some idea of how to reach her.

Perhaps because of her experiences with emergency rooms and high stress medical circumstances, Becky was more composed than Kathryn expected. It was the change in her eyes when Kathryn explained the situation to her that told the true story of how worried the young woman had been.

Afraid to stir the waters by even accessing Nate's personnel file, Kathryn wasn't sure who else she should contact. Ensign Harrison had never made reference to any kind of family - parents, siblings, or even aunts and uncles. When she asked Becky if there was someone, the young woman’s response was vague.

After stammering a bit, Becky finally mumbled that she would let the housekeeper know, but that Kathryn should contact her with any updates.

Kathryn cut the comm and turned to look at her mother. “Let the housekeeper know?”

“It sounds as if your young ensign has an interesting family structure. Since his girlfriend seems to be aware of it, I would just let it go.”

Kathryn’s response was cut off by a chime from her comm signalling an incoming message.

“Kath, what the hell is going on?” Mark’s face was bright red with agitation. She wasn't sure she’d ever seen him so worked up.

“What happened?” Kathryn had a sinking feeling that little Kevin had just been pulled into the quickly expanding mess.

“We just ended a visit with four very unpleasant security officers wanting to know about each and every alien Chakotay has told my son about. Then, I contacted your office, only to reach a very stuffy woman who wouldn't even acknowledge that you were alive!”

“Crickets, Mark. I really didn't expect things to go this far.” Kathryn dropped her head into her hands, then ran her fingers through her hair. “It seems that the subject of Chakotay's next lecture is an alien species so classified no one can even know they exist .”

Mark's face went white. “The Serr’at?” At her speechless nod, his head dropped into his hands. “Damn. No wonder they came here.”

“You know of these people? Who the hell are they, and why are they such a sensitive subject that one mention of them stirs up the entire Federation?”

“Not the entire Federation, Kath… just Starfleet. And don't hate me, but I can't tell you anything about them.”

“Can't or won't ?” She’d had enough of secrets that endangered her loved ones.

“Kath… don't. You, of all people, know how difficult it is to hold back classified information.” Mark huffed a deep sigh. “What I can tell you is that we sometimes study a culture and what happened when the Federation first met them - then come up with ideas on how to avoid similar circumstances in the future.”

“I take it that First Contact didn't go well.”

“It would be safe to term it a disaster. But we need to drop this topic - now . I think I should simply count myself lucky that I'm still at home.”

“And that the guard who questioned Kevin was nice enough to make him think it was just a game.” Christine's face came into view behind Mark's shoulder. “She showed him a message from Chakotay that said it was time for a test of all he’d learned.”

“That worked? Kevin didn't get upset?”

Christine managed a smile. “It worked fine… even in a message, Chakotay has a way with Kevin. I do kind of feel sorry for the officer, though. She got quite an earful.”

“So, you're alright? Have they said anything about being available for further questions?”

“They always say that, Kath. We have no plans to travel, so that part isn't any big deal for us.” He leaned in closer to the screen. “But it is for you. Where's Chakotay?”

“I-I don't know… detained?... locked up? Does it really matter what they call it? They've got my assistant, too.”

“Why the hell would they take Ensign Harrison?”

“Uncle Teddy said something about him being very knowledgeable about the Serr’at. They think he's been telling Chakotay what he knows.” Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose. She was on the verge of losing it, again.

“But he's too young...”

“Mark… I don't know if I can stay. This will make three… as in ‘three strikes and you're out.’ How many times can I…?”

“You are not making any decisions tonight, Katie. I'm not even asking for your input on dinner.” Gretchen moved into view of the comm. “Hi Mark.”

“Gretchen! Thank goodness you're there. I was thinking that she shouldn't be alone.”

“Why don't the two of you come out to Colorado and stay the night with us?”

“That's not the best idea, Christine. We've all been questioned. It's better that any conversation we have is done over a comm.”

“Crickets, Kath. You don't really think they have us all under observation , do you?”

“It's better to be safe than sorry, Mark. Katie has dealt with... clandestine relationships… since she graduated from the academy. We can consider her an expert in this area. There's nothing to hide, so we prove it by not being in any situation where we could... hide.”

Mark gave Kathryn an ‘I told you so’ look. What does she know? But this wasn't the time to delve into that.

“Besides, I really don't want to go anywhere. I’m not sure they'll tell me if - when - Chakotay is released. I want to be here just in case.”

“Alright, you have a point. Let us know if you hear anything new.”

“Likewise, Mark. Perhaps you can be the one to fill me in when I get that clearance.”

“I'll tell you as much as I can, as soon as I can, Kath. We'll let you know if we hear anything.”

Kathryn cut the connection and looked at her mother. “What a mess.”

“You've got that right, Katie. It will all get straightened out.”

“I hope so, Mom. I really don't know how much more of this I can take from Starfleet.”

Gretchen hugged her daughter tightly. “Like I said. No big decisions until this is settled.” She let her go. “Speaking of which - I need to check out your pantry to see what I can make you for dinner.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay appeared two days later, looking haggard and unshaven. “That horrible woman in your office wouldn't tell me where you were. I hoped you’d be here.”

Kathryn pulled him into her arms. “I was afraid you would come straight here and I wouldn't know you’d been released.”

He held onto her as if she was a lifeline. She could feel the tears begin to wet her shoulder. “My mom's here. Let’s go into the bedroom so we can talk.”

Without a word - or even lifting his head - he lifted her feet off the floor and headed into the bedroom. Once inside, she took off his rumpled uniform and laid him down on the bed. Lying down next to him, she pulled him back into her arms and held him close until his tears eased and his body stopped shaking.

Neither one of them had slept well while he was away. Once more in each other's arms, they each fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

<<<------>>>

 

It was dark when she awoke, still curled up with Chakotay, his head on her shoulder. She’d never realized how much she depended on him. Even when they grew apart on Voyager, she’d always been secure in the knowledge that he was there … that, despite the cooling of their friendship, he would always be there … always be Safe .

When her debriefs were over, she’d had her family and Mark to pick her back up, and had felt his loss as more of a friend. Since his return from Trebus, he’d been there … been Safe for everything that had happened. The only high-stress situation without him had resulted in a massive flashback requiring the combined efforts of nine people to put her back together.

Had it not been for her mom catching her before it happened this time, she would have ended up back there. A situation that would have been much worse because four of those nine people would not have been available to help - and because her mother would have been alone with no idea what was going on when it happened.

The situation worried her. She had to find that self-assurance she’d once had before she met Chakotay. As much as she loved him - as much as he was Safe - Justin had been right that she needed to create her own Safe . She’d learned that the hard way when she lost him.

Chakotay stirred and she felt his arms tighten around her. “Good morning.” She kissed his temple and held him close.

“A much better morning than I've had the past two days.” He lifted his head from her shoulder and looked around. “Although it's not really morning , is it?”

Her stomach grumbled. “It may not be, but I wouldn't turn down breakfast. Should we see if Mom is still here? She makes wonderful pancakes.”

“Give me a few more minutes with you and we'll look into it.” He kissed her deeply, his tongue asking for entrance immediately, letting it spiral out until they were both breathless.

“Crickets, I missed you.” She kissed him again, then let her lips travel his neck as her hands explored his chest.

He stopped her. “As much as I want you right now, I haven't had a real shower since Wednesday morning. I need to get clean before I touch you for real.” The kiss he gave her spoke of promises and love. At the moment, that was all she really needed.

“Get showered. I'll go see if my mother is here and talk her into making pancakes.” She kissed him again and headed out, unable to decide if she wanted pancakes or more time alone with Chakotay.

Her mom was in the living room, looking at a padd. “How is he?” There was real worry in the woman's eyes.

“Exhausted… maybe a little numb. I think he just needs a good night's sleep.”

“And some private time with you, Katie. I know I probably should've left, but I wanted to see…”

“It's alright, Mom. I get it. I was actually kind of hoping you were still here so I could talk you into making breakfast.”

Gretchen smiled. “Pancakes, right? They're what you always want when things are put right.”

She shrugged and followed her mom to the kitchen area, taking a seat at the counter that faced into it. “It’s the perfect comfort food… warm, total carbs, and as sweet as you want to make it by drowning it in syrup.”

“All good points. Do you want sausage?”

“No, but if we have any fresh fruit left, Chakotay will eat that.”

“I think there are some apples in the stasis. I'll cut them into slices.”

“I guess I should comm Becky and let her know Chakotay was released.”

“I already talked to her. She hasn't heard a word from Nate, but she's staying at his place and carrying around her personal comm when she's on rounds - even though she's not supposed to.”

“I wonder how long they'll keep him.”

“How long they'll keep who ?” Chakotay appeared, comfortably dressed, with his hair still wet from the shower.

“Nate. They took him in at the same time as they took you. You never saw him?”

“I suspected he was there somewhere because of the questions they asked, but I never actually saw him. He hasn't come home, yet?”

“Not that his girlfriend knew. I hope he's alright.”

“I still don't understand why they think he was involved.”

“Uncle Teddy said that he is very knowledgeable about the Serr'at. I have no idea why, though. Mark doesn't, either - although he does know about the Serr'at.”

“Was Kevin upset? I begged them to let me talk to him, but we settled on a message. Did they show it to him?”

“They showed him, and he wasn't upset. Christine says he gave the inspector an earful.”

“Good for him. I'll have to come up with some kind of prize for passing his test.”

Gretchen put mugs in front of them. “Coffee for you, Katie. Tea for you, Chakotay. I hope you don't mind - I found the leaves when I was looking for the flour.”

“I don't mind at all, Gretchen. In fact that's the best thing you could have done. Thank you.” He breathed in some of the steam rising from the cup as Gretchen moved around the counter.

“Now, let me look at you.” She took his face in her hands and studied it for a minute, then pulled him into a tight hug. “Some real food and rest, and you'll be good as new.”

Kathryn caught her surreptitiously wiping her eyes as she moved back around the counter to start on the pancakes. “Do you like your pancakes thick and fluffy or thinner like a crepe?”

“Thick and fluffy, with tons of syrup.”

While they ate, he filled them in. He’d found the name of the species in some personal logs made by a crewman on the vessel that had made First Contact. Curious, he delved deeper and found some more logs from several other members of the ship's crew.

It had been enough information that he thought he could run with it - with the idea that the lack of a full view of the species would spark an exciting debate. The response to the article in the school paper had been so strong, the reporter had asked if she could publish his topics in advance. This was how it had come to Starfleet’s attention.

His interrogators had been unwilling to believe his explanations at every turn until he finally sent them to the library where he did his research, with directions to the references he’d found. Starfleet had immediately seized the materials and wiped the library's database of any record that the information had ever existed.

They’d then grilled him on whether he had shared any of the information with anyone else. When they had exhausted the list of questions they could think of, they’d finally let him go with strict orders against revealing anything about the Serr'at to anyone - including Kathryn.

“I still don't get why they're so secretive. They're just people.”

“At the risk of breaking my orders, I will tell you that they're not ‘just another species’. They're something special - which is why I wanted to present them to my students despite the fact that I didn't have a full picture. The discussion would have been amazing.”

“Hopefully, they'll be able to get me clearance. I'd sit right in front of them between you and Mark. We could have an amazing discussion between the three of us.”

“I'd pay a lot of credits to see a debate between you three - regardless of the topic.”

“Tom would happily arrange it and sell tickets.”

“How about we include the Doctor? He was always good with debates.”

“We could debate about the Doctor.”

“That's even better! Although I'm not really sure where Mark would stand.”

“Isn't that the point of a debate? It's kind of pointless if we all agree before we start.”

“True. And by convincing a respected member of the Questor Group, they'd be more inclined to follow suit.” Kathryn felt the change inside her as the idea moved from entertaining speculation into a full-blown serious possibility.

After they cleaned up the pancakes, they packed some things and followed Gretchen to Indiana. Despite the fact that there had been very little discussion about it - and that she wasn't sure she’d even asked - Kathryn got the feeling that her mother didn't mind at all.

Ensconced in the privacy of the guesthouse, Chakotay pulled her into his arms and gave her a slow, lingering kiss.

“I was so worried for you, Chakotay. I didn't know what to think. There wasn't anything I could do. No one would even let me talk to you.

He smiled softly at her. “That’s the part that made you even more upset, wasn't it? You couldn't fix it, this time.”

“What can I say? I'm a ‘fixer'. There's always as solution - I just have to find it... How bad was it?”

He pulled her close, resting his head on top of hers. “It was a situation of ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ I would rather have stood trial as a Maquis. At least I knew I'd done something wrong and just had to try and justify my actions.”

“I got the same feeling from the approach they were taking. Everyone I trust said it had to be handled that way so that when you were proven innocent, there would be no room for questions. That's the only reason I didn't push.”

Cupping her face, he pulled her in for another deep kiss. Finally letting her lips go, he began marking a trail down her neck with his tongue.

She sighed deeply and tilted her head to give him better access. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” His words were muffled against her skin as he placed tiny wet kisses down her collarbone. Nipples pebbling, her back arched toward him and her hands found their way under his shirt.

She could feel him hardening against her belly, a corresponding pool of moisture beginning to form between her legs. Her shirt found its way off her body. His soon followed suit, while his hand smoothed down to cup her buttocks and pull her hips into his.

In a matter of seconds, his mouth found her breast, tongue teasing at her nipple, then pulling it into his mouth.

“Chakotay… bed…”

Without a word, he picked her feet up off the floor as he had done when he first arrived and headed toward the small bedroom. Unlike that time, she wrapped her legs around his hips while her tongue found the dip between his collarbones, at the base of his neck.

Despite the hurried beginning, they made love slowly and leisurely… savoring the feeling of being with each other after the distressing separation.

Toward dawn, they wandered back to her tree, where they watched the cool blues and greens of the sunrise spread across the horizon. An audible sigh rose from him… she could almost see some of the pent up stress rise and dissipate with the puff of vapor from his breath.

 

<<<------>>>

 

He stuck to her like glue most of the next day. They went together to walk the puppy - who was now almost fully grown. He followed her into the kitchen and washed dishes while she dried.

Part of her didn't necessarily mind - she’d missed him, too. Another part of her was confused about how clingy he was. She tried to let him work out whatever was going on but it was so far out of character for him, she finally asked him why.

“They kept me completely isolated. The only people I saw were the ones questioning me - they even brought me my meals. For two days I only saw and spoke to three people. I just… really don't want to be alone.”

They were back in the tree, watching the sun as it set... the light reflecting through the scattered fluffy clouds. Carefully, she rotated herself around until she was facing him, then sat back down on the branch with her thighs resting on his and pulled his head down to rest on her shoulder.

“I'm so sorry, Chakotay. It must have been awful.”

He held her close, but didn't respond. After a moment, his mouth found her neck and began laying kisses along it. His tongue made its way to that sensitive spot behind her ear.

Crickets, how does he do that? She was already wet, the heat between her legs radiating against him where he was growing hard. Her back arched toward him as his lips found their way down the open neck of her blouse, his tongue dipping between her breasts.

Hands grasped against his shoulders, she pulled herself back towards him to find his lips. The kiss spiraled out, leaving them both breathless. The cool night air caressed her heated skin, and she realized that he’d opened her blouse during the kiss.

“Quite the multitasker, aren't you?” The blouse found its way down her shoulders and fell to the ground below. Before she knew it, her bra had followed.

“When it comes to you, I am.” His words were muffled by his lips against her skin.

She gasped as his tongue circled her pebbled nipple. “Chakotay, we can't do this here. We'll fall and break our necks.”

He unfastened her pants. “We'll be fine as long as we're careful.”

“Chakotay, I'm serious. This limb might be wide, but it's too far up in the air to survive a fall. I don't relish the idea of my mother finding us.”

He let go of her breast. “We're doing this here , Kathryn. The limb is wide enough.” His voice was hard… demanding. She couldn't resist.

Making her lean back and hold onto a branch above, he pulled her pants off. He teased and toyed with her body until she was strung like a bow, then left her to cool in the breeze. Just about the time when she had come down, he leaned forward and put his mouth on her, bringing her up again.

Wrapped in the fog of need, some part of her brain took stock of where she was. She was naked… outside where anyone could appear at any time… perched on a tree limb and hanging on to the one above… while Chakotay made love to her with his mouth. The vision excited her even more.

Finally, he gave her release… sucking her into his mouth, while caressing her with his tongue, dipping into her. Her thighs clamped around his head, her back arched, and her body writhed - the rough bark scratching marks into her skin. He rode the waves with her, soothing her until they rippled down.

When she had sufficiently calmed, he let her go and sat up. “I told you it would be fine. Now sit up.”

Unbuckling his pants, he grabbed the same limb where it grew from the trunk above him. Carefully, he rose up until he was standing on their branch.

“Pull down my pants.”

She did as he ordered, releasing his erection to the air as she pulled his pants down to his ankles. One by one, he lifted his feet so she could pull them the rest of the way off. His erection was there, staring her in the face. She couldn't help herself.

Running her fingers gently down his swollen shaft, she licked her lips. Turnabout is fair play. He moaned as she took him into her mouth, circling the swollen tip with her tongue then opening her throat and pulling him all the way in.

Bracing himself by resting his buttocks against the trunk, his hips twitched against her as she pleasured him. Guttural sounds came from his throat, making her think that he was just as excited by their position as she was.

“Let me go, Kathryn.” He growled at her. She could tell he’d been near the edge - to the point that he’d nearly let her take him over.

Doing as he’d ordered, she pulled her mouth away from him and waited for his next move. Breathing heavily, he remained leaning against the trunk for a minute. Once he composed himself, he carefully let himself down to sit on the limb.

“Come here.” Now settled firmly on their limb, he beckoned her back to him. He was still breathing heavily - still extremely close to exploding. She gingerly scooted back towards him until they were face to face once more.

Pulling her closer for a kiss, he let his hands roam her body. Teasing and toying with her… massaging her breasts… tweaking her nipples… caressing her core with his thumbs, he pulled her back up until she was panting as heavily as him.

She kept him at the brink, gently stroking him with her fingertips as she wondered what he had in mind. Would they simply bring each other over the edge with their hands? Her questions were soon answered.

“Lift yourself up.”

She did as she was told as he pivoted her hips toward him, lining their bodies up.

“Now let yourself down slowly.” Holding onto her hips with one hand, he used the other to keep himself positioned so that she slid right onto him as her body settled onto his hips.

They both gasped as they came together, their bodies already so close to the edge that the mere coming together was almost enough to throw them over it.

Holding onto each other - her hands on his shoulders, his on her hips - they rocked together. The tenuous position… the teasing… the mere feel of being together… it didn't take long for them to finally join each other in a shattering orgasm.

They stayed where they were, panting into each other's shoulders, until their sight had cleared and their breath was caught.

“Crickets, Chakotay, I think it's my turn to say thank you. That was amazing.”

Chakotay grabbed her face and kissed her deeply. “ That , my love, is how you have sex in a tree.”

She laughed at him. “It sounds like you've done that before.”

“No way… I've dreamt about it, though.” He grinned widely, dimples making deep canyons in his cheeks. “It was everything I'd hoped… and more.” He kissed her again, then let her go.

They extricated themselves from each other, but didn't get down from the tree. Instead, Kathryn turned back around and leaned back against him, in their typical positions. Remaining on the branch, they quietly watched the stars came out.

Soon, Chakotay's hands were running along her skin again and his mouth was on her neck. She laid her head back on his shoulders as her nipples pebbled and her breath began to quicken again.

“Chakotay…” She breathed. “As fun as it was, I'm not really sure I want a repeat.”

He chuckled and gave her nipples one last tweak. “Alright, you win. It will be more difficult in the dark, anyway.”

Chakotay went first, his larger frame making it easier for him to get down without too much scraping of bare flesh. When he was back on the ground, she dropped to hang from the bottom branch, expecting him to grab her and ease her down instead of making her jump barefooted onto the uneven ground.

But when he turned to help her he stopped, hands on her torso. “Dammit, Kathryn. Why do you always have to be so sexy?” He nipped her hip where it hung in front of him. At her gasp, he continued… nipping and licking her body… hands running up her thighs… fingers teasing her entrance.

She was wet all over again… hanging from her tree as the night air blew over her body. The nips became small bites, his fingers curled to grasp her more firmly. Crickets, he was going feral! He’d only ever done this once or twice, but it had thrilled her beyond reason.

“Wrap your legs around me.” His voice had become more like a growl.

As she had in the tree, she did as ordered, quickly wrapping her legs around his waist. Truthfully, she didn't mind that part at all. Her arms were going numb.

“Let go of the branch and put your hands on my shoulders.”

No sooner had she done so, than she found herself slammed against the trunk of the tree, the rough bark rasping against the tender skin of her back. His mouth was on her breasts, not so gently nipping and biting them. Yes! Oh, yes! Do it!

He plunged inside her without warning and began pummeling her body with his hard shaft. Grunts and growls came from his throat as he took her like an animal - blind instinct obliterating his more gentle nature.

The bark bit into her skin as she urged him on, nails raking across his back leaving claw marks behind. She bit his shoulder, feeling his rough speed pick up in response. The grunts and growls grew deeper.

Pure, carnal lust wound between and around them. All that mattered was desire… pleasure… completion.

He came first - his hips convulsing against her as he pumped her full of his seed... grinding her rear against the sharp bark… fingers dug like claws into her hips… deep growls sounding into her ear in rhythm with his movements. She followed him soon after, writhing against him as the bark bit more deeply into her tender skin… inner muscles clamping down on him… nails embedded in his back… teeth marking the skin of his shoulder… great puffs of breath escaping around her teeth.

When his body stopped convulsing, he let go of her hips and propped himself against the tree, working to catch his breath. She released his shoulder and let her head drop back against the trunk so she could breathe, keeping her legs around his hips and her arms around his shoulders so she didn't slide down the tree.

“Crickets, Kathryn… I don't know whether to apologize or thank you.”

“Let's go with a mutual thank you. That was… it was… there are no words.”  

Taking a step back and wrapping his arms around her, he let her slide down his front until her feet hit the ground.

Cupping her cheek, he gave her a deep and tender kiss, then pulled her into him and rested her head on his shoulder. “Then thank you, Kathryn… for trusting me, for handing me control - giving over your ability to decide for yourself.” He kissed her temple and held her tight.

She snuggled her head under his chin. “That's part of what Safe means, Chakotay. I've let you do that - in different ways - for years.” Her body shivered from the rapidly dropping temperature.

“It's time to get dressed.” He let her go and began gathering their clothes. They were laughing by the time they were finished, and laughed even harder when their stomachs grumbled in unison.

“We're so late, our dinner has become an evening snack. Mom's going to be pissed.”

Gretchen simply shook her head, then silently pointed to the skipped button on her blouse. Laughing at Chakotay's deep blush, she turned and headed into the kitchen.

“You're both adults. Why do you think I put you in the guesthouse? Now go sit in the dining room. I'll get your dinners out of stasis.”

“Where else would she have put us? I can't imagine the both of us fitting on the twin bed in your room.”

“There’s a guest room down the hall from mine. It's got a nice, roomy bed.”

“I think your mom just suggested that you're loud.”

“How do you know she's not suggesting that you are? Besides… I'm not.”

“I always meant to ask you about that. No matter how worked up you are, you seldom make any noise.”

She shrugged. “I just never saw the need to wake up the universe. It's private.”

He pulled her close and kissed her softly. “You really do keep things separate. One half of you is audacious and impossible to ignore…”

“...which makes it possible to keep the other part quiet and private, Chakotay. I don't share my world unless I want to.”

“Ain't that the truth.” Her mother came bustling in, a plate in each hand “Now, sit . This isn't going to last forever.”

Kathryn noticed that Chakotay, although still somewhat unusually quiet, was much more engaged. Her mother stayed to chat while they ate, entertaining them with scandalous stories about her ancestors.

By the time Gretchen announced it was time for bed, he was laughing and more at ease than Kathryn had seen him all day. Perhaps commanding her in the tree had returned some sense of power to his being. She didn't mind at all - the move had benefited them both.

Gretchen took her leave and headed up the stairs, leaving Kathryn and Chakotay to clean up.

“Maybe she'll let me make breakfast tomorrow.”

“I'm not sure you'll have the energy, Chakotay. I plan to use it up.” Kathryn took his hand and led him out to the guesthouse while he groaned in anticipation.

By the time they got to the guest house, though, their multiple scrapes and bite marks from their adventures in the tree had made themselves known. Luckily, Kathryn had remembered to pack the dermal regenerator. They spent the rest of their time awake healing each other's wounds, laughing about the fun they’d had getting them.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay woke to the light of the early morning - alone - not a situation he really wanted to be in. He hadn't told Kathryn the entire story of his time away - or, rather, he hadn't told her how he really felt about it.

It had completely unnerved him. The isolation wasn't the problem. He was accustomed to it - had looked for it on occasion. No - it was the feeling of being watched .

Although Kathryn was much better at separating her private self from her public persona, he was still a very private person. Having his every movement on display was anathema to him.

They'd left him in that little room alone for hours at a time. He wasn't necessarily fond of being trapped someplace, but he could have dealt with it. Meditation would have eased his discomfort and given him some semblance of peace.

The knowledge that he was also under observation made him self-conscious and jumpy. Any attempt at meditation, or even sleep, was undermined by the feeling of being exposed.

In other words, his shields were damaged. Kathryn was his backup shield - her natural fire pulled attention from the room. He could hide in that fire until his shields were repaired. Of course, that would only work if she was there next to him…

“Good morning.” He was startled by her voice as she came into the bedroom. Dropping her robe, she crawled back into bed, and nudged him until he was spooned around her naked body.

“Where were you?” He tried not to sound petulant and needy, but suspected he only half succeeded.

She pulled his arms tighter around her body. “I woke up and didn't want to bother you, so I went out into the other room.”

“And you came back because…?” He kissed her neck.

“Mmm… I came back because I missed you.” She rolled over to face him and cupped his cheek. “ And because I decided I wanted to bother you.” The kiss she gave him made his toes curl, then headed right to his groin.

As she released his mouth, she sucked his bottom lip, then let her tongue roam down his neck. He groaned as he rolled on top of her. So, gentle lovemaking was on the menu this morning.

 

Chapter Text

The sun was distinctively higher in the sky when they emerged from the guesthouse and headed toward the main house.

“I think your offer of breakfast is past its expiration time.”

“I'll have to force the issue the next time we're here. That is, if she'll let me back. I've kind of messed up her meal schedule.”

“Don't be ridiculous, Chakotay. She just enjoys teasing you.”

Gretchen was nowhere to be found when they got into the house, so they wandered into the kitchen by themselves. After some discussion, they decided on a light breakfast of fresh fruit and toast.

Kathryn ended up sitting on the counter while Chakotay fed her pineapple. When the juice ran down her chin, he caught it with his tongue. Licking it up to her lips, they ended up in a kiss - the sweetness of the fruit bursting in his mouth as he wrapped his tongue around hers.

The kiss was about to spiral out when her mother appeared. “Oh, for cricket's sake. You two are worse than newlyweds. Katie, get off my counter. It's not a chair.”

Giggling like a schoolgirl, Kathryn complied, then took Chakotay's hand. “Come on. Let's get out of her way and ‘act like newlyweds’ somewhere else .”

“Oh, no you don't, young lady. It's your turn to be some help in the kitchen. Put away these groceries and start making sandwiches.”

“Yes ma'am. What kind of sandwiches do you want?”

Chakotay, who was smiling at Kathryn calling someone ‘ma'am’, moved to help Kathryn. Gretchen grabbed his hand.

“Surprise me. Chakotay and I will be outside on the patio.”

Dutifully, he followed the older woman out to the spacious patio and helped her move two chairs into the sun. Kathryn’s mother proceeded to entertain him with more stories of ‘Katie' as a child. Out of Kathryn’s earshot, she included several stories that highlighted the sisters’ complicated relationship.

He was hungry for information on Phoebe, who he barely knew anything about. She had seldom made appearances in Kathryn’s stories on Voyager, and now he got nothing at all.

Gretchen startled him out of his reverie. “Thank you for bringing my Katie back to me.”

“Um… I think she was the one who actually got us home, Gretchen.”

Gretchen waved her hand as if swatting a fly. “Yes… yes… hero of the day and all that. But that's not what I'm talking about.”

Gretchen had moved from lighthearted banter into a serious tone in the space of two seconds, making him unsure of where she was going. “Oh?”

The older woman turned to look him in the eyes. “You brought my Katie back to me. The fun loving, mischievous girl who’s curiosity got the best of her at every turn. I haven't seen her in years.”

“I'm sure it has taken some time for her to relax after our years away…”

“You don't understand. My Katie disappeared when she went away on that first mission out to study that nebula. She came back a different person, on the arm of this dark man, who didn't help at all.”

Now he was truly uncomfortable. Kathryn had told him outright that she didn't want her mother to know anything about what had happened with the Cardassians. He couldn't break that confidence.

“I… ah… Justin was more… ah… help than you think.”

Again, Gretchen waved her hand. “Oh, I know all about that. Although it's good to hear that you seem to know, too. I'm talking about the fact that the happy, energetic woman that left has never been seen again. Until now.”

His shock at her admission overrode his discretion. “How did you…?”

She gave him a dark look. “I knew who he was. I have my own clearance - all Admirals’ spouses do. You don't realize it because, as a ranking officer, you already have it. ”

“Why…?”

“Nightmares, young man. They're horrendous - and revealing at times. I'm pretty sure you know about them, too.”

What could he say? There was no point in denying it. Kathryn had lived in the house after both traumatic incidents, so Gretchen had probably been witness to quite a few vivid night terrors. “So, it was the nightmares that tipped you off?”

“Yes, and no. It was the nightmares that led me to force some information out of her father. I guessed the rest - which was proven after that horrible accident.”

“How would that have been proven?”

“She almost died, Chakotay. With her father and fiance gone, I was the only next of kin. I had access to her medical records, which I went over with a fine-tooth comb.”

“Nosy, aren't you?” He had to lighten this conversation. Kathryn would know something was amiss if she appeared right now.

“You have to be when your daughter refuses to tell you the truth. I'm her mother. She should have told me. If I'd known, I could have helped her to come back. Instead she leaned on a man who had more demons than any one person should have. I admired his strength, but resented his inability to make her truly happy. It's been nearly two decades - I'd forgotten how beautiful her smile was. “

“It wasn't just him. She lost very close friends - was actually forced away from them - when she returned. She's never been willing to replace them.”

“Interesting… I didn't know that part. But, regardless… my Katie has been restored - because of you . Thank you.”

They could hear noises as Kathryn attempted to open the patio doors with a tray in her hand. He got up to help her, but Gretchen stopped him.

“I don't want her to know that I'm aware of anything, Chakotay.”

“I won't tell her, but Mark has already warned her that you might know something . You've let some things slip. She's liable to ask you about it at some point.”

Gretchen nodded and released his arm. “Good to know.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Kathryn sat listlessly at her desk. Her fill-in - she refused to call the woman a ‘replacement' - was a nightmare. Officious and stubborn to the point of bordering on rude, the woman had complained about Nate's organization of her files - and promptly reorganized them. Kathryn couldn't find a damn thing.

There was no pleasant smile when she came into the office this morning… she’d been called ‘Sir,' which she absolutely hated… no lunch had been quietly placed on the corner of her desk, so she’d worked through it without even realizing the time… her padds were all in disarray so she was having to dig through the stacks to find the ones she needed.

She sighed. Although she’d known how special Ensign Harrison was as a person, she hadn't realized just how special he was as an assistant. He always knew exactly what she needed, had always organized her things in a way that made sense to her. Hell, he even scheduled appointments at the times she preferred!

She hadn't known how much she depended on him, and now he was gone. She resolved to get him back - no matter what it took.

She wished Chakotay had been here to take her out to lunch. Not only would she have actually eaten, but he would have been a good buffer to rail against. It would have definitely helped her mood.

Oddly enough, she’d left him behind with her mom when she transported to San Francisco that morning. The two cooks were going to share recipes and work together on converting Janeway family staples into vegetarian options.

After their chat Sunday morning, while she prepared sandwiches, the two of them had been thick as thieves. She knew that more had been said than just family stories, but she hadn't been able to get anything out of Chakotay other than that her mother had talked about ‘the other daughter’.

She’d left wondering which state she was going to end up in tonight. Her mother had never taken to either of her fiancés this way. Truth be told, it was more than a little unsettling.

She was interrupted by the woman's high-pitched, nasal voice that grated on her nerves. “Sir, the message you have been asking about is on the comm. Shall I transfer it in?”

Don't bother, I've only been dying to hear something for nearly a week. She snorted in frustration, then composed herself. “Please do, Lieutenant.”

It was a hurried comm from Becky, who had heard from Nate and was racing home to see him. After a moment's discussion, Kathryn cut the connection with a sigh of relief. He was home… he would come back to her.

She realized how self-centered that thought was, but she was so out of sorts, she didn't really care at the moment. Blame it on the low blood sugar from missing a meal for all she cared.

Her soon-to-be-gone assistant - what was her name? Haley? - interrupted her again. “Admiral Janeway, your 1500 appointment has arrived.”

Ah, this would be Haley. “Please send her in, Lieutenant.”

Ensign Haley Morgan was the officer who had been rescheduled from the day Nate was taken away. The prospect of working with the bright young woman reinvigorated her.

It was 1630 when she finished talking with Ensign Morgan. The conversation had reinforced her opinion of the young officer's abilities.

Now, though, she had a dilemma. It was too early to leave for the day, but there wouldn't be enough time to get back into the reports she’d been working through.

Then it hit her - now that Ensign Harrison was free, she didn't have to worry about taking a look at his personnel file. She got right to work, finding it in no time.

Nate was older than she’d thought - 25 instead of 22 - and had grown up in a suburb outside of Seattle, Washington. There was very little about his childhood, but only the child of an admiral would have any real records outside of grades. Oddly, there was no mention at all of any kind of family. His bio didn't list parents - not even foster ones or an orphanage.

He’d entered the academy straight out of high school, like most officers. Although he had above average grades in many of his classes, he had obviously struggled with science and technology. Even so, he’d graduated a year early - something not even she had managed to do.

After graduation, he’d done the obligatory two year tour aboard a starship. Oddly, he’d been posted to the Stalwart , an ambassadorial ship that transported representatives between the various colonies and space docks around Earth, but rarely - if ever - left the Sol system.

Because of her regular routes, the Stalwart had also become somewhat of a freight transport vessel. Lacking any type of engineering skills or diplomatic license, he had been put to work overseeing the cargo.

After that, Starfleet had dumped him into the administrative pool for a while, then his file went blank until he appeared back on the scene as her assistant. She knew the blank period indicated a position within a project with a high-level classification.

Was this why any suggestion of a security breach resulted in such dire consequences? Her innate curiosity made her itch to know what it was, but the dates weren’t listed with any kind of project title. They were simply blank - as if he had fallen into a black hole and popped back into existence to be her assistant.

Sitting back in her chair, she pondered what she’d learned - which was just shy of absolutely nothing. His file read as bland as anyone could be, yet it was almost too bland. The lack of family information of any kind was unsettling.

Above average grades, but no discernable skill that would have grabbed Starfleet’s attention. Early graduation, but a bland position which had been created for him just so the captain had a reason to keep him on board. They’d stuck him on a vessel that never left the system. In fact, there wasn't any record of Nate ever going past the edge of Earth’s system.

Was this blank spot in Nate's record the source of his unsettled nerves? Both she and Chakotay had agreed that he must have been exposed to some kind of traumatic outside source at some point in his life. Perhaps this was the time when he’d been briefed on the Serr'at.

She shook her head. There were just too many questions that she wouldn't be comfortable asking him. Perhaps if she paid closer attention to what he said, she would be able to pick up something that would connect the dots.

Suddenly the prospect of eating a dinner prepared by both her mother and Chakotay seemed like a wonderful idea. Was that what they’d been planning when she left them together? If it wasn't, could she talk them into it?

There was a small commotion and her door opened to reveal Chakotay. The shrill nasal voice followed him in. “You can't go in there!”

“Yes, I can . And I will .” He shut the door behind him and let out an exasperated snort. “She's a piece of work, Kathryn.”

“Hopefully, she'll be gone soon…” Kathryn stood and walked around the corner of her desk. “Sit on the couch. I have news.”  

Obligingly, he took a seat. “I do, too. Who goes first?” She straddled him and kissed him. “I do.”

He kissed her back, hands moving to rest on her buttocks and pull her in closer. “No complaints, here. This is the best way I can think of to get news - good or bad. So, which is it?”

“Good… Becky told me that they finally set Nate free.”

A large grin took over his face. “That's not just good news - it's fabulous news.” He cupped her cheeks and gave her a deep kiss. “When do you get rid of that horrible woman?”

“At least I'm not the only selfish person in the room.” Kissing him back, she began unfastening his shirt. “I expect he'll be a bit out of sorts. It might be a while.”

“True.” Tiny wet kisses moved down her neck, spreading gooseflesh across her body. She could feel him growing hard against her. “As long as he’s free, we can work on getting him back.”

He’d succeeded in removing her jacket without her realizing it, and now pulled both tunic and undershirt off at once. She tried to concentrate while his hands smoothed over her bare skin and his kisses moved down between her breasts.

“I need to decide how personal I want to get, thoughhhh…” She moaned quietly as his thumbs teased across her hardened nipples.

“True… you're his CO - and this isn't Voyager.” He unclasped her bra and let it fall to the floor.

“What do you mean?” She gasped and arched her back toward him as he sucked her breast into his mouth and flicked the nipple with his tongue.

Releasing her breast, he blew a breath over the moisture he’d left behind. Her breathing quickened. “On Voyager, we were dependent on each other for solace. You were instrumental in providing that. Here, it’s not so… acceptable.”

Nearly panting, she grabbed his face and kissed him passionately, then left her own trail of wet kisses down his neck. He groaned.

“Kathryn…”

“How quiet can you be?”

“She could be right next to us and she wouldn't hear a thing.”

At this point, she didn't care if he yelled so loud they could hear him on Mars. “Do it.”

In no time, they were both completely naked and laying on the couch. Giving her best effort at turning her moan into a sigh as he slid into her, she only half succeeded.

“Crickets, Kathryn, if we're going to keep doing this, we need to set up a few precautions so we’re not caught in flagrante. Can you imagine what that woman out there would say?.”

“Computer, lock doors, increase soundproofing, and play Mahler, symphony number five, last movement. Follow with similar.” Soft strains of music filled the room.

As their motions moved from slow and loving into a pounding need for completion, Kathryn felt the knot of tension that had been her concern for Nate Harrison loosen and ease from her body. He was safe… they would figure the rest out.

Chakotay's mouth slammed down onto hers in an attempt to muffle the sounds from their orgasms. She hoped they succeeded as the final thrusts of his seed pumping into her abated and his head dropped to her shoulder. They lay together on her couch, breathless, for a moment.

“Now, what was your news.”

“Give me a few minutes. I think I've forgotten.”

Laughing softly, she cuddled his head down under her chin. “You'll remember it eventually.”

“Do I get the same response as you did?”

“It depends on how good it is.”

After they cleaned themselves up, he remembered and filled her in.

It turned out that he and her mother had been planning a dinner of their combined recipe. He’d just sat down to comm her with the news when the unit beeped an incoming message. It was Uncle Teddy, asking to meet with him and the Academic Dean to discuss ‘next steps’ and how they were going to get back on track working together.

The meeting was set for Tuesday morning. Chakotay wanted to be home so he could gather what notes he had left and prepare for the conversation.

“I wasn't even sure they were going to resume.”

“I guess my sudden absence created quite a stir. When The Daily Californian retracted the Serr'at seminar and reported my ‘illness’, there were a lot of questions. The reporter I'd been speaking with is in the process of writing a ‘Where is he, really?’ article. At minimum, they need me to tamp down the speculation.”

“It seems your ‘little seminar’ grew bigger than you expected.”

He blushed and tugged on his ear. “I was only expecting to talk to a small group until the Delta Quadrant aliens started headlining. I'm not really sure what happened.”

“You're a natural teacher, Chakotay. Your first students spread the news… which spread further after the second set started talking, too.”

“It's probably more the drama of my sudden departure.”

“Don't sell yourself short. There wouldn't be drama if there wasn't interest. The real question, though, is whether you want to go back.”

“I'm really not sure. Their reaction was extreme, and I don't know if I want to try functioning with that shadow over my head. I'm going to wait and see what they say.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Once again, Kathryn was heading to her office feeling a little out of sorts. She’d just dropped Chakotay off at Berkeley for his meeting. They were planning lunch to go over what happened, but it didn't stop her from worrying.

She was also worried about Ensign Harrison. Although she shouldn't have expected it, she’d heard nothing else from Becky about how he was doing. As much as she was dying to do it, she felt that contacting her assistant at home to simply ask if he was alright wasn't really appropriate.

Bracing herself for that awful lieutenant’s face at the door to her office, she was surprised at the sight that met her when she walked in. The woman’s sour face was on full display, but it was directed toward none other than Nate Harrison.

He was a jittery mess, with dark circles under his eyes. It was everything she could do to keep from hugging him tightly.

Instead, she marched him past the officious woman and into her office. She wanted him back… desperately… but he wasn't in any condition to work.

“Have a seat, Ensign.” She guided him toward one of the chairs facing her desk, then turned toward her replicator. He needed some of Chakotay's relaxing tea - and a cup of coffee for herself.

Handing him the tea, she sat down next to him in the other chair - deliberately avoiding her desk chair in order to minimize the Command distance between them.

“Drink the tea. It will help soothe your nerves.” She sat quietly next to him, sipping her coffee while he made it through the tea. Around the time he was finished, she saw his shoulders relax a touch.

He was ready to hear her, now. “Ensign, I can't tell you how good it is to see you. I have missed you - not just as my assistant. That said, I'm not really sure you're ready to come back to work. Perhaps it would be better for you to go home and rest.”

“Please, Admiral. I-I don't want to go home. Becky had to go back to work, and there's nobody else… Can I please stay here? I've had enough time alone.”

Chakotay had said the same thing.  If it had bothered Chakotay so much, she could only imagine what it had done to the timid young man. Especially since he knew the extent of his punishment if he was found guilty.

Nate was still looking at her with desperate hope written all over his face. She couldn't leave him to his own devices.

“Alright, Nate. You can stay, but I'm not letting you work with the public just yet. Not to mention, sending you out there to your desk means you'll technically still be alone.”

“So you want me to update your calendar from here?”

“Actually, we're going to try something different… I have a lot of logs to catch up on. You're going to read some of them for me.”

“I'm really not very good with data, Admiral. I barely passed my basic engineering courses at the academy.”

“Then you're perfect for the job.” She rifled through a stack of padds. “Not everyone in Command is an engineer. We're supposed to depend on our subordinates to make us look good - and write reports dumbed down so we can read them without having to think.”

“Which is why you hate them. You can't not think.”

Oh, it was so good to have him back! He understood her working style so well. She gave him a gentle smile. “So true, Ensign. Let’s see what you can make of it.”

She cleaned off a corner of her desk for him to work at, then handed him a stack of padds from the never-ending pile. A quiet hush fell over the room as they delved into the work.

 

It turned out that he was better at it than she had expected. His intuition was spot-on, sometimes picking up on threads that spanned several different reports. He even found her another ‘diamond in the rough’ that she wouldn't have considered, supporting his idea with several instances where the recently-promoted lieutenant had been correct, but had been too hesitant to speak up.

By the time he offered to order her lunch (Oh, how she’d missed that!) they were well on their way to getting her caught up. But there was a situation she hadn't foreseen.

She was supposed to meet Chakotay at the Bistro - a small deli tucked away on a side street where they could talk privately. The Bistro’s specialty item was grilled cheese sandwiches made with any type of cheese you could think of. Chakotay loved it, usually mixing several cheeses together.

She didn't want to leave Harrison alone, though. Ultimately she decided that she and Chakotay could talk at home this evening.

“How about you join me at Luci’s, instead? Chakotay is in a meeting, but maybe we can catch him in time to join us.”

Crickets help the poor man - his face lit up like a Christmas tree. “I-if you wouldn't mind…”

“Of course I don't mind. I wouldn't have invited you if I did.” Patting him on the hand, she stood. “Come on. We’d better leave now, or we won't get a table. We'll have Lieutenant Happypants work for her spot in your chair by relaying a message to Chakotay.”

A small snort weakly covered by a cough let her know that she’d slipped. ‘Lieutenant Happypants’ outranked Ensign Harrison - she shouldn't have shared her displeasure.

“She's not really that bad once you get to know her. She's just… stuck in her ways.”

“All I know is that you're going to have a hell of a job putting everything back to rights, Ensign.”

Stopping on their way out into the corridor, she gave her orders like the stuffy admiral people thought she was. “Lieutenant, Ensign Harrison and I will be going out to lunch. Captain Chakotay is in a meeting at Berkeley. Please relay a message to him asking him to join us at Luci’s.”

“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant reached toward her comm unit while Kathryn did her best not to cringe. She really hated being addressed as ‘Sir.’

“I'm sorry, Admiral. She's very insistent on proper protocols at all times.”

“How do you know her?” The rest of the walk to the restaurant was filled with the story of how Ensign Harrison got himself placed next to her during a project - mostly because he was the newbie who didn't know any better.

He’d ended up being able to form a working relationship with the woman and had been paired with her from that point, on. Kathryn suspected that they got along because Harrison was so compliant.

They were just being seated when Chakotay arrived. “You got my message, I see. Sorry about the late notice.” She knew he’d understand the true meaning of her apology - and the question in her eyes.

“The timing was perfect, actually. My meeting just broke up.” He leaned in to give her a kiss, using the opportunity to whisper in her ear. “Everything's fine. We can talk later.”

Chakotay turned to Nate, and held out his hand to shake. “Ensign Harrison, it's so good to see you… out and about .”

“Th-thank you, Captain. It's good to be out… and about. I-I’m sorry about... everything.”

“Why are you apologizing? It was me that caused this whole mess. I'm sorry you got dragged into it.”

“Ensign Harrison has decided to keep me company in my office for the rest of the week.” She shot a meaningful look at Chakotay. “Although, I'm afraid he might end up being better at my job than I am.”

Chakotay picked up her hints, then took his own stock of the situation. Before she knew it, he had turned up his natural charm and was busy coaxing her Ensign out of the worst of his anxiety. By the time their lunch was over, Chakotay had Nate laughing about one of their interrogators’ ridiculously bushy eyebrows.

As Chakotay took his leave of them, he leaned over to give her a kiss on the cheek. “Better?”

“Much. Thank you.”

Even her own mood was improved by Chakotay's easy banter. So much so that she gave a pleasant thank you to the lieutenant when they arrived back in the office.

Ensign Harrison really was very good at going through the logs. If his instinct about the ‘diamond in the rough’ he’d brought to her attention was right, she might consider having him help her with them on a more permanent basis.

 

<<<------>>>

 

The end of the workday rolled around, and she became worried once more. As a medical student, Becky did not have regular working hours. Leaving him alone at night would be even worse.

“Do you and Becky have plans for dinner?”

“She should get home about an hour or so after I will. I was planning on making her chicken paprikash.”

“You're a cook?” Why hadn't she known that?

A light hint of pink washed over his face. “Not really. I… had to learn how to prepare meals at a very young age. There are still a few that I enjoy cooking. Becky seems to enjoy eating them, so it's a good mix.”

Laughing at his tentative joke, she patted him on the arm. “Anything you make will still come out better than anything I try. My mother has permanently banished me from her kitchen - until it's time to clean up, of course.”

They walked out of her office together, but he stalled at the lieutenant’s desk. “Thank you for… everything, today. I'll see you again tomorrow?”

“Of course, Ensign. I'm looking forward to it.” Catching the idea that he wanted to speak with the lieutenant in private, she took her leave of both of them.

Just as the door was closing, she heard his voice. “Erin, she hates being addressed as ‘Sir'. Stick to ‘Admiral’, and she'll be a little easier with you.”

Shaking her head, she smiled as she headed down the hallway. Crickets, it was good to have him back!

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay bustled around the kitchen. Kathryn was due home any minute, and he wanted to have time to sit with her and talk. He was making tofu gumbo because it could simmer endlessly, giving them plenty of time to talk without it being overcooked.

The day had been something they each needed to lean on each other for. His meeting with Berkeley and Patterson had ended well, but it had been difficult at times. He’d been dying to talk to her about it when he got her message about lunch.

At first, he had been annoyed that her excitement about having Harrison back had overruled his morning. One look at the Ensign and he’d immediately changed his mind. Kathryn’s subtle hints had clinched his suspicion.

The click of the front door latch came just as he was putting the lid on the pot. Pouring a glass of wine for each of them, he hurried to join her.

She was sitting on the couch with her head in her hands - no tears, but he could read the emotional pain in her body.

“Any better?”

Lifting her head, she accepted the glass. “Some. Thank you for cheering him up. I'm sorry it meant that we couldn't talk about your meeting.”

“It's alright. Some things take precedence. You were afraid to leave him alone?”

“He begged me not to. It's why he showed up at my office in the first place. Becky had to go to work. I couldn't have him sitting out there with Lieutenant Happypants, so I brought him into my office and put him to work.”

“Is he really that good, or were you simply saying that to make him feel better?”

“Oh, he is that good. I was worried that he would get stuck on the technical terms, but he seemed to grasp enough to make it work. He reads unbelievably fast, and is really intuitive. Found me another new officer to work with - one I wouldn't have even noticed.”

“So you're going to keep him with you this week. I guess I shouldn't drop by for a visit.” He gave her a wide, dimpled grin.

“Not if you have good news. What is yours, by the way? You said things were fine, but they weren't, were they?”

“Now, who’s being intuitive?” Sighing, he leaned back. “The meeting ended well, but the middle was a little… contentious.”

“Are you going to keep doing the seminars?”

“I was prepared to walk away, but then I realized how much I enjoyed them.”

“So, what happened?”

“They want me to keep doing them, but only the species from a list that they came up with.”

“That's a little… oppressive.”

“The Maquis in me went running for the hills. The Starfleet officer in me politely duked it out. Ultimately, I can choose my own species, but I have to get it approved before I hold the class. The list is now a suggested set of options.”

“Why are they so worried? Are there other species wiped from the Starfleet database?”

“Near as I can tell, the Serr'at are the only ones actually wiped , but it seems that there are others whose details are classified. They're worried that I'll find them accidentally like I did the Serr'at.”

She had to laugh. “They're going to end up using you as a sweep, you know. If you find something about these classified species, they're going to take your research list and classify or remove those sources.”

“Probably. I think that's why they caved. It kind of irritates me, but I have to tell myself that the classification is also meant to protect the species from unscrupulous people who might take advantage.”

“I hadn't thought of it that way. You might have a point.” Her stomach grumbled. “What is that wonderful smell?”

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the week passed without major incidents. To prove a point, Chakotay specifically found a species that was not on his pre-approved list. He went to Patterson for approval as they had agreed, though.

The Thursday seminar went over well. The cover story for his absence was accepted as fact when he reinforced it. He even managed to convince people that the Serr'at didn't exist when he announced that he had a made a mistake in connecting a side comment in a personal log with another species.

Harrison continued to work with Kathryn, effectively cleaning her desk of every log that had been backed up. He even advised Lt Happypants - Erin - on Kathryn’s preferred timing of appointments. The initial one to meet with his suggested officer was set for Monday.

They were going over plans for the transition from Erin to Nate when he finally slipped up to the point where she could no longer ignore it.

“Alright - out with it.”

“Ma'am?” The guilty look on his face spoke volumes.

“There is absolutely no way you should know about the peaceful transition of power that we helped the Nehela go through. Only Voyagers would know that.”

The nervous twitches and trembling that had all but disappeared during the week came back in full force.

“I-I-I… um… Voyagers and certain people in Starfleet know.”

“Those certain people outrank you - a lot . Have you been breaking into classified files?”

“N-n-no ma'am!” He began wringing his hands, fingers twisting around themselves to the point she thought they might break. “I… ah…” His shoulders slumped. “I've read Voyager’s logs - all of them - on Starfleet orders.”

“What do you mean by all of them ?”

“I mean all of them… Seven years worth of logs… every alien… every anomaly… every battle…”

“And you did this on orders ?” Shocked and angry, her tone was sharp. “What - did they want you to know what I'd been through so you could understand me? Or have you been spying on me and reporting to them how I'm handling things?”

Tears began to form in his eyes. “N-n-n-n-no! I-it's not like that at all! I… uh…”

“Then… out with it .”

She watched him consider his words. Much as she adored him, this was a deal breaker for her. Her gut was churning thinking that all the time she’d been spending on making him comfortable had been noted and reported to the people that had relentlessly grilled her for months.

She saw the moment his decision was made. The tear fell, the shoulders slumped.

“When the first transmission from Voyager arrived at our end, the data was completely jumbled. Some of it was degraded or just plain missing - cut off by the collapse of the micro-wormhole.”

“No one told me that.”

He shook his head, eyes staring down at his hands. “They didn't want you to know. By the time we got in touch again, Starfleet had decided to go ahead with the re-compilation as planned.” He glanced up, then back down at his hands. “They were afraid that you’d… altered them… now that you knew they’d be going over them.”

“You've got to be kidding me. I would never have done anything like that.”

“I know. So did some of the Admiralty, and… specialized team of analysts. But Starfleet was insistent. When the… specialized team realized the extent of degradation, they quickly cobbled together a team of analysts with the proper security clearance - and those whose clearance levels could be easily upgraded.”

“How the hell did you get on that team? Your technical skills are negligible.”

“It's true. I've never been interested, so I never bothered to develop that area of thought. But they wanted me for different reasons.” Again, the hesitation appeared as he fought himself.

“What were those reasons?”

“I'm sure you've noticed in the past couple of days that I read pretty fast… and that I'm pretty good with content analysis. Those were the skills Starfleet wanted. I had to read each log as it was compiled to make sure it was cohesive and complete, then provide analysis upon request.”

The whole setup made sense to her. Why was he so nervous? She was missing something… Then it hit her. “ Every log?”

“Yes ma'am.” Once again, he glanced up for a brief second then looked back down at his hands. They had begun to tremble.

There was only one reason that he was so nervous. “Tuvok didn't have time to separate the logs. He simply sent the entire database that we had compiled over the years - including personal logs.”

“Yes ma'am.” His response choked out as another tear fell.

Every member of Starfleet understood that, although they were labeled as personal logs, they would be accessible to superior officers should the need arise. Those needs usually had to do with verifying and resolving conflicts.

Somewhere along the line, her musings had taken a turn toward more truly personal topics. With little to no reasonable expectation that Starfleet would ever have access to them in their lifetimes, she suspected that many others had done the same.

“Alright… so… that's a little… disconcerting.” Her words were measured, controlled. She had to stay in officer mode. She’d agreed on principle with Starfleet’s actions. Just because it had been her assistant was what made her feel so vulnerable… right ?

“Admiral, I think you should know that Starfleet liked the arrangement with me so much that they kept me on the project… through the entire journey.”

“B-but the rest of the logs would have come over clearly…”

“Yes ma'am, they did. But Starfleet wanted me to have the complete set of information so they could have a full analysis.”

“Why didn't they use the computer to analyze data? Why you ? There must be a few other Starfleet officers with speed-reading and analysis capabilities - and higher existing rank and clearance. None of this makes any sense.”

“It does if you understand that I have photographic memory with perfect recall, intuitive comprehension and reasoning skills, and… preexisting clearance above even your level.”

Flummoxed… she was just… flummoxed. The Vidiian, Kazon, Devore, and a dozen other malicious races could have walked in holding hands and singing kumbaya, and it would have made more sense.

“Nate… I'll agree that you have a very good memory - and a high degree of analysis capabilities - but there is no such thing as true photographic memory. There is also no way that an ensign - senior grade or not - would have higher security clearance than an admiral.”

A mirthless smile crossed his face. “I guess you didn't catch that part when you accessed my personnel file Monday afternoon.” At her look of surprise, he gave another small smile. “Because of my clearance, I - and a few others - receive notification when someone accesses my records.”

Now, another thing made sense. After dinner Monday evening, she had discovered a text-only message waiting on their comm unit. There was no information on who had sent it and, although she’d attempted to backtrack it, she couldn't. The message was cryptic and short:

Don't wonder

Ask

Permission has been given

At the time, they’d attributed it to Chakotay's seminar topics, but now… “ Permission has been given … They told you that you could tell me about this, didn't they?”

“Yes… among other things.”

“This still doesn't explain your clearance level.”

Oddly, he straightened his shoulders and sat up straight - something she had never seen him do. “It does if you know that I am Serr'at.” His words were strong and bold. He was proud of his heritage - no matter what it had cost him.

Kathryn, on the other hand, would have fallen to the floor in shock if she hadn't already been sitting. Regardless, she fell backward, feeling the movement of her chair as it rocked back on its springs. This was why he would face permanent high-security prison if found guilty. This was why they had kept him such a long time. This was why he was always so nervous - afraid at every turn that someone would discover his true heritage.

“Explain.” Any other time, the words would have been demanding - and probably accompanied by a death glare. This time, though, she was much too shocked to make it sound like anything more than a simple request.

“Ask me anything. I will tell you. I've been given permission for full disclosure.”

“Start at the beginning. Who are the Serr'at? Why is your race classified to the point of completely wiping them out of Starfleet records? Why are you living here if Starfleet doesn't even want your race known?”

“The Serr'at are a peaceful race, living on a small planet far outside Federation space. They were discovered by accident about 80 years ago when a Starfleet ship’s directional sensors malfunctioned.”

Please don't tell me it was Captain Kirk.”

“It wasn't. I don't know who that first crew was. They were only there for a day - making first contact and repairing their sensors. A diplomatic ship was sent to follow up.”

“Thank goodness for small favors. I don't care what the historians say, Jim Kirk wasn't the most subtle person - atrocious at first contact.”

“Honestly, it might have gone better if it had been him. Serr'at can tell if you are being untruthful.”

“Are they telepathic like the Betazoid?”

“No. It’s the memory capacity. Serr'at remember everything - from their entire lives. Everything they have read, seen, or experienced. They also have a finely tuned intuition. Put the two qualities together, and they can read someone by pairing the person's words with their physical movements and facial expressions.”

“So, they can tell by cataloguing your mannerisms and words… Much like diplomatic security escorts do, but to a greater extent.” She understood that part, at least. Jeans and Spider had taught her those skills long ago.

He nodded. “For a while, things went smoothly. Friendships formed between the two races as the Serr'at opened up more and more.”

“It sounds like everything was fine.”

“It was, until the captain realized what he could do with the Serr'at abilities. They would make excellent spies and scouts - going into an area and mapping it out in their memory, reading the people to see if they are telling the truth. With that knowledge, Starfleet could face down any race and win any battle against them. For instance, the Romulans would have no defense.”

“I'm not really sure why that’s a bad thing. I've sent people to check things out ahead of us.”

“Yes, but never with malice - only protection. And there were other things. Spying on individuals to gain the upper hand in a competition or election, for instance. Someone taught a few of us to play poker - then how to count cards.”

“I can only imagine how good you would be.”  

“The Serr'at never forget. My people have perfect recall… for the rest of their lives . They don't lie, or kill, or spy, or do anything that is not peaceful. You have a few traumatic memories that will stay with you for a lifetime, but do you remember the first time you lied? The Serr'at do. I do. I was three at the time - it still bothers me.”

“Nate… how far back does your memory go? Do you remember being born ?” She was aghast at the thought.

“Most of us begin forming memories about the same time as we begin processing conscious thoughts - maybe around two years of age. By that time, the parents have begun instilling the child with ways to handle storage so they don't go mad with the volume. Every once in awhile someone is born who remembers too far back.”

“And?”

“And they go mad, for the most part. A few of them are able to control themselves and survive intact. They usually become seers. My grandmother was one.”

“I still don't really understand how this all fits together.”

“The captain had been a strategist, working directly under the Fleet Admiral. He fell out of favor with the man and was sent to captain the diplomatic vessels. It was a difficult transition for him. When he realized how he could use us, he began plotting ways to maneuver us into agreeing to the idea. He hoped it would get him back in favor with the fleet admiral.”

“But the Serr'at caught on.”

“Yes. One of the Serr’at overheard the captain talking about how easy it would be to coerce one of us. All they would have to do is make us see something awful, then threaten us with a repeat. The diplomats tried to fix the situation, but they only made things worse. Starfleet was ordered to leave and never return. They also said that if anyone came to their planet, those people would be... handled and would never return.”

“Handled? If the Serr'at are so peaceful, why was this threat so serious?”

“We can… share a memory - or many memories - with each other. Our bonding ceremonies include a portion where the couples share their side of the first time they met. Several romantic couples had formed between the Federation and the Serr'at, and one of the men attempted to do that with his girlfriend.”

“I guess it didn't go well?”

“She couldn't handle the influx of information… thoughts, feelings, visions… it was just too much. She became catatonic. No matter what they tried, the doctors were never able to wake her. Starfleet knew we could do so with anyone we wished to. It scared them.”

“But your people would never have done that on purpose.”

“True, but they only had to make Starfleet believe it. The elders got together and decided that the deception was necessary in order to protect our race, so one of the older men volunteered to make the sacrifice. He said he had lived a full life and would only have the guilt for a few years until his death. He said a rational goodbye to his loved ones, shared a special memory with his wife, and went out alone. No one knows exactly what he said or did, but Starfleet turned tail and ran.”

“How did your grandmother end up here, then?”

“She and my grandfather were very much in love, and she was already pregnant. My grandfather stowed her away in his cabin for the return trip, then quit Starfleet and moved to Seattle. That first child died - the differences between our races did not mix well with him. Starfleet found out because of the doctors’ involvement. It was too late for them to send her back to the Serr'at, so they let her stay. She became pregnant, again, but with the Starfleet doctors involved, this baby survived. It was my mother.”

“How did the memory capacity work with the combined DNA? Your grandmother was a seer.”

“As soon as my mother was born, my grandmother began instilling her with the ways of the Serr’at. Luckily, my mother didn't have the extreme memory like my grandmother, so she survived long enough to develop her own strategies.”

“So you're third generation Serr’at. Did it water down even more with you?”

“Yes, and no. I have the same abilities, but they're easier to control. My grandmother thought that they wouldn't ever be strong enough that I would be in danger. She taught me as many of the ways as she could before she died and I found a handwritten list of continuing instructions among her things after her death.”

“Your mother couldn't help you? Has she also passed?”

He hesitated, seeming to wrestle with himself. “She is alive, although she might as well be dead. And she never helped me with a thing in my life.”

Kathryn could hear the resentment in his voice and see the pain in his face. Should she ask? He’d answered all of her questions about the Serr’at and how he came to be on Earth. This next part was personal. There was no need for her to know it.

“It's alright, Nate. You don't need to continue.”

He’d been looking down at his hands, again, but now looked up to meet her eyes. “Yes, I do. You need to know - to understand - how I came to have such a high-level clearance.”

His eyes went distant. “Really, Nate. I don't need to know.”

“I want you to know, ma'am. I'm just accessing the memories. Since my abilities are watered down, I can also suppress details instead of just organizing them. The file is deep down. It'll take another moment to pull it up.”

The file is deep down? It was an interesting way to word it. Perhaps this was the way he organized his thoughts.

“You're right. It's like a set of computer files. The unnecessary memories, like brushing your hair, are dumped down into a trash file. Ones I don't want are next to it. Pulling them back up requires some concentrated thought.”

“Are you really alright to continue?” How did he know what I was thinking?

“My mother and father were - are - scientists. They worked out of a lab in our basement. They were obsessive and spent most of their time down there. I was left to fend for myself. On my fifth birthday, my grandmother stopped by to surprise me with a cake, and found me trying to access the market section of the replicator. I wanted a toy and my parents were down in the lab.”

“On your birthday ?”

“They didn't really keep track of times and dates. By that point, I had figured out how to use the replicator for food, so I was able to eat when I was hungry.”

Kathryn’s heart broke. They didn't even feed him?

“So, anyway… my grandmother found me and showed me how to get into the market, then bought my toy. She stayed the day… made me a big homemade meal, and sang happy birthday while I blew out the candles on the cake she had brought. She put me to bed that night with promises that the next year would be better. The next morning she arrived with bags of personal possessions and moved into the spare bedroom.”

“Your parents didn't mind?”

“I'm not sure they even noticed … It was my grandmother who took care of me from then on. She made me breakfast… packed my lunch for school… met me when I came home and asked me about my day… forced me to do my homework… everything. When I was ten, she started teaching me to cook for myself. By the time I was eleven, I was making my own breakfast and lunch. When I was twelve, I made dinner, too. I could tell she was getting older and sick. She tried to hide it, but…”

“But you are Serr'at. She couldn't lie to you.”

He simply nodded. She could see the tears in his eyes.

“She died about a month before my fourteenth birthday. I found her lying on the couch when I got home from school. When I told my parents, my mother actually left the lab. It was me, though, who made the comm to the address my grandmother had told me to contact if she was ever incapacitated. Men in uniforms showed up ten minutes later and took her body away.”

“It was Starfleet Security, wasn't it?”

“I didn't realize who it was at the time, but yes. Without a body to bury, there was no funeral. I thought about arranging a memorial, but I didn't know of anyone else to invite. I sat in the dark for a week, pulling up every memory of her that I had, examining it, then filing it back away.”

“Your parents weren't even there?”

He smirked. “My father showed up for the memorial dinner I made, but that was it for him. My mother started appearing more, crying about the pain of losing her mother, and trying to be my mother again. Honestly, I wished they would stay away. They had ignored me for the first fourteen years of my life. I didn't want to be parented by guilt.”

“So, she finally gave up?”

“Oh, she kept appearing, but only to drink. I watched her quickly spiral down and, to my shame, did nothing to stop it. Everything came to a head on my birthday. It had always been a special day for my grandmother and me. She called it our anniversary. We had a big dinner and the same cherry-pineapple chocolate cake with birthday candles. There was always a present - just one - but exactly what I wanted, and I would give her an anniversary card.”

“But this was your first year without her. It must have been difficult.”

“I was prepared for that, but determined to make the dinner, anyway. I never knew how to make the cake - she never showed me the recipe and had always finished it by the time I got home from school. Even the last two years when she was getting slower, she still made the cake. But I was going to do as much as I could as my own private memorial to her.”

He stopped for a moment, and Kathryn could see the tears start to pool in his eyes. “The dinner didn't go well?”

“When I got home from school, my mother was in the kitchen. She was so drunk I could smell the alcohol from the doorway, but she was attempting to cook… something… and nearly burning the house down in the process. I got her to sit down at the table - where she promptly opened up another of the several bottles she had replicated at some point during the day - while I did my best to clean up and save the food and turn it into some kind of edible meal.”

“Nate… did you ever try locking her out of the replicator?”

“I tried, but it was her account and I couldn't do it. I ended up just letting her drink. Which is what I did that day. She ended up a blubbering mess, going on about how she missed her mother and what a loss it was for her. I couldn't take it anymore and I blew up at her - told her exactly what I thought of her and how dare she talk about her grief over a woman she had barely acknowledged for many years. She… her mind… snapped.” He choked the last words out, then stopped to gather himself.

Snapped?

“Yes, snapped … she went crazy… started rambling incoherently… running through the house and screaming. I had absolutely no idea what she was saying - couldn't understand a word of it. And then… then she ran out the front door and went screaming through the neighborhood, crying and ripping her hair out, then grabbing random people and shaking them by the shoulders.”

“How did you get her calmed down?”

I didn't. All I could do was watch in horror. Someone must have called the police, because there were suddenly sirens everywhere. Then a huge contingent of Starfleet security showed up with an ambulance. They caught and drugged her, then packed her up and took her away. Then… they started interviewing my neighbors. All of them - anyone within earshot of her rantings. I got an entire force in my house, where they searched every corner, every padd, every belonging they could find. They even pulled my father out of the basement and grilled him for a long time.”

“Her research must have been classified.”

“That's what they told me. But, like I said, I couldn't understand a word. Finally, when they finished dumping my house upside down, they let my father disappear back to the basement and most of the people went home. Then it was my turn. They grilled me for what seemed like days, going over every word my mother had ever spoken. They wanted to know how often I was in the lab, and if my parents had ever shown me the equipment or how it worked. They seemed to know who I was because I couldn't play dumb - they expected me to be able to answer.”

“I'm willing to bet that you never went down into the basement.”

“I hadn't been down there since I was two - which they only partially believed. Then a kind man sat down next to me and started chatting. He talked about my grandmother and how hard it must have been for me for lose her, and said things that made me think he understood the way my home and childhood were. He told me they couldn't leave me alone with just my father, but taking me out of the house would be difficult at best. I would be a security risk no matter where I went.

“What did they think was going to happen?”

“Maybe my father would go crazy, too? I don't think those guys really understood what my mother was, and that she probably hadn't filed properly since her mother died - if not before. Add the alcohol, and she had no ability to fend off the overload. He began walking me through clearance levels and how they worked… and that I would be given one if I decided to stay.”

“They wanted to be able to keep an eye on you, and the clearance was a simple way to accomplish that.”

“I know that now, but at the time I just wanted to be able to stay in my house. I agreed to what they were offering. In response, they installed a housekeeper with high enough classification that they could stay in the house.”

“In other words, they installed a permanent security guard.”

“Exactly. The first one was awful - like having a drill sergeant at home. I think the only reason he didn't wear his uniform every day was because he was supposed to be undercover. I complained, and they sent me Nora. She was a semi-retired nurse who had worked with Admiralty patients, and much more relaxed. We worked well together. Since then, I have hosted a visit from one officer or another every year to check up on me and update my clearance.”

“Were you even allowed to have friends over?”

“I didn't have any friends. I was... different … the kids had picked up on that from day one. Even the few kids who would speak to me stopped after what happened. So, I went home every day, did my homework, then filed my day like my grandmother taught me. Nora and I usually cooked dinner together. She was kind enough to ask me about my day until it became common practice. She's still there, taking care of the house and making sure my father eats. I go home every once in awhile to visit her.”

“I'm surprised that you would join Starfleet after everything.”

“It was actually them who asked me to - yet another ploy to keep an eye on me. But I had no friends and no real direction, so I went to the academy. It was nice, in a way. They gave me a roommate whose mother was some kind of higher-up, and he understood a little of what being constrained by Starfleet meant. Charlie was the closest thing I'd ever had to a friend. He's in deep space, now, so I can't talk to him anymore.”

“You're not allowed to communicate with him?”

“I can't communicate or travel past the Kuiper Belt. They're afraid I'll go look for the Serr'at and start problems. It's alright, though. I really don't have any interest.”

“I'm sorry, Nate - for everything you've had to go through. But I'm not sorry that it ended up bringing you to me.”

His face lit up. “Really? I thought for sure that you’d hate me if you knew what I'd done - and that I'd kept it from you.”

“I'm not happy about it, but it's not your fault. You were following orders and keeping classified information classified. I, of all people, understand that. But I learned at least one thing since this mess with the Serr'at started - I can't function properly without you. I need you here … in my office… doing what you have done for me since I stepped foot in this place. I don't care if it's your heritage... your knowledge of my logs... your innate skills - or any combination of all three.”

“Th-thank you, Admiral. I won't let you down.”

“Good.” She let her face go soft and laid her hand gently on his arm. “Now, go… have a nice weekend… relax… spend some quality time with Becky. I'll see you back here Monday morning, with a smile on your face, and ready to work.” She patted his arm, then let go and stood. Escorting him to the door, she resisted the strong desire to pull him into a hug, and simply squeezed his shoulder. “Give Becky my best.”

“I will, Admiral. Thank you. And - so you know - I was given clearance to discuss the entire history with Captain Chakotay.” He left with a smile on his face.

Kathryn, on the other hand, sat down heavily in her chair. As he related his story, she’d been focused on simple information gathering. Now, though, she needed to process it in her own mind.

Ensign Harrison… her assistant... subordinate by multiple levels of rank… knew everything she had thought about since she left Earth almost eight years ago. Everything … including what she’d said about New Earth… her feelings of guilt… her disgust at what Seska had done… how she’d been torn by wanting to stay on that planet with Amelia Earhart. Her embarrassment about how she had handled Captain Ransom. Everything .

What's more, he had perfect recall - he could pull up any sentence, verbatim. And he could read her… know what she was thinking even before she did. Chakotay had been spot on when he’d pointed out how deeply she buried her personal self from view of others. She made the decision about who to share that world with. Until now, that is...

How many others had asked for ‘analysis' about one topic or another? How many others had read those logs - perfect recall, or not? Had the entire database of Voyager been thrown wide open to anyone with high enough clearance? She felt like she’d been stripped naked.

She found herself wandering the empty corridors of HQ… then out the doorway and into the foggy night. A light rain had begun to fall, but she made no move to protect herself from it. The cool water on her face helped clear her mind.

At some point, she wandered out of the Presidio and into the city. There was no thought of heading home… just a need to make the motion of her feet match that of her thoughts.

Her heart broke for the young boy who had been through so much at such a young age. Ignored by his parents and friendless, he’d latched on to the one person who was always there. His grandmother had been his whole world - then she was gone.

If he had been left alone to grieve, he might have been alright. She had a feeling that, being the solitary person he was, he would have allowed himself to pass through the stages of grief quietly. Coming out on the other side, he would have continued on as normal - preparing food for himself… going to school… doing his homework.

The unwelcome emergence of his mother from the basement had interrupted that. She’d made it worse - exponentially worse. Not only was he grieving, he was saddled with a woman he hated - a woman who should have been the one who comforted him.

Then Starfleet, in its infinite wisdom, had swooped in and saddled him with the burden of clearance so high, she was impressed that he hadn't become so terrified to speak that he became mute. They had even inserted an in-home spy !

When he was an adult, they'd all but forced him into service, then slapped the restriction of staying within Earth’s solar system. They’d given him a friend, then taken it away when it suited them.

Once again, she found herself unsure if she wanted to continue with an organization that would treat someone like that.

Still unaware, she realized her wandering had taken her to the door of Chakotay’s - their - apartment. Chakotay… yes… she needed to see him… to have him hold her and tell her everything was alright.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay was nearing panic. Kathryn had disappeared, and he had no idea where to even look for her. Aside from a brief comm - where she’d seemed fine - during the day, he’d heard nothing.

When she didn't arrive home at her typical time, he hadn't been worried. He figured she had stayed with Nate Harrison for a bit until Becky was available. As the time became later, he commed her office, but there had been no answer. He figured she was on her way home. But she hadn't arrived, and wasn't answering her personal comm.

He was just about to contact security, when the door to the apartment opened. She walked a few paces in, then stopped. Instead of easing his panic, though, it rose up a notch.

She was soaking wet… her hair dripping with moisture from the rain and fog… her uniform soaked through. There was no evidence that she'd brought her raincoat - even her bag was missing. It was her eyes, though that brought home his terror. They were vacant… distant… something was terribly wrong.

“Kathryn?...” As he hurried toward her, her eyes focused on him. There was pain, but no injury - no fear. Her body was shivering from the damp cold that must have seeped through to her bones. Reaching her, he gathered her up and held her to him.

She hid her face in his shoulder and put one hand over his chest… then stood in silence. As time went on, she went from relaxing into him and began leaning on him. Suddenly, he was holding her up completely. Her knees had buckled.

Without a word, he lifted her feet off the floor and carried her into the bedroom. He set her down and removed her dripping wet clothes, then started the water shower - set to hot. He intended to leave her in the shower to warm up while he fetched a cup of hot tea, but the look in her eyes stopped him. She didn't want him to leave her.

Swiftly, he removed his clothes and stepped into the shower with her, where she returned to the position she'd been in previously - head on his shoulder, hand on his chest. The shivering finally ceased, then her breathing slowed until it matched his. When her arm, which had been trapped between their bodies, came out and moved around his waist, he knew it was time to take her out.

Gently, he dried her body and toweled as much moisture out of her hair as he could, then helped her dress into warm clothes and tucked her into bed.

“I'll be back with some hot tea.” She nodded, slowly coming out of her stupor. “Kathryn, are you alright? Do I need to call security?”

Still not speaking, she simply shook her head. Chakotay left for the kitchen wondering if her response had been to both questions, or just the one about calling security. At least she was safe… she hadn't been attacked. Whatever was wrong was more personal… Crickets - was something wrong with her mother?

Hurrying back into the bedroom, he found her sitting propped up against the headboard.

“Is your mother alright?”

Accepting the mug that he handed to her she patted the bed. “She's fine, Chakotay.”

Good. Gretchen was safe, and Kathryn had found her voice. He sat down next to her on the bed.

“Can you tell me what's wrong?”

She took a sip of the tea, and stared into the cup for a moment. “I've just had a long conversation with Nate… I… It turns out that he is Serr'at.”

It was a damn good thing he was sitting down. “Well, that explains Starfleet’s reaction. How did he…?”

“His grandmother stowed away on the diplomatic ship when it left the Serr'at planet.”

What followed was the most fascinating story of first contact that he’d ever heard. He found himself imagining the wonderful conversations that would have come out in his class if he’d been allowed to present the race to them. Perhaps Mark would be able to talk to them, now…

So caught up in his musings, he missed her segue into Nate Harrison’s childhood. He found himself crying with her as she shared the story of his grandmother's death, and his mother's breakdown. Starfleet’s handling of the situation shocked and angered him.

Nate Harrison might be out walking around, but he was not a free member of the Federation. Barred from leaving Earth’s system - or even communicating outside of it, living under a gag order against speaking of his heritage - even things that impacted personal relationships - and spending his life under the watchful eyes and ears of Starfleet would have driven him completely mad.

Being incarcerated in New Zealand would have been easier - although, come to think of it, a high-security individual like Nate probably wouldn't go to New Zealand…

Kathryn had grown silent, her head resting on his shoulder, hand pressed to his chest, as usual when she was upset.

“It's good to know why Starfleet picked him up and held him for questioning so long. I wish I had realized the trouble I would cause him.”

“Although it is good to finally understand everything that went on, that's not really why he told me all this.”

“Then why do you - we - now know the story of Nate Harrison’s life?”

“Have you ever noticed him laugh at some inside joke from Voyager that he really shouldn't understand?”

“There was a time when I thought he knew about Neelix and Leola Root. And he always seems to know exactly what I will like.”

“Exactly… This afternoon we were going over any transitioning that needed to happen between him and Lt Happypants when he said something about how much easier it would be than transitioning the Nehela government.”

“How the hell does he know about that?”

“It turns out that he knows even more than that. Remember that ridiculously high security clearance? Starfleet used it. He and his speed-reading, photographic memory have been through every single word of every single log from Voyager.”

Once again, he was grateful he wasn't standing… or flying… or doing anything that required concentrated thought. He even momentarily forgot to breathe until Kathryn tapped him lightly on the chest. “Chakotay?”

Everything ? Even the personal ones?” He was a Starfleet officer… he knew the expectations toward privacy, but not all the Maquis had been Starfleet. He’d never thought to even mention it. Even so… after the first few months, he’d stopped thinking about whether Starfleet would ever review them. It had been a tumultuous time with Seska’s tricks and treachery and he’d needed someplace to dump his anger.

He’d dumped his anguish over leaving New Earth there... his anger at Kathryn for her deal with the Borg... his concern about her well-being after Quarra… his decision to walk away from her and develop the relationship with Seven…

“Yes. Everything . Our first set of logs included our personal ones, but the database was damaged when it passed through the wormhole. The final piece was truncated when the wormhole closed. Starfleet got to work putting it all back together, and they asked Nate to read them for accuracy and cohesiveness.”

“But the situation with the Nehela didn't happen until after that first transmission.”

“They liked being able to ask him about situations - to have him analyze them in a way that a computer can't. So they gave him the rest as it came through - damaged or not.”

“Let me get this straight - Starfleet made him read every word we ever recorded, then asked him to analyze situations based on the combination of our official logs and our personal ones?”

“Yep.”

He felt like he’d been flayed… his skin stripped from his body to show off all that was underneath. “Do we know… what they asked him about?... how many people are aware of what we said or thought?”

“I didn't ask - it was just too much to take in. To be honest, I'm not really sure I want to know.”

“I do… I want to know what someone knows about me when I'm talking to them. If someone mentions the Devore, are they going to be thinking about how jealous I was of Kashyk, or are they thinking about how disgusted I was by their views on telepathy?”

“You have a point… on the flip side, I'm not really sure if I want to know. I mean… they got all their questions answered during debriefing.”

“Except, of course, the ones they already had answers to because of Nate. I wondered why they asked me so little about the Sky People. Is it because they already knew?”

“...or why they didn't grill me, either. Our actions with the Devore were a clear violation of the Prime Directive, but they passed over it without much fanfare.”

“I really don't want to start examining every question they asked…”

“...Or didn't ask…”

Exactly .”

There was silence for a time as each of them ran through the situations they hadn't been strongly questioned about - and the private thoughts they had put down in those logs that were now in the memory of one individual.

Their stomachs growled in unison, causing them to finally laugh. “It's time I fed you. Our dinner is in stasis.”

She forced herself to relegate the story of Nate’s heritage to a corner of her mind. “You know, Chakotay, I never used to get hungry until you started feeding me regularly.”

“It's a good thing I did. You have more color in your cheeks these days.”

She sidled up next to him and gave him a kiss. “How do you know that it's not because I'm more satisfied in other ways?”

He put his arm around her and pulled her into him. “That may very well be, Kathryn, but you still need to eat in order to keep up your energy for that kind of satisfaction.”

She laughed wholeheartedly. “Point taken.” Patting him on the chest, she backed away. “Now, feed me… you never know when I'll need that energy .”

He laughed with her as he warmed the seven-layer burritos. “Did I tell you that my students threw me a ‘glad you're feeling better’ party?”

“How sweet! I guess you're extra glad you went back?”

“It definitely solidified my resolve to continue the seminars. I also think I was finally able to put the rumors about my sudden departure to rest.”

“How so?”

“That reporter was there, again. She asked me point blank if there was any connection between Starfleet’s retraction of the Serr'at to my sudden illness. I told her that there was…”

“Chakotay! We agreed to let things go and support Starfleet’s desire to keep certain details classified.”

“Let me finish, Kathryn… I told her the connection was that the Starfleet person I was talking to is the one who made me sick.”

“That was genius.”

“Yeah… everybody got a good laugh at some unnamed officer, and I got everybody off the trail. It worked all the way around, and we still had time for discussion.”

They forced Nate Harrison's heritage and photographic knowledge of their lives on Voyager away from their thoughts for the rest of the night. The conversation moved into his future plans for the seminar.

 

<<<------~>>>

 

Ensign Harrison left Admiral Janeway’s office with a sigh of relief. He’d spent a good part of his weekend worried about the Admiral’s reaction to their talk on Friday. Sure, she’d said she understood at the time, but there was always the possibility of a delayed reaction once she had some time to think things over.

Then there was always Professor Chakotay’s reaction. He hadn't been the one to tell the professor and, although the man was slow to anger, it burned long and deep. It was one bad side a person definitely didn't want to get on.

When the Admiral had asked him to stay for lunch today, he’d nearly panicked again. But they’d only had questions. The majority of them read that they were concerned about the invasion of their privacy. He’d answered all of them, then added information they might otherwise have not thought to ask.

In truth, not very many people knew the full stories. He’d tried his best to be vague about their personal thoughts - refocusing on the actual situation in question and revealing only what was necessary to explain their motivations.

In this case, though, the time for full disclosure had arrived. Tired of keeping things from her, he told her everything. It no longer mattered to him what the repercussions would be.

He ‘fessed up’ as his grandmother would have said. Several of the Admiral's logs and medical records had been heavily encrypted - a move that had completely perplexed him.  If there was no expectation of Starfleet reading them, why were they hidden?

Once again, his intuition had stepped in. Based upon the ship's logs and personal ones from other members of the crew, he was able to determine that her inaccessible ones covered things she didn't even want to reveal to herself . He’d reported them as irretrievably damaged and hidden them in the extraneous data pools. No one had ever called him out for it, so he figured he was in the clear.

He wanted her to know - needed to give her the peace of mind that not even he had read those particular files. Repercussions be damned. Whatever Admiral Janeway or Starfleet wanted to dish out was fine with him.

The look in her eyes when he revealed his deception made it all worthwhile. She was so relieved, her eyes pooled with tears and her face worked to keep them from rolling down her cheeks. He could read her well enough now to know that she wouldn't report him. To do so would force her to reveal that the logs existed in the first place.

In all, his decision to come completely clean - both on Friday and today - had been a good one. The weight of his ongoing deception was gone, and he felt lighter than he had in five years.

His only worry now was that she would be self conscious around him. There was no way he could get her to understand that burying the memories in his ‘don't want’ folder meant that they didn't really process on the surface. There would always be an impression of understanding, but actual situations would only truly come back if he asked them to.

Chapter Text

“Admiral, there's a Security officer waiting for you inside your office.” Her assistant was nervous to the point of being terrified.

Inside my office?” Had Nate let the officer in because he was afraid to sit face to face with them in the waiting area?

“Yes, ma'am. He was reluctant to wait out here, and asked to be let in. Since he is a member of Security, I saw no reason to deny him entrance.”

Kathryn was annoyed. Just because they were allowed to crawl all over her office to investigate a security breach, it didn't mean they could just walk in whenever they wanted.

“That’s a bit presumptuous, Ensign. Did you at least check his credentials? Are you sure he is actually what he says he is?”

“I actually know him - and he is a member of Starfleet security. I apologize for the presumption, but - in my experience - he is reliable and discreet.”

“While I appreciate your vote of confidence, I'd prefer that - in the future - you defer to my wishes that no one be in my office without my express permission.”

“Yes, ma'am. Again, my apologies.”

Kathryn stepped through her office door to find a man she didn't recognize sitting behind her desk. He wasn't wearing any kind of uniform - security or otherwise. The most she could say was that he had a kind face.

“Go easy on poor Harrison. He finds it impossible to say no to me - especially when I startle him by coming to see his CO.”

Arms crossed in front of her, she glared at him. “And you are…?”

The man only chuckled in response. “I was wondering if you would recognize me. I can't remember which face I was wearing that day, and I forgot to check before I headed here.”

“Which face you were wearing ?”

Her incredulous response earned her another chuckle. “Perhaps if I simply gave you one word , you would realize who I am.” As he spoke, his face… moved… became a different face… one she did recognize.

“Admiral Eldacka?” She’d driven herself crazy for several days trying to reach the Starfleet Security Department Director. Judging by his presence in her office, he had apparently received at least one of her messages.

“In the multilayered flesh.” He grinned at her. “Sorry about that little confusion. I try not to let it happen much. I just knew that I had to walk in with a particular face, but that's as far as I got.”

“I'm afraid I'm at a loss…”

He quirked his head to one side, his face now the one showing confusion. Then his purple eyes lit. “That's right… I'd quite forgotten… you met me during your inquisition. You would not have been informed.”

“Inquisition… interesting way for you to put it.”

The wide grin went mischievous. “Isn't that what it was?”

“It is… but I wouldn't expect anyone involved on your side of the room to use that term.”

He sat forward, the grin disappearing as his face became all business. “I'm actually not here to discuss terminology. I'm here responding to your attempts at getting in touch with me. You've been driving my poor staff crazy.”

“You're a difficult man to get hold of - and I wanted to speak with you. It has come to my attention that Ensign Harrison…”

“You're not trying to get rid of him, are you? He loves you - and you're good for him. He did what he did on my orders.”

“Er…” He’d thrown her off. Given Nate’s history with Starfleet Security, she would not have expected this reaction. “I have no intention of getting rid of him - I was lost for the week you held him for questioning. On the contrary, I want to help him.”

“In what way?”

“He mentioned that he gets a visit from a Starfleet Security officer every year to update his clearance. I'm guessing that kind of clearance is pretty tight to 365 days.”

“You're correct. The update has to be 365 days - no more.”

“Can it be less? It lands on his birthday every year - a hell of a reminder of the worst day of his life. It would be nice if he could at least have that day back.”

“I'll admit, it never occurred to me that it might impact him that way, although I've always tried to do what I could to ease the trauma of his regular visit. I really can't see a way to change the date without creating an obvious stir. What did you have in mind?”

“You've just had him in your custody for a week, during which he probably received a thorough questioning on all fronts. Can his release date become his new anniversary?”

Eldacka was silent, his purple eyes studying her. It was then that she noticed that his pupils were slits instead of the more standard round shape - neither horizontal nor vertical, they went corner to corner in a slash. That particular feature didn't ring any bells with her. What race was he?

“It's more than direct questioning. I need certification from his CO and interviews with any friends or coworkers.”

“Well, his CO is right here, and she’d sign anything to verify his fitness for clearance. As far as I know, he's only got Becky - and Lt Happypants… who he had contact with for the first week after he was released.”

“You’d be willing to vouch for him, despite the fact that you know he has figured out how to lie?”

Lie ?”

“Your logs… the encrypted ones that he thinks he has hidden. Hiding them constitutes a lie.”

She was stumped. It hadn't occurred to her that hiding those logs would translate into a lie. Eldacka knew about them. Had he decrypted them - read them? “If you knew about it, why would you renew his clearance?”

“Because he did it for good reasons - and no… I haven't read them. No one has. Only he, myself, and Admiral Paris even know they exist. Paris and I agreed to leave them hidden. We might be stuffy admirals, but we're also real people, you know. Considering a few of them predate your first contact with the Alpha Quadrant, we know that your intention was not to hide them from Starfleet.”

“Even if Nate has figured out how to do that without causing harm to his psyche, he has too much integrity to do so for anything that would impact his credibility. I will vouch for him. He could have told me his story long before he was given clearance to do so. Keeping it hidden from me would also constitute a lie, and it was eating him up. In fact, if you think about it from his point of view, keeping anything confidential could constitute a lie. I think you're lucky that he's figured out how to do it.”

“Point taken, Kathryn. Alright… I'll order the interviews for Becky and Lt Erin Happypants.” He grinned at her for the nickname. “Once those are done, I can certify his clearance - effectively moving his renewal date to October. Do you want to be the one to put him out of his misery? You know he's a wreck out there.”

“I'd like to do it, if you don't mind.”

“Consider it yours, then.” He stood to leave. “It's time I gave you your desk back.”

“One last question, if I may - what race are you?”

Another grin. “I am Kalelme. Ask Chakotay - I suspect he's run across us, by now. He can't do a seminar about us, though. We're not necessarily classified, but quite a few of us work in the security field and we’d rather not have our abilities pointed out on such a public stage. Besides… he's about to get rather busy unveiling other species.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

It turned out that Admiral Eldacka was right about Chakotay's workload. Two days after a very excited Ensign Harrison received his updated certification, Chakotay received word that the first Delta Quadrant alien race was being declassified.

“It's just the Tiat, but it's a start.”

“We were there for less than 24 hours. Do you think you'll have enough information?”

“I spent a good deal of my time there talking to the curator of their cultural museum, so I should have enough. Keep in mind, by the time we met them, we had already come across several different entities that either were nebulae, or lived in one. A culture that worshipped one didn't faze us at all.”

“True… We really got accustomed to what the Alpha Quadrant thinks is outrageous.”

“My real challenge is going to be how to discuss their beliefs without talking about those other entities. That should take up quite a bit of time.”

Kathryn sighed deeply. “These constraints are going to get old.”

“I'm trying to keep in mind how people here would react. Look at what happened with the Gamma Quadrant - we opened ourselves up and ended up in a war. Imagine how the Alpha Quadrant would react to the Devore, or Species 8472. There would be quadrant-wide panic. Even here, if it was widely known that Admiral Eldacka was a Kalelme, and that there were other chameleons like him in Starfleet, there could be panic.”

“At minimum, the rumors about Section 31 would resurface.” Kathryn sighed, again.

Chakotay was right. Even as jaded as she was by what they had encountered on Voyager, she’d been thrown for a loop when Chakotay had informed her that the Kalelme were chameleons of a sort. They altered their appearance by manipulating the fine muscles controlling each layer of skin and changing their coloring to highlight different aspects of their faces.

Although perfect for undercover operations, regular people could become paranoid that their neighbors - even spouses - could be something else than what they saw. There was also a danger of too many connections being drawn with the shape-shifting Founders. Some things were better left unknown.

Due to the fact that the Tiat were still technically classified, Chakotay couldn't work in the library as he had been doing. Instead, he spent the better part of the weekend at the dining room table, with padds spread out around him.

Struggling to develop a presentation format that avoided possible forays into classified material, while still giving a full view of the species, was proving more daunting than he had expected. What's more… he had to have it completed a day early, so Starfleet had a chance to review it ahead of time.

It fell to Kathryn to make sure he ate and slept - a role reversal that both of them found very comical. She even forced him out of the apartment for lunch on Sunday when the grunts and grumbles of frustration became too much.

Finally, the announcement came that he was ‘as ready as he’d ever be.’

“Good. Now submit the files to Starfleet and help me clean up the table.” Kathryn had had enough of sitting on the sofa, using the coffee table to rest her plate on.

“I'm sorry, Kathryn. Maybe I can get the university to provide me with an on-campus office. As long as I can lock the door, I'll be able to keep everything confidential.”

“Then you’d never eat or sleep, Chakotay. And I'd never see you. I think it's time we visited my apartment. It's just sitting there with all those security enhancements - and an office.”

The approval for his presentation came through the next afternoon. That evening, they visited her apartment to get the feel of the place.

“There's so much negative history here. I hadn't planned to move back.” She paused outside the door.

“We can get a different one.”

“That would just force Starfleet into crawling all over that place. It would be the same thing. Besides… half of my things are already here.”

Entering the apartment gave her a sense of the creeps, and she wouldn't let Chakotay near the receiving portal. The security teams had done an excellent job of cleaning up after themselves, and her things seemed to be in their previous positions. It felt sterile to her, though - like entering newly-assigned quarters and discovering the previous occupant had left personal items behind.

“How does it feel?”

“Empty… like I never lived here.”

“Just focus on the good things that happened here. This is where we talked for the first time when I returned from Trebus.” He led her over to the dining area. “And this is the place when you first kissed me for real, then told me you would give us a shot.”

Space by space and story by story, he led her around the apartment, filling her head with memories of the good things that had happened there. Reaching her closet, he paused.

“This is the most… interesting… of all.”

“I can't remember anything important happening here, Chakotay. It's just a closet.”

“This is the spot of your final surrender.”

“No it isn't. That was…”

“You gave me control over what you would wear , Kathryn. That's a surrender of control that had nothing to do with your private self, and everything to do with letting someone else take the reins of your public self.”

“It wasn't giving up control, Chakotay. I had final approval.”

Chuckling, he gathered her into his arms. “Keep telling yourself that, Kathryn. I know better.”  

A grumble from her stomach saved her from having to respond. “I think it's time you fed me.”

He kissed her, then gave her a grin. “Do I get to tell you what to eat , too?”

Giving him a gentle swat on the chest, she moved out of his arms, then turned back to tease him. “ That's nothing new. You do that every time you cook for me.”

He caught her, and gently pushed her between the clothes in the closet until her back hit the wall behind them. Pressing up against her, he gave her a long liquid kiss that washed through her until it pooled between her thighs.

As her fingers threaded through his hair and she brought the kiss deeper, her stomach rumbled again. She broke the kiss and laid her head on his shoulder, breathless.

“Sustenance, Chakotay… sustenance. I need food so I can keep up with you.” Hidden amongst the clothes, her voice was muffled. It was like being cocooned with him. She found it… comforting… a level of privacy even the solitude of New Earth hadn't provided. A level of privacy that actual Earth had ripped from her at almost every turn.

“Not right now.” Kisses rained down her neck, sending goose flesh along her skin. His hands moved up her sides to tease across her breasts. Still pressed into her, he showed no signs of stopping, and she could feel him growing hard against her.

Unable to control her body's reaction, her back arched toward him. Moaning and panting - and listening to her stomach protesting being ignored - she tried one more time. “Food, Chakotay…”

Hands had found their way under her blouse… knee inserted between her thighs… mouth continuing the onslaught on her neck… she got a one-word response. “No.”

His tongue found its way around the edge of her ear, then his mouth sucked in her earlobe. “But…” Abandoning her ear, his mouth traveled to that special spot behind it and began licking and sucking at it. “Ahhhh… alright…” She gave herself over to his ministrations, forcing down the protests of her stomach and focusing on the fire he was stoking in her body.

Once again she threaded her fingers through his hair, pulling his mouth up to hers. The kiss she received burned through her with its power, turning her knees to jelly. Had it not been for him holding her up against the wall, she would have slid down it and ended up in a puddle on the floor.

Instead of slowing him, her acquiescence seemed to spur him on. Unable to unbutton her blouse on the first try, he ripped it open, sending buttons bouncing off the clothes hanging around them. His mouth moved down her chest with tiny nips and kisses. When he reached her breasts, he actually bit one nipple through the thin material of her bra.

Any protest she might have made was set aside by the rush of desire that spread through her. As his tongue found its way underneath the bra to caress the ravaged nipple, she grabbed his head and pressed it into her, encouraging him on. In response her bra was ripped open, his teeth finding her bare skin.

Moaning, she wrapped one leg around his hips and ground herself against his thigh where it held her up. His frenzy transferred into her, causing her to rip his shirt down the middle and drag her fingernails down his bare torso. The fasteners on her pants went the way of their shirts and he thrust his fingers through the shredded waistband to tease her.

Adjusting his grip, he held her hips against the wall and pulled back. The journey down her body was traveled by nips and soothing kisses, his fingernails making their own marks down her thighs as he stripped her pants off.

The nips and kisses traveled back up her thigh until he reached her core and ran his tongue around the sensitive outer lips - then actually nipped one. Her body bucked against him and she wrapped her legs around his head. His tongue plunged into her entrance and rasped against the front wall, pulling a gasping groan from her.

He didn't let up as he ravaged her core, tongue plunging in and out of her relentlessly while her hips bucked and rolled against his face. In one final move, he sucked her swollen sensitive nub tightly between his teeth. She came with abandon, her body writhing as he lapped and sucked up her offerings.

Only when her body finally calmed as the waves of her orgasm passed did he release her and make his way back up her body. As he nipped his way past her stomach, it made itself known once more.

“Chakotay…” Her words were choked, her body demanding food.

He ignored both her stomach and her words, and captured her lips in a brutal kiss, his tongue plundering the depths of her mouth. “I'll give you something to put in your mouth, Kathryn.”

His voice was husky as he let her body slide down the wall until she was on her knees in front of him. There was no doubt as to what he was asking - ordering - her to do. She took his swollen shaft in her hand and ran her tongue around the rim and across the tip.

He groaned and drove himself into her mouth, barely giving her time to open her throat to take him in. She pushed back on his hips, pulling him back out as she ran her tongue along his length. Holding him tight in her hand, she worked to give him the pressure he needed while she stimulated him with her tongue and teeth.

But it wasn't pressure he seemed to want, and he forced himself back in, making her gag. She pushed him away completely out of her mouth and back in between the clothes. “Chakotay…”

“Crickets, I'm sorry, Kathryn. You hate that… I don't know what came over me.”

All interest in taking him back into her mouth disappeared and she stood to pull him back in with her. “It's alright… you stopped when I asked you to.”

“I shouldn't have started in the first place.”

Kissing him deeply, she ran her hands down his chest and around his shoulders. “Let's forget that part… tell me what else you want.” Her objection had been acknowledged - she was fine with returning control to him.

He cupped her face and stared into her eyes. The intense passion in his voice seared through her. “I want to burn in your fire… be humbled by your power… saved by your strength… healed by your compassion.”

Struggling to keep up with the abrupt reversal in attitude, she was only able to register the look on his face. His words buzzed through her ears, but made no sense. His eyes, though, begged her to take over, the intensity thrilling through her.

She pulled his face into hers and captured his mouth in a powerful kiss. His knees seemed to give way and he pressed her into the wall in order to hold himself up. The nips of before returned, and the fire in her body was relit.

Quickly divesting him of the rest of his clothes, she raked her fingernails down his bare skin and pulled his body closer to her. Her own nips and bites wound their way down his neck and across his chest, teeth grasping his spiked nipples as it passed them.

The sounds of their moans muffled in the cocoon of the closet. She felt free for the first time in months. No one could reach her here - no prying eyes and cameras to torture her with. A feeling of power long lost in the trials of her return to Earth surged back through her.

Alive. She was alive again for the first time in what felt like forever. She hooked a leg over his hip, and he pulled her up so they were level, then sucked her breast into his mouth. As her back arched in response, she wrapped the other leg around him and pulled him in tight.

But she was still at his mercy, forced up against a wall without freedom to move. It was time for a change of scene. Unwrapping her legs, she pushed him slightly away until she could put her feet on the floor again.

At his look of confusion, she grinned. “Bed, Chakotay… bed.” Not-so-gently, she nudged him backwards until his knees hit the edge of the bed, the surprise buckling them and making him sit down.

Standing in front of his seated form, she was looking down at him, his face level with her breasts. Pulling his face up to hers, she smiled at the thought of being taller… for once . Another bolt of electricity shot through her at the thought, making the kiss she gave him more fiery than she had planned.

He didn't complain… grabbing her hips and pulling her between his knees until hers hit the bed. Breaking the kiss, he nipped down her neck and chest until his mouth found a hardened nipple to latch onto. Her nails dug into his shoulders as his hand located the other breast, roughly pinching and rolling the nipple between his thumb and forefinger.

She began to pant as she held his face to her chest, encouraging him as he nipped and taunted her breasts until she was dripping wet. Placing a knee between his thighs at the edge of the bed, she leaned him back until he was flat on the bed, his hands on her ribcage, teeth still holding onto one lucky nipple.

“Scoot…”

He let go of the nipple. “Huh?”

“Scoot up the bed… I want all of you on it.” Dutifully, he scooted up the bed until he was almost at the head and only his ankles hung out. She gave herself a moment to admire him… well-formed muscles… skin the color of caramel… swollen member standing proud from a thatch of dark hair.  

That feeling of power that had come to her in the closet still held her tightly. She felt like she had on Voyager’s bridge when she wielded her ship and crew like an extension of herself. From there, she’d vanquished every foe the Delta Quadrant had seen fit to throw at her.

At those times, she’d come to understand just how actors felt when they stepped off the stage after the final applause. The elation of success… the adrenaline rush - but nowhere to channel it in the quiet backstage. How many times had she frantically paced her ready room… her quarters… the ship's corridors, the heady feeling trapped inside her with no place to go.

Those feelings were escaping the place where she’d locked them away… the freedom she’d felt in the closet setting them loose. She poured it out into him, taunting and teasing him, wielding that power for her pleasure. When he was wound tight from her power and the fire in her body began to burn her, she straddled him and rode him relentlessly.

Her fingernails made welts and valleys in his chest and arms… his dug into her buttocks as he held her to him. She felt like she was flying… soaring through the universe tethered only by his body. The look in his eyes as he was laid waste by her power spurred her on. For once, she understood the need for sound as she growled her release.

The surprise in his eyes quickly morphed into ecstasy as he growled over the edge with her, body pumping her full of his seed. She milked him dry, clamping her inner muscles around him, hips still rocking, relentlessly massaging him until his hands dropped from her hips and his entire body went limp.

Collapsing down on his chest, she panted into it, trying desperately to get air back into her lungs. After a moment, her awareness returned, and she rolled their bodies to the side, one leg still wrapped around his hip. Cradling him with her body, she gently stroked his back, soothing him with gentle sounds. His breathing slowed and the rhythm of his heart returned to its typical steadiness.

Gently, she cupped his cheek and brought his face up to hers for a soft kiss, then settled his head down on her shoulder. She felt the moment when he dozed off and smiled to herself. Never once in all the times they had been together had he fallen asleep first.

 

<<<------>>>

 

Chakotay woke to a sense of total peace, head resting on Kathryn's shoulder, wrapped in her essence. Sighing deeply, he reflected on what had transpired between them this evening.

As had happened at other times while teaching these seminars, he’d been nervous. As usual, he’d tried to alleviate the feeling by taking command of her. It hadn't been working, and he’d gone too far in his attempt to get there, but the command in her eyes when she stopped him had clicked.

It was different this time. Yes, he was worried about straying into territory Starfleet didn't want him to touch, but that wasn't the real root of his disquiet. The Delta Quadrant was coming back - revealing it to others making it real again, instead of being a distant memory of times past. With it, came the image of her as his Captain - aloof and untouchable, but powerful and full of fire.

Would she revert? Would the resurgence of that reality take her back to that woman she had been before? He’d wanted to rule her - to keep her grounded here on Earth. Instead, the power in her eyes pulled a different desire from deep within him. He wanted to feel that fire… to drown in her power until they were both washed clean.

Now unshackled by the restraints imposed by Voyager, he’d asked - begged - her to do so. She had complied fully, pulling him into the maelstrom until he was breathless in her power.

She’d toyed with him… strung him tight like a bow… played him across the violin that was her body… pushed him over the edge in a resounding crescendo… held him tight in her strength as it gripped him… soothed him down with her love. He was stripped clean, the demons of the Delta Quadrant scorched from his soul, the peace he’d relied on her to provide settling into the open spaces left behind.  

She stirred... her breathing changed… the leg that had been resting over his hip began to slide off. Not wanting to lose the connection, he pulled her tighter to him and nuzzled his face into her neck.  

“Mmmm…” She responded by looping her leg back over him and pulling his hips into hers.

“Hey.” Face still pressed into her shoulder, his voice was muffled.

“Hey.”

“Are you alright?”

“A little drained, but yes, I'm fine. Are you alright?”

His head shifted a bit so he could speak properly. “I woke up wrapped in your arms, with my head nestled between your shoulder and your naked breast. How can I not be fine?” As if proving his point, he flicked his tongue out to circle her nipple.

“Hmmm.” She stretched, her body leisurely moving against his. Any other time, her movement would have made him immediately hard, but she’d strung him up completely and milked him dry. He wasn't sure how long it would be before he could get it up again.

He was saved from embarrassment when their stomachs rumbled in unison. She gave a delicate snort. “ Now can I eat? You drained my energy resources.”

Raising himself and resting on one elbow, he grinned at her. “More like you drained mine .”

Letting her leg slide off his hip, she rolled into her back and grinned back at him. “Was that a complaint?”

“Not in the slightest, my love. Not at all.”

She sat up and scooted toward the edge of the bed. “Good. I'm going to take a quick shower while you coax my replicator into a meal.”  

“Just don't take too long. You might pass out from hunger before you make it to the table.”

She laughed on her way to the bathroom. “I promise.”

 

<<<------>><

 

Kathryn woke the next day to find deep purple bruises on her hips - on top of the welts and bites. One could clearly see a hand mapped out in the angry colors. After he’d fed her the previous evening, Chakotay had laid her across the table, roughly taking her from behind. It had been exhilarating.

Unfortunately, the dermal regenerator that they had kept in her apartment had been located and confiscated by security during the sweep of her apartment. She’d had no room to complain. On board Voyager, the higher-level regenerators were easily accessible to regular members of the crew because of the continual bumps and bruises caused by constant skirmishes with hostile entities. On Earth, regenerators of that level were reserved for medical professionals. The only unit available to the general public was a simple one meant for small scratches and light bruises.

Chakotay was dismayed at the sight of the bruises, welts and bite marks. He tried to convince her to have a doctor heal them. She refused adamantly. There was no way that Admiral Janeway was visiting a doctor to heal injuries received during wild sex. Absolutely no way .

Instead, they did what they could with the simple regenerator to ease the worst of the damage - to both their bodies. Chakotay found a loose shirt that covered up the remaining welts on his skin - joking that he could play them off as remaining damage from the explosion.

Unfortunately, she had no such options in her outfit. The bruises on her hips pressed against the waistband of her uniform pants and the rough material chafed at her other injuries. It was difficult to walk normally, but she felt she could handle it.

The minute she entered her office, though, she saw Ensign Harrison’s face fall. “Are you alright, Admiral?”

“I'm fine, Ensign. I was trying to move something in my apartment when I tripped. I ended up squished between it and the wall. It's just a couple of nasty bruises and scrapes.”

“I know you're not fond of doctors, Admiral, but perhaps I should contact one for you. They can treat you here.” He was already reaching for his comm unit.

“No… no… I'm fine Nate. They're just bruises. They will heal just fine on their own.”

Nate moved his hand away from his comm, but the expression on his face was dubious. “Very well, Admiral, but if you change your mind…”

“I'll let you know.” She escaped to her office, away from the knowing eyes of her too-intuitive assistant. Settling painfully into her chair, she picked up a padd and started to review the dry ops report she had abandoned in boredom yesterday.

By 1000, she was miserable. The waistband of her pants was putting painful pressure on the deep bruises at her hips and she suspected that at least one of the other marks had opened and begun to bleed. But the mere thought of trying to explain her injuries to someone she didn't know was making her physically sick. The previous attacks on her privacy also made her hyper-vigilant to the prospect of the information getting out.

She couldn't stay here at work. It was just too uncomfortable, and Nate was going to figure out that her pain was more than a simple bruise if she stayed much longer. Exiting her office after cleaning up her desk, she walked carefully to her assistant.

“I'm heading out to spy on Chakotay’s lecture for a bit, then heading home. I think my shoulder could use a day's rest.”

“Very well, ma'am. I'll reschedule your appointment with Ensign Portman to Thursday. And I'm not sure if you're aware that they moved Professor Chakotay’s lecture to Belkin Hall.”

“Really? Do you know why?” Out of habit, she leaned her hip against the desk - and immediately regretted it when the pain shot down her leg. Harrison noticed, but thankfully said nothing.

“The alert said they needed the additional space. I guess he had a pretty big turnout when people caught the headline.”

“Headline?”

“Yes… in the Californian .” He pressed a few buttons on his computer and brought up a copy of the Berkeley newspaper. The top headline read ‘Professor Chakotay discusses Delta Quadrant species’.

“I guess they couldn't actually give the name - it's technically classified until he opens his mouth.” It hadn't occurred to her last night, but she realized now that Chakotay was probably feeling the pressure of that responsibility. It would explain the reason for the bruises.

“If I may ask, which one is it?”

“They're starting small and insignificant. It's the Tiat.”

After a moment's silence as he went through his mental files, Nate smiled. “They are starting small. How on Earth is he going to explain worshipping a nebula?”

“How does one explain the development of a belief structure of a god that lives in the sky? We have several here on Earth - Judeo Christian is a very popular one - but as far as I know, we haven't found the root of why the belief tells them that God is in the sky. Sometimes it just is - there's no real root to be found.”

“It promises to be a lively discussion.”

“You're welcome to come with me. I won't deny you the opportunity to see it.’

“Thank you, Admiral, but I think it's best that I stay here.”

“Very well. Have a good day, Ensign. I'll be resting at home if something comes up.”

As she headed painfully down the corridor toward the Starfleet transporter hub, she realized that there was someone she could call on for help. Although she still didn't relish the idea of having to face his reaction, he’d helped her through many sensitive situations - and he wouldn't be required to make a report. Perhaps he could just get her a unit so she could take care of it herself.

First things first, however. She really did want to see the lecture - even more so, now that she knew the turnout was so great.

Belkin Hall was packed. Every seat was taken and there were several people standing at the back. Chakotay had already started, so she slipped quietly in the door and took a place along the wall. The young man who was next to her did a double take, but then simply nodded a greeting.

The room was dotted here and there with Starfleet uniforms - many of higher ranks. Everyone was completely focused on Chakotay. In no time, she was enthralled. As expected, he was a natural teacher, his various anecdotes bringing the people alive for his audience.

When he opened up the floor for questions, the young man standing next to her stepped forward. “They sound an awful lot like the Meltrinkins. Did you draw that conclusion at the time, and were you able to ask them about it?”

“Is that you, Gerold?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come sit down here on the steps so I can see you.”

Dutifully, Gerold headed down the aisle to take a seat near the dais.

Only when he had arrived did Chakotay answer his question. In fact, Kathryn noticed that Chakotay was giving special attention to several men and women seated near the front. After some thought, she realized that these must be his original core of students.

As the seminar wound down, she decided it was time to leave. She didn't want Chakotay distracted by her presence, and the analgesic she’d taken that morning seemed to be wearing off.

On her way to the transporter station, she made the comm that would hopefully give her some help. The Doctor was excited for the opportunity, minor as it was, to practice medicine, but unsure if he could get access to the equipment. He would meet her at Chakotay’s apartment as soon as he could get away from Reg Barclay.

The solution to her problem in sight, she moved as quickly as she could to Chakotay’s apartment.

 

<<<------>>>

 

She was lying on the sofa - wearing a pair of loose stretchy pants, and waiting for the Doctor - when Chakotay rushed in. “Harrison said you went home in pain. Are you alright?”

“I'm in enough pain to ask for help, Chakotay. The Doctor should be here soon.”

“Good idea. He doesn't have to report anything.”

“Not to mention, he knows me so I won't have to deal with any starry-eyed admirers and a nurse with loose lips.”

“As usual, Kathryn Janeway finds her way around a sticky situation.” He sat down in the chair facing her, a sly grin spread across his face.

She laughed at him. Although she had no doubt of his concern for her, his mood was much too happy to be overridden by it.

“I guess the seminar went well?”

“It was wonderful. They had to move it to a larger spot because too many people showed up. Even then, the space was standing room only. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I had a lot of good questions - especially from my students…” He babbled on, his excitement bubbling over and into her, until they were laughing together at one hapless Starfleet officer who got himself stuck in his chair.

“Do you think Berkeley would mind if I cordoned off a few seats for my original students? Poor Gerold arrived late from a meeting with another professor and couldn't even get a seat. I kind of feel like their basic interest in all species should be rewarded.”

“Not to mention their loyalty to you.” She grinned at the slight blush that reddened his cheeks. “Honestly, Chakotay, I think you could ask for just about anything you want at this point. The entire room was completely entranced and Starfleet is going to be over the moon with the positive reactions your lecture brought. Not one question was rooted in fear or mistrust. You made them love the Tiat as much as we did.”

“You snuck in, didn't you?”

“Guilty as charged. I just couldn't stay away. You did an amazing job, Chakotay. I felt like I was back there, talking to the Spirit Holder, like we never left.”

Chakotay’s red face was distracted by the door chime. “That must be the Doctor. I'll let him in.”

The Doctor came blustering in, obviously excited to be practicing medicine again. “Let’s see what the ‘I‘m fine’ Kathryn Janeway is in enough pain to call me about.”

“Before we get started, Doctor, I need you to understand that part of the reason I asked for you is my need for discretion. Please don't advertise or make a report.”

“I wouldn't even be able to make one, Kathryn. I have no access to those systems.” Despite the disgruntled pain in the hologram’s voice, she couldn't help but be relieved about the situation.

With a quick glance at Chakotay - who nodded his encouragement - she did her best to hold back the blush as she lowered the waistband of her pants. The Doctor did his best to hide his reaction, but she knew the bruise was unmistakable. There was little question as to how it came to be.

“Are there any other injuries?” The Doctor was holding himself back, but she could see the worry in his face, anyway.

“Yes.” She sat up, and pulled her top and bra to the side so he could see the bite mark on her breast.  

His expression became indecipherable, then he moved toward the comm unit. “I'm going to need a surgical-level regenerator. Let me see if I can get one.”

From her place on the couch, she could see who he was talking to. Dr. Cambridge was one of the doctors that had been involved in Chakotay's treatment. From how they were speaking to each other, she could tell that the two had become friendly, and that the other man respected the Doctor as a medical professional in his own right.

After a brief conversation and the Doctor's assurance that he wasn't treating a patient that belonged to Cambridge, a high level professional regenerator appeared in the replicator. Retrieving it, the Doctor turned back to face her.

“I think you'll be more comfortable if you laid down on a bed. It's a bit more roomy than a couch, and I'll be able to get to all of your injuries much more easily.”

The expression on his face was now readable. Damn! This had been yet another reason why she hadn't wanted to include a doctor - especially one she didn't know. With Chakotay's help, she got to her feet, but stopped him from following them into the bedroom.

“We'll only be a couple of minutes. Why don't you brew up some coffee while you wait?”

“Kathryn, if there's something more…”

“Don't worry, you've seen it all. I just don't need you cringing every time he heals something. When I'm done, he can take you in while I hide out here. Now go… make me coffee. My reserves are running low.”

Leading the Doctor into the bedroom, she braced herself for the conversation she knew was about to happen. Once inside, the Doctor closed the door behind him.

“Kathryn…”

She held up a hand to stave him off. “Before you get started, I want you to know that anything you'll see is consensual.”

“That's some pretty consensual damage, Kathryn.”

Taking off her shirt and pants, she laid down on the bed so he could heal her injuries.

“I could have gone to Starfleet Medical, or had my assistant call a doctor into my office. Do you know why I asked you to come help me?”

“Because I have no way to make a report.”

“No. It's because you're more than just a doctor, you're my doctor. You will always be my doctor - I don't care what the Federation says. My choice today was you or no medical care at all.”  

“Thank you, Kathryn, but if you're trying to butter me up, it's not going to work.”

“I wouldn't dream of it, Doctor. I'm just saying that I trust you… and that you know me. You also know Chakotay. So, tell me - do you honestly think he could have done something like what you're implying? Do you think I would have let him?”  

“There have been times in your life that you were forced …”

“But Chakotay ? Think, Doctor. You've seen the aftermath of Tuvok's self defense drills.”

“You were usually the only one left standing.”

“Exactly. During the years you have been caring for me, I have been technically celibate. There were... forced … situations, but nothing consensual.”

“What happened on Quarra was cons…”

“Was done by someone not me , with someone who looked at sex differently than humans. I was programmed into thinking that what happened was how it was supposed to be.”

“So you're saying…”

“I'm saying that I can be rather… energetic… in bed. I have always been that way. Chakotay does what I - we - enjoy… what I ask him to do. I stop him if I'm not happy, and he stops - with no complaints and usually at least one apology. What you're seeing on my body today is the result of amazing sex - nothing more. I don't want a report made because I don't want the Federation to know that Kathryn Janeway - famed and precious former captain of Voyager - likes it rough.”

“Hmph… records may be confidential, but people talk.”

“Exactly.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

The Doctor healed their injuries, then stayed to chat about Chakotay’s lecture. He hadn't seen it, but Reg Barclay had come home bubbling with excitement about creating a holographic representation of the Tiat and their world.

“I suppose we could put him together with Tom when he gets back from Boreth with B'elanna.”

“We have no idea when that will be, though. The priests still won't let him see her.”

“Why the hell did they tell him she was back?” Kathryn could see the frustration written all over Chakotay’s face.

Shortly after Chakotay’s recovery, Tom had received the news that B’elanna had returned from the sacred desert where she had gone to find her mother, but that she was gravely injured.

Tom had immediately packed up himself and Miral then, with Starfleet's permission, taken the Delta Flyer and rushed to the planet.  Fearing that Tom’s human blood would contaminate the sacred soil, the Klingon priests refused to allow Tom on the surface.

Instead, the Delta Flyer had been in orbit for the last two months. The priests had initially set up a comm link to B’elanna’s hospital room so he could talk to her, but she’d been released a few weeks ago and sent right into a period of solitary meditation and prayer. The priests said it was a necessary ritual, but Tom and his friends couldn't help but think there was a touch of vindictiveness because of Starfleet's involvement.

Beyond B’elanna’s initial condition, that was all anybody knew. If Tom knew something about B’elanna’s experience, he hadn't shared it.

“Admiral Paris put in a word with the Klingon Council. Considering the amount of assistance Starfleet has given them, they couldn't refuse to keep him updated. Unfortunately, it's the priests who have control over the planet.”

“Tom said they let a nurse bring Miral down to see her. Apparently being only a quarter Klingon was enough.” The Doctor’s imperious tone was liberally laced with sarcasm.

“If I didn't suspect it would cause more problems for him, I would step in. I'm just trying to tell myself that his father is doing everything in his power to get whatever concessions he can.”

“It'll be fine, Kathryn. They can't keep her forever. You know she'll rebel at some point. Remember what I told you - you can't fix everything. Some things just have to suck until they right themselves.”

Chapter Text

Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief. He'd just finished his third Delta Quadrant lecture and it had gone well. The audience had even continued to be respectful of his insistence that his original students get the primary seats, and there’d been only a small amount of grumbling when Gerold once again arrived late, but ended up with the best seat in the house.

For the first time, he’d had to contend with a few questions whose proper answers would have stepped over the boundaries that Starfleet had put in place. Luckily, he’d been prepared with a few sidestep answers and, although his ‘originals’ might have caught on, he didn't think anyone else had noticed.

After the first Delta Quadrant species, he had pondered whether to open the after-lecture meetings to anyone who wanted to come, but had been worried about the massive influx of people changing the tone. After some thought, he’d decided to leave it up to the originals about whether to invite any ‘newbies’. They had responded with an unmistakable ‘no’ - Alex hadn't even invited her boyfriend, despite the fact that she'd dragged him to the second lecture.

The regular follow up meeting promised to be lively. The originals had developed a good format for positive dialogue and debate over the time they’d spent together and he was looking forward to spending that time with them.

His musings were brought up short by the appearance of Admiral Patterson. “You're doing an excellent job, Chakotay.  It was a good call to prepare those generic responses in advance - and to include them in your notes for us.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate the feedback.”

“You seem to be exhibiting some favoritism toward a few people.”

“Are you objecting? They're my original students, and technically the only ones actually registered for the class. I think they deserve special accommodation.”

“In favor of high-ranking officers? I had to stand in the doorway.”

“If Starfleet wants to cordon off a section for the Admiralty, I have no objection - as long as they don't get in the way of my students.”

Patterson grinned conspiratorially. “I knew the Maquis in you would never really leave… Your arrangement is fine with me. I'll make sure the Fleet Admiral lets me know in advance if she's planning to attend so we can find her a spot.”

Chakotay’s stomach did a flip. The Fleet Admiral ? Crickets! “I - uh… She can have one of my students’ spots. I was thinking of punishing Gerold for his constant tardiness, anyway.”

“Don't you worry about her. She usually likes a corner, anyway. I wanted to let you know that we're going to move your lectures to Albright Hall. As word continues to get out, you're going to exceed the occupancy limit on Belkin Hall. Frankly, I was worried the building would collapse today.”

“These seminars are really that popular? I figured the numbers would level out at some point.”

“You have a gift, Chakotay. The dry data that got released after the Tiat lecture was barely downloaded. Most of the commentary for each of the species has been based off of what you said, and people are talking about the Tiat as if they know them. Haven't you been watching the reviews?”

“No.” In fact, he’d avoided the reviews because he didn't want the commentary to influence him. As far as he was concerned, his lectures should be based on what the species had to say for itself instead of what the Federation thought it wanted to hear.

“It's probably for the better. I'm not sure you're prepared for the amount of notoriety you're achieving.”

The thought of notoriety was daunting. He wasn't honestly sure he wanted it. Living in Kathryn’s shadow had given him a comfortable anonymity. When creating the plan for these seminars, it hadn't really registered with him that he would be thrust into the spotlight to such a degree.

“You're right, Sir. I didn't really mind being somewhat anonymous, but I guess it's too late for that.”

“You’d better get used to having your own spotlight, Chakotay. Katie’s shadow might be large, but it does have its limits.”

Chakotay glanced at his watch - still feeling its unfamiliar weight. Life on board a starship had certain luxuries and he wasn't sure how long it would take him to stop trying to ask the computer for the time.

“I'm sorry, Admiral, but I'm about to be late for an appointment. Was there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?”

Patterson grinned. “Katie can be rather impatient, can't she?”

Chakotay smiled back. “She can, but that's not the appointment I'm late for. I, ah… one of my students asked for a one-on-one chat.”

“Favoritism among the favorites? You're going to start an all-out war.” Patterson winked, and gave Chakotay a friendly slap on the back, then took his leave.

Chakotay watched him go with a sigh. He’d just given Patterson the same lie he’d given Kathryn this morning. Lying went against his nature, and lying to Kathryn was giving him an upset stomach. Tightening his slowly strengthening grip on his bag, he headed out of the building and towards the cafe where he’d promised to meet… her .

 

<<<------>>>

 

As he approached, he could see her in the front window - the thin sunlight of autumn casting a glow off her stunning white-blond hair. Against his will, memories of twining his fingers in that hair flashed through him in rapid procession - locked in a passionate embrace… spread across a pillow as he pummeled her body… teasing across his thighs as she sucked him dry.

He shivered as he tried to shake the images off. What had been between them was shallow and empty. Being with Kathryn had shown him something better - deeper . There was no real comparison.

Seemingly sensing his gaze, she turned to look out the window. Her beautiful face shone with recognition as she stood and waved him inside. He had no idea why she had asked him here, and was nervous about whatever it was she wanted to discuss. Doing his best to plaster a smile on his face, he went in and met her warm hug with a forced one of his own.

“It's so good to see you, Chakotay.”

“It's good to see you, too, Sveta.”

They placed their lunch orders, then simply looked at each other for a few moments. Finally, Sveta broke the ice.

“You haven't spoken to any of us since your return.” The accusation in her voice was unmistakable.

She had every right to be angry. As much time as he had spent talking to the Maquis who had been with him on Voyager, he had made no attempts to reach any of the Maquis from the Alpha Quadrant. He had been unable to come up with a good reason why he should. The war was over. Most of the people left after the massacre had been merely former compatriots - not actual friends. Uninterested in dredging up old wounds, he had avoided establishing any contact.

“You could have easily gotten in touch with me, Sveta. Comm units can both send and receive.”

“Hmph. It wasn't until you got an extension at Berkeley that any information on how to contact you was available. Berkeley , by the way… very impressive. I guess getting in bed with Starfleet has its good points.”

He chose to let her nasty comment about Starfleet slide. His change of attitude toward the organization was another part of his reluctance to reach out to any of the Maquis he would have considered a friend.

“Well, you've got me, now, Sveta. What do you want?” The look on her face told him that he hadn't been able to hide his annoyance.

“I want to invite you to Thanksgiving.”

“Thanksgiving? You're holding a Thanksgiving celebration?” He was beyond confused at her invitation. The original American Thanksgiving celebration had morphed over the past 200 years into a general concept of giving thanks for freedom and prosperity within the Federation. For an obviously still angry Maquis, the idea of holding that celebration made no sense at all.

“I'm talking about the Maquis celebration. After our release, most of us had nowhere to go. We ended up gathered at Bem’s place in Uganda. It was around this time, and Bem got us talking about how thankful we were to be free and alive. We decided to hold a memorial service - something he’d already been doing on a smaller scale - to remember those who hadn't been so lucky. We're inviting those of you who survived to join us this year.”

“That's a wonderful idea, Sveta. I'll have to double check with Kathryn, but we didn't really have any plans. I'm sure she would love to meet all of you and join the celebration.” For the first time, he was grateful that Phoebe had decided to spend the holiday with Gretchen. Not wanting to be near her ‘former' sister, Kathryn had put her foot down and was refusing to go.

The sneer on Sveta’s face spoke volumes, though. “You misunderstand me, Chakotay. This celebration is for Maquis , not Starfleet brats who caused you to be lost in the first place.”

It was as Chakotay had feared. The remaining Maquis were still furious with Starfleet, and were viewing Kathryn as the embodiment of that hateful organization.

“I agreed with her decision, Sveta - actually sacrificed the Val Jean to make it happen. During the following seven years, she treated my crew as part of her own. She cared for us… protected us… hell, I'm pretty sure she forgot at some point which one of us had been Maquis.”

“You can fuck her all you want, Chakotay, but we won't have that Starfleet bitch anywhere near a Maquis gathering.”

“Kathryn isn't a Starfleet bitch, Sveta. She's a Maquis sympathizer who was sent to capture my ship with the crew alive and intact.” He was doing his best to keep his cool, while his gut wrapped itself in knots at the realization that the Alpha Quadrant Maquis wouldn't accept Kathryn because of who she was.

The vicious and malevolent look on Sveta’s face matched the one he’d seen on Phoebe's. “No one is that good a lay. What did she do to you that would make you allow her to pierce your nose with that ring? At what point did that whore start dragging you around by it?”

He now understood the pure fury that Kathryn held toward her sister. Sveta had been a longtime lover and remained a close friend long after they had broken up. To hear that friend spout such hatred toward the woman he loved was like an arrow straight through his heart.

Wanting nothing more to do with Sveta - or the Alpha Quadrant Maquis in general - he stood. “There's no reason to continue this conversation. Kathryn wasn't involved with what happened to the Maquis, but you're obviously too blind with anger to see that. I will not associate with people who refuse to see her for the amazing person she is. Take your Maquis Thanksgiving and shove it up your ass, Sveta.”

Turning on his heel, he stormed out of the cafe. The bitter and angry Sveta he left behind couldn't resist one final dig. “I guess she is that good a lay.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Not only had she had a wonderful meeting with one of her proteges, her Uncle Teddy stopped by to tell her what a great job Chakotay had been doing with his seminars. She’d arrived home in a happy mood, expecting his to be just as good.

Instead, he had been quiet and sullen. There was no home-cooked meal, and he hadn't made any plans to eat out, order in, or even replicate something. He hadn't given her an idea of what he wanted to eat, and had simply picked at the food she’d chosen. Kathryn was at a loss.

Any attempt at conversation was met with noncommittal grunts or one word answers. When she stood to clean up dinner, he disappeared into the office. After some thought, she decided to follow him. They’d made the move back to her old apartment, but hadn't yet christened the office. Perhaps a little fun would get him out of his funk.

Just as she reached the door, she heard a loud grunt followed by a crash. She rushed in to find him scowling and a broken slate on the floor near the door.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“I still can't hold the stylus well enough to do anything!”

“It will get better, Chakotay. The progress has been wonderful - all your doctors have said that. You just have to keep up with the physical therapy and the dexterity in your hands will come back.”

“I need to take a walk.” He roughly brushed past her, nearly knocking her down, grabbed his jacket, and disappeared out the door without another word.

She sat down hard on the sofa, staring at the door. “What the hell just happened?” Shaking her head in confusion, she picked up the padd containing her book and attempted to read.

The attempt lasted barely a half hour, and she was soon on her feet, pacing the apartment. As far as she knew, he should have no reason to be in such a mood. In fact, she couldn't think of a time when he’d been like this. She’d seen him angry and frustrated many times, but this was different somehow.

As her pacing led her past the comm unit, it chimed an incoming message. She answered it with hope that it was Chakotay, comm-ing to let her know that he was alright and would be home soon.

It was Ken Dalby, looking for Chakotay.

“He's not here, Ken. Can I help you, or do you want me to have him comm you back when he gets home?’

“I was just wondering if you two were going to the Maquis Thanksgiving.”

“We… uh… he hasn't said anything about it. Everyone is getting together?”

Ken filled her in on the celebration the Alpha Quadrant Maquis had developed in the past couple of years. Apparently, a celebration of their release from prison had morphed into a memorial for those that had been lost in the fighting.

“That sounds like a fabulous idea, Ken. We don't have any specific plans, and I know Chakotay would love to be there. I expect we'll go.”

“We’re not going, Kathryn.” Chakotay’s gruff, angry voice came from behind her. He must have returned while she was talking to Ken.

“Why? I thought you would love to see…”

“We're not going because you have been specifically not invited. It seems the Alpha Quadrant Maquis have no interest in spending time with the Starfleet whore I'm currently fucking.” With that, he stomped past her and slammed the door to the bedroom.

Kathryn and Ken stared at each other with mouths dropped open in surprise.  She’d never heard Chakotay speak like that. By the expression on Dalby’s face, he’d never heard it  either.

“I… uh… guess we're not going, Ken. I'm sorry.”

Ken’s face went stormy. “We'll see about this, Kathryn. If this is the way my former compatriots are going to treat my Captain, I doubt if I'll go, either.”

“Ken, don't start a big…” He cut the connection before she could finish. Stunned by the turn of events, she sat back and let it sink in.

The horrible mood Chakotay had been in all evening was obviously due to her un-invitation to this Maquis celebration and memorial. Worse, whoever had spoken with him about the celebration must have had a few choice words about her and about their relationship.

She knew Chakotay had held his tongue - he would have been much more open about the situation if he had allowed himself to unload. Instead, he was bottled up completely - probably trying to spare her the pain. Little did he realize that the pain she felt was for him. At this point, she was getting rather numb to rejection from Alpha Quadrant people.

“I'm sorry, Kathryn.” Chakotay's soft voice came from the bedroom doorway, where he was propped up against the jamb.

“What, exactly, are you sorry for, Chakotay? For being a total bear all evening? For hiding something so significant from me? For using crude language? Please… fill me in… get me caught up so I know what the hell is going on in your mind.” She hadn't expected to come across so nasty, but she was frustrated and hurt by his actions all evening.

Pain shot through his eyes. “For everything, Kathryn. I'm sorry for everything. I probably would have said something to you about it, but when Sveta said those awful things, I just saw red. I couldn't bear the thought of you hearing what she thought of you - of us .”

“So you decided to blurt it out when I'm in the middle of a comm? You're lucky it was a friend instead of my mother or Uncle Teddy.”

He ducked his head a bit and tugged his ear. “Yeah… well… that would have put a much different spin on the situation.”

Standing, she walked over to him and cupped his face. “Chakotay, I understand why you didn't want to tell me what Sveta said, but I'm a big girl - I can handle people hating me. Hell, let's give her a Kazon title and be done with it.”

He smiled and gave her a light kiss. “Maj Sveta… I like the sound of that.”

“See? No big deal. I'm more sorry that someone you care about treated you that way.”

“We're kind of even, aren't we? You have ‘your mother's other daughter’, and I have ‘the siren of my foolish youth’. Perhaps we should get them together - they could form an ‘I hate Chakotay and Kathryn being together’ club.”

“Can you just picture it? They'd spend hours slinging nasty words at each other.”

“Do words like that really upset you that much?”

“I'm not a prude, Chakotay. All kinds of words exist for all kinds of reasons. I've thought them thousands of times, but using them kind of gets trained out of you in Command School. Can you imagine Captain Picard standing on the bridge of the Enterprise telling the Romulan Prelate to fuck off?”

“I seem to remember you telling the Genhela to eat your… something.”

Warp trail , Chakotay… I told the captain to eat my warp trail just before we jumped to warp 7 and left them in our dust. But tonight I was more shocked than offended. Even Ken Dalby was taken aback.”

“I was angry enough to use an indirect quote.”

Kathryn wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. “I'm sorry, Chakotay. Your Maquis friends mean a lot to you and being with me has ripped you away from them. Maybe you should go to the celebration.”

“We're a package deal, Kathryn. I'm not going without you, just so I can spend a long weekend listening to them trash you. Crickets if they only knew that it was you that got them pardoned.”

“I didn't get them pardoned. I simply told their stories to Starfleet so they would see the Maquis as individuals with lost loved ones. I tried to make them seen as the victims of the same war that brought the Dominion to Earth’s doorstep.”

“Well, it worked… thank you. Whatever they've decided to do with that freedom, your efforts were not lost on your former Maquis crew.”

“Ken said he wasn't going to Thanksgiving if his friends really felt that way about his captain.”

“Uh oh… Ken is not someone who does things quietly. This is going to be all over the Voyagers in less than an hour.”

“I tried to ask him not to make a big deal out of it, but he’d cut the connection before I got a whole sentence out.”

“I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the fallout is.”

“I always loved your original crew just as much as mine. Once we merged, I made sure there was no difference in the way I saw them.”

Cupping her cheek, he gave her a kiss that left her breathless. “I know. They know, too. I'm taking you to bed, now. I want to make love to my love . Let Sveta go find someone to f…”

She stopped his words with her own breath-stealing kiss. Letting him go, she took his hand and led him to the bedroom. “Let her dirty her mouth with words like that. I want the one that's going to be on my body clean.”  

 

<<<------>>>

 

Ken Dalby did create a ruckus about the Maquis Thanksgiving. By the end of the next day, every Voyager who had been invited to the celebration had angrily declined. Kathryn was beside herself with the idea that she had broken so many friendships. As much as Chakotay tried to convince her that it was the Alpha Quadrant Maquis who had done the breaking, he couldn't sway her guilt.

The following day, Chakotay received a comm from another of the Alpha Quadrant Maquis, asking why the response was so angry and widespread. Chakotay held nothing back as he described his conversation with Sveta. Jee’na tried to hide her reaction, but he was pretty sure she was just as appalled as he had been.

Their comm unit was hit with such a flurry of messages from Voyagers wanting to check in that Kathryn finally put the unit on silent so they could get some peace. Chakotay also received several messages at his Berkeley extension from other Alpha Quadrant Maquis asking him to disregard Sveta's words and attend - with Kathryn.

Unsure of their motives and unwilling to trust that Kathryn would be treated with respect, he declined each invitation. Still unsettled by her part in the uproar, she tried to convince him to reconsider, but he was unmovable.

At the end of the following week, Kathryn received a comm at her office from a man who introduced himself as Bem Okoye, a ‘friend of the Maquis’, whom he had helped ‘during the war’. He had a kind face and peaceful demeanor. She liked him immediately.

“I would like to invite you to my home during the upcoming long weekend.”

She knew instinctively that he was asking her to come to the Maquis Thanksgiving. “I'm sorry, Bem, but Chakotay's decision is final. We won't be attending the celebration.”

“You misunderstand me. I am not inviting you to the Maquis gathering that will be going on during that time - although you are welcome to take part if you desire to do so. I am inviting you to be my personal guest at my home.”

This was an interesting twist. “I-I’m not sure… let me talk to Chakotay to see if he wants to go.”

Bem nodded serenely. “Just so we are clear, Kathryn, it is you that I am inviting. If you would like to bring Chakotay with you, that would be acceptable to me. I have had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions and find him to be an honorable man. I will look forward to your comm.”

He cut the connection, leaving a stunned and curious Kathryn to stare at her console for a few minutes. She reached for her comm to contact Chakotay about it, but then realized it would be a much more involved conversation than the hour she had available before her appointment. It was better to discuss the situation at home.

Anxious to the point where she couldn't concentrate, she left work early. He was just starting dinner when she arrived. After changing out of her uniform, she sat down at the counter that faced into the kitchen.

“I spoke to a man named Bem Okoye today.”

Chakotay’s eyebrows rose and he set down the knife he was using to cut up vegetables. “Bem? Wow… I wonder what they did to get him involved. It's usually impossible to drag him into any kind of discord.”

“I don't think his invitation had anything to do with the Maquis. At least not in a way that involved persuasion by others, anyway. He commed to invite me to his home over that weekend. I am to be his personal guest, while you would simply be an acceptable ‘plus one’ if I chose to bring you along.”

Chakotay's face lit. “Leave it to Bem to find a way for a peaceful resolution. You can't decline, Kathryn. It's just not… you just can't .”

“Tell me about him.”

Chakotay picked up the knife again and resumed chopping vegetables while he filled her in.

“Bem was a sympathizer, but his personal beliefs wouldn't allow him to join the fighting. Instead, he chose to help us in other ways. He owns a plantation in Uganda. It's pretty far away from any populated areas, which meant that we could come and go in peace. His house is huge and he employs a full-time doctor. We would take our wounded there to be healed and recover outside of the prying eyes of Starfleet.”

“He provided supplies, too, I suppose.”

“Yes. His home was a tertiary base for us, like a space station with a high-quality medical center, where we could refuel and revive ourselves. He's an amazing man, Kathryn. I think you'll like him.”

“I liked him the moment I set eyes on him. He has a kind face… very peaceful.”

“Peaceful is the perfect word. He is opposed to violence of any kind - thus, the reason he wouldn't join the fight. He also won't allow any fighting - even arguing - at his home. You'll be safe under his wing, there. Any insult to a guest of his will result in a taste of his wrath - something you don't want to be on the receiving end of.”

“His wrath ? You just said he abhorred violence.”

“All people experience anger, Kathryn. For the most part, he controls his through meditation - much like a Vulcan controls all of their emotions. The difference is that Bem still feels it. If you catch him off guard with a fight or angry words, he will respond… with force.”

“He said I could ‘join in the celebration happening at his house’ if I wanted. Do you think he's trying to make something happen?”

“It's possible, I guess, but I doubt it. I think he just wants to provide a peaceful solution to the uproar Sveta caused. He wants the Maquis to be whole - that's all.”

“Then I guess I'll go… as long as you go with me.”

“I would love to. At least I'll be able to celebrate and mourn with our Voyagers. We never really took the time out there, and I think the shock of seeing so many of our old friends missing from the celebration will help us to understand what they went through here.”

Chapter Text

Upon hearing of Bem’s invitation and that Kathryn and Chakotay would be at the celebration, most of the Voyagers relented and also decided to attend. A week later, Kathryn found herself heading toward the forests of Uganda in a rented two-seater shuttle, with Chakotay at the controls.

Much as she tried to talk herself down, Kathryn’s nerves were on full alert. She may be an invited guest of the owner, but there would be a large group of people there who had no love for her. She felt like she was making first contact with a species who they had heard was hostile. There had been a few times that the intel had been wrong. She hoped this was one of those times.

“It's funny… I've never seen the approach to his place in the daylight before. We always came and went in the dark.”

“I'm glad you got to see it, then. It's beautiful.” She looked out over the expanse of moist evergreen rainforest, thinking how different it was from the ‘evergreen forest’ of the North American continent.

“Wait until you walk under the canopy. The colors are amazing.”

She grabbed his hand - the edginess of a moment ago dropping to the background. The opportunity to explore a part of Earth she’d never been to sent a shiver of excitement through her.

“Can we take a walk before we go in?”

He chuckled softly and squeezed her hand. “We have to say hello to our host first, but we can go exploring as soon as we've settled in.”

After a few more moments, she began to catch glimpses of several structures hidden in the trees. “What's that?”

He checked the coordinates, then brought the shuttle lower. “ That is Bem’s place.” He reached out to activate the comm, and request landing permission and location. Seeing a large clearing with a couple of shuttles, he headed towards it, but was redirected to a smaller clearing on the other side of the large structure.

*Master Bem has advised that his personal guest take up a different location that will provide easier access to their rooms. I will notify him of your arrival. Please wait to disembark until he can greet you.*

As Chakotay brought the shuttle down, she could see that those separate buildings were actually attached, creating one extremely large structure.

“This isn't a house , it's a…” She was at a loss for words.

“It's a plantation , Kathryn. Several hundred years ago when there was still extensive inequality and near forced labor, the building housed the owner's serfs in addition to his family.”

“Serfs? As in slaves ?” She couldn't picture the kind man she had spoken with as a slave owner.

“That was hundreds of years ago, Kathryn. Bem’s employees are well paid, and either provided with off-site housing, or transportation for those who choose to live elsewhere. Save for a few of the house employees and his assistant, the building is mostly empty, now.”

As Chakotay went through the shutdown procedures, she continued to stare at the building in front of her. Although it appeared to be a simple structure constructed of locally harvested wood, she could see the underlying complex framework. A large screened in porch, full of numerous chairs and hammocks, wrapped around the end of the building and framed a large doorway. They had obviously been parked at the front entrance.

A tall, slim man with very dark skin appeared at the large door and crossed the open space to the shuttle in long, confident strides. “That's Bem. Come on.”

They opened the hatch and waited for their host to arrive. Feeling oddly nervous, Kathryn grabbed Chakotay's hand. He responded with a squeeze, then chuckled. “Relax. He's a pacifist, remember? He won't bite you.”

“Unless, of course, the Warrior Woman makes an appearance.” She squeezed back, then let go of his hand and headed down the ramp to greet her host.

“Kathryn Janeway, it is an honor to meet you.” Bem gently grasped both her hands in front of him and gave a slight bow of his head over them. “My apologies for asking you to stay in your shuttle. I wished for your first step on my land to be greeted with respect and hospitality.”

She was struck by how obsequious his manner was. “It is an honor to meet you, as well, Bem. Please don't concern yourself with the delay. It simply gave me more time to take in the view of your lovely home.”

He smiled. “I'm glad you approve. I will give you a tour, then perhaps you would be willing to answer…”

Chakotay chose that moment to join Kathryn on the shuttle's ramp, cutting off Bem's words. “Bem, it's so good to see you again. Thank you for your invitation.”

The two men shook hands while Bem studied Chakotay's face. “It seems you have found it, my friend.” He looked to Kathryn, then back again. “No doubt in this remarkable woman. Further proof of her strength.”

Chakotay smiled broadly. “Yes, to both.”

“Let us go inside. Are your bags ready?”

“They're just inside.” Chakotay moved back up the ramp to retrieve them, but Bem stopped him. “Please do not concern yourself with them. Sadiki, please bring them to the pink rooms.”

The man who had appeared out of nowhere at Bem's shoulder spoke up. “I had Sorayah prepare the mahogany for them instead. It has a better view of the property.”

Bem was silent for a moment as he considered Sadiki’s change of plans. “You think it's better, even though the pink is larger?”

Sadiki held his ground. “She is not pink, but strong like mahogany.”

“You're right… I hadn't considered that. Very well, I will change the route of the tour to end at the mahogany. We shall be there shortly.”

“Thank you, Master Bem.” Sadiki gave a slight nod of his head, then headed up the shuttle's ramp.

Kathryn followed her host into the house, fascinated by the exchange she had just witnessed. Sadiki’s entire demeanor denoted that he was a servant - obsequious in the extreme. Yet, he had taken it upon himself to alter his ‘master's' plans - only informing him at the last moment and in front of their guests. If one of her subordinates had acted in that manner, they would have received a complete dressing down. Yet, Bem had acquiesced as if their positions were reversed.

Her ruminations were forgotten as they entered the house. The large doorway had led them into an even larger foyer, with grand vaulted ceilings accented by skylights. Her gasp of surprise and appreciation at the sight made Bem smile.

“Impressive, isn't it? The ornate design is intended to do so, but that's really secondary to its function - letting in light while providing ventilation for the warmer air that rises to the ceiling. You'll see many instances of this dual purpose throughout the main house, although the original builders cared little for the serfs’ quarters in the wings radiating out. Those rooms and hallways are dark and narrow, with oppressive heat. I was forced to install environmental controls there.”

Nearly speechless with wonder, Kathryn and Chakotay followed along behind Bem as he gave them a tour of the main house. Since many of the visiting Maquis were to be housed in the wings, he refrained from including those areas in their tour.

As they arrived at their room, Sadiki appeared at Bem's shoulder. “Master Bem, there is a situation in the assembly hall that requires your attention.”

Bem quickly took his leave of them, leaving Sadiki to guide them into their suite. After pointing out the various amenities like a personal replicator, private balcony, and extra large Jacuzzi tub, he also took his leave.

Kathryn sat down heavily on the bed. “Wow. You weren't kidding when you said this place was beautiful.”

“Would you believe me if I told you I'd never been in the main house before? Those serf quarters are not as deplorable as he makes them seem.”

Kicking off her shoes, she sprawled across the bed. “All I know is that this room is bigger than my apartment.”

“And the tub?”

She stretched and sighed. “Don't even get me started on that tub. I think it might take the better part of a day to fully explore it.”

She felt the bed settle as it took on his weight. Stretching out next to her, he ran his hand up her side. “How long do you think it will take me to explore you fully?”

“Mmm… I would think that you've already explored me fully.” Her back arched as his hand found its way under her blouse.

“It will take me a lifetime, Kathryn, and I still won't fully know all of you.” His lips found hers, the kiss tender and warm. Her fingers wound themselves in his hair as she brought the kiss deeper.

“Then perhaps you should continue your research.” She tasted the salt on his skin as the humid air brought a light sheen of sweat to his body.

“Oh, I plan to, my love. I plan to…”

In the hot humid air of the rainforest, their movements were slow and languid. Nevertheless, they were both soon naked and he was sliding into her as she sighed in pleasure.

Feeling smothered in the heat, she turned the tables on him, rolling them over so she could feel the air on her skin, and rode him silently while he held their hips together. They came together quietly, their bodies taking over instinctively, hips locking together as he bathed her insides. When the waves of pleasure abated, he sat up to hold her body against his, their bodies slick with sweat.  

Head dropping to his shoulder, she worked to catch her breath. Suddenly, she was airborne, her legs wrapped around his hips, as he walked them both into the bathroom and placed her in the tub - already full of water bubbling through the air jets.

He climbed in behind her and pulled her back so she was resting on his chest.

“Two for the price of one?”

“Why shouldn't we both get the exploration we desire?” He kissed her neck and ran his hands up her sides until they cupped her breasts.

“Hmmm… I think you're getting more than I am.”

His thumbs slid softly over her nipples. “What makes you say that?”

Chuckling, she pulled his hands away and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Oh, just a feeling I have.” Turning her head, she gave him a kiss on the cheek. “But it's my turn. Can we just sit here and enjoy the water?”

“Alright… as long as you realize how difficult it is to sit here with your naked body in my arms and do nothing but hold you.”

“I think you'll survive.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Several hours later, they were standing outside the entrance to the Gathering Hall, where the activities of the weekend were to be held. First up was the buffet come-and-go dinner, designed with the idea that people would be arriving at different times throughout the day and wouldn't necessarily be on a schedule that coincided with a set dinnertime.

They had decided that this would be the best way to break the ice. The crowd would be thinner since not everyone would be there at the same time. Meeting a person or small group one at a time would make introductions easier to control.

“I really shouldn't be this nervous. They're just people - some of them are even my crew.”

All of them are supposedly my friends, but I can't seem to move my feet toward the door.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous, Chakotay. Do you remember the Leput?”

“The ones that the computer miscalibrated?”  

“We thought we were going in to meet a race of giants. Instead…”

“Instead, they were shorter than even you.”

“Exactly… Sometimes you just have to jump in and see where things lead you.”

“Chakotay! Kathryn!” Chell was hurrying toward them from the area where the shuttles were being parked.

“I guess everyone got the message about keeping my title away from the gathering.”

Chakotay smiled. “I bet you never expected to hear Chell call you Kathryn.”

“Nope.” She turned to greet the Bolian that had taken over Neelix's kitchen. “Chell… it's so good to see you.”

“It's even better to see you . I'm so glad you came. They treated you so badly, I was afraid you wouldn't even accept Bem's invitation.” Chell was shaking her hand vigorously, as usual, chattering away without thinking. He reminded her of Neelix sometimes.

Chakotay put a hand on Chell's shoulder, bringing him back to himself so that he finally released Kathryn’s hand. “How could anyone ever resist Bem? Besides, I think we have a much better room than the rest of you.”

“Oh, I don't doubt it. I was in the main house once. It's gorgeous. Come along... Stella is waiting inside for me and I can't wait to introduce you. Just so you know, she doesn't feel like some of the others do. In fact, a lot of them are either in favor of you or neutral about the whole thing in general.”

Chell chatted them through the doorway and tapped the shoulder of a woman speaking with another person Kathryn didn't recognize. “ Stella, look who's here! I told you she would come. Kathryn, this is my friend Stella. Stella… Kathryn. Of course you remember Chakotay.”

Stella was a pleasant woman who, as Chell had reassured them, was supportive of Kathryn’s inclusion in the Maquis Thanksgiving. She and Chakotay had barely known each other, so the conversation was introductory all around. As they chatted, more and more people came over to meet them - all of them positive.

The Voyagers were all excited to see them and happily introduced their friends. Although several people avoided them, there were no confrontations. Chakotay watched Kathryn relax a little with each new introduction until her formal diplomat’s face all but disappeared.

They had been there for more than an hour when Chakotay became aware of a small commotion near the doorway.

“Damn.” His grip tightened on Kathryn's hand. “Sveta is here.”

Kathryn took a deep breath and squeezed back. “We knew we’d see her at some point, Chakotay. Let's just get this out of the way now.”

“Admiral Janeway.” Sveta slinked next to Kathryn, nasty expression matching her voice.

“That's how I'm addressed when I'm in uniform and on duty. Since I'm neither at the moment, it's just Kathryn… Kathryn Janeway. And you are?”

Sveta ignored Kathryn’s question. “I think you must be lost. This is a private gathering. Entrance is by invitation only.”

Chakotay recognized the diplomatic half-smile. “Oh, but I was invited. Our mutual host, whose home you are standing in, invited me to visit for the weekend - and to partake of any activities that may be happening while I am here.”

Chakotay found himself moving automatically to take up a position over her left shoulder, then felt the old familiar pull as their spirits locked together, sharing strength.

“You must have mistaken the breadth of his invitation. As I said, this is a private gathering.”

Around the room, Chakotay saw Kathryn's crew subtly move around her. Again, he felt the pull as each Voyager locked themselves into each other, creating a grid of shared power and energy. It was this - the strength shared through this framework - that had held them together for seven long years. Chakotay was warmed by the thought that the separation of nearly a year hadn't weakened those bonds.

“On the contrary, my host made it clear to me that all activities and gatherings would be open to my inclusion. He also assured me there would be no problems associated with my presence anywhere at his home.”

“Yet, there is opposition to your presence . It was decided that you, specifically , were not to be a part of this gathering.”  

Kathryn’s head tilted slightly, feigning confusion. “I'm sorry… I still haven't caught your name. Perhaps if you identified yourself, I would better understand your position of authority in this matter.”

The slight change in Sveta’s demeanor, which probably went unnoticed among most of the people in the room, was quite obvious to him. Kathryn had unsettled her.  

“I am Sveta, one of the organizers for this event.”

One of ? Hmm… perhaps the others updated the guest list without consulting you. I would venture a guess that, once a majority vote was reached, no further vote requests would be sent out. A brief survey of the other organizers might clear your confusion.”

“I'm sure the other organizers would be just as appalled at this change as I am, if they were here to witness it for themselves. However, they are not due to arrive until later this evening.” She leveled her eyes on Kathryn. “In the meantime, I suggest that you start planning other activities for the remainder of your visit .”

“I believe the activities for the entire weekend have already been set. There is no need to make any alterations to them on my account.” Kathryn gave her a saccharine smile.

“Forcing your way into someplace you're not wanted is a typical action for your kind. It brings to mind actions of others who have done much the same thing, then left nothing but destruction in their wake.”

Had Sveta just insinuated that Kathryn was a Cardassian ? Old fury he’d thought was lost forever surged its way through his body. One look at Kathryn, though, and he forced that feeling back under control.

Her back was taut… shoulders so square he could use them as a right angle… her voice low and powerful… she suddenly seemed a full meter taller than her regular height. The unseen lines of energy running from her crew formed into an unbreakable matrix that sustained her.

My kind ? I'm not sure I follow. Please… enlighten me.” Kathryn was keeping her off balance, requiring her to justify every insinuation she threw out, effectively nullifying each one.

“The kind who would kill friends to support a treaty that gave others rights to rape, torture, and enslave those who are supposed to be under their protection.”

He was close enough to see the almost imperceptible twitch in the muscle that ran down one side of her neck. Sveta had hit a nerve.

“You know nothing about me, Sveta, to make that kind of assumption.”

“I know all I need to know. Kathryn Janeway, latest in a long line of Starfleet royalty. Although…” Sveta gave Kathryn a dramatic once-over. “It's a good bet that Princess Kathryn will be the last in that line.”

The twitching muscle in Kathryn's neck bulged and froze solid. It was going to take him hours to massage that knot out. His brain went into overdrive looking for a way to end this without doing too much damage.

“There's no reason for me to be embarrassed by my lineage. I'm proud of my family and the service they have given Starfleet - and the Federation. I've spent most of my life trying to live up to that level of quality.”

“It seems you haven't succeeded, considering the fact that you stranded two ships worth of people 70,000 light years from home, killing half of them in the process.  It's a shame that Starfleet has conveniently classified how that happened. In fact, your entire life is classified. Quite the feat, even for a Starfleet princess. What else are you trying to hide?”

“You really don't know what you're talking about, Sveta.” Mike Ayala came through the open doorway. “I suspect you have no idea that Admiral Edward Janeway invented the Trexelon V. Yes… your weapon of choice was invented by her father . On Starfleet’s behalf. In fact, he spent most of his Starfleet service researching and developing weapons to defend ourselves against the Cardassians.”

Sveta's mouth dropped open. Before she could recover enough to respond, another voice came from behind the crowd.  

“I will guarantee that you don't know he died testing a fighter craft he developed. One built specifically to fight them - designed around data she obtained at great danger to herself.

Chakotay hadn't yet placed the voice edged with anger, but Kathryn had. “Bem… I don't know how you have that information, but it's highly classified. I may not be wearing my rank bar, but I have an obligation…”

“Some of it has been declassified due to the war. It seems that Sveta hasn't taken the time to update her information. As for the remainder, the information is relevant - and necessary - to maintain the peace of this gathering. I'm sure that no one here will speak a word outside of my home .”

Sveta was desperately trying to regain her composure and her control of the Maquis. “Her father's actions are not hers. Chakotay's father chose to stay in peace and pray they would not be attacked. When the Cardassians destroyed his family and home, Chakotay chose to fight. Father and child are not always in agreement.”

At Sveta's mention of his father's demise, Chakotay's control snapped. “She nearly died on that test flight, Sveta. Both her father and… another loved one… were lost. She may not have been a Maquis, but she's sacrificed a great deal in the fight against the Cardassians.”  

Still swamped in anger, Sveta only heard the parts she wanted to hear - and pounced on them. “You should watch out for yourself, Chakotay. She seems to have an excellent track record for letting other people die so she could live. I'd hate for you to be next on that list.”

Through the thin material of Kathryn's blouse, he saw every muscle in her back bulge into hard knots. It was going to take him more than a week to get those out. Sveta had hit another nerve... one that would never truly heal.

Kathryn took a deep breath and pasted on her ‘I've had enough of you’ smile. “It was… enlightening to speak with you Sveta. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have other friends - both old and new - that I haven't had the chance to speak with yet.” She began to turn away.

“Enjoy it while it lasts, Admiral . This little visit will be over by tomorrow.”

Death glare at full power, Kathryn turned back slightly to catch Sveta's eyes. “As I said, a quick conversation with your co-organizers - and your host - should clear up any remaining confusion you might be experiencing. Perhaps when we see each other tomorrow, we can have a more pleasant conversation.”

This time, her actions denoted a complete dismissal, as Kathryn locked a softer expression on Ayala and began moving towards him. “Mike… it's so good to see you. I trust you have been doing well in the past few months?”

After a moment left abandoned in the vacuum created by Kathryn's departure, Sveta turned on her heel and stormed out of the hall. Chakotay knew that this was not the end of it, and that it was possible things could get much worse. All he could do was keep Kathryn as centered as possible and depend on her Voyagers to keep her safe.

“She’s amazing . I'd heard some comments, but… wow. I was almost too mesmerized to move.”

Bem's voice, now returned to its typical gentle tone, wound itself into his thoughts, and he smiled. “There are no words that will do it justice, are there? You just have to see it for yourself.”  

“So true… I know a few people who will be very upset that they arrived late.”

“And a few who are glad, I'm sure. You know this isn't over, don't you?”  

Bem sighed deeply. “I'm hoping this was the worst of it… that, once everyone has had a chance to meet her, they will decide for themselves. My apologies, by the way. Normally, I would have shut everything down long before the true insults started flying. The pressure needed to be released, though, and Kathryn seemed to be handling it well enough.”

“Yes, and no. It’s going to take me weeks to get the knots out of her shoulders and back. It’s probably a good idea to have your doctor send a nice strong analgesic to our room, too. The headache will be almost migraine level by the time she allows it to surface.”  

“The side effects of anger are brutal… I'll have a message sent to Dr Reyes.” Bem flicked a look at the ever-present Sadiki, who nodded then hurried out to do his boss’s bidding. “It was fascinating to watch, though. Not a single one of your Voyagers said a word, but the energy flowing through them and into her was palpable. She wields that power with amazing control.”

“She's human, Bem. Please remember that. Her control can be lost as easily as yours can. When you're wielding the power of so many individuals, that loss of control can be... devastating… destructive to everyone involved - including herself.”

“You speak from experience.”

“Please keep this in mind, Bem. Pushed too far, Kathryn will break every single rule you have, without compunction, and leave a path of devastation in her wake. She will be distraught and penitent when she regains her senses, but the damage will have been done. Don't let her get that far.”  

“I'll revert to my usual allowances, then, regardless of how she appears.”

“Please do, Bem. Sveta is stabbing at raw nerves without being aware of it. No one else knows those weaknesses exist, and Kathryn hides them almost too well. She's liable to explode with very little apparent warning.”  

Chakotay was still watching Kathryn, who appeared to all the world to be laughing and talking normally. What he saw was her body vibrating from barely contained, unspent adrenaline. It was time for him to diplomatically ease her from the room.  

Pulling his eyes away from her, he turned his gaze to his host. “For instance, if Sveta decided to come back for a second round right now, you wouldn't have time to stop it. I have to get her out of here, now .”

Bem's eyes widened in confusion. “She looks fine to me.”

With a grim smile, Chakotay gripped Bem's shoulder. “Please do me the favor of remaining on red alert. Don't let her fool you.”

 

<<<------>>>

 

Stretching, Kathryn groaned softly and rolled over to watch Chakotay sleep. Her back and neck still hurt. He’d done what he could for her last night, but Sveta had done an excellent job of locking the muscles in her body up tight. She felt like she was back on Voyager, but she was out of practice in dealing with the stress level and unspent adrenaline.  

Chakotay had received the brunt of it last night - had probably expected to. The moment they were back in their room behind closed doors, she’d attacked him, burning his body with her mouth and ripping his clothing.

In an unusual twist, she was the one who’d gone feral. Teeth biting and nails clawing at him, she tormented and teased him mercilessly, then rode him to oblivion - shocking even herself as she growled her release.

When the rigors of her orgasm eased and the waves calmed, she'd collapsed onto his chest and sobbed, unlabeled anger and pain released into the moonlight that streamed in through their skylight windows.

As always, he’d done exactly what she needed him to do - holding her close until the tears were spent, then folding her into the safety of his arms as she drifted into an exhausted, fitful sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, the spasms from her knotted muscles woke him. Without a word, he'd rolled her onto her stomach and massaged her back and neck to work out the worst of the knots.

His gentle hands tenderly manipulating her body had led to a session of quiet lovemaking. When his body covered hers and his swollen shaft began moving within her, she'd felt safe and whole again. Quiet orgasms, gentle kisses and soothing strokes of their hands finally led her into a more restful sleep.

The nerves that Sveta had hit yesterday were still raw, but she was confident that the other woman hadn't caught on to the fact that some of what was said had hit a mark. The angry, vengeful woman hadn't even looked into possible changes in the classified portions of her life. There was no way that Sveta had known ahead of time that any of it would specifically bother her.

Kathryn stretched again and rolled over to look out the large window, the lush greens of the rainforest and the hazy, moist heat creating a languid calm over the room. She understood why Bem, a man of such inner peace, lived here. It was difficult to maintain any kind of real rage when everything around you insisted on slowing you down and making you relax.

The bed moved behind her, and she felt a finger slide down her backbone. “Good morning.”

The finger was replaced by tiny kisses. “Good morning - although I suspect it's probably closer to afternoon.” He spooned his body up behind hers and pulled her against him. “Not that I'm complaining.”  

“Mmm… we need to get up. As much as you and this bed are trying to get me to stay here all day, there are still places I want to explore here. Bem said there's a waterfall that feeds a small lake about a kilometer away from the house. I was thinking of going for a swim.”

“Will you take me with you?” She felt him smile against her skin as he kissed her bare shoulder.

“I chose to take you across 70,000 light years of space. I guess a kilometer or two wouldn't be too much hassle.”

The responding chuckle blew warm breath across her neck. “Thank you… I guess.”

Suddenly filled with emotion, she rolled over in his arms and gently cupped his face. “I'm never letting you go away from me, Chakotay. Never again .” She kissed him, pulling him into her as if trying to merge their bodies in the same way she knew their souls were merged.  

Breathless and smiling when the kiss broke, he gently stroked her cheek. “You'll find it impossible if you try, Kathryn. It took me over seven years to catch you. I'm not about to let you out of my sight.”

The quiet kiss was broken by the soft chime of the room's comm unit. Kathryn eased herself out of Chakotay's arms and walked over to check the message, throwing her light robe over her naked body as she went.  

“Listen to this, Chakotay. ‘ There was no response to my 8am hail. Master Bem assures me that you probably chose to sleep in. I remain available should you require your morning beverages or a light meal .’ Sorayah is such a sweetheart.”

“She wants to make Bem proud - not to mention that she adores you. It's quite a heady mix in such a young woman.”

“Well, regardless… now that I'm up, I'd like some coffee.” Kathryn activated the comm, almost immediately greeted by Sorayah's open, smiling face and silent greeting. The young woman was probably sitting right next to her comm, waiting for them to request something from her.

The delivery of their drinks - a large pot of fresh-brewed coffee and another one of hot tea - was just as swift. Sorayah had barely set the tray down, when Kathryn poured herself a cup of the coffee. She'd quickly fallen in love with the unique, smoky flavor of whatever Bem's staff served.

“Remind me to ask Bem what brand of coffee he uses. I want to get some of it for home.”

Sorayah, who hadn't made it out of the room yet, stared with astonishment at Kathryn for a moment then looked at Chakotay. Before Kathryn could say a word, the young woman scurried out of the room, giggling.

“What the hell was that about?” Kathryn turned to find the same surprised and amused expression on Chakotay's face. “What? What have I missed?”

“You really don't know?”

“Don't know what ?”

“Where Bem gets his coffee.”

“No. Why is this such a surprise? Where does he get it?”

Chakotay shook his head. “Uh uh… I'll let Bem tell you. Just make sure I'm with you when you ask him.”

Kathryn gave him an irritated look and downed the rest of her cup. Refilling it, she gave him a sly grin and headed toward the bathroom. “Just for that, I'm not sharing my shower with you.”

“Whatever you say, hellcat.” He called after her. “I still expect you to heal these wounds you gave me.”

She tucked her face back out of the bathroom. “For calling me a cat, you can regenerate your own scratches.”

Chapter Text

“How did you like the waterfall?” Bem held her chair so she could take a seat at the table, then sat down next to her.

“Absolutely lovely. I was wondering if you would allow me and Chakotay to borrow it for a weekend every now and then. We thought it might be a nice place to go camping.”

Camping ? You're welcome to visit any time, Kathryn. Your presence in my home is not unwelcome.”

“Thank you, Bem. I'd love to visit with you again, but the camping trip would be… private time for Chakotay and myself. A space where we could…”

“Be all alone in the world? Or at least feel like you are? We used to… Kathryn, can I ask you a question?”

“Bem, that spot is beautiful. Did Kathryn ask you about borrowing it?” Chakotay joined them at the table.

“Yes, she did. I was about to tell her just to let me know when. I'll make sure my crews are elsewhere at the time.” He leaned in closer to them. “Sorayah has informed me that your presence here is mostly supported by the rest of my guests.”

“Sorayah?”

“She's been moving around the rooms today, tending to any needs. People tend to think that because she has no tongue she also has no ears, and don't think to curb their conversations when she is around.”

“You use her to spy on your guests?”

“On the contrary, I use her as a chambermaid because she's excessively discreet. She has, at times, informed me of a general mood among my guests, but it's rare and usually has something to do with them being unhappy. But she likes the two of you so she went looking for information today, then informed me in private what she had learned.”

“Which is…?”

“Which is that your presence here is mostly supported by my other guests.” He grinned at them. “Discreet to a fault, wouldn't you say?”

“That's quite a tease, you know.”

“It's not meant to be. It's just meant to let you know that you can relax a little. There are no wolves in sheep's clothing, per se.” Bem leaned back a bit. “I will tell you that there are about ten or fifteen people who are against you being here. They'll be easy to pinpoint, though, because they'll be hanging all over Sveta.”

“She's still angry?”

“Livid is a better term. But she knows to abide by my rules. That's all that I ask from anyone - including the two of you.”

“I have no intention of getting into anything with anyone , Bem. I'm just here to celebrate life and friendship with some of my crew and their friends.”

“I know, Kathryn. I wouldn't have invited you if I thought you would arrive with any ulterior motives.” He patted her hand, then stood. “I must see to my staff. Please, enjoy your dinner.”

The memorial ceremony was set to take place in the late evening, so people remained gathered in the banquet room after dinner, chatting and reminiscing. Kathryn was heartened to see the lines between the two Maquis factions - Alpha Quadrant and Delta Quadrant - begin to blur as old stories were recalled and new ones were shared. Rank bar left behind in San Francisco, she was able to relax and laugh along with her crew for the first time. She was also able to put faces to the names in the stories that had been told on Voyager.

One table of about fifteen people remained aloof, instead focused on Sveta's scowling face. Relatively ignored by the rest of the gathering, the pleasant memories flowed around and through them, without ever quite touching them or bringing them into the conversation.

Chakotay took center stage for quite some time as the conversation turned toward the Delta Quadrant aliens that had been declassified. The feeling of freedom was palpable, as her crew finally shared some of their actual experiences with Delta Quadrant cultures.

It was well dark when the wall on the far side of the room was opened, letting in the warm, moist air from outside and revealing a garden she hadn't realized existed. The mood in the room quickly grew somber as people realized the memorial ceremony was about to begin.

Responding to the soft touch on her shoulder, Kathryn separated herself for a quiet conversation with Bem.

“Chakotay tells me that one of the reasons he wanted to come tonight was that your Voyagers never took proper time to grieve their losses. I must warn you that this ceremony was designed by people who are still bitter and angry - people who don't want to get over their grief. I suspect it will be… difficult… for your crew. Please… be prepared.”

“We were told the ceremony was simple.”

“The simplicity of a thing does not have bearing on its power.”

Kathryn sighed. Bem was right - on all counts. She could feel the tension mounting in the room. Almost by instinct, she began moving among her crew, doing her best to comfort them as they prepared themselves - a quick squeeze of an arm… a pat on a shoulder… a reassuring smile… a few quiet words to Mariah, then Chell. Making it back to Chakotay, she gently pulled his face toward her and met his eyes, holding them for a moment, then silently took his hand.

The Maquis filed out onto the lanai, fanning out around a large, man-made pool surrounded by a stone ledge at bench height. It looked as if it had been built as a fish pond, but there was no sign of any fish. A large wreath-like display containing a large glowing candle floated in the center.

She found herself standing along the edge with Chakotay to her left, Mike and Chell on the other side of him. Squeezing Chakotay’s hand, she took a steadying breath and waited for the ceremony to begin.

Bem appeared on her right. “Good evening friends and comrades. As most of you are now aware, those of us who were not present at the DMZ massacre and who managed to avoid detection in the subsequent round up, gathered in secret on the Thanksgiving holiday of that year to share what news we had, and to remember those who would never be with us again.”

He turned toward Chakotay. “The entire crew of the Val Jean was included at the time, and has been every year. Even when we knew at least some of you were alive, the physical distance between us felt as far as the distance to the spirit world. I cannot convey the level of joy that I felt today as I counted out thirty fewer candles for tonight's ceremony.” Bem turned back to address the whole group again, but paused to collect himself before he continued.

“The release of our compatriots brought our gathering into the open and added the welcome element of the celebration of freedom. Thus, thanks to the clear-sightedness of history - and the welcome addition of more level headed leadership - what began as one sorrowful night in hiding, has become a long weekend full of open friendship and memories.”

Kathryn took a quick glance around the room to read the effects of Bem's words on the faces gathered around the pond. In most, she saw agreement and acceptance, but there were still a few that radiated naked grief and anger.

“Now, without further ado…” She heard Bem take a deep breath and hold it for a moment and recognized it for the miniature meditation that it was.

“The large candle you see in the water symbolizes the colonies that were caught in the treaty and placed in jeopardy.”

“Abandoned by Starfleet and sold to the Cardassians in exchange for worthless, empty promises.” A woman standing next to Sveta spoke up, eyes glinting with unquenched rage. Sveta nodded silently and wrapped an arm around the woman, but no one else spoke up - either to support or to refute her statement.

Jeff, one of the other organizers, who was standing on the far side of the room took up Bem’s narrative. “The central candle signifies those lives lost before we could mobilize. Here, then are the colonies, themselves…” Jeff launched into a simple recitation of each planet that had been placed in Cardassian hands when the treaty was signed. Another light came on with each planet’s name, until the single center candle was surrounded by many smaller flames, forming a large centerpiece of light. Kathryn felt Chakotay’s hand twitch and saw his head drop when Trebus was named.

There was silence when the list was completed, and she wondered briefly if it was over, but then Bem's servants appeared with trays of what looked to be individual votives.

Bem resumed the narrative, his gentle voice conveying compassion and pain. “Captains, please ready your lists. Stella, please begin with your ship.” One by one, each captain read out the names of the lives lost on their ship, naming each battle, whether it had resulted in the destruction of a Cardassian, and if it had managed to achieve its objective. As each name was spoken, one of the votive candles was lit and placed in the water to join the other lost souls.

As the names droned on and the man-made pond grew brighter with candles, she felt Chakotay’s body alternately droop and stiffen as he worked to contain his grief. Mike Ayala, who had moved and was now standing behind them, caught his breath several times. Still on Chakotay's other side, Chell was sobbing quietly. For her part, she recognized many of the names and battles but, to her chagrin, her memories were as a Starfleet officer being briefed on ‘enemy movements’.

There was a long pause, then Bem took a deep breath. “There are too many names to read out for each of the Maquis colonies lost in the three day massacre in the DMZ.” Another large centerpiece cluster of candles was placed in the water. As the names of each colony and their population demographics broken out by age group were listed, one of the candles was lit. She felt a sense of relief as he fell silent again, the list complete. But it wasn't over - the list not truly complete. Bem turned to address Chakotay in a soft and gentle voice.

“I am prepared to read in the crew of the Val Jean, if you need me to.”

Chakotay roused himself and shook his head. “Thank you, Bem, but I can do this.”

“Wait.” Sveta's nasty voice broke into the somber room. “Crews are read in by their captain , not their first officer .” She turned her hate-filled gaze to Kathryn. “I keep being told that you were their captain. You had them addressing you that way all evening. Go ahead, Captain Janeway , read in the list of Maquis you killed.”

“That's uncalled for, Sveta. Chakotay was their captain when most of the lives were lost.”

“How dare you accuse her of killing them, she had no control over what happened to us.”

A few other voices chimed in, the tensions of grief threatening to make the disagreement turn ugly in a nanosecond. Kathryn realized that Sveta would get her pound of flesh one way or the other. It would be better that she burn Kathryn in effigy than destroy the Maquis from the inside.

“Enough!” She stepped forward. “If you all agree to allow it, I would be honored to take part in your ceremony and read in the names lost on the Val Jean.”

The look on Sveta's face went triumphant. Bem looked across the room to Jeff, who nodded his agreement, then to another woman, who also nodded. Nodding back in acknowledgement, he turned to Kathryn.

“Very well, Kathryn, please read in the names of those lives lost from the crew of the Val Jean.”

Pausing to take a centering breath, she felt a padd being handed to her over her shoulder. “I wrote up the list in case Chakotay drew a blank.” Mike whispered in her ear.

She smiled softly at Mike and handed the padd back. “Thank you, but I'll be fine.”

Chakotay moved forward to take the candles. “I'll place them in the water for you.” She caught his hand and held it gently between hers.

“I'd like to do all of it, if you'll let me, Chakotay.” She flicked a quick glance in Sveta's direction. “It's important.”

After holding her eyes for a moment, he  nodded and stepped back. “I'm here if you get stuck.”

Bem leaned over to whisper in her ear. “The water has a small current running through it. Just place the candle unit on the water and it will power the light.” She nodded acknowledgement and looked out over the sea of light.

“Those lost in the initial… phenomena… that brought us to the Delta Quadrant.” Taking a candle from the tray, she began the recitation of names. Early on in the journey, she’d taken it upon herself to learn the names, faces, and positions of each Maquis that had been lost in the displacement wave. Learning their names and faces made them part of her, and she could mourn them with those members of her crew that had worked with them. The action had further blurred the lines between Maquis and Starfleet crewmembers in her mind and heart.

Although what she was doing now had not even crossed her mind when she learned those names, she was grateful that she'd done it. Let Sveta see the pain in her eyes as each face appeared in her memory. Finally, she reached the end of the names whose owners she’d never known. They'd only lost four Maquis during the journey… four names to go… she could do this.

Looking down at the nearly empty tray of candles between her and Chakotay, she realized there were six left. Six? Had she missed someone? Then it dawned on her. Seska… Jonas… the traitors. The Alpha Quadrant Maquis didn't know - couldn't because it was classified. Her crew would be appalled if she memorialized those two names with their honorable friends. The Alpha Quadrant Maquis - Sveta especially - would be appalled if she skipped them.

The whole situation was made worse because Sveta’s animosity would spark a battle amongst the assembly. She had no doubt that Sveta would go so far as to insinuate that Kathryn had been the source of Seska's demise so that she could have Chakotay to herself. She cast a panicked glance at Chakotay, who met it with one of his own.

It was Chell who saved them. Stepping forward, he took one candle from the tray. “This name belonged to a traitor - an imposter - who never spoke a word of truth to anyone who knew her. Her name will not be spoken with these honored dead.” He snapped the candle unit in half and threw the pieces away from the circle.

Taking a second candle, he broke it. “This name belonged to a traitor of the worst kind, willing to sell out his friends in favor of the imposter and her empty promise of an easy ride. His name will also not be spoken with these honored dead.” He threw those candle pieces after the first, then looked at Kathryn.

“My apologies for the interruption, Captain . Please continue.” He stepped back into place.

Gathering herself, she focused back onto the four remaining candles. Unlike the previous list of names, whose deaths were the fault of the Caretaker, these last four were her fault… their lives her responsibility. Unlike any of the names listed that evening, only a handful of those gathered knew the circumstances around the deaths of these four people. She had to help the Alpha Quadrant Maquis understand the sacrifice of their former comrades. She could do this…

“Paul Hogan… who gave his life so his shipmates would be made aware of a danger they did not realize existed.” She placed the candle in the water as the brief image of Hogan’s tattered uniform and bare bones - all that was left by the Hanonian land eel - passed in front of her eyes.

“Kurt Bendera… was lost in a battle with a race who stole what they wanted, instead of making it for themselves.” Chakotay's memorial service for Kurt flashed past her eyes while B’elanna’s story of how they met filled her ears.

“Lon Suder... sacrificed his hard-fought sanity and, ultimately, his life, to rescue his shipmates from exile.” The psychopathic Suder may not have been remembered with honor in other circumstances, but the shipmate he had murdered had been ‘fleet, and the residual influence of Tuvok's mind meld had given him a conscience. Suder had forced himself back into being a killer in order to save Voyager and bring her back to them. The Voyager Maquis would agree with this simplistic version for this circumstance.

Taking the last candle from the tray, Kathryn steeled herself… You can do this … “Courtney Pierce… sacrificed her life in the mistaken belief that it was less important than another's.” She watched the candle flicker to life as the unit made contact with the electric current in the water, then her vision went dark. Pitch black was the only visual memory she had of Courtney’s death, but her hands… they remembered the feel of Courtney's warm sticky blood and brain matter drying and caking on her fingers…

“A debt that can never be repaid...” She whispered as she let her fingertips dip down to skim the surface of the water, welcoming the small buzzing jolt from the electricity running through it, letting it singe the resurgent feel of the muck from her skin. Standing away from the pond to resume her place next to Chakotay, she could feel Bem's questioning eyes on her, but didn't meet his gaze. Instead, she took Chakotay’s hand and looked back out over the candle lit pond, the tears pooling in her eyes causing the individual lights to merge into one soft glow.

“Thank you, Kathryn.” Bem’s soft voice held a hint of question, but meeting his gaze would break the last vestige of her will and leave her a blubbering mess. He’d been trying to ask her something since she arrived - something sensitive enough that the self-assured man had allowed his question to be sidelined multiple times. Let his questions surrender to this circumstance as well.

Bem's voice continued on for a moment, recapping the number of lives and naming the major victories, then calling for a moment of silence. She risked a glance out over the group to see how her Voyagers were faring. Although most of them seemed to be holding up, she made a mental note to check on Mariah and Gerron, who seemed to be pulling away from their friends instead of leaning on them.

A quick glance at Chakotay's pale face and brittle bearing, and she forgot all about her own grief. Wrapping her arm around his waist, she pulled him closer to her.

“Don't let them all blur into one single light.” Sveta's voice came slipping into the empty spaces between breaths in the silence of the group. “Count them again… see them… each individual flame is a person … your mother … a daughter … my sister This is someone's son here is a brother there is a father … and over here is your lover …” Individual flames grew momentarily brighter as she pressed an identity onto them, then the light was doused, showing the loss of that spirit. Tears returned to Kathryn's eyes as she fell under the spell of Sveta's voice, aching with the feel of loss as the woman turned off the candles one by one.

Years ago on an evening spent in a quiet sector of the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn and Chakotay had allowed themselves to drink an entire bottle of Tarkelian Brandy. The alcohol had loosened their tongues and they’d ended up sharing the stories of their serious relationships. Chakotay and Sveta had been a couple for most of his time at the Academy, and he’d described to Kathryn the almost hypnotic control she’d held over him.

At the time, Kathryn hadn't been able to picture the puppy-dog tail wagging Chakotay had described, but the image came to her clearly, now. The off-putting hatred was gone from Sveta's voice, replaced with a quiet intensity that refused to be ignored. Word by word, candle flame by candle flame, she pulled everyone into her vision and made them feel the abject pain and suffering that she felt. Sniffles and choked sobs - even a stifled ‘No…’ - could be heard throughout the group. Chakotay's shoulders slumped and he began to tremble. She did what she could to bolster him up, but he had begun to literally lean on her, and the considerable size difference between them was about to become an issue.

Her face grew wet, as she gave up trying to hold back the tears that had been threatening. Sveta had made it through about half of the candles, dousing flames randomly around the water so that the light was thinner, while still covering the entire expanse of the pond.  

“We grew bold… complacent… believing we had won, although the war was not truly over. In our blindness, we gathered together our families and loved ones to establish new colonies in the spaces we thought abandoned by our adversaries. We did the work for them… all of our defenseless loved ones centralized into one easy area.”

Sveta’s voice was bitter and full of self loathing. Kathryn could feel the pain dripping from each word and her heart broke for the other woman. She knew those feelings all too well - the guilt… the shame… the belief that you could have done things differently… that if you had only looked one step further those lives would not have been lost.

Sveta had fallen silent for a moment, allowing everyone to contemplate the idea of fault and guilt and loss as they stared out at the still-too-bright sea of candle flames. “We made them sitting ducks, and they paid the price for our ignorance and naivete. Children… babies… grandparents… the old and infirm… the young and bright-eyed…” Instead of individual flames, large swaths of light now disappeared as she spoke. Kathryn's chest grew tight as each group went dark, imagining the colonists’ cries of death.

“We gave them the tools and centralized the targets.” Another swath of light snuffed out. “ They wielded the weapons… Federation…” Another swath. “Cardassian…” Another. “Dominion…” Another. “Until we were no more…” Despite the increase in the amount of flames that went out each time, the garden was still rather well lit by the remaining flames. With these final words, however, all of those were snuffed out at the same time, plunging the area and the people in it into unexpected darkness.

Strangled sobs and wails went up around the group as the symbolic act struck home. Kathryn's free hand flew over her mouth as she gasped, then turned her face to hide it in Chakotay's solid shoulder… but it wasn't there. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she recognized that his knees had buckled and that, as he was falling to the ground, he was pulling her with him. Just as she registered the idea that they would both end up in a heap, she heard Mike Ayala’s voice come through the haze.

“Easy, Boss. You're too big to do a free fall.” Mike grabbed Chakotay's arm on the opposite side of Kathryn and together they lowered him gently the rest of the way to the ground. She checked out over the crowd again, searching for any of her crew that might also be in distress.

A glance back at Ayala showed him to be in relatively good shape. “Mike, can you stay with Chakotay while I check on Gerron and Mariah?”

You stay with him. Chell and I will see to the others.”

“Thank you, Mike, but my place is among them. I can't ask you to forgo your own grief.”

“I spent the first month home in the DMZ, grieving and saying goodbye. I came this weekend to be here for my friends. Your place is here , Kathryn… with him .”

She looked back out over the sea of grief-stricken people, then back at Mike. “I really feel that I should…”

“You're not our captain, here, Kathryn . You came as our friend and his lover. Your place is next to him . He needs you . Let your Voyagers take care of each other like our captain taught us. Chell and Stella are already on their way to see Mariah. I'll head over to Gerron and check in on Dalby, too. He lost his wife on Tevlik.”

Kathryn studied Ayala dubiously for another moment, then acquiesced. As much as she felt she should be among her crew, they were already moving amongst each other, checking in and lending extra support where needed. Chakotay, who could usually be counted on to lead the way in emotional support, was still sitting on the floor and clinging blindly to her hand, lost in a sea of his own delayed grief.

Nodding at Mike, she knelt onto the floor and pulled Chakotay into her arms. It was then that the dam broke, and he clung to her sobbing out the grief he had suppressed for so many years. All she could do was hold him as the storm raged through him.

She had no idea how long they stayed there, but eventually the storm abated and the wracking sobs ceased. Chakotay sat limp in her arms, showing no interest in moving from where they sat on the floor.

She had begun to worry that they would end up sleeping there when Sorayah appeared with a large man, and gestured for her to stand. The man lifted Chakotay to his feet and half-carried him across the lanai and through a doorway, with Kathryn and Sorayah following. As they crossed the space, Kathryn noticed that there were others being helped in a similar fashion.The short, narrow hallway soon opened up and Kathryn realized that they were now back in the main house, heading towards their room.

Without a word, the large man helping Chakotay guided him into the room and sat him down on the edge of the bed, then nodded at Kathryn and silently took his leave. Soryah pressed a hypospray in Kathryn's hand and gestured toward Chakotay. She guessed that it was some sort of sedative meant to calm him if needed. Then with a gentle smile, Sorayah also silently exited the room, leaving Kathryn and Chakotay in privacy.

Still seemingly in some sort of emotional shock, Chakotay hadn't moved from where the other man had sat him down on the bed. Kathryn pressed into action.

“You need to get undressed and into bed, Chakotay.” Unbuttoning his shirt, she pulled it off, then stood him up so that she could remove his pants. Although he complied with whatever she asked him to do, he didn't speak or take any action to undress himself. Leaving him in his underwear, she pulled back the covers and laid him down on the bed. When she tried to pull the sheet back over him, he refused to let go of her hand, his eyes boring into her.

“I'm not leaving you, Chakotay. I need to get undressed, too.” Reassured, he let her hand go. She held up the hypospray. “Do you want the sedative?” A simple shake of his head was the only response he gave her. Setting the hypospray down, she quickly undressed and slid into bed next to him, then pulled him back into her arms. Still without saying a word, he buried his face in her neck and began to cry again.

She held him as the second storm passed, crooning soft words of love and reassurance to him. Finally, his tears seemed completely spent and his body rela