"Everybody listen up, it's time for a toast," Tom Paris called, standing and raising his glass.
The small but boisterous crowd calmed almost immediately. I looked around the dinner table, but all eyes were on Tom. B’Elanna sat beside him, already grinning. Tuvok and T’Pel were not as jubilant as the others, but they seemed comfortable and cheerful, in a Vulcan way. The Doctor and Seven of Nine sat opposite them. Harry was the guest of honor, and Libby sat beside him. It was the first time we had all gotten together since Voyager’s return home six months earlier, and my heart felt full surrounded by my former crew.
It was odd not to be at the head of the table, but then, I wasn’t the host. While I was still puttering around my Starfleet-issued apartment, Chakotay had bought a charming bungalow in Sausalito. Puzzled by his choice, I asked him what he planned to do with it once Starfleet gave him the ship he so richly deserved. He just smiled, and told me that it didn’t matter if he was there all the time, as long as he had roots somewhere. I had to admit, it was a charming house, and just the right size for the former officers of Voyager. I turned my focus back to Tom just as he began to speak.
"Firstly, I would like to thank our hosts, Starfleet's newest captain and most beautiful admiral," he said.
Everyone raised their glasses while Chakotay and I glared good naturedly at Tom. Technically, I was the co-host, having pulled a few favors to make everyone schedules align. It was the least I could do, given the occasion. After everyone took a drink, he continued.
"But most importantly, we're here to celebrate Harry before he blasts off as the chief tactical officer of the U.S.S. Wyoming."
I looked at Harry and swallowed a lump in my throat. When he told me that he was shipping out on a two-year tour, I was speechless. I couldn't pretend that I was sending him on an away mission, or that I had any control over what he might find out there. I was scared for him, and scared of losing him. But as he described the mission to me, I could see that he was so excited to be out exploring again. I gave him my blessing without reservations.
"Harry, when I met you, you were being swindled in Quark's bar. I couldn't believe they'd let you out of the academy, let alone assigned you to Voyager."
Everyone at the table chuckled. It was hard to forget the day you met Harry Kim. In my mind's eye, I was back in my ready room, ordering him to stand down before he sprained something, when Tom cleared his throat to continue.
"I thought I was going to have to teach you everything, but I was the one who had to learn from you. You taught me how to be a good friend, and what being an officer in Starfleet really meant-"
Tom choked up and paused. B'Elanna squeezed his hand, but he shook his head, not ready to go on just yet. A quick glance around the table confirmed that there wasn't a dry eye in the house - except for Tuvok and T'Pel, of course.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is," Tom finally said, "Give 'em hell, Harry. We're gonna miss you."
"Hear, hear," Chakotay replied.
The whole table joined in and then was silent as everyone drank.
"Thank you, Tom," Harry said, his voice thick with emotion, "Thank you all."
We all smiled a little sadly. I still didn't want Harry to leave, but this what what we had gotten home for: the opportunity for each of us to choose our own path. Finally, B'Elanna cut through the heaviness of the moment.
“I heard there are brownies for dessert?” she asked, hopefully.
I happily answered in the affirmative. My mother and I had made them that morning, and I was looking forward to sharing them with everyone. I moved to retrieve them, but before I could even push back from the table, Chakotay was on his feet.
“Allow me,” he said, and I rolled my eyes with a smile.
Chakotay hadn't let me lift a finger all evening. I sat back down and waved him off, making sure he knew where my bag was. He nodded and smiled before making his way to the kitchen across the hall.
I was listening reasonably intently to the Doctor’s review of the latest opera in Paris when B’Elanna spoke up again.
“What’s taking him so long?” she asked.
“I’ll go check,” I replied, and this time no one stopped me.
“Chakotay, the natives are getting restless,” I said as I entered the kitchen.
And then I froze.
Chakotay was standing at the counter holding a liquor bottle about one-third full, just staring at it. I couldn’t move, and could barely breathe. There was no wondering if he had recognized it, the look on his face was clear enough. He was four years and tens of thousands of light years away, sitting on a log by a lake, listening to me tell him how much he meant to me.
I had packed the bottle in a moment of hubris. I didn’t need a plan to present it, I had told myself. I imagined staying on after the other guests had gone, helping with the dishes. Maybe there would be some light jazz in the background, something to dance to. I’d bring it out if the right moment struck, and if none did, he would be none the wiser.
Except, in all the excitement, I had forgotten it was there. Watching him stand there, I saw my half-baked plans crumbling before my eyes. Finally, something broke his reverie, and he smiled shakily at me.
“This isn’t meant to accompany the brownies, is it?” he asked.
“No,” I said, the word rushing out as a miserable sigh, “it isn’t.”
B’Elanna called out from the dining room, “What are you two doing in there?”
I listened to the good natured laughter of my former officers as Chakotay and I schooled our faces into professional calm, an old trick employed once again. Thankfully, I had pre-cut the brownies, and Chakotay unwrapped them quickly so we could hurry back to the group. B’Elanna looked as if she was ready to tease us again, but she must’ve seen something in my eyes, and she let the matter drop instead.
I listened as carefully to Tuvok’s advice for Harry, and Tom’s ribbing. I wanted to soak up the moment, the loudness, the feeling of family. Despite my best efforts to focus, the whole time my heart was pounding, and I didn’t dare look at Chakotay. Finally, the evening drew to a close and it was time to say our goodbyes. I got to Harry first and pulled him into a tight embrace.
“I might need the Doc to check me out, I think you broke a rib,” he joked.
In reply I took his face in my hands.
“Be good,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
I patted his face one more time, and let him go. The other goodbyes were easier, although B’Elanna continued to watch me with concern. When it was our turn to embrace, I shook my head slightly. She must have understood, because as soon as I let her go, she ushered her husband and the others away from the house and off towards the nearest transporter station.
Somehow in the melee Chakotay had returned inside and I found myself alone on the front porch. It had a swing facing the bay, and before I could resist the impulse I sat down. I had meant to collect my thoughts for just a moment before heading indoors. However, before I could even take a breath, Chakotay reemerged holding the bottle. I scooted over and he sat beside me, a polite distance away.
“I considered bringing glasses, but that wouldn’t exactly be traditional,” he joked, uncorking the bottle and handing to me.
In all the years I had hung onto it, I never uncorked it, and I was glad I hadn’t. If I had known how delicious it smelled, it would not have survived the journey. Cautiously, I took a sip before handing it back.
"You weren't supposed to find it like that," I said, unable to meet his eyes.
"I figured not," he said.
When I dared to look up, Chakotay was smiling at me. I smiled back timidly. Whatever else he was thinking, he wasn't upset at me. Tension loosened in my shoulders and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
“Did you ever imagine Harry would be the first to go?” I asked, eager to change the topic.
Chakotay took a swig and paused, looking out over the water.
“Not really,” he replied, “but I’m glad he’s going.”
I nodded in agreement, “Somehow I always pictured that I would be visiting Harry playing in a symphony here on Earth. But space is calling, and that suits him too.”
We sat silently for a long time, passing the bottle back and forth every so often. My mind wandered back to sitting on that log on a faraway planet in the Delta Quadrant. It wasn't that I hadn't been myself that night, despite being a little drunk. For that one moment, I had been unafraid of the truth. In all the years and troubles since, I was never able to bring myself to regret it.
“I never forgot about that night,” Chakotay said eventually, as if reading my thoughts, “So much happened after that, but I always remembered-”
I reached over and clutched his hand tightly to silence him. If he was going to apologize, I didn’t want to hear it. And whatever else he might have said, I wasn’t ready to hear either. He set the bottle down and rested his other hand over mine.
“There were times I wished I had taken your advice and burned it,” I said, looking down at my lap.
“Can I ask why?” he said.
I sighed. I still couldn’t believe I’d let him find the bottle in the middle of Harry’s going away dinner. For that alone, if not for all the other reasons, he deserved the truth.
“Sometimes you made me so angry,” I replied, “I would pace my quarters, fuming, and then I would catch the bottle out of the corner of my eye. I would stop, and I would remember who you were, who you really were, to me. I couldn’t stay mad at you after that.”
I paused, and looked at Chakotay. His expression was unreadable, and his eyes were fixed on me. With great difficulty, I continued.
“I would think to myself, that if I tried a bit harder, maybe we could get home sooner. And, maybe, it wouldn’t be too late to have what I had wanted so badly that night.”
Tears pricked the corner of my eyes, and I couldn't stop them from falling. I took a slow, ragged breath, but that only made them fall faster.
"Kathryn," he started, but I could see he was still searching for words.
"I wanted you," I blurted, "I still do."
My courage completely failed me then, and I buried my head in his shoulder. It was slightly ridiculous, trying to hide from him and take comfort from his presence at the same time, but no one was there to laugh at us. He didn't try to shush me as I cried, he just rested his head on mine. When I realized that was exactly how we had sat by the lake, the tears started anew, but Chakotay gave no sign that he had anywhere else to be.
Finally, when my tears slowed a little, Chakotay gently detached me from his shoulder, and took my face in the palm of his hand. I hoped he was going to kiss me then, but he simply studied my face. It was tear stained and puffy, I could feel it, but he seemed to find what he was looking for.
"Kathryn, I'm yours," he said hoarsely, "I'm yours, I am all yours."
I let out a cry that was half a sob, half a sigh of relief. We chuckled at the absurdity of it all, Chakotay stroking my face and me stroking his. I knew I shouldn't dare ask for more, but somehow I did.
"Show me," I pleaded.
He made a sound low in his throat that warmed and twisted my insides. Then Chakotay lifted me up and carried me inside to his bedroom, setting me down gently. When I finally fell asleep several wonderful hours later, I was absolutely sure that he was mine, and I was his.
I woke up the next day to the curious sound of a tricorder. I opened my eyes just a crack and saw that my companion was sitting up, looking intently at the device.
"Are you actually analyzing that?" I asked.
Chakotay's sheepish smile was all the answer I required. There was about an inch of liquor left in the bottle. We had made a significant dent when I wasn't paying attention.
"So, what is it? An exotic truth serum?" I asked, stretching.
"No, just forty percent alcohol by volume, a couple standard flavonoids," he looked at me and grinned, "Disappointed?"
I sat up and straddled his lap, not caring that the blankets fell away as I did so. I set the bottle and the tricorder aside, and kissed him long and deep.
"Not even a little," I replied.