After the disorienting experience on Quarra, the crew needed this: a fun night of entertainment and togetherness. The talent acts ranged from music to comedy to poetry to juggling, and officer and crew member alike heartily participated. The night was young as everyone settled in to listen to the surprisingly moving voice of Seven of Nine. The former drone had embraced singing in front of a crowd as a form of socialization, but those close to her knew she enjoyed it as more than just a means of study.
Kathryn Janeway clapped louder than anyone else as her protégé took the stage, a vision in black velvet and her hair down in waves. The lights dimmed and the music started. Jazzy piano filled the room and Seven's voice soon joined it in accompaniment;
Maybe this time I'll be lucky
Maybe this time he'll stay
Maybe this time, for the first time
Love won't hurry away
He will hold me fast
I'll be home at last
Her sense of home had become abstracted after nearly seven years away from Earth and Indiana. The word still evoked images of that blue and green planet but when she thought past it in her mind, his face came into focus. She couldn't imagine a day without him. She had told him that, but it was true now more than ever. He had become her anchor as Voyager became more adrift and she lost sight of her goal.
She basked in his attention when he gently reminded her to eat something of substance or offered to work on her ever growing pile of reports. She took for granted his consistent refusal to back down when he knew she was making the wrong choice. He was the perfect First Officer, for an imperfect Captain. But although he was always physically less than 10 feet from her, the distance between them lately felt cavernous.
Not a loser anymore
Like the last time and the time before
Why did she keep thinking that her love life would work out, with her disastrous track record? Death and distance were common themes. Desertion might as well be up there too. She couldn't have expected him to wait for her forever.
Everybody loves a winner
So nobody loved me
She kept losing people. It was the hardest part of this whole ordeal. The Voyager crew that she had come to consider family was shrinking. If they kept at it for another seven years, who knows how many more would be ripped away from her.
That's what I long to be
Now all she did was look back.
Well, all the odds are, they're in my favor
Something's bound to begin
It's gotta happen
Maybe this time I'll win
She remembered saying goodbye to Jaffen and the life he represented. He was a temptation, a welcome distraction from her long journey. Leaving him behind was harder than she thought it would be.
"I'm never going to see you again, am I?" he had asked, taking her hands in his and squeezing gently.
"No," she replied. "I don't think you will."
He had embraced her and she had let him. They held each other for a long time but before she knew it, it was time to go.
She didn't walk with him to the transporter room.
Everybody, they love a winner
So nobody loved me...
* * * *
It was a short trip to Kathryn's door. He pressed the chime, waiting and wondering if maybe she had gone for a late night tour of the ship instead.
After a minute he heard a muffled "come" from inside. He pressed a button on the panel again and the doors opened quietly. Chakotay entered the equally quiet room, the only sounds some sniffing and rustling of tissue. His eyes adjusted to the low light and he saw her standing by the couch, her back to him.
Kathryn finished blowing her nose before turning to face him. Her voice was thick when she spoke, as if she had been crying.
"Has talent night ended?" She asked, meeting his gaze. The room was too dim to tell if her eyes were red.
"No, only Seven's piece," he replied.
She looked away at that.
"Then why are you here? You're missing the rest of it." Even in this state, she still lectured him about duty.
"I could ask you the same thing," he said.
"Hey, you're head of personnel, not me. I'm expected to bow out of ship's events early. Captain's prerogative."
"I don't think that's it. Dare I say you were having a great time? You looked comfortable, like you could sit there all night. We have quite the talented crew after all." His attempt at humor fell flat in the wake of his concern for her. He stepped closer and she instinctively retreated, walking over to the replicator to recycle her used tissues.
"I know when you're upset, Kathryn," he said, trying again. "What I don't know is 'why.' Maybe you'd like to talk about it?"
"I really don't," she snapped.
"Okay, have a good night then," he said, turning back to the door. But before he could press the release button, she stopped him.
"Wait," she called, moving to rejoin him in the middle of the room. "Please stay. I'm not very good company but I'd like yours, if you're still willing."
He smiled and walked over to stand in front of her. "Of course," he said.
She looked up at him, studying his face- his tattoo, maybe- and picking at the hem of her uniform jacket. He recognized that nervous gesture. She had something to say, so he waited.
Her gaze moved to his and she held it there, searching for something.
"Do you still- did you ever...?" she began, but stopped and looked away, laughing nervously. "I've said the word a hundred times before to Mark. Why is it so hard to say with you?"
She stared a hole into her replicator, her mind whirling. She knew he understood her like no one else, and she liked to think that she understood him just as well. They were bound by fate and circumstance, but was it enough? Had she been putting off Voyager's return somehow because it would mean she would have no other excuse to keep him waiting? Had she been scared that they would finally get their chance only for it to be squandered? Even now it felt better to always be in anticipation rather than to try, and fail, again.
"Kathryn," he said, bringing her back to the moment. "If you want me, I'm right here."
"But Seven-" she said immediately, the words slipping out unbidden.
Chakotay's brows furrowed in confusion. "What about Seven?" he asked.
"Don't make me say it," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"You're going to have to if you want me to understand what you mean."
She sighed. "I heard a rumor that you and Seven of Nine were dating."
Whatever he expected her to say, it wasn't this. He was struck silent for a moment, thinking hard about how that particular piece of news had reached her. He cleared his throat.
"I would hardly call two outings 'dating,'" he said carefully. "She wanted to know what it would be like with someone with a little more experience than poor Chapman, and I was happy to help. I was flattered but it didn't mean anything. It was strictly professional."
Kathryn saw the truth in his eyes and nodded, accepting his answer. She looked, and felt, emotionally spent.
He reached out then to touch her face, leaving his hand hovering an inch from her cheek, asking for permission.
She pressed her lips together and nodded, the long held tears finally escaping. She took in a shaky breath as his fingers made contact with her skin, caressing it and shaping his hand to cradle the side of her face. She leaned into him and closed her eyes as he tucked his other arm around her lower back.
"You're still going to have to say it," he teased, moving his hand to stroke her hair.
She nosed the fabric of his shirt and hummed, the sound buzzing against his collarbone. He laughed softly and pulled back, looking into her eyes.
"Kathryn?" he asked.
Her tears had slowed and she made no effort to wipe them away. Her hands came up to grip his jacket collar. She needed something to hold onto, just in case.
"I love you," she whispered.
His smile was radiant.
"I love you too," he said. "I always have."
Her answering smile was small -and a bit watery- but it was real. She knew he wasn't going anywhere.
'Maybe this time, I'll win.'