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where the heart is (and all that)

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The sound of footsteps behind her doesn't go unnoticed, but Kathryn doesn't bother to turn around. What's the point, really? If the admiralty wants to find her, they'll find her; if the news-crews want a statement, they'll get it; if Chakotay or Seven or The Doctor want to check that's she okay, that she isn't feeling tired or overwhelmed or bored out of her senses, they will. She doesn't bother to bet on any of the above; she dreads that someone has uncovered her momentary place of solitude, despite knowing that it wasn't much of a hideout; she's tucked at the edge of a balcony at Starfleet Headquarters, staring unmoved at the gentle wash of San Francisco Bay, avoiding the party that's being thrown in her honour, in the honour of her crew.

She's achieved the impossible, they keep telling her, as though she didn't know. As though it was someone else who was there, someone else who lived those seven years, Kathryn Janeway, heroine of Starfleet and Earth, as least for as long as it takes them to get her court-martial in order.

She never thought she'd find herself missing Seska, but right now--

Her introspection has taken her to the inevitable moment, and the person behind coughs, more subtle than it could have been. A pause, then, "Captain?"

B’Elanna Torres. She can't say she'd been expecting that, but it makes something loosen inside her.

"Lieutenant," she nods. Her eyes are still on the water, gentle and somehow greener than it is in her memory. "How’s Miral holding up?"

"She’s tired, cranky and disoriented by the noise," B’Elanna replies, wry, stepping up to join her against the railing. "She’s at the mercy of Tom’s parents right now."

B'Elanna is wearing her old dress uniform from Voyager, a deliberate, subversive choice despite the ready availability of uniforms in the current style, and Kathryn's lips curl up at the sight, and the thought.

"I suppose that can’t be avoided," Kathryn says.

B’Elanna’s smile matches the trace of humour in her voice. "I suppose not." She pauses. "How are you, Captain?"

For about a tenth of a second, she even considers telling B’Elanna the truth, but she catches herself just in time. "Just tired, you know," she says lightly. "I'm out of practice with the official Starfleet functions."

B'Elanna is watching her, she can feel it, though she refuses to meet her eyes; seems to weigh the potential cost of her words, and makes a decision. "With all due respect, Captain: bullshit."

That gets her attention. She isn't alarmed, exactly -- B'Elanna hasn't often curbed her need for self-expression, after all -- but she does turn, raise an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

“You heard what I said. No offence, Captain, but your lying skills are pretty lousy right now. You're acting like a--"

"Lieutenant," Kathryn says, and her voice is ice. "We may not be aboard Voyager anymore, but that does not mean that I will tolerate you treating me with so little--"

And B'Elanna interrupts her, surprising her, with a sigh; Kathryn sees it, sees the fight drain right out her until B'Elanna is standing there: an exhausted mother, a worn-down woman, decidedly less a friend of these events than Kathryn herself. "I'm sorry, Captain. You're right. I was out of line."

"Maybe I was, too," Kathryn murmurs. She crooks a smile. "Maybe I wasn't. Either way, I'm sorry, too."

A long moment passes; they stand side-by-side, B'Elanna arm warm against Kathryn's through the fabric of their uniforms, and then she says, "Captain, what's wrong?"

Kathryn looks across her, takes in her deep dark eyes and her lovely face and her open concern, an unguarded care she would never have found there even five years before, and she touches two fingers to the underside of B'Elanna's jaw, strokes there. She smiles a little, asks her, "Do you know where you'll want to live? After the first few weeks in Starfleet housing, I mean?"

It's not a change of subject that will win any awards for tact, but it doesn't matter; something has passed between them, anyhow, a show of trust, and B'Elanna nods minutely to show she's got it. She probably knows what's wrong, anyway.

*

“I don’t know how we’re going to tell them,” B'Elanna murmurs, sometime later; she doesn't know how long it's been, probably far less time than it feels, but they've shifted closer together, B'Elanna's head inclined toward her, and they speak in low voices over the breeze.

"Who?" Kathryn asks, but she knows.

B’Elanna’s laboured intake of breath is an immediate sign that she's right, and Kathryn feels a tightening in her chest, stress and relief, even before she can say, "Tom’s parents."

"I’m sorry to hear that," Kathryn says, routine, automatic, and Kathryn knows B'Elanna knows is isn't true. B'Elanna is standing so close to her, now, that Kathryn can feel the heat of her skin, the brush of her hair against her cheek when the wind picks it up -- she catches her eye, holds the gaze, can't help it, and Kathryn's mouth is dry and her air is compressed.

She isn't sure she wants to understand, isn't sure she's ready, because this, moments like these, are things coalescing at an unexpected and inconvenient time, are seeing clearly after years of haze, and Kathryn is one of those people, cursed, who's always lived too long in active search of answers to have any idea what to do with them when she finds them. Exhaustion presses her down like a physical weight, and she wonders if she could still be standing if it weren't for the railing before her, if it weren't for B'Elanna warmth and strength beside her. She's so tired, so, so tired, weeks of insomnia taking their toll, and she feels suddenly certain that she could lie down right here, on this balcony, and sleep for maybe five hundred years.

And yet, B'Elanna is there, warm and solid and real and still herself, somehow, despite it all. B'Elanna is here, framed by Terran moonlight on this cool, breezy night, pale and stark and tired and beautiful.

Kathryn has always had an expressive face, that's what her mother says; that's what her mother used to say. B'Elanna reads her, as she has the since the beginning, since the Maquis, and Kathryn couldn't hide even if she tried to.

B'Elanna's eyes are like fire, burning into Kathryn's mind, reading it, and she casts her glance away. "I need time," she whispers, and this, Kathryn can respect; no preamble, no beating around the bush, no pretending she hasn't understood what is happening here. No pretending she doesn't want it too.

"I won’t ask you how much," Kathryn murmurs, B'Elanna's fingers snaking to hers, gripping tight, her cool skin a relief. "That wouldn’t be fair. You have things to sort out, you have your daughter and—"

"Kathryn," B’Elanna says, and her fingers grip tighter, "I’ll be back in a few weeks. I have to… take care of a few things. But I’ll be back soon."

Kathryn, ever-wary, asks, "What then?"

"I’ll have to sort something out with Tom. Then we can... maybe..."

"...Do some sorting out of our own?”

B'Elanna almost smiles. "Something like that."

Kathryn studies the sight of their hands, clasped together, and they are soft hands, small hands, hands of strength and passion and hard work and days long past but not forgotten. They have always been a contrast, B’Elanna and Kathryn—light hair, dark hair; blue eyes, brown eyes; pale skin, tanned skin. B’Elanna has always been like her mother's caramel brownies, Kathryn thinks, all golden and addicting and a hazard to her health.

"Go." The word is soft when she speaks it, almost lost in the breeze, but she lifts her gaze and fixes it firm.

"Kathryn?" It's the first time she's ever said -- isn't that ridiculous, Kathryn thinks -- and it's a balm, warm, coiling into her blood.

"Go." And this is the voice of the captain, now, the captain she was, will always be. "Do what you need to do, and do it well. I don’t want to be the one to hold you back."

B'Elanna nods, once, sharp, and turns. She is three steps away when she says, "I love you, Kathryn. You do know that."

"Yes." Kathryn smiles, then, a smile that might be the first genuine one she's smiled all evening. "I know." She pulls her in then, kisses her deeply, replies in the only way she can reply right now, her hand tangled in the front of B'Elanna's uniform, B'Elanna's hair on her cheek.

"I'll be back," she says again, a promise, a promise like the one Kathryn has managed to keep, and then she is gone.

*

Congratulations on getting us home, Captain Janeway. You must be so proud.