Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager™© is the registered trademark and sole property of Paramount Pictures. This story is non-commercial and for enjoyment only. No copyright infringement is intended.
RATING: This is the NC-17 version of this story. You will find an R version at http://www.geocities.com.closingranksr.html
SUMMARY: Punching through that Borg transwarp conduit was one thing, wanting to turn around and go back was another.
BElanna was the first one to crack. She reached her hand over and softly laid it on Captain Janeways arm.
"Dont worry, Captain. Its going to be all right."
Everyone watched as Kathryn came out of her deep thoughts and looked at BElanna, her expression clearing slowly. "Oh. Of course, Be. I know it will." She paused. "I think."
Her eyes glazed over again and she stared back into the distance. Everyone around the table looked at each other with worried eyes, and Neelix sadly shook his head. The doctor leaned towards Kathryn and his hand took the place of B'Elannas, his eyes pleading.
"Captain, please. All the hearings are over except for this last one. Everything is going well, theres nothing to worry about. Theyve sung your praises all the way from here to Ocampa."
The others nodded as Kathryn looked fondly at her former CMO. "I know, Doctor, but this one is different. Owen actually came right out and warned me that this is the big one. My rank depends on the outcome - and I dont mean losing a promotion to admiral. I mean losing my captaincy."
There was a shocked silence as everyone sat back in their chairs and picked up their mugs with unsure hands. As her words were registering with them, Kathryn suddenly looked around.
"He went shopping with Seven," said Tom absently.
Even Tuvok raised his eyebrow at Tom, while the others simply scowled at him.
"Sorry," he muttered and rested his chin into his propped-up hand. They all turned to Kathryn.
"Of course," she whispered. "How silly of me."
The group lapsed back into a tense silence, each with their own thoughts.
The return of Voyager had been a tremendous success and a festive event for battle-weary Earth, but while people around the world celebrated her return, top-secret discussions had been held at Starfleet Headquarters. Finally, the hearings began.
Actually, they had gone better than even Captain Janeway expected. For starters, the issue of the Maquis turned out to be a non-event. The steady stream of logs through the Pathfinder relay had brought Starfleet up to date even before Voyager punched her way through to the Alpha Quadrant, and no one could justify bringing up the terrorist issue. All members of the crew had been duly questioned, and promotions and citations were awarded and added to their records. During the last ten days the senior staff had been subjected to their own individual turns at bat, and it had ended yesterday with satisfactory results all around. Then, just before Captain Janeway stepped down from the hotseat, the admiral leading the hearings committee turned towards her.
"Captain, one moment please. You have not been dismissed."
It had been seven years since Kathryn Janeway had been addressed in this manner by a superior officer, and it looked - for a nanosecond anyway as if a reprimand and a glare was going to be her automatic response. Neelix, the doctor, and the younger members of the senior staff bit their lips to keep from smiling, but their dancing eyes showed their delight in her aborted reflex. Commander Chakotay and Seven of Nine remained as emotionless as Tuvok.
"Yes, sir," she managed, and sat back down on the hard chair.
After a whispered discussion, the admiral turned back towards the captain. "Captain Janeway, we have now concluded the hearings regarding the actions of Voyager and her crew, both as a team and individually. However, since your return, there has been a concern at Starfleet about one factor of her voyage and, as captain, you will be held responsible for justifying it. Report to this location tomorrow morning at 09:00 sharp. This hearing is adjourned; you are dismissed."
The admirals had paraded out a back door leaving a stunned captain and senior crew sitting where they were. Captain Janeway was the first to stand, adjusting her jacket before stepping down. It was then that Admiral Owen Paris had approached her, putting his arm around her shoulder and guiding her to a corner for a private moment.
Everyone saw the captains face drain of colour, leaving her usually pale face gray and lifeless. Kathryns blue eyes had widened and she looked pleadingly at Owen. His slow shake of the head spoke volumes.
And now most of the Voyager senior crew sat in a small coffee shop around the corner from headquarters, nursing their after-breakfast coffees. Finally Harry, who sat beside Kathryn, leaned over.
"Captain, its time. We have to go now."
Another blank look and she nodded as she stood. Looking around the table at her DQ family, she announced, "You dont have to come, you know. Ill be fine."
Responding as she knew they would, they all filed out to bear witness to Voyagers final hearing.
Chakotay was the first person Kathryn saw as she entered the room. He was sitting in the front row beside Seven of Nine, his face impassive and his arms folded over his chest. Seven sat up straight and gave every indication of being carved in stone; she was even wearing her gray catsuit.
Empty seats remained in the front row and the breakfast club took possession, leaving Kathryn closest to the wall. To the admirals it might represent the captain and first officer protectively bracketing their senior staff, but to Kathryn it represented the many layers that now stood between herself and Chakotay. She closed her eyes and waited for the entrance of the hearing committee.
Shuffling feet eventually alerted her to their presence. The admirals took their seats behind the long bench and called her to the stand. With the preliminaries over, Captain Janeway sat down and prepared for the worst. Admiral Alynna Nechayev presided.
"Captain Janeway, you have satisfied us with all aspects of your command of the Starship Voyager, with one notable exception. We are here today to explore this concern. Are you ready to proceed?"
"I am, sir."
"Excellent. Admiral Milo would like to go first."
Kathryn groaned internally. Admiral Milo was a Jerk, First Class. She, along with many other of her contemporaries, figured hed had that stick up his ass since infancy. If Chakotay thought that she was obsessive about policy, protocol, and the Prime Directive, he only had to turn to Admiral Milo to realise that she was a rank amateur.
"Thank you, Admiral Nechayev. Captain Janeway, is it true that you discovered early in your voyage that a crewmember was pregnant?"
"Yes, sir. Ensign Wildman informed me of her condition when it was confirmed for her. Her daughter, Naomi, was born during our first year."
"Thank you. What plans did you implement to ensure her safety?"
Kathryn hesitated for a moment. "Im not sure I understand your question, Admiral. We were still struggling to get organised that early in our voyage, and Ensign Wildman was needed on duty. During her final months she served with lighter duties until Naomi was born."
"I was actually referring to the safety and longevity of the future Naomi."
"The future Naomi, sir?"
"Yes. What was the estimated time of arrival in the Alpha Quadrant when you first started back after the Caretaker Incident?"
"We calculated that we were approximately 70 years away from home, Admiral."
"Thats a pretty long time, isnt it, Captain?"
"Yes sir. If youre that far away from your home and family, it is indeed a pretty long time. We immediately set realistic goals to cut it down drastically and, in the end, it only took us 10% of that original estimate to succeed."
"Thank you, Captain Janeway. I believe Admiral Ross would like to speak with you now."
Kathryn was confused. What point in all the four quadrants was The Jerk trying to make? She turned to listen to Admiral Ross. He was a decent sort, if not inspired, and she had served with him years ago.
"Good morning, Kathryn. You cant imagine how pleased and proud I am that you have managed to bring your crew home safely. With some tragic exceptions of course, but that was to be expected."
"Thank you, Admiral Ross. In turn, you cant believe how pleased I am to finally be here facing you. There were days when I thought it might never happen."
"Yes, well, actually Kathryn, thats why were all here today. From your logs weve determined that you offered Commander Chakotay, who was then the Captain of the rebel Maquis ship, Liberty, the position of first officer with the condition that he accept Voyager as a Starfleet vessel with all the implied standards."
"That is correct, sir."
"A diverse crew, Kathryn."
"Yes, Admiral, a very diverse crew. But what started out as a potential problem turned out to be our biggest asset."
"We agree with you fully on that point, Kathryn."
"Thank you, sir."
There was a short pause as the admiral reviewed his padd and Kathryn tried to put the pieces together. She still hadnt succeeded when he resumed speaking.
"So, thats what happened then. The ship was eventually repaired, the Maquis donned Starfleet uniforms, and you demanded the crew follow strict Starfleet policies, procedures, and protocols during your journey home."
"Yes, sir, I did. I felt strongly that, by following the highest standards as set out by Starfleet, we could work together and succeed. Endless arguments over how or why to do every small thing would have been counter-productive despite our unique experience so that is what I ordered. Those standards saved us many times over the seven years and, again Admiral, you will find proof of that in the logs."
"Indeed, a most impressive record, Captain Janeway. I actually see here examples of times where you followed the letter of the law when, in similar circumstances, it wasnt even followed by captains in the Alpha Quadrant. Quite amazing, actually."
"Thank you, sir."
He coughed gently. "That was not actually meant as a compliment, Captain Janeway."
Kathryn looked up at him in surprise. "Sir?"
"Kathryn, Admiral Tctg would like to continue with this line of questioning now. Admiral?"
"Thank you, Admiral Ross. Captain, would you please define "success" as you alluded to it in your last statement."
"I defined "success as the safe return of Voyager, with the least amount of crew casualties and damage to my ship, in the fastest possible time."
"An excellent response, Captain, and an excellent strategy. However, what was your contingency plan?"
"Captain Janeway, you have acknowledged that you were in a unique situation, with a unique and unusual crew, and 70 years away from home. What provisions did you make for ensuring that Voyager actually made it back, even if it took all those 70 years to succeed?"
"I dont believe I understand you, Admiral."
"Captain, if it took 70 years for Voyager to accomplish her mission in returning to the AQ, how were you going to ensure its feasibility?" The admiral leaned across the bench to continue. "In other words, Captain Janeway, who was going to be sitting in the big chair? An elderly Naomi Wildman or the EMH?"
The light began to dawn in Kathryns mind. The past seven years flashed by her in an instant and her mouth formed a little O. She mentally shook herself and looked at Admiral Tctg. "Im sure, Admiral, that if it began to look as if the voyage would last longer than I anticipated, we would have set a plan of action in place to forestall any future problems."
"And how would you either recognise when that time arrived, or set what plan in motion?"
"I believe that the proper time would present itself and that we would consider converting Voyager into a generational ship, Admiral."
"I see. Now, on another tangent, how many marriages took place on Voyager in her seven year journey, Captain?"
"One, sir. Lieutenants Torres and Paris were married in our seventh year. Their daughter Miral was born the day we arrived in the Alpha Quadrant."
"Ah yes, Admiral Paris granddaughter adorable child. So, one marriage and one child resulting directly from the Voyager adventure in seven years. Seven years and approximately 150 healthy people, Captain. Does that add up to you?"
"We were a little busy, Admiral."
"Doesnt look like it to me, Captain."
A ripple of snickers tickled the room and Kathryns cheeks flushed pink. "What is your point, Admiral?"
Admiral Tctg ignored her mild insolence and carried on. "My point, Captain, is that in seven years 150 healthy people living in a closed community did not marry or have children. Since that goes against every possible aspect of nature, I can only assume it was due to your leadership. Tell me, Captain Janeway, did you enjoy any romance during the voyage?"
Kathryns cheeks were now flaming red. "I fail to see how thats relevant, Admiral. I was in command of a lost ship thousands of light years from home. And, besides the fact that I had plenty of things with which to occupy my time, I was the captain of Voyager and Starfleet protocol strongly disapproves of captains fraternizing with junior officers."
"Well then, Captain Janeway, perhaps Admiral Schmidt can help you see the light. Admiral, Ill turn it over to you now."
"Thank you, Admiral Tctg, and welcome home, Captain. Its very good to see you again."
"Thank you, Admiral. Were glad to be home."
"I can well imagine. Captain Janeway, did you explicitly discourage what vestiges of pleasure your crew could enjoy in regards to romantic love and children on Voyager?"
"No, I did not. I would like to point out that our voyage was not a hayride, and that falling in love could quite possibly take second place for people who never knew when their lives let alone their childrens lives would be in peril. Please keep in mind that for us the aliens were really alien, and that we never knew what the next day could bring."
"Oh, thats definitely understood. Well then, did you implicitly discourage them?"
Everyone saw Kathryns shoulders droop in weariness. "If I did, Admiral, it was unintentional. Frankly, our priority was to get home and fast. We did it. End of story."
"We truly believe that your priority was to get home, and fast, Captain. However, it is questionable that your crew felt that way. As a matter of fact, during our interviews with all of them one theme kept coming up. Did you know that 43% of your crewmembers are in love with another crewmember, Captain?"
Kathryn looked up, startled. "No. I didnt," she whispered.
"Well, they are. Naturally some married crewmembers are more than grateful that your plan worked and that theyre finally home with their families. However, a large enough section of the remainder has secretly maintained a life partnership without your knowledge."
"I find that hard to believe, Admiral. Its pretty hard to keep that kind of relationship secret, especially on a ship of only 150 people."
"Your crew is extraordinary, Captain. I do believe that they are the finest example of an integrated unit apart from the Borg. Their admiration and devotion to you is total - they all felt they would disappoint you if you knew, but they couldnt deny their own needs. Starfleet is, well, impressed, but also more than a little astonished with the devotion that you instill in your crew."
"It works both ways, Admiral, and I would never have interfered with any relationship unless it affected the work or safety of the people on board Voyager."
"Im sure thats true, Captain. However, therein lies the problem."
Kathryn waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Captain Janeway, your inability to even consider the possibility of a 70 year journey, let alone implement a plan to provide for it, creates a serious doubt in your ability to captain a Starfleet starship. Your attitudes and actions, although not official, forced members of your crew to withhold valuable information in a loyal attempt to shield you. As a result, it is entirely possible that you and your crew could have lived out your lives before reaching the Alpha Quadrant, thereby abandoning a child or two after Miral Torres was born seven years later to solitary existences on an alien planet. Do you have anything to say in your defence?"
Kathryn answered in a soft voice. "No, sir."
"Captain Kathryn Janeway, please stand up." She complied.
Admiral Nechayev stood and walked around the bench. She stood ramrod straight as she addressed Kathryn.
"Captain Janeway, in view of your demonstration of contempt toward the life of Noah Lessing of the Starship Equinox; your disregard of the temporal Prime Directive by both your present and future selves which resulted in the annihilation of the Borg; and the lack of preparation for the safe future of two children in your care; you are hereby relieved of your command of the Starship Voyager. In addition, you are reduced in rank to that of Commander."
Nechayev reached out and popped a pip off of Kathryns uniform. "This hearing is adjourned. You are dismissed, Commander Janeway."
She had to get away, to run to a safe place where she could lick her wounds in solitude. The shock and stress of the day had injured Kathryn far more than any crisis in the Delta Quadrant ever had, but here on Earth she didnt want to impose her pain on her close-knit DQ family. Her rank might now be commander, but she was still their Voyager captain and she had to do what was best for them. And so, with no explanation, Kathryn refused the offers of company from the others and fled out a back door.
Safely home in her assigned quarters, she looked in the mirror at the three pips on her neck. In an angry move Kathryn tore off her jacket and turtleneck, and then continued with the rest of her uniform. Protocol might dictate that uniforms were to be worn on Starfleets base, but they could bust her down to ensign and shed still toss it off. An old teeshirt of Chakotays, together with cozy socks felt much better.
She sat and dictated an angry entry into her log.
She stood at her window and watched the world go by with tears running down her cheeks.
She turned on the video to watch the world newscast and cringed at the hyperbole used in describing Starfleets decision concerning her actions.
She replicated food and coffee and didnt eat or drink it.
And, when it was dark, she finally decided she had to get out of her quarters before she went crazy.
What to wear? Looking into the wardrobe was no help; Kathryn had no real idea what was fashionable now on Earth and she definitely didnt want to stick out in a crowd. She wanted absolutely nothing to do with a crowd, so she grabbed a dark dress and jacket and threw them on. She would go to a wild and forgotten spot she remembered from academy days and just be alone with her thoughts.
Kathryn found herself at the edge of a cliff overlooking the bay. Ten feet behind her was the thick hedge that marked the boundary of the base, it had been deliberately planted to avoid this small promontory and to keep its border straight and even. Not many people knew this little hiding spot and she had certainly never mentioned it to anyone.
Starfleet! Kathryn thought. One straight long hedge, never allowing even a margin of variance, never giving a choice to step out of line one little inch. Rigid rules and harsh penalties. For seven long and empty years I towed their line, and what did it get me? A demotion and a promise of a lonely spinsterhood. Ive lost everything. Everything. And for what?
Kathryn sighed, and slowly sank down and continued thinking. Janeways were not brought up to be quitters and this latest development didnt mean that there wasnt another stage of life out there waiting for her. She just had to put her mind to it and ponder the possibilities.
Thank goodness shed remembered to bring food, a large thermos of coffee, and a blanket. With the summer season started, Kathryn knew she could sit here, watch the stars, and stay for the sunrise if she desired. Suddenly the feeling of absolute freedom flooded her and she smiled for the first time that day. She would go home to her mothers for a couple of months and sort out her priorities - thats what shed do. She and her mother were both rumoured to be level headed, and they would figure it out together.
Kathryn stretched out on her side to wait for the sunrise. She never did know exactly when she fell asleep, but she luxuriated in the comfort of its unreality. Mental images of lost chances danced in her head, cheeky dimpled smiles that would never again be for her, sparkling eyes that shone with love light when she caught him off guard, and large golden hands, with long, sensitive fingers, that danced over his console. How often had she wondered how it would feel to have those fingers dance over her skin? She could almost feel them now, feel his warmth against her body, his arms around her, protective and strong. Instinctively she turned towards the warmth.
The arms felt tighter, warm breath tickled her behind her ear, that incredibly sensitive erogenous zone. She shivered in delight but fought against waking up. This was too delicious.
"I knew Id find you here," a soft whisper sounded against her ear. She smiled and shivered again.
"How?" she asked from her dreams.
"The spirits always seem to tell me where you are when Im worried."
"Mmmmm," Kathryn smiled, and then she stiffened. Her eyes opened.
"What are you doing here? How did you find me?"
"Simple, I heard you calling out to me. And you should know by now that when you call, I come."
Kathryn looked up into his tender eyes. "I didnt tell anyone I was coming here, though."
"I still knew."
"I have my ways, and besides, this was my secret place when I was at the Academy. Its where I would have come if Id been the target today and free to do so. I could feel your pain, Kathryn I just followed it."
Kathryn rolled away and stood up. She took a step closer to the edge and heard, and then sensed, Chakotay stand and come up behind her as he had often done on Voyager. She hugged herself tightly.
"Pain - so many different layers of it. And, its not just the demotion, you know. Ive been recalling the past seven years and wondering what it was that I failed to do? Order people to procreate? Thats not only immoral, its against every human right I can think of. I thought people would eventually pair up and do it on their own. How was I to know that they would pair up but hide the fact from me and apparently get double strength contraceptive boosters? Was I that terrible a captain, Chakotay, that they couldnt trust me?"
He hesitated before answering. "Nooo, you were an excellent captain, Kathryn. But you were our leader and, to the crew, it seemed obvious that you were denying yourself the right to love and have a family. And, with the way they feel about you, how could they openly enjoy something that you denied yourself?"
"Why would they think that I was denying myself anything?"
"Im going to let you stew about that one yourself. In the meantime, why dont you consider the ramifications of living in a closed community of less than 150 people for seven years. Dont you think that it might allow people to get to know you pretty well? Maybe even better than you know yourself?"
"Kathryn, whats Ensign Wildmans middle name, where was she married, and whats her husbands fathers name?"
Kathryn was quiet for a moment and then capitulated. "Okay, point taken."
"And why did you leave so quickly yesterday? You must have known how worried wed be, not to mention how shocked we were ourselves. Couldnt you have just shared your pain with us? Why wouldnt you let anyone be with you?"
"Everyone has their own life now, they cant just sit around trying to comfort me. Besides, this was a definite I want to be alone moment."
She looked pointedly at Chakotay, who ignored the blatant hint.
"I swear sometimes, Kathryn, that you can be a real pain in the ass. Those people are not just your friends, theyre your family. Things are happening with them, too, and they could use your support. Neelix is lonely, BElanna is totally overwhelmed by the Paris, Tuvok actually made an emotional remark regarding your demotion and, spirits help me, last night I realised that Seven is finally experiencing real love. Kathryn, your Borg drone is finally human - doesnt that, at least, mean anything to you?"
She could hardly catch her breath, but training won out. "Of course it does, Im Im very happy for her."
"Its your dream come true and you did it! I never thought four years ago that you could actually bring her back, but you did. And now that were home, Im finally going to grab my dream and, spirits willing, I hope you're happy about that. You are, aren't you Kathryn?"
There was a long silence as Kathryn stared out at the moonlit bay. To herself she whispered, "Welcome home, Kathryn. Arent you glad you put all your efforts for seven long years into achieving this?"
"Did you say something?"
"Oh." He seemed disappointed in her lack of response to his future plans, but pushed it back down and continued. "I know youre hurting, Kathryn, but I dont think anyone meant to hurt you."
"I know, but they have. And some more than others."
"I havent hurt you somehow, have I?"
She didnt answer him.
"I realise we grew apart the last couple of years on Voyager, but I just didnt want to make you uncomfortable any more. It wasnt fair to you and it was just too painful for me to go through it all the time."
Kathryn took a step closer to the edge and gazed out at the small streaks of colour announcing the days birth. She couldnt bring up Chakotays relationship with Seven just as if they were talking about a change on the duty roster. She was especially bitter now, knowing that Starfleet not only would have approved of her loving Chakotay openly, but that they had actually expected her to breed with anyone in order to build a generational ship. Their perfidy was a crushing defeat of everything she had once believed in at Starfleet, and her loss was complete. She turned away and started gathering up her supplies.
"I understand, Chakotay. You did what you had to do in order to survive and no one can blame you for that. I think Im going to go back to my quarters now."
Disappointment was in his voice when he replied, "Do you really have to go right now?"
Her voice was still bitter. "I doubt that I really have to do much anymore. The hearings are over and we all have a year to re-acclimatise to home again - such as it is."
"Well then, do you think you could take a couple of days off?"
Kathryn was standing up now, her arms full of her bundles. "Off? I think that pretty well defines my life right now, dont you? Owen warned me that the Earth News Service is going to be doubly anxious to catch and dissect me and besides, no one needs a commander right now. At least not one with a battle weary captains attitude."
"I wouldnt think so. Spirits, you certainly intimidated most of the DQ I imagine youd damn near kill a Starfleet captain right about now."
"Dont tempt me. Or throw in those admirals and youve got a plan."
Chakotays eyes twinkled as he coaxed. "Then come with me, Kathryn. Between our voyage and the press, I need time away too, and why not hide out together for a few days? At least well have each other to watch our backs."
Thinking furiously as she looked out over the bay and the city she once called home, she finally sighed and turned back to him. "Oh hell, why not? San Francisco is sure the last place we should be."
"Thank the spirits." To Kathryns amazement he activated a Voyager communicator and hailed, "BElanna?"
"Harry here, sir. Be had to go tend Miral."
"Of course. Harry, are you sure this old band isnt being monitored by Starfleet?"
"Commander, weve all done various tests and it appears to be completely clean. Were safe to communicate on it."
"Excellent, at least one thing is going our way. First, I have Kathryn and were almost ready to beam out. Second," he paused, "stop calling me Commander. My name is Chakotay and I'm not a commander anymore. Finally."
"My pleasure," came the merry reply. "And you can call me Lieutenant!"
Even Kathryn joined in the laughter. Chakotay pulled out her old Voyager communicator and gently attached it to her jacket.
"Were ready, Harry. Beam us to the co-ordinates Be has and well see everyone at the appointed time. Chakotay out."
Before she could react he gathered Kathryn and her bundles tightly against him in a bear hug and, for the miniscule amount of time the transport would take, she snuggled into his embrace. It was dawn.
"Where are we?" Kathryn stood in the middle of a cottage, peering around.
"Were here, and thats all we need to know."
"Im really not in the mood to accept that, Chakotay. Where are we?"
"I know were in or near North America, but I honestly dont have it pinned down. Your mother found this place and shes keeping her mouth shut. Maybe its from being married to your father and his career, but your mother can keep her mouth shut tighter than anyone Ive ever met, and that includes some old Maquis."
"Yeah, if shes in charge of this location, we may never know where weve been. Except, Einstein, with a tricorder. Here, try mine."
"Forget it, she thought of that, too. Believe me, both Be and I have tried a few tricks to determine these co-ordinates and shes good. We could have done with her in the DQ."
"At least we would have had good coffee "
They continued to mouse around the main room, peeking into closets and behind cupboard doors. The main room was exactly that, a room for lounging, eating, cooking, and anything else that did not require a bedroom or bathroom. The cooling unit was full of fresh food but Kathryn was the first to discover her mothers treachery when she stood at the replicator and commanded, "Coffee. Black."
Chakotay heard the tone in her voice and wandered over. "What is it?"
"The damned replicator doesnt work."
"You didnt touch it, did you? Oh, quit glaring at me - computer, explain the malfunction in the replicator."
The silence was eerie. They looked at one another.
"I smell treachery."
"Oh, surely not, Kathryn, this is your mother were talking about."
"Yes, and thats why I smell treachery. Look around for a padd."
They found it in the cooling unit on top of the leaf lettuce and beside a turnip. The message was short and succinct - after seven years of replicated nourishment and alien foodstuffs, they were being treated to good old-fashioned, down-home Earth FOOD. Which meant, of course, that they would have to prepare and cook it themselves. Kathryn groaned and laid her head against Chakotays shoulder.
"I could just cry. Why did I agree to come to this hell hole?"
He patted her back absently. "Because it beat the alternative. Dont worry, I can cook, but youre going to have to be on KP, Kath."
"Ancient military acronym for Kitchen Police. You get the glamour jobs."
"I want Neelix."
"Forget it. I like the man, but enough is enough. And, if he's brought leola root seeds to Earth Im sure I can arrange a rebirth of the death sentence. Either that or arrange something terminal myself."
"What did you just say?"
"Oh Kathryn, give yourself a shake. I wouldnt hurt him for the world, and this quadrant had better not try either. I have a very proprietary feeling for Voyager and all of her family, so dont worry."
"I meant, what did you just call me?"
"I dont know. Right now 'KJ, Captain of KP sounds good enough for me."
"More like Commander of KP," she groused. "Sounds worse than Captain Proton. But thats not what I meant."
"Then Im beat. And, by the way, Im also hungry, so I guess wed better roll up our sleeves."
Kathryn groaned again, and found something shoved into her hands.
"Here, set the table first. Then get on the working end of a peeler and prepare some carrots and potatoes. Ill make some coffee and porridge for now, and then start a vegetable stew after we eat. And Ill even flip you for the onions I love to eat them but I cant stand peeling and chopping them. Winner gets to make the salad instead. Now get moving, were going to have to make some bread, too."
Kathryn sincerely hoped there wasnt a force field around this cottage. If she couldnt make a break for it after breakfast, she would just have to kill herself. And, if she did that, Chakotay would probably insist that she clean up her own mess.
Chakotays porridge was divine. Kathryn watched out of the corner of her eyes as he stood over the cooking unit, adding cinnamon, raisins, and two beaten eggs. Brown sugar and cream were plunked on the table and the two of them sat down and enjoyed their simple breakfast. When they were finished they sat back and savoured their morning coffee.
"Coffee, Chakotay? Not tea?"
"I like coffee, Kathryn - at least real coffee - and especially in the early morning."
"Saints preserve me, the man has a streak of sense, after all."
She looked around at the untidy kitchen. "Were you serious about me having to clean up?"
"I sure as hell was. When I cook, you police the joint. And, that reminds me, I want a real shower and fresh clothes. Did you find the bathroom?"
"No, but Im sure you will." She pointed to the far wall. "Two doors, you have a 50/50 chance. Go ahead while I clean up here and then Ill take my turn."
"Okay, KP Katie, its a deal. Now, to find fresh clothes, towels, and soap. See you in a few minutes."
Kathryn was dutifully banging away with the dirty dishes when she heard a door open and saw Chakotay with his arms full of his ablution requirements, displaying an odd look on his face.
He looked at her. "What? Oh, nothing. See you in a bit." With that he dashed through the other door and soon Kathryn heard the sounds of an old-fashioned water shower. And, she grinned, he wasnt a bad singer either.
He emerged soon enough, looking refreshed and comfortable. "Let me finish this while you go have your sho - Kathryn! What in the world have you been doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"Chopped onions, what do you think it is?"
Chakotay bent down and peered at the tiny pile. "Ive never actually seen them chopped in such tiny pieces. It looks like a heap of space dust."
"I am holding a knife you know, Chakotay."
"Are you sure it isnt a phaser? You know, Im actually quite impressed with this - and Id love to watch you liquefy garlic later - but, for now, go wash up and Ill continue here."
As he straightened up, still gazing at the onions, he heard the whap of the knife being slammed on the counter. A bang of a door being slammed broke his concentration. Any moment now
He sighed. "Yes?"
"Theres only one bedroom! With only one bed!"
"I noticed that."
"That woman left another padd on the bed. Did you read it?"
"Honour your mother, Kathryn. And yes, I did."
"And you didnt think Id be interested enough to call me in while you were reading it?"
"I wanted my shower; what can I say?"
At this Chakotays temper flashed. "No! I had nothing to do with this, Kathryn, and if you think Im taking any abuse for it from you, youre sadly mistaken. Now, get cleaned up while I finish this stew and then we can talk."
"Just shut up, Kathryn! Weve known each other for seven years, so dont start making assumptions and throwing aspersions! Im just not in the mood for either right now!"
He turned his back on her before he could see a flash of pain cross her eyes while she bit her lip. He was right, what was she thinking? Thin blonde hair, icy blue eyes, a revealing catsuit, and other images came to her mind. Kathryn couldnt believe that shed actually forgotten that Seven even existed since theyd beamed into this cottage. No wonder Chakotay was angry. Properly chastised, she turned and went for her shower. The warm water would wash away the tears and he would never know her anguish.
It almost seemed like it was becoming a habit. Finding oneself in an intolerable situation and then taking the great escape into parts unknown. And yet, Kathryn thought, neither one of us ever backed down from anything in the Delta Quadrant, not even each other. This was a new experience, and not a pleasant one; how many did that make this week?
She had finished showering and dressing and returned to the main room with wet hair. Chakotay was sitting sideways on the sofa, legs down its length, reading another padd. He looked up at her and she whispered, "Im sorry."
His feet swung slowly around and found the floor, and he stood. "Im sorry, too. I shouldnt have yelled at you."
"It was my fault. Everythings been my fault for the past seven years. Im still reeling from being so bitch-slapped by Starfleet that I guess Ill take it out on anybody, even my friends. I really am sorry, Chakotay."
"And I really do understand, Kathryn." He looked around and then back down at her. "Why dont we get out of here for a while and take a walk. This padd from your mother says theres a wonderful waterfall about two miles away. Oh, c'mon, she had to leave us some information!"
So Kathryn and Chakotay found themselves walking through the woods on a soft dirt path, following the sound of crashing water. Neither of them had really said much for the past half-hour; each lost in their own thoughts.
Finally, as if to the clouds, he said, "She really doesnt mean any harm, you know. Shes just so glad that youre back safely and that she can mother you again. Youre still her little girl."
Kathryn bowed her head and hoped Chakotay wouldnt notice the tear balanced on her lower lid or the catch in her voice. She would never have the opportunity to mother her own little girl, their own little girl. Gathering up her courage, she answered.
"I know. And I know how lucky I am to have her, but Ive been in a state of total shock since yesterday. I just cant seem to reconcile how I served Starfleet on board Voyager with how theyve judged me. No one ever said a word during any of those communications through the Pathfinder array about changing, not even Owen in private. I almost feel more betrayed by them than anyone else in my entire life. I mean, they knew how we were living, why didnt they say something?"
"Back up. Almost?"
"Nothing. Doesnt matter now."
Chakotay grabbed her hand and stopped walking. His strong arms wrapped around her and he spoke softly, "It matters to me, Kathryn."
She tried vainly to stop her body from betraying itself and felt his smile as he continued. "You ripple like a river when I touch you, have you ever noticed that? It always sends a thrill right through me, like hot lava. You know, Id even touch you on Voyager sometimes, just to get the rush."
Kathryn couldnt tell if the dull roar in her ears was the waterfall or her own blood. "How about Seven?" The words were out before she could stop them.
Chakotay slowly pulled away. They started again to the waterfall.
"Seven? Oh, shes doing fine. She's adapted very well to an intimate relationship to the extent that she thoroughly enjoys the feelings that love creates. Im sure rippling will be in her repertoire someday."
"You know, its been fascinating to watch her grow and expand her emotional range. She even managed to break through her Borg reserve and find a tiny piece of Annika within her. I honestly believe that Seven is going to be a fine woman and, best of all, shes finally in love. The doc even thinks that shell be able to bear children one day, despite that pelvic exoskeleton."
"And youre grabbing your dream and running with it. Well, Im very happy for you, Chakotay, no one deserves it more than you."
She felt his smile as he slipped his arm around her again and gave her a squeeze. "And you, Kathryn. I knew you would understand. I knew from the very beginning that you would always understand."
And then they weren't walking anymore. His lips found that special place behind her ear and her knees quaked. Chakotay took advantage of her swaying to turn her towards him, his kisses following her jaw until they crept over and found her mouth. It was a sweet kiss but, despite her anguish, Kathryn couldnt stop the small moan that came up from her throat. The faint sound seemed to affect his attitude, he began to press, insistent, his tongue swirling over her mouth, demanding entry, demanding possession, demanding her
Kathryn was quivering all over now from the coolness of the forest and the heat of their bodies. How did her fingers get buried in his hair, clenching and caressing him? And was that her, pressing into his erection and grinding, forcing an animal sound from his gut that shed never heard before? On Voyager Chakotay was a gentle man, a quiet man could this really be him? How did he manage to get his burning hands up under her dress, caressing her bare back, fondling her buttocks, slipping under her panties to stroke her hips, and all without her even noticing her hem rising? He rocked against her and Kathryn couldnt stop herself from throwing back her head and shoulders, crying out under the darkness of the trees.
"Raise your arms," he ordered, and she was helpless to disobey. A soft movement, then a jerk near her wrists, and her dress was gone. Now the cool breeze felt cold, until Chakotay found a rigid nipple and brought it into his hot mouth. Flames shot through her, radiating from her belly to all parts of her body.
Kathryn wanted him, she could no longer pretend otherwise. For seven years shed wanted him and now she was in his arms, his hands and mouth following the script of thousands of frustrated dreams long denied by the Starfleet captain, even to herself.
She was in his arms - but now these arms belonged to another woman. And, as much as she wanted him, Kathryn could not bring herself to betray what she believed in - friendship, mutual trust, and loyalty to all members of her crew, no matter how much it hurt. And she wouldnt be a goodbye trophy for any man; especially not Chakotay.
"Chakotay - stop!" she gasped, and heard his answering groan as she pushed against his chest.
"Kathryn please "
"We cant "
"Kathryn, oh spirits, Kathryn, dont make me beg. Ive dreamt of this for seven years - and so have you."
"We cant. Its not fair to Seven "
She felt him stiffen in her arms, and his head came up to hers.
"Its not fair to Seven. You belong to her now, not to me "
"What in the hell are you talking about?"
"Didnt you say I mean, I thought "
A short silence and then he whispered, "You thought what, Kathryn?"
"I thought " She just couldnt say the words.
"I thought "
The penny dropped. "Oh my gawd. You thought I'm in love with Seven? Seven-of-NINE?! Kathryn why? How?!"
"Last night you said shes in love your dream come true hoped Id understand and be happy... "
Chakotay bent his head down until his forehead rested on Kathryns head. "Ive only ever had one dream, Kathryn, and Seven was never a part of it. Look, can we just cut past all this confusion? Tell me, do you feel like I do? Do you think we could make that part of our deal?"
"What deal?" she said softly.
"The deal where you're never alone and we spend the rest of our lives together?"
"Us? You and me, Chakotay?"
"Yes, Kathryn, us. You and me."
"Youre sure youre not in love with another blonde?"
He shook his head. "I promise. No blondes of any kind."
He felt her shivering now and quickly picked up the dropped blanket. "Here, wrap up in this and cuddle closer. Ill keep you warm."
"Yes, I think you will. Tell me your dream, Chakotay."
"My only dream. Its not complicated; a home with a dog and several cats, a fireplace, children running around laughing, and you. Its always you there beside me, in my home, in my arms, and in my bed."
Kathryn crushed herself even closer to Chakotay. "Me? You want me?"
"I have for seven years, why would I stop now?"
"I dont know. Youve been dating Seven oh dont try to tell me you havent and I thought our agreement was nullified. The same one where you told me Id never be alone."
"Listen to me, Kathryn, because I only want to say this once the doctor and I were working with Seven. I was not dating her. Ever."
"Yes. For some reason the doctor said he particularly wanted me to be his assistant and no one else. I have no idea why it had to be me, but he was very adamant. And believe me, Kathryn, I dont care how much you taught her, she certainly did need help understanding the nuances between men and women. So, while the doc was fine tuning his procedure for operating on her cortical node, I was helping Seven prepare for deeper feelings. For me, it was a very exciting anthropological experiment."
"Definitely. She really wanted to get into that aspect of humanity."
"I see. Did you enjoy it, too?"
"Of course. I believe I actually started to understand a womans thought processes a little more - unbelievable as that may seem at the moment."
"But you dont think that was dating," she asked flatly.
"No, I dont, it was a favour to the doc and giving a hand to a fellow crewman. And were pretty much through with her lessons now, the doc can tie up any loose ends himself. She said she was going to consider everything shes learned and take it from there. Im not sure how the doc took that, but I know how I felt."
"Scared as hell, especially now that were home. Shes a very intense young woman and I believe shes going to assimilate Earth rather voraciously."
Chakotay grinned. "Yeah, the docs loving and romance finally got to her and hes going to have his hands full from now on, thats for sure. Its a good thing he doesnt have to sleep."
"What do you mean?"
"When they get married, I get the feeling she will be very demanding. Say, maybe we could have a double wedding."
Kathryn stepped back and waved her hands in front of her face. "Whoa! Youve lost me. The doctor and Seven are getting married?!"
"Well, yes, didnt you know? No, I guess you wouldnt youve been too busy with the hearings. Hes been in love with Seven almost since she joined the crew, and I was more than happy to help her understand that and consider a relationship with the Doc."
"I feel like Im in a dream still I think I lost the thread of our conversation when you came through the hedge."
"You were sleeping when I came through that hedge."
"I think I still am."
"Oh, really? Lets check and find out."
She saw his evil grin as his face came down to hers, and then she closed her eyes in pure pleasure. His lips - which were for her alone if she wasnt actually dreaming - skimmed around her face, placing butterfly kisses on her eyes, her neck, her ears, and finally her mouth. Then his mood altered as it had a few minutes before, becoming possessive and demanding. Kathryn knew that no man had ever wanted her as much as this man now holding her, and all sentient thought fled. She let the blanket slip to the ground and began to sink down to her knees. He followed her lead.
Chakotays knees hugged Kathryns between them, and his hands gently held her face. His kisses were now travelling further, and his mouth was exploring her décolletage. Knowing that she couldnt be responsible for any further thought if that mouth reached her breasts, Kathryn softly pulled his face up to hers. She melted at the sight of his ardent eyes.
"If it has to be here, thats fine with me. But, if you can wait a bit, we could go back to the cottage."
"Well, if possible. But Ive been dreaming of this moment for seven years and I honestly wouldnt care if we ended up making love under that waterfall for our first time Im just a little chilly, is all."
He smiled softly. "Kathryn, say no more. I definitely want you hot, not cold. Steaming hot. Counting the beads of sweat that cover me hot. Here, let me help you up."
Her legs almost couldnt support her when he helped her to her feet. He should never have painted that image in her mind
When they finally made it back to the cottage, she had quite a few bark burns on her back, and she didnt feel any of them. With every kiss, however, she heard his promise that shed never be alone again.
Kathryn heard the twittering birds first, then she became aware of the light behind her eyelids. She chose not to open them; instead she luxuriated in the pure feeling of being completely sated. She could still faintly smell their combined essence, and could now feel the little aches and areas of stiffness that last nights passion had left behind. She smiled and remembered a little more - Chakotays desperate grunts as he pounded into her that first time, and his roar as he finally erupted into her like the hot lava hed mentioned on their walk. He had made love to her as if there could never be a second time, even though afterwards, she had taken special care to let him know that there would always be another time.
But now it was morning would he need reassurance?
He was spooned against her body with his thigh draped over her and his hand on her breast. Her own hand reached out and ran up its muscular length until she reached his butt. A little tickle and Chakotay twitched, but didnt waken. She couldnt reach between his legs all the way, nor could she come around and slide under his belly, so she initiated a new attack. Taking the hand that rested on her breast she brought it down to her belly. It lay there lifeless as she managed to push his thigh off, and she carefully re-positioned it while she raised her knee a little.
It took a moment but Chakotays hand soon began moving of its own accord in an experienced way. Kathryn opened her knee further while his husky voice asked, "Morning already? I suppose you want me to jump up and cook for you."
"I do, unless you have any other good ideas involving you jumping me or getting things cooking. Ohhh, gawd Chakotay, where did you learn that?!"
Like a lightening strike he had twisted around and held her helpless in a hold under him. It may have been Maquis tactics, but his intentions were the exact opposite to anything hed ever felt with a Cardassian, Seska included. His arm slid under her knee and pulled it higher.
"I've always had ideas about you, jumping and cooking included. But right now I want your hands."
Gently he freed her leg and captured one of her hands. He stroked it, kissed it, sucked in a finger and then, finally, positioned it behind one of the headboards spindles. The other hand had the same personal treatment and then found itself behind its own spindle.
"Are you okay, Kathryn, no pain? You should be able to slip your hands out whenever you want to."
She gasped in shuddering thrills. "Im fine but Chakotay how did you know I mean the hands when have you ever "
"No one, Kath. One night after a shore leave you remember that short sundress of yours I I wanted you so badly that night I just wanted to be all over you "
"Yes I remember I felt the same it was after that evening on the beach, wasnt it? "
He nodded as he dragged his fingernails up the inside of her thighs until they met at her centre and felt her slick readiness.
"Gawd, Chakotay, I wanted you so much that night your hands on me in me "
He gently sank two fingers into her and then brought his mouth down to meet her thrust.
"Just a little taste first, and then, Kathryn, I want to prove to you that youre the only woman Ive wanted in the last seven years, no matter who was in my bed. I dont want you to have any doubt in your mind, ever again. It was always you I dreamed of and made love to and Im the only man youll ever want or need."
His fingers pushed in further and then gently pulled out and his hands reached up to find her breasts. He kissed her mons and then found her clit with his tongue. Her reaction was immediate and gratifying, a small cry followed by a whimper. A few minutes of loving build-up and then, at the right moment, Chakotay rose up and plunged home. This time they both cried out passionately together.
In the kitchen Gretchen frowned and tilted her head. Tom and BElannas eyes darted at each other with matching grins, Harry blushed red while Neelix deepened to a dark gold, the Doctor and Seven smiled secretly at each other, and Tuvok stood stoically looking out the window.
The mother spoke first. "Say, did I mention that theres a waterfall near by? Has anyone seen it?
Since no one even knew where they were, the older woman got an unanimous "no." Tuvok went the distance.
"I would appreciate seeing it very much, Mrs Janeway. Would now be possible? Shall we all enjoy a walk before breakfast?"
They were all kicking up dust on the pathway before the screen door even slammed shut.
At Kathryns request, Chakotay made porridge again for breakfast. Besides liking the idea of her eating food that would actually stick to her ribs, he had to admit that her method of requesting it also had an effect on him. Smiling roguishly as he stirred, even he acknowledged that was an understatement.
Having soaped him all over under their steaming hot shower, and then fastidiously rinsing him off, she had casually placed her breakfast order. Then gently pushing him back against the tiles, she smiled up at him and said shed make it worth his while if he would cook it for them again. Never taking her eyes off his, she slowly sank down to her knees. Her hands slid up the back of his legs and squeezed his buttocks "so firm ." she whispered. They came around and held his hips "so strong " By the time they slid around to fondle him, her eyes were still shining up at him but his own had glazed over. Kathryn had sucked him in at that moment and, as she used her mouth and hands to bring him gasping and crying out in his climax, his hands were buried in her wet hair. Hed actually banged his head against the tiles a few times.
Porridge, he decided as he continued to stir, was going to be a very popular and frequent breakfast in the Chakotay/Janeway home. And, if her ancestry was basically Irish, there was undoubtedly a Scot in there somewhere whod be very proud of its repeated appearance.
Kathryn was sipping coffee languidly as he began to dish up it up. They didnt speak much as they ate, but smiled occasionally over their mugs and spoons at each other. Once he almost had a heart attack when she slowly pulled her spoon out of her mouth, and licked it oh-so-carefully all over before licking her lips slowly.
She winked. "Its going to get cold."
"That spoonful of porridge thats still midair between your bowl and your open mouth."
"Oh. That. Kathryn, dont ever do that in public. I mean it." He brought the spoon to his mouth and almost choked as he swallowed.
"Ive watched you do that trick twice today, and its now hot-wired into my brain. You do that - no matter where and no matter when - and well be excusing ourselves for at least ten minutes. I dont care if its at Starfleet headquarters, youre going to have your mouth full."
"Is that a promise?"
"Yes. Maquis Honour."
"Ooohh. But I dont think its hot-wired in your brain, Chakotay " She pulled her spoon slowly out of her mouth as her wicked eyes twinkled and her tongue flicked out.
Bang! went his spoon on the table and he was just standing up when the door flew open. In crashed Gretchen with the usual suspects.
"Katie!" she cried at the sight of her daughter.
"Greetings!" called out Tom. "Weve brought more provisions so you can stay as long as you like!"
Other similar salutations rang out as both Kathryn and Chakotay tried to keep up with all the activity. Gretchen was heading to the bedroom with a large package. BElanna was stuffing fresh food into the cooling unit. Harrys feet were actually off the ground as he was packing cartons far down in the freezing unit. Tom was stacking dry goods in the pantry. Neelix was inspecting the cooking utensils and shaking his head. The doctor was surreptitiously scanning the two of them, and Seven was coolly supervising the entire proceedings.
Tuvok came up to them. "Good morning, Commanders. I hope we are not disturbing you."
As Kathryn tried to convince him to call them by their names, Chakotay was looking left, right, and centre. He finally focussed up at Tuvok.
"Ah no, Tuvok, youre most welcome. Harry! You are going to fall in there! Worse than a kid," he muttered.
"You like kids," she winked.
"Not 180 pounds of them hanging out of my freezing unit, I dont." Chakotay stood up and stomped over to rescue the new lieutenant.
"So, you were in on this, too, Tuvok?"
She was delighted when he raised his eyebrow. "In a manner of speaking, I believe I am guilty of that charge. We arrived earlier and then your mother offered to show us the waterfall. It is magnificent, by the way."
"At the waterfall it was generally agreed that you and the commander might like to stay a little longer than a couple of days, so I co-ordinated the transporting and everyone else went their separate ways to gather more supplies for you." Looking over Kathryns shoulder he raised his voice. "Commander Chakotay! Do you need assistance?"
"Thats just Chakotay Tuvok!" grunted the former XO as he valiantly pulled at Harrys legs with one foot positioned against the unit for added support.
"Understood, Commander." He turned back to Kathryn. "I hope you do not mind our presumptuous behaviour, Commander."
"Kathryn. And no, I dont mind. Actually, I think its kind of sweet and," Kathryn blushed a pretty pink, "thank you. For everything."
Tuvoks reply was interrupted by a resounding crash from the corner of the kitchen area. The freezing units lid had slammed shut and Chakotay and Harry were nowhere to be seen.
"Donald," asked Seven as she turned to the doctor. "Are you positive that my genetic material is human?"
The EMH snapped his tricorder shut and marched to the unit. "Im afraid so, Annika, but dont fret - I can choose whatever genetic DNA you want for our children. And dont worry either, Ill alter my exterior likeness to project that species so they feel secure."
Pulling open the freezing units door, he peered in. "Having trouble, gentlemen?"
Tuvok hadnt lied and they all knew he could - the waterfall was magnificent. When everyone and everything had finally settled down, the group of friends had packed food, bathing gear, blankets, and assorted other necessities for spending the rest of the day on a picnic by the falls. As dusk finished its colourful show and the sun finally dipped below the horizon, they all gathered around the fire. Crickets started up their chorus and the smell of coffee filled the air. Tom, Harry, Neelix, and the doctor each shyly brought out a bottle for spiking purposes, and everyone laughed.
"Well, Chakotay, wheres yours?" laughed Tom.
"My hands are full," he grinned in response, while giving Kathryn an extra squeeze. "But if youre that desperate, just go over to that leather backpack and help yourself."
Another round of laughter and Neelix beamed at the couple.
"Its so good to see you this relaxed and happy, Captain. Commander. Oh, frax, I mean Kathryn. And you can all quit grinning like loons, you know Im right. When she left that hearing room the other day I was honestly scared to death for her."
"I concur, Mr Neelix. Actually...Kathryn...I believe I have never seen you this calm and contented. I know that being the captain of Voyager had to be stressful, but youre like a completely new person. I I like it."
"Thank you, Seven. I am a new person, and estatically so. Ive found my future and his name is Chakotay. For seven long years I could only dream about him, but I assure you all that hes even better in person!" She smiled dreamily.
Tom coughed and looked around the group. "We believe you. Honest."
"Watch it, Helmboy," murmured BElanna. "I dont want to see any images of another woman flash across your face, even no, especially Kathryns."
"You wouldnt, Be. You couldnt. Daydreams are obviously in the mind of the dreamer, but to rest your mind, the only mental image that flashed before me involved you. And baby, you were very involved ."
Toms voice faded away and he studiously popped his roasted marshmallow into his mouth.
"Actually, Tom, that is a nice one."
He looked over at her. "Cut it out, Be. You have no idea what Im thinking."
"I do too, and Ill prove it to you later tonight."
"Well, that seems fair " mused Tom, and his face went blank again, except for the trace of a smirk.
"Mr Neelix and Seven are correct, Katie. Ive never seen you so relaxed, even as a girl you were so much more gosh, whats the word "
With the exception of Chakotay and Tuvok, everyone around the fire yelled out a suggestion for Gretchen. None were exactly the same but they all held a similar meaning and Kathryn sat up in protest.
"Now, just a minute!" she began.
"No," commanded Chakotay. "Come back down here with me. Theyre all right and you know it, just look at your mother nodding. Besides, you were keeping me warm."
Kathryn lay back against him with half closed eyes. "Tell me about it. And, if you find anything interesting Im sure youll know what to do with it."
He twisted his head and nibbled her ear before whispering. "You know I will."
"Right," said Harry, and he went over to the leather backpack and rummaged around. "I think well need this after that command display."
Kathryn sighed the sigh of a fulfilled and thankful woman. "Seven, have you now officially changed your name back to Annika? And Doctor, is it finally and officially Donald?"
They both nodded and smiled at each other. Annika spoke for them both. "Yes, Kathryn. We needed to make a decision on what to put on our wedding invitations, and it finally felt right."
"I understand about Annika" continued Chakotay, "but, Doctor, how did you finally decide on Donald?"
"Actually, Tom helped me with that. He discovered that Donald comes from the Gaelic name Domhnall, which is composed of the old Celtic elements dubno, meaning world, and val, meaning rule. I felt that very appropriate, dont you?"
They all nodded bleakly, remembering their various bitter sickbay experiences.
"Besides," the world ruler continued, "he also told me about the famous Donald Doc in the 21st century, and led me to believe that it was a perfect name for me, character-wise."
They all pondered on that one while Tom hurriedly poured himself a double. "Getting back to Kathryns major change in attitude," the desperate pilot rushed, "are you two sure that it will be permanent? I mean, shes a born Starfleet captain, and I think we all know it. If its not too personal, Kathryn, how is being, er reduced in rank going to affect the two of you?"
"Ill answer that, if you dont mind, Kathryn."
"Go for it. But only if you stop bouncing and stay where you are youre keeping me warm, too, you know."
"My pleasure. Tom, Ive been trying to close ranks on this officer for seven years and I finally succeeded. Do you honestly think I would jeopardise that in any way imaginable?"
"No, old man, I know you wouldnt. Not a chance."
"Besides," piped in Kathryn. "Two days ago I felt like jumping off a cliff because my life just ended anyway. Now, if I jumped off that same cliff, Id fly for joy. My real life has only just begun and nothing, not Starfleet nor pips nor anything else in all the worlds, is going to ruin that for me."
"Ive waited almost fifty years to hear you say that, Katie dear, and you dont know how happy it makes me feel. And honey, it took you a while but you chose wisely. I love my new son."
Gretchen leaned over, pulled Chakotays hand out from under her daughters sweater, and patted it. He turned it over and gave her hand a tender squeeze.
"Thank you for this woman, Gretchen. I promise you that youll never have to worry, Ill take care of her and your grandchildren for the rest of my life."
Gretchen sat back up with misty eyes.
Kathryn looked up at Chakotay. "You lady killer. Now youve made two Janeway women satisfied and contented. I told you that you were magic."
"Youre just biased," he murmured.
Harry groaned again. "Too bad we didnt bring tents. Its going to be a long haul back and thats not a large cottage."
The impact of his statement hit them all hard.
"Ill sleep under the stars," stated Tuvok emphatically.
"Be and I will stay here and enjoy the waterfall all night," said Tom decisively. "Less demand for the bathroom in the morning."
"I dont need sleep and Im sure Annika can stay up for one night," ruled Donald.
"No replicators," moaned Neelix.
"I wish I was safely back on Voyager. The Vidiians were less scary than these two, even when they were on Voyager and mad at each other." Harry looked distraught.
"Well, I dont, Harry," announced his former captain airily. "If I never set foot on Voyager again, I wont care. Even though she brought me Chakotay and all of you, too I also almost lost this big lug there. Ill be waking up in cold sweats for the rest of my life having nightmares about that."
There was a pause and then Gretchen spoke up. "Well, Im kind of sorry to hear you say that, dear "
"Why? What do you care about Voyager?"
"Well, for one thing she brought you home to me, and," she paused for several seconds, "for another thing were all on board her right now."
She looked up to see nine astonished faces looking at her. Gretchen tossed her head.
"You didnt think you got all those feminine wiles from your father, did you, dear?"
"All Im admitting to is asking Owen for a favour. Thats it."
"Computer," piped up Harry. "Please replicate six tents, three singles and three doubles. Please locate one double behind the eastern woodland plot and another double on the other side of the waterfall, around the corner of the rock face."
He looked around the group. "Soundproofing."
"You forgot about Annika and me."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Position it where you want, Doct Donald, just dont let me hear one peep out of any of you. And I mean it. And, while youre at it, replicate two fully equipped bathrooms in that cave over there. And why isnt that damned computer listening to me?!"
Harry got up and looked for one of the bottles in disgust while Gretchen authorised his requests.
Chakotay was concerned by Kathryns silence and twisted her in his arms so that he held her like a baby. "Are you okay, Yaah-maas-ti'?"
She sighed, but gave him a small smile. "Yes, I really am, Chakotay. I admit it gave me a jolt, but Im okay with it, really. Voyager is my past and youre my future, the number of pips on my collar doesnt mean anything. Maybe Ill just finish cleaning out my quarters and ready room before we leave her for the last time."
"I wish it was that easy," sighed Chakotay.
"Why? It wont take me long; I cleaned out most of it before the hearings."
"Kathryn, I promise I havent made a decision yet, but "
"I told them that I would need time "
"Spit it out, Chakotay."
"Well, its just that "
Chakotay sighed again. "Ive been offered Voyager. My duties would start with her re-fit and Id be her captain for her next assignment."
There was a momentous, blaring silence.
"Voyager? As captain? You?"
He hung his head. "Yes. But I gave absolutely no guarantees, I swear - and it was before the final hearing. I figured youd be an admiral and Id never have a chance with you at the rate our ranks were going. But, Im not kidding, Kathryn, nothing is more important to me than us. Ill refuse Voyager."
"I believe you. I really do." She laid her head back down against him. "If you want her, Chakotay, youd better take her. No one deserves a captaincy more than you, and I seem to heading in the wrong direction on the corporate ladder. Have you thought of who you might want for your science officer?"
Before he could answer the doctor asked, "How long is the re-fit expected to be, Commander? I mean, Captain."
"One year, most likely closer to two. Theres a lot of new technology that has to be integrated into her, not to mention the sheer beating shes taken over the past seven years. Shes a little tired just now and deserves a bit of a rest."
"Oh, well that works out rather well then."
"Why? For what?"
"Whaaaat?" everyone screamed.
"Oh frax," said Neelix.
Harry poured another drink. They were breeding.
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