Disclaimer:  Paramount’s today just like yesterday

Rating:  PG-13
 
 

ADVICE
 

By Mary S.
 
 
 

           Voyager moved slowly, majestically into the spacedock at McKinley Station.  At her helm, Tom Paris gently eased the thrusters back to stationkeeping, letting the crew savor every precious moment.   Finally, they were home.

           “Very nice, Tom,” praised the captain as the docking clamps latched on.   She turned to glance at the ops station, nodding to Harry Kim.

           “Channel open, Captain,” he responded promptly through the grin threatening to split his face in two.

           “All hands, this is the captain.  Two words, people, that I’ve waited a long time to say – we’re home!”

           For perhaps ten seconds there was complete silence and then the ship exploded with noise.  Shouts and cheers echoed between the decks and through the Jeffries tubes as the crew celebrated long and loud.  The captain had fulfilled her promise.
 

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           Four weeks later, Chakotay sat on a bench in the gardens of the Presidio.  Debriefings were finished, inquiries completed and the verdict delivered.  In light of their extraordinary service to Starfleet and the Federation, all the Maquis would receive full pardons.  For the first time in his adult life, he was completely free with no obligation to anyone.  He could do exactly as he pleased – a heady feeling, as he was discovering.

           He had sought out this quiet corner so that he might examine his options in peace and without distraction.  The possibilities seemed endless.  Starfleet had confirmed his field commission with a near-promise of the next captaincy available.  A number of private organizations, both profit and otherwise, had expressed interest in hiring him.  And only that morning, the commanding officer at the Academy had contacted him about a teaching position.  He was a popular man, it seemed.

           As well, he had received a message from his sister on Dorvan, in which she welcomed him home and hoped he might find his way back to the planet of his birth.  While Chakotay was very anxious to see her, he was somewhat reluctant to return to Dorvan.  It held so many memories, good and bad, which he wasn’t sure he was ready to deal with just yet.

           He sat on the bench, legs stretched out before him, head down as he absently contemplated the ground in front of him.  He knew that his sister, encumbered with a new baby, was quite unable to leave her home.  If he wanted to see her, he would have to go to her.

           So be it.  Perhaps it would be best to lay all the old ghosts to rest now and be done with them.

           The decision made, he felt better and got to his feet to return to Headquarters.  He would go as soon as he could.
 

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           When, some two weeks later, Chakotay actually arrived on Dorvan, he quickly discovered that whatever ghosts there might have been, had been thoroughly exorcised by the Cardassians along with everything else.

           The planet was almost unrecognizable as the place where he’d grown up.  All the infrastructure had been completely destroyed, wells poisoned and forests cut down and burned.  The land itself had been ripped apart as its occupiers sought to extract whatever ores and minerals they could find.
 
           As he walked out of the spaceport along the road to his village, a road that now barely qualified as a trail, he began to wonder if he were even on Dorvan.  Nothing was familiar, not one thing.

           The sun beat down on a desolate land, one that was little more than a desert.  His feet kicked up little swirls of dust as he plodded along, wondering if he was absolutely crazy.   But he’d come this far, he might as well try to find his sister.  Then he could leave and go somewhere, anywhere, else.

           He rounded the base of a hill to find a cluster of prefab shelters set up haphazardly beside a small creek.  He walked up to the nearest one and knocked on the door.  The woman who answered was unknown to him but as soon as she saw his tattoo, she broke into smiles and led him to the shelter next door.

           “Dala!” she shouted.  “Come quick!”

           Her cries alerted all those within hearing and even as Chakotay’s sister Dala flung herself into his arms, they were surrounded by a laughing, delighted crowd.   Everyone came up to hug him and slap him on the back, welcoming him home.  Reveling in the warmth and acceptance surrounding him, Chakotay began to realize that here, among his own people, he felt more at home than he had for a long, long time.

           Over the course of the evening, he learned how the few settlers who had come back were gradually starting to restore the land.  It was a difficult process but they were determined to succeed no matter how long it took.  The atmosphere of camaraderie created by shared circumstances put him forcefully in mind of Voyager’s early days in the Delta Quadrant, although without the added pressure of constant danger.

           Lying in bed that night, he debated once more what he should do.  He felt a bond with the land here, something that caught him quite by surprise.   He chuckled to himself, remembering as a young man, how desperate he had been to leave this place.   Now the planet almost seemed to be calling to him to stay and be a part of its resurrection.

           On impulse, he rose and found his medicine bundle among his belongings, opening it up and activating the akoonah.   Here, in the place of his ancestors, his spirit guide came quickly and joyfully, her tail waving happily.    He didn’t even have to ask to know how pleased she was that he had found his way home.   Was this where he should settle?  Had he actually been destined all along to come full circle?   There was certainly no doubt in the mind of his guide that this was where he belonged.

           She was very wise and prescient.   If she was so certain that he  should make his home here, then he would be extremely foolish to ignore her advice.

           Chakotay felt his mind settle and his heart fill with peace.   Yes, this was the right decision.   Helping to rebuild this shattered planet, making a positive difference, would ultimately give him more satisfaction than anything else he could do.

           A day later, he left for Earth to formally tender his resignation from Starfleet for the second and last time, and to personally inform his closest friends of his intentions.  He promised Dala that he would be back in a month.
 

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           As luck would have it, Chakotay happened to run into his former captain in the main lobby of Headquarters as soon as he arrived.   After the initial greetings were exchanged, they agreed to meet for lunch in an hour’s time.   Kathryn declared she was most anxious to hear all his news and to tell him her own.

           Chakotay continued on to the Personnel office, finishing his business there just in time to meet Kathryn in the officers’ mess.   She waved him over to a table near the window.

           “Come and sit, Chakotay.  I’ve had the devil’s own time holding this table.   I thought rank was supposed to have its privileges, but not here, apparently.”

           He glanced around at the crowded room.  “There’s a lot of brass here, Kathryn.   I suspect a mere captain doesn’t count for much in this place.”

           She pouted then laughed at him.  “You’re probably right.  I guess I got a little spoiled in the Delta Quadrant.  Let’s get the ordering out of the way, then we can talk uninterrupted.”

           Once the server had left them in peace, she leaned forward eagerly.  “How are you?  Where have you been?  I tried to contact you several times, but all I got was a message saying you were off-planet.”

           “I’m fine.   I…had some thinking to do.”  He hesitated, as if unsure how to explain.  “What about you?  What have you been up to?  Did you get home to see your family?”

           “Yes, I did, but you know, while it was wonderful at first to be back in Indiana and to catch up with everyone there, before I knew it, I was bored to tears!   Phoebe’s great, but we just don’t have much in common anymore!  She’s built a good life for herself, she’s happy…I…it’s hard to explain.”  She looked at him rather helplessly.

           “You mean, without a crisis every ten minutes, you don’t know what to do with yourself.”  He was laughing at her, his eyes warm with affection.

           “You know me too well,” she chastised him, before letting her gaze fall to the table.   “I found that I miss everyone from the ship far more than I thought I would.    I didn’t realize how close we’d all become.  It’s like losing my family all over again.   With my mother gone, and Phoebe and I so out of touch, I felt really lonely in Indiana.  And that was something I never expected!”

           She looked so wistful and lost for a moment that he could hardly reconcile this woman with the decisive captain he’d known so well.  He reached across the table to take her hand.   “So you came back here to familiar ground?”

           She smiled ruefully.  “Yes.   At least here, I can keep busy and not have too much time to think.   And there’s lots to do.   I’m constantly being asked to clarify our logs or explain some piece of data we collected.   We brought back enough raw information to keep the scientists here going for years.   Seven’s involved in it too, and some of the others.   I don’t see a lot of them because it’s all very informal as yet, but we do touch base now and then.  I think Starfleet is still trying to figure out just how to organize it all, as well as us.”

           “I can imagine what a task that will be!    I don’t envy whoever gets to finally set it all up!”

           Kathryn chuckled.  “Well, actually, I have been told ‘unofficially’ that if I want the job, I can have it.    They’re throwing in an admiral’s pips to sweeten the offer.”

           Chakotay nodded his head thoughtfully.   “But you don’t want it, do you?”

           She shook her head, smiling at his perception.   “No, I want another ship.   Well, what I’d really like is Voyager, but that won’t happen – the engineers at Utopia Planitia will be prowling through her for a long time to come.   I believe B’Elanna’s involved in that project.   It’s certainly tailor made for her.   But, sitting behind a desk, being an administrator, that isn’t for me.”

           Chakotay laughed, remembering very well how often she had dumped all the ‘busywork’, as she called it, on him.    He knew just how much Kathryn hated paperwork.

           She eyed him speculatively.  “Chakotay, if I do get another command, would you come with me?  Serve with me?  I can’t imagine having to break in another first officer.  I…I’ve missed you so much.  Being here now with you, I realize I feel more comfortable, more ‘at home’, than I have since we got back to the Alpha Quadrant.”

           He pursed his lips, wondering how to say it.   Best to just get it out.

           “Kathryn, I’ve resigned my commission.   Just now.  That’s why I came here today.   I’m going home to Dorvan for good.”

           She stared at him, stunned and incredulous.   “You…you…what?!!  But, you can’t!!”

           “I have.   It’s done.”

           Her voice took on a strident, angry tone.  “How can you do this??!   How can you leave me?!!   Chakotay, no!!  After all we’ve been through!!  I thought we were best friends!!”

           He sat patiently, waiting for her to calm down.   Finally, she fell silent, biting her lip, trying to hold back the tears.   Despite her bitter disappointment she would not cry in front of him.

           He watched her face closely, and saw her try to hide deep emotion behind the captain’s mask.  He was somewhat surprised at her reaction.   Long ago, Chakotay had come to the conclusion that while Kathryn was very fond of him, she didn’t love him and never would.    At the time, he had found it a bitter pill to swallow, but he had forced himself to accept her decision and, eventually, had learned to live with it.    But apparently, she was more deeply hurt by his actions than he would have expected.

           He waited until her head came up.   “Kathryn, I’m sorry.   I honestly didn’t think you would want me in your life any more.   Will you let me tell you why I’m leaving?”

           She nodded wordlessly.

           So he began, starting with the day he had sat in the gardens wondering what to do.    By the time he finished, telling her how unexpectedly he had found contentment and a new energy, on Dorvan of all places, she knew he wouldn’t change his mind.   There was a peace about him now, something she hadn’t seen for a long time – since New Earth, if she were honest.    She pushed aside the pain and hurt, burying it under her command face.

           “Chakotay, that’s wonderful.  I’m sorry I reacted as I did – you caught me a little off guard.   But I’m glad to know you’ve found something you want to do.   I’m sure it will be very satisfying.”  She glanced around, then rose to her feet.  “Goodness, the place is nearly empty!  I better get back to work.”

           He had risen with her, somewhat confused by her sudden change in attitude.   She extended her hand.  “I probably won’t see you again, so let me wish you all the best for the future.   Do keep in touch, won’t you?”

           He took her hand and held it, staring down into her eyes intently.  She bore his gaze steadily, fighting back her feelings, hoping she could hold herself together long enough that he would leave before she broke down completely.   Apparently, she was successful, as he dropped her hand and backed away.

           “Goodbye, Kathryn.   If you ever find yourself out beyond Bajor, come and visit.”

           She nodded her head regally.   “Of course.   Take care.  Goodbye.”

           He turned and strode away across the room to the exit.   Kathryn stared after him, trying to memorize every line of his body.   She nearly started to run after him, to beg him once more not to leave her, to even offer to go with him, but in the end, she remained still.  For a second, as he disappeared out the door, her face twisted in agony before she looked down, willing herself to maintain control.   Then she turned and walked away.

           From across the room, Admiral Alynna Nechayev watched Janeway with interest.   Her reaction to Chakotay’s departure hadn’t been lost on the admiral – she put two and two together and came up with a pretty accurate reason why the captain had looked so unhappy.    She debated speaking to her but hesitated – she didn’t really know Janeway very well.   In the end, she filed away her observations for future reference.
 

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           In the next few weeks, Kathryn spent long hours in her office, trying to work herself into exhaustion each day so she would be too tired at night to do more than collapse into her bed and fall asleep.  She wasn’t entirely successful.   She discovered that going over all the ship’s logs and reports, organizing the material and re-organizing it, was something of a two-edged sword.

           Chakotay was everywhere.

           Whatever subject she was working on, she would see his face and hear his voice.  From astrometrics to hydroponics and everything in between, he was there.   For seven years, he had been part of every aspect of her life on the ship except the most personal.   Her confidant and best friend as well as her exec, they had spent hours of every day together.   She couldn’t escape his presence, even now when he was actually millions of kilometers away.

           She debated ending her involvement in the project but knew if she did, that the work would take much longer.  No one else had her knowledge, so she gritted her teeth, tried to ignore the ever-present ache, and carried on as best she could.

           At the end of a month, Kathryn was called into the office of her old friend and mentor, Admiral Paris.   While the message gave no hint of the reason, she had a pretty good idea why she was being summoned.   Crossing her fingers, she strode down the hall and into the admiral’s outer office precisely on time.   The aide immediately directed her in, telling her the admiral had requested to see her right away.

           Owen Paris’ face gave no hint as he ordered coffee for them both.   As they settled themselves and sipped their coffee, Kathryn debated asking point blank if she was to get another ship.   It would be a gross breach of etiquette, but she was becoming more and more anxious, the longer the silence continued.   Finally, the admiral set down his cup, folded his hands on his desk and began to speak.

           “Katie, Command has finally come to a decision regarding your future.   The position of director of the shipyard at Utopia Planitia is about to open – the current man there is retiring – and with your background and expertise, we think you would be an ideal candidate for the job.    The position carries the rank of admiral, of course.   What do you think?”

           Kathryn’s face fell.   No ship.   She had had her heart set on returning to space.   She looked down at her cup, trying to find the right words.   It wouldn’t do to anger Paris – he was her staunchest supporter.

           “I…it’s a great honour, of course, Admiral…”  She hesitated.

           “But?”

           She took a deep breath, deciding on complete honesty.  “I was rather hoping to get another ship.”

           “Kathryn, admirals don’t command starships, they sit at headquarters or wherever and make the decisions that decide where those ships are going and what they’ll do when they get there.    If you want to advance your career, you will take this appointment.   I can assure you it will only be the first step on a ladder that could well reach to the very top.   You have the ability, Katie.   You’ve more than demonstrated that you can make the call.   Taking another ship means you will stay at the rank of captain, just one among hundreds.   I’m offering you the chance to go much further than that, to get to the point where you call the shots.   Quite frankly, you would be a damn fool to turn it down!   Besides, I would think you’ve logged enough time in space to last a lifetime.”

           Kathryn gazed out the window at the vista of the Golden Gate bridge and the ocean beyond.   How many times had she stared out her viewport wishing she could look on this very scene?   Now, here she was, and to her own surprise, was finding that the view wasn’t all that impressive any more.    She wished suddenly that Chakotay or Tuvok were here – she desperately missed the calm reasoning of one and the dependable logic of the other.

           “Kathryn?”  Paris’ voice brought her back to the moment.

           She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye.  “Admiral, I am very sensible of what this appointment means.  I’m…just not completely sure yet.   May I have some time to think it over, consider all the ramifications?”

           His eyebrows shot up, but he nodded his head.  “Very well, Captain.  You have a week.   Will that be enough time?”

           “Yes, thank you.   I’ll have an answer by then.”

           She rose to her feet, the interview obviously at an end.  “Good day, Admiral.”
 

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           Later that day, Kathryn went to visit her ship.   She found her favourite seat in the lounge where she could look at her and, if no one was within hearing, talk to her.    Over the years, she had discovered that talking to Voyager could be very therapeutic – even though the conversation was by necessity one-sided, she would swear that the ship listened to her, at times even advised her.  And today, she certainly felt in need of all the advice she could get.

           As she gazed out at the graceful vessel, her eyes running over the familiar lines, she became aware that she was not alone.  She glanced up to find Admiral Nechayev standing beside her chair.   With a start, she began to rise to her feet, but the admiral waved her down.

           “Please, Captain, sit down.   This isn’t a formal visit.  Actually, I was wondering if you would mind some company.”

           “No, of course not.”

           Nechayev settled herself in the armchair beside hers, nodding towards Voyager.   “She’s looking well, isn’t she?   Just like new.”

           “Yes, the shipyard has done a wonderful job.”

           Nechayev heard the unspoken ‘but’ and glanced at her inquiringly.

           Kathryn debated how much to say.  “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, it’s just…I rather miss the patches.   They were scars honourably earned.”

           The admiral mulled over her words, then nodded.  “I can understand that.”

           They fell into silence again, looking at the ship, before Nechayev asked casually if Janeway came here often.

           She nodded.  “Yes, occasionally.   I find somehow that it’s easier to think when I’m sitting here.”

           “I’ve heard more than one captain say that they actually talk to their ships.  Do you talk to Voyager?”

           Kathryn smiled, embarrassed.  “Well, yes, I do.   She’s…a good listener.”  Her own words brought Chakotay suddenly to mind – he had been a good listener, too.   Before she could stop it, her face twisted briefly in pain.   She tried to cover it up, swallowing hard, but the admiral saw.

           “Who else did you talk to out there in the Delta Quadrant?”

           “My first officer,” came the answer in a low voice.   This time, she couldn’t hide her anguish and had to look away.

           Nechayev gave her a few minutes to regain her composure, then turned to face her fully.   Her words got Kathryn’s full attention.

           “Captain, I want you to listen to me carefully.   I know what Owen Paris talked to you about today, and I know he told you that taking the appointment at Utopia Planitia as well as the promotion is a necessary career move.   And he’s right.   However, I’m wondering if perhaps, now that the first euphoria has worn off, you are finding your return to Earth less joyful than you expected.  Am I correct?”
 
           Kathryn nodded but remained silent.

           “It is unfortunate that even in this day and age, women are still at something of a disadvantage.  We have to prove that we’re devoted to Starfleet, be willing to give our whole lives to our careers, leaving no room for anything else.   Male officers don’t seem to have the same constraints – they can have families, personal lives and no one thinks any the less of them.  But we have to make that extra commitment.”

           She paused, searching for the right words.   “Many years ago, when I was a young officer, younger than you, I was very ambitious.   I had my eyes focused solely on my advancement – and as a result, I missed an opportunity for personal happiness, something I now regret.   I am the epitome of the successful Starfleet officer, but quite frankly, Captain, as a woman, I am a disaster.   My entire life revolves around Starfleet – I have nothing else.”

           Again, she paused, as if inviting comment, but Kathryn said nothing, so she continued.

           “You know, I remember an aide I had for a few months, nearly fifteen years ago now.”  Kathryn wondered what on earth had prompted the sudden change in topic, but made no sound.   Nechayev went on.  “He was temporarily assigned to me while waiting for his next appointment.   Eventually, he went to the Academy to teach advanced tactics and some time after that, he resigned his commission to join the Maquis.”  Her voice became nostalgic.  “It’s odd in a way that I would remember him so clearly out of all the aides I’ve had over the years.  Perhaps it’s because of his charm – and he was very charming, or maybe it was the kindness in his eyes – and he was a very kind person indeed.  But then, it could be because he had one of the most devastating smiles I’ve ever seen in my life…”

           “…very devastating,” whispered Kathryn, fighting to hold back tears.

           Nechayev reached over and patted her hand.   “If I might make a suggestion…take a long, hard look at yourself and where you want to go from here.    Don’t be in a hurry to make a decision.   In fact, it might be a good idea to take some more leave and go to Dorvan – see what it’s like.”

           Kathryn looked up at her, startled.   Nechayev smiled gently at her.  “I can promise you, with the voice of experience, that if you don’t, you’ll kick yourself for the rest of your life.”

           Kathryn started to smile.   “You know, that’s a good idea.  Maybe I’ll just do that.   Only, I told Admiral Paris that I would give him a decision in a week and it will take longer than that to get there…”

           “I’ll look after Owen, don’t worry about him.  You take all the time you need.   Don’t sit here wishing for what might-have-been – go and get it.”

           Janeway got to her feet.  “Admiral, I don’t know how to thank you enough for your words.    You’ve been more help than you will ever know.”

           “Have a good and happy life, Captain, that’s enough thanks for me.  Goodbye and – say hello to Chakotay for me, would you?”

           Kathryn smiled.  “Indeed I will.   Goodbye, Admiral.”

           She turned and strode out of the lounge.

           Nechayev paused, looking at Voyager once more, a little smile on her face, then started to follow.   As she passed a fellow admiral, he remarked that she seemed very pleased with herself.   She grinned back at him.

           “Yes, I am.  I’ve just done a good deed.”

           He looked at her questioningly, but she didn’t elaborate.
 

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           Nearly two weeks later, Kathryn arrived on Dorvan, grubby and exhausted.  Dressed as a civilian, she had traveled under the name of ‘S. O’Donnell’ in the hope that no one would recognize her.   So far, she had been left alone.

           She walked into the terminal and inquired from the harassed-looking clerk there if he knew Chakotay and where she might find him.   She went on to explain that she was one of his old shipmates from Voyager and had thought, since she was in the area, that she would look him up.

           The clerk barely glanced at her as he directed her out the door, saying she would find Chakotay living in a small settlement two kilometers down the road.     She started to ask if there was any kind of transport, but the man had already turned away to deal with someone else.   Fine, it would be ‘shanks’ mare’, as her mother used to say.

           She started down the road, taking her time and looking around.   She was not overly impressed.

           The planet was very dry and arid, almost a desert.  She seemed to remember Chakotay describing endless fields of corn and wheat, but this land certainly didn’t look capable of supporting anything other than the odd bit of scrub.

           She continued to plod along, the sun beating down on her bare head and making her uncomfortably warm.   Damn!  She wished she’d thought to bring a hat.  It hadn’t occurred to her that she would have to walk.  Well, two kilometers wasn’t that far, just far enough to make her look even more of a wreck than she already did!   She was sure she didn’t bear much resemblance to a Starfleet captain now.

           Eventually, she reached the base of a hill and followed the trail around it to see a small group of prefab buildings clustered together in no particular order.   Immediately above her on the hillside, she noticed one situated a little apart from the others.   She stared at it, wondering, suddenly sure that that was where she would find Chakotay.   She started up the path.

           As she stood in front of the door, Kathryn realized how familiar the structure before her was.  Of course!  A standard Starfleet shelter, just like the one they’d had on New Earth!   She smiled to herself – seemed fitting, somehow.

           She knocked on the door.   A moment later, it opened and there he was, mouth falling open in astonishment.

           Chakotay gulped, stared, gulped again and finally found his voice.  “Kathryn??!”

           “Yes, it’s me,” she replied blithely.  “I’ve come to see you.   May I come in?”

           He stepped back, gesturing her inside.  “Yes!  Of course!  Sorry, you…you surprised me!”

           She followed him and dropped her bag, then looked around.   Inside, it reminded her even more of their home on New Earth.   The walls were decorated with several sand paintings and the medicine wheel.   On one shelf were some carvings while on another lay his medicine bundle.  It all looked very familiar.

           Chakotay continued to stare at her as if he couldn’t quite believe she was really there.   Finally, as her eyes came back to him, he grinned self-consciously.

           “Come and sit down.   I was just starting to prepare a meal.  Will you stay?”
 
           “Thank you, yes, I’d like to.   Can I help?   Do you have a replicator?”

           “No, replicators are a luxury here and we can’t afford them.   We do things the old-fashioned way.   You can chop up some vegetables for a salad, if you like.”

           Kathryn nodded.  “All right, but maybe I better wash my hands first.   I got pretty dirty walking here.”

           He nodded toward a door behind him.   “Go through the bedroom.  You’ll find the bathroom just beyond.”

           “Thanks.”  She followed his directions, washed her face and hands and took an extra minute or two to look around the bedroom, trying to determine if there was anyone else living here.   Didn’t seem to be, as near as she could tell.

           That had been her greatest fear once she had decided to make this journey – that Chakotay would have found someone else before she got here.   But it looked as if he was living alone.  Her heart filled with hope as she returned to the main room and joined him at the counter.

           “If you can start with these,” he told her, handing her a knife, “I’ll get the main part of our dinner in the oven.”

           Kathryn set to work with a will while Chakotay finished organizing the food and set the table.  Very soon, they were sitting down to a simple but filling meal.   While eating, they refrained from getting into a long, involved conversation, preferring to wait until they could talk easily.   However, once they had cups of tea in hand – there wasn’t any coffee, he informed her much to her disgust – he finally asked her why she had come.

           Kathryn sipped at her cup, debating how to respond.   They had had such a complicated relationship on Voyager – in many ways far more than just friendship, yet not as close as lovers.   So much had been only inferred, never spoken.   She decided that if nothing else, she owed him the plain truth.

           She looked up at him.  “I missed you.  Dreadfully.   Ever since you left that day, I’ve been miserable.   It’s no good, Chakotay.  For whatever reason – and I don’t know that I understand it all yet – I’m just not happy without you.   That said, I probably wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t gotten some very timely advice from a mutual acquaintance.”

           Chakotay looked intrigued.  “Oh?  Who was that?”

           “Admiral Nechayev.”

           “You’re kidding!   Good lord!   What on earth did she say?!”

           “Quite a bit actually.   The gist of it was that she thought I should make absolutely sure that I was making the right decision about my future because she had been in my position once and hadn’t.   She also told me how well she remembered you although she couldn’t be sure why.   She said maybe it was because of your charm, and – I’m quoting here – you were very charming, or because of the kindness in your eyes, or perhaps it was because you had the most devastating smile she’s ever seen in her life!  I must admit I had to agree.”

           Chakotay burst into incredulous laughter.   “Really?!  Who would believe ‘Nasty’ has such a romantic streak under the spit and polish?!  I remember the whole time I was her aide, I was quaking in my boots, sure I was going to screw up somehow and be demoted back to ensign!  And I certainly don’t remember ever smiling in her presence!  I was too terrified!”

           “You obviously made a better impression than you thought.   She asked me to say hello to you, by the way.”

           Chakotay shook his head, smiling reminiscently.   “It’s certainly a day for surprises.”   He glanced over at her, then reached across to take her hand, lacing his fingers through hers.   “And have you come to a decision about what you want to do?”

           She looked up at him, almost shy.   “I’d like to stay, if that’s all right with you.   But I don’t want to intrude, if you have other ‘arrangements’.”

           He chuckled at her.  “You mean – am I seeing anyone?”

           Kathryn blushed but nodded.   “I’m not taking for granted that you want me in your life now.   If you don’t, please say so and I’ll be on my way.”  She tried to keep the nervous tone out of her voice, but was not entirely successful.

           He heard it and knew what it had cost her to say that.   He rose and came around to her, pulling her up to stand very close to him.   One hand lifted her chin so he could peer deep into her eyes.    “Want you?  You still don’t know, do you, how much I want you.   I love you, Kathryn, and I’ve nearly gone crazy these last weeks without you.   Every day, I’ve longed for you, to the point that several times, I nearly chucked everything here to go back to Earth to find you.   The only reason I didn’t was that I thought you didn’t want me in your life anymore.”

           The tears had started to trickle down her cheeks as he spoke.  “I’m sorry, Chakotay, so sorry that I hurt you.   Can you forgive me?”

           In answer, he bent his head until he could just brush her lips with his.  “Of course I can.”   His mouth was very close to hers.  “Will you stay with me, Kathryn, here, for the rest of our days?”

           “Oh yes,” she breathed.

           “What about Starfleet?”

           “I’ll retire.   It’s no fun anyway without you.”

           He brushed her lips again with his and she moaned, trying to pull him closer, but he held her still.

           “It won’t be an easy life here, although I can promise you it won’t be boring.  There’s lots to do.”

           “Good,” she murmured, “I like a challenge.”

           Then before he could voice any more objections, she slid her hand to the back of his neck and pulled down his head so she could kiss him properly.   As her tongue melded with his and her arms wrapped around his back, her last thought was that she must remember to contact Admiral Nechayev and thank her again.
 

 

THE END                                                                                        RETURN TO INDEX

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