Disclaimer: Paramount's, Viacom's, or whoever owns them now. Dialogue from 'Endgame' used without permission.

Rating: PG-13

Notes: Another post-Endgame bit of speculation. The photos illustrating this story are ones I took last year along the north and west coasts of Ireland where the story is set. Many thanks to Shayenne for her always comprehensive beta as well as being a wonderful guide to a land we both love dearly.

Crossroads

By Mary S.

Sitting in a worn wicker chair on the front porch of a small cottage overlooking the ocean, Kathryn Janeway felt her mind drifting. Random memories floated through her head like the soft Irish mist that hung just off shore, trailing gauzy tendrils in the slightest of breezes.

'Mr. Paris! Prepare to come about! Mr. Tuvok! Fire on my mark!'

'Aye, Captain!'

'Captain Kathryn Janeway! The Board of Inquiry has made its recommendations. The former Maquis members of your crew will receive full pardons'. 'The field commissions you granted are hereby confirmed. Although the Board is of the opinion that you broke the Prime Directive on more than one occasion, the extraordinary circumstances of your journey through the Delta Quadrant mitigate what would normally be considered serious transgressions. You will not face a court-martial.'

'.. she will die in the arms of her husband.'

'Husband?'

'Chakotay.'

'So, Kathryn, now that you've brought your ship and crew home in a blaze of glory, and the Board has exonerated you of any wrong-doing, have you given some thought to what you might like to do next?'

'Do?'

'Yes. Do. As in, are you going to stay on in Starfleet? Because if you are, I have it on good authority that an admiral's bars can be yours, if you want them'.'

'I .. I don't know what to say, sir.'

'You don't need to decide immediately. Take some time and think it over.'

'Yes sir, I believe I will.'

And so she had.

A fortuitous meeting with a former colleague had led her to the northwest coast of Ireland and a small cottage perched on a high bluff overlooking the sea.


"You'll love it," promised her old friend, Captain Nadya Joselen. "I went there on the recommendation of my counselor after spending a year during the war patrolling the border near DS9, often in the thick of the fighting. That was an ongoing nightmare, losing one crewmember after another, my ship falling apart with never enough time for repairs, barely holding together long enough to get us home - those of us who were left. By the time we got back, I was an emotional wreck. But at this place in Ireland, I was able to sort it out and eventually deal with it.

"There are several cottages available for rent for a week or a month, however long you like. They're small but with all the amenities and situated far enough from the nearest village that you don't hear anything but the sounds of the wind and the sea. There's not much to do there besides go for walks or sit on the front porch and admire the scenery. The locals are friendly enough but if you want to be by yourself, that's fine, they won't bother you. And there is absolutely nothing to remind you of Starfleet."

By the time she'd finished, Kathryn was sold.

Her mother, bless her, had understood her desire for solitude and put aside her own yearnings to give her the space she needed.

"It won't be long, Mom, only a few weeks. You see, right now, I'm at something of a crossroads in my life. I need to do some hard thinking and figure out where I want to go next and what I want to do. But here ... everyone seems to want a piece of me, and I can't think straight." Kathryn had gazed sadly at her mother, knowing how much of a sacrifice she was asking for.

But Gretchen hadn't missed a beat. "You take all the time you need, Katie, I'll be here."

Kathryn had hugged her mother tightly. "I'll make it up to you, I promise."

"You just do what you need to do, dear, and don't worry about me. Knowing you're safe here on Earth is enough. For now, anyway. When you're ready, we'll have a proper family reunion."

Wearing a cheerful face, Gretchen had sent her daughter off to contemplate her future, never letting on how hard it was to let her go again when she'd only just gotten her back. 'But it's only to Ireland after all,' she reminded herself firmly, 'it's not like she's even off the planet.'

Two days later, Kathryn had made her arrangements and transported to the nearest public station, several kilometers inland from the small village of Ballytullagh.

Your browser may not support display of this image.

A young man in an old-fashioned hovercar had given her a lift to the local pub in the village where, he assured her, Siobhan, the barmaid, would have the keycard ready for her. "It's Saturday, you see, market day, which is no doubt why she couldn't come herself to pick you up. The bar is always busy on market day."

Kathryn hadn't quite known what to make of such a casual way of doing things, but his assumption had proven to be correct.

Siobhan had shrugged her shoulders and gestured to the crowded bar, as if that were explanation enough. "The girl who was supposed to be helping out this morning never showed up. Not that I could have left, anyway." She offered a warm smile by way of apology. "But young Jimmy got you here so all is well. Let me give you the card and directions, and you can be on your way. And if there's anything you need, why, just come and ask."

"Thank you," Kathryn had replied, reminding herself that after all, she hadn't wanted to be treated as a VIP, and obviously, here, she wouldn't be.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

For the first three days, Kathryn did little but sleep, waking up only to replicate a bit of food when she was hungry. Initially, she was quite puzzled by her evident exhaustion. Although weary from all the pressures of Starfleet demands, she didn't think she was that tired. However, during an exploratory visit to the village, she learned from Siobhan that visitors usually found themselves very sleepy when they first arrived.

"It's something in the air," explained the barmaid, waving her hand about vaguely, "don't worry, you'll get used to it after a bit."

Kathryn nodded, not entirely convinced, but after several days, she found she was staying awake for longer periods of time.

On a subsequent visit two days later, Siobhan asked if she was feeling more wide-awake now, prompting a somewhat sheepish smile from Kathryn, who acknowledged she had been quite right.

Now properly settled in and with renewed energy, Kathryn began to explore her surroundings, picking a different direction each day.

Her cottage was tucked into the side of a long, sloping grass-covered hill, dotted here and there with low gorse and set about a hundred meters from the edge of bluffs, below which long, rolling waves crashed onto a rocky beach. There was no road, only a footpath running along the top of the bluffs or winding its way behind the occasional house like hers to the village. The surrounding countryside consisted of similar hills all ending in a sharp line of bluffs by the sea.

Your browser may not support display of this image.

Since it was winter, it rained almost every day and even when it didn't, drops of water seemed to hover in the air, what Kathryn learned was known as 'Irish mist'.

"Very good for the complexion," she was told by the ever-helpful Siobhan, when Kathryn remarked that there seemed to be an abundance of water in the air even on supposedly dry days. "However, when the sun does make an appearance," added the barmaid, "you appreciate it very much indeed since you know how rare an event it is at this time of year."

Kathryn grinned appreciatively. "I've already discovered that."

Soon she learned to ignore the rain, walking for an hour or two each day, enjoying the feel of solid ground under her feet and fresh air in her lungs. However, on very wet days, of which there were more than a few, she generally preferred to go for only a short walk before returning to her cosy cottage and a nice warm fire.

Quite often, after a day of rain, when the sky was still covered in low grey clouds, the colour blended into the rough sea so that she could barely make out the horizon, and the air was filled with a white light, almost blinding in intensity. It usually appeared in the late afternoon, shortly before sunset, although the sun wasn't visible, only the light. On those days especially, Kathryn loved to sit in her wicker chair on the covered porch, an ever-present coffee cup on the low table beside her, her gaze focused westward on the sea and the light.

***************

By the second week, she was well settled into what she thought of as her 'interregnum'. Deliberately, she refused to let her mind focus on any one topic, instead permitting her thoughts to go where they would, like the constant mist always drifting close to shore. Eventually, she would have to start thinking seriously about her future but not yet. Not yet.

For seven years, she had forced her brain to concentrate on one goal and one goal only. For seven years, she had ruthlessly pushed aside any distractions, any ideas, anything at all that might rob her mind of its focus.

Now, finally, there was no agenda, no goal, no over-riding ambition. Now, finally, she could relax enough to start letting her thoughts wander, probing recent memories, delving into her feelings, into what she had come to think of as 'forbidden territory'.

On impulse, she began to write down some of her reminiscences and thoughts concerning her experiences in the Delta Quadrant. She wasn't sure why she had the urge to do this - perhaps force of habit since she had kept a personal log nearly all her adult life. However, these writings were not the same, more a series of observations and random jottings than a chronological report. Rather to her surprise, the exercise of organizing her thoughts enough to write them out was proving quite helpful, even therapeutic, as she tried to make sense of all that had happened in the last seven years. Her diary, as she thought of it, was filling up much faster than she'd expected and her soul was more at peace than she would have believed possible only three weeks before. Focusing on her past, she hadn't yet thought about the future and where she wanted to go but, she realized, she was definitely feeling more comfortable in the present.

Today, like so many days, she found herself thinking about Chakotay. He had been such a large part of her life for so long, often the only person she could confide in. Her best friend - or so she'd thought. Despite herself, a tide of bitterness swept through her, even though on a rational level, she was well aware that she had no reason to feel that way. Although close, they had never been more than friends, the exigencies of command preventing them from crossing the barriers into a more intimate relationship. But his absence from her daily life - his glinting smile, his teasing, the warmth of his voice, the sure knowledge that he was always there beside her - had left a huge hole in her life, one which she had barely started to fill. She knew she could survive without him and in time, be happy, but right now, she was finding his loss hard to deal with.

With a sigh, she reminded herself yet again that she couldn't blame him one bit for trying to find someone to make a home with. Subconsciously, it was a possibility she'd feared for several years; she could, however, wish he'd picked someone other than Seven. 'Don't go there, Kathryn,' she told herself, 'there's nothing down that road but pain and sorrow. He's gone, she's gone, so make the best of it, just as you're trying to do.'

Reaching for her cup, she discovered her coffee had grown cold so she headed inside for a refill. Tonight she would make her twice-weekly trek into the village to the pub for some good Irish food and cheerful company. The villagers were well aware of who she was but were kind enough not to mention it. After three weeks among them, they treated her as one of themselves, welcoming her when they saw her, but respecting her unspoken wish for privacy.

Glancing at the chronometer, she realized the time was later than she'd thought. After washing her face and tidying her hair, she set off along the footpath, looking forward to an evening spent with her new friends - people with whom she felt an instinctive empathy. 'Keep looking forward,' she reminded herself, 'and you'll be just fine.'

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

At much the same time that Kathryn was coming to terms with her past, Chakotay and Seven of Nine were having an unexpected, albeit portentous, discussion.

At Chakotay's suggestion, once they'd finished debriefing and gone on leave, they had decided to move in together. 'Taking the next step' was the way he phrased it, although Seven preferred to call it merely 'sharing quarters'. Initially, she'd seemed a little hesitant but after several weeks together, he thought she had become quite comfortable with the idea of living with him.

Determined to make their relationship succeed, he had pushed aside any niggling doubts about their compatibility, or lack thereof, and at the same time, buried deep within himself the ache that was Kathryn Janeway. If he were completely honest, he knew he would always love Kathryn - she was a part of his being in a way no one else ever could be. But for over five long years, he had waited patiently for her with no promise at all of a future together even if they did get home. The final straw had been Quarra. After witnessing how rapidly she had fallen into a love affair with Jaffen, he had come to the conclusion, despite the fact that her memory had been wiped, that she no longer cared for him as he did for her - perhaps she never had. Therefore, for his own peace of mind, he had to let her go and move forward with his life. As far as he was concerned, Seven was his future now.

She was proving to be a delightful companion - warm, loving, with a very dry sense of humour that matched his own. Making himself believe that he had finally found his life's mate, it never occurred to Chakotay that Seven might not feel the same, that she still had unresolved, subconscious feelings for her former lover from Unimatrix Zero, Axum, and that she was certainly not yet prepared to make a lifelong commitment to anyone.

Reality struck from a completely unexpected quarter.

Returning one day from an errand, Chakotay was surprised to find Seven sitting at the kitchen table, a blank look on her face, her thoughts obviously light years away. Twice he called her name before she registered he was even present in the room. She jumped visibly, obviously startled at his sudden appearance. Her reaction was so unusual, so out of character, that alarm bells immediately went off in Chakotay's head.

"Seven?" he asked worriedly, sitting down opposite her and reaching for her hand. "Is everything all right? Are you okay?"

"Y-yes, I am fine," she replied nervously, which in itself clearly indicated she wasn't fine at all.

Chakotay's grip tightened on her fingers. "Seven, what is it? What's happened?"

For a moment, she paused, apparently at a loss for words before answering with a non sequitur. "Do you ever think about the captain?"

"What?!"

"The captain .... Do you think about her? Do you miss her company?"

Shocked, he eased back in his chair, letting go of her hand. "I suppose I do ... sometimes," he replied after a moment's silence as his face creased in a frown. "We were close friends for a long time. Why?"

Seven leaned forward, her gaze intent on his face. "If you had known how soon we would arrive on Earth after our first date, would you have agreed to begin a relationship with me?"

He stared at her in disbelief. "Seven, where are you coming from? I don't understand what you're getting at."

"Answer the question. Would you have accepted my invitation for a date?"

Frustrated, he rose to his feet, pacing across the room and back as he contemplated how to respond. "I don't know ...." He shrugged, then added in a moment of truthfulness. "Probably not."

She nodded, as if that were the answer she'd anticipated.

Again he sat and reached once more for her hand. "Please, what is this all about? Why are you asking me these questions?"

"I was contacted this morning by Admiral Paris. Apparently Starfleet has received a message from Axum. He is still in the Beta Quadrant, but he has made steady progress toward Earth and is now approaching the midway point. Starfleet has decided to send a starship to meet him; the admiral invited me to join the crew, to form part of 'the welcoming committee', as he phrased it." She paused, gazing into his eyes. "I need to decide by tomorrow whether to accept."

Chakotay sat motionless, his stomach roiling, his face pale. For a minute, he found it difficult to speak but finally he forced out the words, his voice sounding almost unnaturally calm. "And will you?"

Now it was Seven's turn to pace. "I don't know. I feel so ... torn. I have been happy with you and part of me wants to stay here."

"But ...?"

"But I find I still have feelings for Axum, feelings I wish to explore." She turned tortured eyes on him. "What do I do, Chakotay?"

With a sinking heart, he forced down his anguish. Whether or not she realized it, Seven had already made up her mind; otherwise, she wouldn't be so upset now. "It's your decision, Seven, I can't make it for you. But if you wish to leave, I won't stand in your way."

"You would let me go so easily?"

"If that's what you want." He got to his feet then grasped her hands, emphasizing his words. "When you love someone, their happiness is more important than anything else - even if you suffer because of it." His eyes bored into hers. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Silenced by his incredible generosity, she could only stare back at him. After a moment, she whispered a reply. "I ... yes, I think so." Her fingers tightened their grip as she clung to him.

Briefly, he thought she might be reconsidering her decision but then she relaxed her grasp and stepped away from him.

"Thank you, Chakotay, you are very generous."

"Yeah," he muttered half to himself, "I seem to make a habit of it."

*************

The following day, Chakotay packed up his belongings and had them transported to new quarters.

Seven raised no objection, merely telling him, as he turned in the open doorway to say goodbye, that apparently she was fulfilling Admiral Janeway's prediction after all.

At his raised eyebrow, she elaborated. "The admiral told me I would cause you pain and I have. I am sorry."

"Good luck in your quest, Seven," he answered, before he turned and walked out of her life.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=


Two days after her last trip to the village, Kathryn came back from one of her favourite walks exploring the rocky beach below the cottage to find her comm unit blinking to announce a message. Activating it, she began to turn towards the replicator, thinking it was most likely Starfleet wanting to know when she was planning to return from leave. However, a very familiar voice halted her in her tracks.

"Hello, Kathryn, I hope you don't mind me calling while you're on leave," said Chakotay, his tone slightly defensive, "but ... well, I wanted to talk to you." He paused as if not sure what else to say.

Kathryn's eyes narrowed in a frown. By the wary look in his eye, she realized he was well aware she might not want to speak to him and if she were honest, she had to admit she was not entirely pleased to see him. She'd just started to get him out of her system and now here he was, wanting to talk.

Shaking her head, she headed for the replicator to order a cup of coffee while she thought about how to respond. Her first impulse - to simply ignore his message - she quickly rejected; after all, he had been her friend and supporter for seven long years. If nothing else, she owed him for that.

Reaching out, she pressed the 'reply' pad and waited for a response.

He must have been sitting very close to his terminal as his face appeared almost at once on the screen. His eyes reflected a certain relief as he tried to smile a greeting but even through the terminal screen, Kathryn could see he was nervous.

"Hi, Kathryn," he spoke first. "Thanks for calling back. I realize I'm interrupting your leave; I hope you don't mind." His carefully casual tone was belied by the anxiety in his eyes.

For a second, she hesitated in her response but she knew she couldn't lie - he'd see through it immediately - so she opted for the unvarnished truth. "I can't say I'm overjoyed that you found me, Chakotay," she began. Seeing his face fall, she added with a smile, hoping to take the sting out of her words, "But I'm sure you wouldn't contact me without a good reason." Pausing, she waited for his reply but when he stayed silent, she added, "So what do you want to talk to me about?"

Now it was Chakotay who was having difficulty formulating a response. In truth, Seven's abrupt termination of their relationship had left him hurt and upset, and his first automatic reaction had been to turn to his closest friend. But the week spent tracking her down, as well as Tom and B'Elanna's reaction when he demanded her location from them, had made him realize that Kathryn might not want to hear about his miserable love life. His ears were still smarting from the tongue-lashing B'Elanna had given him and he knew now that Kathryn had been much more hurt by his defection into Seven's arms than she'd let on. He was angry that she had never acknowledged her feelings to him but also, deep down, secretly relieved that she cared for him much more than she'd ever admitted.

At this point, he was unsure how he might salvage his relationship with her; he only knew he had to try. Like it or not - and he had berated himself many times for caring as much as he did - he needed Kathryn in his life, whether as lover or merely close friend, but he needed her.

However, like her, he knew that above all, he must be honest, even if it should lead to her rejecting him.

Lifting his head, he gazed anxiously at her face. "I've missed you," he began, "more than I expected, much more. I realize, on that last day on Voyager, we didn't part as best friends should and that was my fault. I ...." He hesitated then forced out the words, "I was feeling guilty and refusing to admit it. I tried to tell myself that you must be glad to see the back of me but I knew that was a lie, a rationalization for running away from you."

She interrupted, "Is that what you were doing, Chakotay? Running?"

"Yes. I know I was wrong and I know now that I hurt you, and I'm sorry ...." Again he paused, waiting for her reaction but she said nothing, so he continued. "I wish I had told you about Seven and me right at the beginning. I understand now that you must have thought I didn't trust you but that wasn't my intention, Kathryn. I wasn't sure at first whether a relationship with her would work. We needed time on our own to sort through our feelings and then ... the next thing we knew, Voyager was home."

Again, he paused and this time she responded. "Why are you telling me this now, Chakotay? What's the point? You're with her ..."

He shook his head, "Not anymore. Seven has ended our relationship. She's joining a ship on a deep-space mission to contact the Borg." At Kathryn's blink of surprise, he explained, "Starfleet has received a message from Axum. He's still in the Beta Quadrant but much closer to Earth now and Command is sending a vessel to meet him."

For a moment, she remained silent before her brows snapped down in a scowl. "So Seven has decided she prefers Axum over you and in turn, you're running back to me. I can't say I'm particularly flattered."

Chakotay's mouth dropped open in astonishment before he started to protest. "No - !" but she cut him off.

"I'd say that's exactly what you're doing!" Her eyes glittered angrily and her mouth was drawn into a tight line.

He dropped his head into his hands, his worst fears realized. After a moment, he looked up at the screen. "I'm sorry I bothered you, Kathryn, it won't happen again."

Lifting his hand, he reached forward to terminate the connection but the dejection in his eyes pulled at her heart and she called out his name. "Chakotay!"

He paused, waiting, his expression miserable.

Kathryn held out a hand in turn. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound so harsh but ..." Now it was her turn to pause. "I'm still trying to come to terms with all we went through out there and I simply can't deal with your problems, too; I have more than enough of my own. Why don't you contact me in a week or two and we'll see how we're both doing?"

At her words, sudden hope flared in his eyes but he only nodded.

"Also," she added, "maybe you should take some time like I have to reflect on where you've been and where you want to go from here."

"A vision quest," he replied.

"Perhaps. You know what works best for you."

He nodded again, more decisively. 'I think I'll do that."

She tried to sound encouraging. "Give me time and give yourself time, too. We both need it."

His mouth curved into a slight smile and he nodded before reaching to break the connection.

For several minutes, Kathryn remained seated in front of the comm unit, wondering if she had been out of her mind to encourage him and yet ... when push came to shove, she couldn't let him go. "Unfinished business," she muttered aloud. "It seems my feelings for him simply won't go away that easily. Maybe seeing him will help me figure out what to do; I certainly hope so. I need to move on, with him or without him. I can't continue like this."

With a resigned sigh, she picked up her cup and finished her coffee.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

In the Arizona desert, Chakotay sat crosslegged on the ground in front of a traditional Navajo hogan, his medicine bundle spread out around him. His eyes were closed as his hand rested on the akoonah. "Akoochemoya," he whispered, "I am here on Earth, near the bones of my people, near the sacred spaces of my grandfathers, but my heart is elsewhere. Tell me how to come home, tell me how to start a new life, tell me whether loving Kathryn Janeway is foolish ..."

Hours passed, the sun dropped to the horizon and the first stars were glittering in the eastern sky before he finally returned from his vision quest. Slowly, he gathered his bundle together, folding the skin carefully before rising stiffly, his legs cramped. Wearily, he hobbled into the hogan. As had happened so often lately, his animal guide had been ambiguous, either ignoring his questions or couching her answers in vague language that told him little of real value. Sighing heavily, he pulled on a shirt and jacket. With the sun down, the evening was quickly becoming chilly. He stirred up the fire, then moved aside an iron pot filled with a vegetable stew which had been simmering all afternoon. At least, his stomach would be satisfied, he thought. He only wished his emotional needs could be met as easily.

As he ladled some of the stew into a bowl and settled down to eat, he tried to recall exactly what his guide had said.

"You already know the answers to your questions, Chakotay," she had declared, "you don't need me to tell you." And later, "Why do you think loving someone is foolish? Does she not return your feelings?"

"I don't know!" he had shouted angrily. His guide had glared at him in exasperation then stalked away; that had been the end of his vision quest.

Tiredly, he shook his head, no closer to an answer than he had been before and becoming very fed up with his nebulous existence. Abruptly, he rose and walked outside, wrapping his arms around himself to ward off the chill. His eyes lifted to the stars and without thinking about it, he turned to face the northeast.

'What are you doing, Kathryn?' he wondered. 'I'm in limbo here, I can't move forward or back, I need you ...'

He pictured her face, recalling her many expressions: determined as she tried to solve a problem with the ship, angry as she faced down yet another Delta Quadrant bully, her lopsided smile as he teased her, tender as she gazed on Naomi, laughing with him over Tom's latest prank, joyous with renewed life as he led the way to the holodeck and Lake George. So many expressions over the years, but the one that had broken his heart was the one he'd seen too often in the last year - indifference. That was the one that had eventually driven him to Seven's arms.

Well, she had been angry when he'd seen her last but she hadn't been indifferent and she hadn't sent him away without hope. Maybe he needed to focus on that one more chance, and stop worrying about the past. It was over and done with, anyway, and he couldn't change it - unlike a certain admiral he'd met recently.

Suddenly feeling better, he decided to contact her in the morning. It had been a week, after all; maybe she'd be more willing to talk to him now.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

In Ireland, Kathryn had been undergoing similar reflections. As the days passed, with the sure knowledge that Chakotay would contact her soon for her answer, she was forced to confront her feelings for him head-on. "No getting around it, Kathryn, my dear," she muttered aloud one evening, "that man has wormed his way under your skin and into your heart and I don't think you'll ever get him out. So the question is, do you want to? You can have the life you used to fantasize about during those long, sleepless nights on the ship - if you choose to take it."

The following morning, as she was walking across the hills, it suddenly struck her that she hadn't thought of Starfleet in days, as if she'd put that life behind her. 'Have I made my decision without even realizing it? Can I step away from my career that easily?'

Puzzled at the way her subconscious mind seemed to be taking over her conscious thought processes, she returned to the cottage, her brow creased in thought. 'It can't be that easy. I need to sit down and think about this.'

Retrieving a fresh cup of coffee, she settled into her favourite chair on the porch and began to make a mental list of pro's and con's.

An hour passed, then part of another, but she was no closer to finding an answer. Her mind was telling her that with Starfleet, she could have it all - rank, privilege, recognition, plus the knowledge that her vast fund of experience would be put to good use. Her heart, on the other hand, was telling her the opposite - that she'd given her entire life to the service of Starfleet, always putting her personal desires aside. Now it was time to spend attention on herself and her needs, that there was no longer any reason why she should deny herself, that she could have an entirely different life as Miss Janeway, a life that might well be much more fulfilling than one spent in the Admiralty.

Eventually, her stomach forced her inside to fix a meal but her thoughts continued to remain focused on her future. 'Where do I go?' she wondered, and a little voice deep inside her heart, added 'and do I want Chakotay with me?'

*************

By the next morning, after a restless night, she had come to the conclusion she would simply have to wait and see how she felt when Chakotay was actually there. Only when she had made up her mind about her feelings could she come to any final decision about what direction she wanted her life to take.

Deciding that she had spent far too much time dithering over the whole matter, she pulled on some clothes, gobbled down a quick breakfast and headed outside. All the dark storm clouds had melted away and a soft light reflected off the landscape while a gentle, warm breeze hinted that spring was finally on its way.

'Oh, what a lovely morning!' she thought as she set off to climb the hills behind the cottage, a renewed spring in her step. Today, everything seemed perfect and she was going to enjoy it to the full. There would be time enough to start thinking about making life-altering decisions later.

Your browser 

may not support display of this image.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

When Kathryn returned after some hours, she discovered the light on her comm unit blinking furiously. Briefly, she hesitated, unwilling to allow an intruder, particularly Starfleet or some obnoxious reporter, into her world of peace and contentment. But she was also mindful of her promise to Chakotay so after a minute, she activated it.

"Hi, Kathryn." His smiling face greeted her as she breathed a sigh of relief. "A week is up and I'd like to come see you, if that's all right. I followed your advice and have been spending some time in the mesa country of Arizona, and I think it's helped. I feel much more at ease now.

"This is a public comm unit so I'll check for a message from you periodically each day for the next week. If there's nothing at the end of seven days, I'll assume you don't want to see me and probably head for Dorvan. But I'm hoping, really hoping, that you're not still angry with me."

She heard an automated voice in the background; at the same time, Chakotay frowned slightly. "My time's almost up. Bye, Kathryn. I hope I'll hear from you soon." His face creased in a smile but his eyes remained worried and unsure. Clearly, he wasn't entertaining any false hopes.

With a sigh, Kathryn put her head in her hands. 'Crunch time,' she thought ruefully, then composed her expression as she reached for the transmit pad.

"Hi Chakotay. You're welcome to come whenever you're ready. Here are the coordinates for the nearest transporter station. From there, you'll need to walk about five kilometers to Ballytullagh where you can ask for directions from Siobhan in the pub. Just let me know which day so I can make sure I'm here when you arrive. Take care. Kathryn."

Quickly, she pressed the pad before she could change her mind. There - it was done. Now, she couldn't back out with all sorts of rationalizations; she would have to see him.

Despite his assertion that he would only check his messages now and then, he must have been close to the comm unit as a few minutes later, Kathryn's terminal indicated an incoming message.

"Hi again, Kathryn. Is tomorrow all right?"

She nodded. "Tomorrow will be fine."

"Good. See you then. Chakotay out."

Sitting back in her chair, Kathryn couldn't help wondering if she had to be out of her mind and yet ... one way or another, they had to resolve this 'thing' between them. It had been left hanging for much too long. And despite her good intentions, her heart was bouncing in joyous anticipation, exactly as it always had all those years on Voyager when she'd known she would soon be seeing him.

Grimacing slightly in disgust at her wayward emotions, she rose from her chair. "Time for a cup of coffee," she told the replicator.

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

The following day, resolving to speed up what she was beginning to think of as the inevitable, Kathryn decided to meet Chakotay in the village rather than waiting for him at her cottage. She was finding herself quite conflicted over his reappearance in her life. On the one hand, her heart was filled with delight but on the other, she was almost resenting the fact that her happiness could be so dependent on one person, particularly when that person had caused her considerable pain only a few months earlier.

'Am I crazy to be even considering this?' she asked herself over and over. 'Am I simply leaving myself open to be hurt all over again? What if it doesn't work? What if we end up hating each other? What the hell am I doing?!'

By the time she set out for the village, she was so beset by doubt that she nearly turned around to walk in the other direction. But she had told him he could come, and over and above anything else, Kathryn Janeway kept her word.

"He's your best friend," she muttered absently, "remember that."

Sighing heavily, her face creased in a frown, she strode along the path, for once completely oblivious to the glorious view out to sea.

Your browser 

may not support display of this image.


=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

If Kathryn could only have known, Chakotay was having very similar doubts about whether his visit was such a good idea. He'd wanted to mend their relationship at least to the point of restoring their friendship, but now he was beginning to wonder if perhaps he should have left well enough alone. She had a life - she didn't need him in it. Perhaps he was simply setting himself up for yet another disappointment. All his joy at her agreeing to see him had evaporated, replaced by doubt.

Was he crazy? How many times did she have to push him away before it finally sank in that she wanted him only as a friend and nothing more? And for all he knew, maybe she didn't even want that any longer.

Unbidden, B'Elanna's words ran through his brain. "You hurt her badly, Chakotay! Don't tell me you didn't know! You must have! Everyone could see how she felt about you!"

But B'Elanna didn't know everything. She didn't know the number of times he'd tried to break through the captain's mask to reach Kathryn, and the number of times he'd been pushed away. Only on New Earth had she let down her guard, and even then, it had taken weeks before she had begun to let him in. If Voyager hadn't come back ... He sighed heavily. No point going there; what was done, was done.

Trudging out the door of the transporter station, he glanced around before noticing a young man loading all manner of goods into an elderly hovercar parked nearby.

"Excuse me," he asked, "would you know the way to Ballytullagh?"

"I do, indeed," replied the man with a smile, "in fact, I'm going that way myself. Could I offer you a lift?"

"If you have room," answered Chakotay with an uncertain glance into the hovercar which appeared to be stuffed as full as it could hold.

"Certainly, as long as you don't mind balancing a package or two on your lap."

Remembering that it wasn't that far to the village, Chakotay nodded, then remembered to introduce himself. "My name is Chakotay."

"Jimmy O'Neill," replied the young man, lifting various items off the passenger seat to allow Chakotay to get in. "There. Now if you can just hold these," dumping the load in his arms onto Chakotay's lap, "I'll put your bag here," he continued, stuffing it on top of a large crate in the back which effectively blocked any view out the rearview mirror, before climbing in to the driver's seat. "We're all set now. How are you doing? All right there?"

Peering around the heap in his arms, Chakotay nodded his head, feeling his mood lighten. Jimmy's cheerfulness was infectious. "Just fine," he replied, returning the young man's grin with one of his own. What would happen would happen, he decided, and worrying about it would accomplish nothing.

"So, are you staying in Ballytullagh for a while or just stopping by?" asked Jimmy after a few minutes.

"I don't really know yet," answered Chakotay. "It depends on the person I'm going to see." He glanced out the window at the broad hills sloping back from each side of the shallow valley they were traversing. "I'd like to, though, it's a beautiful area."

"It is that," agreed his companion, "none better, in my opinion." He grinned again. "But I suppose everyone thinks that way about their home. Where are you from?"

Chakotay paused, wondering how to answer. "Originally, from a planet called Dorvan Five, out near the Cardassian border. But I haven't lived there for many years, since I was fifteen." He shrugged. "Earth was my base while I attended Starfleet Academy but I never really lived here for more than a couple of years at a time after I graduated."

"Oh, you're in Starfleet then."

"I was. I'm not anymore." Chakotay's voice was clipped and Jimmy took the hint, changing the subject.

"Is the friend that you're visiting in Starfleet?"

"She is." It occurred to Chakotay that this young man might well have met Kathryn. "Her name is Kathryn Janeway. Have you met her?"

Jimmy's face lit up. "Oh, so Kathryn's your friend. Indeed, yes. In fact, I brought her here just like I am you, when she first arrived. She's a grand person."

"That she is," agreed Chakotay softly, "that she is."

=^= =^= =^= =^= =^= =^=

The rest of the brief trip was mostly filled with Jimmy pointing out various points of interest until they arrived in the village.

As he relieved Chakotay of his burden, Jimmy indicated the pub. "You'll find Siobhan there and she'll tell you the way to Kathryn's cottage."

Taking his bag, Chakotay held out his hand. "Thanks for the ride and the tour. Perhaps I'll see you again."

"You're most welcome, Chakotay, I'm sure you will."

Whistling cheerfully, the young man disappeared round the back of the hovercar, leaving Chakotay to make his way into the pub in front of him.

Opening the glass-paned door, he found himself in a long, dark-panelled room with an old-fashioned highly polished wooden bar running along one side. Behind it, a pretty dark-haired woman of about thirty was placing glasses on racks that hung from the ceiling overhead.

At the sound of the door, she looked up. "Good day to you, sir. May I help you?"

"I'm looking for Siobhan ..."

"Ah, well," she replied with a smile, "that would be me."

Returning her smile, he explained. "My name is Chakotay. I understand a friend of mine, Kathryn Janeway, is staying nearby and that you can tell me the way."

Siobhan's eyes narrowed slightly as she assessed her visitor. "So you're a friend of Kathryn's." After a moment, she nodded in obvious approval and stepped briskly around the bar. "Come outside and I'll show you the path. From there, it's easy."

Picking up his bag, Chakotay followed her through the door only to be met by Kathryn herself.

"Chakotay!" she exclaimed in some surprise before her face broke into a welcoming smile. "It must be later than I realized! I thought I'd be here before you."

"Kathryn," he murmured, his eyes drinking her in from head to toe, noting her glowing cheeks and wind-tossed hair; no sign of the prim and proper captain here. "You look ... wonderful!"

"Why, thank you, kind sir," she responded before turning to greet Siobhan, who was watching them both with a certain amusement which she made no effort to hide.

"So there you are, Kathryn," she grinned. "You'll be happy with a friend to visit. Can we hope to see you both at the pub tomorrow evening?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Kathryn was quick to assure her. With a hand on Chakotay's arm, she indicated the path along the cliffs. "This way. See you tomorrow, Siobhan."

As they walked onto the path, Chakotay remained silent, taking in the view but also wondering how to broach the topic of their relationship. Now that he was actually here, walking beside her, he didn't know where to start.

Well tuned to his moods, Kathryn was quite aware of what he was most likely thinking, but she wasn't yet ready to have the conversation that she knew he wanted. Instead, she chose to distract him with chatter about their immediate surroundings as well as the village's inhabitants. However, while her mouth babbled on, her tumultuous heart was engaged in a heated battle with her head.

It was so good to see him; she'd actually felt her heart give a great thump of sheer joy when he'd suddenly appeared through the door of the pub. It had been all she could do not to throw her arms around him there and then, something she knew Siobhan had realized. No wonder the woman had been laughing at them!

'But, but, but ...!' trumpeted her brain. 'Do you really want to put yourself in the line of fire again? What if it doesn't work? Right now, he says he's missed you deeply, and it would seem he wants to do something about it, but what if he changes his mind? You could be taking an awful risk!'

'And he isn't?!' retorted her heart. 'This poor man has stuck by you, well mostly, for seven years. There may have been the occasional lapse here and there but really, after what you've put him through, what did you expect?'

'I'd hardly call Seven a "lapse"!' replied her head.

'But he's here now, isn't he?'

'Only because Seven dumped him.'

Her heart had no answer for that and yet .... 'He's here. At least give him a chance .... Let him talk ....'

"... and the cottage I've been using is just up ahead," continued Kathryn blithely, "so we're almost there."

Catching her arm, Chakotay pulled her to a halt then swung her around to face him. "Kathryn," he spoke softly, his eyes worried, "I think I'm making you uncomfortable and I don't want that. Perhaps, it would be better if I stayed in the village ...."

Her eyes flew to his face; for an instant, she remained silent. He was right - in a way, she was uncomfortable and yet, this was Chakotay, her dearest friend, someone as familiar to her as anyone could be. After a moment, she lifted her hand to his chest. "No, I think that will make it worse. You're right, of course, which simply shows you know me too well for my own peace of mind. But I want you here, with me." She heaved a sigh of resignation - crunch time. "No more games, Chakotay, no more beating around the bush."

Taking his hand, she led him to the cottage and up the steps onto the verandah. "Bring your bag inside and we'll get some hot drinks. I spend a lot of time sitting out here. I like to think the view is therapeutic."

Glancing around, he could certainly understand why. An almost magical light bathed the land so that every feature, from green grass to black boulders and brown scrub, to the pale sea beyond, glowed surreally, emanating a sense of peace and serenity that was tangible. He had to blink to remind himself that the landscape he was looking at was real.

Your browser 

may not support display of this image.

Unconsciously, he stepped forward to the edge of the steps, his eyes absorbing the view before him even as his nose picked up the scent of salt air and his ears the faint sound of waves crashing on the beach below.

Only when Kathryn touched his arm to hand him a mug did he look away from the sight before him.

"It's ... I can't find words to describe it!" he exclaimed softly, his voice awestruck.

"I know exactly what you mean," she replied with feeling as she settled into her chair. "There is such a sense of other-worldliness about this whole area," she continued, sweeping her hand to indicate the hills behind them as well. "You get caught up in the local rhythm of life and the rest of the universe simply slides away. You know it's there but it's very easy to put it aside and forget about it." She sighed wistfully. "I could well live here the rest of my life."

Chakotay nodded thoughtfully. "I can certainly understand how you might feel that way, especially after seven years in the Delta Quadrant." His face creased in a frown. "But I suspect, after a while, you'd become bored sitting on the sidelines."

"Maybe," she acknowledged, "but I don't know. There's something about this place ...." After a moment, she went on, "There are all sorts of ancient stories and legends, you know, about who has lived here. It's an old, old land. There are tales of elves, of fairies, of kingdoms that once existed here long ago then disappeared into the west. When you look out to sea, and see the path of the sun as it sets over the ocean, you can easily imagine little boats sailing into the light."

Chakotay smiled at her lyrical words. "Kathryn Janeway, waxing poetic."

She gave a slightly embarrassed shrug. "It's the place - it invades your every sense until you're ready to believe all sorts of things you never would have considered possible."

"Not the reaction I'd expect from a hard-core scientist," he teased.

But her face remained serious. "No, I suppose not ...." She fell silent as her eyes stared into the gathering mist. After a moment, she added, "If you look out there long enough, you can see and hear almost anything ...."

He followed her gaze, his eyes sweeping slowly across the panorama of land, sea and sky.

Little tendrils of fog slid up over the tops of the cliffs, hiding the edge and deadening the sound of the waves. The sun, still high in the sky, became more orange, then disappeared behind the thickening wall of mist.

Abruptly, Kathryn shivered. "Let's go in, it's getting cold." Rising to her feet, without looking to see if he followed, she entered the cottage.

For a moment, Chakotay lingered to watch the fog creep forward. Then as the suddenly chilled air brushed his face, he hurried through the door after her.

Inside, he found Kathryn standing by the replicator.

"It's close to lunchtime," she remarked, "would you like something to eat? I was thinking of hot soup with bread. I can replicate the soup and Siobhan gave me a loaf of brown bread the other day. I promise you, it's absolutely delicious."

Rubbing his hands together, Chakotay nodded. "That sounds wonderful, thank you." He glanced around then moved to stand behind her. "What can I do?"

"How about setting the table? Cutlery is in that drawer there, and you'll find plates in the cupboard in front of you."

As he followed her directions, Chakotay was assailed by a sudden memory from years before, of the two of them in a very similar situation. Unconsciously, he sighed aloud.

New Earth.

What would have happened if Voyager hadn't come back? Would they be living there still, or would they have met their deaths at the hands of the Vidiians or some other Delta Quadrant aliens?

He had become so accustomed to pushing aside the memories that he was quite unprepared when, as now, one caught him off-guard. Unaware, he paused, his gaze turned to the window but his mind thousands of light years away. Only when Kathryn nudged him did he return to the present.

"Sorry," he smiled apologetically, "I was ... somewhere else." He'd nearly said the name but force of habit had made him bite back the words. New Earth had been a forbidden topic for a long time, and as yet, he had no reason to believe that had changed, despite the fact they were no longer in a command situation.

Beside him, Kathryn gave him a hard stare before abruptly turning back to the replicator. She too had been struck abruptly by memories of long ago and knowing Chakotay as well as she did, she wouldn't be surprised if that was the reason for his sudden distraction. Like him, she began to automatically push away the memories until a thought made her pause. There was no reason now not to bring them out, dust them off and have a look at them. If she wanted a relationship with him, then New Earth was as good a place as any to start building.

Thoughts of building reminded her inevitably of the bathtub. "I wonder whether it's still there," she murmured to herself, not realizing she'd spoken aloud.

"Probably," he replied, his thoughts still in the Delta Quadrant.

His response made her blink, and she spun around to face him. "You don't even know what I'm talking about," she retorted.

"The bathtub," he answered promptly. The look of astonishment on her face made him laugh. "It's nice to know some things haven't changed," he grinned at her. "We're still on the same wavelength."

"Oh ... you!" she laughed back at him, the warmth of their friendship filling her with joy. "I guess we are," she added softly, her eyes going to his face. "I have missed you."

"Then you're glad I came?" he asked, still a little anxious that she was not completely comfortable with him there.

"Oh yes," she answered, her tone definite. "At first, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to see you but yes, I'm glad."

Heaving a sigh of relief, he took the bowls of soup from her and placed them on the table. "Good," he replied simply.

*************

By the time they'd finished lunch, the fog had retreated back out to sea and the sun shone brightly once more.

"It often does that," explained Kathryn, when Chakotay queried her about the weather. "On a day like this, you have to be careful not to get caught out on the hills. The fog can be treacherous, far away one minute and completely socked in the next. More than one person has walked right off the cliffs because they couldn't see where they were going."

"I was hoping we might go for a walk so you could show me around," he remarked, "but perhaps we shouldn't."

"If we keep an eye on it, and don't wander very far, we should be all right." As she spoke, she picked up her coat. "But we should go now while it's clear."

Quickly pulling on his own jacket, Chakotay followed her out the door.

"Let's go up behind the cottage," suggested Kathryn, "there's a nice outcropping where you can get a good view. And it's close enough we can get back quickly."

By now well-used to the rocky terrain, Kathryn wasted no time rapidly climbing a faint path which zig-zagged up the side of the hill.

Hurrying to catch up, Chakotay was forced to watch his footing so as not to stumble on the rocks littering the ground. He only caught up with her when she paused to glance out to sea. Her slight grin told him she was well aware he was having difficulty keeping up.

"You're very sure-footed," he told her in honest admiration.

"I've had a lot of practice the last few weeks," she answered. "I try to get out every day for at least an hour, often longer if I can. Some days, it's raining so hard, I turn back sooner, but mostly, I'm out for a few hours each time."

"Don't like the rain?" he teased gently.

"Not that so much, but when the rocks are wet, they become very slippery and the footing can be dangerous. A person could take a nasty fall." She nodded towards the trail. "Ready to go on?"

"Lead the way," he replied, a little stung that she would think he was in such poor shape he couldn't keep up.

Another twenty minutes found them climbing onto Kathryn's viewpoint.

Your browser 

may not support display of this image.

"There," she said, turning slowly around. "You can see the hills inland - that's Inishowen - and that way to the northeast is Malin Head, which is the most northerly point in Ireland. Down there," she continued, pointing, "is Tullagh Point, which is where the village gets its name. That way," she indicated the northwest, "you're looking at the Atlantic."

Nodding, Chakotay noted the landmarks. "It's a barren land, isn't it?" he remarked after a moment. "I wonder if it was always like this."

"This part could have been, although in ancient days, Ireland was heavily forested. But here, I'm not sure how well trees could withstand the climate. In a few sheltered spots, you do find clumps, but they're not very big. Out here on the headlands, I don't imagine there has ever been much in the way of forests."

They continued to stand on the rocks, turning about slowly as Kathryn showed him several more points of interest. However, after a few minutes, when she noticed the fog starting to roll in once more, she announced they should return to the cottage. "I really don't want to get caught up here, even if I do know where I am," she explained.

"Maybe if it's clear tomorrow, we could go for a longer hike," suggested Chakotay hopefully. 'If I'm still around,' he added to himself. Although Kathryn seemed pleased to have him here, he wasn't taking anything for granted.

"Sure," she answered briefly, as she stepped down from the outcropping.

Quickly following in her footsteps, he reflected that her reply was at least positive, if more succinct than he would have liked.

By the time they reached the cottage, the fog was meeting them at the front steps.

"It moves quickly, doesn't it?" remarked Chakotay, striding through the door. "It's almost like a living thing."

As she hung up her coat, Kathryn tossed him a smile. "It certainly often seems that way. Siobhan tells me that it's worse at this time of year but even in summer, on a warm sunny day, apparently it can slide in without warning. She was quite concerned that I wasn't taking her warnings seriously but after seeing how fast it can move, I had no trouble believing her. I'm careful to keep an eye on it and I also always make sure I have my commbadge with me. If worst comes to worst, I can always call for beam-out."

"Even though it would be frowned on at HQ?"

"Well, I figure Command would rather I did that than fall off a cliff," she retorted. "Want some tea?"

"Sure."

A moment later, she handed him a mug then sat on the sofa facing the window. After a minute, he settled beside her.

Silence fell as each sipped their drinks, wondering where they would go from here. Tension was hovering in the air again, a feeling of momentum building although as yet, neither was sure towards what outcome. Similar thoughts were chasing through each of their minds.

'Can we move forward, or are we meant to forever dance around each other, spinning our wheels, too afraid to take a chance and say what we really want?'

'I think he wants to be with me,' thought Kathryn, 'but what if he changes his mind again? What if it doesn't work? What if ...?'

'Will she finally let me in this time?' ran through Chakotay's head. 'Will she trust me not to mess up again? I won't but how can I make her believe me?'

Her gaze was fixed on her mug, while his eyes were focused on her, allowing him to see the tight grip she had on the handle. 'She's nervous,' he thought, a realization that gave him the courage to open a topic which they had shied away from for over five years. Reaching out, he covered her stiff fingers with his hand.

With a start, she looked up into his face.

"Kathryn," he began, "there's something I've been wanting to say to you for a long time. Very simply, I love you with all my heart. I have loved you since before New Earth and I love you still. I know my behaviour, especially lately, hasn't always supported that, but it's true. Over the years, to protect my feelings, I tried repeatedly to tell myself that I didn't love you anymore, that I'd grown past you, but ...." he shrugged, "I haven't and I won't. Like it or not, and sometimes I don't like it at all, you are a part of my being in a way no one else has ever been."

Kathryn's eyes were tightly focused on his face and she was scarcely breathing. When Chakotay paused, she blinked, then let out a deep sigh. Well, there it was. He was doing it to her again - laying it all on the line for her, letting her make the decision. She would hurt him badly if she pushed him away again, which she certainly didn't want to do. She'd done that too many times in the past.

As she pondered the man before her, her confused emotions suddenly cleared and it all became so obvious. This was Chakotay, for heaven's sake! Chakotay, around whom she had built her dreams for years! Love him? Of course, she loved him! How could she have ever thought otherwise? She took a deep breath, her heart demanding she answer his honesty with equal candor.

"I ... knew about your feelings on Voyager," she began hesitantly, "even though I wouldn't admit it. And I know that sometimes, I used those feelings against you, to coax you into doing something you didn't want to. I'm sorry. That was unforgivable of me, even if I only did it for the good of the ship and crew."

At his sound of protest, she held up her hand. "Let me finish or I may lose the courage to say this. I love you, too, Chakotay, even though I was always very careful never to let you know. I couldn't. I couldn't afford the distraction of a love affair on Voyager, not in our situation ... ." Her voice trailed off at the look of exasperation on his face.

"And you couldn't trust me enough to believe that I would never have taken advantage of that situation?!" He struggled unsuccessfully to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "I understood what you were up against, of course I did, and I agreed with your decision. We had enough to do simply trying to survive in the Delta Quadrant. You're right, it wasn't the time or place for a love affair, but oh, Kathryn! I wish we could have acknowledged our feelings for one another, even though we couldn't do anything about them out there. Just knowing that when we got home we could follow through on them would have certainly saved me a lot of sleepless nights and miserable days, and most likely, you as well."

Struck silent by his accusation, Kathryn lowered her eyes again. He was right, of course. She knew him so well, she'd trusted him with her ship, her crew, a hundred times; why couldn't she have trusted him with her heart?

Getting to her feet, she walked stiffly to the replicator. "Coffee," she ordered.

Seated on the sofa, Chakotay debated his options. He actually hadn't meant to voice his anger but she had caught him with his guard down and before he knew it, he'd blurted out the feelings of resentment which had been simmering for years. Well, the words were spoken now. Glancing up, he watched as Kathryn made her way to the window. How many times had he seen her take a similar stance in her ready room, gazing out the viewport at unfamiliar stars? Now, she was staring at the blanket of fog.

'Not good,' he decided, 'maybe this had been a bad idea all round and he should simply leave.' On that thought, he rose, his movement attracting her attention.

"I think maybe I should go and leave you in peace," he began.

Her eyes snapped together in a frown. "Running again, Commander?" she snapped.

Her words as well her tone raised his hackles. Unconsciously, he adopted a combative stance. "No, I'm trying not to make things worse, but if you want a fight, Kathryn, I'll give you one."

For a moment, she stared at him with narrowed eyes before she deliberately took a deep breath and relaxed. Turning back to the window, she murmured, "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I don't want to fight with you, Chakotay."

Her attitude caught him by surprise. Very rarely had he ever seen Kathryn Janeway back down. Slowly, he sat back down in his chair, his eyes fixed on her as his thoughts whirled. So if she didn't want an argument .... His brain leaped to the logical conclusion as a seed of hope planted itself in his heart.

After a minute or two, when she showed no sign of speaking again, Chakotay softly called her name. "Kathryn."

Her head inclined enough to let him know she was listening, although her eyes remained focused on the fog bank.

"It seems to me we're at something of a crossroads here," he began hesitantly, feeling his way. "The decisions we make now will affect us for a long time to come, even a lifetime." He paused to give her a chance to respond but she stayed motionless.

'Very well,' he thought, 'here goes.'

Taking a deep breath, he continued. "I think we need to put the past behind us. We've both made mistakes but what's done, is done. Now I think we should be moving forward. And ... I would like to move forward with you beside me."

There. He'd said it, laying all his cards on the table. Now, it was up to her.

For a minute more, Kathryn remained still before she turned to face him.

With great effort, Chakotay forced himself to remain still. She had to come to him; it had always been that way in their relationship and it still was. Ultimately, she would be the one to make the call.

Although her expression stayed neutral, her eyes searched his face intently. After a moment, she stepped toward him until, bending down, she cupped his cheek with one hand.

"You wonderful man," she smiled at him, "I love you, and yes, I would like to continue this journey together."

Although he stayed seated, Chakotay couldn't prevent a heartfelt sigh of relief. His hand lifted to cover hers. "I'm glad," he answered simply before reaching up with his other hand to tug her close enough to gently kiss her.

It wasn't a long kiss, more an acknowledgement of their changed relationship than an expression of passion, but even though it was short, it sealed their commitment to each other.

No longer separate, they were now a couple, soul mates, connected by a deep bond forged both in joy and sorrow, happiness and anger, through every kind of peril the Delta Quadrant had thrown at them.

Slowly, Kathryn straightened then held out her hand.

Immediately, Chakotay took it, rising to stand beside her. His eyes were joyous with hope and love, his expression reflected on her face.

"To tomorrow," she murmured, lifting her coffee cup.

"To all our tomorrows," he replied, lifting his own.

end