Disclaimer:  Same old, same old

Rating:  G

Notes:  As always, many thanks to Shayenne for her helpful comments.   She’s saved me from more errors than you’ll ever know.
 


By Mary S.
 

           On a wet, winter day, Kathryn Janeway clutched a cold cup of coffee as she stared blindly out the window of her office on the thirty fifth floor of Starfleet Headquarters.   Her view was magnificent, extending across the hills to the ocean beyond, encompassing the curve of shoreline leading from the Bay to the outer coast.  Although it wasn’t actually raining, the sky was filled with thick clouds, promising a downpour shortly.  Far below, the damp city spread out, pavements still slick from an earlier rainfall.  Beyond, towards the west, the clouds were lower, almost touching the slate-grey sea, dimming the horizon so that she could barely discern where cloud stopped and ocean began.   Directly in front of her soared the towers of the four-hundred-year-old Golden Gate Bridge, restored to its former glory after its partial destruction during the Dominion War several years before.  But despite the spectacular panorama before her, Kathryn’s thoughts were turned inward as she contemplated the course her life had taken since returning to the Alpha Quadrant nearly fifteen months earlier.

           The two gold pips enclosed in a rectangle attested to her exalted rank of Rear Admiral, First Class, while her gaunt cheeks and tired eyes indicated the long hours she put in as deputy head of Strategic Operations.   Always slim, her uniform now hung loosely on her thin form, a reflection of too many skipped meals as well as endless cups of coffee.

           The ghost of a voice whispered in her mind – “Coffee is not one of the four food groups, Kathryn.”  Resolutely, she pushed the memory away.   Circumstances had changed – the owner of the voice was gone, no longer around to make sure she ate regular meals and got enough rest.

           Sighing heavily as a familiar feeling of depression settled over her, she moved towards the replicator to retrieve a fresh cup of coffee.   Her eyes fell on the stacks of PADDs placed carefully around her desk.   Despite spending long hours every day in her office, the stacks never seemed to shrink.  ‘Maybe when no one’s here at night, they breed,’ she thought rebelliously, ‘because no matter how hard I work, I certainly don’t seem to reduce their number!’

           Placing her cup in the replicator, she ordered firmly.  “Coffee!  Black!”

           Seconds later, a fresh cup was steaming in the slot.

           As she started to reach for it, her hand paused in mid-air.   “Computer, recycle the coffee and give me tea instead.   Chakotay blend twelve.”

           Obediently, the replicator produced a cup of tea, the fragrance floating past her nostrils and scenting the room.

           At once, she was back on Voyager in her ready room, seated on the couch as her first officer handed her a steaming cup.   “Try this, Kathryn,” she could hear him say, “it’s much better than coffee.”

           Abruptly assailed by a sharp pang of loss, her suddenly nerveless fingers lost their grip on the cup, allowing it to crash to the floor, spilling its contents all over the rug.

           Startled, she stared in bewilderment at the mess at her feet, as the tea soaked into the fibers of the carpet.    She shook her head in puzzlement at her own reactions, then ordered the computer to clean the floor.   Within seconds, the self-cleaning mechanism had activated and the stains magically disappeared.

           Kathryn moved around her desk to collapse in her chair.   Her head was beginning to hurt with yet another tension headache, and her heart felt heavy with despair.    ‘I have to keep going,’ she reminded herself, ‘I have a job to do.   I can’t let personal feelings interfere…interfere….’    Fighting for control, she desperately clutched her hands together, the nails biting into the palms of her hands, using the pain to focus herself.   ‘Control!  I must be in control!’

           Gradually, she forced down the incipient tears, breathing deeply until she could lift her head and gaze steadily at the wall opposite.   ‘There!’ she congratulated herself, ‘much better!’   With a little shake of her head, she turned her attention to the nearest PADD, picking it up and activating it.

           When one of her two aides slipped into the office shortly after to deposit yet another PADD on the neat piles, Kathryn appeared to be concentrating hard on the words before her.   However, as soon as the door slid closed, she sat back in her chair, the device falling soundlessly to the carpet.    It was no use.   As had been happening more and more lately, she couldn’t keep focused on her job.   Her mind refused to concentrate, instead going off on various random tangents, although mostly those tangents led back to Voyager and her crew.   And Chakotay.

           Rubbing her eyes hard, she gave in.   She wasn’t going to get any work done today, anyway.    Again, she rose to her feet in order to retrieve more coffee, then moved back to her favourite spot before the window, her thoughts still turned inward.

           For the thousandth time, she wished her mother were still alive.   Not only because she’d loved her dearly, but also as a sound source of wisdom and advice.   Although she hadn’t always paid attention in her childhood and teens, as an adult, Kathryn had learned that her mother had a sensible, positive outlook on life which allowed her to make the best of whatever situation she found herself in.   Many times, perplexed by the ramifications of some decision she’d needed to make, Kathryn had gone home to Indiana to consult Gretchen Janeway.   And every time, she’d heard a different perspective, a different viewpoint, which invariably clarified the entire situation.

           She missed Gretchen dreadfully, much more than she had expected to, given that they’d been separated for seven years.   However, even during all that time in the Delta Quadrant, somehow Gretchen had always been there in the back of her mind, a little voice of reason and sanity when all around her, everything was chaos.

           Her mother had always been so strong, so steady, thought Kathryn sadly, that no one had realized how rapidly her body was deteriorating.  Even after a major stroke, two years before Voyager returned to Earth, Gretchen’s mind had remained sharp and clear although she was physically incapacitated.   A second stroke, only a month after their return, had killed her.

           Embroiled in debriefings, Kathryn had been unaware of just how ill her mother was until it was too late.   Starfleet had dutifully whisked her home to Indiana, but Gretchen was already gone.   Standing in once-familiar surroundings, Kathryn had been in shock, unwilling to believe that the woman who had always been there whenever she needed her, was there no longer.

           Even when her sister Phoebe led her into Gretchen’s bedroom so she could see her lying on the bed, cold and motionless, Kathryn still could not accept that she’d died.    She had stood staring in dawning horror, her mouth open as she tried to breathe, then let out a strangled cry before sinking silently to the floor.   Her hands came up to cover her face as the full force of her loss hit her.   The pain was tangible, like a nail driven straight through her heart.

           Silently, Phoebe had stood nearby, making no effort to comfort her sister, whose face was wet with tears.   As far as she was concerned, Kathryn had abandoned her and her mother years before when she’d returned to Starfleet after their father died.    Any tears she was shedding now didn’t really mean very much.

           While Kathryn had been marooned in the Delta Quadrant, Phoebe had given up her own burgeoning career as an artist in Paris in order to care for their mother when she fell ill.    Although she was glad to assist Gretchen in any way she could, as the months and years passed, she couldn’t help feeling once again like the forgotten one, the one who stayed home and did all the hard work yet received none of the glory.   From the time she could remember, Kathryn had always gotten all the attention and praise from their family, while Phoebe was usually mentioned only as an afterthought.

           “Isn’t it wonderful how well Kathryn is doing in school?” an aunt would exclaim during one of the family gatherings.  There would be a pregnant pause.  “And how is young Phoebe?... Still drawing?… Yes, I see.”

           In the days and weeks that followed Gretchen’s death, Kathryn felt the full force of Phoebe’s resentment.   Although she tried to make amends, she found that Phoebe was indifferent to all her efforts.   Never close even as children, the sisters had very little in common now that their mother was gone.   Gretchen had been the glue that held the Janeways together.  With her death, Kathryn and Phoebe simply drifted apart, back into their separate lives.   The house in Indiana was disposed of, together with its contents.

           Walking through the empty rooms one last time, Kathryn couldn’t help wondering if she had been wise to agree to its sale.   “Too late now”, she muttered to herself as she meandered down the back steps and across the lawn to her favourite spot, her ‘thinking tree’.   Sighing heavily, she leaned against the magnificent old elm for a moment before patting its trunk.  “Goodbye, tree,” she whispered, fighting back a sudden, absurd need to cry.   For a moment, her head hung low as she clung to the tree.    Then she gulped down her tears, straightened her spine and strode back to her hovercar.  ‘Time to get back to work,’ she reminded herself firmly.

              With the last family tie cut, Phoebe disappeared back to Paris to resume her career while Kathryn packed up a few chosen heirlooms and returned to her very new, very sterile apartment in San Francisco.

           Almost frantically, she poured herself into her work, quickly accepting a promotion to Rear Admiral and the appointment to Strategic Operations.   Starfleet was all she had now; her work was her life and her only family, Voyager’s crew.

           At first, she enjoyed her new job, finding it challenging as she learned to oversee operations from behind a desk instead of from her bridge.    The highlight was the work she did on the Romulan crisis when Shinzon seized control of the Senate.    Despite the constant tension and long hours with little or no sleep, she found the situation stimulating, reminding her very much of countless times on Voyager’s bridge when she’d existed on little else besides caffeine and adrenaline.

           After the crisis was resolved, however, things quieted down in the Federation and soon, Kathryn found herself handling minor disputes on backwater planets.   Anxious to fit into the structure of Starfleet once more and unwilling to complain, she swallowed her frustrations and did her best with each file.

           Early on in her new position, feeling somewhat isolated in the rarefied atmosphere of the admiralty, she had made a point of instructing her aides that no matter how busy she was, her door was always open to a member of Voyager’s crew.

           Word soon got around that “the Captain”, as she continued to be known, always welcomed her old crew with open arms and, if necessary, a helping hand.   As a result, she had a fairly regular stream of visitors as various members passed through San Francisco.  A few, in particular B’Elanna and Tom Paris, lived there permanently – those she saw more frequently, although not often enough in their opinion.

           Over the fourteen months after Voyager’s return, she was visited by nearly every member of the crew with the notable exceptions of Chakotay and Seven of Nine.

           She knew they had split up shortly after debriefings had finished,   their romance unable to survive the pressures of instant fame in the Alpha Quadrant.    Chakotay would have stuck it out, Kathryn was sure.  It was Seven who had ended it, her excuse that Starfleet wished to consult with her extensively on the Borg and it wasn’t fair to Chakotay to make him wait for her.   In fact, Kathryn was pretty sure that Seven had discovered a whole new quadrant ready for exploration – Chakotay would have only held her back.

           Whatever the reason, they had separated, Seven moving to live with her aunt in Norway while Starfleet picked her brain, while Chakotay abruptly disappeared from sight.   It was weeks before Kathryn learned from B’Elanna that he’d returned to Dorvan Five, his home planet which he’d left so long ago.   What he was doing there, however, B’Elanna didn’t know, and the subject hadn’t come up again.

           Although nothing was ever said, B’Elanna strongly suspected that Kathryn had been deeply hurt by Chakotay’s defection into Seven’s arms.    As a result, she tended to avoid casual references to her old friend and gradually, his name had disappeared from their conversations.

           For the first anniversary of Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, Starfleet insisted to Kathryn that a large celebration be organized. Although she vehemently opposed the idea, eventually she was forced to yield to a direct order from Admiral Hayes.   She gave in reluctantly, voicing her opinion disgustedly.  “Have an official ball, dinner, whatever you must, but don’t expect any crew from Voyager who are no longer in Starfleet to come.   They won’t like all the hoopla, Admiral, and they don’t have to follow your orders.”

           Hayes had dismissed her prophecy, but her words had proven true.   Only those crew still serving had appeared and only because it had been obvious they were under orders to do so.   Among the absentees from the senior staff were Tuvok, retired and settled into his new role on Vulcan as family patriarch, and Chakotay.

           Seven put in a brief appearance on the arm of the doctor, then retreated in dismay when every journalist and photographer present descended on her en masse.     In vain, Kathryn tried to make her way to her side; by the time she reached the spot where Seven had been cornered, the drone was gone, beamed out on the doctor’s order when he declared a medical emergency.

           The following evening, Kathryn gathered what crew she could find for an impromptu party at her apartment – the real celebration of their return, she told them.    However, although the doctor put in an appearance, Seven did not.   Shrugging their shoulders, her old crewmates set about enjoying their captain’s hospitality as best they could as well as speculating about why Chakotay hadn’t shown up.   Seven they could understand – she always had been something of a misfit – but everyone there was very surprised that their former first officer had also failed to come.   Why, he and the Captain had been best friends for so long!

           In vain, Kathryn tried to pretend that Chakotay’s absence didn’t bother her, but her crew knew her far too well.   Eventually, she had to admit that she too had hoped he would be there but, she shrugged, perhaps he’d had something more important to do.

           Standing at her window now, over two months later, the sharp pang she’d felt at Chakotay’s evident desertion of her and the crew stabbed through her once more.    She gritted her teeth, resolving yet again to push him out of her mind.   A vain hope, she knew.   They had been through too much together, had meant too much to each other, for her to ever be able to forget him.    ‘How ironic,’ she thought.   ‘On the ship, I repeatedly pushed him away in the name of protocol and the good of the crew.   Now, when it no longer matters, I can’t keep him out of my thoughts.   He has left an indelible mark on my soul.’

           She lifted her mug to her lips, grimacing in disgust at the realization that yet another cup of coffee had gone cold.     With a sigh, she placed it on her desk before turning back to look outside.

           Rain streamed down the window once more and the skies were dark and grey.

           “Rather matches my mood,” she muttered to no one in particular, as the blanket of depression settled a little more snugly around her.   “When I think of all that happened out there, and I look at where I am now….”  Her sigh echoed through the silent room.   “I could wish I was still in the Delta Quadrant.   All those years, all that effort I expended trying to get us home….  When all is said and done, I’m more miserable and unhappy now than I ever was during those seven years….”

           Sighing again, she turned around to plop into her chair, then propped up her head with both hands, admitting the truth of her misery.   “Out there was excitement and adventure.  Out there I had Chakotay.”

           A PADD slipped off one of the piles, drawing her attention.    For a moment, old habits reasserted themselves and she leaned forward to pick it up and activate it.   ‘A Proposal For Redefining the Boundaries Between the Gralor and Babchok on Choklor.’   Blindly, Kathryn stared at the PADD, trying to remember who or what were the Gralor and Babchok.    Frustration overwhelmed her when her tired brain couldn’t immediately make the connection, causing her to fling the PADD down so hard that it skittered across the desk.    ‘Damn it!  Think!   Who are these people and why are they important?!’

           Unbidden, her traitorous mind replied.   ‘Who cares?’

           ‘I need to know,’ she argued with herself.  ‘The Admiral will be expecting…expecting….    Oh god!  I am so tired and fed up with all this!   It’s all busywork anyway, to keep me occupied in between trotting me out now and then as the Woman Who Brought Voyager Home.    I was so stupid!   Why didn’t I realize that Voyager was our home?!’

          Almost unwillingly, she shifted in her seat, staring at the spot where she knew Voyager was located near the Presidio.   ‘My poor ship!   Mothballed and turned into a ‘living museum’, just like they’re doing to me!’
 

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

           While Kathryn had spent the past year ensconced at Starfleet Headquarters, Chakotay’s life had followed a much different course.

           His torrid romance with Seven of Nine, in which he had invested such hope and which had shown such promise on Voyager, could not survive the transition to the Alpha Quadrant, falling apart almost as soon as they finished debriefing.

           Although Seven attempted to excuse her decision that she wished to end their relationship by citing her upcoming intense consultations with Starfleet, Chakotay had no difficulty reading between the lines.   The Alpha Quadrant presented endless opportunities and countless challenges for a curious drone – she was eager to start exploring and unwilling to settle down, as he wanted to do.

           Although initially stunned by her revelation, which put an abrupt end to all his hopes for a permanent relationship, after the passage of several weeks, Chakotay realized Seven had been showing signs of restlessness almost from the moment they first touched down on Earth.     Their romance had been doomed from the moment the ship entered the Alpha Quadrant.   Tired of the entire situation as well as the constant attention wherever he went, he abruptly resigned his commission for the second time, returning to Dorvan Five to lick his wounds and try to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

           However, once more, fate took a hand.

           On his arrival, Chakotay found Dorvan caught up in a full-scale building boom and reconstruction effort.    What organization there was, was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the effort to rebuild the planet, literally from the ground up.   Every get-rich-quick artist imaginable had flocked to the former DMZ with an eye to the credits being poured into the region by a Federation anxious to atone for past mistakes.  Terraformers, contractors, entrepreneurs of every kind, all had arrived in the border colonies with an eye to making a quick credit or two with as little expense to themselves as possible.

           Desperate for someone to coordinate the reconstruction effort, the few surviving elders of Chakotay’s tribe fell upon him with profound relief almost the moment he arrived, begging him to help them negotiate the pitfalls and quagmires of Federation bureaucracy.   At the end of a week, he was the official liaison between his tribe and the Federation.  At the end of three weeks, he was chief administrator for the entire planet, his efforts aimed primarily at directing credits and supplies where they would do the most good and not be siphoned off by the unscrupulous characters which had descended on Dorvan like a horde of locusts.    Thanks to his experiences in Starfleet as well as the Maquis, he was able to spot and avoid most pitfalls, which ensured that Dorvan was spared the worst of the inequities which occurred on several, less fortunate planets nearby.    His work, which followed no set hours, kept him so busy that when he did have a few hours to himself, he collapsed on his bed in exhaustion.

           Chakotay’s world narrowed to Dorvan Five, to the point where he sometimes forgot about his former life in the Delta Quadrant for days on end.    Time slipped by in a whirlwind as he concentrated all his energies on the immediate problems in front of him.   It was only when he received a formal invitation via subspace inviting him to the Celebration Ball planned to honour Voyager’s return that he realized nearly an entire year had passed since his return to the Alpha Quadrant.

           The invitation brought him up short, causing him to compare his state of mind now with what it had been a year ago.   If someone were to ask him today if he were happy, he would reply affirmatively.   And yet…deep down in the recesses of his soul was a vacuum, an emptiness that he hadn’t been able to fill.   Most of the time, he ignored it, allowing the busyness of his life to occupy his mind to the exclusion of all else.   But occasionally, such as now, he was forced to remember his time on Voyager and, if he were honest, acknowledge that he was missing the peace he’d known for those seven years.

           Nevertheless, his first reaction was to stay home – the Delta Quadrant was behind him now, in the past.   He’d made new friends on Dorvan as well as renewing his connection to his people.

           His sister, however, was adamant that he should attend.    “You’ll regret it if you don’t, Chakotay,” she warned.

           Her words struck an unexpected chord and after further internal debate, he decided to heed them.   He booked passage on the next scheduled transport but before he could leave, a sudden crisis erupted, requiring his presence.   It was a particularly delicate situation involving a group of Ferengi traders who had contracted to supply the colony with a fully-working near-new water filtration system.   However, after only a week of operation, the system broke down, leaving Chakotay to track down the suddenly elusive Ferengi.    Although he did manage to obtain a partial refund, which, considering whom he was dealing with, he counted as a major victory, finding replacement parts for the system proved more difficult.   A fruitless search through several sectors meant that his trip to Earth had to be postponed.    Finally, after two months of hunting, he was able to locate the necessary items – on Earth, as it turned out.

           Cursing the fates which had not seen fit to inform him sooner where he could find the crucial parts, thereby making him miss Voyager’s reunion, he decided that under the circumstances, he deserved a little holiday.   He would go to Earth in person to collect them and then take a little extra time for himself.

           Once more, he reserved a space on the transport, mentally crossing his fingers that nothing else would go wrong.    This time, the gods were smiling on him and he was able to leave Dorvan as scheduled.    Settling back in his cabin as his home world disappeared from view, he found himself actually looking forward to setting foot on Earth once more.    Hopefully, he would be able to locate some of his old shipmates.    He would start with Tom and B’Elanna – he knew they would be able to fill him in on all the latest news.

           And then there was Kathryn.

           Gazing absently out the viewport at the stars flashing past at warp speed, Chakotay finally acknowledged what his heart had known all along.   When all was said and done, he wasn’t going to Earth to collect parts or tour around visiting old friends.   He was going to see Kathryn, to find out whether there might still be a chance for some kind of relationship between them, whatever that might be.   Like it or not, over the years spent in the Delta Quadrant, she had gotten under his skin and become part of his being in a way no one else ever had.    Now, he had to know, once and for all, whether they might still have a chance.
 

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

           Once more, Kathryn stood at her office window gazing outside abstractedly.   On her desk lay the latest request from Admiral Deg’trogk, head of Strategic Operations, for still more information on the developing situation on Choklor, information she didn’t have.

           Convinced that the answers to complex problems were often to be found in the smallest details, the admiral was fanatical about extracting every scrap of information Starfleet could discover on any given situation.   How he ever made sense of it all, Kathryn didn’t know.   She hadn’t realized how detail-oriented Ktarians were until she began her current assignment.  Or maybe it was just the admiral.  Knowing Samantha Wildman as well as she did, she couldn’t imagine her putting up with the sort of precisely-worded nonsense that she herself heard constantly.

           Wearily, she began to turn back to her chair, wondering how she could placate the admiral this time.    Her head was hurting again with another headache which she knew would only get worse over the course of the evening.

           However, the sinking sun caught her eye and she paused a moment longer, as a sudden memory from long ago and far away jolted her heart.   Watching a sunset on New Earth with Chakotay at her side.   Oh!!  What she wouldn’t give to be there right now!

           With a deep sigh, her shoulders slumped as she acknowledged how miserable and unhappy she was without him.   ‘I could manage it all, even Admiral Deg’trogk, if only Chakotay were here,’ murmured her traitorous heart.   ‘Damn, I miss him!’

           In the fog of depression which had settled around her, her thoughts thousands of light years away in the Delta Quadrant, she didn’t hear her door open.

           Following her standing instructions, and as well, recognizing instantly the man who had just entered the outer office, Kathryn’s aides had no hesitation in permitting him immediate access to the admiral.   “Go on in, sir,” urged the older one, grinning cheerfully in response to his slight smile.   “Admiral Janeway has told us that the crew from Voyager are always welcome.”

           The man nodded his thanks as the aide activated the door, allowing him to enter the inner office.    But his smile faded when he beheld his former captain staring out the window.   Even from across the room, he could practically see waves of unhappiness radiating from her and the droop of her shoulders told its own tale.

           His reaction was automatic.

           Quickly, he crossed to stand behind her and grip her shoulders in his hands.

           Startled, her head snapped up and she craned around to stare at him in amazement.     As her expression changed from disbelief to wonder, her mouth slowly began to curve up into a soft smile and she shook her head.   “Chakotay!  I should have known,” she muttered, hardly aware she was even speaking.

           “What, Kathryn?” he asked gently.  As he stared at her intently, his heart was suddenly pounding with a long-suppressed hope.

           Her face was radiant with joy and love.  Caught off-guard, she’d had no time to hide her feelings or maybe she simply had no need to anymore.     “I should have known that when I needed you most, you would come.”

           With a sigh of pure happiness, she turned under his hands, then gripped them hard.   “I am so very glad you’re here, Chakotay.    I have missed you dreadfully.”

           He closed his eyes for a moment in profound relief.   “I’ve missed you, too, Kathryn, I didn’t even realize how much until a few weeks ago.”

           Tugging on his hand, she led him over to the couch and sat down.   “Tell me all your news.   I know you went to Dorvan.  Are you still there?  What are you doing nowadays?”   Her mind was reeling with other, more personal questions which she didn’t dare ask just yet.   Time enough to find out if he was alone or if someone else was in his life now.

           Chakotay was answering.   “I am still on Dorvan – it’s become my home now and I don’t expect I’ll leave it again.    I spend my days helping the tribe however I can.”  He waved his free hand vaguely.   “It’s hard to describe.   I do whatever needs doing….”

           “I was sorry not to see you at the Reunion Ball, although I understand why you didn’t want to come….”

           “Oh, I was going to come!” interrupted Chakotay, “but circumstances intervened.   That’s partly why I’m here now actually.   I have to collect some critical parts for a water filtration system that broke down only a week after we installed it, just as I was about to leave for Earth.    By the time I realized the components we needed were here, the Ball had come and gone!” He gazed into her face intently.   “I had every intention of attending, Kathryn.”

           Kathryn’s heart soared with hope until instinctive caution kicked in.   She so wanted to believe him, but…she had to make sure.   “I didn’t know.   No one knew where you were – they were all asking me and I had no answers.”  She shrugged helplessly.

           “I’m sorry,” he whispered, lifting her hands to his mouth to kiss them each in turn.   “I never meant to hurt you or cause you embarrassment.”

           Again, she shrugged.  “You’re here now, that’s all that matters.”   For a moment, she paused before succumbing to temptation and asking the critical question.   “Did you come alone or is there…?”   She raised an eyebrow delicately.

           Chakotay had no trouble interpreting her question.   “You mean, is there anyone in my life these days?   No, Kathryn, although I’m hoping….”   He left his sentence unfinished, his eyes boring into hers.

           “What are you hoping?” she managed to whisper.

           “That you might be interested.”

           For a moment, she stared silently before giving a little nod.   “I think that’s a reasonable assumption.”

           His face broke into a delighted grin as he gazed down at her, letting her see everything he felt, no longer afraid of rejection.   Moving closer, he reached to wrap his arms around her.

           Kathryn didn’t hesitate, her hands sliding around his waist to hold him tightly.

           Moments passed as the two relaxed into each other, her face buried against his chest as his chin rested on top of her head, both perfectly comfortable and neither willing to move.   This was right, this was what both had needed for far too long.

           Suddenly, a disembodied voice intruded into their idyll, jarring them apart.   “Admiral,” chirped the aide’s voice apologetically, “Admiral Deg’trogk is asking again if you have the Choklor report ready….”   There was a pregnant pause.   “I told him you’re still working on it….”

           Kathryn sighed heavily.   “Thanks, Jaina.  I’ll take it from here.”   She was still clutching Chakotay’s hands as she spoke, and even after the communication ended, she seemed reluctant to let go.

           Finally, he loosened her grip, smiling down at her a little ruefully.   “I should get out of your way.   You’re a busy admiral.”

           She opened her mouth to speak but before she could utter the words, a strange expression crossed her face.   Puzzled, Chakotay stared at her, wondering what on earth she could be thinking to produce such a look.   “Kathryn?” he started to ask, but she held up her hand, silencing him.    He watched in growing amazement as she began to smile, a definite look of mischief in her eyes.   “Kathryn?” he asked again.

           Instead of answering him, she got to her feet and tapped her combadge.   “Janeway to Deg’trogk.”

           “Deg’trogk here.”

           “Admiral, please stop hounding me!   You will receive my report when I’m good and ready to send it and not a moment before!   Janeway out!”

           Spinning around, she reached for Chakotay’s hand.   “Come on!   Let’s get out of here!”

           “Sure,” he replied, bemused.   “Any place in particular you want to go?”

           For a second, she paused, scowling as various possibilities danced through her mind, then grinned at him.  “How would you like to see the real Lake George?”

           Again, he stared at her, a frown creasing his face.   “It’s January!  Isn’t it a bit chilly this time of year?”

           She shrugged her shoulders.   “Covered in snow.  We won’t be able to sail but the cottage will be nice and cosy.   And best of all,” she finished triumphantly, “there will be nobody there but us!”

           He tugged on her fingers, pulling her toward the door.   “Then what are we waiting for?”

           Her voice broke into a delighted laugh.   “Nothing, nothing at all!”
 

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

Epilogue:
 

           A cheerful fire lit up the main room of the old log cabin as Kathryn snuggled closer into the warm circle of Chakotay’s embrace.    This was perfect, as close to heaven as she could ever expect to come.   Sighing with contentment, she closed her eyes.   “It doesn’t get any better than this,” she murmured.

           Chakotay muttered something unintelligible into her hair, his tone itself enough to convey his own sense of joy and fulfillment.

           Eventually, there would be talk and discussions about their future, and life-altering decisions would be made, but for now, both were perfectly happy to sit wrapped around each other in the warm silence.

           Outside, snow fell unceasingly, piling up in higher and higher drifts, but inside, the room was filled with peace.

The End
 

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