Kathryn stood with her shoulders back, hands clasped loosely behind her back and feet slightly apart – she could have been at parade rest – but she wasn’t. A look of steely determination lit her eyes and with her jaw rigid with purpose, she perused the wealth of spirituous riches that filled her mother’s well-stocked liquor cabinet.
Hmmm. To indulge or not to indulge – that was the question.
Her mouth twisted into a wry smile as she sent an apology winging its way across time to a certain Mr. Shakespeare for her appalling misuse of his hallowed words. She reasoned, however, that if history served, the Bard was also fond of a dram or two and would probably sympathize with her current dilemma.
For a dilemma it was.
Narrowing her gaze, Kathryn eyed the range of alcohol on offer. The choices were many and varied, and she was hard pressed to make a decision.
Of course, it would make things easier if her ‘good’ conscience – a nagging voice not easily ignored after years of Starfleet indoctrination – would just shut-the-hell-up.
It shook an imaginary admonishing finger in her direction as it peppered her with dire words of warning on the drastic outcomes of over-indulgence and her apparent lack of self control; not to mention, the potential for a dramatic nosedive into self-pity if she chose to imbibe the ruinous libation. Like a Temperance Society harpy, it droned on incessantly in her mind’s ear.
God, was there anything more annoying than a sanctimonious and unrelenting sense of right and wrong?
She thought not.
If it were anything other than a figment of her imagination, she’d swat it from here to next Sunday. However, she was pleased to note that its evil twin had entered the fray with a well-targeted counter attack, whispering mischievous and enticing gems of wisdom into her other mental ear, such as - ‘Who was going to know and who was going to care?’
And it was right.
No one was here to see or judge her for succumbing to temptation, and, as far as she was concerned, there was nothing wrong with indulging in something that would simultaneously warm her insides and silence her racketing thoughts - especially under the circumstances. Surely, this bit of freedom wasn’t too much to ask after everything she’d been through over the last few months – not to mention the seven years before that.
Something like a harrumph rumbled in the back of her throat.
A healthy dose of ‘me’ time and a little distraction was long overdue, and this evening’s foray into her mother’s liquor cabinet was her carpe noctem moment.
Her eyes narrowed as she tried to ignore the push and pull of her conscience, as she glared at the bottles that stood to attention like a battalion of nervous ensigns.
A brusque, ‘At ease, before you sprain something’, almost slipped past the grim line of her lips, but the words heralded such a heady wash of nostalgia that it threatened to steal the breath from her lungs. The memory of a young and guileless Harry Kim flashed past her mind’s eye and something solid and burning lodged itself right behind her sternum.
With a muttered curse, she damned her freewheeling emotions.
It was past time that she did something about this constant barrage of flashbacks. They ambushed her at every turn, hijacking all her attempts to come to terms with her new life.
Why not let alcohol lend a helping hand in this instance? She wouldn’t be the first – or last - person to surrender to the lure of an alcoholic beverage or three to numb the senses? And a bit of pot-valiance never hurt anyone – well, no one that she could think of.
Besides, she was a free agent.
‘Footloose and fancy free’, Admiral Hayes had said as he’d ushered her towards his office door, all but shoving her into the corridor to begin her prescribed six months of leave.
She harrumphed again and rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. Prosy old windbag!
She stopped rocking and planted her hands firmly on her hips, more determined than ever to accomplish this mission. It was as close as she was going to get to one, at least for a while.
Her duty to the ship and crew had ended three months ago with Voyager’s inelegant stumble and lurch into the Alpha quadrant via the collapsing Borg transwarp hub. It had not been the most auspicious of returns. Poor Starfleet had been caught on the hop and, initially fearing that the Borg were on the attack, it had taken them several vital minutes to get their collective - unfortunate word - panic under control, before finally rolling out the welcome mat for Voyager and her crew.
It was at that precise moment that everything had gone to hell in a hand basket.
She sighed, not wanting to think about the weeks of unrelenting debriefings and the litany of unfounded accusations that had been hurled her way by those who professed to know ‘better’.
She huffed angrily. Incompetent idiots!
She took a deep breath and blew it out from between pursed lips. Calm Blue Oceans, Kathryn. Calm Blue Oceans.
A pity-party was the last thing she needed. What was done was done, and now she had an important decision to make.
viz: What was her poison going to be?
Hmmm, she rubbed her chin and sized up a bottle of brandy. Unfortunately, its contents reminded her of the color of Neelix’s eyes. She shuddered. Not brandy then.
Something stronger, perhaps?
‘In for a penny, in for a pound’ as Aunt Martha would say.
She hesitated for a moment before reminding herself that the only person for whom she was responsible was herself. There was no crew to consider, no ship to run. Urgent calls to the Bridge were a thing of the past. There would be no pulling the proverbial diplomatic rabbit from a hat to avert disaster, or the need to remain nimble-tongued enough to trade barbs with belligerent aliens hell-bent on Voyager’s destruction.
She tried to rejoice in the fact that the danger was over, but something like grief clamped around her ribs, and made it hard to breathe.
Who would have thought that she’d miss those days?
It was certainly something of a surprise, even to her, but, here she was mentally waxing lyrical about the unrelenting hardships, and eyeing them through the rose-colored glasses of twenty-twenty hindsight as she contemplated the merits of alcoholic oblivion.
Regrets, she had a few – now there was a great line for a song – thank you, Tom.
She heaved a sigh and shaking her head, tried to rattle her erratic thoughts into order.
She’d spent the best part of the morning silently enumerating those aforementioned regrets as she helped her mother weed the already weed-free back garden. It was Gretchen’s ‘go-to’ diversionary tactic whenever Kathryn appeared more than usually morose or miserable.
Her mother had a country woman’s ‘rub it with a brick’ attitude towards wounds - be they physical or mental. Self-pity was no more than grudgingly tolerated in the Janeway household, and then under only the direst of circumstances.
Gretchen had raised her girls to be tough and self-reliant but she tempered that toughness with love – bucket loads of love. The thought made Kathryn’s mouth soften into a semblance of a smile.
To her credit, Gretchen had refused to coddle Kathryn since her homecoming. She’d known that any concession to weakness would likely be her daughter’s undoing and, as much as Kathryn appreciated her stalwart support, her ploy of keeping her physically occupied did nothing to slow the perpetual motion machine of her mind from ticking over the endless mental list of her failures and fuck ups. Like her regrets, there were more than a few and all were annoyingly persistent.
For a moment, those failures – real and otherwise - threatened to engulf her. But before they sank their claws too deeply into her well-earned but scant peace of mind, she inhaled and determinedly pushed them aside.
The house was eerily quiet – almost too quiet. Above the thudding of her own heart, all Kathryn could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. She was alone for the first time in weeks.
Gretchen had left an hour ago after Kathryn insisted that she honor a long-standing invitation for an overnight stay with her Mathematics colleagues in New York.
Spearing Kathryn with a familiar gimlet-eyed look – well-remembered from her teenage years – Gretchen had reluctantly headed out the door.
Neither Kathryn nor her mother had been brave enough to acknowledge the unasked question.
Would she be all right?
She would, and truth be told, Kathryn was looking forward to the solitude and time at home on her own.
That simple word had been her beacon for so long now that it was difficult to relinquish the ideal, and face the reality of her life without her command. The concept of home was all confusion now – was it here in Indiana or on Voyager amongst her beloved crew? Saying farewell to them had been one of the most difficult things she’d ever done, and something for which she’d been ill-prepared. Admitting to herself that the seven-year-long dream of her homecoming had failed to live up to her expectations, was a bitter pill to swallow, but she refused to be cowed. She’d achieved her goal, and her crew was home, safely removed from the constant dangers and threats of the Delta Quadrant.
Granted, not everyone had made it back, but Kathryn had more than enough ‘Fleet blood pumping through her veins to accept that no matter what the mission, there would always be losses.
She huffed a bitter laugh.
Now, there was another word that had taken on a meaning far beyond its mundane definition. It had become apparent – after being bombarded by Admiral Janeway’s revelations outside the Astrometrics Lab - that ‘always’ didn’t mean forever after all. It simply meant, until someone younger, more beautiful, and less jaded came along. It was hard to know where to lay the blame for that debacle.
It certainly wasn’t Chakotay’s or Seven’s fault that they’d fallen in love, no more than it was Kathryn’s fault that she found it impossible to excise the tenacious knot of love that had tangled itself around her heart almost from the first moment she’d laid eyes on him.
Fool that she was.
She huffed another harsh laugh and shook her head in disgust. Where was her pride, and who was this bitter, self-absorbed woman she’d become? Could she sound more trite or pathetic? The fact that she had the temerity to blame anyone but herself was a lesson in gross self-delusion.
And she was a better person than that.
For God’s sake, it wasn’t as if Chakotay was aware of her feelings – and the onus for that glaring oversight lay wholly at her door. She’d had ample opportunity over the years to tell him how she felt. But she’d been stubborn – so, what was new – and refused to enlighten him for reasons that were now hard to remember, let alone justify.
But she had spent years rationalizing her position with a wealth of excuses – some relevant and some not. It went against all her instincts and principles to burden him with the knowledge of her feelings when regulations forbade them to do anything about resolving them. Such a disclosure would have been unconscionably unkind and caused untold repercussions within their professional relationship. The chances of a love affair surviving the rigors of their numerous misunderstandings and confrontations as Captain and First Officer were next to none – or so she’d kept telling herself. It was her choice and ultimately, the consequences were hers to bear.
A professional relationship had been their only option; with the anticipation of ‘what-might-be’ enough to keep hope alive and her head above water. But it appeared that she’d succeeded all too well in hiding her true feelings and, as a result, she’d forfeited a future with Chakotay.
Determined now to gag her tedious inner monologue, she stepped closer to the cabinet and eyed, with serious intent, a bottle of Teeling’s Single Malt whiskey. But then another bottle caught her eye, the neck of which was tied with a large red bow. She reached for it and smiled ruefully as she read the tag attached to the gaudy red ribbon.
“Kathryn, I thought this might come in handy. Sláinte ! Your loving and meddlesome sister, Phoebe.”
Kathryn studied the label - Knob Creek Rye Whiskey - and muttered to herself, “Nice one, Pheebs.”
Her sister was either prescient or simply had a wicked sense of humor - Kathryn had a funny feeling that she was two for two on both charges. But, the sentiment was sincere.
Knob Creek? A glib thought darted through her mind - the ‘creek’ she was up was of an entirely different kind, but she tried not to dwell on that fact and then smiled.
‘Rye’ – she liked the irony of that. What could be more wry than her life? It seemed so very fitting, and thus, without further ceremony, she uncorked the bottle, grabbed a glass and poured herself a healthy double shot before slugging it down in one gulp.
Closing her eyes, she felt the liquor furrow a path down her throat and land like hot coals in her stomach. It warmed her to the soles of her feet.
Thank you, Phoebe!
She’d hug her sister the next time she saw her, but for now, she was going to make merry with her ironic Rye and try not to think about what, if anything, the future held in store for her.
Curling herself into the overstuffed chair in front of the fire, the bottle in one hand and her glass in the other, Kathryn emptied her mind of her worries and filled her glass again, sipping slowly as she watched the flames dance a jig around the logs piled high in the fireplace.
Nagging conscience aside, indulging definitely had its merits.
Kathryn began to surface ever so slowly from the depths of a deep, dreamless sleep and, with a gargantuan effort, dragged her reluctant consciousness, kicking and screaming towards wakefulness.
She was alive, if that was what this throbbing, roiling mess of sensations was supposed to represent. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to remember the previous evening, and how and when she’d made it to bed.
Nope! There was nothing there - no memory at all.
Oh, excellent, Kathryn! Blackout drunk!
It had been a long time since she’d had the ‘pleasure’ of a full-blown, life-defining hangover. Vague memories of her early Academy days and a close encounter with a jeroboam of Romulan Ale emerged from the fog and, although the particulars were hazy, she vividly remembered the aftermath.
Today was not going to be a good day.
She should have heeded the dire warnings of her nagging conscience or at least put a few credits on her first foray into self-indulgence turning into a disaster and biting her in the ass. She would have rolled her eyes if she weren’t afraid they’d fall right out of her head and land on the coverlet.
A bright shaft of early spring sunlight speared from between her curtains and cut across her face, slicing behind her closed eyelids, and burning holes in her corneas.
Oh God! Never again. Never, ever, again.
Her swollen, dry-as-sandpaper tongue scraped over parched lips and she moaned croakily as she tried to swallow. Urrg! Her mouth felt like it was coated with plasma residue.
Queasy didn’t even begin to describe the heaving churn of her insides and, when she sat up, pain ricocheted like a phaser blast around the inside of her head. Her own heartbeat sounded like legion of kettle drums beating a relentless tattoo against her skull.
Cruel, cruel heartbeat.
That pounding pulse might be a reassuring indicator that she was still in the land of the living, but whether that was a good thing or not, was up for debate.
Her mother knocked on the door with a battering ram and, before Kathryn could answer with a gruff, “What?” Gretchen entered the room and thundered across the timber floor in what could only have been hobnailed boots?!
“Good morning, dear.” She bellowed cheerily before moving to the curtains and pulling them back on runners that howled like a barrage of photon torpedoes, and doused the room in an atomic blast of sunlight.
Kathryn cringed and turned her head away rather than risk being blinded.
Gretchen informed her, with the booming tones of a carnival hawker that, “Breakfast will be ready soon.” Before she thundered back into the hall and slammed the door behind her, loud enough to make Kathryn’s eyeballs quiver in their sockets.
Slumping back onto her pillow, Kathryn vowed never to drink again. Curse Phoebe and her brilliant ideas. Her wry Rye was meting out its punishment and it would take a while to appreciate the irony of that.
Sucking in a deep breath and then another, she tried to quell her roiling stomach, but it didn’t help. Suddenly, the world lurched and, with her hand clamped over her mouth, she leapt out of bed and ran to the bathroom.
A little over half an hour later, it was a sad and sorry Kathryn who finally made it to the kitchen for breakfast. She’d spent an unpleasant twenty minutes intimately acquainting herself with the pristine porcelain of the head, before trying to wash away her pounding headache and nausea in the heat of the shower’s cleansing spray. She still felt terrible even though she’d thrown up everything bar her toenails.
Gretchen handed her a cup of weak, honey-sweetened tea, before stepping behind her, tilting her head to the side and pressing a detox hypo to her neck. “That should have you feeling better in no time.”
Kathryn glanced over her shoulder and frowned. “Where did that come from?”
Gretchen shrugged. “It’s all in the preparation, as they say.” And then she smiled. “Phoebe had the Doctor send one over when she left you that bottle of whiskey. I thought it was very considerate of her, if a little presumptuous.” She gave her daughter an affectionate pat on the shoulder and stroked her hand over her hair.
Kathryn was tempted to groan – even her hair hurt – but the discomfort was fading quickly as the detox’s magic spread throughout her system. She muttered a slightly more human, “Thank you, Mom.”
“You’re welcome, dear.”
A plate with dry toast appeared in front of her before Gretchen took the seat and sipped her coffee, her eyes smiling but judiciously averted.
Kathryn gauged her stomach’s stability, before taking a tentative bite of toast and sipping her tea. “I’m sorry.”
Kathryn set down her cup and gestured jerkily towards herself. “For this sorry excuse for a human being.”
Gretchen laughed, but not unkindly. “Oh, honey. You’re allowed to let loose every now and then, and I have a feeling it was long overdue. You have more than a little catching up to do, I’d say.” She reached over and rested the back of her fingers against Kathryn’s cheek. They were cool and comforting.
Kathryn sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“I know I am. I’m your mother.”
That made Kathryn chuckle. No one could ever accuse her mother of being less than forthright.
There were no half measures in Gretchen Janeway’s book, and it was that reassuring thread of truth that would be the first stitch of many to weave its way to repairing her tattered psyche and tie her pre-Voyager life to the one upon which she was now embarking.
Reaching up, she took her mother’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “It’s so good to be home.”
“I know and it will get better. Just give yourself time, Kathryn. You can’t expect it to all simply fall into place after everything you’ve experienced. I’ll be here if you need me but, remember, you’re a strong woman – we Janeways are – and you’ll find your way. Don’t ever doubt it. I know I don’t.”
An unfamiliar sting of tears pricked at Kathryn’s eyes but she swallowed them back, before giving her mother’s hand another squeeze. “I won’t.”
Gretchen stood, her usual brusque, matter-of-fact demeanor dropping into place. Kathryn found it as comforting as the glimpses of gentleness and understanding, and she could feel her equilibrium begin to settle more comfortably into its usual moorings.
She smiled as Gretchen bustled about the kitchen. It was the replay of a memory as old as time. This room had always been the hub of their home; a place above all others where her memories of family, friends, love and life were centered. She glanced around the familiar space. Holo-images of family - past and present - adorned almost every spare inch of wall.
Her face and Phoebe’s, at all stages of their childhood and beyond, beamed toothy - and toothless - grins from places in the haphazard display. A large corkboard covered in an array of sports ribbons, awards, faded drawings and precious scraps of memories, hung pride-of-place by the back door. These were the people and things that had been pivotal in the making of Kathryn Janeway and the solid foundation she so desperately needed to ground her.
Her heart filled with warmth and love for her family and, after enjoying the moment of calm reflection, she finally got to her feet and brought her dishes to the sink.
Her mother smiled at her and then waved her away. “Now, you go and get yourself sorted out. Head back to bed, if you like; I’ve got work to do.”
Kathryn shook her head. “Being horizontal has lost its allure after last night. I think I’ll go for a walk and clear my head.”
Gretchen nodded. “Rug up, there’s still a nip in the air.”
Smiling, Kathryn headed towards the door but turned back and watched her mother for another minute or two.
It was good to be home. So very good.
Snug in her jacket, Kathryn stood on the front porch and surveyed the familiar fields and woods that surrounded her childhood home. Nothing appeared to have changed during the seven years of her absence. In her mind, it defied logic. How could everything be so different but still the same? It was a conundrum, if ever there was one. She supposed that seven years in Bloomington, Indiana wasn’t all that long in the scheme of things. When the years were measured by the change of seasons, as they had been since time immemorial, seven years was but a brief interlude, a blip on the ageless time map of the corn and wheat and oak trees. It was perhaps something she should simply accept rather than question.
She’d think about it.
Spring was in the air, even though the chill of winter still hadn’t relinquished its hold. It was a beautiful time of year – probably her favorite – heralding the promise of new life and new growth.
If ever there was a clichéd metaphor for her life, this was it. But it fit the bill, so who was she to argue?
Inhaling a lungful of crisp country air, Kathryn jogged down the front steps and headed around the side of the house at a brisk pace, and onto the well worn path that led to the small rise behind the barn and out buildings. She’d been visiting this spot more and more often over the last few weeks. It gave her the perfect vantage point for sitting and looking out over the fields and low rolling hills and it gave her a sense of perspective and peace that she sorely needed.
She’d sit for hours at a time simply staring into the distance, her mind milling over random thoughts and memories - much like the endless hours she’d spent surveying the stars through the viewport in her Ready Room. Old habits died hard, it seemed, and she smiled to herself and her stubborn refusal to change her ways. She was nothing if not consistent.
She tugged her jacket close around her and wondered what her crew was doing. Were they pleased to be home? Were they content? She hoped so.
The initial weeks after their arrival had been fraught. Debriefings had been tedious and, at times, traumatic. Rehashing and re-evaluating decisions made under duress in the Delta Quadrant had taken an emotional toll on Kathryn that she hadn’t expected. It was an unavoidable reality of her position as captain and she’d endured it, as she knew she must.
Her greatest bugbear was that her interrogators had no frame of reference within which to couch their enquiries. Voyager’s experiences were unique and, although they questioned the reasoning behind many of her more radical decisions, they couldn’t come up with alternatives. And so, after six weeks of shouldering their evident disapproval, they’d thanked her for her time and sent her on her way. She was still awaiting their decision and news of whether or not she would be brought before a court martial. At first, she’d been outraged but, as time had gone on, she’d inured herself to the fact that the outcome was entirely out of her hands. She wasn’t happy about it, but she had found a measure of peace in accepting what she couldn’t change.
She smiled to herself and wondered what her crew would think about her embracing this new and unusually sanguine attitude.
They were never far from her thoughts but they had been playing on her mind more and more over the last week or so. She’d been in constant contact with most of her senior staff – a certain first officer the only exception. She grimaced, but refused to dwell on that thought, although, a pang of guilt wedged itself between her ribs.
She received daily messages updating her on the wellbeing and whereabouts of her shipmates, but she hadn’t seen them since leaving San Francisco at the end of her debriefings.
It was high time that she did and made a promise to herself that she would amend this oversight as soon as she got back to the house. She wondered how her mother would feel about inviting her senior staff to visit. She had a feeling that Gretchen would be only too pleased to reacquaint herself with the people she’d met so briefly on their arrival but who had played such a pivotal role in her daughter’s life over the last seven years.
The sharp edges of her grief had begun to round themselves off, it seemed. For that she was grateful. Time was the great healer – wasn’t it always said? And it appeared to be true. Who was she to argue with one of Aunt Martha’s favorite platitudes?
Kathryn leaned back on her elbows in the long grass and looked towards the sky and to the clouds drifting past.
Gretchen watched her daughter from the kitchen window. She’d been worried about her, although she’d tried hard not to let it show. This wounded woman who had recently disembarked from Voyager, was barely recognizable as the Kathryn she’d farewelled seven years ago. A pale and world-weary imitation was the best description she could conjure, and it had broken her heart to see her so demoralized.
But she knew Kathryn’s strengths and was relieved to see her fighting spirit coming to the fore once more.
She smiled to herself. Phoebe’s rather unorthodox methods of forcing Kathryn to relax had been successful and borne fruit.
But it appeared that Kathryn was unaware of just how fruitful they’d been. The half empty bottle of whiskey Gretchen had found in the living room that morning had worked its magic, and the frantic message from Chakotay – the one she’d found flashing on the comm. when she’d arrived home - was the positive result they’d hoped for.
It was apparent that Kathryn had no recollection of having contacted him - the disinhibiting effects of the alcohol had worked a treat. Bless Phoebe’s cotton socks.
Gretchen half-heartedly tried to stifle a grin.
Far be it from her to suggest that guzzling liquor and drunken calls in the middle of the night were a fix-all for every problem one might encounter, but perhaps there was a time and a place for such ill-considered undertakings. She couldn’t help a bubble of laughter from erupting and, pressing her fist to her mouth, she shook her head. Poor Kathryn was going to be appalled when she realized what she’d done, but if she didn’t care so much about Chakotay, she wouldn’t have done it – no woman would make such an ass of herself unless she was in love. Kathryn, especially.
Gretchen imagined that the man in question was probably on his way here at this very minute. But the less Kathryn knew about that, the better.
Kathryn’s feelings on the subject of Chakotay were no mystery to Gretchen, although they’d never discussed them – per se. The fact that his name was judicially avoided in conversation, glossed over if accidently mentioned, or the subject changed if the topic was heading in his direction, spoke volumes as far as she was concerned.
Fuel for the fire was his reaction to Kathryn’s midnight call. His immediate and worried response belied the depth of his feelings for the young Borg woman he was supposedly dating.
After seeing her daughter and Chakotay together on Voyager’s arrival, Gretchen had begun to wonder if what old Admiral Janeway had told Kathryn was the truth or whether she had manipulated the facts to suit her purpose. It was highly likely that the latter was the case.
Kathryn’s stubbornness was the stuff of legend and the Admiral would have known that she had a battle on her hands to convince her younger self to follow her plan. The coercive powers of manipulation and intimidation had never been strangers to her daughter and those traits rarely mellowed with age. Having intimate knowledge of Kathryn’s feelings gave Admiral Janeway an unrivalled advantage and, although they’d never know for sure what the Admiral’s motivation had been, Gretchen had a mother’s instinct about these things.
As for today’s machinations; she had no qualms about letting things run their course, but hoped that Chakotay was prepared for a fight. Kathryn wouldn’t go quietly – she’d been hurt by his defection - if that was the appropriate word to use – and Kathryn’s affection for Seven of Nine would not allow her to interfere.
However, from information gleaned from other members of Kathryn’s crew, there had always been an expectation that on their return to Earth, she and Chakotay would finally make official what everyone assumed had been a long standing but discreet love affair.
It was considered a done deal and Kathryn wasn’t the only one taken by surprise when word spread of Chakotay and Seven’s liaison – if that was really what was going on. Gretchen wasn’t convinced that any of it was true and she was looking forward to the outcome of Kathryn’s inebriated summons.
As her dear Aunt Martha used to say, ‘Nothing was set in stone.’
As if on cue, the doorbell chimed and Gretchen smiled. She had a strong suspicion who was there and, turning away from the window, made her way towards the front door.
The chime rang again just as she reached for the handle; she could feel his impatience radiating through timber panels.
Pulling the door open, she smiled benignly as she met the concerned countenance of Kathryn’s former first officer.
“Chakotay, how lovely to see you.”
“Mrs. Janeway. I’ve come to see Kathryn. Is she all right?”
He looked grim and a little agitated but was hiding his worry well.
“Come in, dear. She’s fine but not here at the moment. Can I offer you a coffee or tea?”
Frowning, he ran a hand through his hair and glanced distractedly around the living room. “She left me a message last night – I don’t know if she told you.” He glanced past her and down the hall. “Will she be home soon?”
Gretchen feigned ignorance. “A message? No she didn’t mention it. Did she ask you to come visit?”
He looked uncomfortable but held his ground. “No, well, sort of. Umm, not as such, but it was a bit hard to understand exactly what she was saying. She didn’t sound like herself. I was concerned...”
Gretchen nodded. “Ah. Well, I can show you where she is and perhaps you can discuss it with her.”
His shoulders slumped in relief. “So, she’s nearby.”
“Yes. Just up the hill behind the barn, in fact.” She gestured that he follow her, and took him through to the kitchen. Standing by the window, she pointed towards the top of the rise. “She’s up there. She likes to take walks and spend time in the open air.”
He nodded and glanced anxiously at the back door; he looked ready to bolt.
This was going to go well; Gretchen could feel it in her bones as she showed Chakotay the path and pointed the way. “Straight up there – you can’t miss her.”
She thought she heard him say, “Oh, yes I can.” But she wasn’t sure.
He strode off and Gretchen moved back to the window to watch him make his way up the hill to the spot where Kathryn usually sat. Crossing the fingers of both hands, she said a silent prayer to whoever might be listening that it would all go to plan. There were no guarantees – both Kathryn and Chakotay could be stubborn and mule-headed at the best of times – but at least having them in proximity with one another was a start.
It was probably time to make herself scarce.
Smiling to herself, she scribbled a quick note to Kathryn and left it on the table, snatched her coat and bag from the rack, and headed out the door. Phoebe was overdue for a visit and an update on Kathryn’s love life.
Being well clear of the house probably wasn’t a bad idea either. She wasn’t so old that she couldn’t remember what she and Edward used to get up to when the house was empty.
She smiled broadly and headed towards the transport station.
Chakotay clambered up the steep incline, but he couldn’t see her anywhere. He stopped, breathing hard from the exertion, and looked back down the path. This was the only way up to the top, so she had to be here somewhere, unless Gretchen had sent him on a wild goose chase.
He frowned in frustration. Surely, she wouldn’t.
“Kathryn!” He increased his pace. “Kathryn, where are you?”
He staggered and almost fell backwards when she sat bolt upright in the grass right in front of him.
“Shit! You scared me half to death.”
She wiped her hands on her trouser legs and stared at him. “What are you doing here?”
“Having a heart attack. Give me a minute.” He bent over with hands on his knees and breathed deeply.
Kathryn just stared at him, unmoving.
A few seconds later, he stood up. “Okay. Done.” He looked at her more closely. “Are you all right?”
“Perhaps, I should be asking you that question. Of course, I am. Why?”
“You sent me a garbled message last night. Something about home not being home, and missing the aliens and horses or something like that. It was hard to understand and it didn’t sound like you at all. You scared the hell out of me.”
Kathryn’s eyes were like saucers, her mind spinning like a pinwheel.
What had she done and how could she explain?
It was as simple as that. There was nothing she could say, and even less that she could do to excuse her behavior. If she could have stepped into oblivion in that moment, she would have done so without hesitation. Instead, she turned away, but even that wasn’t enough to stem the tsunami of embarrassment that threatened to overwhelm her.
She couldn’t believe she’d done something so appalling. How old was she? Twelve? If there’d been anything left in her to throw up, she would have, but nothing would fix this. Nothing at all.
Not knowing what else to do, she pulled her legs up, wrapped her arms around them, dropped her head onto her knees and wished with all her heart that the earth would open up and swallow her.
She felt him thump down next to her and his hand rested on her shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Kathryn, you’re scaring me now. What’s wrong?”
Mortification – it was a big word - but not big enough to describe how she felt. Oh, God! She couldn’t even imagine what she’d been thinking last night to have thought that calling him was a good idea. God, she must have been drunk as a lord.
She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t run or hide. He’d come rushing here to see if she was all right – worried that there was something terribly wrong with her. God, the man was a saint, and she was anything but.
There was nothing she could do, but laugh.
So she did.
It was either that or shatter into a million pieces.
Her shoulders began to shake with silent laughter. Drunk-calling! What a rookie move. God, she was so pathetic.
“Kathryn. Oh, hell, don’t cry. I’m sorry. I should have come sooner but I didn’t want to intrude upon your time with your mother.”
She couldn’t let him think that she was crying, so she slowly lifted her head and looked at him. Her eyes were bright with tears of laughter or shame, she wasn’t sure which, but when she saw his stricken face and realized what a complete ass she’d made of herself, she burst into gales of laughter.
His face went blank and he sat back staring at her. He looked bewildered, and that only made her laugh more.
She gasped, “Oh, Chakotay, I’m sorry but....”
Again, she was overcome.
His eyes were beginning to crinkle at the corners but he still looked a little dubious. “I’m not going to have to slap you, am I?”
She snorted between chuckles. “Not unless you want me to slap you back.” She took a deep breath and finally got herself under control. “Okay, you can relax. Hysteria over - for now.”
“So, you’re all right? You had me very worried. I haven’t heard from you for weeks and then there was this confusing message. What happened?”
Kathryn sighed. How could she answer him without losing all credibility and the minuscule amount of dignity she had left? But it was time to stop prevaricating. Perhaps if she told him the truth, he would understand – or not. Things couldn’t get any worse than they already were.
She met his eyes. “I was drunk.”
“I said, I was drunk. Last night.” He was still staring at her as though she was speaking a foreign language and his universal translator was on the fritz. “Last night, when I left you that message. Phoebe gave me a bottle of rye whiskey and I drank – well, a lot of it – and then called you.”
“You drunk-called me?”
“It seems so. I don’t remember, so I’ll have to take your word for it.”
“Let me assure you, you did.”
He shook his head in disbelief but there was a smile on his lips and a glimmer of humor in his eyes. “It’s a first. I suppose, I should be flattered.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Commander.”
“Ouch! I haven’t been ‘Commandered’ for months.” He raised his brows and shrugged. “It feels kind of good. I’ve missed it.”
She remained silent for a moment or two, mulling over what she was going to say. Out spilled words that defied her inner censor. “I’ve missed you.”
His head snapped around and he stared at her again, the look on his face was one she’d never seen before. “Missed me?”
She felt defensive for some reason. “What? Did you think I wouldn’t?”
“I didn’t know if you even thought about me.”
Kathryn huffed derisively and mumbled under her breath, “It’s all I seem to do.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Kathryn, tell me.”
She’d promised herself that she was going to stop dissembling and be honest. This was a test of sorts. “All right. I said that all I seem to do is think of you. Happy?”
“Not really, and I haven’t been for months. I’ve missed you too.”
She should have held her tongue and taken his admission at face value but, she couldn’t help herself. “How’s Seven?”
“Fine, I think. She’s with her family in Norway or Sweden or somewhere around there. I haven’t seen her since debriefings ended, so I’m not sure. I thought you’d been keeping in contact with her.”
She frowned. That wasn’t what she’d expected. “Why should I – she was with you.”
“But the Admiral said...”
He rolled his eyes and grunted. “That old witch. I’d ring her neck if I could get my hands on her. She took manipulation to an entirely new level. The woman was a menace.”
Kathryn frowned. She was tempted to point out that he was speaking about her – an older version, granted - but still her. However, she held her tongue. “I don’t understand. She told me that you and Seven were together and that you married.”
Chakotay made a dismissive gesture, both hands splayed outwards as he shrugged. “She said a lot of things, most of which weren’t true. B’Elanna wouldn’t talk to me for weeks until I found out about the rumors of my affair with Seven, and put an end to them.”
“Yes, we’d been on a couple of ‘dates’, but it was under the Doctor’s watchful eye and part of his plan to socialize Seven. There was nothing more to it than that.”
“But...” Again with the ‘but’. She really wasn’t making much sense but he insisted on interrupting.
“You heard the rumors too?” He looked at her and seemed angry.
Kathryn took a deep breath, determined to offer more than a one word sentence. “The Admiral spoke to me about it. I had no reason to doubt her word. She told me about Tuvok’s illness as well, and that was true. She also said that we lost twenty-two crew between that day and when she arrived home some sixteen years later.”
“Hmmm. Yes, well, twenty-two sounds like a lot when you say it that way. But think about it Kathryn. Over sixteen years, that’s a little over one crewman per year – not something one wants to contemplate – but, not bad odds when you look at it objectively. We lost many more than that in the seven years we were out there. And we both know – as do all Starfleet personnel – that it’s a dangerous job and there are bound to be losses.”
Kathryn sat for a moment and digested these revelations. They led to only one conclusion. “I’m a fool.”
“No, you’re not. She knew us better than we knew ourselves – she’d known us longer - and in the end, it was well worth the risk to follow her plan. Those twenty-two crewmen are alive today, Tuvok is well again, and if nothing else, you won’t finish up like her.”
“How do you know?”
“I won’t let it happen.”
“And, how are you going to stop it.”
“I’ll marry you.”
Kathryn knew her mouth was hanging open unattractively but all her muscles had turned to mush – her jaw included. Had he just said what she thought he’d said? God, even her inner monologue was incoherent.
Out of nowhere, she was overcome with a sudden blinding rage. How dare he just blurt that out? Who did he think he was – her damned savior? The gall of the man!
There was no way to know how she’d ‘finish up’? She might be even worse off than the Admiral if she married him. He made her crazy enough - mad as the proverbial hatter.
Her voice was brittle with fury. “Oh, lucky me. My heart’s all aflutter. Thanks, but no thanks.”
She made a move to stand up. All of a sudden, she couldn’t bear to be near him, but he placed a staying hand on her shoulder. She was tempted to shrug him off but that would be churlish, and she hadn’t sunk that low - yet.
His next words stunned her into stillness.
“I’m only answering the question you asked me last night.”
“What the hell are you talking about? What question?”
“Last night, when you called and left that message. You asked me to marry you.”
His face was an impassive mask and she wanted to punch him right in his impassive nose. But she had no recollection of what she’d said last night; she didn’t even remember making the call. Could she have done something as asinine as that? Asked him to marry her? For a moment she was paralyzed with shock, fear, and an unwanted thrill that was a little akin to abject joy.
But she had no memory of any of it. How could she possibly explain that away?
Denial was the only option. “I don’t believe you.”
He smiled with just a hint of smugness that made her see red.
“I’ve got the message here, if you want to hear it.” He pulled a personal communicator from his pocket.
She really didn’t want to listen to it, nothing good could come of it, but she probably should. Could she bear to hear her drunken ramblings? It was bound to be lowering, if not downright debilitating. How would she be able to look him in the eye after this?
She had to know though, so she gritted her teeth and nodded. “Go on, play it.”
Oh God, he did and she wished he hadn’t.
It began with a few seconds of silence, then a clatter and bump before her slurring voice came on the line.“Chakotay. Are you there? Damn it, where the hell are you? Chakotay?! You’re not there, are you?” There was some mumbling and then the sound of the cork being pulled from a bottle and the ‘glug-glug’ of liquid being poured into a glass. Her voice, drink roughened and slurred, continued. “I’m sorry. That’s the firsht thing I have to say. I should have told you but it was never the right time. Damn time to hell. Never enough, never. I missh it, you know – the Bridge, the aliens and I’m not sure I’m really home. Home’s not home and Voyager’s gone. I wish, oh, I wish we’d – no, no, I wish I hadn’t listened to her. It’s all gone now. So far away but I’d go back if it could be like it was. But it can’t. We can’t. You’re with her now and not me – I wish I’d said something but it’s too late. I’d change it. I would, if I could. I know now that it doesn’t matter. Starfleet don’t care – those stupid parameters – Oh, I wish.” She’d stopped to have another drink. “If wishes were horshes, huh? But you married her and you should have married me. God, I’m drunk.” The sound of another drink being poured filled the quiet and then, to Kathryn’s dismay, she was back again, stumbling over her words even more incoherently. “I love you. There, the truth at lasht. I love you. I should have told you yearsh ago but I was scared. No, not scared; wary and weary and yes... scared. I’m being honesht for a change. I’m so sick of lying and hiding and being brave. I want you. I want to be with you. I missh you. God, I’m going to regret this in the morning. But if I don’t ashk, I’ll always regret it. Will you marry me, Chakotay? Please. I’ll...”
“Turn it off!” Kathryn couldn’t bear to listen to another word. She was appalled and mortally embarrassed – even though most of what she’d said was true – which only made it worse.
She’d woken up with a monumental hangover this morning and feeling terrible, but it was nothing compared to the devastation she felt now. She’d have to go back to the Delta quadrant – she couldn’t stay in the same part of the galaxy with him after that performance. There was nowhere in the Alpha quadrant far enough away for her to hide. It was so much worse than she’d ever imagined. She couldn’t look him. She needed to go. To leave, and never come back.
“Don’t.” She was beyond tears. She was beyond pretty much everything.
He reached for her but she jerked away from his touch.
“No! Don’t say anything.”
“I have to.”
“No you don’t. There’s nothing you can say that could make that in any way acceptable. I’m sorry. It’s all I can say. I’d like you to go.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
She took a deep breath and was appalled to note that it had hitched on the inhale. Tears weren’t that far away, after all.
And that was just what she needed – tears. Her pathetic-ness knew no bounds. “Then I’ll go.”
She was teetering on the brink of hysteria now, and turned to him, anguish written on every line on her face and her words were drenched in it. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothing.” He rested his hand on hers and held it gently. “I just want you.”
She shook her head. “How could you possibly want anything to do with that?” Snatching her hand away, she gestured towards the handheld device. She glared at it as though it were a hissing snake. “Delete it.”
He placed the device back in his pocket. “I’m not going to do that.”
“But you have to. I can’t bear the thought of anyone hearing it, not even you. Please, Chakotay.”
He shook his head and smiled sadly. “No one will ever hear it. Will you marry me, Kathryn?”
She tried to swallow past the burning lump in her throat, the one that felt like it was coated in shards of glass. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life.”
“Serious? I’m a joke – you have the evidence right there to prove it.”
“I’m not laughing. So much of that needed to be said and it doesn’t matter that you were drunk or sober. If it’s true, it doesn’t matter. I love you and I’m asking you to spend the rest of your life with me.”
She didn’t know what to say. It was everything she’d hoped for, but she felt so wretched that any joy she felt was submerged in a mire of humiliation so deep that she could barely breathe. How could he possibly feel anything but pity for her?
“I...” She didn’t know what to say or if she could even get the words out. Her breaths were jagged hiccups now and she knew without a doubt, she was about to cry - and not just a few delicate tears trickling attractively down her cheeks. Oh, no. This was going to be a conflagration - a tidal wave of tears; an accumulation of every single one she’d stifled and withheld for years. As the architect of Voyager’s predicament, she’d refused to allow herself the indulgence; all the time pushing her anguish aside, boxing it up and squeezing it down inside herself - so far down that it had festered and poisoned her soul.
And now, it was as though something had burst open inside her and all those years of control had been for naught. All those emotions she’d so diligently withheld were storming to the surface, and she had neither the strength nor the wherewithal to hold them in anymore.
She could hear the ghastly choking sounds she was making but could do nothing to silence them or to quell the coming onslaught of sobs and noisy weeping. Her body was being wracked by heaving shudders and she didn’t know where to turn or what to do. She felt herself flail in panic, ready to run but unable to move.
Suddenly, Chakotay scooped her up and hauled her onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around her – warm, strong arms that held her against his chest, his hand cupping the back of her head and holding it against his shoulder.
He said nothing. He didn’t try to stop her or soothe her or tell her that everything would be all right. Thank God. There would have been no point anyway – she was blind and deaf to everything but her grief and anguish – all the years of it – exploding into this cataclysmic eruption of grief and loss.
This was what she’d feared from the moment Voyager had touched down. Those sturdy emotional walls she’d erected to keep herself sane and safe had finally crumbled and her mind was now prisoner of a despair that she could not control.
She was crying in great wracking sobs dredged from the depths of her soul, and she didn’t think she’d ever be able to stop.
Kathryn slowly opened her eyes; a brief moment of disorientation was quickly followed by a deluge of unwanted realizations. She sat up with a jolt.
She was on her bed, covered with a blanket, but she wasn’t alone.
Chakotay was beside her, lying fully clothed on top of the covers. He turned towards her and, elbow bent, propped his head on his hand and smiled gently. “Hi, there.”
She looked down at him and blinked a couple of times. Her eyeballs felt as though someone had taken them out, dipped them in sand and replaced them, and she didn’t even want to think about how she must look. She’d never been a pretty crier and after that display, she must look like hell.
She couldn’t think of anything to say.
Chakotay filled the quiet with an answer to her unasked question. “You finally cried yourself to sleep and I carried you down and put you to bed.”
The bare facts only, he discreetly avoided all of the ghastly, soggy realities of dealing with someone having an out-of-control crying jag. How like him to be so considerate.
She took a deep breath, pleased that there were no hiccups or shudders accompanying it. “How...” Her voice was a croak, so she cleared her throat and tried again. “How long did I sleep? And where’s my mother?”
He raised himself up a little higher to look at the clock on the bedside table behind her. “About two hours and your mother is visiting Phoebe. She left a note.”
“Oh. I didn’t know.”
“I would have stayed anyway.”
She didn’t know what else to say and she wasn’t sure quite what she was thanking him for. There was a long list of things that qualified.
He shrugged. “No problem.”
A half smile momentarily touched her lips but was gone even before she realized it was there. She glanced out the window. It meant she could avoid his all-knowing gaze for a few minutes longer.
She should be humiliated by what happened and she was, to an extent, but oddly, she also wasn’t. She had been filled with shame and remorse before she’d cried herself empty – but now she felt free, unburdened somehow, as though the tears had washed away all the brackish and fetid mess from her insides. She frowned. None of that really made any sense but it was as close as she could come to an explanation.
Clean, or rather, emotionally cleansed was perhaps the best she could do to articulate how she felt. She supposed that’s what tears were for, and maybe she’d done herself a disservice by denying herself their emotional outlet whilst she was on Voyager. Holding them in hadn’t done her any apparent favors – today’s breakdown was clear evidence of that – but how would she excuse her behavior to Chakotay.
He reached for her hand and wove his fingers through hers. She was forced to look at him.
He lifted her hand and kissed her fingers before resting their joined hands on the bed between them. “We’re a pair.”
She frowned. “How do you figure that?”
“I’ve shed my share of tears as well.”
She stared at him. “When?”
“This afternoon and on other days as well.” When she looked a little closer, she could see that his eyes were red rimmed. He probably had cried – she wasn’t sure why knowing that made her feel better, but it did. He’d lived through the same ordeal as she had, and probably dealt with his emotions in much the same way as she, so he was well within his rights to his own emotional outpourings.
All her justifications still sounded hackneyed and trite, though.
“I’m sorry, Kathryn.”
A frown knitted her brows together. “Whatever for?”
He heaved a weary sigh. “Everything, anything. Where to begin?” He sat up and leaned back against the headboard, still holding her hand in his. It didn’t look as though he was going to let go anytime soon.
Kathryn was more pleased about that than she had a right to be.
He pulled their clasped hands onto his thigh and covered both of them with his other hand, stroking her thumb with his. “I knew the pressure you were under was wearing you down; the strain and the worry were too much. I just didn’t know how to go about changing how we dealt with it. Parameters, protocols, regulations – whatever you want to call them – I should have insisted that we did things differently.”
She was confused. “What things? And are we forgetting who insisted upon those parameters? I was the captain, if you remember.”
“How could I forget?” He smiled at her kindly, which made her heart yearn for something – she wasn’t sure what. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “What I mean is that I should have been more open with you. Supported you more, been more of a sounding board, not only professionally but personally as well. I let you down.”
“What rubbish!” It was almost a bark.
He grinned, not the least bit perturbed by her harsh retort. “That’s the Kathryn Janeway that I know and love.”
She huffed and then frowned. “Love?”
“Oh, yes. Most definitely. I told you, but I don’t think you were listening.”
“I hope you’re not sorry that I love you.”
She didn’t answer right away. “No, but you might be.”
“Never. I’ve loved you for years and probably should have told you.”
“I think you tried once or twice but I didn’t – or rather, I couldn’t – acknowledge it.”
“Yes – no - not really.” She huffed a humorless laugh. “Now, there’s a straightforward answer for you.” She took a deep breath; it was a relief to finally talk this through after years of keeping all these feelings buried so deep. “They were a good excuse, though. Voyager, the crew, the Delta quadrant – any and all of the above. And I was the captain. I just couldn’t. The reasons don’t make much sense now that we’re home and after going through debriefings and discovering that no one expected me to be super human. But while we were out there and so isolated, I thought it had to be that way. It was the only way I knew how to get through each day, although it wasn’t the right thing to do, as it turns out. I’ve been more than a little lost since we got back. I thought that getting home would solve all my problems but geography is just a change of venue and no substitute for dealing with the issues at hand. I was drowning and should have asked for help.”
“And I should have seen what was happening, but I think we were all struggling to keep our heads above water. Seven years of fighting for our survival, day in, day out, is too much to ask of anyone – you, me, the crew – it was unrelenting.”
“There were good times too. I’ve been reminding myself of those over the past few weeks. And we shouldn’t overlook what we achieved out there – the lives we saved, the civilizations we positively influenced and the knowledge we gained. If it were purely on those grounds that Voyager’s mission was being judged, then we were more than successful. But it’s not as simple as that, is it?”
He smiled. “No. Nothing is ever that simple. But you’re right about our achievements and it augers well to keep that in mind. It’s easy to forget.”
Kathryn shrugged. “I’m not trying to gild the lily. I am the one who wailed and sobbed all over you a few hours ago.”
“Did you? I don’t remember.”
Another tentative smile lit her face. “That’s very gallant of you, but I don’t mind, really. I needed it – it’s been simmering away inside me for years – and I’m so glad you were with me.”
“So am I.” He moved a little closer to her and briefly ran his fingers down her cheek and his thumb across her lips before his hand dropped to his side once more. “I don’t think I’ve actually thanked you for the risks you took in getting us home. But you did it and now we have an opportunity to move forward with our lives in ways we never could have done out there. I owe you for that.”
“You owe me nothing and it wasn’t just me. The Admiral played her part – as did everyone else.”
“Hmmm. Yes, well, I’m still not quite sure what her game was, but I guess if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be here now. Maybe that was her plan all along.”
“Perhaps. But I don’t want to think about her. She’s gone, or she won’t ever be – or something along those lines. Damn, those temporal paradoxes. I never could get my head around them without finishing up with a migraine.”
Neither of them said anything for several minutes but Kathryn was very aware of his presence beside her and the soothing pressure of his thumb stroking along hers. How strange it was that something so non-sexual was arousing feelings in her that she hadn’t acknowledged for longer than she could remember. Today had been a watershed moment for her, literally and figuratively.
Her long-dreamed-of future was suddenly within her grasp and all she had to do was make the decision to reach out and grab it – literally and figuratively.
She smiled to herself and then took a deep breath. “I meant what I said last night. In amongst all that terrible muddle, what I said was true. I do love you and should have told you long ago.”
The only indication that he had heard her was the slight hesitation in the rhythm of his stroking. It was enough to assure Kathryn that he understood and she reached over and cupped the side of his face. “If you’re willing, and the offer still stands. Will you marry me?”
His eyes found hers and held her gaze. “Yes, but only if you’ll marry me?”
He huffed out a breath. “Well, that’s a relief. Thank goodness that’s out of the way.”
She smiled. It was the first genuine smile she’d allowed herself in weeks and she wanted to kick herself for being so proud and obtuse. She hadn’t realized just how damaged she was but she would heal – she knew that now. Having Chakotay with her would help but, she knew from experience, that healing was an internal exercise – it wasn’t his or anyone else’s burden to bear - although she knew he’d gladly help her.
She slid lower on the bed and rolled onto her side facing him and studied their clenched hands, before she brought them to her lips and kissed his fingers just as he had kissed hers earlier. His hand unfurled and rested against her cheek.
She leaned into it. “Did Mom’s note mention when she was likely to get back?”
“It said that she’d see you tomorrow.” He raised one brow in question.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Subtlety has never been one of my mother’s strong suits. Nor mine, it seems.”
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers in a sweet gentle kiss – their first. “I’ll erase the message if you really want me to.”
She shook her head. “No don’t. We’ll probably be able to laugh about it later – much later - and our grandchildren might like to hear how grandma and grandpa got married. It also carries a salient lesson on the evils of the demon drink.”
She could tell that he liked those ideas but he hedged around it. “Is Phoebe off the hook?”
“Of course. It’s not like she forced the liquor down my throat. That was all my own doing. I should have known better and, promise me, if it ever happens again, you’ll keep me well away from any comm. units in the vicinity. Obviously, I’m not to be trusted.”
He chuckled. “Can I ask you something, Kathryn?”
“Anything. I’m an open book.”
He shot her a telling look but he was smiling. “When did you know you loved me?”
Pillow talk – she’d forgotten how delightful it was to lie beside someone you loved and bare your soul. She sighed happily. “Well, I was attracted to you from the first moment you beamed onto the Bridge. You’re a striking man, Chakotay, but,” She paused for a moment, thinking. “It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t love you, but I think if I had to pinpoint a moment it was the day you introduced me to my animal guide.”
He nodded. “Ahh, I remember. The coffee nebula. That was a good day.”
“Yes, we didn’t get digested by a giant space dwelling organism; I guess that qualifies as ‘a good day’.” Her lips twitched with amusement, but internally she was swamped with relief. To be able to see the funny side of something that was potentially a disaster meant she was on her way back. Thank the stars. She edged a little closer to him and looked up. “What about you? When did you know you loved me?”
“Well, I’m afraid I’m going to be very dull. I was a goner almost from the first day.”
Kathryn muttered. “Coup de foudre?”
He nodded. “Yes. Love at first sight, but I do remember a particular moment. Harry brought you to Sandrine’s for the first time and you pretended not to know one end of a pool cue from the other. We were all very accommodating and deferential and then you turned around and cleared the table in four shots. You’re a flimflam merchant to be feared, Kathryn Janeway and I knew from that moment on that I was yours.”
Kathryn laughed. “Oh, I really did enjoy that. The expressions on your faces were priceless, and when I potted the black without looking at it, poor Tom was never the same after that.”
“Neither was I. When you asked for my stick…” He shook his head in amused disbelief. “I thought my knees were going to buckle. I was completely besotted and wanted you desperately.”
“The feeling was mutual but I wasn’t very subtle, was I? It was early days, though, and I was still filled with the certainty that we’d find a way home within a matter of weeks.” She tucked her head against his shoulder and relaxed against him, the heat of his body and the familiar scent of him unfurling a need within her that was becoming difficult to subdue.
He shifted so that he could hold her and pull her tight against his side. “There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and I’m not talking about today’s deluge of tears.”
“I thought you’d forgotten about that?”
“Oh, I had, that’s right.”
She wriggled even closer and sighed, her hand coming to rest over his heart. It beat strong and steady under her hand. “You said my mother wasn’t coming home until tomorrow morning?”
“That’s what the note said.”
Kathryn made a decision – although, it wasn’t really a decision at all – it was the first step towards her future and their happiness.
She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “I’m going to have a shower.”
He nodded but didn’t say anything.
She stood and turned back towards him, her hand extended. “Join me?”
He went very still and then looked directly into her eyes.
She shook her head. “Please don’t ask if I’m sure about this. I’m more sure of this than anything else in my life. I don’t have a doubt in the world.”
He grinned. “I like my showers hot.”
Her mouth softened into a brilliant smile. “Demanding man.” She took a step closer to the bed, her hand still outstretched. “Me too.”
He grabbed her hand and clambered across the bed, then pivoted to his feet. Standing in front of her, he relinquished his hold and cupped her face; his palms warm against her cheeks, his thumbs pressing ever so gently against her parted lips.
The breath she inhaled felt as though it held no oxygen, she breathed again and he bent closer, his exhale whispering over her lips, mingling with hers. And then he kissed her. This was no friendly peck or gentle buss on the lips. This was a deep dredging kiss, a prelude to lovemaking, a kiss that shook the foundations of her world and pulsed deep inside her, spreading warmth and causing a deep liquid ache.
He eased back and met her half closed eyes with his, but before he could step away, she wrapped her arms around his neck, and closing the gaps between them, pressed her open mouth to his.
They kissed with a hungry abandon – all the years of want and need converging to this one point - the meeting of their lips – but it was a meeting of so much more. Swamped with the thundering and billowing need to be nearer to him, to be a part of him, Kathryn poured all the years of self-denial, sacrifice and pure, unadulterated love into this one kiss.
It stole their breath away, sucked the air from the room and they pulled away gasping and laughing and choking back tears.
It was everything she’d ever imagined it would be and the closest she’d ever come to bliss.
On reflection, they decided later, their first round of lovemaking, although enthusiastic in the extreme, wouldn’t win any prizes for finesse or elegance. But neither Kathryn nor Chakotay cared. They were both out of practice but, like riding the proverbial bike, the fundamentals came back with vivid and startling clarity once they got into the swing of things.
They’d laughed, and Kathryn had even snorted once, as they made their staggering way up the hallway to the bathroom, neither of them willing to relinquish their hold on one another, the thought of losing contact something akin to a catastrophe. They kissed open-mouthed and hungrily, swallowing each other’s moans and cries, ravenous for the taste of each other and the wet feel of mouths and lips and tongues.
They removed their clothes in a series of moves that would have made a circus contortionist proud, but would likely warrant a round of the Doctors intensive osteopathic pressure therapy to get everything back in working order again.
Sex, after years of abstinence, was a delightful but dangerous business. Elbows, shoulders and various other extremities bumped into walls. Cupboards and bookcases were in danger of being toppled; tables were knocked hither and thither, and an unlucky ornament or two made the ultimate sacrifice; but Kathryn and Chakotay were oblivious.
They finally made it to the bathroom and between gasps and shudders of delight, Kathryn ordered the water on to ‘hot’ and they tumbled into the shower recess, the warm spray doing nothing to diminish their passion.
With the cool of the shower’s tiles at her back, in stark contrast with the searing heat of Chakotay and the water running down her front, Kathryn was almost boneless with lust. When Chakotay hoisted her into his arms, her legs wrapped around his hips and he entered her with one hunching thrust. She groaned and he lifted her higher, grunting words she could not understand but that spoke to her in a primal language of need and crushing desire. The pleasure of their joining took her breath away; the fullness, the stretch, the joy of being as close to the man she loved as it was possible to be, was something new and rich and healing.
It was elemental, it was raw and at times, savage, but it was them and the glory of it had been seven years in the making.
She came quickly, all quaking moans and a startled cry, her inner muscles clamping around him in a series of pulsing jolts. He followed close behind, his lust no match for her body’s demands. Heaving and rigid against her, his face buried in the space between her breasts, the spreading warmth of his release almost hotter than the water tumbling over both of them, she surrendered to the wash of feelings and the all-encompassing love she felt for the man in her arms.
Out of practice, they may have been, but all the essentials were there and by the time they made it back to the bedroom, he was hard again and she was once again filled with a quivering need that stabbed persistently at a place close to her womb.
The second time they made love was no less intense than the first but, with the merest edge of their ardor sated, Chakotay took his time to touch her – everywhere. His fingers, his mouth, his teeth and his tongue traveled over every inch of her body, learning with intimate care, what made her jolt and squirm, gasp and writhe. Kathryn surrendered to the sensations, more in love with him than ever and, after the emotional roller coaster ride of the day, more than willing to allow him any freedom he desired.
She came once with his mouth clamped against her sex, his tongue pressing deep inside her and then again as he drove deep within her, his forehead pressed to hers, the weight of his upper body on his forearms but with their lower bodies joined and so close that there was not a hair’s breadth between them. He barely moved, simply ground against her, the pressure on all the right places and aimed with almost pinpoint accuracy. She howled as she climaxed; the intensity a wash of white behind her eyelids and when he came, he collapsed on her, his weight heavy but welcome, a living breathing security blanket.
She wrapped her arms around him and fell into a deep, sated sleep.
They made love twice more during the night; each time better than the last, until exhaustion took hold and still tangled together, they slept just as the sky began to lighten with the coming dawn.
It was just past nine o’clock when Gretchen opened the front door and quietly clicked it closed behind her. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened – what she expected to hear, she wasn’t sure but the house was silent.
She placed her bag and coat on a nearby table and wrestled with a moment of indecision. It didn’t last long. Tiptoeing up the stairs, she stood outside Kathryn’s room and, before she could change her mind, turned the handle and peeked into the dimness beyond.
They were fast asleep and wrapped in each other’s arms.
With a satisfied smile, she closed the door and trotted down the stairs. Phoebe would be pleased, as would a hundred and fifty crewmen dotted throughout the quadrant. She was so relieved.
As she walked into the kitchen, she noticed the ribbon bedecked bottle of rye that had been the catalyst for this wonderful turn of events.
Smiling to herself, she slipped the ribbon over the neck of the bottle and grabbing a thumbtack from the drawer, pinned the ribbon dead centre for all to see on the corkboard near the backdoor.
She stood back to admire her work; grinned broadly and sighed with relief.
Today was a very good day.