Chakotay sat alone at a table in a corner of the mess hall waiting for Kathryn to arrive, but his mind was years away—back in the Delta Quadrant. Back on New Earth. Back to a promise he'd made himself almost five years ago.
He remembered the feel of her fingers intertwined with his and the gentle tears streaming down her face, finally allowing the barriers to fall.
"Is that really an ancient legend?" She'd asked him, that all-knowing smile on her face.
"No, but that made it easier to say." He would have said more, but that was the first time she'd ever allowed him to be open—he wasn't about to rush it.
He leaned over, softly wiping a tear from her face with his free hand, never wanting to let her go with the other. He brought her hand to his lips. "You can define parameters if you need to, but I don't really think that's necessary. Not anymore."
"Chakotay, you have to know that this is difficult for me." Her thoughts were scattered from her rank to Mark, to her hope of returning to Voyager but also to the energy that was coursing through her hand in his. Giving in to all she felt for him meant giving all that up.
"I know it is, Kathryn. But the way I look at it, we've got all the time in the world. It's just you and me now. Please be honest with yourself. With me."
"How can I let go of hope that we'll leave here someday? Hope of ever seeing Earth again."
"I don't see it that way." He readjusted his seat and took both of her hands in his. "I see it as looking forward to what we have—or could have. A life, quiet and peaceful. You know I'd do anything to make you happy."
"I know," she said gratefully. He did have a point, what if this was their life now. He'd already given her so much, even before they were stranded there. "But what makes you happy, Chakotay?" She was terrified of his answer, and rightly so.
"You." They stared at each other for a minute as he tried finding the right words and she fought a war inside her head. "I want to build a life with you, Kathryn. Here or anywhere. I always have. I want to build that log cabin for us. I want to explore this world with you. I want us to finally have the freedom to be together, unconstrained and start a family someday." He heard her gasp—one step too far, but he didn't regret it.
"Children?" Suddenly the war reached a deafening volume and she could hardly think. She'd resigned the idea of being a mother shortly after the destruction of the array, but that fire was one she'd never been able to extinguish. The idea that she would still have that option was threatening every ounce of hope for being saved that she clung to. She pulled her hands away and rubbed her head which was aching from her internal battle.
He wanted to press on but he knew if he was ever going to make this work she had to come to it on her own time. "I'm sorry. It's not my intention to push you." He assured her.
She stood and he mirrored the action. "I-I need to rest. To think." She stepped back and turned toward her bed as he slowly moved to intercept. He laid a very cautious hand on her face and smiled slightly when he saw the pleasant shiver it sent through her body.
"Ok. Just please promise me that you'll consider it." He stared into her eyes, he was fully aware of all the doubts and hopes and wishes she was clinging to. He brought his face closer to hers and she feared, yet longed for their lips finally meeting. Instead, he bent down and rested his forehead on hers, for just a moment. "Good night, Kathryn." She could feel the heat from his breath; it was twisting her stomach into knots, rendering her speechless. And before she'd been able to remind herself to exhale he was gone, safely behind the partition in his own bed and the house had gone dark. She all but stumbled back into her own bed, finally willing herself to blink in what had to be minutes.
Sleep wasn't coming easily. She couldn't ignore what she missed—her friends, her family, her career. She'd given so much up when they got stranded in this quadrant, she wasn't sure she'd ever lose hope of seeing it all again. But then a life lived without hope is hardly any life at all.
She'd always hoped to start a family, in spite of her choice of profession. If she hadn't left Earth she knew she and Mark would have one by now. But realistically, even if they did find some way off the planet and back to the Alpha Quadrant, by then it would likely be too late for them.
Back on Voyager she'd seldom allow herself to think of Chakotay in that way—let alone starting a life with him. She wasn't prone to idle fantasies, but that didn't mean the idea had never crossed her mind. She'd imagined that in another life—without Starfleet and the Maquis, even without Mark and Voyager they could have had a wonderful life.
'Kathryn, you're here. There is no Starfleet, no Maquis and there is no Mark. Not anymore,' a tiny part of her heart reminded her. Her eyes flew open at this revelation before her head began to betray itself too. 'How can you ever have a future when you spend your present living in the past?' She sat up in the bed slowly, a million ideas swirling around inside. He'd been right all along. Chakotay had been trying to help her see that, for weeks. She stood, resolutely and slowly walked the length of the shelter until she found herself sitting on his bed, facing away from him.
He felt her next to him and turned his head to look at her, though she couldn't seem to look at him. "Kathryn?" He slowly sat up and she brought herself to meet his gaze.
"Grace." She said softly and he swore he saw her entire face light up. He looked puzzled, so she took a deep breath and allowed herself to continue. "For a girl. I always liked the name Grace."
His heart leapt. Could this be? He'd been lying there searching for the best way to make a smooth recovery and keep their friendship intact and here she was—ready. His joy was written all over his face as he laid a firm hand against her cheek, bracing himself for the moment he'd been awaiting for nearly two years. He pulled her to him and met her lips with a spark of passion that could have stopped both their hearts. It took a second for him to notice that she was kissing him back, her arms finding their way around his neck. He deepened the kiss and his insides went wild as she, without parting, separated the covers and lay right next to him.
"Chakotay?" She asked when he suddenly stopped and propped himself up on his elbow, looking down at her. His hand brushing back her hair.
"Grace sounds perfect." She smiled at his approval and guided his lips right back to hers. His hand, which had started on her face, was now slowly, methodically making its way down her side toward the strings to her nightgown. As soon as his gentle warm hand was on her skin they both felt all the walls came crashing down.
"Chakotay." The Captains voice brought him back to reality at warp speed. He shook his head slightly, refocusing his eyes. She was sitting right across from him at the table.
"Captain." He didn't really feel the title was necessary at the time, but it was more a personal reminder to his surroundings. "I thought you were going to stand me up." Her face was glowing and he wasn't sure he could take all the credit.
"Axum. He'll be aboard in about four hours."
"Wow. Well, I'm sure that story is enough to make every man on this ship work a little harder." Only a few of the senior staff who knew Seven well knew the true nature of her relationship with their ally from Unimatrix Zero, let alone what he must have done to make his way to her. "Impressive."
"Agreed," she grinned. "Where were you just now?" When she'd first come into the mess hall he'd looked like he was in a trance.
A sly smile crept along his lips, "A long way from here. But I promised you breakfast."
"Yes, you did. What's on the menu today?"
"Well, since replicator rations are officially a thing of the past I can get you just about anything your heart desires. That is unless you'd like Chell's special of the day… Okaran Eggs Benedict—Arnold," he finished shaking his head and she let loose a hearty laugh.
"I think we can manage to tempt the culinary fates one last time while we're here," she said as he rose to go get their plates, grabbing his arm before he walked away she reminded, "Just so long as you remember the coffee."
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it. I'd like to return to Earth in one piece," he admitted not willing to imagine a world that would deprive Captain Kathryn Janeway of her coffee.
He returned with a try and with wrinkled noses they began their breakfast.
"Mmm," Kathryn mumbled, chewing slowly. He looked at her, warily having not taken his first bite yet.
"Mmm good?" He asked and her response was a very rapid head shake as she reached for her coffee to help her swallow it down.
"Mmm interesting," she told him once she'd successfully downed her first bite. He now sat staring at the huge bite on his fork, trying to decide if he should go through with it or not. "It's not awful," she reassured him. "But it's nothing like my mother's Eggs Benedict. We'll have to make plans to go and redeem ourselves once we get home." At the same time they looked up at the other. This was the first time either of them had mentioned anything about future plans.
"You're going to take me home to meet your mother?" His expression mischievous, his dimpled grin unmistakable.
"The thought had crossed my mind," she replied coyly, braving another bite of her eggs.
He reached over and took her hand. "I'd be honored." Their air of flirtation was cut short by a sound at the next table. Ensign Kim had set his tray down with a clamor, breaking their gaze and concentration.
"You know," he started in a hushed voice. "If you're trying to be discreet you might not want to do that here." He informed them, beginning to devour his stack of replicated pancakes.
"Captain, I've been wondering. What exactly is Starfleet's punishment for eavesdropping and harassing members of the command team?" Chakotay asked in a light but serious tone.
"They take it very seriously, Commander." She shook her head gravely. "One week in the brig, at least." As she finished she turned to give Harry a menacing look. Though he knew they were kidding he still shifted nervously in his seat. "I thought you were headed to your quarters, Ensign?"
"Can't sleep on an empty stomach, Captain." And with that he turned his attention back to his plate as Seven approached with her own.
"May I join you, Ensign?" She asked and he nodded, unable to speak with a mouth full of food. She sat, a polite nod directed at the pair at the next table.
"How are you, Seven?" The captain wondered.
"I'm fine, Captain. Just experiencing a little apprehension. The removal of my fail-safe device has made this much more emotional than I would have expected." She seemed uneasy as she admitted this to her crewmates.
"But isn't that the point?" Harry interjected.
"Yes, I suppose it is. Though still it remains unsettling." Kathryn leaned over and rubbed her forearm.
"It'll get easier, you're doing wonderfully."
"You should bring him to the party tonight," said Harry. A statement that drew curious glances from captain and commander.
"Thank you, Harry. But I believe he will likely spend his time on Voyager in sick bay until we have arrived in San Francisco.
"Party?" Chakotay asked, looking at Kathryn. "Did you hear anything about a party?"
Shaking her head and then looking at Harry she replied, "I guess we weren't invited, Commander."
"No, no. Of course you're invited. Everyone is." Harry assured them. "Some of us just thought we'd like to have one last get together—just the crew before we get home and aren't able to see each other every day. It's a black-tie cocktail party at 20:00 hours here in the mess hall."
"I think that's a fantastic idea! Kathryn exclaimed.
"Absolutely," chimed in Chakotay. He glanced over at his captain. "Would you do me the honor of accompanying me this evening, Captain?" He tried to sound as formal and professional as he could—asking for a date.
Meanwhile Kathryn was working hard to keep her excitement in check. "I'd be delighted, Commander." Instead of losing herself in his eyes she broke their gaze and turned to Seven. "I know Axum won't be able to make it, but you really should attend. I think you'd enjoy yourself and I'm sure everyone else would appreciate seeing you."
"No buts. Don't make me order you because I will if it comes to that. Why don't you talk to the Doctor and work on an outfit for yourself, let your hair down." She gave the girl a reassuring smile. "It'll be a nice distraction."
"Yes, sir," she unwillingly complied.
Shortly thereafter, once they had forced down the last of their breakfast Chakotay gathered their plates and recycled them then refreshed the captain's coffee. They headed out into the corridor and stopped a few feet from the doors.
"So what's on your agenda today," he wondered, standing just an inch too close to her.
"Agendas, actually. Admiral Paris sent our orders for the next couple days. Events, debriefings, temporary quarters assignments—that sort of thing. What about you?"
"I have a couple reports of my own to collect. Right now I need to head to Engineering and get Vorik's update on the repairs down there." He glanced around making sure no one was near, then took her hand and quickly but intimately kissed her, right below her ear. "I'll see you on the bridge then," dimples returning as he turned the other direction and slowly let go of her hand.
"Yes you will," she replied, her face beginning to flush as her stomach did somersaults. She wandered toward the turbo lift oblivious of a crewman who had ducked quickly down a hallway, hoping to remain out of sight.
Tom let out a sigh of relief when she was no longer in view. His eyes were wide in disbelief as he high-tailed it into the mess hall and to where Harry and Seven were seated. Slightly out of breath he dropped down into an empty chair and placed both of his hands on the table.
"You are not going to believe what I just saw in the corridor," he exclaimed. Harry glanced at him suspiciously and then his eyebrows instinctively rose as he put the pieces together.
"Seven, would you excuse us for a moment?" He wondered as he started to his feet.
"Don't worry, Ensign. I must return to the astrometrics lab—you two may stay and I will see you both this evening." She dropped her tray at the replicator and was gone before Tom could figure out what was going on.
"Harry trust me, you wanna hear this," Tom promised. "I was headed in to get some food when I came around a corner and saw Chakotay—"
"Shh!" Harry scolded. "Keep it down-what do you want the whole ship to know their business?" Tom looked perplexed, did Harry know? But how?
He agreed, however and continued at a whisper. "He was kissing the Captain's neck and they were holding hands. Don't you see what this means?" Tom asked incredulously.
"Yeah, it means you're out of the betting pool," Harry retorted with a smirk, but Tom was still confused.
"How on Earth could you possibly have known?"
"I'm not at liberty to divulge that information, sorry," he said sheepishly.
"You know I am your superior, Ensign. I could order you to talk."
"Nice try, Lieutenant but you'd have to take that up with the Captain herself. But I'll tell you what I told her; it's about time." With that, they both nodded in agreement.