Disclaimer: the characters are obviously not mine. Copyright: Paramount/Kirsten Beyer

AN: Set a little after Kirsten Beyer's 'A Pocket Full of Lies', this story is more or less consistent with the universe of the novels. I've read the Voyager re-launch ones, but that's about it, so if you're looking for total Trek consistency, you may want to give this is a miss, as I may have things in this that don't fit with all the other books.

Admiral Janeway and Captain Chakotay are back on Earth after the Full Circle Mission. Voyager is in spacedock and debriefings have just finished.


Big thank you to northernexposure for the beta read and to Photogirl1890 for the typo check xxx


The Only Constant

Chapter One

I thought he was going to propose.

When he called I was totally engrossed in writing a report. He said he needed to see me urgently. That it couldn't wait until tonight. Said to meet him at my apartment, that he'd be there in less than an hour. He sounded nervous, but my mind was still on the report at the beginning of the call, and by the time I started to really pay attention, he'd cut the connection.

So, I thought he might be going to propose.

At some point over the past two months, I'd actually stopped thinking of myself as fated never to find lasting happiness in love.

Needless to say, I hadn't seen the newsvids.

XxX

Then, only a few minutes later, B'Elanna burst into my office, out of breath from rushing all the way from her conference in the adjacent building. She said it was mentioned in passing in a piece she saw on one of the screens in the canteen.

A few days ago, the Federation had finally announced the completion of the lengthy negotiations with the representatives of the Breen Confederacy. And today, almost as an afterthought, they quietly released the details of the compromises that were made in order to secure our continued security. It was one of these 'details' in particular that brought B'Elanna immediately to my office. She tried Chakotay first, but he didn't answer her call.

It seems we have ceded control of the Marsadan system to the Breen. Presumably in order to try to consolidate the tenuous peace with these powerful and uncompromising neighbours – neighbours who are heavily invested in the mining trade. The lengthy negotiations focused on bringing three worlds that the Dominion had given over to the Confederacy back under Federation control. It seems likely that the Marsadan system was simply a bargaining chip – a trade off for that restoration.

The Marsadan system; that distant system on the edge of the Confederacy's territory. A system that contains only two inhabited planets, one of which just happens to be the stunningly beautiful world, rich in rare minerals, where Chakotay's sister decided to settle over three years ago now. Sekaya fell in love with the planet – and a Marsadan – on her first visit and was delighted when she was eventually offered the post of advisor on interplanetary relations. Chakotay was so thrilled that she had landed the job so easily and that she'd met someone and has started a family. He's said before she seems very happy there.

B'Elanna told me that when she couldn't get hold of Chakotay, she immediately called another old friend. He told her that there are already rumours about militant groups from a nearby system who intend to help the Marsadans try to prevent the arrival of the new Breen 'administrators'. The speculation is that it will be only a matter of days before the relocation of the small Marsadan population is announced and the Confederacy's mining operation moves in.

I'm not easily shocked these days, but as B'Elanna told me all this, I swallowed, only to find that the inside of my mouth was sandpaper.

It was so unthinkable that the Federation would let this happen that I hadn't taken Chakotay's warnings seriously, despite the increasingly heated conversations I'd overheard him having over the comm in the last few weeks.

It wasn't that I haven't listened – I have. But then I made a few discreet enquiries of my own and I was reassured each time. So I honestly thought he was overreacting, over-sensitised because of his history – that he was seeing things through the distorted lens of his past.

And now? Now, I'm shaken to the core by my own staggering naivety.

It all seems to have happened so fast that I can't believe it can really be true. I feel as if I need to confirm this for myself – as if Chakotay's strangely urgent call and B'Elanna's account aren't enough.

So, as soon as B'Elanna leaves, I call my contact in the President's office and I watch the newsvids.

And of course, it's true.

I can see now that Chakotay has actually been expecting this to happen. It has something to do with the way he has barely let me out of his sight – or out of his arms – for these past two months while he's been based here on Earth for debriefing.

I also realise now that I should have made the connection. But I've been so focussed on myself – on finding my feet, on my work and on living my life again. And I've been so busy just enjoying his attentions and revelling in how incredibly good it feels to finally be with him whenever and however I want. Revelling in the passion he inspires in me and in how our appetites for each other seem so well matched, even though I still can't seem to get enough of him. Revelling in how much I unreservedly love this man, in a way I never thought I would again.

And now that I've finally opened myself up to him in every possible way – which was so damn hard at first – the result has been such a revelation to me; how we seem to be so effortlessly building a rich and fulfilling life together here on Earth.

Which is why I thought he was going to propose.

XxX

"I can't believe you'd do this," I tell him.

Except that I can, and I do.

"I'm sorry, Kathryn. So sorry."

I turn away from him and step out onto the balcony. I need air. But the balmy, evening breeze is all wrong and so is the heady aroma of the night-scented flowers I love so much. With my fingers clamped, white-knuckled, around the metal angles of the terrace railing, I feel like breaking something, anything, everything. Destroying it all before he can.

He follows me out. I can feel him standing quietly behind me, waiting me out like he always does, but I'm not ready to face him yet. He must know what this is costing me and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the possibility of our separation would cost him, but maybe I don't know him at all.

Except that I do.

You don't fail to move on for fourteen months even though you believe someone is dead, fight to stop them pushing you away the way he fought me when I returned, and then just throw it all away on a whim. And everything I know about him tells me this isn't a whim. This is something he's struggled with, that he's thought through every-which-way over the past month. The fact he believes he has to leave is tearing him apart, I saw it in his eyes just now; the depths of desperation in them silently imploring me to understand.

Which is why I don't want to look at him. He believes that if he doesn't do this, he won't be able to live with himself – I can see that too.

But surely there has to be another way. There's always another way.

I propel myself from the railing and turn around to face him. Immediately, his warm fingers curl around my frozen claws as he gently tugs me to him, because he knows exactly how to disarm me these days. But I resist - force myself to focus and begin again.

"You're not thinking straight," I tell him. "This situation isn't the same as it was for you with the Cardassians. There'll be no genocide. They just want those rare minerals. You must see that. It's significantly different," I claim, defiant.

Although it isn't. Not really.

We've both read the intelligence reports. We're both aware of the fact that the Breen have been known to use slave labour. If the Marsadan population – if Chakotay's sister and her family - are still there when the Confederacy arrive, they risk being put to work in the mines. Being forced into a miserable existence involving first hand experience of the numerous ways in which these secretive aliens will likely bleed their beautiful planet dry.

He doesn't reply. He just looks down and studies our joined hands.

"And that system is so far away, Chakotay."

My fingertips don't even graze the straws I'm clutching at because that argument is so weak, and I know it.

He meets my gaze. "It is distant. But it's been home to generations of Marsadans, and Sekaya chose to make it her home too. It's the only home my little nieces have ever known."

I'm not giving up without a fight, so I change tack. "You don't need to go there. Let others that know that sector better than you do take the lead."

I pull away from him and pace the terrace as my argument gains momentum. "You could work from within, here, to influence Federation policy. I only made a few calls today and I already found out that this isn't a popular decision. It looks as if someone in the President's office is the driving force behind it. There are others who don't think this is the way to go. Every day they're gaining ground." I come to a stop in front of him. "If enough pressure is put on the President, all this could be revoked."

"That may well be true," he concedes, the weariness in his eyes unmistakable, "and in time, things may change. But not soon enough for the Marsadans. The council already ignored every point Sekaya and I made on their behalf. And anyway, we both know I don't have that sort of authority or influence with the Federation."

I look away to avoid the truth of that statement.

He steps closer and his fingers lift my chin, forcing me to look at him. "That's the sort of work you could do," he tells me softly.

As he lets go of my face, I reach up and press my hand to his cheek. "And I will, of course I will, you know that. But together, together our voices would be harder to ignore."

"I can't stay here and just wait, Kathryn. I need to act now, before it's too late this time. Too late for these people. Once they've been forcibly removed, you know that there'll be no going back. Diplomacy takes time. Time they don't have. You know this too."

And I do.

"But it's not your fight, Chakotay. You've only ever been there twice. It's not even really Sekaya's. She's only been there three years. Talk to her," I implore him. "Convince her and her husband to leave."

"I can't do that. I won't do that."

"But you'll be giving up so much!" I twist away from him, throwing my hands up. "The life you've built for yourself here again, your career," I turn back, rounding on him, "this – us."

"You think I don't know that?" For the first time his tone of voice betrays a hint of frustration. He takes me by the shoulders now, dark eyes willing me to understand. "Captaining Voyager means a great deal to me, but I'm prepared to give up the 'Fleet career again if I have to. But you must know I'd do anything not to leave you right now."

"Then stay."

"I can't."

"Clearly not 'anything' then."

"If the situation changes you know I'll be back by your side at warp speed."

For a moment I falter and he sees it, and he immediately wraps his strong arms around me. I feel myself sag against him and allow him to hold me close, where I have felt so utterly safe – until now.

But almost as quickly, I disentangle myself from him and turn towards the darkness again. "Until the next time you decide involving yourself in some distant cause is more important than our life together."

"It isn't like that, Kathryn," he insists, reaching for me again.

But I won't be pulled back this time. "Yes. Yes it is."

"I need you to understand why I have to do this," he pleads, clearly wretched.

"Well I don't."

I do.

But I thought he was going to propose.

XxX

We're parting now and nothing about this sorrow is sweet. And he really means 'now'.

I find out he came here earlier this afternoon and packed – he's been living with me in my apartment ever since he got back from his last mission and all his things are here. He's already drafted a letter of resignation and is leaving it with me to forward if it comes to that – God knows he must be getting good at writing them by now. His cousin is coming to pick him up in just over an hour in Chakotay's old ship, the Alpha Flyer. Chakotay is due to lead Voyager out on her next mission in three weeks' time. Now the debriefings are over, he's on leave until then. He explains that they've concocted a cover story to give him as long as possible before Starfleet realises he's involved. He's taking his cousin to their home colony, to supposedly begin a two-week spiritual retreat. Instead, Sveta will collect them in her ship as soon as they arrive and take them on to the Marsadan system.

Just over an hour – that's all the time left to me with the man I'd foolishly imagined I would be spending the rest of my life with.

Part of me is so angry at the weakness of the Federation diplomats, at this whole situation, at myself for failing to see it coming and, of course, at him. Another part is simply flailing hopelessly. For a second, I stop clenching my jaw and my teeth start to chatter, so I clamp them together again, hard. This loss of control began the minute I realised he was going to say he was leaving.

After everything we've been through – everything I've been through – don't I deserve to have this – to have him – a little longer? Don't we both deserve more? Sometimes, the universe expects so much from me. And why is there never any warning? I'm feeling so damn sorry for myself it's distracting me from being in the moment with him during this last hour.

I don't know how to do this. I really don't. So I tell him.

"Neither do I," he admits. "Part of me didn't want to come back here at all. In case I couldn't find the courage to leave you."

And, oh God, how I want to rob him of that courage. How I want to hear him say he can't find it in himself to leave me. But that isn't going to happen. I know him better than that.

He'll pull his own life apart at the seams before he'd let his family down this time. The motivation for this is coming from somewhere so deep inside him I don't have a hope in hell of changing his mind. And I shouldn't want to. But I do. Oh God, how I do.

What if he'd had his own family here? What if I hadn't been so damn obsessed with rebuilding Starfleet's confidence in me and my professional abilities since I returned? What if I'd given him the child I know he so desperately wants? What then? I find myself thinking that then, then he'd have stayed here. He'd have been torn, for sure, but maybe then his loyalty would have been here, with his child. Maybe then, he might have considered trying to talk his sister into leaving instead.

XxX

I go inside to get away from him. Make a drink for something to do. Don't make anything for him. He appears beside me a few moments later. He says nothing, but I know there's a desperate storm raging silently inside him.

I so want to be angry with him. I want to hate him for doing this to us.

Because I know he isn't going to let this go – he's so damn stubborn. It's how he's wired. I know that too. I've always known that about him. He loved me in stubborn silence for all those years on Voyager despite every subtle evasion, every gentle withdrawal on my part. He doesn't give up easily - it took him seven years to give up hope then.

And despite all the points he'll make to the contrary, as I stare into my coffee I realise that I know his thinking about all this isn't entirely logical. Maybe he might reconsider, if I can force him to see that?

I turn towards him as he leans against the counter and we lock eyes again. "What is it you hope to achieve by going there anyway? Will you help the Marsadans arm themselves against the Breen? Against the Federation even?"

"I intend to offer whatever help I can."

"But what does that really mean, Chakotay? Surely, it means you'll be operating outside of the law."

His expression tells me I'm right and that he's already accepted this.

"Once they know you're involved, you'll be condemned by the Federation for undermining the shaky peace we've managed to establish. You'll be condemned as a traitor and a terrorist again. They'll monitor our calls, they'll follow you, they'll arrest you. You must see that."

He avoids my gaze and says nothing, interlocking his fingers in front of him, his thumbs moving restlessly over each other. Then he looks up, and what I see in his eyes sends a wave of nausea crashing over me. I leave my coffee to go cold on the counter and sleepwalk to the sofa because I have to sit down.

He's lied to me.

"They've been monitoring your calls already, haven't they?"

He nods.

The muscles around my mouth contort involuntarily and I can feel I'm going to cry, because this is too much. But I fight it back.

In an instant, he's beside me as he drops to a squat, taking my hands in his. "Yes. I've been under surveillance ever since the situation started to go bad. Sekaya has too. I expected no less. They have to be cautious. My past is always going to make me a security risk where my family is involved."

"Why didn't you tell me?" I force out, once my lungs have enough air.

"You've had enough to deal with these past few months," he soothes. And more than anything, I hoped it wouldn't come to this."

"I told you once, years ago, that this isn't a safe love. And by God was I right." I spit back.

His fingers graze my cheek. "I'm not sure love is ever safe, Kathryn."

"Those are just so many words." I dismiss his lyricism with poisonous venom. Quickly, I turn away from his touch. "I should have trusted my instincts, not you."

I never should have allowed him to work his quiet way under my skin.

Now what?

Now what?

XxX

I could go with him.

But then how on earth would I give up the life I've only just succeeded in reclaiming in a long, bloody, drawn-out process that saw me almost break into pieces? I'm honestly not sure I would manage it – and he knows that; which is why he isn't asking me to go with him; why he is only telling me an hour before he leaves; why he's leaving me no choices here, damn him.

"I'll come with you," I forge ahead regardless, looking up into his eyes.

"Your life is here, Kathryn. We both know that."

"I thought my life was with you. You persuaded me that I shouldn't try to hide from what we feel for each other. I listened. And now you're leaving me."

"I'm not leaving you. And this won't be forever." He tries to recapture my hands but I won't have it.

"You can't guarantee that! Anything could happen out there."

"We'll be together again. I have to believe that."

"Well I can't. I don't believe in fairy ta-" Distress finally swallows my words.

He slides in next to me on the sofa and, despite how much I hate him right now for doing this to us, I can't find it in me to push him away this time.

His fingers gently turn my face towards him so I can't avoid his gaze.

"No amount of time, space or distance is going to stop me loving you. And I'll find a way back from this. I have to or I'll-"

"You'll die trying? " I find my voice again.

"I-"

I kiss him. Hard. Just to shut him up.

XxX

A few moments later, I pull back. "I can't do this," I blurt out. "If you're going to go, then just go – now."

"Kathryn, don't," his soft voice caresses. "Please don't make me leave right now."

He already told me we only have just over an hour before he needs to leave. When was that? How long ago? Ten minutes? Twenty?

"Even if you can't forgive me for what I'm about to do-" Suddenly he's enfolding me in his strong arms, brooking no resistance this time, pressing his lips against my temple. "Please don't make me leave now," he begs.

I hear a whimpering sound and I realise belatedly it escaped from my own throat as I struggle to turn my face away from him. Strong gentle hands stop me and soft lips graze mine and the pull of everything we've been together since my 'return' is just too strong. For a split second I wonder if I'll ever be able to deny this man anything again?

And then, suddenly, it feels like maybe there's still a chance. Because lately, when we use this language, misunderstandings are rare. So, I change my mind, and allow my body to turn into him. I begin to entertain a desperate hope that maybe this will bring him to his senses. Maybe loving me here, now, in these last few minutes will mean he won't be able to go through with this?

And there's something else going on here too. The new harder part of me vows to wring every last vestige of joy out of this impossibly unpredictable life.

So, I put my all into loving him, right there on the sofa. The shirt he'd changed into can't come off fast enough for me and my hands are on him, making him buck and strain against me, in case it's the last chance I get. Because in case my hope is misplaced, the new harder part of me, the part that doesn't share his optimism about us seeing each other again, is not above using to my advantage every little thing I know about what undoes him the most and what's most likely to keep him here.

Before I know it I've got him flat on his back and I'm almost naked, straddling him, his hands clamped tight around my hips. I feel his stomach muscles tense beneath me as he levers himself up to sitting to bring his talented mouth to one of my breasts while a hand strokes its way up my body to massage the other. I run my fingers through his thick hair, close my eyes and let my head fall back as I arch into him. In that moment, I can't believe he'd ever leave me.

"Say you'll stay," I demand.

"I love you so much," he murmurs against my breast, ever the tactician.

Then his teeth tease my nipple and his large hands slide inside my panties and I cease caring about anything other than this moment.

But my response is fuelled by an explosive cocktail of anger and undeniable need and he's so hungry for me that he can barely control himself. The resulting frenzy leaves us both flushed and breathless and, before I know it, he's swept me up in his arms and we're crashing onto the bed in the next room without calling for lights.

When he has me laid bare and stretched out against him, moaning his name, I realise that now, for better or for worse, he knows how to get inside me in every way. No matter what he does or where he goes, I doubt I'll ever manage to completely exorcise him from my heart again. It isn't without a certain irony, given the sway I believed I had over him in the early years of our friendship, that I realise I was a fool earlier to think I'd be capable of manipulating him now in this arena to get what I want in another.

He loves me with a fierce devotion that brands my frightened heart and for a few blissful minutes our joining negates everything as our bodies align and lock together. But not for long. These days, I'm more used to giving voice to my feelings. I can only sustain that level of denial for a very short time…

Even Chakotay can't convince me everything is going to be all right now.

And, in fairness to him, he doesn't even try. He just holds me as we lie, sealed together, his hands never quite still, his fingers ghosting over my back, my hair, my face with a desperate tenderness. Even when a sudden gust of evening air from the rising wind in the bay below blusters through the apartment over our cooling skin, causing the drapes to billow out in alarm, we still don't move.

Time slowed earlier, but not anymore, not now. Now, it isn't on our side. My ear still sealed to his chest, I count the heartbeats, wondering how many more there'll be.

Then, time runs out completely and his cousin calls to say he's waiting.

Chakotay has arranged a site-to-site, so he can stay here until the last possible moment. It's all I can do not to launch myself and grab hold of him as he dematerialises right in front in me, his eyes never leaving mine.

And he's gone.

This short uncomplicated chapter in our life together ends with brutal abruptness. It's quite possible our life together is over.

I go back out onto the terrace and I wrap myself in his thick woven blanket – the one that has travelled even further with him than I have. When it fails to warm me, I have an urge to toss it over the balcony, but I find myself immobilised here.

He's abandoned me. Whatever else he's doing for whatever reasons, he's abandoned me, that's how this feels.

I should call someone, Phoebe? My mother? But I don't.

On the back of this thought I realise something else, and my heads spins for a moment even though I'm sitting down. I didn't organise a way to contact him without our calls being monitored. He wouldn't suggest it. He would want to protect me from any involvement in whatever he does from this point. But I can't believe that I didn't insist we find a way. That I didn't even think of it.

So I sit, until the insides of my heart harden to match the veiny blue-grey of the marble tiles beneath my feet. I just sit, unfocused eyes on the dim yellow light of a small boat in the bay. Slowly, it blinks its way past and then gradually dissolves into the darkness stretching out below me.

[TBC]