Disclaimer: Characters and places belong to Paramount. We just feel the need to fix a thing or two or three and promise to put everyone back in better condition than we found them.

Authors' note: Another entry in the Glory Days Universe, taking place 8 months after the events of "So Many Things" by Rocky.


HOME
By Seema and Rocky

****

There were days, lonely days
When the world wouldn't throw me a crumb
But I kept on believing
That this day would come

~ Don Henley

****

She was standing on the deck behind the house, a lithe figure in flowing black gazing out to sea. He noted, with more than an academic interest, that her hair was loose, blowing in the wind. It was also longer than he remembered, dipping just past her shoulders, but still retaining its shiny, auburn hue.

He smiled to himself; the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. His throat felt suddenly dry as it occurred to him that perhaps he should have called first.

"Kathryn!" he called. A beat passed and then she turned slowly. For a moment, they just stared at each other. To Chakotay's immense relief, Kathryn did not seem startled by his sudden appearance.

"Hello, Chakotay," Kathryn said calmly. "It's good to see you. What brings you out here?"

"You did invite me," he said with a smile. "Though you probably didn't expect me to take you up on your offer so soon." Or at all, he added to himself.

They had run into each other a few weeks earlier in Boston. Seven was delivering a major paper at the Astrometric Conference sponsored by MIT. Chakotay had been surprised to see Kathryn in attendance. At the reception afterwards, he'd made his way over to her.

Chakotay approached the small bar in the corner of the room. The dark rich paneling, the mirrored backdrop, the brass fixtures -- all of it served to add to the elegance of the ballroom. He wasn't so much interested in something to drink as he was in the woman standing next to the bar, her back to him.

"I see you've retained your interest in astrometric phenomena," Chakotay said quietly.

Kathryn stiffened visibly at the sound of his voice, but when she turned around, her features were composed. The captain's mask, he thought. After all these years, he could scarcely expect anything else.

"Yes, I have," she said evenly. Her gaze went over him quickly; he knew she noted the changes that six years of sun and wind and sand had wrought in him--the new lines and creases in his face, the extra weight he'd added, the gray over his temples. She had changed as well, looking immeasurably older from the tiny lines at the corners of her eyes to the faint droop of her lips. He knew she'd had some tough times over the past year, both physically and emotionally. She'd weathered it well, though--just as he knew she would.

"Do you make it a habit to attend many conferences?" Chakotay asked. He signaled to the bartender, ordered a gin and tonic. He glanced over at Kathryn, noted that her glass was still half-full with an amber-hued beverage.

"Not as many as I'd like. But I promised Seven I'd try to make it here today. I know how much this presentation means to her."

Chakotay recovered quickly from his surprise at her casual mention of Seven's name. He hadn't been aware that the two women had had a reconciliation, but he was happy they had. "Yes, this presentation is very important to her and it looks like her work has been well-received. This will do wonders for her career." He couldn't help the note of pride that slipped into his voice.

Kathryn nodded, and then smiled at something over his shoulder. He turned slightly and saw who she was looking at. Seven, still standing next to the podium at the front of the room, was engaged in animated conversation with several other scientists. At her side, Ethan McNeill stood beaming, radiating equal parts of enthusiasm and pride as he participated in the discussion but clearly allowing Seven to take center stage. "It's so good to see her so settled and happy," Kathryn said, her sincerity evident.

"Yes," Chakotay said non-committedly. His own feelings regarding that tableau were a bit more complicated; he and Seven had things they needed to take care of later. He turned his attention back to his former captain.

An awkward silence fell between Kathryn and Chakotay.

"It's been a long time since we've seen each other, let alone spoken," Kathryn said at last, a bit hesitantly. "I was wondering, perhaps we could get together for coffee later?" Her lips turned up slightly. "I'm sure there's a decent coffee shop somewhere in the greater Boston area."

"Several," Chakotay said with an answering smile. When he'd been here the previous year, he and Seven had frequented many of the coffee shops in the area, usually for breakfast. It had been a comfortable routine, one he hadn't realized he'd appreciated until it was gone. "But I'm afraid I--" He glanced towards Seven once more.

"Of course," Kathryn said at once. "You doubtless have plans already." She followed his gaze, a slight frown puckering her forehead.

Chakotay wondered how much Kathryn knew about the current situation between himself and Seven, how much Seven had confided in her. If the two of them were truly friends again-- "It's just that I've been away for so long," he said apologetically. "This is my first trip back from Betazed in nearly a year--"

"I understand," Kathryn said, her hand raised to forestall any further explanation on his part. "I've got to be getting back to San Francisco anyway." She paused. "If you're ever in the neighborhood, I've got a place in Monterey, right on the water. There's a direct shuttle that leaves San Francisco every hour and lets you off about two or three kilometers from my place. You're welcome to stop by any time."

"Thanks," he said, appreciating the olive branch Kathryn held out to him. She wasn't the type to come out and apologize directly, but he understood that this was her way of telling him that things between them were back to normal. Or as close to 'normal' as they could possibly be. "I may just do that."


Back in the present, Chakotay joined her at the railing, breathing in the crisp saline-scented air. "I hope I'm not bothering you. I know I should have called first, but I..." his voice trailed off.

"No," Kathryn said immediately. Her expression softened as she looked at him. "It's always good to see an old friend, and God knows, old friends are few and far between these days."

Chakotay let out a sigh. He had passed the first hurdle. "Nice piece of real estate," he said. He glanced around. "Beautiful view." He pointed towards the vast expanse of blue-gray water sparkling in the late summer sun. "Tom made it sound like you'd buried yourself in the middle of nowhere. But I wouldn't call this 'nowhere'."

Kathryn grinned as her gaze swept over the house, the blue-hued hills just to the east, and the ocean behind her.

"It can be quiet out here," she admitted. "Sometimes a little too much so." She paused. "I mean it when I say I'm glad to see you, Chakotay. It's been so long." He heard the wistful note in her voice.

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely. He cleared his throat and stared down at the red cedar planks of the deck floor. So much had happened since they'd last seen each other--really seen each other; the few minutes at the MIT reception had been so brief as to be insignificant.

Chakotay wasn't quite sure where to start. He knew he owed Kathryn an apology; he'd never visited her in the hospital when she was clinging desperately to life, had not called in the months that followed. And most unforgivably, he hadn't attended the funeral, hadn't even known that Harry was dead. "I don't know what to say, Kathryn." He looked up then, his eyes meeting hers squarely. "Except that I should have done this months ago."

"No need for apologies," Kathryn said firmly. "It's in the past." She swung around to face him. "Of course, if you'd come to me, oh, half a year ago, then my reaction would have been quite different. I won't deny that I was angry with you, Chakotay. I know we had some...issues between us, stemming from the end of our time on Voyager. But I still expected to see you or at least hear from you. And until a few weeks ago I hadn't, not one single word--" She took a deep breath. "How long has it been?"

Seven years since the return, but six years since they had last laid eyes on each other. It had been at the gala dinner marking the one year anniversary. At that time, Kathryn had been newly promoted to admiral and Starfleet had made it clear that a former terrorist would not be allowed back into its ranks. Even a celebrated hero like Chakotay. At the affair, Kathryn had been surrounded by well-wishers and Chakotay, along with Seven, Harry, B'Elanna and Tom, had escaped the stiff formality to relax in a jazz club. Chakotay had thought about inviting Kathryn to join them, but he'd been unable to break through the crush of people around her; he'd promised himself he'd call her the next day. But even the best intentions, Chakotay found, never come to fruition on their own.

"A very long time," Chakotay said. "You--you look good." Especially considering what she'd been through in the past year. He resisted the urge to touch her hand, her face, just to assure himself that she was really all right. He swallowed hard. "Have you returned to active duty yet?"

Kathryn laughed mirthlessly. "If you can call it that. No more deep space jaunts for me; I've been assigned to 'desk duty' ever since I came back from medical leave in the spring."

He tried to think if she'd been in uniform at the conference in Boston, but couldn't remember. Whatever she had been wearing, it hadn't made an impression on him. What he did know was that she had looked nothing like she did now.

Clouds scurried overhead, dimming the late afternoon sunshine. The wind whipped around her, causing her to shiver slightly.

"Come inside, Chakotay." Without waiting for an answer, she strode ahead, with the quick light footsteps he remembered so well. "It's getting chilly out here."

He followed her into the house. Inside, the furnishings were simple and modular in design --black and white, with the occasional splash of vibrant red. A step down led into the sunken living room and Kathryn slipped off her shoes as she curled onto the sofa. Chakotay sat opposite her.

"Not what I would have imagined your place to look like," Chakotay said, gesturing towards the angular furniture. "I would have thought overstuffed sofas, antiques..." He glanced to the side, noting the empty bookshelves and the cartons pushed up against the wall.

Kathryn smiled. "I know, it is a bit 'modern', isn't it? I bought the place--fully furnished--from a 'Fleet family heading out on a permanent assignment in Deep Space. I'm not surprised that they didn't want to take any of this with them." Her mouth turned down at the corners. "Due to 'extenuating circumstances,' I haven't had a chance to redecorate."

"Or even unpack?"

She looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. "You mean the boxes?" She laughed. "The Paris family is coming for the weekend. Considering the havoc their last visit wrought, I decided to put away the breakable or fragile objects before they get here."

Chakotay grinned. "I know what you mean--Joey can be a real handful." The last time he'd seen Joey Paris, the little boy had been -- in Tom's words -- 'unusually active', but Chakotay suspected that the three-year old still kept his parents hopping with his antics. "I hear he keeps trying to fly the flitter on his own. Takes after his father in that sense."

"He's just naturally bright and curious," Kathryn said, coming quickly to the defense of Joey Paris. "Or so I kept telling myself after he attempted to dismantle my comm console."

He could well imagine that scene but decided not to comment. "At any rate, the 'modern' decor is nice. It suits you, it really does."

"Thank you." She looked at him meaningfully. "It reminds me of Voyager in a way."

This, Chakotay had to admit, was true. He ran his hand lightly over the smoothly polished veneer of the coffee table before turning to look towards the floor to ceiling windows, which offered a spectacular view of the ocean. He had a sudden vision of what it must look like at night, a black velvet expanse with a scattering of stars.

Chakotay turned away from the window. "Well, maybe now you'll finally be able to make whatever changes you like."

"I hope so," she said in a low voice; it seemed as though she were speaking more to herself than to him. "I've had this place for well over a year now, if you can believe it. But somehow, with one thing and another, I haven't really had the chance to do anything with it, let alone spend a lot of time here."

"That's an understatement," Chakotay said, recalling how Kathryn had been dispatched to the Neutral Zone to negotiate with the Romulans over the Ponzi raiders about a year and a half ago. Just when it seemed like months of 'shuttle diplomacy' were starting to pay off, a disastrous miscommunication had led to a battle. Kathryn and B'Elanna Torres had been seriously injured--and Harry Kim had been killed. Chakotay had been on Betazed during that time and while he had been peripherally aware of what had happened, he'd never thought to make the connections, realized that people he cared about had been involved. It was only later, on an unrelated trip to Earth, that B'Elanna had filled him in.

Time and distance--he stirred uncomfortably as he remembered the details of that visit the previous fall. Other than a quick stopover by B'Elanna and Tom, he'd spent all of his time--less than two weeks--in Boston with Seven. On his way back to the spaceport he'd tried calling the hospital to speak to Kathryn but she'd been unavailable. There had been no time to try again, and he had let matters slide. Again.

Chakotay took a deep breath. "It's been quite an eventful year."

"You can say that again," Kathryn said. She shook her head. "So much for thinking that life back in the Alpha Quadrant would be tame or boring." She toyed absently with one of the couch pillows, running her fingers over the smooth fabric. "You know, there were times I was convinced that the Admiralty kept giving me assignments in the far reaches of the galaxy just to keep me out of what's left of their hair, to ensure I'd stay out of trouble. But I seem to have a knack for bringing it on myself anyway."

"About the Admiralty not appreciating you, you know that's not true."

"I don't?" Kathryn looked pensive. "Sometimes, I'm never quite sure of how much is real and what's imagined."

He shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."

Kathryn sighed as she got up from her seat. "Anything to drink? I'm having coffee myself."

"Coffee is fine," Chakotay said.

"I gave up on the replicator a long time ago," Kathryn said. She nodded in the direction of the kitchen. "My sister thought I was insane for wanting such a large kitchen, but I like the space. I've had it with confined places."

"I know that feeling," Chakotay said, thinking back to the wide open expanses of the Great Betazed Desert, the feeling of freedom--and peace--he'd found there.

Even as he stood there, he knew he would remember that day for all the wrong reasons. The weather conditions were ideal for a December day anywhere, let alone in an alien desert --a faded blue sky, a warm muted wind and for once, no sandstorms. Under other circumstances, it would have been the perfect day. But the tent that had served as his home for the last eight months was stifling and claustrophobic.

"So I guess that's it," Chakotay said quietly to Seven. It was the last day of her visit to Betazed--and he knew deep down that it would be the last time they'd ever be together like this. Her fair hair lay on her shoulders and she was dressed in loose-fitting khaki pants and a dark red shirt. He focused his gaze on her necklace--the one he'd given her--and wished there was some way of preventing what was coming next.

"It would appear so," Seven said. She sounded curiously unemotional -- more like the Seven of Nine of nearly a decade before than the woman who'd been his lover for the past six years. He wondered if she was pretending, putting up a good front. A part of him was selfish enough to hope that she was -- that inside she was as disappointed and hurt as he was. "Unless you are willing to give up the dig, and return to Boston and take up a position in academia."

"No, I'm not." Chakotay's voice sounded harsh, even to his own ears. He looked up in time to see the look of pain that passed across Seven's face.

"I did not think you would," Seven said. Her tone was regretful, but resigned. "Nor am I willing to give up the life I have built for myself in Boston."

"I'm sorry," he said, fighting the urge to take her in his arms. "I didn't want it to end this way."

"Nor did I." Chakotay thought he saw a tear glistening on her lashes. She blinked, and it was gone. "I still love you, Chakotay. The years we had together--"

"They were pretty special, weren't they?" He sighed. He resisted the urge to tell her that nothing had really changed in how he felt about her, that he still loved her and always would. But he knew that saying it would make an already difficult situation that much worse. It would be better this way, to let her get on that transport back to Earth and let distance take care of the emotions. He cleared his throat. "But we're just too different, Seven, we want different things in life. And it wouldn't be fair to hold on to this long past the time it--" he paused, thinking -- "I don't want to hold you back. You should be free to find something else, someone else to be with, who can make you happy." An image of Ethan McNeill flashed unbidden through his mind, making the last statement enormously difficult to say. But to his surprise, once the words were out, he felt a curious sense of relief.

Seven came over to him then, put her arms around him, leaning her head against his shoulder. He held her for a long moment, stroking her hair, inhaling the sweet floral scent of her perfume. In that moment, she felt perfect -
they felt perfect - and then the illusion was shattered when she moved away. "As should you, Chakotay. You have too much to give, too much love, for you to be alone."

He didn't know how to react to her unexpected statement. "I'll be back on Earth in August, for your conference," he said awkwardly.

"Chakotay--"

"No, I will. I promise," he insisted, reluctant to let it end this way. Not here, not now, not on a day when the sky was a delicate blue and the air outside felt so full of promise.

She bit her lip and glanced towards her bags.

"I'll see you to the transport," Chakotay said swiftly. He reached for the heavier of the two bags. Seven's hand on his forearm was gentle.

"Perhaps," she said, "for now, this should be good-bye."

So he called for another member of the dig crew to take Seven to the transport station. He decided not to watch her go. Instead, on that beautiful day, he had sat on the edge of his bed, his hand on the spot where Seven had been just the night before. Chakotay didn't know how long he sat there. At some point, he pulled on his hat and went out into the sun.


Chakotay followed Kathryn across the black and white floor tiles. In the kitchen, Kathryn appeared perfectly natural, moving fluidly from cabinet to sink as she filled the red tea kettle with water.

"So no more replicators?" he teased. A distant memory of a dinner table with burned roast and potatoes came to mind. Yet another example of good intentions gone bad, Chakotay thought.

"Not without B'Elanna here to repair them," Kathryn said. She indicated the kettle. "Old fashioned, traditionalist, call it what you will, but I've yet to go wrong."

He leaned against the counter, noting the array of cookbooks lined up against the wall. "Well, if worse comes to worse, B'Elanna is coming this weekend, right?" He watched as Kathryn removed a container of brownies from the stasis unit and poured hot water into the coffee maker. "How are she and Tom doing?"

"They're good," Kathryn said. She took two mugs out of the cupboard. "Though I think it's been a month or so since I've seen them."

It had been considerably longer than that for Chakotay and he couldn't help but think of how B'Elanna had looked the last time he'd seen her. 'Well' was not the word he would have used, nor had their conversation been particularly pleasant, especially at the beginning.

"I'm glad to hear that," Chakotay said. "I was worried about how they were coping with everything. Even before this whole business, Tom just seemed..." He stopped, looking for the right word to describe the man who had once been Voyager's chief helm officer. He'd run into Tom a couple of years ago, in a dimly bar at Utopia Planitia. Chakotay had been going to Boston for the first time, and Tom was heading out to a conference on Starbase Four. To Chakotay, Tom had seemed curiously tight-lipped, almost deflated. And that was before he lost his best friend and nearly lost his wife. Last fall, when he'd visited them, Tom had seemed exhausted, worried, upset--all perfectly normal considering what had happened. But for some reason, Chakotay kept going back to that meeting that had taken place nearly two years earlier.

He was aware that his relationship with Tom had always been just slightly warmer than cordial, and that might have had something to do with Tom's distance. However, there was something else just below the surface - an emotion, or lack thereof - which had caught Chakotay's attention.

"Tom seemed how?" Kathryn carefully poured coffee into two mugs, both branded with the Starfleet logo. "Chakotay?"

"Empty," Chakotay said finally.

"He's been through a lot, Chakotay." She paused. "We all have."

Chakotay took the mug Kathryn handed him. He sniffed appreciatively at the warm beverage. "You know, sometimes I do prefer the Traditionalist way of doing things," Chakotay said. He took his first sip. Yes, the coffee definitely tasted better than the replicated variety.

Kathryn leaned back against the kitchen counter and closed her eyes as she deeply inhaled the aroma of the fresh brew. "Sometimes simplicity has its advantages."

He caught the tone in her voice at once, realized that she was talking about something more than a replicator-less kitchen. "It doesn't always have to be complicated, Kathryn."

"Doesn't it?" Kathryn took a sip. "Sometimes I wonder if any other way is possible."

"You said answered that question yourself earlier--sometimes you bring it on yourself." He shifted his position against the counter.

Kathryn's lips tightened. "It's not the same thing. That's not what I meant."

"But you know it's true."

She put her mug down and turned to face him. "Chakotay, why don't you just say what's on your mind? You didn't come all this way to beat around the bush."

"No, I didn't." He put his mug down as well. "And it's definitely time--past time--for the two of us to finally clear the air, say some things we should have said long ago." His heart was beating furiously as he said the words; his mouth felt dry, as he watched Kathryn. Her expression didn't change.

"You're right, it is," she said evenly. From her demeanor it was clear that she expected him to start. For all her calm tone, he couldn't help but notice her hands, balled into fists, were planted firmly on her hips. Chakotay had seen that look, that posture, before. It never boded well. She demanded, "Well?"

How many times had the two of them faced off like this in the past? He'd long ago lost count of the number of arguments they'd had on board Voyager--over command issues, possible courses of action. They'd disagreed on major issues like how flexible the ship, with its combined crews of Starfleet and Maquis, should be in adhering to standard Federation protocols. Or the way he'd felt she tended to shut him out of major decisions, barely listening to his opinions before acting on her own counsel anyway. Or her insistence on separating the personal from the professional in their interactions and then crossing that line herself, turning what was a command disagreement into an issue of personal betrayal. Until finally the distance between them was so great that he'd despaired of ever finding common ground again.

No, a confrontation was not what he wanted now.

He took a step back, both figuratively and literally, and held up his hands. "I'm sorry. I didn't come here to attack you. I don't want to fight, Kathryn. I just want to talk. I didn't mean to give you the wrong impression, to put you on the defensive. That wasn't my intention at all." From the look on her face, he couldn't tell if she was disappointed or relieved.

After a long moment, Kathryn took a deep breath. "Neither do I." Her clenched fists slowly relaxed. She fingered the folds of her skirt nervously, then forced a smile. "This seems to be a pattern I've fallen into lately--haven't seen someone for a long time and then the first thing I know, we're arguing, bringing up old grievances and making accusations over who's to blame for what."

"I know the feeling," he said wryly, thinking again of the last time he'd seen B'Elanna. He'd anticipated a good conversation with an old friend and instead had found himself lambasted by B'Elanna. He'd been taken by surprise with B'Elanna's sharpness, but later, had to admit that she had been right. On more than one count. "I've had a few of those difficult conversations myself recently."

"I can imagine," Kathryn said and Chakotay wondered if B'Elanna had told her about his visit. "I think that the time for recriminations has long past." She smiled wryly. "My therapist told me that anger slows the healing process. So let's consider bygones to be exactly that, all right?"

Chakotay smiled. "I think I can agree to that."

Kathryn nodded. "Come sit down at the table. There's no reason to stand." She grabbed two small plates and put them on the table. "And have a brownie."

There was nothing like a brownie to break the tension and these were uncommonly good; moist, chewy and flavorful.

"These are excellent," Chakotay said sincerely.

Kathryn beamed and Chakotay was startled; he'd forgotten the intensity of Kathryn's smile. "Thank you. It's my mother's recipe, actually."

Taking another bite, Chakotay said, "I just realized that you were probably expecting someone and I'm most likely in the way." At her questioning looking, Chakotay continued, "When I showed up this afternoon, I mean." He gestured at her dress. "Unless that's normally the way you look when you're just lounging around the house."

"No, it's not," she said with an amused look. "But to answer your question, yes, I did have company earlier. Mark was here--you remember Mark Johnson?"

Her former fiancé. Chakotay nodded, aware of a sudden wave of disappointment. "I see."

"He was here with his wife and their son," Kathryn went on, as if he hadn't spoken at all. "In a single afternoon, I had a snapshot of what my life could have been like."

She didn't have to finish the sentence for him to know what she was thinking: If circumstances had worked out otherwise. He couldn't help but remember, though, that Kathryn and Mark had been together for a very long time, even before the mission to the Badlands--and had seemed content to leave things the way they were. "Do you really believe that?"

Kathryn picked up the coffeepot and refilled her cup, then paused and looked at him questioningly. He nodded and watched as she filled his as well. "I'd like to think so," she said at last. "I'd like to think that the time would have come when I'd have been ready to settle down, ready to give up my career and place someone else's needs before my own."

"Would it have to come to that?" Chakotay asked, recalling with a pang of sadness the choice he himself had made. "That you'd have to make a choice?"

Kathryn nodded slowly. "You should know the answer to that, Chakotay, better than anyone. The responsibilities of being a captain, the duty to one's ship--they always have to come first, ahead of anyone or anything else. Pretending otherwise isn't fair to anyone--not the crew, not your lover and most of all not to yourself."

He instinctively reached out for her hand and gave it a squeeze. No, Kathryn Janeway was never one to believe in half-measures. For her, it was always all or nothing.

"Somehow I can't envision you as a housewife," Chakotay said, trying to lighten the mood. He had a sudden vision of Kathryn in Traditionalist garb, her hair pulled back from her face, mopping the kitchen floor; he stifled a smile at the incongruous image. "Or any career that didn't have you on the bridge of a starship."

"If you'd asked me, I'd always have said the same thing," Kathryn agreed. She looked down at their hands and carefully moved hers away. "But it was good seeing Mark, it really was. He looks happy and I admit, a part of me was envious of how he interacted with his family, how they obviously felt about each other." She sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm truly glad that Mark was able to put his life back together." Kathryn looked at Chakotay. "Especially since he told me that he never thought he'd feel that way again after he'd 'lost' me."

"Are you?" The words slipped out almost of their own volition.

"Am I what?"

"Happy."

"Yes, I am," Kathryn said, and then stopped and rolled her eyes. "You know, if I say it enough, I can almost believe it." She held up her hand. "Don't get me wrong, Chakotay, I am happy. As happy as I possibly can be. I've had the great adventure of my life, which is a lot more than most people can say. I'm not sure what the future holds, but in my heart I know that nothing can possibly top those years on Voyager."

Chakotay's jaw clenched. "Yes, those years were wonderful, Kathryn. But they're over and done with. In the past. You still have the rest of your life ahead of you. Do you really want to spend it looking back at your glory days while writing off any chance of achieving anything else, of living?"

"And who says I'm not?" Kathryn asked sardonically. "Living, that is."

Chakotay shrugged. "It's just the impression I get, that's all. That you're still pulling away from those you care about, that you dwell too much on what was instead of what is."

"That's a pretty bold statement from someone whom I haven't seen in nearly six years."

"Perhaps," Chakotay said calmly, "but it doesn't change what I see in you, Kathryn. You're not the same person you used to be and I really think--" he paused here, wondering if he'd gone too far. A part of him couldn't forget that he had once reported to Kathryn Janeway, had been subservient to her in all things. She hadn't always considered his opinion to be worth much when they were on Voyager and he wondered if that had changed.

"What would you have me do that would be meaningful?" Kathryn shot back, before Chakotay had a chance to finish his sentence. "Perhaps take on the Borg next? In case you haven't noticed--"

"That's not what I was saying, Kathryn. You misunderstood."

"Hmph, then maybe you should clarify what you meant to say." Kathryn pushed her chair back, the legs scrapping loudly against the tiled floor.

This wasn't how Chakotay had hoped to broach the subject, but now that it had been raised, he wasn't going to shy away from it. "I just think it's a terrible waste that you're sacrificing--that you're content to sit back and let life continue to pass you by." As if in a dream, he remembered other words spoken long ago: Are you willing to sacrifice any chance of happiness in the present, for the sake of a nebulous future?

From the shaken look on her face, Chakotay knew she was remembering as well. "That's not what I'm doing."

"Isn't it? You'd rather sit here and bemoan the fact that you could have had a life filled with love instead of the emptiness you've got now. You talk about choices, but the fact is you passed up several oppor--" He stopped and sighed. "Sorry. But I can't just--if only you hadn't always been so afraid to open up and let someone else in!"

Her voice was very cold, but still warmer than her eyes. "You always wanted me to be something I wasn't, something I couldn't be."

"You didn't even want to try!" Chakotay exclaimed, then caught himself, regretting the flash of temper immediately.

Kathryn shook her head. "That's not fair, Chakotay. You know-- you knew the circumstances we were in. There was no way, there was never any way."

"Because you didn't want there to be," he said gently. "Even though you'd never backed down from any other challenge. Only this one." Chakotay looked down at his plates; crumbs from the brownies spotted the white porcelain. "And so I thought maybe I had misinterpreted you, that perhaps what I--" he paused again, once more finding himself at a loss for words "-- what I felt wasn't valid or reciprocated."

Kathryn's eyes widened, then misted slightly. She bowed her head, as if afraid of what her expression might reveal. "It's all moot now," she said at last. "You got tired of waiting and moved on." There was a hint of bitterness in her tone.

"Yes, I did eventually move on." Chakotay didn't bother pointing out that seven years was a long time to wait for someone; even Mark Johnson hadn't waited that long. "I had an opportunity at happiness and I couldn't say no to it, not without trying first. That's the difference between us, Kathryn. I was willing to accept love when it was offered to me," Chakotay said with a calm he did not feel. He glanced at Kathryn. "Were you surprised?"

"What surprised me was your choice of partner." Kathryn raised her head. "You and Seven had never struck me as being close before you --" Kathryn stopped short "-- or even particularly friendly."

This much was true, Chakotay admitted. Most of his interactions with Seven in the beginning had been those of a first officer disciplining an errant crew member or related to her duties in Engineering or Astrometrics. However, in the last few months on Voyager, especially after they were briefly stranded on a planet together, Chakotay had found himself drawn to Seven. She'd been warm where Kathryn had been cool. He had never imagined that their casual friendship would develop into something more lasting.

"But apparently you found some common interests," Kathryn said now, interrupting his thoughts.

The sardonic edge in Kathryn's voice stung. There was no question of what she meant by 'common interests'. "Maybe you weren't only surprised, but jealous. At the time, I wouldn't have thought it, but from what you're saying now, I can't help but think that maybe you were a little bit so," Chakotay said. "For all your lip service about wanting me to move on, deep down you really didn't mean it."

Kathryn bit her lip. "Maybe you're right," she admitted. "I guess I didn't really expect you to do it. And yes, it hurt more because it was Seven, of all people. If you'd fallen in love with an alien princess, or some civilian once we made it back home--but you chose someone on Voyager, specifically the one person--other than you--I felt closest to. It felt like a deliberate slap aimed at me." She gave a brief laugh and shook her head in bemusement. "I must have some monumental ego, assuming that it was because of me the two of you got together."

Chakotay absently traced the logo on the side of the mug. "Perhaps you weren't as far off the truth as you think," he said slowly. "I think one of the reasons Seven and I drew closer together initially was because we each felt you'd rejected us." He saw the look of consternation on her face, but she made no attempt to deny the truth of his statement. "You were shutting yourself off from everyone, Kathryn, so hell-bent on getting the crew home that you forgot about the individuals you were actually fighting for. You were so cold and distant, and I know how hurt Seven was. I walked in on her once, in the Astrometrics lab; she was on the verge of tears because you'd just shrugged her off. And I could sympathize, because I knew what it felt like. I invited her to spend some time with me on the holodeck that evening, to cheer her up. And that was how it all began." Chakotay was silent for a long moment, thinking of the early days of his relationship with Seven. She had been curiously eager, ready to please, and looking for company. It had been a long time since someone had considered him attractive and Chakotay had been flattered by the attention. "The two of you are so much alike, you know--both bright and strong and giving off the aura of being self-sufficient. But at the same time, she was also so vulnerable, so desperately alone."

"You always did need to be needed," Kathryn said evenly. "I should have guessed that was a contributing factor."

"Well, you never needed me, did you?" he said, surprising himself with the bitterness in his voice. "You made it perfectly clear at the start that you could go it alone. The Spirits know, you even seemed happier when you did." He repeated, "You never needed me, Kathryn."

"You're wrong," she protested. "I did need you, but I didn't know how to let you know without looking weak. And that was something I couldn't afford. What would have happened to the ship, to the crew, to any of us, if I'd buckled under pressure?"

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "It isn't an admission of weakness to admit you need someone, Kathryn. No matter what you needed, I was right there to help you if only you would have let me." He gazed into her eyes, seeing himself reflected in their depths. "Remember the legend of the angry warrior, Kathryn? That wasn't just a story; I meant every word." And he swore to always be by her side.

"I--I couldn't be sure." He had to strain to hear to catch her next words. "And I was afraid of being rejected."

"So instead you put yourself into a position where you could never be hurt." He grimaced.

"That was the idea," she sighed, and ran her hand over her hair. "Not that I consciously planned any of this."

"I'm sure you didn't." He cupped her chin gently and raised her face till she was looking at him. "I never meant to hurt you, Kathryn."

"You're not to blame, Chakotay. It's my own fault, like you said. I brought this on myself." She sighed again. "And like something else you said, we certainly had a lot of air to clear." She laughed self-consciously. "Several years' worth of baggage, or so it seems." She paused and then continued in a determinedly cheerful voice. "So tell me what you've been up to. I know you've been on Betazed for most of the past two years. Is the dig finished? What will you be doing now?"

"The first major phase I'd signed on for is over." He hesitated as he shifted his position. "I'm not quite sure what I want to do now. I suppose I can always go back to Betazed but...I don't know. When I made my plans to return to Earth several months ago, well, let's just say that circumstances were a bit different then."

"You mean with Seven."

"Yes. She wanted me to stay here permanently, and I was seriously considering it. Or thought I was. But now..." his voice trailed off; he wasn't quite sure how to break the news to her.

Kathryn saved him the trouble. "I know about Ethan," she said gently.

Chakotay exhaled sharply. "Ethan is only a part of it. Over the past several years, we just gradually began losing our connection with each other. It was much simpler when we were together in the same place following the same pursuits, either on board Voyager or the early years since we came back and she accompanied me on my field work. But I didn't realize at the time that she was following my dream, not hers. And that I was holding her back. Once I realized that, I knew things had to change and I encouraged her to apply to MIT. I just never imagined that that would be the beginning of the end."

"I'm sorry," Kathryn said, her sincerity evident. She paused. "Are you absolutely certain it's over?"

"Yes." Chakotay stood abruptly and went to the window. It faced east; the view was of the blue-gray hills instead of the bay. "Last winter Seven came to Betazed on her break between semesters. And I think both of us realized it then, though neither of us wanted to say it out loud. Finally, just before she left-- You know how direct Seven can be at times." He gave her a rueful smile. "But now that I think about it, the signs were there even earlier. We'd grown apart the last couple of years--and I'm not just talking about physical proximity. It was better to end it then. And at least this way, our parting is amicable. Hopefully we can still be friends."

"You will be, if you both want it," Kathryn assured him. "And if you're willing to make the effort." She had a rueful smile of her own. "Connections don't keep up on their own."

"No, they don't." Chakotay moved back to the table. He stopped in front of his chair, but didn't sit down. "You were talking about Voyager earlier, Kathryn, how we'd never approach something like that again. In a way you're right. I'm not talking about the adventure, or the exploits or any of the fascinating discoveries we'd made--"

"--or the epic battles," she cut in with only a slight trace of irony. "Outnumbered by our foes--"

"No, not the battles either." He refused to get sidetracked. "The most important thing was the people. We had something special there."

She nodded and then glanced down at his hands gripping the back of the chair tightly, the knuckles turning white. "Yes, it was. We were a family, in every sense of the word."

"I didn't think we'd drift apart so quickly," Chakotay said. "Somehow, I thought our ties would be stronger, that we would be able to withstand time and distance."

Kathryn stared at him. "Are you talking about the crew?" she asked softly. "Or you and me?"

"Both," Chakotay said, unable to keep the wistful note out of his voice. "But you and me mostly." He hesitated. "Do you think it would have been different?" he asked. "If we had stayed out there...?"

Kathryn considered for a long moment. "No," she said at last. "I don't think anything would have changed." She eyed him directly. "And as we said before, you chose to move on, to fall in love with Seven." Kathryn sighed. "Regardless of anything I might have been feeling inside I wouldn't have come between you."

Chakotay let his hands drop to his sides. "I guess that's what I needed to know." He took a deep breath. "Well, we've spoken about my plans. What about you?"

Kathryn stood as well. She picked up the mugs and plates and placed them neatly in the sink. Her back was to him as she said, "As I mentioned, I've returned to active duty status."

"That's right, you did." He watched as she washed the dishes quickly by hand. He picked up a towel and dried them, placing the dishes on the countertop. "Have you been back in space since, uh, since--?"

"Since the battle in the Neutral Zone?" Kathryn finished the sentence for him. "Yes, but only a few brief trips and not very far. And not for anything major." She fell silent for a moment. "But even without everything that happened, I was beginning to wonder if there really were any challenges left for me any more. I'm not sure that Starfleet has much left to offer me and I'm not entirely sure whether there's still a place for me in that organization."

He stopped in the act of opening the cabinet and turned to her in surprise. "Are you thinking of retiring from Starfleet?"

"Yes," Kathryn said shortly, and reached across him to put the dishes away.

Chakotay caught her arm without thinking. "I never thought I'd hear you say that." He looked down at the way he was gripping her and flushed.

She made no effort to pull away from him. "In the past year I've discovered that yes, I can survive away from Starfleet, from duty." Her eyes met his. "Even though my 'hiatus' wasn't exactly voluntary. But the key thing is, Chakotay, after I was more or less recovered physically, I enjoyed my time off. You told me that I needed to focus on living, and without Starfleet, I found I could do exactly that." Her eyes shone. "I've walked for hours on the beach, Chakotay, breathing in the salt air, feeling the sand between my toes, the wind in my hair. I've been reading some of my favorite classics once again, learning to cook--" she smiled. "-- and it's been a wonderful experience. I'm not sure I'm ready to sit behind a desk and read diplomatic briefs for hours again."

Chakotay relaxed his hold and forced a smile. "What do you think you'd do then--take up holoprogramming instead, perhaps?"

She laughed and patted his arm affectionately, just as she used to in the old days. "You must have been talking to Tom recently."

"B'Elanna, actually. She's the one who told me that Tom had decided to change careers," Chakotay said. The news had come as a surprise to Chakotay; he'd always figured that Tom Paris would be restless without flying, but the last letter from B'Elanna indicated that Tom was doing very well. In addition, the career change had allowed Tom to spend more time with his children, something Tom had wanted all along. Now, Chakotay frowned. "Seriously, Kathryn, what did you have in mind?"

"I don't really know," she said. "It's not like I've thought this completely through. Just a growing feeling I've had, that's all."

"I see."

"I would like to go into research again," Kathryn said, shutting the cabinet door.

"Anything in particular?" Chakotay asked, moving so he was in her line of vision once more.

"There are a number of areas I'm interested in," Kathryn said contemplatively. "There are probably several institutions that would be glad to have me on staff for the sake of my name recognition alone, but I was thinking...Chakotay, do you remember the alien communication array we discovered in the fourth year of our journey?" Her voice took on a note of breathless excitement -- a tone he remembered, had always appreciated, from their time on Voyager.

He recalled the incident she was referring to all too well; sending the Doctor's holographic matrix through the array had been their first contact with the Alpha Quadrant since the Caretaker had swept them from the Badlands. "The one the Hirogen claimed and weren't especially happy to see us using?"

Kathryn nodded impatiently. "The one powered by a microsingularity, that our sensors indicated was thousands of years old."

"You found it fascinating, as I recall." Chakotay nodded. "You'd like to investigate something like that?"

"Yes." Kathryn looked thoughtful. "I suppose I could find out if anybody is doing research in that direction. Perhaps the Cochrane Institute on Alpha Century, or the Norpin Colony in connection with the Dyson Sphere--" She looked at him expectantly. "What do you think?"

"It sounds like a very good idea," Chakotay said, taking her hand in his. He smiled. "You've always been the rational, level-headed one, whereas I always tend to lead with my heart instead of my head."

"It's not a bad way to be," Kathryn said, with a warm smile. "You've always had good instincts."

Chakotay pressed her hands gently. "There's just one thing, Kathryn."

"Yes?" she said, concerned.

"This house," he said, gesturing around them. "Projects such as the ones you've been mentioning are usually on-site and of a lengthy duration. You've finally found a home for yourself after all this time--would you be willing to give it up?"

Kathryn leaned her head against his shoulder. "Chakotay," she said, her voice slightly muffled. "If there's one thing I've learned over the past several years, it's that home is not a place, but being with the people you love."

His arms tightened around her and he closed his eyes.

*****

And this love
Is like nothing I have ever known
Take my hand, love
I'm taking you home

~ Don Henley ("Taking You Home")


~ the end ~

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