Kathryn glanced at her reflection one final time as she smoothed the hair around her face. She had cut it again after a couple years of going back to 'the bun' feeling that at her age, a shorter cut was more fitting. It fell just to her shoulders. Her simple teal gown went well with her coloring, even the few silver gray hairs scattered in her auburn mane. Delicate small diamond studs graced her earlobes and at her neck was a simple gold chain.
It was the 5th anniversary of Voyager's return and the reunion promised to be a very special event with almost the entire former crew due to attend. Kathryn felt both excitement and trepidation for while she was anxious to see most of her friends, there were two people she almost would rather not see. Those she desired to see again felt like family to her, their bonds forged over the years of their journey together on Voyager.
"Well, old girl," she said as she leaned closer to the mirror, "let's get this over with."
The ballroom was decorated beautifully and tastefully and Kathryn quite liked the music the small orchestra was playing. 'Perfect music for dancing' she thought. Her eyes had barely begun to scan the room when Harry approached.
"Captain!" he said with a bright smile as he went into her open arms for a hug.
"How many times do I have to tell you to call me Kathryn?" she said over his shoulder as she patted his back.
"I know, I know." he said as they stepped apart, "I can't hep it."
Kathryn leaned toward him and spoke for his ears only. "You look very handsome this evening, Harry."
"Thank you." Harry said shyly. "How've you been?"
"Oh, busy as usual," she began as Samantha and Naomi Wildman approached.
"Captain!" Naomi almost yelled as she wrapped her arms around Kathryn.
"Naomi," Kathryn said when they stepped back. "look at you! You're as tall as me!" Naomi beamed at the woman she idolized most next to her mother. "And so pretty." Kathryn added still holding her hand.
"Thank you." Naomi said then leaned in and almost whispered, "You look so beautiful."
Kathryn did not have a chance to thank her as Samantha stepped forward and said "May I have a hug too?" Kathryn smiled widely and hugged Samantha firmly. "It's so good to see you." Sam said.
"You too." Kathryn beamed. "It's wonderful to see you all." she added as her eyes misted. News had traveled quickly throughout the room that Voyager's Captain Janeway had arrived and many surrounded her, anxious to greet and hug her. When the crowd slowly dispersed only Tom and B'Elanna remained.
"You're at our table," Tom said, "along with the doctor and Tuvok." He did not mention that Chakotay's placecard was also there and watched her eyes for a reaction but saw none as she continued to smile and nodded. B'Elanna glanced at Tom and when he met her eyes, she saw concern there. Kathryn scanned the crowd trying to do it discreetly as she walked with Tom and B'Elanna to the open bar. When they had their drinks they continued to move about the room, stopping often to chat. When Admiral Paris took Kathryn's elbow to lead her to someone he wanted her to meet, Tom looked at B'Elanna.
"She didn't even ask about him." he said, clearly disappointed.
"Maybe she doesn't know." B'Elanna answered then took a sip from her drink.
"How could she not know?" Tom said, "It was over two years ago." He was getting himself upset over this matter and B'Elanna stepped in front of him, looked into his eyes with a faint smile, willing him to relax and enjoy himself. Slowly he smiled and looked her up and down as if for the first time that evening. "Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?"
"Twice before we left home and once in the shuttle." she answered with a wink. Again his eyes scanned the room searching for the one who was not there.
"Tom Paris, you are a hopeless romantic." B'Elanna said as she shook her head.
"Would you have me any other way?" he asked then not waiting for an answer added, "I know he RSVP'd."
"So did Seven." B'Elanna said but Tom did not hear her for he had spotted Tuvok entering the room.
"There's our master of logic." Tom said and raised an arm to wave.
Kathryn made polite conversation with the Starfleet brass surrounding her as she hid well her almost constant watching for her former first officer, not really even realizing she was doing it. Though she had almost hoped he would not attend she now found herself wondering where he was. As she turned to take a canope from a server's tray her eyes met Seven's.
"Captain," Seven said with a slight but genuine smile. "It's good to see you."
"Seven!" Kathryn said as she stepped forward to embrace her, careful not to spill her drink. "You look wonderful. How've you been?"
"I am well." Seven answered as they slowly moved away from the people around them. "And you look very lovely also."
"Thank you, Seven." Kathryn said knowing the compliment had been sincere. "Are you still teaching?"
Seven seemed a little surprised then her expression turned to one of hurt. "I have not taught at the academy in over a year."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Kathryn said feeling immediate guilt and searching frantically for the right words. "It seems I'm having more and more trouble keeping up with my flock these days. What are you doing with yourself then?"
"I live in Maine now." Seven answered. "I work for a small research company there."
Sure she had failed to hide the surprise in her eyes at this revelation, she went with it. "I had no idea. Do you enjoy it?"
"Yes, very much." Seven said as her smile reappeared, "It is very fulfilling."
"That's wonderful," Kathryn said honestly, "I'm very happy for you."
Seven was about to speak when a man on stage announced that the festivities were about to begin and asked the guests to please be seated.
"We'll talk more later?" Kathryn asked Seven.
"Of course." Seven added with a slight nod.
Kathryn turned to see Tom waving at her from a table near the stage. As she crossed the room she noticed that there was indeed an empty chair next to the one Tom was holding for her. As she sat down her eyes fell on the placecard at the empty seat and lingered for a moment. When she looked up she was sure she had seen pity in B'Elanna's eyes.
"I wonder what's keeping the old man?" B'Elanna said jokingly.
"It's not like him to be late." Tom chimed in as he took his seat.
Kathryn did not respond but maintained a convincing smile. Someone on stage was speaking and she tried to concentrate on the words but felt herself painfully aware of the empty chair beside her. She had thought she was dreading seeing him but now admitted to herself that that was a lie. It wasn't that she didn't want to see him, but that she was afraid to see him. Years had passed without words or messages between them. She had lost track of what he was doing now and just this evening had heard straight from Seven what she was doing. Seven had said 'I live in Maine now', not we. Where was he?
There were many speeches, an excellent dinner, good conversation with her tablemates and dancing and more mingling. Kathryn had to beg for mercy for it seemed that every male in the room had wanted at least one dance with her. The dancing had however allowed her an opportunity to further scan the crowd and she found herself hoping against hope to see his tall form nearby. She had heard rumors a few years earlier that there was trouble in the relationship between Seven and Chakotay, though now she could not even remember who had told her. It didn't matter. Kathryn had learned early in life that rumors and gossip were cruel bedfellows and she wanted no part of either. She had tried to push it out of her mind.
As soon as Kathryn saw the first guests leaving she had her excuse to make an exit. It took her better than a half hour to make her way around the room saying her good-bye's, promising to do better at keeping in touch. After collecting her wrap she stepped out into the crisp night air and inhaled deeply as she looked up at her beloved stars.
"Your destination coordinates, Ma'am?" one of the operators at the nearby transporter station asked.
"No, thank you." she said with a smile. "I'd like to walk."
"Enjoy." the operator said with a smile.
The sidewalk was empty of people as Kathryn walked and she was thankful for the solitude. She needed to be alone with her thoughts. It had been wonderful to see her former crew for they were truly like family to her. With a touch of guilt nagging at her, she made a promise to herself to do better at keeping in touch with them and intended to keep that promise. Tuvok had seemed quieter than usual, if that was possible she thought with a smile, and she had taken him aside to ask if there was anything wrong. He assured her there was no need for her concern. Tom and B'Elanna on the other hand had seemed more talkative than she had ever seen them. Whenever there had been the slightest lull in conversation one of them had spoken up opening another topic. Kathryn smiled again as she realized that it had been for her benefit...to keep her mind off Chakotay's absence.
Several blocks into her walk a sound nudged Kathryn from her thoughts to her surroundings. It was the sound of footsteps other than her own and they were getting closer. In the darkness ahead she could barely make out a man approaching. Though he had his head down, she immediately recognized that form, that walk. Her steps slowed and she began to smile. When he finally lifted his head he came to a complete stop for a moment then resumed coming toward her. They stopped a yard from one another and shared the smiles of friends.
"Running a little late tonight?" she asked, teasing him.
"I only decided an hour ago to come here." he said with his dimpled grin.
"You'd better hurry," she laughed, "it was winding down when I left."
Chakotay put his hands in his pockets as he continued to look at her. This was Kathryn's cue that he was not going to initiate a hug so she spoke up before she could change her mind.
"How about a hug for your old captain?"
"I thought you'd never ask." he said with a wide smile and stepped forward to take her into a firm hug. "It's so good to see you, Kathryn."
"Likewise." she said as they let go and stepped slightly apart. "Now you'd better hurry or you'll miss everyone."
"Why are you walking?" he asked, ignoring her last words.
Kathryn took the shawl from her arm and wrapped it about her shoulders as she said "It's a nice night and I just felt like walking." Looking up at him she added "You?"
"I needed some time to think." he answered honestly then chuckled, "It's farther than I remembered."
There was an uncomfortable moment when no words came and when it became too long, Kathryn stepped aside as if to continue her walk. "Well," she began.
"May I walk you home?" he interrupted.
"You're not going to..."
"I didn't come here for that," he said, taking her arm gently. "I came here to see you."
"About?" she said quietly finding herself unable to look away from those dark eyes.
Chakotay exhaled and seemed troubled. "Many things. And you didn't answer my question." Leaning toward her he repeated his words. "May I walk you home?"
Kathryn nodded and smiled. "You may." He stepped to her side and extended his elbow. Kathryn linked her arm in his.
They walked half a block in silence before Chakotay said, "We parted on shaky ground the last time we saw each other. Firstly, I wanted to apologize for not calling you to make it right."
"I'm not sure what you're talking about." she said in all honestly. He had been somewhat distant at the last function they had attended yet she had not taken it personally thinking he must've had something on his mind. Unknown to her, he had had something on his mind. He and Seven had agreed to separate. "So no apology is necessary." Kathry finished.
"And I suppose you've heard that it didn't work out between Seven and me." he went on. Kathryn was surprised at how easily he had said those words.
"No." she said quietly. "I'm sorry, Chakotay."
"There were problems from the beginning but I just didn't see it." he said as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "When I look back on it now, I wonder where the hell my mind was."
Kathryn stopped and he turned to face her. "Chakotay, I appreciate that you're comfortable talking about this with me, but I have to tell you, it's making me uncomfortable."
"I'm sorry, that was not my intention." he said softly. "I just want you to understand." He paused for a moment and looked up at the stars as if for inspiration. When his eyes met hers again he saw patience and understanding. "I didn't expect this to be so damned hard." he said as he removed his hands from his pocket and stepped closer. Kathryn surprised him when she slipped her hand in his.
"Go on." she said.
"It didn't work out because...I never got over you." he said simply, watching for her reaction. She maintained eye contact for a long time then slowly lowered her head.
"And now?" she asked.
"I've given up, Kathryn." he almost whispered. Her head snapped up and in an instant, she told herself it served her right. "On ever getting over you." he finished.
Her knees began to fail her as he grabbed her and wrapped her in his arms, burying his face in her hair and whispering her name. Dropping her clutch her arms came up to hold him and tears spilled over her cheeks as she blinked at the stars, clinging to him as if her life depended upon it. And it did.