By Keaton Bridges


Summary: Four months post Endgame. P/T, J/C.

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns Trek, I just play with the characters. No infringement intended.

Chakotay stepped off the shuttle and shouldered his bag then began to make his way through the crowd on the landing pad. After hours spent in a packed shuttle during the last leg of his journey, he was anxious to walk off the kinks and breathe fresh air. The sun had just started to rise as he took a shortcut across a park near Tom and B'Elanna's home. B'Elanna had sent him the address and an image of the house soon after she and Tom bought it. He found a bench to rest on as soon as their house came into view and settled in to wait for a respectable hour to call on them. With a baby in the house, sleep was probably a precious commodity and he did not want to wake them too early.

He took a thermal canister from his bag, thankful there was one more cup of coffee inside. He hoped it would be enough to keep him awake for at least a few more hours.

With legs outstretched and ankles crossed, he took a drink straight from the canister and nearly choked when someone called out his name. Sputtering, he turned to see Tom in robe and slippers approaching with a ridiculously small dog on a leash.

"I thought that was you!" Tom grinned. "What the heck are you doing out here in the park?" He plopped down on the bench. "Better yet, what are you doing on the planet? I thought you were on Dorvan."

Chakotay smiled and wiped his chin. "Do you always chatter like this at the crack of dawn?"

"Yeah, but the pipsqueak here is the only one around to hear it." He looked down at the tiny terrier shivering at his feet. "I ask you, Chakotay, have you ever seen such a pathetic excuse for a dog? When I suggested to the wife we should get a puppy to grow up with Miral, I had in mind...well, a real dog. A lab or a shepherd." He snorted and shook his head. "Then she comes home with this, this rat!"

Chakotay laughed aloud and screwed the lid back on the canister. "So, get a real dog."

"Great idea! With any luck, it would make a snack of this one." Proving it was just talk, he leaned over and scratched the little dog affectionately behind the ears. "You never said what you're doing here."

"I didn't want to get you up too early. I just got in."

"From Dorvan?" Tom asked in surprise and leaned back. "No wonder you look like shit."

Chakotay stuffed the canister back into his bag on the bench between them. "I wouldn't talk if I were you. I'm not the one with a rat on a leash."

Tom gave him a look then reached down to scoop up the dog. "So, do you want some breakfast? B'Elanna should be up by now."

"I don't want to impose."

"Come on," Tom said with a roll of his eyes as he stood. He moved toward the park entrance and spoke over his shoulder. "Wait until you see Miral. Four months old and six teeth already!"

Chakotay grabbed his bag and followed with a wide smile. "I can't wait." Despite being tired to the bone, he was happy to be 'home' and among friends. He'd been tempted to ask about Kathryn straight away but decided to visit with Tom and B'Elanna first. Maybe then his inquiry wouldn't seem so urgent.

Tom and Chakotay entered the house. "Wait here," Tom instructed as he set the dog down and took off the leash. The animal scurried away as Tom straightened. "I'll go see if she's decent."

Chakotay dropped his bag by the door and looked around the comfortable living room. His eyes were drawn to a large framed image of the senior staff on the mantle and he smiled faintly. It had been taken in the early years of the journey when Kes was still with them rather than after Seven had come aboard. B'Elanna's dislike for Seven had softened only slightly over the years, although by the time Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant the two had formed a respectful but stiff friendship, but apparently B'Elanna thought Seven's image did not deserve such a place of honor. Especially after Seven dared attach herself to him.

"I don't believe it!" B'Elanna cried. Chakotay turned as she hurried toward him with arms outstretched. They grabbed one another in a fierce hug and she thumped him on the back with her fists. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming?" She scolded and held him away to get a good look. "God, Chakotay, you look like crap!"

"Told you," Tom piped from the doorway.

"I take it neither of you has traveled by public transportation lately," Chakotay said as he tugged an earlobe. His eyes settled on B'Elanna with affection then Tom. "It's so good to see you two."

"We missed you, too," Tom said just as an insistent cry came from the hallway behind him. "And another day begins! I'll get her."

When Tom was gone, B'Elanna grinned at Chakotay and tugged him down on the sofa beside her. "So? Are you back?"

"As in, for good?"

"What else?"

"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I guess I'll wait and see how things go."

B'Elanna's expression changed to a near scowl and she started to speak just as Tom entered the room with Miral in his arms. Certain he was about to be on the receiving end of one ofB'Elanna's tirades, no doubt concerning his disappearance three months ago, Chakotay welcomed the interruption and stood up to accept the wriggling bundle Tom handed him.

"Watch your fingers," Tom warned jokingly. "She hasn't had her breakfast yet."

"Tom's so proud of those teeth," B'Elanna said as her husband settled on the arm of the sofa next to her. "But then, he doesn't have to nurse her!" They watched Chakotay slowly sit down, mesmerized by the tiny face and the dark eyes focused on him.

"She's so beautiful," he breathed. The tears that pricked his eyes surprised him and he quickly covered. "Are you sure she's yours?"

Tom didn't miss a beat. "So the doc says!"

Miral stiffened and began to whimper. Chakotay's answer was to quickly hand her to her mother who rolled her eyes. "Coward," she groused, then addressed her daughter. "Come on, Squirt. Let's get you fed."

The men watched her leave then Tom slapped his palms down on his knees. "Speaking of getting fed, I think I promised you some breakfast."

"Sounds good." Chakotay stood when Tom did. "Can I help?"

"You bet." Tom led the way to the kitchen. "I have to warn you though, my cooking can't compare with Neelix's."

"You talk as if that's a bad thing."

"To be honest, I really miss him. He's very happy, but he misses all of us terribly," Tom said as he washed up at the sink.

"You've spoken to him?"

"Yeah, a few weeks ago. I happened to be at HQ when he called with his monthly report." Tom stepped aside to give Chakotay access to the sink and reached for a towel. "He's getting married, you know."

"No, I didn't. Good for Neelix!"

"He was telling all about the wedding when he suddenly got tears in his eyes. He said he wished more than anything that we could be there. Hell, he almost had me crying!"

Chakotay shut off the water and Tom handed him the towel. "Seems to me Starfleet could arrange for at least some of the crew to be there."

Tom had started toward the stove but stopped suddenly and whirled around as he slapped his forehead. "I didn't even think of that! He could get married during the transmission!" With a wide grin, he reached up to one of the upper cabinets and took down a large bowl. "He'll be thrilled."

"Neelix deserves all the happiness he can get. He gave us all so much."

"You've got that right," Tom said and handed Chakotay the bowl. He moved to the cooler and took out a container of eggs which he also handed over. "I can't imagine life on Voyager without him. Hey, is scrambled okay with you?" At Chakotay's nod, he reached into a drawer and pulled out a whisk and a long serrated knife. "Six or seven should do it."

Chakotay pulled one of the stools to the island and sat down to break eggs into the bowl. "Have you and B'Elanna adjusted to life with your feet on the ground?"

"It's funny you ask. She and I were talking about that just the other day." Tom sat on a stool on the opposite side of the island with a loaf of bread and began to slice it. "Our lives have only recently settled into any sort of normalcy. When the debriefings ended, we were suddenly faced with all these job offers, both 'Fleet and civilian. Neither of us wanted to rush into anything so we took our time with that. I tell you, having a kid really changes your priorities. And then, once that decision was made, there was the whole house hunting thing." Tom looked up at Chakotay with a brow lowered. "It's probably best you missed all that. There were a few weeks there when I wasn't sure our marriage was going to survive."

Chakotay picked up the whisk and half smiled. "Over choosing a house?"

"I assure you, it's no joke. We've never disagreed so vehemently, and I hope we never do again."

"So, who's choice was this?" Chakotay asked as he glanced around the roomy kitchen.

Tom began slicing again. "Fortunately, just when we were ready to give up to keep from killing each other, the realtor talked us into seeing one more house. This one. We both loved it at first sight."

"It's a fine house, Tom."

"Thanks. Anyway, on top of the job thing and the house thing, we were still getting used to being first-time parents. It was tough, I don't mind telling you." He put down the knife and dusted off his hands. "Now we're enjoying life more."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"What about you, Chakotay?"

"What about me?"

"What's been going on with you? I mean, you up and resigned from Starfleet and took off to Dorvan with Seven without so much as a goodbye."

Chakotay winced slightly and began tobeat the eggs. "I'm sorry about that, Tom."

"Don't apologize," Tom said. "Some of us were concerned is all. It wasn't like you."

Chakotay left the whisk in the bowl and pushed it across the island to within Tom's reach. He folded his hands on his lap and looked up to see no judgment or anger in his friend's eyes, but understanding and compassion. Once he'd wanted to strangle this man. Now he looked upon him as a dear friend, almost like a brother. "I ran away," he said simply then drew a deep breath and blew it out. "I thought Seven and I would have a better chance of making it work if we were...some place else." He dropped his gaze to a drop of raw egg he'd splattered on the counter. "At least, that's what I told myself. Now I know leaving like that was a mistake in so many ways. I shouldn't have taken Seven from the only real family she'd ever known. I shouldn't have allowed remarks from those who disapproved of our relationship to get to me. I probably shouldn't have resigned from Starfleet, and definitely shouldn't have left without talking to Kathryn." He looked up at Tom for a reaction as he said Kathryn's name.

"You really hurt her, you know." Tom said quietly. Chakotay nodded, his face a mask of shame and guilt. "She had everyone fooled, except those of us closest to her. She pretended nothing was wrong, licked her wounds in private. Then, when Seven came back alone and there was still no word from you.."

"How is she, Tom?"

"How is who?" B'Elanna asked. The men were surprised by her presence and watched as she crossed her arms stiffly. Clearly, she was angry. Both men knew that look, the calm before the storm. She moved to the end of the island without taking her eyes from Chakotay's but he did not answer. "I'm surprised you think you have a right to ask," she said evenly. "I love you, Chakotay, but what you did was low and thoughtless and downright cruel. Friends don't just walk away without a backward glance. Tell me something. What did she..what did any of us ever do to you to deserve that?"

"B'Elanna," Tom began softly but she held up a hand to silence him.

"No, Tom. I'd like to hear it straight from him. How could you just walk away like that?"

Chakotay was exhausted from travel and lack of rest. He'd opened himself and poured his heart out to Tom, explaining exactly what B'Elanna was demanding of him now. He knew she had a right to be angry, they all did, but he wasn't going into it again. "You can't say anything to me I haven't already said to myself a hundred times," he answered, careful to keep his voice calm.

"That doesn't answer the question."

He snapped. "I don't have to explain a goddamn thing to you!" He yelled and immediately regretted speaking to her disrespectfully in her own home. He exhaled in frustration and dragged a hand across his face. "Look, I shouldn't have come here unexpectedly. I'll go." He started to get up but Tom rushed around the island and placed a hand on his arm.

"No, no, Chakotay, don't go, please." He looked at B'Elanna beseechingly. "We've been friends too long for this." Tom looked back at Chakotay. "You are always welcome in our home."

B'Elanna looked from Chakotay to her husband and back at Chakotay. All the anger left her and she gave a nod. "He's right. I'm sorry."

"There, you see?" Tom said and clapped Chakotay on the back. "She's always a little grumpy before she's had her coffee." He pretended to be mortally wounded when she playfully punched his arm. She stepped up to hug Chakotay then kissed his cheek. "Great!" Tom complained. "I get punched and he gets a kiss!"

B'Elanna backed away from Chakotay and pointed at Tom. "You, to the stove." She turned the finger on Chakotay and grinned. "You, sit down and I'll get us some coffee." As if they'd planned it, both men snapped to attention and gave an old fashioned salute. She laughed and shook her head as Tom took down a frying pan from the rack over the island, grumbling all the while about bossy women and disrespect, while their guest chuckled and went to sit at the table by the window. She sidled up to Tom and kissed his cheek then went to get the coffee. Tom winked at Chakotay when her back was turned, letting him know all was well, then went about preparing their breakfast.

Chakotay turned his gaze to the window and the back yard. He so envied their life. As a young man, he'd envisioned one much like it for himself. A woman he loved deeply, a satisfying career, a home, maybe even a child, or two. Life certainly had a way of showing a man just how little he had to say about how it unfolded.

B'Elanna set a cup in front of him then slid into the opposite chair. "Where were you?" she asked softly as she lifted her own cup to her mouth.

"Oh, about twenty years back," he answered with a small smile. "When life held promise and opportunity."

"You talk as if it doesn't now."

"I'm not a young man. Opportunities are fewer, promises have been broken."

She looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and concern. "This isn't like you."

"I'm just being honest."

"It sounds more like you're feeling sorry for yourself."

"That too," he admitted a bit sheepishly.

B'Elanna leaned across the table toward him with a frown although a smile twinkled in her eyes. "If you think I chewed your ass a few minutes ago, well, you just keep this up." She couldn't help but smile when he chuckled. "Look, Chakotay," she went on more seriously. "I don't pretend to understand this...this thing between you and Kathryn, and I know I'm sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong, but I can tell you without doubt there is hope." She reached across the table to place a hand on his. "So stop looking as if someone licked all the red off your candy, will you? It's depressing!"

Chakotay grinned and lifted her hand to his lips for a kiss. "I'll see what I can do."

Tom appeared at the table and set the coffee carafe down between them. "Soup's on. You guys gonna talk or eat?"

They answered in unison. "Both!"

Over their breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit and thick slices of homemade bread, Tom and B'Elanna informed Chakotay he would be their guest while he decided what he wanted to do. His protests fell on deaf ears and he finally gave in, although insisting it would only be for a short time. He would follow up on a job offer and 'poke around' a bit to see what else might turn up, then decide whether he would remain on Earth or return to Dorvan.

After Tom and B'Elanna left to drop Miral off at daycare and go to work, he tidied up the kitchen then took a shower. Within minutes of getting into bed he fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.

Kathryn's face lit up when she opened the communication to find B'Elanna at the other end. "Well, it's about time!" she teased. "I've been back for almost a week!"

"Sorry," B'Elanna said with a sideways smirk. "Some of us don't have personal assistants to lighten our work load."

Kathryn rolled her eyes and leaned in as if to share a secret. "If you'd like one, I'd gladly take the position."

"Bored already?"

"Guilty," she admitted and leaned back in her chair. "As crazy as it might sound, I know you'll understand." Her smile faded a bit. "I miss Voyager and my crew. Some days I even miss the Delta Quadrant."

"It doesn't sound crazy at all. Well, it might to someone who wasn't there, but I understand completely."

"How are Tom and Miral?" The shine returned to her eyes and she leaned forward again, eager for news of her second family.

"They're fine. Tom's all fired up about the new prototype. He thinks I may be asked to go along on some of the test flights, so I'm looking forward to that as well. Miral is, of course, wonderful. You won't believe how she's grown."

"Is that an invitation?"

B'Elanna was surprised but quickly recovered. "Actually, I called to see if we might have lunch. I do have new pictures of the munchkin."

"That sounds wonderful, but I only have about forty-five minutes for lunch today." She gave an exaggerated roll of her eyes. "An afternoon meeting with that stuffy Admiral Paris."

B'Elanna laughed at the reference to her father in law. "My deepest sympathies," she joked. "Why don't I pick something up and bring it to your office? That would save a little time."

"Perfect! Is noon good for you?"

"Sounds great."

They had lunch in a small conference room off Kathryn's office and spent the first twenty minutes catching up on the latest news concerning anyone from Voyager and talking about and looking at pictures of Miral. When they had finished their meal, they took second cups of coffee to the sofa in the office. B'Elanna was aware that Kathryn had sensed there was more to this visit than friends meeting for lunch. Before the younger woman could decide how to broach the subject, Kathryn, in true Janeway fashion, got straight to the point. "What's going on, B'Elanna?"

"Are you sure none of your ancestors were Betazoid?" she chuckled.

"Clearly, something is bothering you. Let's have it."

After turning a bit to face Kathryn and pulling a knee onto the sofa, B'Elanna drew a breath and just said it. "Chakotay's at our house."

For a moment Kathryn just blinked then her eyes clouded and she looked down at the cup in her hand. "How is he?"

"Physically, he's fine," she answered softly. After a moment's pause, Kathryn looked at her and waited for the rest. "But he seems troubled to me."


"Of course, it didn't help when I almost immediately jumped down his throat." There was guilt in her voice and she lowered her head for a moment. "Tom found him on a park bench when he was walking the dog. Chakotay said he didn't want to come to the house too early."

"Then, you didn't know he was coming?"

"No. It was a complete surprise. He walked over from the terminal on Hayden Street, straight from Dorvan."

Kathryn took a sip of coffee. "Did he say why he's here?"

"He mentioned a job offer at some university in Arizona, but he sounded less than enthusiastic about it. If you ask me, I don't think he knows what he wants."

A small smile crept to Kathryn's lips. "And you say you jumped him?"

"Damn straight! I've been so angry with him for leaving the way he did, and suddenly, there he was in my kitchen." The scowl on her face morphed into a sheepish grin. "I'm afraid I let him have it with both barrels."

"I'm sure he expected that from you," Kathryn joked lightly. "How did he react?"

"He said I couldn't say anything to him he hadn't already said to himself a hundred times." She watched her friend closely for a reaction.

Kathryn spoke quietly, with sadness and understanding. "It sounds like his conscious has bothered him."

"As damn well it should!" B'Elanna snorted. "How can you not be angry with him?"

"Oh I was." Kathryn set her cup down on the coffee table then crossed her arms. "I was mad as hell at first, then hurt, which led right back to anger. I simply made up my mind to let it go. We've all made our share of mistakes, B'Elanna. Everyone deserves a second chance."

"You know, that's probably the most important thing I learned from you."

Kathryn was clearly touched but her chuckle came as a surprise. "Perhaps a better lesson would've been not to jump down people's throats so quickly."

"Excuse me?" B'Elanna fought down most of a smile. "I seem to remember you jumping down quite a few alien throats on our trip, and quite well I might add."

"Ah, but there's a difference," Kathryn said as she lifted a forefinger. "With any luck, we were never going to see them again."

"Point taken."

Kathryn had grown very serious to the point of sadness. "I like to think those years out there taught me some important life lessons, too. Unfortunately, some I learned too late."

"Such as?"

After a long pause, Kathryn shook her head very slightly and barely smiled. "I can't. Not yet."

"As long as you know I'm here when you are ready to talk."

Kathryn reached over to squeeze her friend's hand. "I do, and I appreciate it."

B'Elanna nodded then set her cup on the coffee table and stood. "I'll get out of here so you can get ready for your meeting with PaPa Paris." Kathryn stood with a chuckle and hugged her, then put an arm around her shoulders as they moved toward the door.

"Thanks for lunch. Let's take a nice long lunch soon, hmm?"

"Just say when." They stopped just short of triggering the door and faced each other. "I wanted to let you know he was here." Kathryn smiled but didn't respond. "Shall I tell him I talked to you? That you send your regards?"

"If he wants to hear from me, he'll have to contact me." She'd tried to sound flippant but saw in her friend's eyes that she didn't buy it. More softly, she added, "The ball's in his court, B'Elanna."

"So, you wouldn't object to his dropping by?"

She was fishing and Kathryn knew it. "Only if it's his idea." She leaned a little closer. "And his alone. Now, get out of here." She grinned and straightened. "I don't want to keep PaPa Paris waiting."

Tom entered the house carrying Miral and started toward the playpen in a corner of the living room but suddenly froze. B'Elanna had come in behind him with the diaper bag and turned from closing the door to see Tom looking at her with a strange expression. She was about to ask him what the matter was when they both inhaled deeply of the delicious aroma wafting in from the kitchen. They both hurried in to investigate.

Chakotay looked up from slicing an onion and grinned. "I hope you're hungry."

"You made dinner?" B'Elanna asked with wonder and went to peer into the steaming pots on the stove.

"It's the least I can do."

"Bad idea," Tom said with a grave expression.

"How so?"

"We may decide to keep you on permanently."

"Yeah," B'Elanna piped in as she went to stand beside Chakotay and elbowed him. "Especially if you babysit and clean house, too."

Chuckling, the cook went back to work.

"I'm going to put Miral down and grab a shower," Tom said to his wife, then looked at Chakotay. "Am I supposed to dress for dinner?"

"Tom Paris," B'Elanna scowled, "We have company in the house and he's making us dinner. Don't you dare come to the table in sweats!"

"On second thought," Tom said as he turned to leave, "Chakotay, you're fired."

Chakotay grinned down at B'Elanna. "I guess the position's open again."

"You could always take his place," she retorted and went to the sink to wash up. "What can I do?"

"You can pour us a glass of wine."

"I'd be glad to if we had any."

"It's in the cooler."

"You shopped too?" she asked incredulously. His chuckle was her answer. "Oh, that's it! Tom's been replaced."

"How was your day?" He scooped up the onion slices, turned to drop them into one of the pots then picked up a spoon to stir.

B'Elanna moved to stand beside him as she dried her hands and peered into the pot he stirred. "The usual. God! That smells wonderful! I had no idea you were such a good cook."

The spoon stilled and Chakotay looked at her suspiciously. "Why do I get the feeling you don't want to discuss your day?"

"Because I don't," she shrugged and tossed the towel aside, adding as she reached into a cupboard for wine glasses, "My work stays at work."

"Since when?" Chakotay waited for an answer that did not come. He watched her open a drawer and pull out a corkscrew. "You saw Kathryn today."

She closed the drawer with her hip. "Smart ass."

"How is she?"

"Why don't you call her and find out?"

"She's still angry with me, isn't she?"

"I didn't say that."

"She's not angry then?"

B'Elanna exhaled in frustration and shoved the corkscrew at him on her way to the cooler. "Making me dinner does not give you the right to put me in the middle of this!" she said loudly. "Kathryn and I are friends and I will not.."

"I simply asked you how she is," he began and turned only to have the breath nearly knocked out of him when she shoved the bottle of wine to his stomach. He barely managed to grab the bottle before she let go to make fists at her sides.

"Call her yourself!" She shouted. "I'm not answering your questions."

"Are you two at it again?" Tom asked from the doorway "I can hear you all the way in the bedroom." He crossed his arms as they looked at him sheepishly. "Chakotay, she's not going to be happy until you contact Kathryn. You do know that, don't you?"

"Yeah, I'm getting that."

"And B'Elanna, he might just be more inclined to contact her if you'd back off a little." She frowned and gave a begrudging nod. "Good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be in the shower. Try not to wake Miral, would you?" Without waiting for a response he turned and left.

Chakotay opened the wine and handed it to B'Elanna then turned back to the stove. She poured two glasses and offered him one. "Truce?"

"Truce," he grinned and took the glass. They touched the rims, took a sip, then sat down on the stools at the island. For a long time they were silent as they sipped their wine, then Chakotay softly cleared his throat. "I couldn't face her, B'Elanna."

"Then start with a letter, or, send her some flowers."

"No. I meant I couldn't face her when Seven and I left."

B'Elanna could hardly believe he was actually going to talk about it. She reminded herself to be cool. "Why not?"

"I don't think it was any secret that I had feelings for Kathryn," he said softly.

"Just say it like it is. You were in love with her." So much for being cool.

A brief smile flitted across his face. "As I was saying...I waited a very long time for her. I understood her reasons for not allowing us to be together, some I even agreed with, and for a few years I was all right with it. But, as time stretched on I started to think of all the years, possibly decades, I might spend beside a woman I couldn't have. I guess that sounds selfish."

"Not at all," B'Elanna said quietly.

"Kathryn remained strong but I began to want more, and she sensed it. More than she could give. I'm not just talking about a physical relationship, but the closeness and sharing between two people in love. Sometimes when we'd have dinner together, I could see in her eyes that she knew. The worst part is, I could also see she wanted it as much as I did and that it broke her heart to deny us. So, we stopped having meals together in quarters. Before long, we stopped spending any time at all together off-duty and we started to grow apart. Somehow, the friendship survived." He paused to take a swallow of wine and was quiet for a long moment. "When Seven expressed an interest in me, I jumped in without giving it much thought. As much as I hate to admit it, I was starved for affection. I needed someone." He turned to look at B'Elanna. The compassion he saw in her eyes gave him the encouragement to continue. "At first it was wonderful. To feel wanted, to be close to someone. I even convinced myself for a while that I could fall in love with her." He turned his gaze forward again and spoke more quietly. "But inside, I knew Seven wasn't the one I wanted. Even then, the more I ached for Kathryn, the more I clung to Seven." With regret written all over his face, he closed his eyes and lowered his head for a moment before continuing. "When we got back I knew I'd ruined any chance I might've had with Kathryn and I couldn't face losing Seven, too, so I talked her into going to Dorvan with me. I told myself I could love her if we went away, got away from Earth. From Kathryn. In my mind, it was a last chance and failure wasn't an option." He paused again to take a drink. "Of course, that's exactly what happened. I was so determined to make it work, Seven felt suffocated and left. I don't blame her."

Even from the corner of her vision, B'Elanna could see the defeat in his body language. She loved him like a brother and her heart ached for him, but she would not go against Kathryn's wishes. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, unable to think of anything more meaningful.

He smiled weakly and gave a small shrug, then squared his shoulders. "I took some time to sort things in my mind, and here I am."

"What now?"

"At this point, all I know for certain is that I plan to move very slowly and very cautiously."


He smiled in earnest, lowered his head a moment then looked up seriously. "Hopefully, back into the good graces, and heart, of Kathryn Janeway."

B'Elanna grinned and put an arm around his shoulders. She was in the middle of kissing his cheek when Tom came into the kitchen.

"What is it with you two? You're either fighting or kissing!"

"What's the matter, Tom?" Chakotay said without missing a beat. "Remind you of your courtship?"

"Chakotay!" B'Elanna cried and gave him a sharp elbow in the side.

"Now that you mention it," Tom said then winked at his wife.

Chakotay looked at one then the other, and his heart swelled. No matter what the future brought, or didn't, he felt himself very lucky to have these two wonderful people in his life. His eyes misted and his voice almost cracked. "You two are really something. I'm very fortunate to have you as friends."

"The feeling is mutual," Tom declared and lifted his glass. "To good friends." As soon as they had clinked glasses and taken a sip, he said, "Is it time to eat yet? I'm starved!"

Chakotay law awake in bed that night and thought about how to proceed. He had a lot of work to do to repair the damage he felt he'd done and carefully went over each idea frontwards and backwards, envisioning different scenarios. He took small comfort in knowing that at one time, Kathryn had loved him back. Whether any part of that love remained he'd find out soon enough, and if so, it was something to build on. She was a forgiving person. He'd known her to hold a grudge, but grudges he could deal with. Somehow, he'd find a way to win her love again. He had to. Before sleep finally claimed him, the first part of his plan was in place.

Kathryn looked up from her computer to see her assistant enter with a vase of yellow roses. She grinned and stood to accept them. "You shouldn't have," she joked.

"Oh, I didn't," the young woman said with a bright smile. "These just came. There's a card."

"Thank you, Simone," Kathryn said as she retrieved the card. Her assistant silently slipped out and closed the door behind her. Before opening the card she bent to inhale the fragrance and ran a fingertip over one of the flowers. She sat down, opened the tiny envelope and recognized his bold expressive writing before she'd fully removed the card it held.

Dearest Kathryn,

Please accept these as a gesture of friendship.

I hope you can see your way clear to forgive me

and someday call me friend again. If you are

willing, I ask only for a chance to repair the

damage I've done. I'll be in touch.


She read it through quickly the first time, then savored it the second and third. Her hand trembled slightly as she reached up to remove a single rose and bring it close to her face. Closing her eyes, she pressed it to her cheek and whispered his name.

The next day Chakotay went to Arizona for an interview then spent the afternoon visiting with his cousin in Ohio. By the time he got back to Tom and B'Elanna's, he'd missed dinner and they were about to go to bed. B'Elanna offered to make him something but he told her he'd take care of it. He started to go to the kitchen but something about their behavior piqued his curiosity. It was obvious they were trying very hard not to smile, but their eyes gave them away. "What are you two up to?"

Tom spoke up. "Oh, uh, we were just saying, before you came in, that it's not often Miral goes down this early and it has been a while..."

Chakotay threw his hands up. "Nevermind! I know when to make myself scarce." He chuckled and went into the kitchen and was still smiling as he raided the cooler. He took out some leftover pasta salad and a bowl of grapes and put them on the table, then went back for a bottle of water. He stopped at the utensil drawer to grab a fork then went to sit down. As he opened the water, his eyes were drawn to the window and the remnants of the sunset. He took a drink of water without taking his eyes off the shades of orange and coral still filling the sky, then froze with the bottle still at his mouth. A movement had caught his eye and he slowly lowered the bottle as he strained his eyes to see in the fading light. There was a figure. Someone was sitting in a corner of a child's sandbox left by the former owners. Since Tom and B'Elanna hadn't mentioned having a visitor, he put down the water and went out to investigate. He slowly opened the patio door and stepped outside as his eyes adjusted. He'd barely taken three steps across the patio when recognition hit and he nearly stumbled over his own feet. From the direction of the sandbox came an all too familiar, low chuckle followed by one soft word. "Surprise."

He managed to make his legs cooperate and carry him toward the sandbox, all the while keeping his eyes glued to her lest she prove a figment of his imagination and disappear. The closer he got, the clearer her beautiful, welcoming smile and shining eyes became, and the less he breathed. A grin began to fill his face as he realized there was no hint of anger or resentment or anything negative on her features. He stepped into the sandbox and sat opposite her. The grin faded into a look of wonder. "It's really you."

"It's me!" she said then replaced her smile with a mock scowl. "And I have a bone to pick with you."

"I kind of thought you might." The small triangular seats clearly weren't made for adult bottoms and he felt as if his knees were up around his ears. He stretched his legs out, crossed his ankles then folded his hands on his lap.

"About this," Kathryn said and held up the card from the roses.

Chakotay leaned forward to look closer then looked up questioningly. He had expected a verbal thrashing about his taking off without a word, but she had come to talk about flowers? The card?

"Chakotay, I never stopped thinking of you as my friend," she said quietly. "And you certainly don't need my forgiveness."


"It would've been nice to at least have a chance to say goodbye, but, truth is, I hadn't been very nice to you in quite a while." She leaned over and placed a hand on his. "So stop this guilt trip you've put yourself on."

Chakotay couldn't help himself. He smirked and lifted a brow. "You're preaching to me about guilt?"

She straightened and gave a lopsided grin. "Smart ass."

He laughed so hard he nearly toppled off the tiny seat which set Kathryn to laughing and she too almost lost her balance. Chakotay moved to sit cross-legged in the sand then held out a hand. Kathryn took his hand and lowered herself to sit in front of him. "It's good to hear you laugh."

Kathryn slipped her hand from his and placed it against her stomach. "It feels good." Her smile faded and she looked down to watch her fingers as they traced lazy circles in the sand by her thigh. "May I ask you something?"


She looked down at the card in her hand then up at him. "Is friendship enough?"

He wasn't sure exactly what she meant, so he went with a feeling. "If friendship's all you can offer, I'll find a way to live with it."

"That's not what I asked."

"Is friendship enough? I'm not sure how to answer except to say, I want you in my life in any way I can have you."

One side of her mouth twitched as if she'd almost let a smile escape. "You can have me any way you like." She blinked then clapped a hand over her mouth. From behind her hand came a muffled question. "Did I just say that?"

Chakotay moved to sit beside her, took the hand from her face and kissed it. "Yes, you did. Don't even think about taking it back."

Inside the house, Tom sat on the side of the bathtub tapping his toes and drumming his fingers while B'Elanna stood on the commode and peeked out the small, high window into the back yard. "What's going on?" He asked, aggravated with the lack of information forthcoming.

"It's looking good. They're sitting close, smiling."

Tom rolled his eyes. "They did that for seven years. Let me know when there's actual contact."



B'Elanna ducked down and grinned excitedly. "We've got contact! They're holding hands!"

Tom jumped up. "Let me see!"

"Keep your pants on," she said and raised up to continue spying. "My eyes are better than yours and it's almost dark."

"Come on," he said, tugging on the sleeve of her robe. "It's my turn."

"Stop whining, Tom. You're worse than.." She gasped and looked down at him with wide eyes. "Kissing! We've got kissing!" she squeaked.

Not about to miss that, Tom scrambled up beside her and precariously balanced himself with one foot on the commode and one on the vanity. "Well I'll be," he breathed. B'Elanna carefully stepped down and took his place on the side of the tub, shaking her head.

"Can you believe it? Finally!" She looked up at him as he stepped down and sat beside her, his face a blank stare. He turned to face her when she started laughing. "I wish you could see the look on your face."

"Well, excuse me! This moment has taken almost eight years and I'm.."

"You think it goes back that far?" she interrupted, all traces of a smile gone.

Tom drew back and gaped at her. "Were you on the same ship as the rest of us?"

"No, really. Do you think it was love at first sight?"

"Definitely for him, but I'm pretty sure she came around soon after." He slipped an arm around her waist and looked up. "Ain't love grand?"

"Tom Paris, you're a romantic at heart."

"I wonder what they're doing now," he said and suddenly stood up.

B'Elanna managed to step into his path and wrapped her arms around his neck. "They can take care of themselves," she said softly and moved in to kiss him.

Tom groaned with pleasure and pulled her hips to his. "You're trying to distract me," he said breathlessly when their lips parted.

"Is it working?"

He wrapped his arms around her and started to back toward the door, leaning in to take her mouth. "Oh yeah, it's working."