Title: The Illustrious Status Quo
Author: Megara79
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Rating: K+
Summary: Hours after returning to the Alpha Quadrant, Kathryn takes a chance.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Thanks to: Evil Shall Giggle, who did an amazingly quick beta of this after I left finishing the fic as close to the Secret Drabble-deadline as I possibly could.

AN: For YM, who supplied the opening line.

"That would be much easier with the lights off."

The words were said with warmth and tinged with humour, but the levity they were meant to bring her stayed absent, and she nearly swore at the sound of them instead. Petulant thoughts replaced one another in rapid succession and she was almost entertained by the level of childishness her mind was able to stoop to. She pinched the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes, and chided herself. If she'd wanted to be alone she could've just said so instead of welcoming him into her quarters when he'd rung the chime. She refused to turn and look at him. For once, her ever-present command mask was failing and she knew that if she did, he'd see right through her.

Seven.

Of all people, why did it have to be Seven?

"Kathryn?" he prodded when she didn't answer and she wrapped her arms around herself in worthless self-protection. 'Stop talking', she wanted to say. 'Just stand where you are, and don't say a word.' Everything would be fine if he would just stop talking. 'Or better yet', a rebellious part of her whispered, 'Stopped dating'.

"What would be easier with the lights off?" she asked quickly, annoyed at the errant thoughts she'd been fighting all night.

"Brooding."

She recognised his teasing for what it was, but the sudden burst of anger overwhelmed her anyway and she bit back, "I'm not brooding!" She regretted her tone instantly. She willed herself into an acceptable state of control and turned around to apologise. Her eyes met his and she felt herself slip. Damn that elusive inner calm. He merely smiled and shook his head, quelling her regret before she could put it into words. Her shoulders slumped. "You're right. I'm brooding."

He chuckled at her admission and she smiled a little herself before facing the viewport again. It was both infuriating and comforting how well he knew her. Infuriating because no matter how hard she tried to hide her moods he somehow seemed to recognise them anyway. Comforting because it served as a testament that every once in a while on this godforsaken journey of theirs, she'd allowed for herself to be human and for him to see it. He appeared at her side and the urge to take his hand in hers was almost overwhelming.

Almost.

"Reduce lights to fifteen percent," he quietly ordered, and with the dimming lights the view became even more startling. The infinite black of space contrasted sharply with the blue and white sphere hovering in its midst. Kathryn's breath caught at the sight. She felt the heat from his body permeate the sweater she was wearing and couldn't help but move a little closer.

"Can you believe it?" he asked. "We actually made it."

She had no idea how to answer him. She wanted to nod and shake her head at the same time, no longer sure how steadfast her belief in their return had truly been. Yes, she'd believed she'd get the crew home. It had been an all-consuming obsession that she'd clung to for the duration, yet now when obsession had become reality, she had to wonder if she'd just been one hell of an actress, because as the hours ticked away, one single thought was manifesting itself more strongly than any other: she'd believed in home, but she hadn't believed in a life beyond it.

"You can admit it, you know," Chakotay said, bringing Kathryn out of her reverie.

"What?" she looked at him, eyebrows raised.

"That you'll miss them. I know how hard it'll be, saying goodbye. How anticlimactic this is. I'll miss them too."

She averted her eyes. "I'm not brooding because I'm about to lose my crew."

"You're not?" he asked, somewhat surprised.

She shook her head. "Of course I'll miss them," she conceded. "But I'm also incredibly grateful that their lives are no longer my responsibility. I stole seven years from them, but at least they came home alive. I don't have to go to bed at night worrying when I'll lose the next one and there won't be another death on my conscience." She cut off his oncoming protest with a wave of her hand. "Don't worry; I'm not navel-gazing either."

"Then what is it? You should be celebrating. Instead you're locked up in your quarters—" he looked at her poignantly, "—brooding. Talk to me. Maybe I can help."

She contemplated the irony of his statement and cursed her sudden inability to lie, however futile the act might be. All she needed to do was tell him she was fine, and she knew he'd respect it. She wavered, "I'm not sure it's something you'd want to know."

"Try me."

"I'm…" she drew her breath and took a chance. "I'm not fine."

She could easily imagine his astonishment at this less-than-trademark reply, and had it not been for the wave of nausea she felt upon saying it, she probably would have found the entire situation pretty comical. Instead, she studiously ignored him and pretended not to see him turn to look at her.

"You want to tell me why?" he asked.

She shook her head, but couldn't help saying the opposite. "Yes."

The rumble of his quiet laughter made her press her eyes shut and scrunch up her nose. She was home, and despite everything she'd believed – or not believed – she'd made it back with a lifetime to go. Did she not owe the admiral to live that lifetime to the fullest?

"I know about Seven," she blurted, tired of the erratic paths her thoughts were taking.

"You…" The shock in Chakotay's voice was clearly evident. "How?"

Kathryn kept her eyes firmly shut. "Does it matter?"

"I… No, I suppose it doesn't. I'd hoped I'd be the one to tell you, though. I wanted to explain. It's not something—"

"Are you in love with her?" Kathryn cut him off, not interested in any explanation. She opened her eyes and met his. Silence engulfed the room.

After what felt like an eternity Chakotay asked with eerie calmness. "What are you trying to say here, Kathryn?"

She shrugged, frustrated. "I don't know. I've been trying to figure this out all night. It caught me off guard, you and Seven, and I don't like being blindsided. I don't like— I'm not comfortable— I'm—" she stuttered and paused. "I wish I was fine, but I'm not. I'm not even close. And I don't know if it's because I'm about to be replaced as your closest confidant or—" she faltered again. "Or if it's because I can't help but think that it's a cruel trick of fate to bring us home – where I'm finally free – only to have you… to have you be with someone else."

There. She'd said it. It was probably one of the most uncomfortable moments in Kathryn's life, but she refused to acknowledge it by fidgeting. Instead, she faked calmness and held his gaze, challenging him for a reply. She saw the range of emotions sweeping over his face, but she couldn't tell if they reigned in her favour or in Seven's.

When he eventually spoke, the edge in his tone was unmistakable. "Why are you telling me this?"

"You asked," she bristled.

"Don't," he warned shortly. "I'm with her; I'm dating Seven. She makes me happy. She's… You shouldn't have told me this."

"You asked," she repeated, anger fizzling through. "It's not my fault you can't handle the truth." She looked away, trying to control her emotions. She didn't want to fight with him. Of all things, that was not what she wanted. After a beat, she admitted with difficulty, "You're right. All things considered it'd probably be best if I hadn't said anything. It's just… It's us. Haven't you ever wondered?" When he didn't answer she moved to get away from him, but his hand shot out and grabbed her elbow, securing her in place. "Let's just forget I said anything," she said, refusing to look at him.

"You can't tell me something like that and expect me to just forget it."

"Then do something about it," she hissed. Looking over her shoulder, she met his eyes fiercely. "It's out there, and if you don't want to pretend, do something. Make a choice."

"What choice?" he snapped. "I'm with Seven."

And there it was. His answer. His choice. She nodded in defeat and cleared her throat. "Can I have my arm back?"

Chakotay's grip on her loosened immediately, the look on his face unquestionably agitated. His hand lingered before letting her go, saying nothing.

Kathryn was the one who broke the silence, hoping she could salvage something from this disaster of a conversation. "It's been a long day. Let's just…" she chose her words carefully. "Let's just put tonight behind us and go back to…" she searched for the right phrase.

"The status quo?" he offered.

An unconvincing smile escaped her. "Status quo it is."

He hesitated, then made his way to the door.

"Sleep well," she managed as the door opened.

He stopped, "You too."

And with that he was gone.

The quiet hush that filled the room was unnerving. She swore and kicked the nearby table with force, then swore again as pain shot through her right foot. She bit her lip, and wasn't sure if the sting in her eyes was because of the pain or because of the way the night had unfolded. Shaking her head, she tried to ban unwanted pictures of Chakotay and Seven having sex together from her mind. She wanted to be mad at him so badly, but what was the point? He hadn't broken any vows, hadn't cheated on her. He had every right to pursue a relationship with whomever he saw fit, and it wasn't like she'd believed he'd drop everything to declare his undying love for her just because she hinted at a possibility between them. And to be truthful, that was all it had been; a possibility. There were a million ifs, whys and maybes, and there was no certainty; nothing to say that if he'd just dump Seven and choose her, he'd be happy for the rest of his life. There was nothing to tell him she'd be worth the risk. Nothing to tell her she'd be worth the risk.

It was just so awfully disappointing that they'd never know.

Another string of explicit pictures danced through her mind. "For the love of…" she muttered with annoyance. She had to move. She might have to face the future by herself, but she'd be damned if she was going to end up resenting it like the admiral. Chakotay had been right about one thing; she should be celebrating. Wallowing over lost opportunities wasn't going to get her anywhere, and she was not going to spend the night imagining all the assimilated knowledge of copulation an ex-Borg might have picked up in her lifetime.

Sighing deeply, she turned and nearly jumped out of her skin.

"You didn't answer the chime," Chakotay offered, looking apologetic.

"So you decided to break and enter?" she demanded, clutching at the part of her sweater covering her heart.

"More override and enter," he smiled before admitting, "I'm an idiot."

Kathryn stared at him, a million possible replies running through her head. "True," she finally settled on, afraid to make any assumptions as to where his return would take them.

Chakotay looked away, smiling, and tugged at his ear. Stepping forward, he grabbed a hold of the hem of her sweater, carefully pulling her towards him. Meeting her eyes yet again, he spoke softly. "I changed my mind."

"You did?" she asked, an undeniable sense of elation bubbling forth.

He nodded, tucking strands of hair behind her ear.

"Why?" she wanted to know, moving her hands up to rest at his chest.

He closed the distance between them, warm lips meeting hers for the first time as he mumbled. "Because the status quo sucks."