TITLE: Truth

AUTHOR: Matteabrit, May 2002

SUMMARY: Its Chakotay's birthday but the party isn't the only surprise

RATING: PG

DISCLAIMER: Characters – theirs, story - mine



"What the hell is this?" he asked as they arrived at his home. "I could have sworn I left the living room light on."

Kathryn sighed. "I have no idea, Chakotay," she said wearily. His mood had been getting increasingly bothersome all evening. "Maybe there was a power failure or something. I'm sure there's nothing to be concerned about."

Her friend shook his head as he went to unlock the door. "This is turning out to be a lousy evening," he muttered. "I can't believe that restaurant lost your reservation and then couldn't even find a spare table for us."

Kathryn wanted to snap something back about his attitude but he opened the front door and walked in, leaving her to follow and close the door behind them. She had barely taken two steps in his direction when the lights suddenly flashed on and a yell of, "Surprise," went up. There, before them, under a large banner screaming, "Happy 50th birthday, Chakotay," stood a good portion of their former crew, including Tom, B'Elanna, Harry, and Seven.

Chakotay stopped and stared at the assembly for a long while. Finally he turned to Kathryn and said, "There was no dinner reservation, was there." Slowly a smile began to form on his face, the first she'd seen since they'd left the restaurant earlier.

She smiled. "Had to get you out of the house somehow, old man."

"Less of the old," he growled. He turned back to the group. "Thank you, people," he told them, his bad mood dissipating in light of the turn of events. "This is much… appreciated."

The crowd began to splinter off and B'Elanna came forward to hug her long- time friend. "Happy birthday, Chakotay," she grinned. "And I can assure you that Tom and I had absolutely no part in planning this."

"Who did?" he asked bewildered. "I mean, obviously Kathryn had some part in it…" He looked over in the direction that his friend nodded in and noticed who his former captain was talking with. "Seven? But we… she…"

"I know," B'Elanna replied quietly. "We all do. But they wanted to do this, both of them. For you. If you want to know any more I suggest you speak to them." She took in his dumfounded look. "Well, go on, you big idiot. You know you want to."

The engineer gave him a shove and he found himself walking towards the woman he had loved for years and his former girlfriend, knowing that the outcome would either be very good or very, very bad. "Hey, you two," he began. "I hear I have you to thank for this."

The two women smiled back at him. "We were glad to do it," Kathryn told him.

"I used to think that birthdays were irrelevant," Seven commented in her usual style. "But I have learned otherwise. I hear that a fiftieth birthday is especially important in a person's life."

Chakotay laughed. "Gee, thank you, Seven." He reached out and took both their hands. "But ladies, thank you, so much. This does mean a lot to me." He looked at Seven. "Especially with everything that's happened recently between us."

"We are still friends, are we not?" she replied, eyebrow raised.

"Yes, we are. At least I hope we are. I dread to think what you might have done for me tonight had we not been," he joked. "As for you," he said, turning to Kathryn. "I guess I should have expected something like this from you."

"That's what friends are for," Kathryn replied with a gleam in her eye. "Right, Seven?"

"You are correct," the former drone assured her. "We have had this planned for a long time and while last week may have been a setback we decided to complete our task." Surprising Chakotay further she leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Happy birthday, Chakotay," she whispered into his ear before going off in search of some of the other guests.

Kathryn just stood there, slowly absorbing everything that had just happened with a half smile on her face. "You know no one believes the two of you broke up, don't you. You're far too friendly to be ex's."

"Really?" Chakotay asked her. "And what would call your relationship with Mark?"

She laid a hand gently upon his arm. "Mark and I have been friends since we were teenagers, long before we were in a relationship with each other."

"Seven and I worked together," Chakotay retorted. But when he saw her eyebrow shoot up he took back his own defence. "Okay, so it's not exactly the same. Look, there's a bit of a story attached to what's happened and one I really don't really want to explain at the moment."

Kathryn sighed. "Okay, I'll let it go for now." She turned him around to face the room at large. "Now, don't you have some people to thank for coming?"

His head twisted back. "Do I have to?" he asked with some reluctance. The only reply he received was the infamous death glare.

A few hours later the party had died down and only close friends remained. Seven people were sat in various positions on the floor, a couple of wine bottles scattered around them. B'Elanna lay in her husband's arms while Chakotay had found himself with Kathryn on one side of him and Seven on the other. Ayala, an old friend of Chakotay's since before his maquis days, and Harry completed the picture.

Throughout the evening Tom and Ayala had been secreted in a corner, allowing not even B'Elanna to know what they were up to. Finally, they gave up their secrecy as Tom suggested a game of Truth; with questions the two of them had created. An eight-sided die was replicated and each person was assigned a number. If the number eight came up then it meant everyone had to answer truthfully the question asked of them. The first few rounds went smoothly, with some light-hearted questions and some laughs over some of the answers, though Kathryn suspected that Tom had to have something up his sleeve.

The die was rolled and Seven's number came up. Ayala, who'd been put in charge of reading the questions, hesitated slightly when he pulled the next question on the stack and saw what it was. He took a deep breath and asked the question.

"Who was or is the love of your life?"

The room went silent.

Seven did not appear concerned, however. "Axum," she replied matter-of- factly, before turning to the man next to her. "No offense."

Chakotay smiled back and nudged her with his elbow. "None taken. I had a feeling you would say him."

"Axum?" B'Elanna asked. "Wasn't he the guy in unimatrix zero?"

"The very same," Kathryn smiled. "You must miss him."

"I do," Seven admitted. "However, last week he contacted me. His ship is back in the alpha quadrant and he wishes to meet with me. After some consideration I have agreed and will rendezvous with his vessel in two weeks time."

"That's excellent news, Seven," Kathryn said with genuine joy in her voice. "I wish the two of you every happiness together."

"Thank you Kathryn," Seven nodded graciously. "I now believe it is my turn to roll?"

The next person to be called upon was Harry who managed to be exceedingly diplomatic when asked what he really thought of Neelix's cooking. "Better than ration bars," he replied with a grin.

He then rolled Kathryn's number and again Ayala gulped a little and hesitated. "Tell us about one you have loved without compare."

"Voyager," she answered without missing a beat. "I may not have liked her at times but I did love her. She was the first ship of her class and the first under my command. Therefore, in my eyes, there was none to compare with her." She grinned broadly. "Well, come on," she continued seeing the faces around her relax. "What did you think I was going to say? Chakotay? Oh, please." She rolled her eyes and the die at the same time. "Oh, wouldn't you know it," she said when the die came to a stop. "You're up next, birthday boy."

Ayala picked up the next card. He looked at it, bit his lip, and then looked at the man across from him. Whatever his reason for his hesitation he managed to resolve it and asked, "Okay, Chakotay. Tell us how old you really are."

"Huh?" B'Elanna said. "What sort of a question is that, Ayala?"

"One Chakotay has no choice but to answer truthfully," Ayala replied calmly.

"But he's fifty," Kathryn said, confused. "I do have access to his Starfleet records, you know."

Ayala looked steadily at Chakotay. "You going to tell your friends the truth or do I have to?"

Chakotay shook his head. "I can't believe you waited this long to do this, Ayala," he sighed. "All right, here it is, the truth. I'm only forty-eight. I added two years to my age so that Starfleet wouldn't go seeking my parents' permission to enrol in the Academy."

Kathryn's jaw dropped, as did several others in the room. "You mean you're only three years older than me instead of the five you had me believe? I don't believe it." She slapped her friend on the arm. "You're a piece of work, mister."

"You mean we've got to go through all this again in three years time?" was Tom's contribution to the shock.

"Don't expect me to organise anything," B'Elanna said. "One fiftieth birthday should be enough for anyone. Why should he get two?"

"I can't believe Ayala managed to keep that quiet until now," Chakotay said again later. The party was over and he and Kathryn were putting his living room back to normal. He stooped to pick up a wayward empty bottle that was trying to escape under the couch.

"Well, it really wasn't that big of a deal, I guess," Kathryn replied as she exited the kitchen carrying two steaming mugs of coffee. "Though I guess I'm a little disappointed that my first officer was lying to me all these years."

"I was not lying, Kathryn," he retorted as he placed the retrieved bottle on the table next to the couch. "I simply, er, didn't mention it."

"Lying by omission, I see." She handed him his mug and sat down on the couch. "Well, it certainly had the surprise element that every birthday should have."

He sat down beside her and took a mouthful of his own coffee. "The whole evening was a surprise. I certainly didn't expect Seven to be here or for her to have helped you arrange all this."

Kathryn swallowed her coffee and twisted her body so that she was facing Chakotay on the couch. She tucked a leg up under her and rested her mug on her lap. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"You don't seem as upset about the break-up as I expected you to be," she observed. "And you appeared fine when Seven mentioned Axum. So my question is, how are you really doing?"

"Honestly?" he asked, grinning as he remembered the game of Truth earlier. "I'm fine. I know I'm not as upset as I probably should be which I guess says something about how I really feel about her. I guess Axum was at the back of my mind the whole time, that if he ever came back she might want to explore that possibility with him. It's like when Caroline told me that she kept waiting for it to happen, you know, when we got back. That Mark would leave her."

Kathryn shook her head. "Its not the same. Mark and I could never get back together. It wouldn't have been fair."

"But if Caroline hadn't existed?"

She took another mouthful of coffee. "Still wouldn't have happened. We've grown apart. The feelings just aren't there any more, they've changed. I moved on." She paused for a moment. "I suspect, looking back in hindsight, that I'd moved on even before he told me about his marriage."

"You had, huh?"

Kathryn grinned at him. "You mean you hadn't noticed?" She sighed and put her now empty mug back down on the table. "Chakotay, there was only ever one thing holding me back from pursuing what I wanted and that was me. Never mind protocol, never mind getting the crew back home, it was all me. I was scared, plain and simple. What if it didn't work out the way it wanted?"

Chakotay inched closer to her. "What did you want, Kathryn?"

"You mean that wasn't obvious either?" Kathryn sighed. "Oh, Chakotay, I am so sorry." She leaned in close to him and lightly kissed him on the lips. "Am I making it obvious now?" she asked in a quiet voice.

If Chakotay was surprised again by Kathryn's actions that evening he didn't show it. Instead he placed his arm around her and pulled her closer to him, so that she was against his chest. As he bent down to return her kiss he thought he could hear both their heartbeats pounding. The kiss was intoxicating, neither could get enough of the other. It was only when a lack of oxygen forced them apart that she looked up at him and whispered, "Happy birthday, Chakotay."

FINIS