Post-Endgame, post-Seven, is Chakotay back to old habits?

Shameless fluff. The thinnest wire coathanger of a plot. But if you like that sort of thing … enjoy.

In the hazy warmth of the late afternoon sun, Chakotay finished his run, stretched for a few minutes, and jogged up the steps from the beach to his back door. He kicked off his sandy shoes and stepped inside to the unmistakable smell of strong coffee. It could only mean one thing.

"Kathryn!" he yelled for her, moving quickly across the living room. "Kathryn, where are you?"

There was no answer, but when he burst into their bedroom a few seconds later, there she was still in full uniform, a bag open on the bed, her hands full of folded clothes.

"Oh," she said, taking a step back, "I thought you'd be out for a while."

He crossed to her in a few long strides and pulled her close, crushing the clothes between them. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I would have had a meal ready! Flowers! Spirits, I've missed you!" He leaned down to kiss her, eager for her usual warm response, but there was nothing. Her lips felt flat and cold under his. "Kathryn, what's wrong? What's happened?" he asked in sudden alarm. He looked at her more closely. She was pale and her breathing was shallow. She looked like she was experiencing mild shock. He shifted to lead her toward the bed and have her sit, but she wouldn't move with him. She stood rooted to the spot.

"I was just packing a few things," she said in a dull voice. "I've arranged for temporary quarters at headquarters until I can make more permanent arrangements." With a wrench, she pulled away from him and began to move again, dumping the clothes into the bag, zipping it, and pushing past him toward the door and back down the hall.

He followed her in complete bewilderment. "But you just got home. Why – why would they send you out again so soon? Why can't you stay at home? Is there a security breach? Is the crew okay?" His mind was spinning wild scenarios, something that would explain her obvious distress and the need to leave home again so soon, when she'd barely crossed the threshold after a three week mission.

She stopped with her hand on the latch of the front door and turned back to him, her face cold and determined. "The crew is fine. I am fine. I'll send someone for the rest of my things. I'm afraid I'm not prepared to have this conversation right now, but I will contact you … later."

She yanked open the door and was halfway out when he grabbed her arm. "Kathryn!" he cried, suddenly frantic. "What is this? Why are you leaving me?"

She glared down at the hand that restrained her. She seemed to flinch at the sight of the ring on his finger. "Kindly take your hand off me," she snapped, then turned the glare on him. He released her like she'd burned him and stared open-mouthed as she ran down the front steps to a waiting vehicle, whose driver departed the moment she was inside. Only then did it occur to him to run after her, and he did, chasing down the gravel drive in his thin running socks, shouting, but she was already gone.

#

Alone in her sparsely furnished temporary quarters early the next morning, Kathryn clicked through the images again. There was something familiar about them. The woman facing the camera was a pleasing composite of other women Kathryn had known. Her blond hair curled around classically beautiful features. She had a face that should be on a statue, and her dress clung to a perfect figure with a more generous bosom than Kathryn's. She was smiling, reaching out to the man whose back was visible, who held her hand to his lips. In photo after photo, they touched in some way, out in public, completely unashamed. Suddenly, Kathryn rose, threw the pad with all her strength at the far wall, and sank back into her chair, head in her hands.

A moment later, the chime rang. She checked to make sure it wasn't her husband, then gave the command for security to send up the visitor.

Kathryn was still sprawled in her chair when B'Elanna Torres crossed the threshold with a quick step and picked up the pad from the floor. "What's going on, Kathryn?" she asked. "Chakotay called me in a complete panic. He said he's been looking for you since yesterday. I haven't seen him like that since … well, you can probably guess when I've seen him like that."

Kathryn gestured toward the pad from where she lay on the chair, arms over her eyes. "It's all right there. You might as well see."

B'Elanna looked down and clicked through several images before lowering the pad and returning her gaze to Kathryn, moving forward to take the chair beside her. "Do you know this woman?"

Kathryn shook her head and leaned back into her chair. "I do and I don't. I've never seen this particular woman, but wouldn't you agree that she bears a striking resemblance to Riley Frazier, and the drawing you made of that woman Kellen, and Seven?"

B'Elanna considered for a moment. "I see what you mean. She's definitely his type. You think that Chakotay is … involved with this woman?"

Kathryn shut her eyes. "Look at them, B'Elanna. It couldn't be more obvious."

"Where did you get these images?" B'Elanna wondered.

Kathryn looked away. "It's embarrassing. I hired a private investigator. To follow my husband. The oldest cliché in the book."

B'Elanna reached out a hand to rub Kathryn's arm and her former captain turned a disconsolate face toward her. "What made you decide to do that?" B'Elanna asked.

Kathryn sat up and leaned forward onto her knees. "Because I hear the rumors too, B'Elanna. Every time I'm in space, there are whispers about another new blonde orbiting him. He always has a good explanation, and for months I wrote it off as over-enthusiastic undergrads and idle gossip, but then" – she broke off, twisting her hands together.

B'Elanna waited as the pause grew longer and longer. "But then?" she prompted.

She sprang from her chair as if it had ejected her and strode to the window. "I found blond hairs in my bathtub drain," she answered in an angry tone. "Even if you have a perfectly platonic reason to visit someone's house, you don't just casually leave your hair in their bathtub. They were in our tub, not the guest shower."

B'Elanna sighed and slapped the pad on her leg. "What did Chakotay say?"

"I didn't" – Kathryn began, but her voice squeaked and she coughed to clear her throat. "I didn't ask him about it. I didn't want to sound like some petty, jealous woman looking for clues of her husband's infidelity in her own home…. I didn't want to sound like what I am."

"So this was when you hired the private investigator?" B'Elanna concluded.

Kathryn spun toward her, waving her arms like a dervish. "Yes, so help me, I hired a private investigator, and look what she found! They've been meeting constantly while I was away on this last mission. Look at the photos – different days, different locations. And she's spent nights at our house," Kathryn finished, stifling a sob. "There's a narrative report following the images."

B'Elanna glanced down at the pad, her own blood visibly rising as she paged through the damning sentences. "That predictable p'tak!" she cried, slamming down the pad. "I can't believe he'd do this to you, Kathryn. I always thought that if the two of you could ever just stop dancing around each other, it would be happily ever after."

Kathryn sighed. "Oh B'Elanna, that's not even the worst of it."

B'Elanna grimaced. "Please tell me there aren't explicit photos. I don't think I want to see that."

"No," Kathryn said in a quiet, despairing voice. "B'Elanna, I'm pregnant."

The other woman jumped up as if under attack. "I'll kill him, I really will," she declared, striding over to Kathryn. "Just say the word."

Kathryn patted her on the shoulder. "I appreciate that, really I do, but homicide won't solve much. Just keep him away from me, will you? I ran into him when I stopped by the house for a few things, and I'm in no fit state of mind to have this confrontation. I need a few days to figure out what I'm going to do. Then we'll sit down like rational people and decide if there's anything worth salvaging between us, and what to do about the baby, if he's still interested in being a father." Kathryn's fist went to her mouth, as if forcing down the emotion that threatened to escape. "I always thought … but he's not the person I thought he was. I have to come to terms with that."

Although she'd hardly ever touched her former captain, B'Elanna now felt compelled to pull her into a hug. "It'll be okay, Kathryn. Tom and I will be there for you. You'd be welcome to come stay with us. Being pregnant is hard enough without being alone."

To B'Elanna's surprise, Kathryn returned her hug gratefully, fiercely. "Thank you. Just give me a few days to think. I can honestly say that I never thought I'd wind up in this situation, not in a million alternative timelines."

#

B'Elanna waited in the sunny corridor, observing Chakotay's retreat from his classroom with half a dozen students who trailed after him, hanging on his words as he described details of Voyager's visit to the "demon" planet. Only one of the students was male, and most were blondes. When Chakotay spotted his former crewmate, he dismissed the students with a quick word and walked up with an eager smile. "B'Elanna!" he greeted her, pulling her into a warm hug. "It's great to see you. What brings you here? Do I dare hope that my wife is close behind?" Chakotay eagerly scanned the hall, then turned back to B'Elanna in disappointment upon finding it empty. Just as with Kathryn the day before, he found an angry, unsmiling face looking up at him.

"Nice little entourage you've got going," B'Elanna observed, glancing at the group of students that waited down the hall, obviously hoping for a few more words with Chakotay. "Do you have to recruit the blondes actively, or do they just gravitate to you?"

Chakotay made a frustrated face. "B'Elanna," he scolded. "You know I don't encourage all that. It still hasn't died down from the homecoming publicity."

"Really?" she asked, leading him toward the far end of the corridor, where there was less foot traffic. "It's funny, Tom never has any problem making it clear to other women that he's taken. And I'm starting to realize that I'm not sure what I know about you, outside the confines of a starship. Even there you managed to get way more action than the average crewmember. I'm starting to wonder if the reputation I'd heard about before I met you was actually very accurate."

"Reputation? What reputation?" Chakotay put his hands on his hips in a pose so like Kathryn that B'Elanna would have laughed if she hadn't been so angry with him.

"You know exactly what I mean," B'Elanna retorted, hissing her words and pausing for a moment as a few cadets walked out of a nearby classroom. "You were the only member of the crew who nearly got us all killed – or assimilated – on more than one occasion because you couldn't keep it in your pants!"

Chakotay's face grew thunderous. "I don't dispute the fact that I've made some bad choices about women. But that is ancient history. Why are we talking about this – and in a corridor at the Academy, of all places?"

B'Elanna crossed her arms and glared at him. "Because apparently, you're married less than a year and already you're scouting your blonde du jour among Academy cadets. Classy, Chakotay, very classy. As if dating Seven wasn't enough of a horror show for one lifetime, I had to look at those pictures. I need my retinas scrubbed."

"Pictures? Pictures of what? What are you talking about?" His face showed what looked like earnest confusion, but B'Elanna didn't believe it for a second.

"Don't play innocent with me, old man," she sneered. "I know you too well. Kathryn has pictures. Of you. Fondling the latest blonde in public. I nearly lost my breakfast. How could you? After" – but Chakotay had grabbed her upper arms and interrupted with his own whispered tirade.

"I don't know what you think you saw, but I haven't been fondling anybody. I've been waiting for my wife to get home from the latest three week mission, which was two weeks after the previous four week mission. I teach, work on my book, go for runs on the beach, and every once in a while have a meal with a friend. That is it. So whatever you saw, either it was faked or you misinterpreted it. I would never cheat on Kathryn, no matter how lonely I am." He released her with a shake.

She straightened her uniform while casting him a vicious glance. "Don't provoke the Klingon, Chakotay. It never ends well. So you want me to believe that all the holding hands and hugging and kissing fingers, that's just what you do with all your friends?" Her tone was snide.

He shut his eyes and sighed. "I see. That would be Pilel. My goddaughter. I hadn't seen her since she was a little girl. I thought she must have been lost in the attack on the Maquis, like her parents. You never met them, the Girets. They were doing covert operations, and what I didn't know was that they'd sent Pilel to stay with her grandparents on Earth. She was safe. When she contacted me a few weeks ago, it was like hearing from a ghost. I was overwhelmed to see her again."

B'Elanna rubbed at her arms where he'd grabbed her. "I'm listening."

"She's with a small dance company based in San Francisco," Chakotay explained. "She only has a short time in town before leaving on an interplanetary tour for two years, so we've been spending as much time together as we can, trying to catch up on everything that happened to her family and their group of Maquis since I saw them last. It's like … like suddenly having a daughter." In spite of his tense stance, his face suddenly softened.

"But you didn't tell Kathryn?" B'Elanna asked, her eyes narrowing with suspicion. "That makes no sense. She would be happier than anyone."

"Pilel told me I should tell her!" Chakotay answered with a groan. "I wanted to save the surprise for when she got home, but Pilel said nobody likes to be blindsided by a total stranger crash landing in their life. I should have listened."

Then B'Elanna seemed to remember something and her face closed against him again. "These friends of yours," she said, "this goddaughter, they come over for baths, do they?"

"What?" he exclaimed, not bothering to lower his voice.

"Blond hairs, Chakotay. She found them herself. In your bathtub, the special big one you had installed for Kathryn, not the guest shower, so you don't even have that excuse."

He stood still for a moment, lost in reflection, then began to laugh. "Is that what this is about? Oh B'Elanna, for a minute you had me worried. I've been dogsitting for my neighbor, and her dog got into a pile of rotting fish on the beach. I had to take him home and scrub him, and putting him in the deep tub was the only way to contain him, so he didn't run off and roll on my rug." He chuckled a little more, then his merriment came to an abrupt stop. "So that's what happened? She saw a few blond hairs in the drain and somebody showed her a few innocent pictures, and she jumped to the conclusion that I was having an affair?"

B'Elanna's face fell. "There have been a lot of rumors," she said. "I've heard them too. She's ignored them for months and refused to ask you about anything she heard because she trusts you. But then it seemed like the evidence was mounting."

He rubbed his face with his hands and turned away from the cluster of cadets at the far end of the hall. "If she were ever home, she'd know that all I want is to spend time with her. But if she doesn't trust me anymore…." He slumped against the wall of glass on one side of the corridor. "Where is she? I have to talk to her."

B'Elanna looked down, unwilling to meet his eyes. "She wants me to keep you away from her. She says she needs a few days to decide what to do."

He straightened and used his full height to tower over her. "But you know where she is. You can get me in."

She ran a hand over her forehead ridges and clutched at her hair. "Can't you just give it a few days, Chakotay? She's very upset. You'll just make it worse if you go charging in there. And even if she's wrong this time, it's not like she's inventing the idea that you'd go chasing after blondes."

"That day is long gone and you know it."

"Long gone?" B'Elanna scoffed. "The wedding was nice, but it didn't erase anybody's memory of you snuggling up to Seven less than a year ago. What the hell was that, anyway?"

Chakotay had grown stiff and cold, staring down at her as she spoke. "None of your damn business, that's what it is."

"Maybe not, but it's hers," B'Elanna answered with indignation. "Did you ever talk to her about it? Did you ever apologize? Because I can't say I blame her for wondering if this is something she'll have to deal with again."

These words seemed to unsteady Chakotay. He looked past her into the gardens, new emotions passing over his face. "No, we never talked about it. I didn't think she'd want to hear about what happened with Seven. It was a huge, badly timed mistake, B'Elanna. And the others … I don't want to make some stupid excuse like 'I'm a man, I have needs,' but sometimes out there we'd get so close, Kathryn and I, and then she'd cut me loose. I'd be reeling, and then suddenly there'd be a beautiful face and warm arms that actually seemed to want me. I wasn't always acting rationally. At times, I probably was trying to hurt her."

For the first time in their intense conversation, B'Elanna reached out and touched his arm. "Then I'd say you need to talk about it with her and make it right. But let her cool down a little first. Wait for her to contact you."

"B'Elanna," he said, leaning over to force her to look straight up at him. "If it were Tom who thought you'd cheated on him, would you let me convince you to wait a few days?"

She blew out her breath in exasperation. "No, but that's" – and he shook his head.

"Exactly the same thing. You wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for me. Please, B'Elanna, take me to Kathryn."

"Kahless," B'Elanna muttered as she began to lead him back down the hall. "She's going to kill me."

#

Chakotay stood just out of range of the camera that showed B'Elanna waiting to be admitted to Kathryn's building, then squeezed into the turbolift beside her with an armload of peace roses so large that B'Elanna had to flatten her back against the wall to avoid them.

"They only make you look guilty," she growled.

"They can't hurt," he insisted.

At the door, he stood behind the roses until Kathryn opened up. "There was a delivery for you downstairs," B'Elanna said, rolling her eyes at the absurdly large arrangement of roses.

"I don't want them," Kathryn announced. "You can have them. You can compost them, burn them for fuel for all I care."

"I can take them when I go if you really don't want them," B'Elanna conceded. "But let the poor guy set them down."

Chakotay advanced into the suite, keeping the roses in front of him, until he came to the desk and could deposit them safely. He stepped back into Kathryn's range of vision.

She gasped and turned on B'Elanna. "I trusted you!" she cried. "How could you?"

"Kathryn, it's not her fault. I wouldn't take no for an answer."

Cornered, B'Elanna locked eyes with Kathryn and decided that retreat was the better part of valor. "I'll just be going," she said, backing quickly out the door. Before she shut it, she hissed at Chakotay, "I told you this was a bad idea!"

Left alone with Chakotay, Kathryn wheeled on him. "You've got some kind of nerve, coming here, and forcing B'Elanna to help you. I told her I wanted to be alone. I told you I wanted to be alone. Doesn't anybody listen to me anymore?" It was the roar of a woman accustomed to being obeyed.

He stood steady, facing down her glare. "You've gotten some very wrong ideas somewhere," he began, "and I had to try to set you straight."

"Oh really?" she sneered. "I've got some wrong ideas? Like the idea that our marriage vows meant something? But really, they meant about as much as the words you spoke to me on New Earth, didn't they? Very pretty, very sweet, but basically meaningless the next time a chesty blonde looked your way."

"There is no chesty blonde!" he countered. "At least, not the way you think."

"Not the way I think?" she cried, stalking to the door. "At least up until now you've never treated me like I was stupid, Chakotay. Let's save ourselves a little dignity, shall we? Just go." She swept her arm in front of the door, inviting him to use it. He didn't move.

"I will not go. I am your husband, and I love you – although I'm a little irritated with you right now, I'll admit – and I haven't done anything wrong!" he ended the sentence shouting and looked down, abashed.

Her shoulders slumped. She was half-turned so that he could only see her profile. "You don't think that what you've done is wrong, or you deny it altogether?" she said in a chilly monotone. "I have evidence, you know. I may be – I may be upset, but I didn't invent this."

"You have golden retriever hairs from the neighbor's dog, and photos of me with my long-lost goddaughter who turned up alive a few weeks ago," Chakotay declared, falling into the desk chair as if suddenly drained. "That's what you have. Are you willing to throw away our marriage over that?"

He saw her head begin to rise, slowly at first, then gaining a little momentum as she turned only her head to look at him.

"Goddaughter?" she said. He nodded in grim affirmation.

"Golden retriever?" she asked with lingering disbelief.

"Prelate Conway's dog. She's off world more than you are, and even when she's home she doesn't walk too well since she had her legs replaced. She asked me to take him along on my runs. I had to bathe him after he got into a big mess of rotting fish."

Kathryn braced an arm against the wall and swallowed hard. "I've been such a fool," she said. "How can you forgive me?"

"You know that I forgive you," he told her, "but this can't happen every time you hear some sort of ridiculous gossip. You have to trust me."

She turned her whole body to face him now, her face a picture of contrition. "I thought I did trust you, I just got all …." She trailed off and he offered, "Crazy?" with a smile.

She smiled too. "Well, that and … hormonal. That's my best excuse."

He shook his head with a quizzical look. "Why would you be hormonal? Did something happen on this mission?"

She shook her head in turn. "Not on this mission. Just before this mission."

Still he blinked at her, baffled.

"Chakotay," she said, finally moving to him, resting a cool hand on his shoulder where he sat. "What would you say if I told you that you're going to be a father?" There was still some worry in her eyes, the last lingering doubts of what she'd been through the past few weeks – that he saw clearly. He was reading her face with such concentration that her words floated through him like a fog and dissipated before he could understand fully.

"What?" he said, thinking he must have heard her wrong.

Her face changed again, grew more hesitant. "A baby, Chakotay," she said, slowly letting her hand fall back to her side, then steal up to her belly. "I'm going to have a baby." He felt her shiver.

Now his face began to transform, starting with his jaw dropping and his eyes moving from her face to her belly and back again. A light appeared behind his eyes and spread quickly across his face, spreading his mouth in a wide open grin that drew out his dimples. His hands went to cover hers where it lay on her midsection, and his jaw worked for a moment before he managed to articulate words. "A baby! How long have you known?"

The beginnings of a smile moved across her face. "Only a week or so. I swore the doctor to secrecy. I wanted to tell you myself, but then" – she looked around the impersonal room, which was not at all the setting she'd imagined for this announcement. "Then I went crazy, apparently."

He put his hands on her hips to draw her closer to him and pressed his lips to her belly, then stood and drew her gently into his arms. "Kathryn," he murmured, kissing her head, her temple, her cheek, her lips. "I'm the happiest man alive."

Finally her smile appeared for real. "I thought you would be. I don't know how I could have believed what I … believed."

He drew back and looked long into her eyes, remembering B'Elanna's words. "We never talked about it," he said. "We just charged ahead, like we always do. Like getting married would erase the past."

She kissed him again, very softly. "It almost did. But I guess I couldn't quite let go. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm the one who's sorry, and I never told you so. I never told you how sorry I am about all the …"

"Blondes?" she finished for him with a warm little laugh. "It's not like you were betraying me. I had no right." But her eyes held tears.

"Just like I had no right to mind when Q showed up wanting to mate with you, but it still bothered the hell out of me. I don't know why I thought I wasn't really hurting you just because we weren't officially together. I don't know why I thought it didn't matter. It did, didn't it, Kathryn?"

She took a deep breath, in and out, still holding him. "It did. It hurt me. But I never blamed you. I was guilty of a few indiscretions myself, and I wanted you to have what little happiness you could find out there."

He rested his lips on her forehead and whispered, "The only real happiness I've ever known is right here." He clutched her to him again before he dared to ask, "Does this mean that you'll be home a little more from now on?"

She laughed, a low, happy rumble against his chest. "Well you know, I can work right up until I go into labor as long as" – she started to say, but he had pulled back from her and was looking at her with a face full of sadness, loneliness even. Something clicked in her mind. "But we're apart too much, aren't we? It's making both of us miserable. And crazy."

He nodded. "I would never ask you to stop doing what you love, but I miss you so much when you're gone, Kathryn. And these ridiculous newsvid gossipbits would never get started if we were together. I don't care where."

"But you love your teaching so much, my dear professor. Your old-fashioned paper library. Your beach. Out there, you longed for peace and solid ground. How can I ask you to give up all of that?" She'd reached her hands up to his shoulders and examined him with such a sweet, earnest expression that he would have given her absolutely anything she asked in that moment.

He nodded his head closer to hers, letting his breath caress her cheek. "I think I remember telling you a story once about the true meaning of peace."

He felt rather than saw the broad smile extend across her face. "You did indeed," she said. "It's one of my favorites."

He kissed her cheek and continued, "You, this child, our family – this is all the peace I need. Wherever we are. Whatever we're doing. As long as we're together."

Her hands came up around his neck as she nuzzled against him. "Then let's be together. I don't know what kind of compromise we'll have to dream up, but let's do it. The Delta quadrant couldn't defeat us. This won't either."

To her surprise, he pulled away then, turned her, and steered in the direction of the door with his arm. "I'm taking you home, woman. For good."

And Captain Kathryn Janeway, with a mysterious smile, slipped a hand into his, and let him.