The characters belong to Paramount, all hail, but the story is mine.

In ‘In The Flesh’ Janeway makes reference to a little coffee shop close to Starfleet Headquarters.

The Night Owl

Chakotay went through her instructions one more time, just to be sure. It was the third time he had done so in the last five minutes and his conclusion was the same. He was definitely in the right place, on the right day and at the right time. So, the question was, where was Kathryn?

Frowning he took another sip of his coffee, he was still getting used to the taste, stronger than he’d recalled, more bitter than the liquid they had replicated over the years and totally different from anything Neelix’s had produced as a coffee substitute. It wasn’t like Kathryn to be late, so perhaps something had happened, perhaps she had forgotten, or changed her mind – even though they were also unlikely things for her to have done. He’d wait a little longer before he decided that she wasn’t going to show up and then he’d have to decide whether he should contact her or not, whether he should try to find out what had prevented her from attending this – what was it anyway? Meeting? Appointment? Assignation? Date? At the time he hadn’t exactly had the chance to clarify.

He smiled a little at the memory. The crowds of supporters and well-wishers gathered outside Starfleet Headquarters, the reporters swarming over the main players in the drama, trying to get quotes or reaction shots. So great was the interest in the trial that he hadn’t had time to take in the verdict himself before he and the others were pushed outside where the cheers and celebrations waited them. Never let it be said that Starfleet doesn’t know how to take advantage of something popular. The trial of the Maquis crew aboard Voyager had become a cause celebre and their acquittal on charges of treason was greeted by jubilation.

But, there was never enough time. Certainly between their return to Earth and his detention there had been no opportunity to discuss with Kathryn what would happen if he and the others were convicted. She had put her career on the line for them; it was as simple and as complicated as that.

The memory of how he had pushed through the crowds to reach her was a vivid one. He had smiled and shook hands with people he had never met and had no wish to know, when all he wanted to do was reach her side and talk to her. But when he got there she’d been surrounded by reporters and he couldn’t say any of the things he had planned. He’d had to satisfy himself with shaking her hand, a gesture that was shot around the Federation by the news agencies, the illustration to a hundred stories about the unique command relationship that had got Voyager home. Stories that depicted a relationship that he did not recognise and he wasn’t sure that Kathryn would either.

But there had been a moment, which she had seized, turning her head away from the baying hoards and whispering urgently, ‘meet me a month today at the Night Owl coffee shop at 5pm.’ After that they had both been dragged back into the turmoil and he had lost site of her, it was this uneasy metaphor which sat with him now. He had such high hopes but were they doomed to be dragged apart now that they were back?

He hadn’t seen her over the last month and as far as he knew neither had anyone else. He knew that she had been extensively debriefed, that her actions over the last six years had been carefully scrutinised but that was all. He was angry at being excluded from this process and under other circumstances he might have been prepared to make a fuss about that, but he was wary of doing anything which might jeopardise Kathryn’s position. He was officially, ‘on leave’ to consider his future within Starfleet, while the authorities no doubt did the same. He’d had a couple of other offers as well, one in particular that intrigued him, he just didn’t feel as though he could make any decisions until he had seen Kathryn.

There was no guarantee that Starfleet would understand or accept the necessity of some of her actions. Off the top of his head he could come up with a small list liable to cause the Admirals involved some headaches. What do you do with someone who made an alliance with the Borg, who gave holodeck technology to the Hirogen? What do you do about someone who has been the ultimate authority for so long, do you find a way to bring her back into the fold or do you hold her at arms length because she is no longer entirely ‘one of us’?

Of course it was equally possible that she was fine, resting, catching up with family and friends; picking up the reins of a life that he had no place in. Another disturbing thought. She had been such an important part of his life for so long now that it was bewildering to think that might somehow change. Even when he’d been angry with her, and there had been times when he’d thought her the most irritating woman alive, she had still been at the centre of his consciousness, a balance that he did not understand, was not entirely sure that he wanted. It would be quite an adjustment, finding himself at the sidelines of her life.

Or, perhaps he was worrying unnecessarily. They were friends and there was no real reason why they could go on in the same way. They probably wouldn’t see each other as often, the closeness would adjust to become something less intimate but they could remain in touch. All of which would be impossible, as long as the precise nature of their feelings remained in doubt.

And they were, they really were. No matter how much he tried to tell himself that her position over several years had been clear and undeviating. That for all that time she had never, or almost never, given him grounds to hope, he hadn’t quite managed to kill off the green sprouts of hope which had blossomed inside him because they were back in the Alpha Quadrant and things could be different.

But Kathryn remained a puzzle too complex for him to fathom. There had been moments when he had succeeded in convincing himself that if the circumstances were different, if they weren’t stranded in the Delta Quadrant, responsible for the safety of their crew, struggling to find food, minerals, spare parts then perhaps they could be more than friends. More importantly there had been times when he thought she had believed that as well. But he was as capable of deluding himself as anyone and the plain fact was there had been more times, far more times when he had concluded that any deeper feelings in their relationship were decidedly one-sided.

He checked the time once more and saw, as well the sympathetic look one of the waiters threw him, obviously they thought he’d been stood up as well. Despondently he finished his coffee and vowed that he would never come here again, never drink coffee again, both reminding him too much of someone he seemed fated to lose. He could imagine her here, she had said once it had been one of her favourite places while she was at the Academy, somewhere to come when she needed to gain a little perspective.

Afterwards, he was never quite sure what had made him look up. Did he hear the door without realising it? Was it a breath of perfume? Or just some kind of instinct he had in relation to her that defied any attempt at rational explanation?

The waiter was looking far more indulgently at him now, not that he noticed the smiles of people who a little while ago had been complaining because he was taking up a table. Instead his attention was fixed on the laughing woman who had come in through the doors, shaking the rain from her coat while her eyes searched the room for a familiar face.

He was stunned by her appearance, pleasantly stunned – she looked years younger, her hair had been lightened by the sun and her skin was lightly tanned taking away the ship board pallor he had been used to. The transformation was completed by the fact that her eyes were sparkling with a life and vitality that he had not seen for a long time.

‘Chakotay, I’m so sorry.’ She came towards him and it was not until she spoke his name that he remembered that she was actually here to see him. ‘It started to rain just before I left Headquarters, I decided to wait and see if it was only a shower and by the time I’d decided it wasn’t I was late.’

He felt like a fool, absolutely tongue-tied, which was ridiculous after all they had been through together. ‘Chakotay?’ she queried, breaking the spell her presence had cast over him and he scrambled hurriedly to his feet, embarrassed by his reaction.

‘I’m sorry, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten.’

‘Surely you know I’d never stand you up?’

‘Well, you might have had an urgent appointment with some Admiral, or you could have been busy catching up with your family. I can understand why you might have been too preoccupied to remember and I certainly wouldn’t want to interfere.’ He stopped talking, realising he was babbling.

‘I’ve been at home for the last week, all I seem to do is sleep and eat huge meals. My mother keeps threatening to introduce me to relatives I’ve never heard of, who I strongly suspect her of inventing – and nothing was more important than getting here today, I’ve missed you so much. I’ve thought about contacting you so many times.’

‘What stopped you?’ His throat had constricted with a surge of hope and anticipation and as a result he thought his voice sounded rather squeaky, but she didn’t seem to notice.

‘I wasn’t sure how to say what I needed to, and I’m still not sure. Do you know what this reminds me of? Hanon,’ she supplied when he shook his head. ‘You know, "I was never good at this as a child and I’m still not good at it. You are stuck on a barren Planet with the only Indian who can’t start a fire by rubbing two sticks together." Well, I’ve never been good at this and it seems I’m still not. You’re stuck with a Starfleet Captain who doesn’t know how to ask you if there is any chance you’re still in love with her.’

He was a little lost for a moment, overwhelmed perhaps but his response was rapid, and decided. Taking a step towards her he pulled her firmly into his arms and just before he bent to kiss her remarked, ‘as I recall we managed to start quite a few fires on Hanon.’

The End