Disclaimer: Paramount blah blah blah. You-know-who have proven they don't care what we think anyway.
Summary: Where do you go after Endgame? Let's try an overheard comment, drunken party conversations and a midnight swim. Well, why not?
Author's note: Endgame. What can I say? So the universe does revolve around Seven after all. It made me feel ill until I realised that the characters I cared about disappeared a long time ago anyway. This isn't really about C/7 (although it is) but is for Janeway - who she could have been but wasn't. And for Torres - who she was but then wasn't. What a waste. Still, I miss them, so there's this.
"I let him go, I know
I know, still I grieve for
this distance between us
me and this stranger
I once knew so well..."
Kathryn knew she shouldn't have listened. It was her own fault for being too curious. It was the way their heads were bent close together that got her. The way they kept their voices deliberately low so that no one else in the coffee shop could hear them over the scraping of spoons against saucers, lips against mugs. She moved closer, silently stepped towards their table. Neither of them saw her, they continued to talk.
It would be melodramatic to say that her heart stopped. She was reasonably sure it didn't. She did feel as though a hand had reached inside her abdomen, closed into a fist around her stomach and started squeezing. Melodramatic? Maybe, but also true.
B'Elanna looked up at her and smiled tightly. A nervous glance away at the baby that nestled beside her. Then she greeted her in a voice so carefully cheerful that it screamed she knew Kathryn had overheard, despite the mask she'd quickly slipped on. Her question. His reply. Two sentences she didn't think she'd ever be able to forget.
"Do you still love her?"
"Oh B'Elanna. I'm not even sure I like her anymore."
Of course he could have been speaking of anyone. Perhaps Kathryn could have convinced herself of that if not for the guilty look in B'Elanna's eyes. She carefully rearranged her face.
"Hello, you two. Or three, I should say." Not fabulous, but the best she could manage. An obligatory tender gaze at the baby. A momentary pause.
She could see his shoulders tense with a guilty start. How long had she been standing there? Did he throw B'Elanna an inquiring glance? Pull a contrite face? She didn't know. By the time he turned his head towards her he too had fastened on his mask.
"We were just..." B'Elanna began then let her sentence drift away. "Would you like to join us?"
"No, thankyou. I came in here on the off chance I'd catch you, Commander."
If he noticed the use of his rank he didn't make any sign, just continued to watch her impassively.
"The debriefing is over. I've just had my final interrogation session. They'll let us know their findings tomorrow morning. I thought you should know before you get the official call."
Now it was his turn to smile tightly. "Thankyou. That's good to hear."
Kathryn felt the moment stretching while she stood there awkwardly, willing command aplomb not to leave her face. The seconds ticked by. Before she turned to go B'Elanna spoke up.
"Tom and I are having drinks tonight at our apartment. You should join us."
Her turn to smile. "I'd love to. I'd like that."
Both words stuck in her throat. Love. Like.
B'Elanna nodded. "Great. Eight o'clock."
A final brisk smile then Kathryn left them to their conversation. As she strode away her mother's voice came back to her, from a long forgotten scolding after she'd been caught reading her sister's diary.
"Sometimes when you sneak around Kath, when you spy or eavesdrop, you're the one who ends up feeling awful."
"I know. Because you get into trouble."
"No." She had smiled sadly. "Because you'll find out things you'd rather not know."
Damn. She hated it when her mother was right about the rotten things.
Kathryn went for drinks that night. The gods know why. Perhaps she actually enjoyed putting herself through these things. Perhaps she had to see the two of them together. Maybe then she could force herself into some reaction beyond dull disbelief.
During the stroll to B'Elanna's apartment she found herself revisiting the question that had haunted her since the day she found out. Why her? She understood his need, she would have understood if she was something more than simple comfort. If it really was love...
But as far as she knew Chakotay was barely civil to Seven for four years. They certainly weren't friends. Or was she so blinded by then that she hadn't noticed? That thought hurt so much she hurriedly pushed it away.
It wouldn't stay hidden, of course. The questions continued to plague her as she moved from conversation to conversation. Drink in hand, sip, smile. Was Chakotay such a stranger to her now? How had this happened? Had she let it happen? Was it her fault he had slipped away? Obviously he thought so, judging by his remark this afternoon.
Kathryn had downed several drinks by the time they arrived. Seven had started wearing her hair down and had discarded those dreadful catsuits for something softer. Something blue. She looked lovely. Kathryn waited for the symptoms of jealousy to start eating away at her. There was nothing. Even at the sight of his arm wrapped protectively around her shoulder as he guided her into the room. Nothing. What the hell was wrong with her?
From the corner of her eye she noticed Tom Paris watching her carefully. He did that more often than people realised. It was one of the reasons she was so fond of him. Kathryn smiled dryly at him then glanced back at the happy couple. Seven looked tense and had slipped out from under Chakotay's arm. He whispered something into her ear. She shook her head. He leaned closer and murmured something else. Kathryn's gaze felt glued to his lips as he whispered, whispered. Seven's eyes flickered up to look into his. She managed a small smile. He smiled back. Kathryn turned away.
After refilling her glass - heaven knows what she was drinking by now - she made her way out onto the balcony. The cool breeze jarred against her flushed face. She heard the door open behind her and expected to hear Tom's voice. Instead B'Elanna stepped up beside her, leaning on the balcony, a glass in her hand.
"The fresh air is beautiful up here." B'Elanna gave her a quick but searching glance. "You've been quiet tonight."
"This all feels so strange."
"Being back on earth?"
"Yes. No. All of this." Kathryn glanced back inside. Through the clear glass sheltering the balcony they could still see most of the party guests clustered together, drinking and talking. "Who would have thought this seven years ago, you and Tom Paris?"
B'Elanna smiled wryly. "People change", she said simply.
"Yes. Yes they do."
They both fell silent, watching the lights of the city in front of them. The gentle hum of the voices behind them seemed to blend together to create a soothing murmur.
B'Elanna was typically blunt. "You heard what he said, didn't you? At the coffee shop earlier today."
Kathryn grimaced, then nodded. "Are you going to tell me there was context to that remark? That I walked in at the end of a joke? Or that he was talking about someone else?"
"No. There was context, but I don't think that helps."
"What could?" Kathryn asked this rhetorically, though a small part of her wished B'Elanna had a suitable reply. She took a swig of her drink. "Care to tell me the context anyway?"
B'Elanna sighed as if considering the question. As she began speaking Kathryn realised she too had been drinking heavily. "We were talking about his relationship with Seven. Or more accurately, I was telling him he must be out of his mind."
She tried to keep her voice non-committal. "You don't think Seven was a good choice?"
"For Chakotay? You're joking, right?" B'Elanna snorted. "Look, this is nothing against Seven. Even though we've never really got along it isn't personal. She's not even... I mean, she's never had this sort of relationship before." She waved her arm in the air, spilling some of her drink in the process. "Oops. The woman still has trouble maintaining human friendships, for Kahless' sake. And he's her first real boyfriend. Not counting that guy in Unimatrix Zero", she added, "And I don't think he counts."
"A girl has to start somewhere."
"I would have thought slowly. And with someone who's actually in love with her."
"You don't think he loves her? Did he tell you that?"
"No. Chakotay and I aren't as close as we used to be, but if he loved her, I'd know." She threw Kathryn a sideways glance. "I think we both know he's not very good at hiding it. And the type of relationships he's had in the past..." she sighed, "let's just say this is odd behaviour for him."
"I must admit I wondered why. Why her. Apart from the obvious reasons."
B'Elanna eyed her, her eyes bright. Kathryn wondered again how much she'd had to drink, but didn't want to halt her openness now. "Do you want to know what I think?"
"She's a lot like you, but she's not you. She's got some of your characteristics, either because they were a part of Annika or Seven or because you taught her about being human. She's strong, independent, forthright and intelligent, like you are. But there's one thing about her that's very different to you."
"She's young enough to be his daughter?" she wanted to say, but she bit her tongue and chose facetiousness instead. "A lot of women aren't me. Most of them, actually."
B'Elanna ignored her and continued. "When it comes to love Seven is vulnerable. She's essentially a teenager who's still experimenting. I don't mean just physically. I mean emotionally. For someone like her, Chakotay is..."
"Experienced?" Kathryn supplied.
"He's kind. Seven needs kindness. And as for him, well, everybody needs to be needed. I don't think you ever gave him the same impression. That you needed him." B'Elanna took another slurp of her drink. "Anyway, we were talking about this. I told him what I thought. He told me to mind my own business. I nagged some more. Eventually he cracked and told me what was wrong. All is not so rosy in paradise."
"Oh?" Again Kathryn tried to sound disinterested, as though they were merely gossiping about a couple of Ensigns. She wasn't sure how successful she was. B'Elanna didn't seem to care. "I thought Seven was looking tense," she added.
"She has her reasons. If I wasn't well on her way to getting drunk I probably would tell you this but... he called her Kathryn." B'Elanna paused and waited for her response. As Kathryn stared at her blankly she added, "Oh, you know what I mean. They were having sex and he called her Kathryn."
Kathryn continued to stare at her. "He what?"
"They were having -"
"I heard you. I'm just... surprised. No wonder she's pissed."
B'Elanna shrugged. "She probably doesn't know what to do about it. So he told me this and then I asked him..."
"If he still loved me. I heard that part. And the response."
She stared out at the city again while B'Elanna shook her head. "He doesn't know if he likes you anymore? I don't know what the hell that means. You two are friends, right?"
Kathryn thought again about the way she found out about Seven. About the lunch invitation he turned down because he was seeing her. How they had never even mentioned the subject.
"Yeah. We're friends."
"Then maybe he's just still confused about you. I always thought the two of you had a chance. You know Klingons love a good romance."
"I know. I borrowed a few from you, remember."
B'Elanna snorted again. "Yeah."
Kathryn didn't know what to say, so she turned and rested her back against the rail, letting her eyes roam blankly over the people inside. "I suppose it's like you said, people change." It was a poor answer and they both knew it.
B'Elanna turned too, and Kathryn could see her glancing at Tom and Miral. "Yes", she said softly, "They do."
"You don't regret the way your life has changed, surely?"
"Regret? No. I love Tom. I love Miral. But it's not all I ever wanted. All I ever dreamed of." As she spoke Kathryn saw her gaze flicker over to where Chakotay was standing. Seven had left his side and he appeared deep in conversation with Harry. Kathryn wondered at the regret that passed over her face then.
"B'Elanna. I'm depressed enough. If you tell me you and Tom aren't happy-"
"No. No. We are happy. I'm happy. I'm just a little restless right now." She shook herself as if that would dispel the mood. "Goddamn, this is so serious." She raised her glass in the air. "Let's have a toast while I still have some liquid left."
"What should we drink to?"
"How about the women of Voyager?"
Kathryn winced involuntarily. "Maybe not all of them. How about just you and me?"
B'Elanna clinked their glasses together. "Alright. To B'Elanna and Kathryn. Long may they reign."
Kathryn felt a chuckle burst free from her mouth. "What?"
"I don't know", B'Elanna admitted, "that just came out."
Kathryn laughed for a moment longer, then downed the rest of her drink. She felt a strong kinship for this woman and wondered if B'Elanna realised that, or if she had failed there too. Before she thought about it further, she said, "When I made you my chief engineer I saw so much potential in you."
"I hope I didn't disappoint you."
"No! I disappointed me. I always hoped that you and I could become friends. But it seems like I was distracted and I never had the chance to..." She trailed off, unsure how to word the vague sense of regret she was feeling.
B'Elanna finished her drink and grinned. "You know, if I was you I'd feel incredibly pissed off."
Kathryn stared at her. "Why?"
She started giggling. "You spent most of your energy over the past few years helping Seven of sodding Nine to become a better person, neglecting other friendships in the process - such as one with yours truly, not to mention your first officer. Then she ups and steals the man you love from right under your nose." She stopped laughing then. "That's not so funny, is it?"
"If I didn't laugh, B'Elanna, I would cry."
"Well, they say misery likes company." Kathryn glanced at her quizzically. "You should catch up with the doctor later."
B'Elanna laughed shortly. "That is a whole other conversation and my glass is empty. Want another one?"
"No thanks. I'll get one later."
"Okay." She began moving towards the doorway. "Kathryn - it isn't too late for us to be friends. Especially now we're not on Voyager."
Kathryn grinned at a sudden thought. "So long as you're not ever going to call me Aunty Kathy."
"I wouldn't dare. Although I can't vouch for Tom. Hey," she added, as if just remembering. "You didn't deny it."
"Uh huh." B'Elanna grinned again and slipped back inside.
Kathryn didn't know what there was to smile about but she smiled after the younger woman anyway. She hoped B'Elanna really was happy. She recalled something else her mother said to her once.
"Sometimes you get what you want, Kathryn, only to discover that what you thought you wanted isn't really what you want. Only then it's too late to fix it."
She remembered not knowing what that meant at the time.
"Those were the days", she muttered out loud, then decided that perhaps she needed another drink after all.
An hour later Kathryn made her way outside again. Harry had mentioned that through one of the other doors she could access an outdoor pool. For some reason she had a strong desire to sit by the water. She had been drifting from conversation to conversation, feeling unable to connect with anyone. Perhaps she should have stayed home tonight.
As she slipped outside the night air struck her more vividly this time. She clutched her glass in her hand and made her way towards the swimming pool. When she reached it she slipped off her shoes and sank down by the side, cross legged, staring at the water. The slight breeze created tiny ripples on the surface. She stared at them as time passed by, hypnotized, so intent that she almost didn't hear him approaching.
For some reason Kathryn sensed him, or perhaps just recognized his scent. It was so familiar and that realization so strange that she felt tears starting to burn in her eyes. As he sank down beside her she tried to brush them away as unobtrusively as possible. If Chakotay noticed he didn't say.
They sat silence for a few minutes. Kathryn wanted to ask where Seven was but was afraid of how bitter it would sound. Eventually he spoke first.
"Wishing on the stars?"
"Want to guess?"
His mouth twisted up comically. "Good news tomorrow? A promotion?"
"Oh yeah, that was it."
"No." She sighed. "I was wishing that we'd get home."
She could feel his stare on her. "Kathryn. We are home. You got us here."
She felt an involuntary chuckle escape her lips, although there was little humour in the sound. "I'm not insane, don't worry. I know we're on earth. I was just wishing for home."
He frowned. "Indiana?"
"No. Never mind."
Kathryn couldn't find the words to explain the she meant the home she had been dreaming about, striving towards all this time. That nebulous, contented place where the problems of the past seven years would slip from her shoulders. She'd always imagined herself happy to be home. Sitting drunkenly by a pool trying not to cry on her first officer hadn't really been a part of those dreams.
"I was wishing for something more attainable, actually."
"To get progressively drunker as the night goes on."
She could hear the concern in his voice although he tried to hide it. "And how are you going?"
"Quite well so far. B'Elanna's cocktails are helping."
"I'd say they're helping her too. She's inside dancing with Tuvok."
"Tuvok is dancing?"
"No. But that doesn't seem to be stopping her." He peered at her, although she was unsure how much he could see in the dimness. "I thought the brass would be calling you in early tomorrow."
"Probably. Do you think she's alright?"
"We were talking earlier. She seems quite distracted. Restless."
"Maybe it's the baby."
"Maybe it's something else."
"I don't know. You were talking with her earlier today."
Kathryn could feel his gaze on her face again. She ignored it and sipped her drink.
"If there's something wrong she didn't confide in me." He fell silent for a moment, shifting to get more comfortable on the cold surface. "You've been quiet tonight. Do you want to talk about it?"
"The meeting tomorrow? No."
"Kathryn," he said sternly. "You know that's not what I mean."
Suddenly she felt that any conversation topic at all would be better. She blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Should I have done things differently on Voyager?" He glanced at her in surprise. "I mean, between us. Should I have done something different?"
"Would you rather I danced around it for a while?"
"I'd love to watch you dance."
She shook her head. "Don't do that."
"You know what. How we avoid talking by teasing each other instead. That's a very bad habit." She wanted to ask if he teased Seven the same way, but didn't.
He was silent for so long that she thought he was offended. Then he spoke. "Alright. I think you should have let me be your friend."
"I thought we were friends."
Chakotay sighed. "Maybe we were, after a fashion. But there was more to it than that. I think you know why. I was in love with you for so long. The whole time telling myself it would go away." She drew in a breath to hear him actually admitting it, but before she could savour the moment he hurried on. "And eventually it did. We still could have been friends, Kathryn, good friends, if only you'd let me."
"You said that before. I don't know what you mean. Let you what?"
"You never needed me. Or maybe you did, really, but you wouldn't let yourself need me. You always had to be in control."
Kathryn blinked back tears again at the echo of what B'Elanna had said earlier.
"Of course I was in control. I was the captain."
"I'm not talking about work. You see - there it is. You couldn't not be the captain. You were always the damned captain." She was startled by the anger in his voice. As if hearing it too he continued more quietly. "As the captain you were always prepared to let me argue with you. Sometimes you ignored my advice, other times you took it. But as my friend, you didn't lean on me. Not about the important things."
She thought about Seven again, how keeping her on board was one of the things they had disagreed about. She wondered if he saw the irony in that now.
"Like being stuck thousands of light years from home! Like you blaming yourself. The way you isolated yourself from the crew. If only you'd let me through." He shook his head sadly. "You could have kept your goddamn respectable distance from them and still had me as an honest sounding board. But you couldn't ever let go. So the walls stayed up. Sure, we met for drinks, for meals, we had conversations. But over the last few years, how often did we talk, really talk about the things that mattered to us both?"
"I don't know." She tried to keep the misery out of her voice. "Not often enough."
"Yeah. Not often enough. How can you really be a good friend to someone who won't open up to you?"
"You didn't tell me about Seven", she said, before she lost the nerve.
"No", he said quietly.
"Why Seven? Do you love her? No, don't answer that."
"Seven and I -" he began.
"No. Don't. I don't want to hear it."
Before he could stop her she set down her glass, stood up and propelled herself into the pool. The water was shockingly cold and she gasped as she pushed herself away from the edge. She swam underwater, stretching out her arms and pulling them back towards her. Despite the cold there was something wonderful about knowing she was immersed in real, not holographic, water. When she broke the surface she could hear Chakotay's voice. She pushed back her sodden hair and turned to face him, treading water. She was startled to see she'd swum out to the middle of the pool. He was tugging off his shoes, ready to dive in after her.
Without thinking Kathryn turned and began to swim away. Normally she was a strong swimmer but now her coordination was poor. By the time she had reached the other end of the pool Chakotay had caught her up. He began treading water as she turned towards him.
"What the hell are you doing?" he snapped. "You've been drinking."
The sight of his dark shirt clinging to his chest reminded her they were fully clothed. She looked down to see her own shirt adhering to her body. Despite the cold and the angry expression on his face she couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous they both looked.
"I generally drink when I want to get drunk", she spluttered.
Chakotay glared at her, moving closer so that to avoid touching him she had to press her back against the pool wall.
"Are you crazy, Kathryn?"
"Yes. I am crazy. Absolutely. Damn straight. I'm bonkers. Completely nuts. Off my rocker. Two plates short of a picnic. Several hundred screws loose. Go straight to the asylum. Do not pass go. Do not-"
"What's wrong with you?"
She broke off her babbling. "What's wrong with me?" She felt her misery turning to anger as he continued to scowl at her. "What do you mean, what's wrong with me? I've been stuck in Starfleet meetings for three weeks, having every single decision I've made for the past seven years dissected and prodded. I've been defending you."
Her frustration bubbled to the surface and her voice started to rise. "You, who's suddenly out of nowhere starting dating a woman nearly half your age despite the fact she probably isn't ready for a relationship yet and you've never shown the slightest interest in her wellbeing before. I find this out from a future version of me who apparently wanted to change the future just so you and Seven could be happy together while she's lonely and miserable. She being me, I mean."
She splashed her hand in the water as she continued to rant. "I find this out from myself, rather than from you, who is supposed to be my friend, only isn't really because I've been drifting apart from you and therefore don't deserve to hear important personal news . Then today I overhear you saying that not only are we not such great friends but you aren't even sure if you like me or not anymore. What's wrong? What isn't wrong?"
Kathryn stop to take a ragged breath, noting that Chakotay was staring at her, his face puzzled, trying to catch his own breath as he paddled in place. She continued a little more quietly.
"And all this while I've been trying my hardest to get the crew home, knowing it was my own fault we were stranded in the first place. Doing my best to be in charge the only way I could cope with. So maybe I could have done some things differently. Well, so bloody what? We're here, aren't we? We're home. And who cares if home it isn't as wonderful as I've been imagining all this time. Who cares if it's horrible, actually? Who cares if I've ruined everything, anything that could have happened between the two of us. Who cares?"
Only as he moved towards her did Kathryn realise she had started crying. The absurdity of their situation struck her then and the tears were mingled with small gulps of laughter.
"Kathryn", he said, reaching out his palm to cup her face.
"And don't say my name like that."
"Like it actually means something to you. Don't say that while I know that you and Seven are -"
She stopped before she could say anything further. She'd already said more to him than she had intended. He stared at her, his face expressionless. She didn't know what he was thinking, or why he was even bother to stay with her at all. Under a fresh barrage of tears she muttered something.
"What?" he said. "I can't hear you."
"I said, my mother told me that if I snooped I'd find out things I didn't want to know."
His facial expression shifted then. "What did B'Elanna tell you?"
"About what?" Kathryn mumbled.
"Oh hell. She thinks... you think... oh hell."
Chakotay laughed. She was so startled by the sound that she stared at him wordlessly.
"You overheard me at the coffee shop, didn't you?"
"And you think I was talking about you?"
He screwed up his forehead as if trying to remember something. "And you were talking to B'Elanna before and knowing B'e she would have brought it up, so she obviously thinks I meant you too."
Kathryn was confused now. "Didn't you?"
"We were talking about Seven. At least I was. We were talking about our relationship and B'Elanna asked me if I still loved her. I said I wasn't sure if I even liked her. I didn't mean it to sound so harsh. I just meant that I don't even think the two of us have that much in common. We were never really friends."
"B'Elanna said... she thought... she said you were talking about..." She broke off, blushing furiously despite the chill.
Her flushed face allowed him to complete that sentence. "She told you that? Hell," he said again.
"So you were talking about Seven and me then she said..."
"'Do you still love her'," he said softly. "I though she meant Seven."
She could hear the tremor of relief in her own voice. "She meant me. She thought you meant me when you replied, too."
"And so did you. How can you think that?"
"All those things you said..." She broke off in confusion. You stood by her side, was all she could think. Her side, not mine. She shook her head. "Everything that's happened recently... I thought..."
"That because I'm dating Seven that I don't care about you?" She could see his dark eyes now, flashing with something like grief. "You did think that."
Kathryn could see that the realisation had shaken him. His facial expression showed he was hurt, but right now she couldn't bear to look at it. She reached for the edge of the pool instead and dragged herself out of the water. As she began to pad across the tiles she could hear a splash as he followed her.
Before she'd thought about where she was going Tom Paris suddenly appeared in front of her. He pushed a bundle into her hands. She stared down at it. Two large towels. He smiled and leaned closer to her.
"Do you want to know something I've learnt about B'Elanna?"
Kathryn wanted to ask what he was doing there, how he knew where she was, and why he was talking about B'Elanna when she was standing outside his apartment in her sodden clothes, but just nodded instead.
His eyes took on a softer look. "Sometimes she says things that other people think too, but don't have the guts to say out loud."
She didn't know what to say, so just bobbed her head again. Then he turned and without another word slipped back inside the building.
Chakotay and Kathryn sat side by side near the pool. Each had one of the soft white towels wrapped snugly around them. Each were lost in their own thoughts. For some reason there was something comforting about the silence and the feel of his shoulder pressing against hers. Something familiar. Eventually she stirred.
"So, B'Elanna said you called Seven Kathryn."
He looked at her steadily, his expression unreadable again. She wondered exactly when this man she knew so well had become such a stranger to her. After a moment he shrugged. "I didn't mean to."
That almost made her laugh. "I should hope not."
He let out a low soft chuckle too, then shook his head. "I don't know what it means. If it even means anything."
Maybe it was the alcohol again but Kathryn felt she had to ask. "Do you still want to? Sleep with me?"
She was so nervous that it came out as two questions. He gave her another inscrutable look.
"Are you offering?"
"I don't think so. Not while you're with someone else. With her."
"Then no. Yes. I don't know." He blew out a breath in frustration. "Kathryn, I don't know how to explain this to you."
"I wish you'd try."
Chakotay was silent for a while, staring out at the water. "You're under my skin", he said softly. "I'm not sure how that happened, or why, only that it did. And the reality of us be damned."
"Do you want-"
He shook his head again. "No. I can't."
"I was going to ask if you want me to talk to Seven."
That surprised him. He watched her carefully before responding. "About what?"
"About relationships. About men. About you. There's so much that she doesn't know yet."
A defensive note crept into his voice. "She's not a child."
"I didn't say she was."
"Humph. B'Elanna near as well did."
"She's worried about you."
"I thought she was angry with me."
"She's B'Elanna, why not?" he joked lamely. "Because she's never liked Seven."
This time the bitterness in her voice was clear. "Why can't it just be about you? Seven isn't at the centre of everyone's universe, you know."
He was still again, and again she felt oddly afraid she had offended him. "I'm sorry", he said quietly.
"For not telling you about us. That obviously hurt."
Kathryn bit back a sarcastic reply and nodded. "If it's something that's important to you then I want to know. Even when I don't want to know," she added.
"I guess..." he hesitated, "I guess I didn't know how to tell you. You and Seven have always had a peculiar relationship. As for you and me... Well, I wasn't sure how you'd react."
"You should have tried anyway."
"I know." He gave her a sidelong glance. "Does it bother you that she didn't tell you, too?"
Kathryn shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't thought about that."
"You were her mentor."
"Obviously I taught her well. It seems in the end she was smarter than me."
He reached over and took her right hand in his left, folding his fingers over them gently.
"Kathryn", he said in that same soft voice, "I have something to tell you."
She wasn't sure if he was joking, so played along. "Oh? What's that?"
"I've started seeing Seven of Nine."
And there it was. The horrible gnawing feeling in her stomach. The desire to scream, or to vomit, or to spit out a vindictive reply. Instead she just squeezed his hand, then rested her head against his shoulder.
"That's nice, Chakotay", she said.
Most of the guests departed early, their apologies unnecessary under the circumstances. Tomorrow seemed to consume all their minds. The doctor and Harry were still talking quietly in one corner, Seven and Tuvok in another. Tom began picking up empty glasses from the surfaces they had proliferated on and carrying them into the kitchen. B'Elanna was leaning against the counter, apparently deep in thought.
"Hello beautiful", he said, lowering his tray and starting to place the glasses into the recycler.
"Mmm", she replied.
"Are you okay?"
"In the bedroom. Sam's putting her to sleep."
"Good old Sam." He eyed her thoughtfully. "You've been letting your hair down tonight."
"Have I?" She turned to face him. "Yeah, I suppose I have. Guess I'll apologize to Tuvok later." She sighed.
"Is something wrong? Apart from being worried about tomorrow, I mean."
His wife shook her head slowly. "It's something I'm finding hard to put into words. Would find hard even if I was sober", she added with a small grin.
"Alright, but you aren't allowed to think I'm crazy."
"It's a deal."
B'Elanna crossed her arms against her chest and leaned back against the counter. "This isn't how I pictured our return. Some things have been wonderful. Like your father. But", she shrugged again and lowered her voice slightly, "I always imagined everyone being a little happier about it."
Tom's brow creased in concern. "You don't think we're happy?"
"Oh no. We are. But the others-" she broke off again, shaking her head.
"You don't think he's really in love with Seven, do you?"
B'Elanna was silent for a moment before she responded. "I guess I've always thought that Seven was the kind of person who draws people's attention too easily, when they really should be looking somewhere else. She shines so brightly she makes her own spotlight."
"That's not her fault."
"No. It's not. But Chakotay should know better."
"Yeah well," Tom moved closer towards her and reached out to rub her shoulders, "some men are brighter than others, aren't they?"
"Some of the time", she said.
"Some of the time?"
"You have your moments, Paris."
He pulled her into a hug. "Promise me something", he muttered into her hair.
"Promise me we won't end up like them. Not saying what we really think. Letting other priorities get in the way. Making sensible but stupid choices that would drive us apart."
"Alright", she said. "As long as you promise me something."
"Don't let me dance with Tuvok in public ever again."
He chuckled. "Eminently sensible."
"And I am sensible, aren't I, these days."
Something in her tone made him pull back slightly. "Is that what's bothering you?"
"I said nothing was really-"
"Yeah, I know what you said." He eyed her carefully once again. "We've both changed, B'Elanna. But I'd like to think that's been for the better. Just because you've learnt how to control your temper - sometimes - and have proved you can hold down a responsible position, it doesn't mean you've been..." he struggled to think of the word.
"Domesticated?" she suggested.
Tom laughed. "That's the phrase I was looking for."
"Or not looking for."
"Or not", he agreed.
They stood in comfortable silence for a few minutes, B'Elanna letting her head rest on his chest.
"What do you think they're doing out there?" he asked.
B'Elanna's reply was so soft he almost couldn't hear it. "Breaking each other's hearts", she said.
"Not the kind of ending we all imagined, huh?"
He sighed. "So are we going to try and do anything about it?"
B'Elanna groaned softly. "I don't know about you, but I'm going to bed." She turned in the doorway, a small smile working its way across her face. "Ask me tomorrow, Tom. "
Tom Paris, former criminal, former pilot of Voyager, and now contended husband and father, glanced at the stack of glasses he'd yet to recycle. The light was striking them at an odd angle and he could see his own reflection, multiplied and distorted, so that there were at least seventeen Tom Paris' staring back at him. One of these Tom Paris', he knew, would have been tempted to walk back outside, to confront the stubborn couple who'd been so hopelessly and so long in love. Another of these Tom's would have liked to rejoin the party guests, ham it up with Harry for a while longer, do his best to bring a smile to the doctor's face. Another would try and be responsible, finish cleaning up the kitchen then offer coffee to the visitors.
Tom Paris, former criminal, former pilot of Voyager, and now contended husband and father, smiled at his reflections. B'Elanna was right. There was always tomorrow. He dimmed the lights, then stepped into the lounge to bid his guests good night, before retiring to join his wife.
Okay, I have succumbed to pressure & added an epilogue.
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