Disclaimer: see previous parts
B'Elanna's next words took me by surprise, 'and be careful.'
'You don't know who she is here - look at her, she knows exactly how to play the game, she was probably born knowing the rules. She has an unimpeachable record, she walked away from the board of enquiry without a stain on her character - hell she even got a special commendation, no one is more famous or well regarded than Janeway is right now, she could have her pick of postings.'
'You're saying that she might not want to get mixed up with an ex Maquis rebel?' I saw the frustration on B'Elanna's face, knew she was not happy seeing someone she admired in that light.
'I don't know, maybe that's really why she's kept her distance all these years.'
'You don't really believe that,' I pointed out.
'I don't want to believe it, but I also don't want you to get hurt.' I smiled
'I've been able to look after myself for quite a while now B'elanna.' At her sceptical look I knew she was thinking about my less than fabulous history when it came to relationships. 'Kathryn won't hurt me, you know she won't.'
'She'd better not!'
B'Elanna drifted off to find Tom after that, obviously having decided I was a lost cause. I didn't want to admit it, but her words had struck a chord with me. I watched from a distance as Kathryn negotiated a dizzying array of admirals and captains - it seemed everyone wanted to talk to her, congratulate her. She looked as though she had been born to do this, and, if she had who was I, an ex-rebel with no particular adherence to anything but my friends and her, to stand in her way?
I hadn't thought much about my own future - I'd been preoccupied with what would happen to my former crew and then with Kathryn's disappearance. Once I'd realised that the Federation had no immediate plans to imprison me I'd postponed my decision about remaining with Starfleet - contingent between what did or did not happen between Kathryn and myself. Now, watching her with perhaps, just a little envy, I asked myself a simple question - independent of Kathryn and our relationship, did I want to be a Starfleet officer? I was surprised to discover that the answer was an unequivocal yes.
'You've been keeping your distance.' A soft voice said, startling me out of my reverie.
'Admiring from afar.' Up close it was distracting to discover just how good she looked in that dress. 'You look, incredible.'
'Thank you,' she accepted my compliment gravely and then 'you look very handsome yourself.' Our eyes had met and locked the first moment I'd realised she was standing in front of me, I wasn't sure she had a clue what I was wearing. Silence reigned as we looked at each other with barely contained hunger, I was unaccustomed to seeing her expression so open in regard to me. 'Will you dance with me Chakotay?' Somehow it had entirely escaped my attention that music was being played and couples were swirling around a dance floor. Dry mouthed and speechless I nodded and reached out for her hand to lead her onto the dance floor.
We'd danced together before, but not with all the brass in the fleet looking on. 'We're being rather closely observed,' I whispered, finding my voice at last as we started to move to the music.
'I expect they're all thinking what a good looking couple we make, or how well we dance together.' One side of her mouth quirked up into a smile as she said this and I knew she was thinking, as I was, how unlikely that was.
'They're probably thinking that if we dance well together we probably do all sorts of other things well together as well.'
'Oh really?' All mock innocence as she gazed up at me, 'is that a rule?'
'Definitely,' she snuggled a little bit closer to me, we were a long way beyond dancing the regulation distance apart already. But now she was close enough to whisper in my ear,
'What sorts of things does the rule apply to?'
'Hooverball, commanding Starships that kind of stuff.'
'Perhaps they're watching us and thinking command teams should take dancing lessons together in future.'
'Um, it's certainly a thought.' We were hardly moving by now, just taking the bare minimum of steps required to satisfy the description of dancing - but really we were just holding each other. My heart sang out 'at last.' Suddenly becoming serious, Kathryn looked up at me and said,
'I don't care what they think of me tonight.'
'So I gathered.' My slow, appreciative look made her smile again and brought a flush to her cheeks.
'I know, believe me, I do know that all those uptight admirals are thinking that I should be wearing a dress uniform. But don't you think after the last six years of upholding their protocols and procedures I'm entitled to put on the sexiest dress I can find and do what I damn well please for one night?'
'I don't have any complaints.' She smiled at my teasing tone, her intensity from the moment before dissipating as she tightened her hold on me. 'Kathryn, is that why you're dancing too close to your former First officer? I don't mind, I just need to know?'
'Liar.' She could read me too well, her hand slid to my cheek, caressing it as she turned my face towards her. 'You would mind like hell if I told you that I was holding you like this just to prove something to Starfleet.'
'So, what is this all about?' My hand slid slowly down the length of her spine and I felt her shudder in response, all pretence at dancing had now been abandoned.
'That,' she said firmly, 'it's about that and a few other things as well. Look, we can't talk here, let's get some air.'
'We'll miss the fireworks.' The climax of the evening was going to be a massive fireworks and laser display. Kathryn's expression as she glanced back at me, her hand firmly grasping mine as she led me off the dance floor, was downright mischievous.
As we step into the stillness of the night, away from all those censorious eyes I consider telling Chakotay how often I had changed my mind about showing up tonight, how even a few hours ago I was going to go to my mother's house and change into my dress uniform. I suppose what matters is that I didn't, that I stuck to my original plan. I don't think I need to tell Chakotay any of this, I suspect he knows me well enough to work some of it out for himself.
Away from the party I feel myself calm down, I hadn't realised how much I was operating on adrenaline, now suddenly I am tired. I glance around me, the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters are wonderful at this time of year, actually they're always wonderful. I just have a fondness for early autumn. We haven't strayed far, our path has been slow and meandering, I can hear music and laughter from the party; and then I realise that I am still holding Chaktoay's hand.
I start to let go, but he won't let me, 'talk to me,' he says quietly and suddenly I am back in Florence, our last encounter, remembering all the things he said and all the things I did not. I do owe him an explanation.
'What would you like to know?'
'I'm not sure - everything,' he says with a glint of humour and then, 'is this a farewell visit, or are you back?'
'I'm back, at least I think I am, I'm even considering the posting they offered me, although I'm not sure if I want to stay on Earth, it depends, well, on lots of things.' To his credit he merely raised an eyebrow at the slip I had almost made. 'What about you Chakotay, staying or going?'
'Staying, I've been offered an instructors post - advanced tactics.' I am not surprised at this piece of information, with his past and given the fact that he is a born teacher Starfleet would have been mad to let him go. 'I'll miss Voyager of course, but I'd like to spend some time in one place, put down some roots.'
It is worse for him I realise all at once, the settlement on Dorvan 5 is all but destroyed, his family and his friends are scattered or dead. I have my mother and the sister, the semblance of a life to reclaim, however difficult that might be. He has nothing. But, that isn't quite true, he has the friends he made on Voyager, he has B'Elanna, they are like kin to one another, and he has me, if that's what we both want.
I reach out for his other hand, 'I want you to know something, I am sorry for all the times I hurt you, or pushed you away. I regret that I was never clear about my feelings and our situation, but were we to find ourselves back on Voyager in the Delta Quadrant tomorrow, my decision about our personal relationship would be exactly the same.'
'It was always going to be what if the circumstances were different out there?'
'Yes,' I affirmed, knowing what his next question would be before he asked it.
'So what happens now that they are?'
'I don't know.' It was an honest answer - perhaps not the one he wanted to hear, but to give him credit he was undaunted by my reticence.
'Then tell me what happened? Why did you come back?'
'Because I found what I was looking for, or at least I stopped looking and it found me.' That made no sense, a fact confirmed by his confused expression. I tried again. 'When we were in the Delta Quadrant, when I had to be the ultimate source of responsibility all the sacrifices, all the costs just got pushed away to be dealt with at some unspecified time in the future. And then we got back - and the unspecified time was suddenly here and I realised that I wasn't equipped to deal with who I was, what I'd done. For a long time I thought I must be a monster to do all that and not be moved,' At his startled cry of protest I released one of his hands and pressed my fingers against his lips. The intimacy of this gesture made the muscles in my stomach clench in surprise, it had ben such a long time since I'd allowed anyone to make me feel like this. 'It's all right, I can see it in perspective now and more importantly I can think about the future.' I removed my fingers from over his mouth and then, unable to resist, traced the fulness of his lips with my thumb. He gasped at the contact, his eyes darkening, pupils dilating, 'I came here tonight because it was time to come out of hiding. I wore this dress for you.'
His silence was terrifying, I have stood toe to toe with deadly enemies and been unmoved - but now I was panicked. 'I mean if that's what you want, obviously if it isn't I,' whatever I might have said next, however I would have extricated myself from this mess meant nothing, because his lips were suddenly on mine, hot and demanding, a kiss of remarkable fierce tenderness. For the first time in my life I surrendered.
We came up for air for long enough for him to say, 'I love you, I've always loved you, nothing will ever change that.' And then we were kissing again, not quite so forcefully this time, gentle exploration was more the aim, not the savage claiming of that first touch. From a long way away I heard what I took to be the rumble of thunder. Rather fancifully I imagined it was the sound of my barriers falling irrevocably to admit this man. Then it happened again, accompanied this time by a flash of light. Startled I opened my eyes and pulled back a little, I could see from Chakotay's face that he had heard it too and realised before me what was happening.
'I think,' he whispered into my ear, his breath warm, his lips caressing the lobe, 'we have an audience.' I closed my eyes, the flash and bang of the fireworks making it difficult to concentrate. I could just imagine the scene, the balconies packed with dozens of dignitaries, not to mention most of our former crew, the lasers and firework show illuminating the grounds and catching Voyager's former captain and first officer in a passionate embrace.
'Perhaps we should take a bow?'
'I don't think that will be necessary.' He smiled suddenly and I knew he was thinking that now we had nothing to lose and nothing to hide.
'Let's get out of here,' I whispered, 'Where are you staying?'
'Visiting Officers' Quarters.' I pulled a face,
'I don't think so, the walls are like paper.' He smiled and pulled me closer to him,
'Should I ask how you know that?'
'Let's just put it down to experience.' It was clear to me what was going to happen, what our only option was. 'Let's go home.'
'Home?' he queried looking thoroughly confused.
'You'll understand when we get there.'
I had dreamt of waking in sunlight, but when I opened my eyes in the dim morning light all I could hear was the patter of rain on the window of the apartment. I could live with the disappointment of the weather, I had everything else I wanted. Kathryn was still asleep, her naked body wrapped around mine, her hair falling over my shoulders as she nestled close to my chest. This, finally, had been the coming home I had dreamt of. As I lay there I was assaulted my images of us from the previous night, our bodies coming together slowly as an irresistible tempo built between us, until finally we had exploded together in climax. I smiled at the memory and held her a little closer.
She'd been right about this place, this apartment, it did feel like home, a place for us to be together even though I'd taken no part in selecting it and last night had been the first time I'd stepped over the threshold, even though it was furnished with just a few of her belongings. That was going to change, most of my possessions from Voyager were in storage, I was going to see about having them transported here at some point, I was going to live here, with her. We'd talked about taking a holiday, together this time, a few weeks away from all that we knew, but we hadn't made any real plans. I liked it here, where the pace of life was that little bit slower and every second person you saw wasn't wearing a uniform.
My stomach rumbled and I realised how long it had been since I'd eaten anything. I extricated myself with care from Kathryn and her, our bed and watched with fondness as she burrowed into the warm space I'd left behind. It was later that I thought - just a miserable grey morning - but as I pottered around in the kitchen I didn't care. Most of the equipment looked as though it hadn't been touched, Kathryn had clearly been relying on the replicators - well, I couldn't blame her for that, after existing on rations for so long it was difficult to resist not using them. The only thing she did seem to have in abundance was coffee, again, not exactly a surprise.
I let myself out of the apartment and made my away along the shops in the street below, purchasing fruit and fresh, warm ciabatta rolls for breakfast. I could see myself doing this in the weeks and months to come, albeit not dressed in two thirds of a tuxedo. The stall holders I met smiled indulgently at me, so obviously wearing last nights clothes and buying ingredients for a romantic breakfast. I smiled back.
She didn't wake until I wafted the mug of coffee under her nose and then her eyelids fluttered and she stretched languorously. I knew I was grinning ridiculously at her, the knowledge that we were here, like this, leaving me speechless. But then she looked up at me with the same goofy expression and I fell in love with her all over again.
'Breakfast?' She sat up and took the mug from me, 'how wonderful, I'm famished.'
'Reassuring, but not exactly romantic.'
'Um,' she reached up and pressed an open mouthed kiss onto my lips, 'I'm sorry, good morning.'
'Good morning.' I felt a little shy around her and it seemed she felt the same way. We watched each other surreptitiously while we ate, trying to get a handle on our relationship now that we'd crossed this final barrier, trading occasional touches as we became accustomed to the intimacy of this moment. She was a quick study, because one minute we were being careful not to intrude into each others private thoughts and the next she was on my lap, feeding me tiny pieces of bread between kisses. Last night had been so intense and emotional that I was glad of the sense of ease we had found now, the playfulness. As I took the mug out of her hand and tumbled her back into the pillows amidst gales of laughter, I happened to glance across the room and out of the corner of my eye I saw that remarkable, honest portrait and just for an instant I could have sworn that both of it's figures were smiling.
Return to the index