She had walked into the room as though she'd never been away, as though she'd beenin the house just hours before, days ago at the most. Nothing about her demeanour indicated that she had been missing, presumed dead for all those years.
The volley of dogs barks had alerted her to the fact that she had visitors. She heard Phoebe go to the door and then the sound of softly muted voices. She had assumed at first that it was more reporters, that her daughter would refer them to Starfleet, the way she had with all the others in the last two days. Then she heard footsteps and the voice, one word, 'mother' and she was lost. She hadn't been expecting to see her so soon, she thought she'd have weeks to get used to the idea that Kathryn was still alive.
The first thing she noticed was that she'd ditched that severe coil of hair she used to wear, that her hair was shorter, tied back at her neck. In that initial moment she was still examining the face before her, noting that her daughter had lost weight, seeing lines around her eyes that hadn't been there before. At her second glance she noticed the shadows in her eyes, remembered where she had seen them before and guessed at some of what it had cost her to get back here. At the third glance she knew it was still her child, standing before her, she could see the traces of her in the rapid smile, the raised eyebrow and the quickness of her gestures. Why had it taken her years of absence to realise how much Kathryn looked like her father?
In the next moment they were hugging - both crying with relief and excitement, both talking to each other at once. Years of absence melted away, years spent clinging to a tiny piece of hope buried deep inside her while she pretended to go on with her life. Years of news and stories to catch up on.
It was then that she realised that Kathryn had not returned alone. The man was standing in the corner of the room, watching their reunion with a smile. She took a good, long look at the stranger, noting the Starfleet uniform he wore, the three pips in his collar and the dark lines that arched over his eyebrow. How odd. Who was this man, and why was he here, now, at this family time?
He noticed her scrutiny and gazed at her for a moment with dark, intense eyes before nodding slightly to her, a trace of a smile on his lips. A sudden realisation hit her, the news was full of Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant, of the Starfleet and Maquis crews merged into one and of an unusual and surprisingly effective command team. Was this him? Maquis Captain turned Starfleet First Officer? What was his name? Chakotay?
Kathryn stepped back from her mother, brushed a stray tear from her cheek and took a good look at the woman she had never really expected to see again. The years had not altered her that much, her hair was a little greyer, a face a little more wrinkled, but her smile and her voice still held the memory of comfort and safety from childhood.
The room was exactly the same as she'd pictured it when she'd thought about the place she'd grown up- allowed herself that luxury. How many times had she raced through the front doors and burst into the living room with some tale of her exploits? As a matter of fact wasn't that what she was doing now? Tell her family how she'd spent the years she'd been lost, find out what had happened to them - reacquaint herself with her family and friends, pick up the threads of her old life and somehow fit them to the life she had made for herself in a distant part of the universe. Which reminded her, the biggest thing first.
In the moment that Kathryn spun towards the stranger her mother saw the look on his face and the look on Kathryn's and realised that she was not about to be introduced to a mere colleague. She took another good look at him - he was handsome, and the tribal mark he wore gave him an enigmatic appearance, what fascinated her though was his air of calmness, his stillness.
'Mother, this is Commander Chakotay, Chakotay I'd like you to meet my mother.'
'Mrs Janeway,' she took his outstretched hand and shook it, not surprised by the firmness of his grip but by the look he threw her daughter - half quizzical, half amused, sensing her discomfort even from this distance. 'I don't suppose I'm the first person to tell you that your daughter is remarkable.'
Kathryn was making coffee with Phoebe, probably being pumped for details while her mother spent time getting to know this enigmatic stranger her eldest daughter had so casually dropped into their lives. She watched him, looking around the room, taking in this place, all the time trying to remember what she had read about him over the last few days.
He had, according to the reports, left a promising Starfleet career behind to join the Maquis. He had been a terrorist, a wanted criminal, the man her daughter had been sent to bring to justice. Instead they had both been lost in the Delta Quadrant and on her return Kathryn had brought him to meet her family. In what capacity? Friend, colleague, lover?
'What happened?' she asked abruptly, seeing little point in further speculation.
'I think Kathryn should tell you.'
'I expect she will, eventually. But you're here now.'
'Where would you like me to begin? The story of how we ended up combining our crews?' She shook her head impatiently, she could find out about that at any time.
'I want you to tell me what happened between you and my daughter, why you're here?'
He smiled, 'Why am I here? Because I love her.'
Before her mother went up to bed she touched her lips lightly to Kathryn's forehead, stroked her hair and murmured 'good night.' After she'd left Kathryn sat all alone in her chair by the fire, listening to the sounds of her mother moving around upstairs, waiting for the house to go quiet. She could remember a time, when she was young, when she had crept out of her room and walked around the silent house. She had liked the feeling that she was alone, in control, without that really being the case. Since then she had learnt how it really felt to be alone, alone and in command. She had also learnt, she reminded herself, how it felt to have someone to hold her at the end of a terrible day.
She closed her eyes, leant back in her chair and recalled the conversation she'd just completed, the one which had begun with Phoebe asking, 'So, what's the sex like?'
Once she would have told her to mind her own business, been annoyed and a littleembarrassed by such a personal question, but she had changed, had needed to, so she had simply replied, deadpan,
'Incredible,' managing to shock her sister for the first time ever and draw a smile of amusement from her mother. 'I'm sorry about just descending on you like this, I had planned to come here on my own, to explain. But we weren't expecting there to be so much press attention and we didn't want you to find out about Chakotay and I from someone else.'
'Are you going to be in trouble?' Phoebe had asked suddenly, no doubt realising the significance of the relationship she had just found out about. 'I don't think Starfleet expected you to take them so literally when they sent you to get him.'It wasn't the first time she'd heard that line in the last two days.
'He's been pardoned, they all have, he's even been allowed to return to Starfleet.' She thought her mother caught the slight edge in her voice there, perhaps even her contempt at a favour, a condescension which should have been a mark of respect and gratitude.
'But it's going to make a hell of a story, isn't it?' her sister's enthusiasm was heartening, but after she had gone home Kathryn still felt that she needed to know what her mother thought. They had sat together in mutual silence, until she had asked,
'You're very serious about this relationship, aren't you?'
'I've never been more serious about anything in my life. We do love each other you know.'
'I know you do. I could tell that the first time I saw you look at each other.'
Thinking about Chakotay she opened her eyes, stood up and made her way outside in search of him. He wasn't difficult to find, sitting on the ground just in front of the house, gazing up at the stars and the dog, her dog despite all these years away, had fallen asleep with her head on his knee. Her ship, her crew, her family and now her dog. Was there anything she had this man couldn't charm?
The man and the dog looked up as she approached - the dog sighed and wagged her tail, the man smiled and stretched out his hand to her, rubbing her shoulders as she sat down beside him, easing away some of the tension he had noticed in her stance. 'How was it?' he asked
'We had a long talk.'
'And what does she say?'
'About you? Are you sure you want to know?'
'It isn't her opinion that matters to me.' She concentrated on the feel of his hands rubbing away the knots in her back and shoulders. Amazed as always that he knew her body well enough to unerringly find his way to all the spots that needed his touch. Then she said,
'She likes you, they both do.'
'Against her better judgement,' he pointed out, meaning her mother.
'She wasn't expecting you, or anyone remotely like you - Phoebe says you're far too good looking for me and if she wasn't married she'd be happy to take you off my hands,' He chuckled quietly at that.
'I don't think I'll take her up on that offer.'
'My mother has only just got used to the idea that I'm still alive, I doubt if she'd thought about whether or not I've been celibate for all this time. We probably shouldn't have sprung this on her, but we did have to tell her, so we'll just have to make the best of it.' They were silent for a while, contemplating this turn of events, then he said,
'I told your mother we were lovers, she asked me straight out and I couldn't exactly lie, did you tell Phoebe?'
'Didn't have to, she can read me like a book, always has been able to.'
'I wish I could,'
'You do pretty well,' she smoothed away her smile, thinking of all the times she'dregretted the fact that he'd been able to guess her mood with stunning accuracy.
'I've had a lot of practice.'
They sat together for a long time, comfortably silent in each others presence, until he mused, 'I wonder what will happen now.'
'The future is the next adventure,' she replied and then scrambled to her feet, 'Come on, tomorrow I want to show you around properly.'
'Show me off?'
'I don't know about that,' she teased, 'what makes you so sure I want to boast about you? I mean you're a junior officer, a former member of the Maquis - people are going to think I'm mad.' He moved quickly, springing to his feet and reaching for her as she turned away from him. He grabbed her arm and pulled her into his arms, kissing her soundly before she could say another word.
Kathryn's mother watched the couple from her window for a moment, silhouetted in the moonlight, their bodies entwined in a passionate embrace. At least something good had come of their experience and the perilous journey home. It had the feel of a strong relationship, forged through adversity and if she knew anything about Kathryn, reluctance. Tomorrow she must ask Chakotay how long it had taken Kathryn to admit she was in love with him.
They walked slowly back to the house, arms wrapped around each other, the dog trotting happily along at their heels. At the top of the stairs Chakotay started to turn towards the guest room, but Kathryn caught hold of his hand and pulled him after her into the room that had been hers since she was a child.
Hours later he lay beside her, watching her sleep. He dropped a light kiss onto her naked shoulder and stroked her hair. She whispered something which might or might not have been his name, but did not wake. He slipped an arm around her waist, easing her closer to him. He smiled at the thought of the rather large detail they had not yet shared with her family. She was right, he decided, the future was the next adventure.