The old house was watchful as she slipped like a ghost from room to room, the only evidence of her passing the sound of her bare feet padding softly against the smooth wooden floors. Kathryn Janeway, formerly Captain of the starship Voyager opened the door to the study, her eyes riveted to the patio windows as the first shards of lightening streaked like phaser fire across the sky. She sighed heavily the silence engulfing her – she was alone.

It was a curious feeling, in the six months since Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant she had never been alone. There had been the debriefings, the counsellors and then her family. They’d all been kind of course, gently intrusive rather than interrogatory, but she had begun to feel like a laboratory specimen, always under scrutiny, always failing the test somehow.

Looking further back she wasn’t sure when she’d last really been alone. She’d felt alone, often, as Voyager’s Captain; isolated by the gulf that separated her from her crew. But there had always been people around her, no matter how distant she felt from them. Even on New Earth, away from Voyager and the demands of Captaincy she’d had at least one companion – and the monkey of course. But that wasn’t the thought she wanted, Chakotay’s absence had already kept her from sleep on more nights than she wanted to admit. It had been a long time since she had last been alone, she wasn’t sure that she even knew how to be on her own anymore, or that she had the energy to try.

It was disconcerting, not hearing the hum of the warp engines, she felt a little bereft without them. She couldn’t get used to not knowing which shift was on duty, who would be on the bridge or in Engineering, to not having three or four problems to dwell upon. She was sure her counsellors would find something profound in the knowledge that she mourned the absence of her ship, something about her inability to connect to people perhaps. But if they had lived, as she had lived for six years, needing Voyager to carry them home, to keep them safe, defend them from enemies – then perhaps they too would feel attached to her.

Her mother and sister had been reluctant to go out and leave her – their concern was something she was aware of, distantly, without really knowing what she was going to do about it. Or even if she could do anything. It was all so far away, as though she were living someone else’s life all of a sudden. She still felt numb, concussed perhaps and more than a little lost. How they had feted her on Voyager’s return, praised her, called her the quintessential Starfleet Captain and all she had wanted to do was run away and hide before they found out she was not worthy of their admiration. Now they were leaving her alone, with instructions to take as much time as she needed – and she still felt hollow.

Before her the storm brewed, lightening lashing angrily at the Indiana countryside, thunder exploding from the heavens. Finally, a real feeling, at last something that moved her, even if it was only a consciousness of her own insignificance in the face of this spectacle.

She smiled as she opened the patio doors, never one for cowering indoors, even in the face of the intensity of nature. The air smelt wonderful, warm and damp and scented by the heavy aroma of the last flowers of autumn. In the Delta Quadrant she had dreamed vividly of being here, of feeling the sun on her skin and the wind in her hair and yet she had been home for over a month and she had scarcely ventured outdoors. Almost as though she didn’t know how to live in a real environment anymore. Of course it was typical that she would wait until nature was at its most ferocious; that was who she was these days.

She could feel the rain on her skin now, it was soft, like rose petals, but she was still sheltered by the roof. If she stepped off the porch she would be swept up by the force of the storm, the rain pelting against her skin, tiny daggers piercing her flesh. Finally to be carried away by something.

The sound startled her, the crack of someone standing on a branch shed by storm, ‘who’s there?’ her instincts took over, whirling in the direction the sound had come from, trying to see who might be lurking in the darkness. Lightening lit the sky and she saw a figure, ‘who’s there?’ she demanded again. Wondering if, after all, her imagination had been playing a trick on her, peopling the night with ghosts from her own memories.

‘Just a traveller,’ a voice said out of the darkness, ‘a weary soul with nowhere else to go.’

‘Chakotay?’ She would have known his voice anywhere, recognised it even if hundreds of years had separated them rather than a few months.

‘I’m sorry Kathryn, I didn’t mean… I don’t know what I’m doing here.’

He stepped towards her and she had to fight hard to stifle the gasp that shock ripped from her throat. He was soaked to the skin, but what frightened her was how tired, how utterly defeated he looked.

‘What’s wrong? What’s happened?’ He didn’t answer and she had to take his hand and draw him out of the rain, ‘Chakotay?’

‘There was no one there,’ he said hollowly, ‘I searched for them and there was no one there, they’re all dead Kathryn.’

‘Oh no,’ she drew him unprotesting into her arms, a gesture she would have shied away from mere months ago. Nothing brought it home to her how blithely she had stepped out of her role as his Captain and friend as the feel of his body against hers. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘I should have been there.’

‘Its not your fault.’ Her hand found his cheek, fingertips touching, stroking, caressing, ‘there was nothing you could have done and we needed you.’

There was no response, other than his arms tightening around her and his head dropping to her shoulder. Whatever she might have thought about his decision to return to Dorvan to try to find his family and the rest of the Maquis, she had not wanted his search to end like this. She had never wanted to see him looking so hurt.

They stood together for long moments as the storm crashed on unheeded by both of them. She rubbed his back soothingly, aware that this was another role she was unfamiliar with and yet this was far less daunting somehow than that of perfect Starfleet Captain, daughter or sister. This was just who she was, the woman Chakotay had come to when his world had crumbled around him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said again, lifting his head to look at her ‘I didn’t know where else to go, who else to go to.’

‘There’s nothing to apologise for, this is where you belong.’ It wasn’t an admission she’d had any plans to make; but now she understood it was vital that he did as well. ‘We’re your family, B’Elanna, Tom, Neelix, Harry, Seven – even Tuvok. It’s not the same, I know – but what we went through together means something and we’d be fools to think otherwise.’ She wound her arms around his neck as she talked, gaining intensity, ‘When I thought I was never going to see you again I was so angry, we should have talked before you left, we should have sorted all this out. I should never have let you go through all of that on your own.’

‘I always meant to come back. I just needed to know for certain.’ She understood that, of course, would never have denied him the opportunity to find out if his family had survived – but the knowledge that she had allowed him to find out that they had not on his own bit into her. ‘And it was easier to leave than to stay and watch them take you away from me.’

She opened her mouth to tell him that she was more constant then that, but the words died in her throat with the remembrance of all the things she had never said. She had never told him how she felt, never told him that there was any hope, had offered him nothing more than a conditional friendship. ‘There is nothing they could do to change how I feel about you Chakotay.’

The sharp, in-drawn breath was all the indication she had that he understood exactly what she meant. Glancing up at him again she saw the lines around his eyes and the pallor in his cheeks. She had never looked after him, had been too self-absorbed to even consider that he might need it. But now it seemed obvious that she would give him the support and the care that he had so often given her. ‘What you need is a hot bath, some dry clothes, a decent meal and a couple of days to catch up on your sleep.’

‘I think I’ve strayed into an alternate universe, surely Kathryn Janeway isn’t recommending a decent nights sleep?’

‘I’ve become converted by its restorative properties.’ He laughed softly and she used the change of mood to lead him in doors and through the still silent house.

‘Won’t your mother mind my sudden appearance?’ He asked as she led him upstairs and into her bedroom.

‘I don’t know.’ It hadn’t really occurred to her what she would say to her family, or to anyone else for that matter, ‘I doubt it, this is my home and we belong together, its really as simple as that.'

‘It hasn’t been that simple for the last six years.’ He pointed out.

‘I know, and that’s one of the advantages of being home, the chance to put things right, to put each other first.’

‘You make it sound so simple,’ she caught the wistful tone of his voice and recognised why he would find it so hard to believe.

‘Because it can be, it should be. I’ve only just realised what I’ve been missing for all those years in the Delta Quadrant – simplicity. The ability to do something without all the endless negotiations, the cost benefit analyses; to do it just because it feels right.’

‘Like this,’ he moved with a swiftness she would have thought his tiredness belied, framing her face with his hands and pressing an urgent kiss onto her willing mouth. Her lips parted in welcome, her arms cradling him close as her pulse leapt and surged in joy. The feverishness of their first contact ebbed into sensuousness, flared again as passion engulfed them and they tumbled together into the soft embrace of her bed.

She woke to find dawn’s tendrils curling across the bedroom. Chakotay had not stirred, his breathing was heavy, giving every indication of being someone who was deeply asleep. She frowned, wondering what had woken her, and then she heard it again, the soft voices downstairs, the clink of china. Her mother and Phoebe must be home. She slid with care from her bed, running a lingering fingertip along Chakotay’s bare spine – still eliciting no response.

Pulling on a robe she crept out into the hallway and leaned over the balustrade to see her mother holding out a pair of boots – at some point she’d put Chakotay’s clothes in front of the remnants of the living room fire to enable them to dry. ‘Did you have a nice time?’ she asked coming down the first few steps.

‘Kathryn what’s going on? And don’t try and tell me these belong to you.’ Seeing her mother gesture with the boots she couldn’t help but smile.

‘No, they aren’t mine.’ She sat down on the step, clasping her arms around her knees, ‘let me tell you a story about our time in the Delta Quadrant, its about an angry warrior…’

The End