Disclaimer: Paramount owns the name but the story is mine.
Rating: Pretty much PG 13.
Author’s Notes: Another post-Endgame fixer-upper. I’m dedicating
this story to Gilly. I think everyone knows how much time and effort
Gilly puts in to keeping the JC spirit alive. Thanks Gilly for all
the help and support you’ve given me and for having the good grace to laugh
when I foolishly announced that my fanfic days were over.
Looking around him Chakotay could not believe just how isolated the Janeway property really was. He had been reliably informed that they had no transporters in or around the old homestead, but he had no idea when he had set out on foot, ridiculously overdressed, that he would be walking for over an hour. His feet were killing him, and his legs ached. When had he become so unfit?
Chakotay stopped and put down his compact suitcase. Was that a dust cloud ahead, he wondered? If it was, it was getting closer. Which was just great…perfect. His feet were killing him, his shirt and jacket, hell even his trousers, clung to the perspiration covering his body and now he was about to be covered in dust. He knew it was a mistake to leave San Francisco.
It had been over two years since Voyager had made it back to the Alpha Quadrant and to Earth. Since then he had spent his time at the Academy, slipping comfortably back into his old role in teaching. Although this time he had opted to veto the tactics classes and specialise in an entirely new field, Delta studies. He was the resident expert and he had a few contacts he could call in from time to time to give an impromptu lecture and add spice to the mix. Kathryn Janeway had not been one of his guest speakers. In fact it had been two years since he saw her last or had even spoken to her. In all that time, to his knowledge, she had never once tried to contact him and he had respectfully kept his distance.
Truth be told, he was haunted by the spectre of Christmas future, or more precisely, of Admiral Janeway. Chakotay had seen what the future had in store for his Captain and it scared him. It wasn’t that she repulsed him at all. The Admiral was, after all, still the same Kathryn Janeway - a little older, a little heavier, a lot greyer, but still his Kathryn. She had all the determination, the strength, fire and commitment that had characterised her command of Voyager. But something was missing. There was a hollowness, a very real sense of despair and sorrow there also. When all was said and done she was old and bitter. Her faded blue eyes reflected the pain of her many losses and more than that, they held no joy, no love, none of the sparkle and sizzle of the junior Janeway, or none that he saw.
Chakotay had seen a couple of very rare interviews taken with his Captain after their return. Both times she had been wearing the all too familiar red and black uniform, and strangely enough, she also seemed to have gone back to wearing her hair up in a bun, pulled back severely from a face that revealed nothing of the woman inside. There had been no clues there for Chakotay. Eventually the need to know what had truly become of his friend eclipsed his fears of finding that the old and jaded Admiral Janeway had taken her place.
Now there was both a cloud and a buzzing noise and Chakotay wondered, suddenly alarmed, if there were a swarm of bees making for him and not a dust cloud after all. The dust was distinctly preferable. But he was wrong on both counts. It was an old fashioned motorbike kicking up the dust behind it as flew across the worn dirt track ahead of him. He barely had time to jump back out of its way before it slid to a dusty halt beside him. He was torn between relief at finding someone who could point him in the right direction and extreme annoyance at being showered in a fine and cloying layer of Indiana soil.
“Chakotay?” The rider sat back on the huge chrome and black Honda and then reached forward to switch off the powerful engine, creating a sudden silence into which his name dropped like a stone.
Chakotay narrowed his eyes against the bold summer sun and wondered whether the rider had met him before or recognised him from the old Voyager newsreels. He smiled and nodded, loosening his tie as he did so. “Yes. I’m sorry, do I know you?”
The mysterious leather clad rider laughed and removed her helmet, shaking out a cascade of burnished auburn hair. She laughed again as she saw the look of utter astonishment on the features of her former first officer. “I should damn well hope so Chakotay!” Kathryn Janeway dismounted in one deft and catlike movement and stood before him, hand on hips and a twinkle of mischief glinting in her clear blue eyes.
“Spirits….Kathryn?” She threw back her head and laughed again, a beautiful silvery laugh that sent shivers down his spine despite the heat of the day. Before he knew what was happening she had launched herself at him, wrapping her arms high around his neck and welcoming him with an enthusiastic hug.
“Oh my, it’s good to see you again.”
Chakotay was overwhelmed by a surge of emotion brought about in part by her unexpected appearance but also because of her utterly uninhibited joy at seeing him. She felt great in his arms, leaner, tighter, and yet conversely more free and easy than he ever remembered her. He took a chance and bent his head to hers, placing a quick but firm kiss against her open mouth. She jumped a little at the contact and looked up at him, her expression surprised but also happy. The Indiana sun had picked up the golden highlights in her hair and bathed her skin in a warm sheen. She took his breath away with her hauntingly familiar beauty.
“Hello there. It’s good to see you too,” he murmured, wondering where this was headed, not wanting to read too much into the warm welcome, not daring to hope that her words were anything but those of a friend, a really good friend. He had managed on his own all this time, had lived his life quietly and sedately, but without joy, without hope, without any dreams of the future. He was well liked and respected as a teacher. His students were eager. Hell, all Starfleet cadets were eager. Had he ever been that green? He filled his time with writing lectures, organising field trips, setting essays, grading papers; anything to keep his mind focused, anything to fill the void within him. He had no close family or friends, the crew had all gone their own ways and he avoided the few Voyager reunions that had been organised, usually by Chell who would always remain in Neelix’s shadow.
His relationship with Seven had fizzled out somewhere in its first year, as he had known it would. Chakotay had tried to find something that he had in common with the blond ex-drone but he had inevitably failed. All those years they had spent together on Voyager he had never felt drawn to her, not once had he considered her as anything more than a colleague or a teammate. In fact, the mystery for him was not how the relationship had ended but how it had ever gotten started in the first place. It was something he didn’t want to dwell on.
The work had helped him to fill his days but not his nights. Chakotay kept his loneliness, his emptiness to himself. If he were no longer to find his peace at the side of his beautiful warrior princess, so be it. He had had his chance and fate or bitter reality had snatched that dream away from him. He had lost weight, he knew. His skin was paler now, ironically, than it had been on Voyager. Most of his hours were spent in doors out of the sun and so his tattoo appeared darker, starkly contrasting against his once-dark skin
He watched Kathryn step back in order to get a better look at him and wondered what she was thinking. She was looking spectacular. If anything she looked years younger than the Kathryn Janeway who had brought the Voyager crew home. He dropped his head, realising that he wasn’t going to compare well to the strong and vigorous man he had once been. He could see it in her eyes, the disappointment (or was it a hint of sadness) and his heart ached for the joy and laughter he had seen there only moments before.
“I’d love to stay and chat a while Chakotay, but I’m late back for tea as it is. Come on, you can protect me from the wrath of Gretchen Janeway. There’s plenty of room for you on the back. Hop on up.” She smiled up at him and for the first time he noticed she was no longer wearing the four-inch heels. It suited her. What with the skin-tight red and black bike leathers this Kathryn Janeway couldn’t have looked more unlike the mental image Chakotay had created of her. Instead of finding an old, dejected Starfleet Admiral, he had stepped back in time into the arms of cadet Janeway. Something told him that there were even more surprises in store for him at the Janeway residence.
“Stop looking at me like that, Chakotay. I can assure you, it’s perfectly safe.” She jumped back onto the huge bike and revved the engine, throwing on her helmet as she did so and waited for him to collect his baggage and clamber up behind her. Chakotay tucked the case between them, thankful for the small amount of distance it created, placed his hands on her hips and hung on tight.
A slim blond woman with familiar piercing blue eyes was waiting for them on the porch of a sweeping old redbrick mansion. Chakotay suspected that this was Kathryn’s sister Phoebe, but their introduction was delayed as he battled with the acute nausea brought on by Kathryn’s insane approach to country travel. He headed on unsteady legs towards an unruly patch of azaleas, bent double and promptly lost his lunch. It wasn’t like him to get travel sickness and he was acutely embarrassed, could feel Pheobe’s eyes on him as he turned back to where Kathryn stood behind him. Kathryn held out her hand to him, her face awash with a combination of guilt, sympathy and laughter. She settled on the sympathetic approach.
“Feel any better? I’m sorry, if I’d thought for a minute you weren’t enjoying the ride, I would have slowed down…promise.”
Phoebe leant her shoulder against a balustrade and grinned. “Hey, Kathy…who’s the stray?”
Kathryn unzipped her jacket, revealing a grey Starfleet issue tank and flashed a highly conspiratorial wink back at her younger sister. “Allow me to introduce you both. Phoebs, meet my former first officer Commander Chakotay. Chakotay this is my sister and all-round trouble maker, Phoebe.”
Chakotay nodded and held out a clammy right hand. "Pleased to meet you, Phoebe.”
Phoebe looked at his hand and kept her own tucked safely behind her. “You’re kidding? You’re Chakotay... the Commander Chakotay?” Chakotay could see her point. He certainly didn’t feel the part clad as he was in his loose fitting tweed jacket and stiff white shirt. His tousled hair had grown to an alarming length during his stay on Earth and was now peppered with grey; he no longer cared to colour it black. No doubt his face was an unhealthy shade of green also.
He coughed and wiped his hand against his trouser leg. “Actually, it’s Professor Chakotay now.”
Phoebe giggled, “ Sure thing Prof, whatever you say. Come on inside and get yourself cleaned up. Kathy, you owe me one. I’ve just hand pealed an entire tub of potatoes and that was your job.”
Kathryn took Chakotay’s arm and steered him towards the house. “Listen to us, would you. Anyone would think we were teenagers the way we carry on. I’ll clear the dishes Phoebs, OK? Chakotay could you give us a moment, I’ll be right behind you.” He shrugged and headed into the cool parlour, trying to get his bearings.
“Phoebe, do us a favour…run out to the studio and cover the you-know-what for me? Oh, and Phoebe…you remember the twenty questions game?”
Phoebe nodded. “Sure do. Like I said, you owe me one.” Kathryn flashed her a smile and ran lightly up the steps after Chakotay.
Mealtime at the Janeway household was a fairly traditional affair. Most of the vegetables for the meal were home grown and as such were also hand-cooked on an authentic gas cooker. The roast meat was replicated but Chakotay chose to go without. He had donned a fresh white shirt and shed the restrictive jacket and tie that was now almost standard academy lecture attire. Kathryn had changed out of her leathers and into a long blue shirt and contrastingly short black skirt. The conversation was relaxed and friendly, the two sisters taking an obvious delight in teasing each other. Gretchen Janeway appeared to be relaxed and comfortable and was enjoying the gentle bantering as it flowed around her, although she made sure that Chakotay didn’t feel left out by dropping the occasional question his way.
“Will you be staying with us tonight Chakotay?” Gretchen wanted to know.
“I don’t want to impose on you Mrs Janeway, but I think I’m going to have to. Unless there is a hotel close by?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you’ll stay. And please call me Gretchen, Mrs Janeway always makes me look for my mother-in-law, may she rest in peace.”
“You can stay in Kathryn’s room,” offered Phoebe brightly, watching for his reaction. She was clearly pleased to see a dark blush steal across his chiselled features.
Phoebe was warming to her subject. “My sister sleeps out in her studio most nights. Isn’t that right Kathryn? So you could have her room until we can clean up one of the guest rooms for you.”
Kathryn shook her head. “Don’t be such a tease, Phoebs. I’ll organise a room for Chakotay myself.”
“I just bet you will.” The pair locked eyes for a moment and Chakotay interrupted to break the tension.
“The studio, did you say?”
“Kathy has become an artiste,” Phoebe declared rolling her eyes. “And that’s not all…she’s also been known to paint in the…ouch!” Kathryn had kicked her beneath the table. Chakotay’s eyes sparkled with curiosity.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that..?”
Phoebe stood to answer the insistent beeping of the home comm system, but before she left the room she bent low and whispered into Chakotay’s ear, “ in the buff, Professor…she paints stark naked.”
Chakotay looked down at his cutlery, trying to hide his grin. When he glanced up he found mother and daughter looking at him speculatively. “My goodness, now I think about it, Kathryn did say something about those dimples. You must use them more often, I think I could get used to having such a beautiful smile around the place.”
“Oh Mom!” Kathryn groaned.
Phoebe popped back into her seat and pointed two fingers at her sister, “it’s for you…Mark…. again.”
“Excuse me, I won’t be a minute.” Chakotay felt his heart sink. He had been enjoying the illusion of being one of the Janeway clan. Mark’s calling reminded him that it was just that, an illusion.
“He’s been hanging around here, around Kathryn, like a bad smell since his wife dumped him,” whispered Phoebe, knowingly.
Chakotay felt his mouth go dry. “He’s…divorced?”
“Oh yeah. Mousy little secretary she was. What do you suppose a philosopher needs a secretary for anyhow? If you ask me she got sick of him going on and on about Kathy. He use to bore me to death with talk of her and I’m her sister.”
“Hush now, Phoebe. It’s not polite to gossip at the dinner table. I raised you better than that.”
When Kathryn returned an uncomfortable silence had descended.
“Sorry about that. Mark wanted me to go somewhere with him tomorrow but I told him we have guests. I’ll say this for him, he certainly is persistent. So…Professor did you say? Tell me all about it Chakotay. What is it you teach now? Do you have your own house now or are you staying in ‘fleet accommodation?”
“I’m teaching a new subject, Delta Quadrant studies. It covers everything; new species, planets, foods, you name it, I teach it. There’s an entire chapter on Leola Root you would love. And as for the rest of your question, I have a small residence on campus; it’s better for the students that way. They can contact me, drop around and go over their papers if they need to.”
“Excuse me for interrupting,” Phoebe’s curiosity was getting the better of her, “but….well, it’s just that you’re not at all what I was expecting. I heard that you were a terrorist leader. Were you really a member of the Maquis?”
Chakotay nodded, seriously. “I was a cell leader, Captain of the Liberty. Voyager was sent to the Badlands to capture me and both my ship and Voyager were transported into the Delta quadrant from there. If it weren’t for me …”
Gretchen snorted and waved him to silence. “That’s enough of that talk. Kathryn has told me many a time that if it weren’t for you she never would have made it home. There’s no point in trying to second-guess what the fates have in store for you. You were there for my daughter when she needed you and that’s more than enough for me. You’ll always have a home here with us Chakotay; you’re one of the family as far as I’m concerned.”
“Thank-you Gretchen.” Chakotay was moved by her speech and it didn’t matter to him at that moment whether or not Kathryn were to agree with her mother’s words, he felt wanted. He hadn’t felt that in a long time.
Phoebe was obviously still searching for something. “You sure you don’t have a Clark Kent complex or something?”
“You know, Superman in disguise…used to wear his briefs outside his stockings…”
“Phoebe,” Kathryn said, shaking her head, “ is our resident Tom Paris. Anything you want to know about 20th century culture ask her. I must admit, I’ve seen some strange things in my time, but never any man wearing briefs and stockings.”
“Hmmm,” this from Chakotay. “There was the evil Chaotica and his dastardly henchman.”
“Aha!” crowed Phoebe triumphantly. “Now you’re talking!”
“See what I mean Chakotay? Pure Paris.” The two of them shared a secret laugh, remembering all too well saving Earth from aliens from the fifth dimension. Or was it the fourth?
“So Professor, I can’t help but notice that you’re here alone. Is there a ‘little woman’ waiting for you back at the campus?” This is what Kathryn had meant when she brought up their old game of twenty questions. She and Phoebe had organised a clever system of interrogation for potential suitors some time in their late teens. It was a new spin on the good-cop, bad-cop routine. One played the role of nosy sister and asked all the questions the other was afraid to ask, or couldn’t ask for fear of scaring off the male in question. The burning question here was whether the professor was taken. And although it normally fell to Kathryn to fill the role of inquisitor, Phoebe instinctively knew what sort of information it was she was expected to fish for.
“No, there is no ‘little woman’.” The thought of Seven being referred to as the ‘little woman’ brought a smile to Chakotay’s face.
“Aha! But that smile means something right? I’ll just bet there are any number of bright young things at the academy who’d love to be able to say they snagged Voyager bridge crew! A good looking guy like you with an exciting history and sexy tattoo could have his pick of the girls, right?”
“There are rules about that kind of thing, Phoebe. You could say that I’ve had my share of interesting offers, but I’d never jeopardise my job for a fling. And I really don’t have the time to pursue a relationship. Which means that I’m on my own right now, if that’s what you want to know.” As he spoke he looked up and locked eyes with Kathryn, who had turned a warm shade of pink. Chakotay wondered if she blushed all over and if he’d ever get the chance to find out.
Phoebe was terribly amused by her elder and more sophisticated sister’s obvious embarrassment. “Oh, I wasn’t asking for myself, Professor. I’m taken, more’s the pity.”
“Hold it right there girls. Can’t you see you’re embarrassing Mr Chakotay? Kathryn, I believe it’s your turn to clear away the dishes. Phoebe, go clean out a room for our visitor - and I don’t mean your sister’s. Honestly you two, I just don’t know where your manners are!” Gretchen stood and motioned Chakotay to join her. “We’ll be waiting in the parlour for you both. Get a move on.”
Almost one hour had passed before the suitably chastened ‘girls’ finished their chores and Chakotay got up the courage to request a tour of Kathryn’s studio. The image that Phoebe had conjured of her big sister painting in the altogether had somehow lodged itself in Chakotay’s mind. Try as he would he couldn’t shake the idea. The only thing for it was to confront the fantasy, and let reality soothe his skittish nerves.
Kathryn’s studio turned out to be a large airy place that had once been a barn. Chakotay liked it a lot. The space had a sacred feel to it, a hushed and sombre quality created by the dusty cathedral ceilings and startling slashes of sunlight cast from high, narrow windows. In one corner a pallet was wedged, complete with futon mattress and hand made quilt. This was obviously where the artist slept after a late night’s nude painting. Chakotay couldn’t suppress a smile at the image he had conjured for himself of a tired, dishevelled Kathryn Janeway, her body covered in vari-coloured splashes of acrylic paint, turning in for the night.
“Well, don’t just stand there, Chakotay. Tell me what you think.”
For the first time Chakotay allowed his eyes to wander over the walls where numerous canvases were either hung or leaning. The works were all of the abstract expressionist genre. They were bright, colourful, energetic pieces and also strangely emotive. Taking his time, Chakotay moved quietly from one image to the next, wondering at the powerful sense of recognition that gripped him. Turning to one particularly colourful and vigorous canvas he allowed himself to relax and his eyes to be led around between the different forms and colours he found there. There were a series of orange spots and also some blue-grey rhomboid shapes. For some reason he felt warm and happy when he looked at it. And them it hit him.
“Neelix! Kathryn, its Neelix!”
“Yes,” she nodded. “I knew you’d understand. None of these pieces are labelled. All my works are places, people, feelings based on my experiences in the Delta Quadrant. Frankly, I’m surprised you haven’t seen any of my pieces before. I’ve sold quite a few to the Academy. I believe there’s one in Admiral Paris’s office at Starfleet HQ too.”
Chakotay grunted, “hmmm. Yes, now that you mention it, I think you’re right. I have seen some of your paintings before.” Leaving Neelix he moved to stand before a startling beautiful vivid blue canvas, where a series of light blue veils overlapped creating a light, almost ethereal effect. Chakotay’s eyes moistened as he turned to Kathryn. “Kes,” he whispered, “It’s Kes.”
Kathryn took his arm and led him over to a darker, more sombre image. “And this one?” Chakotay squatted before the huge canvas and rested his chin in his hands. Switching off his conscious mind once again he allowed himself to feel his way into the work. There was an outer discord to the piece, but when you stood back from it, looked beyond the surface imbalance there appeared a delicate almost lyrical symmetry. “B’Elanna,” he answered, confidently. He raised his hand to brush against a small rounded bundle near the centre of the canvas. “And Miral.”
Kathryn sat down on the floor beside him and smiled. “You’re the only person I’ve showed these to who has been able to see what it was I was doing, what I was creating here. I knew you’d understand.”
Sitting back Chakotay looked into her shining eyes and nodded. “They’re beautiful, Kathryn…they’re all so special. It’s almost like they’re all here with us in this room, only in spirit form. I had no idea you could paint like this.”
“Neither did I, Chakotay. Neither did I.”
“And you do this…undressed?”
“Sometimes,” Kathryn laughed and shook her head. “I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes when I can’t quite get the right emotion, the perfect shade of colour, it works to shed all the trappings and do it au naturale, so to speak.” Chakotay tilted his head to one side and studied her in silence for a time until she could stand the suspense no longer. “What? What is it?”
“I thought I’d seen just about every emotion there was to see on your face, and often in rapid succession too….one after the other like phaser fire….loving, sad, angry, stern, reproving…bang, bang, bang. But this is new to me; this sense of joy. You take my breath away, Kathryn.”
Kathryn blushed and pretended to study her fingernails. When she finally looked up her expression was soft, a crooked smile hovering at the edge of her mouth. “Thank-you, I’m honoured. Joy is what I’m feeling alright. It took me quite some time to accept it, but I finally realised, I’m free, Chakotay. No one’s depending on me for anything. We are all home, all safe. There are no more life and death decisions, no one to give orders to, and no one trying to kill me or take my ship. I’m free, and it feels fantastic. I owe Admiral Janeway more than I could ever repay. She was my wake-up call if you like. I saw her and I thought, there is just no way that I’m ever going to let myself get that bitter, that cynical.” She lifted her arms and motioned at the works of art surrounding her. “And I did it, I escaped that fate and my life is now my own.”
“Would you mind if I had a longer look around?”
“Be my guest.”
Chakotay suddenly felt lost and inadequate. As usual Kathryn had met her worst fears head-on and come out smelling like roses. And all the while he had been burying himself in his safe, comfortable academy job, avoiding a confrontation with the past, with his own dreams and fears.
He looked at each and every painting there was. They were all there; Paris, Kim, the Doc, Tuvok, even Sam and Naomi. But something was missing. There was no Chakotay. Nowhere in any of these beautiful works did he find an image of himself. Unable to accept that there would be nothing here to remind his former Captain of his many years of faithful service and companionship, he moved through the room again. Nothing. His heart constricted painfully as he considered this final, absolute rejection. This was why he hadn’t been here before, why he had hidden himself away in those dusty academy rooms. He was protecting himself, rebuilding a life, and creating a new image- Professor Chakotay, the meek, mild-tempered, self-sufficient Chakotay. The one who could survive without love, without hope. How could he have risked it all on such a foolhardy venture? He knew now that she didn’t love him, had never loved him. Coming here had been a mistake. He would stay the night because he had no choice, but come first light he would be gone.
“Is something wrong Chakotay? You look pale. Can I get you some water? Are you tired?”
He smiled, weakly. “Don’t fuss Kathryn. It’s….I’ve had a long day.” He bowed his head. “I’ll be going to bed now. Please, don’t get up, I’ll find my own way back.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Mom would have my head if she thought I’d left you to stumble about in the dark out there. At least allow me to show you to your room. Please? Follow me.” She led the way, casting the occasional curious glance in Chakotay’s direction. When they reached his room he managed a curt ‘good-night’ and left Kathryn staring open-mouthed at his closed door.
“Now what the hell was that about?” she wondered aloud.
The following morning saw Chakotay awake at sunrise and move to stand before his open window. He turned, startled by a knock at the door. “Come in,” he responded, his gruff voice reflecting his sleepless night.
“It’s only me,” called Phoebe. She slipped through the door and into the room, smiling as she took in Chakotay’s ruffled hair and skimpy sleepwear. “Now that’s more like it.” Chakotay looked down at his revealing silk boxers and grinned, sheepishly.
“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting visitors.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining! In fact, I’m beginning to see what Kathryn sees in you.”
“What Kathryn sees in me?” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I wish I knew.”
“She’s gone for a ride, you know. And if I know my sister at all, I’d say she wasn’t in a good mood. What went on last night anyway? I would have made more of an effort to clean out your room if I actually thought you were going to be using it.”
“Is this more of the legendary Janeway humour?”
“Nope. No jokes, just good old-fashioned honesty. So what went wrong? You didn’t like her paintings, or what?”
He studied Phoebe for a moment, gauging her statement and wondering how much he could afford to reveal to her. “Phoebe, I loved her paintings. I love you sister, I always have done. But I’m not stupid and I can see that she doesn’t want me here. Her life is perfect now. I’ve never seen her so …so….complete. She doesn’t need me anymore. It was a mistake to come here.”
“No, Kathryn doesn’t need you. Is that so difficult for you to accept?” Phoebe shook her head and sat down on his bed, gathering her words, suddenly aware that it was up to her to get this man to see the truth, and to let go of his fears. “Sure, you spent seven years of your life protecting her, being there for her when she needed you. There’s a world of difference between needing and wanting. Kathryn may not need you, Professor, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that she doesn’t want you. Listen, all the words in the world aren’t going to move you, and besides, I have a better idea. Get your clothes on and meet me at Kathryn’s studio. There’s something there that you need to see. And after that, if you still want to leave us, you can go and I’ll even make your excuses for you.”
Ten minutes later they both stood in Kathryn’s converted barn. Phoebe took hold of one of the larger canvases and slid it carefully to one side. Standing behind it was another painting, also bearing the K Janeway signature but as different to her other works as night is to day. What he saw there blew Chakotay’s mind. He sat down abruptly onto the solid hardwood floor but couldn’t pull his eyes away from the image before him. The work was clearly representational, almost Pre-Raphaelite in its careful balance and construction.
The image Kathryn had chosen to depict was of her angry warrior/first officer kneeling down in a grassland setting. He wore no shirt and his skin glowed with an amber warmth that radiated from the canvas. His face held an expression of deep peace and contentment and in one open hand he held a tiny golden bird with bright, inquisitive blue eyes. Various animals surrounded him. There was a tiny lizard lying in the grass by his feet, a beautiful grey wolf crouching to his left with wise yellow eyes and to the left of the centre figure there stood a small monkey, its head titled to one side and with one hand outstretched.
“Golden bird…it was Dad’s special nick-name for her. Now do you understand?”
A lump had formed in Chakotay’s throat and he struggled to swallow past it. Unable to speak he simply nodded.
“It’s true that Mark has been making a nuisance of himself, hanging around the place and generally pestering Kathy to let him back into her life. But she’s not interested in him. If she didn’t feel so sorry for him she would have given him the brush-off months ago. If you ask me, she’s been waiting for someone else, someone she thought was involved elsewhere. That’s just my opinion of course.”
“Where is she?” (Computer: locate Kathryn Janeway, he thought).
“Like I said; she’s gone for a ride. Do you ride Chakotay?”
“I’ve never been on a bike before yesterday. I think I’d be safer in a shuttle.”
“Bike? Hell no, she’s taken one of the horses, Jeremy, I think. I meant - can you ride a horse?”
Chakotay smiled slowly and nodded. “I think I could manage that,
It had been many years since Chakotay had last ridden a horse bare-back and he was exhilarated by the feel of the sweet-tempered little palomino as she cantered along the narrow track towards the glittering blue lake at the rear of the Janeway property. He caught sight of Kathryn, standing in the dappled shade of an old oak tree and reined in, sliding deftly to the ground. He left the little horse to graze and trotted over to the lone tree, a smile tugging at his full lips.
Catching sight of Chakotay, Kathryn nodded a welcome to him, but her smile was hesitant. He moved closer and put his hand on her shoulder, forcing her to meet his gaze.
“Phoebe showed me the painting. Kathryn, why didn’t you say something? I looked and looked but you hadn’t painted me at all. And I thought….”
She sighed, “you thought that I didn’t care.”
“What was I supposed to think? They were all there, Gods Kathryn, even Ayala…Suder…Why didn’t you say something?”
“Oh, I wanted to Chakotay. Believe me, I wanted to. You did leave rather abruptly as I recall.”
“So you’re telling me you were working up the courage?”
“I’m telling you that I’m a coward, Chakotay.” Her voice challenged him to refute the assertion.
Chakotay laughed. “Now that I’d like to see! Kathryn Janeway the coward? I don’t think so.”
“Only where you’re concerned. Nothing’s changed there.”
“Come here.” Chakotay pulled her into his arms, gently resting his cheek against her hair. “Tell me what it is you think you’re afraid of.”
She mumbled something into his chest and he smiled tenderly, raising her chin with his fingers. “What was that?”
She cleared her throat and gazed into his velvety black eyes. “Losing you. I’m afraid that it’s too late.”
“And finding out that you don’t feel the way I do. I love you so much Chakotay, that I can feel your presence even when you are miles away. It’s as though you are standing just behind me and if I were to turn fast enough I could reach you, touch you. And sometimes I get an ache inside of me and I don’t know how it is I can stand the pain… when I think of you with someone else…” She shook her head and looked away, trying to focus on something else, trying to get control of her errant emotions.
“Would it help if I said I felt the same way?”
Chakotay laughed and Kathryn’s smile grew in strength as she realised that the worst was behind them now.
“And what if I told you that I love you and your new life and that I want very much to be a part of it?”
Chakotay tugged at his ear and thought some more. “Alright. Let me see. How would you like me to stay here with you in your glorious studio? I could be close to you, sleep with you, make love to you…”
“Now you’re talking!”
“Like the idea do you?”
Kathryn grabbed a handful of his shirtfront and fixed him with a mock-serious death glare, fighting down the laughter bubbling up inside. “Chakotay, this has been, without a doubt, the longest romance in the history of our galaxy. I more than like the idea.” Pushing him up against the trunk of the ancient oak, Kathryn leant into him and pulled his head down to hers. Their lips met in a soft, yearning kiss. Chakotay ran a hand through her hair, using the other hand to pull her body in closer to his own. He closed his eyes and savoured the sensation of having Kathryn Janeway in his arms, her lips against his. Gods, she was so giving, so open and responsive, matching every move he made. Each and every soft murmur and groan seared his soul until he felt he might burst with joy.
A familiar chirrup brought his head up with a jolt. What the hell? Kathryn let out a steamy breath and produced a comm badge from the pocket of her jeans. “Don’t tell on me…I souvenired a couple from Voyager. B’Elanna hooked them up for me; so much nicer than a mobile phone.”
The badge chirped again and she slapped it once. “Janeway here.”
“Yeah, whatever. Listen sis, we’ve got company. Mark. Mom’s stalling him but it’s only a matter of time before she runs out of furniture to move and caramel brownies. And then I think he’ll probably start asking questions, like why there are two horses missing. Say, is the professor with you? Could you put him on?”
Chakotay took the badge, running his fingertips seductively along Kathryn’s collarbone as he listened to her sister. “Hello Phoebe.”
“Cool! I’ve always wanted to do this….Please report on the status of your mission, Commander.”
Chakotay chuckled and flashed Kathryn a wink. “Mission accomplished, thanks Phoebe. Chakotay out.”
They both listened to Phoebe’s squeal of delight. “Bye.”
“Looks like we had better be getting back.”
“Like hell,” Kathryn snorted. “Come on Chakotay…where’s your sense of adventure? I’ve finally found something really worth celebrating and besides, I still know a thing or two about tactics. If the two of us can’t evade an unwanted philosopher for a few hours I’ll eat my…my…”
“Oh, very funny Chakotay. Very funny.”
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