She approached the large white house with anticipation, and not a little fear. It had been so long since she had seen him, and she knew that neither of them were the people they had been so long ago. The information Starfleet had given her told her he was living here, but she knew nothing else.
She glanced behind her at the long, gentle rise that led to the house, seeing in the distance the busy road where the ground transport had dropped her off. They had told her at the spaceport that she could transport directly here, but she had smiled and shaken her head, opting instead for the slower, less disorienting ride. It had given her a chance to marshal her thoughts for the coming encounter.
Taking a deep breath, she knocked confidently on the wooden door, smiling in appreciation of its obviously well kept condition, despite its age. When there was no answer, she knocked again, slightly less confidently this time. I can’t have come all this way to find out he’s not here.
Disappointment settled heavily in her stomach when there was still no answer. She could not believe she hadn’t considered this possibility. As she turned to go, she caught a slight sound from the direction of the back of the house, and her lips curved upwards in a smile. She recognized that sound. It was his voice, lilting in song.
She picked her way carefully around the side of the house, slowly peering around the wall to see what she could see. The scene caused her smile to widen as tears filled her eyes. His big frame was sprawled across a deck chair, and though he held a padd in one hand, he was paying no attention to it. His gaze was riveted on the infant he was singing to, securely tucked into the wooden cradle he was rocking with one foot.
“With all that noise, it’s a wonder the child can sleep,” she said, and though her voice was shaky with her tears, his head shot up and his voice faltered at her first word. He dropped the padd and jumped to his feet, unconsciously steadying the cradle with one hand.
“Meztli,” he breathed, and she laughed and came forward.
He pulled her into a fierce bear hug, and they were both silent for a moment, letting out years of fear and sorrow. He backed away after a while, with her shoulders in his large hands as he stared into her face.
“Spirits, how I’ve missed you,” he murmured, pulling her to him again. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
“I’m a hard woman to find.”
“To say the least! Where have you been? I heard you were still alive, and then when I got home and tried to find you, it was like you’d vanished into thin air!”
“I’ve been traveling the quadrant, Chakotay, looking for any remnants of our people. Looking for survivors of the war, former members of the Maquis, anyone who can help us with the rebuilding efforts.”
“Have you had much success?” he asked interestedly, taking her by the hand and leading her to where the cradle stood.
“A little,” she replied, sitting in the chair beside him. “It’s very difficult…” Her voice trailed off as she got a closer look at the sleeping baby nestled in the blankets. She couldn’t see much except fair skin, pink cheeks, and very light reddish-brown hair. She raised her head to gape at her brother. “Whose child is this?”
The grin that had been tugging at his lips and playing around the corners of his dark eyes burst forth, and he laughed delightedly.
“Why, mine,” he said, affecting a wounded tone. “Whyever do you ask?” Meztli just stared at him, and he laughed again. “What can I say? Her mother’s the most stubborn woman I have ever met in my life. It came as no surprise to me that her genes are equally as stubborn.”
“She’s beautiful,” she said sincerely, and Chakotay smiled proudly. “What is her name?”
Meztli smiled as she heard their grandmother’s name. “Is… Kes a name from her mother’s family?”
Chakotay shook his head, smiling wistfully. “No… Kes was a very good friend of ours who left us midway through our journey. Kathryn misses her a great deal, and I do too.”
“Kathryn is Liseli’s mother.” Recognition dawned in her eyes as he nodded. “Your captain,” she said, and he nodded again. “Your wife?”
“So where is this new sister of mine?”
“She’s upstairs, asleep,” Chakotay said, absentmindedly rocking the cradle again with his foot.
“In the middle of the day?”
“She’s been working very hard to get Voyager refitted and ready in time for the one year anniversary of our homecoming. It’s a hell of a feat to get her to sleep at all. I’m not going to quibble about when it is.” He caught her frown and said with a slight edge, “What does that look mean?”
“How old is your daughter?”
“And your wife is working.”
“Tell me, Meztli, do you find your work rewarding? Fulfilling?”
She frowned again, not sure where he was going. “Yes…”
“And if you fell in love with a man in the same line of work would you give it all up to stay home and raise a family, no matter how much you wanted that family? Seriously. Don’t give me the answer our father would expect just because that’s what you were taught.”
When he saw the look of uncertainty that came into her eyes after several moments of thought, he said softly, “You don’t know, do you? Then think of how difficult this decision was for my Kathryn to make. She wasn’t raised with the customs we were.”
She was silent, pondering his words, and then she smiled. “And what do you do while your wife is out working? You stay home and watch Liseli?”
She laughed. “Chakotay, my big strong brother. A househusband.”
“I’m working on a dissertation for the Federation Anthropological Association!” he argued, gesturing to the padd that sat on the table.
She laughed again. “Oh yes! I could see you slaving away at it when I arrived. You were singing baby songs to my niece!”
He gave up his argument and laughed with her, gazing fondly into the cradle at his daughter. He shrugged. “I can’t take my eyes off her, Sister. She’s my world.”
As if she knew she was being discussed, the baby stirred and woke, blinking at them with startling green eyes. Before she could even begin to fuss, she was cradled in her father’s hands as he walked the deck.
“Her eyes are amazing, Brother! Does your Kathryn have those eyes? If so I can see how they bewitched you.”
He grinned. “Nope. Blue. Blue like…” he paused, as if he was trying to think of a comparison, and his face softened into a tender expression. Meztli rolled her eyes and smiled patronizingly, and he laughed. “Well, blue, but that makes them no less bewitching. Would you like to hold your niece while I go get her something to eat?”
Liseli began to cry as soon as her father handed her over, and Chakotay laughed as Meztli looked worriedly at him. “I’ll be right back. Just walk with her and bounce her. She likes motion. She doesn’t like to be still any more than her mother does.”
Meztli did as he said, smiling when she realized all of the skills she had learned as a young girl helping with the children of her people were coming back to her. The baby’s fussing calmed some but didn’t completely stop, so she continued pacing the deck.
There was a strange sound behind her, from the direction of the house, and Meztli whirled around but saw nothing. Shrugging, she turned back and looked down at Liseli, staring into the green eyes and giving the baby a finger to wrap her tiny fist around.
“Turn around very slowly.”
Meztli jumped in surprise. The voice was feminine and yet shot through with a command tone that sounded as if it was used to being obeyed. She did as the voice asked, turning carefully and trying to shield the baby with her arms.
In the doorway of the house stood a petite woman with shoulder-length auburn hair, dressed comfortably in a light blue sundress. She was pointing a phaser straight at Meztli, and her arm was perfectly steady. There was no emotion visible in her face, but the look of barely contained rage in her eyes made the hair on the back of Meztli’s neck rise.
“I don’t know who you are or what you’ve done with my husband but you had better hand me my daughter right now.”
“You must be—”
“Give me my baby.”
“Kathryn! What the hell are you doing?!”
The woman jumped but her arm didn’t waver an inch. Chakotay wrestled the phaser out of her hand and tossed it aside. “Where the hell did you get that from?”
Before she could respond, he strode to Meztli and took Liseli from her, carrying her to Kathryn. When he glanced at his sister, his eyes held an apology, but also a warning not to move quite yet.
He handed the baby to Kathryn, and she clung desperately to her child, pressing kisses all over her tiny face, which was red from the exertion of crying. After a moment, she glared up at her husband, and only long practice kept him from retreating.
“Do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?”
“Kathryn, I’d like you to meet my sister, Meztli.”
Kathryn wasn’t quite in the mood for pleasantries yet. “Why didn’t you tell me your sister was here?” she hissed, unconsciously bouncing the screaming baby, who could sense the tension in the air and was reacting accordingly. “Where were you? How did you expect me to react if I woke up and found a strange woman holding my child with you nowhere in sight?!”
Any doubts Meztli had had about the devotion her sister-in-law felt toward Liseli were instantly dispelled by the anger and fear she was radiating now that the crisis had passed.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, rubbing one hand over the baby’s hair and placing the other on Kathryn’s back. “I wasn’t expecting you to wake up in the short amount of time it took me to go get her something to eat. I didn’t take into account how frightening it might be for you. Why don’t you take Liseli into the house and feed her, and we’ll be inside in a moment? Okay?”
Kathryn nodded and he pulled her into his arms. “I’m sorry, beloved,” he whispered, brushing his lips over her hair. She raised her head for a kiss, which he gladly gave, and they only broke apart when the baby squalled again.
Meztli watched Chakotay as he watched his wife enter the house. He heaved a sigh as he bent to pick up the discarded phaser, and then he turned to her.
“I’m sorry about that. Are you okay?” When she nodded, he smiled. “She doesn’t normally point a phaser at those she’s meeting for the first time, I promise. At least, not anymore.”
She stared at him strangely for a second, and then laughed. “Well, your Kathryn is definitely not a docile creature.”
Chakotay snorted. “No… docile is one of the last words anyone could ever use to describe her. I have no idea where she got this,” he said, glancing at the phaser. “It’s not something we have just laying around the house. She must have had it hidden downstairs somewhere. At least it was set on stun.” He chuckled when Meztli raised her eyebrow.
“You weren’t sure?”
“You were a threat to her child, Meztli. She spent seven years defending her crew from threats. And we’ve had our share of threats here at home.”
“People have threatened your family?”
“A few. Not everyone is pleased to see Voyager’s top ‘fleeter and top Maquis settle down and raise a family together. Come on, she should have gotten the baby calmed down by now.” His eyes told her it wasn’t only the baby he was worried about.
As they walked through the house, Meztli looked around her with interest. Chakotay saw her actions and murmured, “I’ll give you the grand tour later. First I want to properly introduce you to my wife. I’ve found that introductions generally go more smoothly when one party doesn’t have a weapon pointed at the other.”
She shook her head, grinning, and he laughed, ushering her through the rooms with a hand on the small of her back. The house was clearly Kathryn’s childhood home—there were pictures of her and her family everywhere—but Meztli could see her brother’s influence. There were pictures of him and his wife in and amongst the others, both by themselves and surrounded by several people, sometimes in uniform and sometimes not. There were also a few of Liseli, and of the three of them. As they entered the living room, she could see what was clearly his blanket hanging on one wall, and his carvings and sand paintings were scattered about.
Kathryn sat in a rocker by the window, feeding Liseli from a bottle and humming to her. She looked up as they came in, and her cheeks immediately went scarlet. Now that the tense moment was over, embarrassment took hold.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a self-conscious chuckle. “I’m Kathryn Janeway. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Looking at you now I find it hard to believe that I couldn’t see you were Chakotay’s sister.”
Meztli laughed. “It’s okay, really it is. You were only thinking of Liseli. I can see that my niece is going to be strong of spirit!”
Kathryn snorted. “Definitely. Between me and her father… I only hope she’s inherited her father’s temperament. It’s more easygoing than mine.”
“My brother acts easygoing, but you can’t tell me you’ve never seen his temper.” Kathryn laughed and nodded ruefully, and Meztli looked around. “Where did he go, anyway?”
“Probably outside to retrieve Liseli’s cradle. You’re Mez… Mesht-lee.”
Meztli grinned. “I’m sorry. Yes, Meztli. That’s close enough. I’ve been told it takes practice if you don’t speak our language. It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”
Kathryn smiled and looked down at Liseli, checking on her. As she did, Meztli caught sight of a large picture hanging in pride of place over the fireplace. She moved closer to it for a better look. Chakotay and Kathryn were seated in the center, and Chakotay was holding a tiny, newborn Liseli, staring down at her and laughing. Kathryn was watching him, a crooked smile on her face. Off to one side, a Klingon woman held another infant, this one with tiny, subtle forehead ridges, but she was looking at the blonde man next to her, who was lunging toward the young girl obviously escaping from his grasp. Next to them and slightly behind Chakotay and Kathryn stood an Asian man who was laughing at the blonde man and saying something. He had his arm around a woman with long, dark, curly hair, who was smiling but looking slightly uncomfortable at the chaos around her. Beside them stood a balding man, whose mouth was open as if he was loudly discoursing on events. His hand rested on the shoulder of a tall blonde woman, who was looking at him with one eyebrow raised and the barest hint of a smile. In front of them stood a stately Vulcan couple, and next to the man was a short, orangish alien of a species Meztli didn’t recognize. He was clearly trying to get the attention of the Vulcan man, who was ignoring him and staring sedately into the camera.
Meztli laughed and turned toward Kathryn. “This is a great picture!”
Kathryn chuckled and shook her head. “We did pose, believe it or not, and the photographer actually managed to snap a picture. All hell broke loose shortly after that, as it usually does, and he snapped another. We liked the second one better. It’s much more… us.”
Chakotay returned, carrying the wooden cradle that had been standing on the deck. “Yes, the first one looked as if we’d all been drugged.”
Meztli laughed, and he placed the cradle by Kathryn’s side, running one hand fondly along the ornately carved railing.
“That’s a beautiful cradle, Brother.”
“Thank you,” he said, pride shining through the simple words.
Meztli raised an eyebrow. “You made that?”
Kathryn chuckled. “I learned quite a long time ago that your brother is a master craftsman when he puts his mind to it.” The couple shared a look that Meztli couldn’t interpret and was sure she wasn’t meant to.
She wandered around the room as Kathryn fed the baby, looking at the pictures on the walls, acquainting herself with her brother’s new family. Gradually, she realized that what Kathryn was humming was familiar to her, and she whirled around.
“My mother used to sing that song to us! It’s… it’s not in Standard.”
Kathryn looked up and blushed. “Well… I don’t know the words, despite Chakotay’s attempts to teach them to me; Liseli will probably be able to sing it before I can, but it’s a beautiful melody. Besides, I’m sure she would much rather hear it in her father’s voice.”
“You have a beautiful voice.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes at her husband and then glanced at his sister. “Your brother’s delusional,” she whispered, and Meztli laughed.
Meztli watched her brother as, outraged, he tried to convince
his wife that she had a lovely voice whether she was using it to scare
the ensigns or sing to her daughter. She had never seen him this peaceful
and content. She glanced at her sister-in-law, who was ignoring her husband
and humming the same song to her daughter that her husband had been singing
earlier. Kathryn was clearly trying to embrace her husband’s heritage,
and Meztli found a great deal of satisfaction in that. She also knew that
her secondary mission had failed. Her first purpose in coming here had
been to simply see her brother, make sure he was alive and doing well,
and in that she had succeeded. She had also hoped, however, to stir the
fire in him, make him enthusiastic about her work, and convince him to
come home and fight for his world’s rebirth as he had fought against its
death. It wouldn’t work; she knew that now. He was already home.
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