“Commander, have a seat.” Kathryn nodded for Chakotay to take a seat in front of her desk, her eyes never leaving her screen.
“What can I do for you, Captain?” Glad that Voyager was finally in the Alpha Quadrant, Chakotay relaxed into the chair.
“The communiqué from Starfleet included orders for disembarking, debriefing, and leaves of absence. We have a lot of work to do before we reach Earth orbit.”
Chakotay was surprised by her unemotional tone. He thought she should be pleased and content, having achieved the impossible by getting Voyager home. “Already?”
She glanced up at him and then back at a PADD on her desk. “Already what?”
“We only burst through the Borg cube an hour ago and they’ve already got orders for us?”
“It looks that way.” She handed him the PADD. “It is December 22nd by Earth’s calendar which means Christmas is three days away. They want to get things taken care of so everyone can enjoy the holiday with their families.”
“Christmas already? I always lose track of the Terran dates.” He briefly scanned the PADD as she outlined its contents.
“The orders are that we have twenty-four hours to gather personal belongings and crate them for transport. Headquarters has enough lodging for the entire crew so that those who can’t reach their families will have a place to stay. No one is to leave Earth without special permission, and debriefings will begin on January 3rd.”
Concerned that she didn’t mention any celebrations, he asked, “That’s it? No welcome home party?”
“Oh, tomorrow evening we’ll be landing on the Grounds of Starfleet Academy.”
Chakotay was sure now that something was bothering her. “Kathryn? What’s wrong?”
She looked up at him. “Wrong? Nothing’s wrong. Why do you ask?”
“You’re not telling me something. Is your family okay? Have you received some bad news? Did you receive any instructions regarding the Equinox crew that you aren’t telling me?”
“No, my family is fine as far as I know, and you know everything that I do. Or you will when you read that PADD. I guess I’m just a bit overwhelmed.”
Chakotay stood. “Come, sit with me for a moment.”
She rose, but didn’t follow. “But we have so much work to do.”
“And it can wait a few minutes.”
She sighed tiredly and went over to the couch, sitting sideways so she could look at Earth rotating slowly in the distance.
Chakotay got her a cup of coffee and sat down facing her. He waited patiently for her to start talking.
“I can’t believe we’re here.”
“I’m having a little trouble accepting it too, although Earth sure is a beautiful site. I haven’t seen it since I was teaching at the Academy.”
She touched the viewport with her finger as if she could almost touch Earth. “It’s surreal… and now that we’re here, I don’t know what to do next.”
“I bet there hasn’t been a moment in your life when you didn’t have a five year strategic plan mapped out.”
“At least five years.” She paused. “That’s actually true, but my actions at the array changed all of that.”
“I’m glad. My life has been forever changed, for the better, because of it.”
“You say that now that we’re here, but if my older self hadn’t…”
Chakotay studied her for a minute. “She told you and Seven something about me and I want to know what it is.”
“No, you don’t.” When he didn’t reply, she turned to look at him and realized that he wouldn’t be taking no for an answer. “Okay, but I’m only telling you because the timeline has been changed and things will happen differently now.” She paused in thought. “Your wife would have died in your arms in three years, and then you would have died before seeing that.” She pointed to Earth.
“I see.” He watched as she kept a tight clamp on her emotions. “What’s troubling you more? The wife part or my death part?”
“I’m not entirely sure.”
“I can assume that since a future Kathryn Janeway returned to change history, you were not my future wife.”
Keeping her eyes on Earth, she shook her head and slowly said, “No.”
Chakotay touched Kathryn’s cheek until she looked at him. “Would you like to be?”
“Don’t ask me that.”
“Why not?” He was sure they were in love with each other. They just hadn’t been able to act on it.
She stared at him menacingly for a long moment. “Because a very special young woman standing out on the bridge has fallen in love with you.”
“Seven? We’ve had four dates.”
“You’re her first love.”
“Has she spoken to you? Do you know that for a fact?” If Seven had told Kathryn that she was in love with him, then he had a problem.
Kathryn sighed heavily and returned her gaze to the viewport. “No.”
He was relieved to hear it. “But she was the wife who died in my arms.”
“And my older self said you were never the same after it happened.”
Seeing her dejected look troubled him. He tried to come up with an explanation for his would-be future actions as to why he would have been upset after his would-be future wife…. He was really losing track his train of thought. “I’m getting myself confused as I think about past future selves. No wonder you get headaches trying to figure this out.” He paused in thought. “Look Kathryn, maybe my future self realized that he messed things up so much with you that he not only lost Seven, but he also lost you… his true love.”
She glanced at him. “Don’t you care at all about what you’re doing to Seven?”
“She was using me to practice dating, that’s all. You’re assuming that because I married her in the Admiral’s timeline that I plan to do so in this one. I don’t fall in love easily and I haven’t fallen in love with her.” He was hoping Seven realized that everything he had said to her was in an effort to help her know what really dating someone would be like.
She guffawed. “Don’t give me that. You fall in love so quickly that it makes my head spin.”
Afraid that she was going to start citing all of his romantic adventures with aliens along the way, he had to stop her. “Kathryn. The only person I’ve fallen in love with is you.”
“Me,” she said, disbelievingly.
“You don’t think so?” He couldn’t believe that she didn’t know. She had to be baiting him.
She turned to sit with her back against the sofa and took a long drink of her coffee. “We mean a lot to each other, but I wouldn’t call it love.”
He wasn’t sure if she was trying to let him down easy or if she really didn’t know how he felt. Perhaps she didn’t know how she felt. “Tell me something, Kathryn. A year ago, when you returned from being assimilated, and you needed me to stay up with you night after night… did you love me then?”
Closing her eyes in anguish, she said, “I can’t believe you just asked me that.”
“When you returned from Quarra, do you remember what you told me? You said that you wished I had been there, so that we might have met and have had a chance to be together without the constraints of command. What was that?”
She looked away and put her fist against her mouth.
Softly, he said, “And further back, what about the evening we spent on Lake George? You said I made you feel loved when I kissed you. You said you looked forward to sailing on the real lake where we could follow through on our love. And what about the shore leave to Niojin when we spent the day together, thinking that if only Voyager weren’t looming above, we could run away.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “What about our promise as we were leaving New Earth?”
Still looking away, she said, “That was a long time ago.”
He moved up behind her and gently stroked her hair back so he could touch her face. “No matter what happens, when we reach home, we’re going to recreate that paradise and grow old together. Do you remember that? I’m going to build that boat and then I’m going to build a house with a porch swing, just like you wanted.”
She stood abruptly and walked over to the viewport. “Dammit, Chakotay. Those were fantasies!”
Joining her, he put his arms around her from behind and whispered into her ear, “Fantasies that I’m offering to make come true. Run away with me.” He pointed to Earth. “That’s our paradise. The ship is home. The crew is safe. Take me home for Christmas and marry me.”
Her voice cracking with emotion, she said, “If only it were that easy.”
Greatly encouraged by her response, he drew her hair back and let his lips find the tender area on her neck that he had discovered when they were on a holographic sailboat. Her shiver told him that he hit the spot. He whispered, “I hope you realize that I’m not letting you go until you say yes.” He was sure that when she surrendered, she would be his forever.
Shakily, she said, “If we hadn’t had this conversation right now, you probably would have gone on off with Seven.”
One of his hands moved from her waist to hold her around her ribs. His thumb gently stroked her side, grazing her breast. “I can assure you that if we weren’t talking now, we would be very soon. My plan was to find you when all of our responsibilities to this ship were gone.”
“And what were you going to do when you found me?”
“Take you away to Lake George.”
She smiled and nuzzled her cheek against his lips. “It’s a bit cold there.”
“Is there a heated cabin? I think it would make the perfect honeymoon spot.”
“Just say yes.”
She turned in his arms and put her hands around his neck. “Ask me again in three days.”
“That’s Christmas day?” When she nodded, he asked, “Does that mean I get to come home with you?”
“Would you like to?”
“I would love to.”
She smiled and reached up to give him a quick kiss. “Thank you for helping me remember.”
“Any time.” He captured her lips in a deeper kiss
and left her staring out the viewport at Earth with a contented smile and
clear excitement at being home.
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