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A New Year's Resolution

Her desk faced the open door of her office. From where she sat, Admiral Janeway could see all too much of the passing parade of New Year's cheer. Outside in the corridor of Starfleet HQ, everyone from the newest ensign to the highest fleet admiral was shaking hands, slapping backs, and wishing their colleagues well for the New Year.

Janeway stared into her cup of cooling coffee.  Oh, a few people had come into her office and wished her a happy New Year:  her aide, Tinneke, various admirals and brass, and some of the people she dealt with in her new administrative position. But the greetings rang hollow, the handshakes were overly firm or limply submissive, and the spontaneous bonhomie was passing her by. Once again, she felt like the wallflower she had been at her first academy dance. Then, the other cadets had bypassed serious Cadet Janeway, looking for more fun-loving, witty company. Now, her fearsome and austere reputation kept many potential friends from her door.

"Kathryn!" Admiral Paris' florid face appeared in the doorway. "Whatever you're doing, surely it can wait? No one works on New Year's Eve, not in Starfleet HQ, not unless there's a crisis."

"Isn't there always?" Janeway rose and accepted his peck on the cheek. "Last year it was Picard's clone, Shinzon, and the Romulans. This year's crisis simply hasn't arrived yet."

Admiral Paris eyed her closely. "For a moment there, my dear, you sounded like that hatchet-faced Nechayev. You're barely
back from the Delta Quadrant fifteen months, you shouldn't be sounding as world-weary as the rest of us."

She pasted a smile on her face. "Nonsense! I'm fine. But it was this time last year that we were supporting Picard and the Enterprise with the Romulan situation. That certainly qualified as a full-blown crisis."

Paris strummed his fingers on the desk. "Yes. You were caught up in that, and Voyager only home a few months. Still, this year, you'll be able to relax with your... With your sister and her family?"

Janeway let the question slide. "Are Tom and B'Elanna spending New Year with you and Mary?"

Paris' face relaxed and the years etched there slid away. "They're coming around tomorrow with Miral. Mary swears she's more of a handful than any of ours ever were, but I think what she's seeing is Paris stubbornness. That would outlast any Klingon fierceness."

"Send them my best." Kathryn picked up a PADD and switched her attention to it.

"You're welcome to come around tomorrow, Kathryn. You know that." He leaned across the desk and touched her arm. "Don't be a
stranger. We'd love to see you."

She input a note into the PADD. "Thank you. Maybe after I've finished the negotiations for free trade with the Schellbrons-"

"Of course, doubtless you're going to your sister's. I won't keep you anylonger. Happy New Year, Kathryn."

She stood to accept his hug and another peck on the cheek. "If I can get this finished tonight, I'll try and call around tomorrow."

"See you later." He left, and some of the warmth of the room left with him.

Later? She had no plans for later that didn't involve PADDs. Turning her full attention back to the one in her hand, she worked on, jotting down notes for Tinneke to compile into a full report later. Absorbed in her work, she barely responded to the cheerful greetings coming through the door, wishing her a good New Year, interspersed with admonitions not to work too hard.

When she finally pushed the PADD aside and stood to stretch, the building seemed eerily quiet. "Tinneke?" She called for her aide, but there was no response. With a start, she realized that not only had the San Francisco dusk turned to full dark, but that Tinneke's small office was unlit. She must have gone home. Cursing, Kathryn walked  over. On Tinneke's desk was a note wishing her a pleasant evening, and saying that Kathryn had been too absorbed to respond to her goodbye, so she had left her undisturbed.

The chronometer on the wall showed it was nearly 20:00. On cue, her stomach growled. Had she had lunch? She really couldn't remember. These days all she seemed to do was work, drink coffee, and try to sleep. Her days were one long monotonous chain of events, all revolving around Starfleet.

Kathryn crossed to the replicator and called up another cup of coffee and one of the almond cakes that Tinneke was in the habit of bringing her. 20:00 hours on New Year's Eve. The rest of the world was probably getting ready to celebrate with friends and family. Kathryn dropped to the couch by the window. Far below her lofty office, San Francisco hummed with life. Somewhere down there, Admiral Paris would be with his family. Tinneke, so young and clear around the eyes, was spending the evening with her extended
Dutch family in Haarlem. She even knew what many of her crew were doing. Sam and Greskrendtregk were taking Naomi to Australia, to spend a typical southern hemisphere New Year on the beach. Harry Kim, once more tentatively wooing his ex-financée, Libby, was taking her for a romantic break in Germany's Black Forest. Tuvok and T'Pel didn't celebrate New Year's Eve, of course. They would be on Vulcan, where Tuvok held a high ranking position in Vulcan's government. And Chakotay. Kathryn's thoughts skittered away  from him, as they had so often in the past. But this time she forced them  back in line. Chakotay would doubtless be spending it with Seven, at her aunt's house in Norway. As he had spent last year. Kathryn's eyes were far  away, staring unseeingly at the safe, neutral tones of her office wall. All  of her crew was spending the holiday where they wanted to be. Except for her.

Her lips twisted ruefully. The great Admiral Janeway, fêted and feasted by the entire Alpha Quadrant, darling of Starfleet Command. She, who had been instrumental in solving last year's Romulan crisis, she, who was the fastest rising admiral in Starfleet in recent years, a  feat topped only by Nechayev herself. She was spending New Year's eve in her office.

Kathryn rested her chin on her hand and stared down at the lights of San Francisco. It was raining again, she noted absently, a light drizzle that spread over the city. She had nowhere to go, except back to her apartment on the far side of the Oakland Bridge. She had
purchased it upon Voyager's return, simply for its ease of access to Starfleet Command. The apartment had few redeeming features; its walls were a nondescript cream, the building an uninspiring cube of fifty floors, and the furnishings were drab. To Kathryn, it was simply a place to return to every night, somewhere to pace the floors and try and catch some sleep before morning. Her life took place in the equally drab interior of her office at Starfleet Command.

Not for the first time that week, she wondered what Phoebe was doing. No doubt the New Year would be spent as she imagined the rest of the holiday season had been: in a fug of happy family love and laughter, surrounded by her passel of kids and her husband, Klaus.
Phoebe's house was a magnet for many, and it would be filled with guests from near and far. Maybe some alien students from her husband's college, experiencing their first Earth holiday season, probably some of Klaus' family visiting from Neuzeit Colony. Everyone would gather at Phoebe's house. Everyone except her sister.

The breach was as wide as the Alpha Quadrant, and Phoebe was as distant as the Delta Quadrant. Not for the first time, her parting words echoed in  Kathryn's ears. "Starfleet! I'm sick to the back teeth of Starfleet. What did it ever do that the Janeways put it over  everything else?

"Every year, Mom put out a glass of brandy for you at New Year's Eve. She set it on the mantle, saying that one day you
would come home and toast the New Year with her. She never lost faith, even when Starfleet gave up on your ship, even when the news service, the press,  families of the crew wrote you off for dead. Everyone, except Mom. And then, against all odds, you got home. Mom was so happy. But after that publicly staged reunion-the one in which you hugged us, and then were whisked away by Starfleet-she never saw you again before she died. I hope you lie awake at night remembering that, Kathryn Janeway. I hope you see our mother's face, I hope you realize what you did to her. And I hope your precious Starfleet gives you comfort, because sure as hell, no one else will."

Phoebe had spat her final words venomously. "And you can go and rot, Kathryn. As far as I'm concerned, I no longer have a sister. Because of Starfleet's latest crisis, Mom died without seeing you again. On New Year's Day, when your glass of brandy sat untouched on the mantle once more, she died of a heart attack. In the three months, after your ship returned, you never once came to see her again. Well, that's fine. I never want to see you again."

Phoebe had turned on her heel, and stormed out. The last Kathryn had seen of her was her pale hair flying behind her as she stamped down the corridor. Stunned, she had sat for a few minutes, before resuming her work. Phoebe would soften; she always did. She would realize that the Romulan crisis had been too important to leave. And if Starfleet had trusted the newly-minted Admiral Janeway with the task, then Phoebe would acknowledge that Kathryn couldn't have turned her back on it.

It wasn't as if she hadn't wanted to ignore her family. In the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn had tried so hard to return home, so that her crew-and herself-would be reunited with their loved ones. But once home, it had been too easy to fall into line with Starfleet's
expectations, and once again, her private life had been pushed aside. Kathryn had wanted to go to her mother that previous New Year. Over and over, she had fought back the need to lay her head on her mother's breast and hug her, simply because Starfleet had needed her.  Her mother knew that, she had told herself. After all, she had been married to an admiral, she knew that the calls and ties of duty had to come first. Phoebe knew it too. She would come around eventually.

But Phoebe hadn't come around. In the following  months, there had been a blank silence from her. No calls, no invitations, no cheerful messages popping up on her comm unit. For a while, Phoebe was forgotten as Kathryn buried herself in the constant flow of work. But one day, six weeks after Phoebe had stormed out, Kathryn had sat in front of her comm unit. Her carefully planned speech and suggestion of dinner at a waterside restaurant were never issued. Instead, after she had said hello, there had been a quiet exhalation, then the click of Phoebe's comm unit rejecting the call.

Phoebe had meant what she had said.

Kathryn shook her head to dislodge the memories,  and picked up another PADD. Her Voyager family had slid from her grasp when the ship returned to Earth; now her blood family had severed the ties as well.

The PADD slipped from her fingers and she stared unseeingly at the beige wall of her office. Their second New Year at home-hardly the way she had imagined things turning out. Not for the first time, she wished for Chakotay. The pang of his betrayal knifed her once more, making her heart swell with the loss until she thought it would choke her. Theirs had been an unspoken commitment, an understanding that ran deeper than mere words. They would wait for each other, they would get home, and then they could speak the words that bind. But Seven had come between  them, uncomprehending of what she was taking. She had blinded Chakotay to everything-and everyone-else, and taken what interested her.

But Kathryn missed him in so many ways, not only that which now would never be. She missed his quiet, reassuring presence next to her, his unswerving support, the solidity of him by her side. She missed his laugh, the squeeze of his fingers in a tender moment, the curve of  his lips as he smiled. Norway wasn't so far away, she could call for a transport and be there in moments. But would Chakotay and Seven welcome her? She honestly didn't know. Theirs had been a gradual withdrawal, fueled, no doubt, by her reluctance to see them. Chakotay had sensed her pain-how could he not?-and he and Seven had disentangled themselves from the knot of Voyager's crew, and from her captain. To appear now and see him would be both a sweet pleasure and a sharp pain.

No, it seemed that Admiral Janeway, Voyager's intrepid leader, would be spending the New Year alone.

With a sigh, Kathryn acknowledged that any further work was out of the question. The turmoil of her thoughts had made it impossible to concentrate. Rising, she closed her office and left, striding through the dimly lit building. The only person she saw was the lone security guard, posted at the main entrance, and she responded automatically to his cheery good night.

The drizzle had eased, and the night was now clear and starry, with only a few drifting clouds hazing the moon. Although it was cool, Kathryn decided to walk home. It would take her the best part of an hour, but it wasn't as if she had anything pressing to draw her faster. Setting off in the general direction of her apartment, she took the side streets when they looked inviting, climbing resolutely up San Francisco's hilly roads. She was drawn along by the contours of the city, along the winding streets, past the mansions of the well-to-do and famous, past smaller, cheerful houses, stacked like children's playblocks on the steep hillsides. Through lighted windows, she could see families gathered around  dinner tables, groups of laughing people, drinks in their hands, busily toasting each other. Through another, there was a pair of lovers on a couch in front of a glowing fire. Their arms were around each other, and even
through the window, Kathryn sensed their love and contentment.

The night loomed long, and her footsteps slowed.  There was little point in returning to an empty apartment, but the alternative of walking the streets like a shadow until morning made her feel equally alone. Kathryn felt like a ghost, a shade of the former captain she had been. She felt bodiless, flitting through the shadows unseen by the world, a  person of the netherworld. The world of Starfleet, of meetings,  of deadlines and crises fell away and became meaningless. Kathryn was truly alone; Phoebe had been right. Starfleet wouldn't be there for her, not in any sense that mattered.

Her steps took her along a particularly busy street, where hover cars were depositing richly dressed passengers outside one of the mansions. The house was ablaze with light, and the sounds of music and laughter drifted out onto the street. Kathryn's steps slowed, dragged down by the happy noise from the gathering she was not a part of. She came to a halt outside the house, and hidden by the shadows, she stood and watched the people within. Loneliness engulfed her, and hot tears sprang to her eyes. Resolutely, she blinked them back. 'I'm just tired,' she thought, 'tired, weak, and hungry. Admirals don't cry.'

But the tears persisted, making her vision swim, so that the bright people blurred together like a chain of fairy lights. Kathryn dug her nails into her palm, determined to bring herself under control. A deep breath, then another. Just as she was preparing to step out of
the shadows and resume her walk, another hover car deposited its passengers close by. With a start, she recognized the haughty carriage of Admiral Nechayev, her blonde hair coiffured into an elaborate style, her turquoise evening dress glimmering under the street lights. This was a Starfleet gathering, she realized, one for the top brass, the shining lights of Starfleet. Abruptly, she remembered the invitation she had received; a gilt-edged formal piece of board, with an invitation to the Commander-in-Chief's annual gathering. She had never replied, forgetting the invite, which was eventually buried underneath PADDs and paraphernalia on her desk. She could go in; even without the actual invitation, she knew enough people that she would be recognized. But then, Nechayev turned to speak to a new arrival-Admiral Forester, resplendent in black tie and tails-and the street lights glittered off the diamonds strung around Nechayev's neck. Formal dress, the invitation had stated. No uniforms.

Kathryn looked down at herself, at her gray and black admiral's uniform, slightly rumpled after her long day. She couldn't attend, not dressed like this. Once again, she swallowed hard against the disappointment that clogged her throat. Even Starfleet was excluding her. However much good press the great Captain Janeway had generated for them, however much public goodwill and support, Admiral Janeway would be turned away from this gathering unless she was suitably attired.

Not wanting anyone to see her, she waited until there was a lull in the arrivals, then walked swiftly past the house, before slowing her pace again. The sounds of merriment faded slowly as she walked, aimlessly letting her feet take her where they would.

Had she really become such an empty vessel she  wondered. Was that all she was now, a Starfleet puppet with no other life,  caught in the prison of her office? The tears she had successfully suppressed earlier rose up again. Angrily, she dashed them away with one hand, and  strode off down the street. She would go home, she thought. Watch the news channel, have a glass of wine, maybe cook a gourmet dinner for one. She had a life; she didn't need anything or anyone else.

Her steps thundered an even rhythm on the sidewalk, and her tears dried on her cheeks as they fell. Empty life, hollow life, empty life, hollow life, her footsteps said in time to their beat. Going home was a mockery; there was nothing for her there. Her apartment was another prison cell, as sterile as her life. Even her other family-her Voyager family-had deserted her. The messages and calls had slowed to a trickle and stopped when she didn't return them.

Walking fast, head down, eyes blinded by tears, she rounded a corner and crashed headlong into someone coming in the other
direction. A man, she realized dimly, as she bounced off a solid, wide chest, before falling in an undignified sprawl on the sidewalk. Her cheek grazed the rough surface, and her ankle throbbed. Biting back a curse, she tried to turn over and get up, but a firm hand reached down and hauled her up with such force that she contacted with the same solid chest she'd felt earlier. In her distressed state, that chest represented safety and  security, and the urge to burrow into it and rest her head on the stranger's shoulder overwhelmed her.

A gentle hand pushed her hair away from her cheek, running over the graze with careful fingers.

Startled, Kathryn found herself staring into the familiar face of her former first officer.

"Chakotay! What are you doing here?" Belatedly, she remembered her tear-stained face and quickly looked away from him.

His fingers dropped to her chin and turned her to face him. "Looking for you, what else?" A thumb came up and traced the dried tracks of her tears."Can you walk?"

The warm feel of his hand on her face brought back too many memories of happier times. She shook it off and hobbled forward a few paces, finding that her ankle was sore but manageable. "Yes," she said firmly, "I'm fine."

Slowly, she resumed walking, and found her feet had taken her nearly home. Her apartment building was only a hundred meters

Chakotay was here, in San Francisco. Her thoughts ran in chaotic circles. She had been thinking of him, and he had appeared, as if she had conjured him out of thin air. Why was he here? "Where's Seven?" she asked abruptly. "Is she with you? Why aren't you with her on New Year's Eve? What's happened to-"

"Shhh." Chakotay silenced her by laying a finger across her lips. "I see some things haven't changed; you still ask too many questions." His fingers pushed carefully into her hair, exploring her scalp. "I think you've got a big bruise here. Let's get you home, and I'll look at it."

Kathryn nodded, and let him take her arm and lead her to the door.

Inside, she limped over to the kitchen area. "I still don't know what you're really doing here, but I'm pleased to see you."

He had followed her, and was leaning against the doorway. "Are you, Kathryn?"

"Of course." She busied herself making coffee. "Why wouldn't I be pleased to see a friend?"

"We haven't seen each other in nine months," he said. "I thought you didn't want to know me anymore. Every one says the
same-you've cut yourself off from your crew. I rang your sister, Kathryn, wondering if she knew where you were-"

She couldn't stop the instinctive gasp of denial, and the coffee cups were suddenly the most interesting thing in the room.

Chakotay crossed the kitchen, and touched her arm to still the frenetic motion. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "To have a sibling turn against you so totally is a sad thing."

Kathryn's hands shook. Until now, her facade to the outside world had been solid and strong. But now, with one simple sentence, Chakotay had shattered that fragile barrier and revealed the real Kathryn. A woman without a life, a woman whose family didn't want to have anything to do with her.

"She and I have little in common," she said, and the brittleness in her voice threatened to snap. "She has a husband, children. I have a career, and that's-"

"You don't have to pretend to me," he interrupted her. "It's me, Chakotay. Your best friend. Once, I was nearly more."

The milk splashed on the counter. "And then you found Seven." She pushed down the pang that the name evoked. "How is she?
Are the two of you staying nearby?"

"Let me have my coffee, Kathryn, before it ends up on the floor." He took the cup from her, before answering. "I assume that Seven is in Norway. I don't know for sure."

She frowned, shuffling the information he had given her. "Why not?"

"We had an amicable parting six months ago."

The cup slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and shattered on the tiles.

"Kathryn?" He crossed to her side, and once more those gentle, seeking fingers explored the bump on her head. "Maybe you should sit down. Do you have a medical tricorder?"

"I didn't know." Ignoring the spilled coffee and his question, she moved to the window, staring out at the winter sky. "I didn't know," she repeated.

"I left you a message," he said simply. "But you didn't answer me. I thought..." It was his turn to move to the window.

The last few months flashed before her eyes, and the parade of unanswered messages, invitations, and reunions she had ignored.

"What happened between you and Seven? I thought you'd finally found happiness with someone who could love you back."  Impossible to keep the bitterness from her voice. Impossible to pretend that it didn't matter.

"We were happy for a time," he acknowledged. "I won't deny that. But really..." He spread his fingers, palm up in an endearing gesture of helplessness. "We're too different. The age gap is too great, and she's too shallow for me, too immature. And I think I was too staid, too unexciting for her."

Kathryn nodded, accepting his words for the truth. So often she'd heard those same differences put forward by the crew as reasons why Voyager's newest and most unlikely romance wouldn't last.

"Where are you living?"

"Dorvan. Rebuilding is slow, and it's a hard life, but rewarding. It's where I want to be."

"And are you alone?" Determinedly, she crushed the small flickering of hope that had sprung to life at his words. He hadn't come here for her, there would be another reason, one that involving sourcing supplies, or seeking Federation funding for Dorvan.

Instead of answering, he took her arm and led her over to the couch. Pushing her gently down, he knelt in front of her. "I think I should take a look at this ankle before we get too distracted."  Removing her boot and sock, he probed the joint. "It's a bit swollen, but I
think you'll be fine. Do you have a regenerator?"

She directed him to where the regenerator lay in  a kitchen drawer, and waited silently while he ran it quickly over her ankle and then the graze on her face.

Rising, he sat on the couch next to her. "I'm alone, Kathryn. If I weren't, I wouldn't be coming to see you now. I had just left your building when I crashed into you." His fingers pushed her hair  back from her cheek. "Kathryn, were you crying when I bumped into you?"

The denial rose automatically to her lips, but then she hesitated. Only a few hours ago, the parade of people she had cut out of her life had marched inexorably past her. Her stubbornness, her refusal to share of herself had forced them away. Well, that could stop right
now. No matter how it hurt, no matter if rejections came her way, Kathryn Janeway would now be open and honest with her feelings, would give of herself.  For once, Starfleet could take less of her.

Slowly, she nodded.

"Why were you upset?"

Forcing herself to meet his eye, she told him  about the emptiness of her life. How she had driven the crew, Phoebe, everyone away because she had no time for them, so that eventually she had nothing but her work. "I'm becoming a Starfleet automaton," she concluded. "Sad and alone."

He inched forward on the couch, so that their knees bumped. During her speech, his fingers hadn't once left hers. They gripped hers tightly, a slight tremor running through them. So warm, his hands, she thought. So firm, so strong, so... loving.

"You're never alone, Kathryn. Not unless you want to be."

His voice washed over her, and the warmth in it spread into the sealed corners of her heart. "I don't want to be alone anymore." The admission was made in a low voice.

"Tell me what you want."

Could she lay herself bare and tell him? Hiding had brought her nothing but misunderstandings and pain. Now was the time to try. "I want to love and be loved for myself," she said. "I want to share my  life, not live it as an outsider looking in."

Chakotay's fingers tightened on hers. "Do you know why I was looking for you tonight?"

Wordlessly, she shook her head.

"It's New Year's Eve. A time for new beginnings.  I was hoping that maybe we could have our own beginning."

His dark eyes met hers, and for the first time she saw the uncertainty he had shielded from her.

"A long time ago, I thought we had an understanding. Oh, I know we never spoke the words, but it was there all the same. There have been so many things-and people-who have strained it, but I want to know if we can try."

"Try?" She repeated the words in wondering tones.  Could they?  After all this time, would it be possible?  The shutters in  her heart unfurled slowly, carefully. A spring breeze of hope gently blew through her, and determination began to edge out the well of
self-pity.  "Try?" she repeated slowly.  "I.yes, we can try, and I think maybe we can succeed."

"Can you forgive me, Kathryn? Seven was inexcusable, I-"

She stopped him with her finger across his lips. "No. Don't take all the blame. We both know I had already started shutting myself away, I was already distancing myself from the crew and from you. You wanted love, companionship, sex-they're the natural things for anyone. We pushed our understanding to the limit, it's no wonder it withered. Let's not look back, let's look forward into the New Year, and let's go there. Together."

His smile spread across his face like a sunrise. Disentangling his fingers from hers, he held his hand up, palm forward. Unhesitatingly, she laced her fingers with his. Before, the gesture had been one of new beginnings, the start of Kathryn's emergence from the captain's  role. Now, it signified the start of their life together.

For a few moments, they were quiet, then Chakotay rose, tugging her up with him. "Listen."

Faintly, drifting in from the old city of San Francisco, were the sounds of fireworks and cheering.

"It must be midnight." Chakotay drew her over with him to the window. The starbursts of color and glittering displays of
sparks, as bright as a peacock's tail, lit up the sky.

His hand came up to briefly caress her cheek, before sliding around the back of her neck, underneath the heavy weight of hair.
"To new beginnings," he whispered, and bent his head, claiming her lips with a sweet softness.

Now, the fireworks were behind her closed eyelids. Great swathes of indigo, crimson, and gold flashed banners before her eyes. Chakotay's kiss was everything she'd fantasized about-warm and persuasive. He kissed her deeply, but with such love that she sagged against him in boneless wonder. When the pressure deepened, when the arousal fanned and grew, when her nipples were hard points against his chest and when his erection prodded her belly insistently, she took his hand and led him to her bed.

EPILOGUE: Three Months Later

The high Dorvan sun slanted over the bed where the lovers lay. Through the open window, a breeze brought the scents of earth
and vegetation, moist and loamy. From where she lay, head against  Chakotay's chest, Kathryn could see down the sloping hillside that led away from  their house. There was her vegetable garden-straggly and struggling in Dorvan's poor soil, but it would grow and flourish under her care. There, beyond  the thin strings of currants and beans, was Chakotay's village. A motley collection of houses, now so different from the settlement he'd grown up in.  But Dorvan was once again back under the Federation's wing, and Dorvan would rise again.

Many of the original people had gone-fled or killed-but slowly the survivors were returning. Chakotay's sister, Ana, was on the far side of the hill, working tirelessly to provide schooling to the village's few children. Some of Voyager's crew had decided to settle here too, mainly those who, like Chakotay, were tired of Starfleet's rules and demands upon them. Sam and Naomi lived here now, with Greskrendtregk. Gerron, Tal Celes, Dalby, and Ayala were all here, giving of their skills and their time, and in return finding Dorvan's peace.

Kathryn let her fingers trail down over Chakotay's belly, and was rewarded by his soft sigh. His kiss stirred the top of her hair, and his arms closed about her.

"I'll love you forever if you keep doing that." His voice rumbled through his chest, underneath her head.

So warm, Chakotay's love. So secure and giving. "I'll love you forever, anyway. It's only fair you do the same." Her fingers closed around him, and she smiled. So easy to love Chakotay.

He reared up, and rolled her over, tucking her under his big body. His eyes glittered with love, with lust, and his hand slipped down between their bodies, seeking her sex.

When he finally filled her, she sighed with the pleasure of it all. It was always like this. In the three months since that first night, the love had got stronger, and the physical side of it  transcendent.

Later, they lay in the torpid satiation of afterglow, their bodies entwined in the strong sunlight.

"I should get up," she mused. "I promised Celes I'd present my ideas for a science program to the school board today. And then I have to go and scrutinize the plans for the new water recycling plant."

Chakotay raised up over her, pushing her hair back to better see her face. "You're truly are happy here," he marveled. "Don't
you miss Starfleet even a little?"

She considered his question, even though she already knew the answer. "No. The only thing I miss is flying through the stars. I don't miss the pomposity, the regulations, the protocols. Dorvan needs me more than Starfleet ever did, and Dorvan lets me be myself
without guilt, which Starfleet never did."

"I need you." Chakotay's light-hearted tone belayed the seriousness in his eyes. "I'll always need you."

She kissed his mouth, delighting in the way his arms wrapped around her, pulling him closer to his heart. Then, he moved away and started pulling on clothes. He held out a robe to her. "There's someone else who needs you too, Kathryn."

"The school board? That's not for another hour. We've time to-"

"No, not them. I spoke to Phoebe yesterday, and I think you should call her."

For a moment, she was silent; the temptation to ignore the olive branch was strong. She didn't need Phoebe; she had Chakotay
and Dorvan. Her family was now the people on this planet.  But then she remembered her isolation and loneliness of that earlier time, and her pride evaporated like the dewdrops in the garden.

Touching his face in gratitude, she said, "We'll call her. Together."

And the final prison walls of isolation crumbled into the Dorvan sunlight.



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