Disclaimer: Paramount owns these babies. I don't.
Author's Note: This story came from a conversation with Kelly about the J/C relationship post-Endgame. Thanks to Kelly and Rocky for looking this one over.
She's leaving in the morning. It doesn't surprise him Kathryn didn't ask for his help packing. He stands in the doorway, one hand pressed against the frame, wondering if he should offer. He admires her efficiency, the way she moves fluidly from bed to dresser and back again, her hands in constant motion.
He clears his throat.
She doesn't turn around.
He watches as she picks up the small black velvet box, the one that holds the rank bar of the admirality; he knows how proud -- and how torn -- she feels about the promotion.
"It sounds like they're talking about my father," she had complained right after her promotion ceremony. "And you know what this means... I'll never get a ship of my own again."
Chakotay had held her hand, said quietly, "That's not true, Kathryn. Admirals have commanded ships of their own before. And I can't think of anyone else whom Starfleet would want in command. You'll get a ship of your own before long." He had meant every word then, but he never thought Kathryn would actually reach for the stars once again, leaving him behind.
The lump forms in his throat as he watches Kathryn caress the box lightly before setting it aside, next to her new uniform.
Kathryn is leaving the morning.
He's reading the newspaper when she finally finishes packing. He's gone through the main news, the Arts and Living section, the sports, and has now moved on to the classifieds -- more out of boredom than anything else. He finds humor in the ads asking for favors from various deities and the desperate searching for the special someone whose eye she caught on the commuter shuttle. He's reading over the apartment listings in Berkley, noting the immediate availability of a studio on a quiet street near the university. There's a number to call to make an appointment to see the place. He's moved on to the job listings when Kathryn walks into the room.
"I'm done, finally," she says in a dramatic tone of voice. "That took longer than I thought it would."
"I could have helped, you know." He winces at the edge in his voice but Kathryn doesn't seem to have noticed.
"Whatever I forget, I'm sure I can replicate," Kathryn goes on as if he never spoke at all. She moves to the window, staring out at the busy streets. "It's not like the DQ, after all. I'll be right here in the AQ, within light-years of a major starbase. We should be able to re-supply without any difficulties."
"For which I'm entirely grateful," Chakotay says lightly, thinking of Kathryn's addiction for coffee. On this mission, she won't have to go without. Kathryn smiles back at him.
"It'll be a different experience than Voyager I know, but I'm sure it'll be a positive one," Kathryn answers. The excitement radiates from her voice, from her body language. Her joy is infectious and Chakotay puts aside his own feelings for the moment. "And of course, when you're on break from your research and if it's feasible, we can arrange a rendezvous," her voice is low, throaty and seductive.
Chakotay doesn't point out the obvious, that she is going into deep space. The chance of meeting more than once or twice is highly unlikely, not without considerable acrobatics on both of their parts to make sure their schedules match up. He wonders if Kathryn has considered that. He indulges in a moment of petulance, wondering if she cares.
"Do you want to do anything special tonight?" he asks, choosing to change the subject.
"For dinner. To celebrate your new command, a bon voyage dinner," Chakotay says. He gets up from his chair, comes to stand behind Kathryn. He rests his hands on her shoulders and forces himself not to feel anything when she jumps at his touch. "It's going to be three years before you're coming back to Earth. Surely there's somewhere special you'd like to go for dinner."
"There's always The Cafe," she says.
Chakotay nods. A surprising choice, but not entirely unexpected. They'd started their life together in The Café, two years after Voyager returned home. Seven had been away at a science conference and Chakotay had attended a seminar at Starfleet Headquarters alone. He'd run into Kathryn unexpectectedly. They'd chatted at first - small talk, nothing important -- and gradually, their conversation grew deeper, more meaningful. Kathryn had suggested The Cafe -- a generic, run-down dilapidated place just outside the Starfleet grounds. It had been there for years, Kathryn said, and the owners hadn't even bothered to provide it with a real name.
It had been raining when they'd arrived at The Cafe. Kathryn had laughed as she stomped her wet boots dry on the doormat. Chakotay had turned to look out the window, at the undulating wave of red yellow blue umbrellas. He'd smiled at Kathryn. Later, after the rain had stopped, Chakotay had gone home with Kathryn. Stumbled through her apartment, his hands caressing her face, her lips pressing against the soft skin of his neck, and they ended up in the bed, the white sheets tangled around their legs.
"What does this mean?" Chakotay had asked as he'd lay next to her, tracing circles on her stomach.
Kathryn had lifted her head to look at him. "What do you want it to mean?"
"Hmmm..." Chakotay had leaned over, his hand cupping the back of her neck as he pulled her on top of him. Her hair had skimmed his skin and he'd shivered. "I'm not into one night stands, Kathryn."
She'd looked at him, bemused, perhaps remembering all of his liaisons while aboard Voyager. Finally she'd nodded. "All right," she had said as she leaned down to kiss him. "Have it your way."
He'd broken it off with Seven shortly afterwards. He'd said he was sorry, that he didn't love her, and that the feelings had never been real between them in the first place. Seven had taken the news surprisingly well, seemed to understand, and wished him the best of luck with Kathryn. Later, through the Starfleet grapevine, Chakotay learned Seven had taken a deep space mission. It had bothered him she hadn't contacted him to say good-bye.
"You don't want something more exotic?" Chakotay asks now. Kathryn turns to face him. "Three years is a long time."
"You have a suggestion?"
"Hmmm... I thought you might appreciate a trip to that French restaurant you liked so much in Carmel or perhaps we could even shuttle to New Orleans for jambalaya."
Kathryn shakes her head. "I'm tired, Chakotay. Let's stay in San Francisco."
He presses his lips into a smile. "All right," he says, "The Cafe it is."
They bought the apartment shortly after Chakotay moved into the quarters Starfleet had assigned to Kathryn. Chakotay had hated every inch of that dull apartment, had talked Kathryn into buying something with more personality. Something, he argued, that would be uniquely theirs. Kathryn, her lips curving upwards, agreed. He believed then she too wanted something they had created together.
He imagined weekend trips to search for antiques. He hoped for afternoons painting the walls in bright colors, of snuggling on the sofa to examine fabric swatches. It was a life he had never been able to contemplate when he was living with Seven; with Kathryn, he longed for the possibilities. But they had never managed more than a few trips to Carmel and once to Mexico City. They had never poked around dusty shops, never exalted over a rare find. The walls of the apartment remained a creamy white, the serenity of the color interrupted by the occasional painting -- usually Renaissance era and always Kathryn's choice. The furniture had remained functional, a throwback reminder to the lines and edges of the Starfleet style that had always irked him. Every time Chakotay eyed the gray couch in the living room, he'd make a mental note to do something about it -- either replace it or decorate it with a throw blanket or pillows. But in the course of the five years they'd lived here, something always came up -- his schedule, her schedule. Until now, it had never bothered him; there had always been the promise of 'next weekend.'
The apartment was close enough to Headquarters so Kathryn could walk on those rare occasions she chose to. Usually though, she had the shuttle service pick her up at 0700 hours and then deposit her back at 2100. The hours were brutal and Chakotay worried about Kathryn. Of course she worked hard and in his opinion, had always worked too hard. He could see the shadows beneath her eyes, the forever-furrowed brow, the tightening of her lips. She didn't have to tell him just how much she hated being a 'desk jockey'; he could see for himself.
"Of course, you don't understand just how bad it is," Kathryn had said once. "You have your research, your students. For you, the circumstances are ideal, but for me..." her voice had trailed off as she had glanced at some spot beyond him.
"You could talk to me. I could try to understand." He had smiled. "I was Starfleet once, you know. The organization isn't a complete cipher to me."
She'd swatted his comment away, had pushed her chair back, the legs scratching loudly against the hardwood floors. "I've got work to do."
The Cafe isn't crowded when they arrive. It's spring break; the cadets have cleared out of San Francisco. Some have gone to Marseilles, a popular spot, others have gone to Rio de Janeiro, to Mars, anywhere they can go and come back in a week. It's been a long time since Chakotay has been off planet. Not that it bothers him; he much prefers the stability of terra firma than the gentle hum of deck plates beneath his feet.
"Are you ready?" Chakotay asks. He realizes it's an obvious question but he's desperate for conversation; it's been a long time since they have talked to each other -- *really* talked -- and tonight might be there last opportunity to do so. He can't imagine having deep conversations with Kathryn over subspace. Possible, he knows, and other people have done it for millennia, but this is different; *those* couples had mastered the art of communication. He and Kathryn ran out of words a long time ago. Chakotay's hands cover Kathryn's and he ignores the fact her skin is cold to the touch. She looks at him oddly.
"Yes, of course. As ready as I possibly can be. You know how hard it is to predict what might happen out in space." She smiles as the waitress puts a steaming bowl of tomato soup in front of her. "I've been mentally going over the pre-launch sequences and the crew rosters. It's a beautiful ship, Chakotay, but --" she winks "-- you know Voyager will always be my first love."
He had toured Kathryn's new ship -- the Brighton -- just once. Just after she'd gotten the commission, the go-ahead to take command once again. The visits to Engineering and the Bridge had been perfunctory at best. Kathryn had taken his hand, had practically pulled him into what would be her quarters. He'd fallen backwards on the bed, Kathryn above him, her eyes bright as she'd leaned towards him. He'd understood the expression on her face immediately, had understood that as she unbuckled his pants that she was thinking only one word. 'Mine.' Her intensity that afternoon had surprised him as she'd moved down his body, her lips pressing heat against skin.
Now Kathryn sips her soup. She presses her lips together delicately, blowing air across the spoon. He enjoys watching her, and in these final hours of their time together, he wants to memorize every detail. From the gold chain around her neck, the way her hair is soft against her cheekbones, the rise and fall of her chest beneath her maroon sweater.
There were times on Voyager when he'd study her like this and he'd look up to notice that she too was looking at him in the same way. At this particular moment though, her attention is completely on the bowl of soup in front of her. After a moment, Kathryn glances up, as if aware of his gaze. He smiles, but it's an effort to maintain the upward curve of his lips.
"You want some?" Kathryn pushes her bowl towards him. He shakes his head. Not really hungry. He thinks that there'll be plenty of time to eat later. Right now, he just wants to look at her.
Even though there's a ribbon of chill in the night air, they go for a walk in the Golden Gate Bridge Park. It never gets quite dark enough in San Francisco; the night sky is tinged a pink-orange and the stars are barely visible.
Kathryn holds his hand as they stroll in silence. He tries to convince himself that the quiet is a result of the way they fit together, the way they seem to instinctively know the other's thoughts, feelings. They know each other so well. He recalls long afternoons spent without conversation -- she hunched over her work at the kitchen table, he locked in his study writing and researching -- and at the time, it had seemed perfectly natural. Seven years on Voyager, five years of living together -- twelve years of knowing and loving each other. Until this night, the silence has never seemed so loud.
"I wish I was going with you," Chakotay says finally. It's a statement that's somewhat close to the truth. His research at Berkley is important, but not as important as Kathryn. He knows she doesn't understand that, doesn't see how that can be possible. To her, Starfleet defines the biggest part of her.
"You should leave your work at work," Chakotay had said once. He had been massaging her shoulders, feeling the tension in her muscles.
"It's not good for you. You're exhausted, stressed."
"I know how to take care of myself." Kathryn had sounded petulant in her anger. "And I need-- I need this."
He's given up trying to explain that he needs her too.
"We made a good team," Kathryn says fondly. She squeezes his hand. "But I couldn't ask you to give up your work for me. Not for three years. If it were a shorter assignment, perhaps. But you know as well as I do how complicated a relationship is to maintain on a starship."
"It's different this time, Kathryn."
"The concerns are the same."
"I wouldn't be your first officer."
"That doesn't make a difference. As captain, it would be difficult for me to maintain a personal relationship."
"That's the same excuse you used on Voyager, Kathryn," Chakotay says flatly.
"It's not an excuse but a statement of fact."
"Or maybe it's because when you're in command, there's no room for anything else." The words are out before he can stop himself.
Kathryn stops walking, stares at him. "What the hell are you talking about?"
He doesn't want to argue, not the night before she leaves. He thinks, like so many other things he's planned for them, this is yet another one that has gone astray. "Even on Voyager, you tended to turn away from the crew, choosing the comfort of control before that of the people who served you."
"That's not true."
"Isn't it?" He can't help snapping at her. "How many times --"
She holds up a hand. "If this is about the times you believe I ignored your counsel, I think we've gone over that territory enough. Don't you?"
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about you --" he jabs a finger in her direction "-- and me and the opportunities we've missed along the way."
"You think that? Even now?"
He can't help but notice the undercurrent of hurt in Kathryn's voice. In the fuzzy pink light of the San Francisco night, Kathryn Janeway looks painfully vulnerable. He hates himself for the bitter sense of satisfaction he feels.
"You should have asked me," he says quietly.
"I didn't think you would want to give up your research."
He scoffs at the remark. Kathryn's eyes narrow. "I can't believe," he says, "that you'd think I'd put the burial rituals of the Nomi before us."
"Why didn't you say this before?" Kathryn asks finally.
"You should have said something," Kathryn insists. He resumes walking. "Chakotay!"
He jams his hands into the pockets of his jacket, bends his head against the cold breeze coming off the Bay.
"Chakotay!" Kathryn is out of breath when she catches up to him.
"I shouldn't have had to say anything at all," he says evenly. His heart is pounding as he stares at Kathryn. Her lips are slightly parted in shock.
"I'll be home in three years. That's not a long time."
"Not to you, no." It occurs to him that perhaps she's been gone all this time.
"I didn't know you felt that way. I thought you supported me." Her voice is cold, icy almost.
"I do, I always have." Inadvertently, he reaches out to touch her cheek. "You know that, Kathryn. And I realize this is what you want." His tone is resigned and he hates himself for yielding to her.
Kathryn presses her lips together into a tight line. "You should have said something earlier."
He has to admit it's true undeniable; he should have said something earlier.
They stand there, facing each other. Across the Bay, the distant lights in Marin County blink on and off; he can't tell if it's because of the sudden cloudiness in his eyes or for another reason entirely.
He wants to ask her if she ever loved him. It's a question he's been wondering for years now. Sometimes, in a certain slant of light, he thinks she does. He tells himself that there's a look she reserves only for him -- a softening of the eyes, a gentle curve to the lips, a tilt of the head.
"It'll be nice to be in command again," Kathryn says conversationally as they walk up the stairs to their apartment. Silently and by mutual consent, the argument in the park has been forgotten. It's like so many other conversations they've had and Chakotay wonders what would happen if they actually finished an argument. He thinks now he'll never know. Resolutions, he realizes, are close to impossible when it comes to Kathryn. "And it's a scientific mission and it's been years, Chakotay." It's hard to miss the note of excitement in Kathryn's voice.
"Starfleet couldn't have picked a better person for the job." He means it sincerely.
"I knew it was perfect for me when I saw the initial specifications for the mission." She waits for him to unlock the door. He steps aside, lets her enter first. "I couldn't pass up the opportunity." She kicks off her shoes carelessly and heads, barefooted, into the kitchen to get a glass of water. "Do you want something?"
Chakotay shakes his head. "No, thanks." He shrugs off his jacket, hangs it in the closet. Kathryn is eyeing him.
"And of course, the crew is top-notch," she says enthusiastically.
"You picked them well." He yawns, perhaps more exaggerated than usual. "And I'm sure they'll appreciate your command-style." He forces a smile.
"Oh? And what style is that?"
"You know," he says casually, "firm, forceful, maternal--"
"Maternal?" Kathryn looks amused. She sits down on the couch, tucking her legs beneath her.
"And always in control," Chakotay finishes.
Kathryn lifts an eyebrow. "Always?"
Chakotay nods. He's surprised his voice cracks when he says, "You'd never have it any other way."
The first time he and Kathryn slept together, he'd felt warm throughout -- something he had never felt with Seven. Instinctively, he'd known everything about Kathryn, how to move, how to fit against her. It had seemed perfect then and long after Kathryn had fallen asleep, he'd stayed awake, wondering how he'd managed to finally get this happy ending -- the one he'd wanted all along. He had -- in that moment -- tried desperately not to think of Seven, of what he was doing to her. He had justified it to himself then, thinking that regulations had keep Kathryn and him apart all those years on Voyager. Now he wonders if those regulations were simply an excuse.
He lies in bed, his arm draped loosely over Kathryn. She's curled on her side, the thin material of her white nightgown inching up her thigh. The shadows dance across the wall and in his mind, Chakotay conjures up names, stories, for the interplay he sees; a wolf chases the moon, a boy named Solokak dances in the rain, a rabbit falls down a hole into a land of opposites. The lace curtains edging the picture window sway slightly; there's a draft somewhere and Chakotay, after a moment of consideration, rolls out of bed.
He walks down the hall, sees the suitcases by the door and turns into the kitchen. The window above the sink is ajar. He remembers Kathryn opening it earlier when they were cleaning up after lunch. The afternoon had been pleasant enough and she'd wanted the fresh air.
"You'll take care of my kitchen while I'm gone, won't you?" she had asked playfully. She'd taken a longing look around. The kitchen was completely -- and surprisingly -- Kathryn's domain. "I'm going to miss this. It's going to be hard going back to replicators."
He blinks. Kathryn stands on the metal strip separating beige carpet from white tile. One thin strap on her nightgown slides down her shoulder but Kathryn doesn't seem to notice.
"Hey," he says.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, just an open window," he says. "Why did you get up? You have a long day in the morning. You need your rest."
It's an awkward silence and Chakotay wonders if he's ever seen Kathryn's eyes this bright before, if he's ever noticed before how her upper lip quivers when she's trying to find the right words.
"I couldn't sleep," she says. "I was thinking. About what you said earlier."
Chakotay swallows. Hard. "Forget it. You're right. I should have mentioned my reservations about this mission earlier."
"And I should have asked."
Chakotay presses his lips together and leans back against the counter. "Then the mistake belongs to both of us equally," he says gently.
Kathryn shakes her head. Her hair is loose, a silky red-brown frame around her face. "I was talking about something else you said. About there not being room for anything else in my life when I'm in--"
"Command?" he asks. He crosses his arms against his chest.
Kathryn bites her lip. "Yes." She clears her throat. "Or at any other time, for that matter."
"I wasn't going to go that far."
"You have every right to."
He waits for her explanation.
Kathryn sighs, holds up her hands in surrender. "I'm not running away from you, Chakotay."
"I never said you were." He knows the truth is something less complicated, that she is running towards something. "I'm sorry if I ever gave that impression."
"I fully intend to be back in three years."
"I know you do."
"But you don't believe me," she says sadly.
"I want to." Chakotay thinks about all of the time they've spent locked in separate rooms. Together yet so much distance between them. He wonders how this could have happened to them. They did both want this, right? That all those years on Voyager spent eyeing each other were really a prelude to something more meaningful and lasting? Or maybe they just fell into this relationship because it was what was expected, not what was wanted. "I always thought before that it was Voyager which came between us, prevented us from really being together."
"I think you prefer your work to me," he says slowly. "To anyone, for that matter."
Kathryn shakes her head, closes her eyes. After a minute, she looks up again. "Maybe you're right," she says. "I can be selfish that way, Chakotay, but you already knew that about me. You knew what you were getting into."
"Yes," he says. "But I changed my expectations when we -- when I left Seven for you." He shifts his position; the edge of the counter juts uncomfortably into the small of his back. "It was wrong of me to think I could change you."
"You thought I needed changing?" Kathryn doesn't sound angry, merely amused.
"No." He looks at her. "Only that I wanted you to need me more and I thought you would since the circumstances were different."
"I've always needed you."
"Not the way I've needed you."
Kathryn leans against the wall, her arms crossed against her chest, mimicking Chakotay's body-language. "This mission, it has nothing to do with you or what we have together."
"I'm not even sure we have anything," Chakotay says. "Or that we ever did."
Kathryn winces. "That hurts, Chakotay. Five years later, this is what you really think? You'd really invalidate all of this--" she gestures with her arm, indicating the apartment "-- this life we've built together all because I chose to take a mission? I'm not sure I can accept that."
Chakotay shakes his head. "I'm not sure that I do either."
"So where does that leave us?" she asks quietly.
"Maybe we're going to need to think about starting over."
Kathryn's closes her eyes, presses her lips into a thin line. "I never thought I'd hear you say that."
"In three years, we won't be the same people."
"You're already giving up on us."
"No," Chakotay says. He resists the urge to step forward, to take her in his arms. Whatever else he feels, he knows that he loves the feeling -- the idea -- of Kathryn next to him. But he knows that she's not truly his, that he could never own her heart the way she has taken control of his. "We just need some time to figure out who we are, what we went." He tried to smile. "I am willing to give it a shot when you come home."
Kathryn considers his comment. "I missed you," she says finally. Her voice is low, laying emphasis on the last word. "I woke up because you weren't there and I -- I missed you."
Chakotay inhales sharply. Kathryn looks at him, almost pleadingly. Is it the dim light, he wonders, or his imagination?
He catches her hand, pulls her to him. She's soft, pliant in his arms, and he wonders now if he really can let her go. His skin tingles as she kisses him, her hands reaching to cup the back of his head. He runs his fingers through her hair, breathing in the fresh scent that is uniquely Kathryn's. She lets him undress her, the nightgown pooling in a puddle of white at her ankles. She doesn't protest when he pulls her to the floor, doesn't seem to mind the cold tiles beneath her. He takes his time, letting his fingers memorize her just as he was visually doing so earlier. Her breath is uneven, but he doesn't increase his pace. Morning, he thinks, will come soon enough.
The apartment is empty without Kathryn. The launch went well and the Starfleet officials are pleased. Kathryn promised to call at least once a day.
"But probably more," she had said with a smile. She'd gripped his hands tightly, leaning towards him. "You know how much I value your input."
"Yes," he had replied without irony. "I do."
He moves from room to room, his hand brushing lightly over the surfaces of the furniture. He'll need to dust later on, he thinks, but as he glances at the previous day's newspaper, he remembers he has an appointment in Berkley.
~ the end
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