Disclaimer, notes, and warning can all be found in chapter 1.
A light mist of rain set the mood for the somber gathering. The Starfleet chaplain presiding over the ceremony didn't seem to notice the weather as he extolled the accomplishments of the highly decorated officer he'd never actually met but now had the honor of commemorating.
"And we commit this soul to the stars," he concluded solemnly, nodding to the guard of Starfleet officers to his right.
At the first sound of weapons fire, Chakotay jumped in spite of himself. He'd been so absorbed in his own thoughts, he'd literally forgotten where he was. A second round of loud cracks rent the air, followed swiftly by a third. The time honored tradition of a gun salute had been carried out, and the first sad notes of a bugler began to sound across the memorial service. He blinked, watching the seven officers stand stoically, holding their purely ceremonial weapons at crisp attention as the bugler's notes continued. He knew he should probably be feeling something more than the vague curiosity at how they managed to maintain such ancient weapons, but quite simply, he didn't want to be here. He wanted nothing to do with all this required pomp and circumstance that he found to be just short of a farce.
The weight leaning against his shoulder increased slightly, and Chakotay shifted the umbrella he was holding so he could put his arm around Kathryn's shoulders. Not that she'd ever admit to it, but he knew she was still feeling weakened from the events of the past several days. The events that had ultimately killed Victor Monaster and had almost killed her. As he looked at the memorial stone erected for Starfleet's "hero" captain, Chakotay could still feel very little pity for the man. Kathryn had said he'd been guilt-stricken in the end, but as far as Chakotay was concerned, that did nothing for the fact that he had tried to take Kathryn out with him.
And he'd come damn close to doing it, too. Chakotay had never felt so completely bereft as he had that moment in the turbolift when the Doctor had announced her heart had stopped. He'd been ready to lie down right beside her. His place was at her side, and if she was dead, then that was the only place he wanted to be, as well.
But he hadn't died. The familiar tingle of the transporter beam had enveloped all three of them and delivered them to sickbay. The Doctor and Tom had rushed into action, and within moments, they'd had Kathryn's heart beating again, but it hadn't been seamless. Twice more while they worked to heal her injuries the beating of her heart had faltered, setting off alarms and causing Chakotay to fear for his sanity. After the second time the alarms had been silenced, he'd sunk into the chair in the small office and buried his face in his hands. B'Elanna had found him that way and had simply laid her hand on his shoulder, offering the only support she could.
Eventually, the Doctor had come into the office, looking tired for a hologram, and announced that he'd done all he could and that the rest would be up to Kathryn herself. The phaser blasts to her chest and back had caused some nerve damage as well as severely dehydrating her body, which only served to exaggerate and intensify the allergic reaction she was already having to the stimulant in her system. Those factors coupled with the head injury had led the Doctor to proclaim it was a miracle she was even alive.
They'd turned the ship around and headed back for Earth, hoping all the while that she would wake up. But even after transporting her to Starfleet Medical, Kathryn had made Chakotay wait a full two days before regaining consciousness. When he finally did see her blue eyes blink open and gaze tiredly up at him from the biobed, Chakotay had sunk pitifully into the chair next to the bed, overcome with relief. She'd given his hand a light squeeze, setting his mind at peace that she'd defied the odds once again.
The musical strains of the bugle died out, and the people attending the memorial service began to disperse. Chakotay squeezed her shoulders lightly. "Are you ready to go?"
Kathryn hesitated, looking around at the people leaving. "I feel like I should say something to his family."
Chakotay studied her face, frowning. The make-up she had applied this morning did little to hide the dark circles under her eyes. "Are you really feeling up to that? They know you went through an ordeal as well. I'm sure they'll understand."
She looked as though she was about to agree when the decision was taken out of their hands as Victor's mother approached them. Kathryn stepped forward from under the umbrella to greet the woman, and Chakotay let his arm drop away from her.
The older woman's hand shook slightly as she took Kathryn's hands in hers. "How are you, dear? I heard you were injured in the accident."
"I'm fine," Kathryn answered.
Chakotay reflexively stiffened at her response. The official story was that the Cerberus had suffered a malfunction while on a test flight. The details released had been sparse, owing to the mission having been classified. The Monaster family was 'fleet through and through, easily accepting that Victor had been on a classified mission. There was no way to ask, but Chakotay wondered just how much of the truth they really knew. After all, they'd been around Starfleet as long as the Paris clan. Surely, they had their own inside sources of information.
Victor had died in the middle of an investigation into his conduct during war. With his death, the case had been summarily closed, and any wrongdoing on his part was quietly attributed to "fog of war". He'd been given a hero's memorial service. Starfleet maintained their picture-perfect officer, and the family maintained their honor. It was a win-win situation...almost.
Kathryn was the unsung casualty, but she had no desire to bring pain and suffering to his family by demanding the truth be told. And as for the ships that Victor destroyed in the heat of battle…that may or may not have been transporting refugees...well, there was no one around to vouch for their innocence or question whether they deserved justice. They had simply become casualties of the war.
The old woman finished speaking to Kathryn and patted her face before turning and walking away. Kathryn's shoulders slumped, and Chakotay stepped forward to stand at her side. The light mist had left her hair glistening with water droplets, and he resisted the urge to wipe them away. When she didn't speak, he asked, "Are you okay?"
"She thanked me," she answered quietly. "She said that Victor never really came home after the war. At least not the Victor she had known and raised. She said it was only after he started dating me that she finally started to see the real him again. She thanked me for bringing him home." Kathryn shook her head. "They had no idea how troubled he really was."
Chakotay exhaled and said quietly, "That doesn't excuse what he did, Kathryn."
"I know." She nodded and looked up at him. "I know, and I agree, but..."
He waited to see if she would finish her thought. "But what?"
"Did you know his entire bridge crew was dead before the end of the war?" Chakotay shook his head, but Kathryn hadn't really been waiting for an answer. "All the people I saw on that video were dead within weeks. The helmsman and the chief engineer in the very next battle." She swallowed thickly. "I can't imagine if I had lost my...I could've been just like him."
"No, Kathryn, you wouldn't have been like him," he stated firmly.
Kathryn scoffed, "You can't be sure-"
"You lost Stadi. You lost Cavit. You didn't turn to drinking and drugging yourself to try and forget."
"I didn't have time," she snorted and held up her hand to put off his immediate protest. "It's just...I thought I knew him," she ground out, clearly frustrated. "Now, I wonder if I ever knew the real Victor at all."
"You knew him. You knew him and understood him better than his family ever could. That was the one thing I never questioned about your relationship with him." She looked up quizzically at his admission, and Chakotay continued, "I could see the two of you had a connection and understood each other on a level not many people could understand. You'd both stood in an unenviable position and had to make life and death decisions for all those around you."
"You've had to make those decisions before too, Chakotay," she argued. "Does that mean you're a different person?"
"Yes," he replied simply. "And so are you. You aren't the same Kathryn I first met all those years ago, but it doesn't mean that I don't know you. It doesn't make you any less real to me. It doesn't make me love you any less."
She hooked her arm around his and leaned into him as they started to walk away from the marker. "So if the two of us are such different people than when we first met, does that mean I should introduce myself properly?"
Chakotay smiled. He knew she was purposefully changing the subject. He also knew they would talk again about Victor Monaster, but for today, Kathryn seemed ready to move on. He stopped on the path and stuck out his hand. "I'm Chakotay."
"Kathryn Janeway," she smirked, shaking his hand. "Do you have a last name or is it just Chakotay?"
"Chakotay, son of Kolopak usually gets shortened to just Chakotay," he explained, letting his dimples show.
"Chakotay it is, then." She nodded and they started walking again. "That just means our kids get to have the last name of Janeway."
"I just met you, and you're already planning our children?"
"Well, when I'm sure about something, I don't like to hesitate." She winked at him.
He smiled openly. "Since you already have our children planned, you must be feeling pretty confident about our relationship."
"I am," she replied. "The most sure I've been in a long while."
Chakotay heard the hint of sadness that crept into her voice at the admission. This time, he'd make sure she went and spoke to a counselor. More than once. But for now, he'd been enjoying hearing about their hypothetical children. He squeezed her arm with his. "Does this mean we have to tell our children that we met in a cemetery?"
"No, of course not." Kathryn gave him the half smile he would never tire of seeing. "We'll tell them a fantastic story about two star crossed lovers that started out as enemies but then became something more."
Chakotay kissed the top of her head. "Think they'll believe us?"
"Not in a million years."
Thank you everyone for reading! The feedback I've received has been wonderful and very much appreciated.
Thank you QS for not only giving me the idea but for betaing your own present!