By Eydie Munroe
Disclaimer: It's been 11 years, but somehow Paramount (and now CBS, apparently) still owns them. Since they don't want to seem to do anything with them anymore, I'm taking the Voyager crew out to play. But I promise to give them only cookies and milk, and to have them home by eleven.
Note: This story was heavily inspired by the story "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" by Mindy.
The Doctor released Kathryn a few hours later, telling her that she should use the rest of her shore leave time to rest and recover, and that under no circumstances was she to be conducting any business before then. He understood that there was a certain amount of trauma involved in giving up a child, even if it wasn't hers to start with, and he also knew that she would rather busy herself with work than actually deal with her emotions. Delara stayed for observation until the next day, just to make sure that she was truly healthy after being grown in a drug-protected environment and having been through a labour that they couldn't know the length of, but she too was soon released afterward to the delight of her parents.
After giving the baby over to Tom and B'Elanna, Kathryn broke down into a full ream of sorrow, burying her face in her hands as it consumed her. Chakotay sat with her on the bed and held her as she cried, whispering words of encouragement and love while keeping an eye out for anybody who might interrupt them. While he knew she wouldn't care in the moment, he also knew that she would be mortified afterward if somebody found her openly weeping. He was grateful that the Doctor had taken the new family to another room to give them some privacy, and he remembered to swing by Sickbay afterwards to thank him for his consideration.
After escorting her to her quarters, Chakotay put Kathryn to bed as soon as he got her there. Between the full day of hiking and play that they'd had before, Delara's birth, and then the all the consequent happenings afterward, she hadn't slept in more than twenty-four hours. She was out before he'd even finished tucking her in, completely oblivious to his presence. He sat with her for a little while afterwards, gently stroking her hair and consumed with feelings of his own. While he didn't feel it as acutely as she did, he also was feeling the loss. As they'd gotten closer, the idea of her being pregnant became comfortable and welcome, and then when she finally removed the wall between them, it made it all the more attaching. He thought back to the last time he'd thought he was a father, when Seska used his protective nature to lure them all into a trap. It had been a blow when he found out that the baby was actually Culluh's son; even if the boy had been conceived by deception, Chakotay still had felt an immediate need to protect him. Now, because Kathryn had carried her, he felt the same protective instinct toward Delara as well.
She awoke nearly fifteen hours later, feeling a little disoriented and completely worn out, so tired that she couldn't have gone back to work even if she'd wanted to. Her mind immediately went back through what had happened over the last two days, and she lay in bed for a while, reliving the experience and trying to wrap her head around it. Eventually she moved to get up, which felt like something completely different again now that the baby was gone. As she made her way into the living area, she started to acutely miss the feeling of kicking and turning, and was disappointed when instead of finding a robust baby when she laid a hand on her belly, she found just a jiggly mass of empty tissue with no personality.
Despite her tired state, Kathryn was unable and somewhat unwilling to sleep any more. So after retrieving a drink, she sat on the end of the couch, her knees pulled to her chest as she watched the planet turn below. In her hands, she unconsciously rolled her half-filled thermal mug, her thoughts still back in that forest. The door chime shook her back into the present, and she knew who it was before it even opened.
"Am I disturbing you?" he asked as he stepped inside, carrying a small object in his hand.
"Not at all." They just looked at each other, and she noticed that he was in uniform. She finally asked him, "Is there a problem, Commander?"
Chakotay shook his head. "No Captain. No problems." He moved in and sat down in front of her, resting his hand over the bare feet that peeked out from under her robe. "I just wanted to check in and see how you were doing."
Despite her best efforts, she let out a huge yawn that she hid behind the back of her hand. "I'm fine."
He smiled, remembering another conversation. "You'd say that if you just had your legs torn off by a traeken beast."
She remembered too, giving him a small smile in return. "Why are you in uniform?"
"It's only temporary," he told her. "Teekra had some questions about the new power unit we installed on the orbital station, so Nicoletti asked if I would go along with her for moral support."
"He must have been surprised to see you," she commented.
"He was," he said with a nod. "When I told him what happened yesterday, he was beyond excited." He chuckled at the memory of the world leader, practically giddy with delight as if it had been his own wife. Handing her what was in his hand, he added, "He wanted me to give you this…" The object turned out to be a flask, which looked like stone and was deceptively cool in her hand. Opening it and sniffing its contents, Kathryn smiled when she realized that it was mestleberry wine. "He also said that he can't wait to meet Delara." Just the mention of her name made Kathryn's expression drop. "Hey…"
She shook her head, wanting to close the subject before they could get into it again. Reaching for her mug, she took a long swallow from it, and saw him watching her carefully. "It's just hot water and lemon," she told him with that familiar wrinkle in her nose. "I seem to have developed a taste it."
"Don't worry," he laughed. "I'm sure your tolerance for coffee will come back before you know it." He reached around her knees for her hand, gently rubbing his thumb along her fingers. "I actually came to see if you might be interested in going back down to the lodge with me," he said. "We do still have it for another two days."
Kathryn looked at him long and hard as she considered it. After everything she'd been through lately, it certainly seemed like a good idea. And besides, she would still have to go back to collect her things anyway. "Okay," she said softly.
He smiled, a little relieved since he'd figured he was going to be in for a fight on it. "Just give me an hour – there's a couple things I need to get done before we go back." Getting onto his feet, he leaned down and kissed her before heading out the door.
Luckily the time zone that the lodge was in corresponded pretty closely with the ship's clock, so they didn't have to adjust their internal clocks too much. Kathryn was still so tired that it wouldn't have mattered much anyway. It was mid-morning when they arrived, but by early afternoon she was in need of a nap. So while she slept, Chakotay busied himself outside. After hiking back up to the meadow to retrieve his tricorder, he took a few snapshots of their surroundings and collected a few odds and ends that he wanted to help him remember this time they spent together.
She was awake when he returned, finding her curled up in one of the wide armchairs that sat in front of the fireplace, wrapped in a colour-blocked throw as she wrote on a padd. "I hope you're not working," he said as he closed the door, a slight frown on his face.
"No, not working," she confirmed with a sigh. "Journaling."
Now there was an answer that he had not expected in the least. "Journaling?" He braced one hand against the solid wood doorframe of the tent and pushed his shoes off with his toes before going over to her. "I thought that's what personal logs were for."
"They are. But after that day you found me handwriting my log in Maestro DaVinci's studio, I found that I really enjoy putting my personal thoughts down into words. The kind of stuff that I don't ever want Starfleet Command to see if something happened to us." She thumbed the padd off, leaning forward to put it down on the small coffee table. "What have you been up to?"
"Just collecting a few things," he said. One of the objects in his hand was an emerald green flower from the bush that had been growing in the snow, which he now handed to her as he sat down on the arm of her chair. "For you."
Her heart melted a little. "Oh…" The scent, though strong, was light. "Thank you," she said softly, offering her hand to him. Then she realized where he had gotten it from. "You went all the way back up there?"
He nodded. "I had to go back and get my tricorder. For all the good it's going to do us now."
She laughed. "Yeah, you're a little late to the boat on that one."
He purposely put a look of mock despair on his face, making her laugh even more. "That's a low blow, Kathryn."
"No more than a snowball." While he didn't have any snow, his hands were still freezing cold from being outside, so he took the opportunity to reach over and put his hands down the back collar of her sweater. "Stop that!" she laughed, squirming to get out from under him.
Chakotay chuckled. "Move over, Miss Janeway." She did as he asked, sliding over on the cushion to make room for him, and then when he settled in, covered him with half of the small blanket. "Thanks."
"Well we've got to warm those hands up somehow," she told him, a bit of naughtiness creeping into her voice. Before he could say anything, she kissed him.
Internally, Chakotay was more than relieved. He still hadn't been able to shake the fears he had that she might change her mind about things. It had been a shock when it didn't happen after the night he spent in her bed, so he had been waiting for the other shoe to drop after Delara's birth. When Kathryn pulled back, she could see exactly what was running through his mind. "No, Chakotay," she whispered as she ran her fingertips down over his tattoo, "I haven't changed my mind."
He grinned sheepishly, caught. But in all seriousness he said, "You still can, you know."
The corner of her mouth quirked up just a little, but she fully appreciated what he meant. "You know, a few months ago maybe I would have taken you up on that. But I really have learned that life is too short." She held his cheek in his hand. "It scares me, and I'm horribly afraid of being anything less than professional. But…" It took a minute to try and figure out how she wanted to say it. "But there's no one that I trust more than you."
Chakotay could feel the sting of tears in his eyes, but was able to fend them off before they could escape. "I'm glad to hear you say that," he quietly told her as he reached up and brushed her hair from her face. "After these last few weeks, I don't know if I could go back." He looked deep into her eyes, finding only honesty there, and pulled her into a fierce embrace. When he finally let her go, she gave him another small kiss before settling in against his chest, letting out a sigh of contentment when he pulled the blanket up over her shoulders to cover them both.
They sat there in silence for hours, just watching the logs crackle and pop in the fireplace until long after the sun had set outside. He thought Kathryn had fallen asleep again until she shifted her position a bit, sneaking her arm around the back of his waist. "Do you think they'll know?" she asked him, barely loud enough for him to hear.
His gaze was held by the fireplace, but he heard every word she said. "The crew? I doubt it." He started to stroke her hair. "Besides, most of them think we've been sleeping together for years." Then his hand stopped abruptly. "Why haven't we been doing that, anyway?"
"Because you're far too patient," she muttered, readjusting her head on his chest. After a while she admitted, "I guess I do keep my emotions locked down pretty tightly."
Now there's the understatement of the century, he thought to himself. "As a captain, it's part of the job." Even to him, the reasoning sounded hollow. "You can't exactly lose your composure when you're staring down the Borg queen."
She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I use it as a shield."
"Yes, you do." He rubbed his hand over her shoulder, telling her that it wasn't a criticism. "And I understand that it's not an easy thing to let go of." He thought back to his first weeks and months as Voyager's first officer. "But just like you can't let your feelings out, I had to learn how to rein mine in." Kathryn sat up and looked at him with a perplexed expression. "What I mean to say," he continued, "is that it's possible. It just takes some time, and a lot of effort."
A memory of her own flashed through her mind – the very first time he set foot on her bridge, shouting at Tom Paris with an anger that could have murdered the pilot by sight alone. Truth be told, she had forgotten all about that side of him, her selective memory only placing with her now as he was – the calm tower of strength she'd come to depend on. "Kathryn, the crew knows that you care about them, and they worry about you. They just want you to be happy, and to have friends and fun and love just like they do. You can't be afraid to let yourself get close to them."
She frowned. "I've gotten close to people."
He took her hands in his, rubbing his thumb over her fingers. "Not for a long time. In six years, I'm the only one that you have really been friends with. And even that had its limits." His voice turned even kinder when he said, "If it hadn't been for Delara, we wouldn't be here like this now."
It took a long time before she spoke again. "You're right. I've still be using guilt and protocol to keep myself from getting close to anybody. It made it easier than letting myself be devastated if something happened to one of them." When she said it, a series of faces flashed through her memory: her father, Justin, Mark, friends she lost at Wolf 359, and through Starfleet service in general. Her expression softened, and she looked down at their hands again when she said, "I guess I should have listened to you all along."
"Can I get that in writing?"
When she looked up, he was wearing that disarming grin that she loved so much. "Absolutely not," she told him. "There are some things I refuse to guarantee. But I will promise to try and open up a little more. To them … and to you."
The humour lifted from Chakotay's smile, leaving gentle admiration behind. "I have something for you," he said suddenly, throwing back the blanket and getting up.
She watched him move across the room, confused. "What is it?" He dug into the pocket of the new jacket he had replicated that morning, and pulled out a small box which he then brought over and put into her hands. Kathryn looked down at the carved wood on the hinged lid, which formed a delicate Alkirian pattern that vaguely resembled waves. "What's this?"
She tried to figure it out from his expression, but he wasn't giving anything away. So she lifted the lid, and found a beautiful gold chain coiled against the soft fabric inside, and when she pulled it out, a small blue-grey stone pendant tumbled out, twisting and turning and reflecting ever so slightly in the light. "Oh Chakotay…" she breathed. "It's lovely."
"The chain is from the market in the capital," he explained. "But the stone is a piece of the boulder that Delara was born on."
Her eyes moved from the pendant back to him. "It is?"
He nodded. "I thought that this way, when you wear it, you can always keep a little bit of that memory near your heart."
A tear ran down her cheek without her even noticing it. She laid a hand on his chest, the open neckline of his sweater cutting across her palm and letting her feel the warmth of his skin underneath it. He again covered it with his own hand, and watched as she gazed at him with amazement. "I love you," she eventually whispered with another tear. Caught speechless when he finally heard her say it, the only thing Chakotay could do was kiss her again, his brow furrowing with the emotional wave he now felt.
"Here…" he said when he finally found his voice again, reaching for the necklace. She turned around and pulled her hair aside so he could put it on her, and he lowered the chain down and fastened the clasp, kissing the back of her neck before letting it drop down onto her skin. It was long enough that the pendant came to rest just where her breasts met, nestling in over her heart as if she had been born with that spot waiting for it. Before she could turn back to face him, he pulled her back against him, laying gentle kisses along her neck. "I love you, Kathryn."