Beth6787

August 2018

The Seven Year Itch

Seven pivotal dates with Seven which open Chakotay's eyes...

Present day...

It was raining again. Pouring in fact. After only six weeks back on Earth he was already homesick. For his real home, Voyager and ... He mentally tried to refocus on the here and now, needing to ground himself : in all senses of that phrase.

He had left his apartment half an hour ago, when the dark clouds were gathering but the storm had yet to break. He had been single-mindedly determined to march across the parkland separating his assigned quarters from hers, ring her doorbell and break his self imposed exile. Somehow he found himself here, sitting on a rickety bench almost obscured from view by the overhanging oak branches : soaked through and despondent.

The memories of the last three months crowded in on him as his resolve dissolved away with the onslaught of a late September San Franciscan evening. In hindsight - that most cruel of life's companions - he wondered what had possessed him to ever think 'they' could work.

There were so many red flags that he must have subconsciously refused to see, so determined had he been to reciprocate the one advance made towards him by a female crew member in the last five years. Since their return from New Earth it had just been accepted as an unwritten law that Commander Chakotay was no more available for that sort of fraternisation than their Captain was. So Kathryn Janeway had created 'Michael Sullivan' and he had had various recreational sessions on the holodeck running a selection of programs - when even a vigorous workout using his boxing simulation was ...insufficient. Heavens, he was even staring to think in her terminology!

He remembered Seven tentatively asking him to accompany her to Harry's thirtieth birthday party. At the time he had just assumed that she was finally attempting to socialise with the senior staff beyond her usual adherence to either the Captain, Doctor, or Icheb for companions. So he had agreed to be her 'date', it was only later, as the evening wore on and she made no attempt to leave his side and circulate, that he realised she regarded their outing as an actual date. Flattered, he had on impulse decided to return the gesture and invite her for a stroll on the holodeck in his woodland scenario. In retrospect he should have shut things down after that. But at the time his ego was still smarting after Quarra and him...

—-

Three months earlier...

Stardate 6097.1 Date 1 - 'mushroom soup' .

Chakotay had a final look around. Everything was perfect. Dappled light played through the canopy but it was damp and cool at ground level and the mushrooms were just ready for picking. There were a variety of edible species, each with their own distinctive flavours which should pique Seven's interest in both botany and ecology, plus broaden her palette. There was only so long that she could continue to select from the Doctor's well meant list of 'nutritional supplements'. It was time for her to start to awaken her human senses and where better than here?

The program was designed so that the participants meandered through a narrow winding footpath which slowly descended towards a riverbank. Once you passed the last of the trees there was a small clearing on which he had set up a fire ready to be lit and a cook pot suspended over it on an iron frame. Using the mushrooms they had gathered he would show her how to prepare his favourite soup and they would finish the date by enjoying their home cooked meal together.

Making his way back towards the holodeck doors he waited just inside for Seven's arrival. Sure enough, at 1900 hours precisely, the holodeck doors slid open and Sevenmarched through. She was still wearing her blue body suit and high heeled blue boots and he mentally cursed himself for not advising her to change. He had kept the program a surprise but now realised she needed the brown body suit and a pair of sensible walking shoes if she was to remain camouflaged enough to spot the wildlife he had programmed in or manage the path without stumbling over the raised tree roots littering their way.

"Hello Seven, thank you for joining me tonight. I hope you are going to enjoy my plans for the evening, though I should have warned you that you need to replicate something brown to wear and a pair of comfortable walking shoes." Pointing along the pathway ahead he elaborated. "We are going mushroom picking, followed by preparing our own supper over a camp fire using what we manage to gather together."

He had felt immediately deflated on seeing the less than enthusiastic expression on Seven's face. "Commander..."

"Chakotay, please. It's customary to dispense with our ranks as we cross the holodeck threshold."

She regarded him coolly for a moment before replying "The matter is easily resolved. I will simply adjust the holodeck parameters to comply with my attire."

Before he had a chance to object, Seven had reprogrammed the 'wildlife' to be unafraid of humanoids, thus presenting themselves for observation at the pre-programmed time within the simulation and negating the need for camouflage. She then submerged the tree roots to flatten and widen their path. Satisfied, she turned to him. "Let us proceed."

Chakotay bit his tongue and reluctantly led the way. It was going to be a very long evening ahead !

—-

Present day ...

He was brought back to the present by a large grey squirrel jumping onto the branch above his head and sending a cascade of water straight down the back of his neck and under his collar soaking his jumper underneath. He really should move, but then again, the storm had gathered intensity and the tree at least afforded a little shelter from the wind and driving rain.

—-

His mind wandered back and he remembered fragments of the rest of that first date. Seven's total lack of interest in the colour, flavour and texture of the different varieties of mushrooms he was gathering into the wicker basket. Every time he picked one and handed it to her, beginning to explain, she activated her tricorder to analyse it's biochemical constituents. She then compared her findings to the memorised list of nutritional supplement components the Doctor had prescribed for her. If the mushroom was an 'acceptable fit' it went back into the basket. If not, it was 'insufficient' and cast aside.

He smiled wryly to himself as he watched their interaction back, a third party observer in his own mind. He could clearly imagine the expressions on his face as he recalled how he had felt. At the time he had made allowances : far too many. She was only just re-discovering her humanity; she was unfamiliar with social interactions; empathy for her companion - namely him - would come in time etc. etc. The one scenario he had refused to contemplate was that she was plain bored. His idea of fun was not hers.

Running the date forward in his mind, he recalled their arrival at the makeshift camp he had created. He had insisted that Seven sit beside the fire whilst he prepared the food. Trying to engage her, he showed her how to cut and peel the mushrooms and gave her a choice of spices to add to the broth he was preparing. He did manage to get her to humour him by desisting from analysing his recipe with her tricorder. Realising he would be preparing the food alone he had become engrossed with his task only to eventually look up and find Seven had linked her tricorder to her Astrometrics terminal where she was busy remotely working. She claimed that she was merely making an efficient use of her time whilst he was engaged in preparing their meal.

Perhaps recalling one of the Doctor's social lessons, she duly ate her soup and thanked him for his company. Adding as an afterthought that the mushroom soup was an 'interesting' addition to her menu. After they had eaten they retraced their path through the woods - at which point Chakotay had programmed woodpeckers, songbirds, squirrels and field mice to briefly appear if they remained still and quiet. Of course, with Seven's improvements to his program, they now came and stood in front of them on the pathway as bold as brass remaining inert whilst Seven examined them before dematerialising. Hardly the authentic nature trail he had had in mind...

He could laugh at himself now, but at the time he had put it down to 'teething problems' and invited Seven for a second date three nights later. Goodness knows why she had accepted, probably curiosity at just how much more irrational her commanding officer could become when off duty! At the time he thought he had the perfect idea. After all, the Captain was her mentor and this was something Kathryn loved to do...

—-

Stardate 6098.4 - Date 2 - Sailing.

This time he had pre-notified Seven as to what to wear. Something warm, lightweight and waterproof with trainers for her feet. He had been waiting just inside the holodeck doors, as before, but had to contain his mirth when she stepped through. Evidently she had consulted the Doctor who had designed her attire. She looked like the 'Michelin Man' from Tom Paris's advertisement boards in his Grease Monkey program from 1950s Earth. Seven was dressed in a fluorescent yellow, all - in - one, latex body suit which had obviously been inflated. Presumably for buoyancy should they capsize.

Seven had informed him that the gas was, in fact, helium for maximum buoyancy. He just about managed to stop himself making a quip about it maybe leaking being the cause of his suppressed laughter. Seven was oblivious and continued to explain the design very logically. " These valves at chest level allow me to adjust the gas pressure to increase or decrease the buoyancy as required. The suit is fitted with air conditioning to allow my skin to breath and to maintain the optimal temperature for my implants to function at maximum efficiency throughout the simulation. The backpack contains nutrient supplies and drinking water as well as a basic medkit. The helmet has inbuilt sensors so that the Doctor can monitor my vital signs whilst on the water. I am ready to proceed."

He had looked dubiously at the small canoe he had designed for this program. The river had been programmed to be slow moving and fairly shallow with no rapids to navigate. It was simply a matter of rowing themselves down river for half an hour or so before emerging onto the tranquil lake where they would row across to the island for lunch. There was no way that Seven would fit into the canoe without deflating her body suit first.

After several minutes discussion he had resigned himself to Seven's compromise. She would partially deflate the suit as long as he increased the size of the canoe and reduced the depth of the river. This had resulted in his attempting to 'row' in a depth of less than half a meter. This proving impossible, Seven had 'thoughtfully' added an impulse drive unit to propel them along. Not quite the romantic activity that he had envisaged !

The date had ended in disaster when Seven had torn the leg of her waterproof suit on disembarking and the salt water had breached her body suit underneath. This had played havoc with her cybernetic Borg implants and the Doctor had had to initiate an emergency beam out to sickbay. By the time he had raced down there after her, the Doctor had performed his magic and all was well. At least as far as Seven was concerned.

He had felt completely disheartened, but surprisingly, it had been the Doctor who had suggested their next date should embrace an activity in which they would have a common interest. The Doctor had then reminded him that Seven's artistic talents were developing very well. Having told him about Seven's art classes for the Borg children and their impressive resulting sculptures : he had the prefect idea. This time nothing would go wrong.

Stardate 6098.6. - Date 3 - craft class.

Three dates in less than ten days. At least Seven's continued participation must mean she enjoyed his company on some level, he had persuaded himself. Their earlier disasters had been his fault. He should have done more research into what activities Seven would enjoy. He wouldn't have dreamt of asking the Captain but perhaps he should have consulted the Doctor to begin with. If he was honest with himself - it had occurred to him - but he had been afraid that the Doctor would not be able to resist gossiping to Tom Paris during his shifts in sickbay. The last thing he needed was for the rumour mill to go into overdrive and word of...what exactly? ...to get back to the Captain's ears. He was acutely aware that, although Seven was technically a civilian, she was still a member of the senior staff and under his direct command. Which meant that his developing a relationship with her, if that eventually transpired, would be problematic. He was the First Officer and de facto Deputy Captain, meaning that there was the possibility of his being in the same predicament at Kathryn Janeway should the unthinkable ever become reality.

He mentally shook himself. He was getting way ahead of himself. So far they had had two far from successful 'dates'. Just focus on making tonight a social success he rebuked himself for the umpteenth time.

Smiling, he looked around at the finished scenario. He had kept it simple. No need for Seven to wear anything out of the ordinary. He had set up a little workshop, not unlike the one in Kathryn's 'da Vinci' scenario : only simpler. They would be wood carving.

He had created a range of logs of different types of wood and different circumferences. There was an extensive array of tools and plenty of bench space for both of them. A viewscreen had been set up at one end of the bench so Seven could pull up images of anything she wanted to re-create and he had already made a few small carvings that were sitting around the room which he hoped would provide inspiration. There were a selection of practical items such as spoons; plates and bowls as well as carvings of birds and small mammals. And he was working on a gift for Seven which he hoped would make Cargo Bay 2 just a little more homely for her.

1900 hours on the dot and Seven duly appeared. She seemed a little apprehensive until she registered their environment. As he explained his idea for this evening, she tentatively smiled. At last, a breakthrough.

Actually the date had progressed well. Seven had shown an interest in the different textures, densities and flexibilities of the various woods and was already familiar with how to use the various tools he had supplied. She had decided on working with pine. It being a soft wood that was ideal for beginners. Seven had played along with his suggestion that they work independently at opposite ends of the workshop out of the direct line of sight of the other. He had explained that she would feel more confident without his constant oversight but if she wanted any help all she need do was ask. The truth was that he wanted to surprise her with his gift at the end of the session. He had made a similar one for Kathryn many years ago and he could still recall her genuine joy when he revealed it.

Two hours later and Seven called out to him that she had finished. He was just polishing his gift to her and hastily covered it with a large sheet before going over to see what she had created. Forcing his face into an enthusiastic mask, he asked her what it was for. She had proudly told him that they were short of storage racks for Neelix's vegetable acquisitions in Cargo Bay 2 and these would resolve the problem. She had indeed manufactured, to Starfleet's exact specifications, exact replicas of the steel storage racks that filled two thirds of the cargo bay. The only difference were that these were made from pinewood. Not wanting to discourage her, he praised her attention to detail and efficiency in coming up with the idea to alleviate Neelix's ongoing storage woes.

Never mind, she was bound to be impressed with his gift and maybe it would help her get the idea to use her imagination. Summoning her over he invited her to unveil her gift. Raising an eyebrow in that distinctly Vulcan manner she must have picked up from Tuvok, she complied. He waited for what seemed an age as she scrutinised his offering. Eventually she turned to him and asked "It appears to be a stand with a platform at a most bizarre angle of twenty degrees off vertical. What is it's function?"

What Seven had unveiled was a beautiful carved book stand. The stand was 1.6 meters tall so that it would be the perfect height when Seven was standing in front of it. The stand itself was carved with a variety of animals and plants found on Earth's North American continent and the platform to rest the book on showed an intricate pattern of the constellations seen from San Fransisco when looking up at the night sky.

Seven had thanked him for the thought but explained that she did not read from paper based books. She would simply download any information she required directly from Voyager's database into her alcove or onto her work terminal display units. Seeing his disappointment she had attempted to soften the blow. Perhaps he could adapt it to improve it's functionality? Perhaps replace the book holder with a horizontal platform that could be used as a desk. She could then stack any PADDs that she was working on beside her terminal in the Cargo Bay. That way it would be within the vicinity of her new shelving units and enhance the overall efficiency of the increasingly cramped storage space.

So their third date had resulted in his having assisted Seven with installing the new shelving units and, as yet, useless bookstand opposite her regeneration alcove.

Sadly this was the date that hurt the most : yet Seven, he knew, regarded it as a success. She had actually told him how relieved she was that they were now on the same wavelength! To celebrate she asked to be allowed to plan their fourth date. Without demoralising her and undoing all that he had been trying to achieve he had no choice but to play along.

Present day...

Pulling himself out of his nostalgia he could no longer ignore the pain in his hands or how stiff his knees felt. Sitting here getting damper by the minute was doing him no good. He pulled himself up and felt the now familiar ache in his shoulders and hips. Reminding him that he was now over half a century old with every laboured step. As he started to walk along the tree line in the general direction of home - there was no way he could visit their former Captain without going home and changing first - his mind drifted back to his fourth date with Seven...

—-

Stardate 6104.5. Date 4 - Parisees Squares.

This time it was Seven who would be at the holodeck first. She had informed him that he needed to wear something practical for a sporting activity but had refused to elaborate further. Apparently she had assumed from his behaviour that it was standard practice that all dating scenarios were a 'surprise' for one of the participants - stupid man Chakotay!

Feeling more than a little apprehensive, he had decided on wearing the shorts and t- shirt he used for his boxing program. It was simple, cool and comfortable. Presumably Seven would provide any specialist equipment needed for the specific activity she had organised.

On entering the holodeck he was mortified to see that Seven had invited most of the senior staff to join them. Apparently they were going to be playing Parisees Squares, level 6 difficulty. Level 6! That was only one below the highest skill setting. Admittedly he had achieved level 6 - once. The last season he had played at the Academy when he was only twenty years old. Almost three decades ago!. Apparently Captain Janeway, Tom Paris, Tuvok and B'Elanna were fine with it. How could he, as First Officer, admit that he needed the setting reduced to level 4 at most? If he did that, apart from the ensuing embarrassment, Commander Tuvok would insist on scheduling an intensive physical training program to get his fitness levels back to within acceptable parameters.

To make matters worse, Seven had split them into two teams. Herself, Kathryn and B'Elanna on one and Tuvok, Tom and himself the other. He and Seven were to be the forward strikers for their respective teams.

Mentally skipping forward through three rounds of ever increasing humiliation, he recalled the match having to be suspended when Seven had tackled him a little too vigorously.

He had just made his first serious tempt at a goal and she had tackled him to the floor, breaking three of his ribs in the process. He had had to be transported directly to sickbay for the Doctor to repair the damage. He had then endured the Doctor chastising Seven for not making allowances for his advancing years and inevitable loss of physical stamina and speed of reflexes due to the natural ageing process. Compounding his sense of failure, the Doctor had then tried to mollify him by informing him that, for a man of fifty one years, he was still in the top ten percentile of overall fitness. Not much consolation when being compared unfavourably to a woman twenty two years younger!

The final insult had been his attempting to make a joke of his performance to Kathryn the following day in her Ready Room. She had looked blank and asked him to elaborate. He could still remember wanting to dematerialise never to re-appear when she had started laughing!

None of the senior staff had been on the holodeck with them. Seven had re-created holographic friends to attempt to make him feel more at ease. Had he been paying more attention he would have realised that the B'Elanna knocking him senseless yesterday had not been heavily pregnant! Fortunately Kathryn had not had an inkling that the whole fiasco had been a dating scenario. She had just assumed that Seven was at long last trying to make friends with the wider senior staff and had decided to only interact with one 'real' individual at a time. There was no way he would have humiliated himself any further by enlightening her. ...

Present day...

Suddenly feeling hot from the neck up as the remembered embarrassment resurfaced, he pulled his wet scarf around his neck and bent forward, attempting to keep the driving rain out of his eyes. As he turned the corner of the path he saw his route home was blocked by a fallen birch tree making the path ahead impassable. He would have to double back and cut across the grass. It was already under several inches of water but he was soaked through so soggy shoes and socks would make little difference now.

Sighing he started to double back and found his mind recalling 'date five'. If he could really call it that. It was - in hindsight - the Doctor's attempt to assist their romance. A week after the Parisees Squares fiasco, the Doctor had invited him and Seven to dinner with his holographic family. Having heard all about B'Elanna and Kes's visit a few years before and their Chief Engineers 'improvements' he was far from keen but the Doctor had assured him that the program had been restored to his original specifications and that his family was the epitome of charm and social graces. Just what was needed for a nice relaxing evening's socialisation with Seven. It would be entirely uneventful. They would just sit and have dinner with his holo-wife Charlene and himself.

Well yes, it had been uneventful when compared to their previous excursions, but in all the wrong ways...

Stardate 6105.9 - Date 5 - Dinner with the Doctor

For once, he had convinced Seven that they should arrive at the holodeck together. Not wanting to be seen walking Voyager's corridors together in fancy evening wear, they had arranged that Seven would get ready in the Cargo Bay once Icheb had left for his night shift in Astrometrics and Chakotay would change into his dinner suit in his quarters. Once Seven was ready she would contact him and he would transport her directly to his living area. They would then initiate another site-to-site transport to Holodeck 2.

The only two people aboard who he was sure could mask the transporter signals completely were Kathryn and B'Elanna but, as there was no way he was going to disclose tonight's activity to either of them, he just hoped that he was up to the job. Seven said she understood the need for decorum (he had used Kathryn's old argument about senior staff fraternisation restrictions) and would check over his encryption files to ensure they fooled Ensign Kim and Commander Tuvok.

So here they were, he in a royal blue tuxedo and Seven in a floor length, midnight blue, silk evening gown. They certainly looked the part. As they materialised they were met by a blonde lady in a sugar pink cocktail dress holding a tray of sparkling white wine and savoury nibbles. Straight out of the Stepford Wives program that Tom Paris had created to 'unwind' after a bust up with his very un-Stepford real life spouse! Apparently she was even called Charlene. No wonder B'Elanna had seen red when first introduced to the Doctor's perfect family.

Suppressing his amusement - and interested to see how Seven would react - he thanked her for the drink and meandered over to the french doors to investigate the Doc's taste in holographic interior design. The Doctor had latched straight onto Seven and was proudly showing her his extensive collection of clinical awards and his holo-childrens' academic and sporting achievements.

Being left at a loose end he tried to engage ' Charlene' in conversation. "So Mrs..?"

"Oh please, just call me Charlene. No need for formalities. May I address you as Chakotay?"

"That is my name. So, how did you and er..."

She looks momentarily confused "Kenneth. Don't you know my husband's name?"

Having to improvise quickly he told her that they always addressed him as Doctor as a mark of respect for his rank as CMO.

"Oh, of course. And how modest of Kenneth not to insist on Professor. It must be a great honour for you to be invited to his home."

Before he could think of a tactful enough reply the Doctor rushed over and chivvied Charlene away to the kitchen. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed at his self-aggrandisement. However it was not to last.

"Kenneth, I must congratulate you on your impeccably mannered family. No wonder they look up to you. I am sure that when we eventually reach Earth you will be handed a Professorial Chair with immediate effect. I am curious, did you achieve all this by yourself?"

Was he hearing correctly? Seven was actually playing along with this? Perhaps she was being sarcastic ...but then again, would Seven have that level of social awareness already?. He doubted it. Seven tended to state bluntly her thoughts without consideration of how they would be received. No, she must genuinely be impressed.

Soon they were sitting down whilst daughter Belle was playing server for the evening. Dressed up in a little black and white maid's uniform no less. As the evening progressed he was subjected to a monologue about the Doctor's achievements so far and aspirations for enhancing his family. Seven seemed nothing but impressed by it all. Initially he had tried to join in, only to concede defeat as Seven insisted in discussing the programming matrices in great detail.

Eventually 2300 hours arrived and he thanked their hosts explaining that they must, regrettably bring the night to a close as they were both on duty at 0700 hours the following morning.

Having arranged a direct beam out to the Cargo Bay, he and Seven materialised immediately in front of her alcove. About to say goodnight and eager to get back to his quarters he was suprised when Seven suggested a nightcap. Not wanting to appear rude he accepted her offer of a drink and sat on one of the upturned cargo crates that Icheb used as a chair. Seven suprised him by pulling up a second one opposite him and sitting down.

After a couple of sips of her tea she looked nervously at him.

"Commander...Chakotay...what did you think of the Doctor's family?"

Not sure where this was leading he decided to tread carefully. "I think they are a perfect fit for him. Don't you?"

"Perfect..?...Yes, I suppose they are. Perhaps he is right...it is the only viable long term solution ...for me too."

Now he was really confused. "Sorry Seven, I'm not following."

She sighed and looked directly at him though she seemed to be to be focussing right through him to the bulkhead beyond. "Perfection. I have always sought to attain it. Though I can only aspire to approximate it, the Doctor has come further than me. No wonder he created Charlene. She is the personification of the perfect partner."

He could think of a lot of words to describe Charlene : an empty shell programmed to massage the Doctor's ridiculous ego; vacuous; boring; inane. In fact he was struggling to think of any term that was vaguely flattering. She was about as far from 'perfect' as it was possible to get.

Wanting to draw Seven out he ventured "What makes you think that Seven?"

Seven put her cup down and stood, then started pacing as she had obviously seen Kathryn do when struggling with how to vocalise her thoughts. "She always knows just what to say and do to make him happy. She is programmed so that she never makes an error. He will never be disappointed in her...like he has been in me. Like you are...with me."

Poor Seven. Had he really been such a jerk as the Doctor? Conveying disappointment when Seven did not instantly share his thoughts and feelings? He only had to think about their previous dates to know the answer to that! Standing, he walked over to her and took her arm.

"Seven, she's not real. She can't truly think or - more importantly - feel at all. She serves only to flatter our Doc's very fragile ego. She does not love him nor would she grieve if his program was ever lost. She's about as far from perfect as it is possible to be."

"Nevertheless, he is happier with her than with me."

So. Unless he was being incredibly stupid, Seven was telling him that she had romantic feelings towards the Doctor but he did not reciprocate. Or he found her lacking in some way and had replaced her with...Charlene! So why had she pursued him?

"Seven, feeling the way you do, why did you ask me to accompany you to Harry's birthday party and then join me for all these subsequent dates?"

"Because I am imperfect and becoming more so. As my human physiology re-asserts itself so I become more human. I need to learn to interact with humans. To form human friendships, relationships...you too are alone. You too are unwanted because of you are imperfect...insufficient. The Doctor had Charlene, the Captain has Michael Sullivan and we have no one..."

Much as he wanted to comfort Seven her words cut him like a knife. Was she right? She had spent more time off duty with Kathryn Janeway than anyone else for the last couple of years at least. Far more than he had. Kathryn's choice. Is that what was going on? He and Seven were not good enough !

Needing time to think he had come up with some empty platitudes to attempt to comfort her and made his escape.

Two days later Admiral Janeway had materialised from the future and all hell had broken loose. Nine days later they were in Earth orbit preparing to disembark. He had not had a chance to do anything other than work or sleep in the interim but tonight would be their last - perhaps for ever - on board Voyager.

It was whilst still smarting from those thoughts that he had invited Seven to join him for the official pre- disembarkation party. He fully intended that they would not spend it alone. Perfect they were not : but neither were the two people they had both foolishly loved from afar. Let the Captain have Michael and the Doctor, Charlene. He would prove to Seven there were far better goals in life than perfection...

Present day...

Forcing one foot in front of the other he dragged himself across the waterlogged lawn. He was sinking at least two centimetres with every step and was struggling to keep his shoes on as the suction from the muddy ground pulled against the Velcro fastenings on his, normally comfy, loafers. This was ridiculous. He would make far quicker progress if he admitted defeat and took his shoes and socks off and wadded barefoot.

Once he'd dragged the offending items off his feet he had had one look at them and decided they were beyond salvation. Five long, tiring and very soggy minutes later, he reached the gravel path on the near side to his apartment. Spotting the trash can he dumped the soggy and split shoes straight in along with his threadbare socks. Rolling his trousers up to just below the knee he considered his options. He could walk along the stony gravel path, but the surface was composed of jagged pieces of tiny flint, designed to prevent a smooth icy surface from forming come winter time. It was by far the shortest route home, albeit a painful one. Otherwise he could follow the edge of the waterlogged grass up to the wooden footbridge about a mile past his apartment and double back. It would add half an hour to his journey home but at least he wouldn't need medical attention as soon as he got through the door. Oh how he wished he had worn his commbadge and could have called Security for a beam out right now. Then again, he had not wanted to advertise his whereabouts to HQ Ops whilst attempting to visit Kathryn and he did not really relish explaining his current predicament to whichever cocky young Ensign was assigned to the Transporter in his building's foyer tonight.

No. There was nothing for it but the detour and a discreet break-in via the fire escape. He just hoped his Maquis tactics were still sharp enough to beat the latest surveillance technology.

Wiping his eyes he took off his scarf, wrung it out, then wrapped it around his head making a crude bandana. That should at least keep the water from running running straight off his hair and into his eyes until he got back. As he started the long trudge back his mind returned to its reminiscing...

—-

Stardate 6109.6 - Date 6 - Final night on Voyager.

By the time he and Seven walked through the Mess Hall doors the place was heaving. Pretty much everyone was here, bar a small skeleton crew to keep essential services operational. Not that much was needed in that sense. They were in geostationary orbit directly over Starfleet HQ with two escort vessels of the Defiant Class. If the Borg were up to pulling any last minute suprises they would find themselves outgunned for once.

Only Tuvok had been granted special dispensation to disembark early due to his 'medical condition' on which the Captain had refused to elaborate. He had been discretely beamed out by the Captain herself a couple of hours ago. Presumably to Starfleet Medical to begin his treatment.

He was wearing his standard uniform and Seven had opted for her old maroon bodysuit. Most appeared to be wearing casual civilian clothes barring the senior staff who were all in uniform except B'Elanna. Having only given birth two days ago it was understandable that she had chosen comfort over formality. The only person noticeably absent was the Captain herself. Perhaps she was still tied up with formalities to do with Tuvok's disembarkation. He didn't know and was frankly struggling to care. Ever since the Admiral's appearance he had been sidelined. Surplus to requirements. Obsolete. Well not any more. Tonight his focus would be firmly on his date : Seven.

As if she read his mind, Seven excused herself from her conversation with Harry and returned to his side. Smiling up at him she began to say something when the room fell suddenly silent. The Captain had entered through the rear kitchen door and slipped round to the podium before anyone had registered her presence.

Clipping her handwritten notes to the lecture she looked up and smiled as her crew gathered around. What had followed had been a touching speech. She had said all the expected things: thanked the crew for their faith in her over the years; paid tribute to Tuvok then all those who had passed away over their long journey home; praised her senior crew; recounted some of the highlights and main challenges of their journey. And then she had done something he had not expected. She had paid tribute to him. Not to the reformed former Maquis Captain or the dutiful First Officer of the U.S.S. Voyager. But to him. Chakotay. Her best friend.

He had run the full gamut of emotions from pain to hope and back. Part of him was overjoyed to hear her acknowledge his personal worth to her and another was angry. Was she manipulating him yet again? Was she making a play to reclaim him now that it was convenient for her to do so. They were home. Her mission was accomplished and where was he? By her side? No. He was by her side - Seven's.

Looking at Seven he could see that similar thoughts were crossing her mind. Would he now disown her and reclaim the prize he had craved for the last seven long years? No he would not!

So he had gotten up to give his return address. He likewise went through the motions of thanking everyone yadda ...yadda ...lastly extending that thanks to his Captain and friend.

Then he had paid tribute to Seven. How ultimately her unique contribution to Voyager and insights on the Borg had allowed them to survive intact for the Admiral to come and lead them home. How she had thrived under the tutelage of both the Captain and Doctor and how honoured he was that she had chosen to spend her spare time with him over the last few weeks.

There had been enthusiastic applause from most of the crew and a good few glasses raised in Seven's direction. He saw the Doctor beaming at her and Harry patted her on the back and whispered something quietly in her ear. At that point she looked straight at him and smiled. Really smiled with her eyes for the first time he could remember. Only Kathryn had looked ...vacant. As if she was only there in body but her mind had detached itself. After raising his own glass towards Seven he had turned to include the Captain but she was nowhere in sight.

As the evening drew to a close and the crew started to depart back to their quarters for their final night on board, he took Seven to one side and invited her to spend the night with him rather than return to the Cargo Bay. She had momentarily hesitated then agreed. She just wanted to stop by Cargo Bay 2 and let Icheb know not to expect her home until the morning. She would meet him back at his quarters soon.

Just over an hour later she had called via his personal Comm console. She was sorry but she would not be joining him. She made a half hearted excuse about needing to regenerate after all - but he knew. Her heart was not in it any more than his was. It seemed their hearts were destined to pine their unrequited loves for some time to come.

Present day...

Soaked and exhausted he slumped down on the footbridge with his legs hanging through the railings. At least there was a tarmac covered walkway the other side so the last leg of his journey should be relatively easy and swift. It was 0040 hours already, the dawn of `Monday and the beginning of another working week. He was due at the Academy at 0900 for an interview for a teaching post in the Science Division lecturing in Xeno-anthropology.

He had heard through the grapevine that their former `Captain was about to be offered a new flagship and possibly a promotion to Vice Admiral of the Fleet. If that was true, she may not be Earth side for much longer. It was likely he had blown his last chance with her by quitting tonight. Quitting. Like he had done with Seven on that final night. Their last ever date...

Stardate 6213.5 - Date 7 : Re-unions.

Finally. The long weeks of debriefings were over and they were about to be re-united with their closest kin. The reunions were organised in small groups to keep things manageable. He had assumed that they would be private. Each individual with their next of kin. But apparently Starfleet Counselling Division had recommended this small group structure. It was felt that after such a long period apart, some of the reunions may be traumatic, so the close proximity to a 'Voyager family member' would be reassuring for such encounters. Each situation was a potential emotional minefield.

In their wisdom Starfleet had decided that he, B'Elanna, Tom, Seven & Kathryn would meet their next of kin together. He knew Owen & Julia Paris would be there to greet Tom, B'Elanna and Miral but he wondered whether John Torres would be in the room too. He hoped not. It would be better for that particular meeting to be deferred until B'Elanna had had the chance to bond with her new in-laws. Seven's only living relative was her aunt Irene Hansen and he had no one. Word had come through during the debriefings that his sister Sekaya had been amongst the last of the casualties of the Dominion War. For their Captain it was likely the extended Janeway clan would be in attendance, perhaps her old flame Mark too...

Their assigned counsellor stood just outside the assigned lounge with them and run through the plan. Inside was a central table laid with a small hand buffet and a variety of non-alcoholic drinks. There were several sofas and comfy chairs scattered around so that they could sit one to one or in small groups as they felt comfortable. The next of kin group had met each other in this same setting for a hour the preceding day to familiarise themselves with one another and ensure the focus was on their long lost Voyagers. The five of them were to enter and gravitate towards whomever they felt most comfortable with.

Then there was a moment's pause before the councillor notified them of the occupants of the room. Admiral Owen Paris & Dr. Julia Paris, Mr. John Torres and Miss Irene Hansen.

He remembered feeling confused. Where were the Janeway family? Perhaps it had been decided that the Captain would have special treatment, meeting her own mother and sister in private after the rest of them were at ease. As for himself, he decided to make polite conversation with Tom & B'Elanna's family then focus on Seven and Irene Hansen : there being no one specifically there for him.

Then it briefly occurred to him that perhaps this was a last kindness on Kathryn's part. That she was ensuring that he was not the only one alone in there. Maybe they would be the 'command team' for one last time. Ensuring their crew came first. ... He glanced over at Kathryn but she gave nothing away, asking a point of being engrossed with baby Miral.

As the doors opened and they stepped through the threshold, Tom, B'Elanna and Miral were immediately engulfed by the Parisees and B'Elanna's father who stood a little tentatively behind Tom's mother. Fortunately Miral saved the day by choosing to gurgle and laugh, reaching out for Mr. Torres as he made silly faces at her. B'Elanna reacted by walking across to her father and offering to let him hold Miral. With tears in his eyes he hugged his daughter and gratefully took his baby granddaughter in his arms. They were soon one happy family.

Meanwhile Seven was making stilted conversation with her aunt Irene until Kathryn walked over and intervened. It seemed that their Captain had done her homework and researched Irene Hansen's interests. It became apparent that she had won several Kadis - Kot competitions in her youth and was still a proficient player : as was Seven. Seeing an opening, Aunt Irene had immediately challenged Seven to a game and a board just happened to have been provided. Soon an animated conversation and challenging match was underway.

Turning to Kathryn to thank her he enquirer after her family. She told him that it was not a priority for her. Once all the crew were settled and re-united with family and close friends she would attend to herself. Although true to form, he felt that she was prevaricating. Unable to put his finger on it he wished her well and excused himself to join Irene and Seven.

Kathryn had joined the Paris -Torres clan and he had thought no more of it. A little later the other group left together and Aunt Irene invited Seven and himself for lunch at her hotel. It was whilst they were awaiting their coffee at the end of the meal that Irene Hansen enlightened them. Kathryn Janeway's mother, Gretchen, had passed away two weeks earlier. Four days before they had emerged from the Borg sphere. No one was here for her because her sister Phoebe and family were attending the funeral today and would be tied up dealing with the estate for the foreseeable future. Apparently the Captain had been offered special dispensation to be with her family leaving the four of them to the counsellor but she had declined. Insisting on putting her crew first one last time.

Irene Hansen had then looked directly at him. "Commander Chakotay, it is my belief that she did not want to abandon you. After all, you were the only Voyager with no one to greet you from home. She stayed for you."

Before he could formulate a response Seven spoke. "I concur with my aunt's assessment. I may be ...insufficient... for the Doctor but I was wrong about you. To Kathryn Janeway you are perfection personified. Go find her."

Looking from one to the other he found he was lost for words. Simply nodding he rose and pulling Seven from her chair he hugged her tightly. She had regained her humanity now all he had to do with regain his life...

Present day...

So that had been the end of his 'romance' with Seven. That last 'date' being over three weeks ago and here he was. Still trying to gather the courage to go see `Kathryn. And how had this evening ended? With him soaked to the skin, half dressed and about to attempt to break cover and clamber up the fire escape without alerting security.

He had made good time along the tarmac path, all things considered and was now hiding behind a large Rhododendron bush adjacent to the spiral staircase at the back of the building. The tower was ten stories high and his apartment was on the ninth floor as luck would have it! The only other way in from this side was the exit to the internal concrete stairwell but it opened from inside only. Nope. He would just have to jam the signal from the CCTV and feedback the preceding clear picture for ten seconds or so before re-setting the clock. Timing would be crucial. If he failed to scale the staircase and enter through the ninth floor fire door before time was up the alarm would trigger and he would suffer the indignity or arrest by HQ security, at one in the morning!

Psyching himself up, he was just about to set off when the ground floor door opened from the inside and someone in a security uniform pointed a phaser it him. Great! Emerging slowly from the bushes with his hands up to indicate he was unarmed he stepped through the doorway as the officer held the door for him.

Still with his back to the guard he resigned himself to explaining. "Officer, it's not what you think. My name is .."

Before he could get any further the guard behind him interrupted "Commander Chakotay, former First Officer of the USS Voyager. Badly in need of the bath. I just hope you have installed a tub up there."

He'd know that voice anywhere... Turning towards her he could not make out much more than a blur. Whether from the rainwater still dripping down his face of seven years worth of repressed tears he was not sure.

Holstering her phaser, Kathryn Janeway, former Captain of the USS Voyager and live if his life came and stood directly in front of him. Placing her hand of his sodden chest as she had done so many times over the long years behind them she looked directly into his eyes through her own tears.

"Oh, Chakotay. If you wanted me to open the door you need only have asked."

THE END.

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