Kathryn had done a remarkable thing when she offered him the position of her First Officer. Compelled by circumstance and driven by intrigue, he accepted, mooring them together for their unprecedented journey. The foundation of their relationship was precarious and a little unorthodox, but their willingness and shared sense of adventure sparked a unique alchemy that brought them closer and created an unexpected intimacy that fulfilled Chakotay almost completely. Neither ever fumbled over how well they fit together, selflessly supporting one another without expectation. And despite the many rumours that sailed around the ship, their relationship was a near-perfect projection of platonic. Any romantic interest or sexual desire had been suppressed, pushed aside by duty and protocol but certainly not obliviated. There was something about her fiery, reckless spirit that drew him in, and like a reflex wanting her had become as natural as breathing.
They shared a mutual affection, of which he was certain, and from time to time, he would catch himself wondering, what if? What if things were different? What if they weren't stuck in the chokehold of their commission? Would she relent and tell him what was in her heart? Once upon a time, on a faraway planet and freed from all obligation, there was a fleeting moment when she allowed herself to be vulnerable, and their longing had almost been realized.
But up amongst the stars, unified in their devotion to getting the crew home, they funnelled their passion into the journey. The rest, the unvoiced and undeclared, remained suspended in space, only to be considered when and if the binds of circumstance loosened—another fable for another time, in another quadrant across the galaxy.
With time, their friendship evolved into something meaningful, and Chakotay treasured their profound connection. Kathryn was careful with herself, guarded to a fault and often emotionally restrained, and still, he found pride in being one of her few confidants onboard the ship. The chance to know her as Kathryn was a privilege, and the significance of it humbled him. They shared an enviable candour and absolute trust, but certain things, personal things, were protected by unspoken rules. Silenced by a commiserative understanding, they developed a shorthand, often communicating with just a look or a touch that would convey more than words ever could. And he craved for the times that her hand would fall on his shoulder or press into his chest. But still, gestures could not replace the necessity of words.
And that is how he failed her.
They squared off, chests heaving, his posture a mirror image of hers—hands-on-hips. Contempt fueled by stubborn pride.
"That's an order, Commander."
More than her words, the quiver in her voice stopped him, and he acquiesced. Accepting what she wasn't saying, he stepped back, nodding as understanding washed over him. She had come to learn about Seven, and although he fleetingly wondered how he knew it really didn't matter. The truth should have come from him. A judas kiss, the brand of betrayal he was offering was complex, and judging by the pained look on her face, it cut deep.
Stuck under the weight of his guilt, he watched the fight fade from Kathryn's solemn eyes before she, the woman who had never backed down from anything in the time he had known her, walked away from him without so much as a second look. His shame baited him, and his cowardice nagged, provoking a desperate rage, forcing him to restrain his fist to his side and hold himself back from punching the nearest wall.
True to her word, The Captain and Commander Tuvok arrived on the final transport from McKinley Station. When their shuttle touched down, Chakotay was tied up in a cargo hold cataloging artifacts from the Delta Quadrant. When he returned to the dormitory that evening, she was nowhere to be found, and he felt the intention behind her absence. They saw each other in the mess hall the following morning, but it was for appearance's sake and nothing more. She was cordial yet distant, and he knew nothing had changed by the way she avoided his eyes.
Long ago, he resolved to be whatever Kathryn needed him to be—vowing to the spirits that he would support her and protect her until a day came when she dismissed him. Caught somewhere between comrades and companions, she was more than his friend; she was his lifeline. But on the other side of the galaxy, released from the chain of command and away from Voyager and this absurd way of life, Chakotay was certain they could make each other happy.
His memory skipped back to a time when she acknowledged a need for parameters, which confirmed his suspicions and meant that she felt something for him, something that needed to be tamed and restrained. It meant she felt something that reached beyond the scope of their command structure. It meant there was something, and he clung to it with every fibre of his being. So he waited and watched as Kathryn sought to fill that formidable void in her life, swallowing his pride and caging his heart for a woman who determinably would never break her oath and would never bend under the enduring pressures of basic need. Instead, she accepted her penance, supplicating to the Delta Quadrant, which caused them both to suffer. And now; now they were back to simply the Captain and the Commander, maintaining a civil disposition that masked their misery so well that no one seemed to notice the rift between them.
"Commander?" Chiding his silent irritation, he slowly lifted his eyes from the padd he was reading. "I'm sorry to bother you." She paused, "are you alright? You appear... distressed."
Seven's interest in him had been surprising, and he welcomed the diversion after months of wrestling with his decision to move on. Unable to pretend anymore, he had started to accept that waiting for Kathryn was futile; the road before them was just too long.
The irony was profound.
"No need to apologize," he smiled, attempting to hide his annoyance. "I'm just a little busy," and added for effect, "who knew getting lost in space would create so much paperwork."
Seven clasped her hands behind her back. A flash of disappointment flickered beneath her ocular implant before she gave a curt nod, "I'll leave you to it."
"No." Regrettably, spending time with her had begun to feel like an obligation. "Please," he motioned to the chair across from him before Seven turned away. "You look like you have something important you wanted to share," his lame attempts at kindness persisted yet did not reach his dimple.
Her brow twitched again, and she nodded, moving to the proffered chair.
"Something exciting?" He asked once she was comfortable.
"Perhaps," her mouth moulded into a smile. "The Captain has arranged for Icheb and I to travel to Sweden, where we will spend our leave with Irene and Erik Hansen. My..." she paused, testing the word before she spoke, "family."
Recalling Starfleet's initial position that the liberated drones will remain at Command for observation, his brow furrowed in confusion as he spoke. "Really? Does Icheb know?"
"Icheb is assisting with the modifications to our portable regenerators now." Her face brightened subtly, but otherwise, her expression remained mystifying. Chakotay knew that she had been communicating with her aunt, who, it seemed, had been slowly winning her over, regaling her with stories about her childhood and her parents and telling her about their family, many still alive and hoping to meet her. He listened as Seven detailed the arrangements for her trip and was attuned to the fact that he was not involved in those plans. "The Captain felt it was unfair for Icheb and I to be restricted when it is her view that we have been functioning members of her crew and deserve to be treated as such. She wants us to experience this leave as everyone else will."
"Agreed," he murmured. "When do you leave?" His mind was reeling; he had held off on making plans of his own because it felt wrong to leave Seven behind, but now it felt like he had been handed a reprieve and a chance to gain perspective.
"In two days." Her tone was matter-of-fact.
"And the Captain..." glancing up as a door to the mess hall opened and Kathryn entered.
"I'm not sure when she's leaving." Seven answered, her eyes narrowed with curiosity.
He watched the Captain move toward the nearest replicator; knowing her request, he imagined hearing her rich voice order coffee, black. Shaking his head, he returned his attention to Seven. "Sorry, I meant, how did she change their minds?"
"I'm not sure." She answered honestly, "I haven't seen the Captain all day. The Doctor informed me of the change this morning."
Chakotay nodded as he looked back to the Captain, who had stopped to speak with a table of crewmen, coffee in hand. He had spent the better part of a week attempting to contrive a chance to speak with her, to test their pulse, and it seemed that opportunity just presented itself. "There she is, there," he shifted, rising from the table. "I have to get these to her," he scooped up the datapadds from the table. "If you'll excuse me," and he started to walk away.
"Of course, Commander." Seven's voice stopped him, and he turned back, regretting how easy it was to brush her off.
"It really is great news, Seven; I know you'll have a wonderful time." And with a quick, perfunctory nod that accompanied her thanks, she stepped away from him.
"Captain," he called out, raising the padds to catch her attention. Moving closer, he watched as Kathryn inhaled, bringing herself up to her full height.
"Yes, Commander," she asked when he stopped in front of her.
"I just heard that Seven and Icheb were granted leave." At the mention of Seven's name, Kathryn's gaze fixed on the other woman, tracking her as she moved towards the exit. "How?" He asked with a smile.
She looked from the door to her coffee cup, rolling and chewing at her lips as she bit back several smart retorts. "Haven't you been watching the news coverage, Chakotay? I'm the darling of Starfleet; I just bat my eyes and get almost anything I want."
The venom that laced her tone caught him off guard, and it took him a moment to collect himself. "Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Kathryn," he said quietly.
Her brow lifted in indifference.
"Well, whatever you did or said. Thank you," he continued.
Kathryn's eyes shot up, meeting his for the first time since arriving on Earth. "I didn't do it for you," she retorted coolly.
"I…" he stopped, looking down at the padds in his hand. "You'll need these," thrusting them in front of her. "Performance reviews for all junior engineering and bridge officers."
Kathryn sighed and gently shook her head before accepting his offerings. When she looked down at the top screen, he knew she knew how much time and effort so many reports had taken him. Lifting the padds, she used the back of her hand and rubbed at the lines in her forehead, softening her disposition slightly. "Thank you, Chakotay," she practically whispered, and he detected a subtle crack in his name. Without another word, she turned towards the door, leaving him stuck and forced to watch her walk away once more.
Quarantine had been the longest and loneliest two weeks he could ever remember, and the moment they were given official word that it was over, Chakotay left. He suffered an awkward, hasty goodbye with Seven and even considered going to look for Kathryn to make an appeal but thought better of it. After submitting his details to Admiral Blye and confirming the date and time of his return, he headed for the nearest transport station.
Without proper travel plans, it took him nearly three days to reach Dorvan, arriving just in time for the New Year's celebrations. A gift his sister had called him when she finally got the chance to wrap her arms around him. Standing in the middle of a shuttle station, she hugged him like her life depended on it; the power of her embrace filled his eyes with tears as the weight of its absence settled around his shoulders. "I've missed you too," he whispered into her ear.
It had been nearly nine years since he had last seen his homeland, and the differences he saw took his breath away. Everywhere he looked was flourishing with change, and it reignited his pride, reminding him that his work with the Maquis had not been in vain. But those thoughts had a way of grounding him; thinking about the Maquis reminded him of Voyager, and Voyager reminded him of Kathryn. And thinking about Kathryn hurt.
Sekaya took him to his family home, where she and her family resided, having moved in after their mother fell ill. She introduced him to her husband and their children, two boys (and with a pat on her stomach, their third who would arrive in a few months). Chakotay was encouraged to take his time and settle in, to refamiliarize himself with his home, and to rest and relax. It wouldn't be long until they were all submerged into a spectacle that, she reminded him, would carry on well into the next day.
Within hours, family and neighbours began pouring into the house, eating and drinking and celebrating, giving thanks for the year gone by and making promises for the year ahead. Chakotay reacquainted himself with many familiar faces and friends from years gone by. Despite his exhaustion, he moved through the crowd, talking and laughing and temporarily forgetting about the troubles that awaited him on Earth. Sekaya remained at his side, arm linked through his in a way that comforted him beyond measure, and as they raised their glasses, marking the progress in time, she whispered, "welcome home, Chakotay."
Hours later, Chakotay found himself alone by the fire with a quiet melancholy settled around him. The alcohol had warmed his body, and he felt the heat of it painting his cheeks. The air around him was still, and with a crack, sparks jumped off a flame and rose into the night sky. Looking up, he took in the beauty of the moons, big and bright and full, and he lost himself in his thoughts. The fire popped loudly, pulling his attention back to Dorvan, and that's when he noticed her standing with her arms crossed, watching him with a wistful expression on her face.
"I have always known you to be the heartbreaker, Chakotay." Sekaya stepped towards him, the fire illuminating her pale clothing and the gloss of her long black hair.
He let out a single, sad laugh. "Oh, I still am." He moved his eyes, inviting her to come closer. "But this time, in the process of breaking a heart, I think I broke mine as well."
Stepping over rocks and sticks, Sekaya unfolded her arms, resting a hand on her stomach as she moved closer to the fire. She perched herself on a fallen log opposite him. "I never thought I'd see the day," her coy smile revealed a dimple that matched his own. "My brother, in love!"
His bashful smile faded as his eyes fell back to the fire. Love? He took a moment to consider the word. "Who is she?" His sister asked as the flames jumped and danced between them. When he looked up, she was watching him again; her patient soul held a quiet calmness that paralleled his own.
"Can I tell you a story?" He asked, and Sekaya nodded encouragingly. "It's an ancient legend about an angry warrior..."