"It'll all be in my report."
Earth. Unbelievable, but true. The end of one journey, and the beginning of another.
Kathryn couldn't remember another time when she'd felt as happy as she was feeling now. Some mornings when she awoke, she had to reacquaint herself with the fact that she was, in fact, neither dreaming nor in the Delta Quadrant. The luxury of living for more than mere survival was one she vowed she would never again take for granted, and she spent a great deal of time quietly appreciating the beauty around her and the simplicity of daily life.
There was so much for which Kathryn was thankful in both her personal and professional lives that she occasionally found herself at a loss for words. Since her return to Earth, she'd taken a strong interest in her family, and devoted a great deal of energy to maintaining and forging new friendships. She was particularly cognizant of her connection to her former crew, and revelled in her newfound freedom to explore those relationships. What had begun as ‘checking in' had evolved into very deep connections, for which she would be forever grateful.
"We made it! There were times when I thought we wouldn't, when it seemed impossible, but we survived. And here we are now... "
Tom stretched his arms over his head, waiting for Miral to cry again. It was still dark, and too early to get up. Yawning, he strained his ears, but heard nothing. Must have been a dream, he thought, as he carefully turned over. He smiled to himself as he heard B'Elanna mumble into her pillow, and then the house fell quiet. He lay still, feeling the solidity of the house below him, surrounded by the deafening silence. That is probably what woke me, he thought wryly.
He'd been dreaming that he was piloting Voyager through an intense ion storm, and the ship was being buffeted about like a buoy in rough seas. Tom often awoke in the night with adrenalin coursing through his veins. They weren't nightmares; he enjoyed reliving the glory of those flights. His current predicament felt even sweeter in contrast. He was back on Earth, safe, commended, and on leave with his beautiful wife. There was nothing more pressing to do than become reacquainted with family and friends, and watch their daughter blossom. In time, he would welcome returning to a ship, but for now, he was glad to be able to wrap his arm around B'Elanna's sleeping form and drift back to sleep.
"What do you think, B'Elanna?"
"Well, of course I love the idea... it's very romantic, Mr. Paris."
"My wife likes romantic..."
"So she does......"
B'Elanna snuggled into the warmth that was Tom. His musky scent reached her ultra-sensitive nose, and she inhaled deeply. Mmmmmm, that's nice, she thought. It had taken her a long time to allow herself to acknowledge her feelings for this man. Once committed, she loved him deeply, with an intensity that was almost frightening to her non-Klingon half.
Those early heady days of passion had metamorphosed into a loving, playful romance, and B'Elanna was regularly surprised, and pleased, at how it suited her. She'd felt unlovable for many years, but Tom had been a catalyst for change within her heart. She now knew that she deserved to be happy; she deserved this. She felt his arm cover her, and smiled into her pillow at his tender touch. Later, she would show him just how much she appreciated him, but for now, there was blessed slumber.
"I am grateful for everything you did, for all of us, but especially for me. You mean more to me than I can say."
Chakotay was basking in contentedness. He'd been unsure of so many things regarding almost every aspect of his life when Voyager blasted through that transwarp hub. How would Starfleet react to the former Maquis and him especially, as their leader? Would he be free or imprisoned? If imprisoned, would it be under Federation rule or on Cardassia? If he were sent to prison, how would he be able to survive the loss of his freedom? If he was free to go, would he go to Trebus and could he live with himself if he didn't? Moreover, what of the loss of his comrades from Voyager, and the special bonds they'd developed over the last seven years?
All the turmoil and trepidation initially felt by Chakotay had faded as their new lives on Earth unfolded, leaving him unbelievably calm, settled, well rested and happy. He'd had enough close brushes with death, experienced enough pain and hardship, and lost enough people who'd been important to him, to provide him with an appreciative outlook on his present situation. Life was good, and he was going to ‘seize the day' and live it to the fullest.
The former captain of the USS Voyager knew that voice well. She turned toward it, smiling.
"Chakotay!" she enthused, as she stepped into his outstretched arms.
Oh, this is nice, she thought, savouring the warmth of his embrace. She'd missed him since last seeing him, though it hadn't been long.
"What are you doing here?" Not wanting to break their contact, he spoke into her hair, blissfully inhaling her flowery scent.
Kathryn recognized his intention, and smiled to herself. "I'm supposed to meet B'Elanna for lunch. You?"
Recalling propriety, Chakotay regretfully loosened his arms and they stepped back slightly from each other, smiling.
Gesturing for Kathryn to sit, Chakotay pulled out her chair and made sure she was comfortable before he sat down. "I'm here to meet Tom. I wonder what they're up to."
Kathryn quirked an eyebrow at him. "Our Tom? Up to something?"
Chakotay's eyes crinkled as he laughed, "I know it's a bit of a stretch, but it has been known to happen..." As he passed the menu to Kathryn, Chakotay's fingers brushed hers. Both stopped talking for a moment, captivated by the warmth of their now-lingering touch.
"Thank you." Kathryn looked down and began to read the menu, smiling to herself. Yes, very nice, she thought.
Chakotay ordered them a drink. The status of their former Voyager crew quickly took over from their initial pleasantries, and a warm, comfortable conversation flowed between them, reminiscent of other pleasant hours spent in similar fashion. Part way through her second glass of wine, Kathryn specifically asked about Seven.
Unsure of how to answer both the spoken and unasked questions, Chakotay hesitated before answering. "She's doing well, umm... settling in."
Kathryn nodded, encouragingly, knowing there was more.
"As her former... commanding officer, she feels compelled to keep me updated, and I regularly get lengthy and detailed reports." Chakotay half-smiled, adding, "Thankfully, her sense of humour has continued to develop too. The anecdotes she tells about the doctor have me in stitches just about every time!"
"Stitches? I hope someone else helped her develop that sense of humour, Chakotay." Kathryn had decided to test him but he chose not to take the bait.
"I hope I was able to help her adjust to life on earth, Kathryn." Chakotay sighed. "It has been somewhat overwhelming for her."
"She's lucky to have had you for as long as she has."
Choosing to ignore any hidden meanings, Chakotay replied evenly, "It was challenging at times, but I was glad to be there for her when she needed a friend."
Kathryn nodded and smiled at him, knowing that his gentle heart would not have let him do anything less. She decided to let it go; it was in the past.
Tom and B'Elanna arrived then, apologizing for their lateness. After a tangle of hellos and hugs, the four seated themselves comfortably around the small table Chakotay had originally chosen for himself and Tom. Kathryn asked after Miral, and B'Elanna regaled them of tales of her latest exploits. Chakotay asked how their leaves were going, and everyone's lives were updated by the time they'd shared their second round of drinks.
There was a short pause in the conversation, during which Tom and B'Elanna shared an enigmatic smile.
"Alright, spill it." Chakotay looked at Kathryn, feigning annoyance. "What's so important that you needed us here in person? And why did you want to meet us separately?"
Tom sat back in his chair, and surveyed the table, a broad smile gracing his boyish, handsome face. "We wanted your opinion on something... and your help."
Kathryn and Chakotay shared a grin. "Luckily, I always have an opinion." Chakotay coughed lightly into his fist at Kathryn's words, but remained silent.
Tom looked at B'Elanna tenderly. There was no light-hearted, joking demeanour present, just love. "We've been talking ... about a lot of things. Since we're back, we've been spending time with B'Elanna's father. It was hard at first..." B'Elanna nodded in agreement, and took up the explanation. "Really hard, for me, especially. But Tom insisted that we just keep trying, and now it's pretty good." She smiled. "Even with my human relatives. I want Miral to have that connection."
"That's wonderful!" Kathryn enthused, sincerely happy for her once overly volatile Chief Engineer. "I'm so pleased for you!"
"Thanks!" B'Elanna smiled in return. "It feels pretty wonderful."
Chakotay turned to Tom. "You're taking good care of them both."
"And she's taking good care of me, too. She's been the one to handle my dad." He looked at Kathryn, almost apologetically. "Old habits die hard, Captain. We've had words now and then, but it's coming along." Tom then made everyone laugh aloud with examples of his father's adjustments to having Tom, a half-Klingon daughter-in-law and new baby back into his previously ordered life. He paused for a moment, reached over and took B'Elanna's hand.
"We had such a strong community feeling on Voyager," he continued, looking intently between his two former commanding officers. "We miss that. A lot. Our flesh and blood families are seen differently now, and we want to formally bind them together. They weren't able to witness or participate when we were married on Voyager, so we thought we'd like to renew our vows. There weren't any other weddings on Voyager, and we think you need the practice!" he joked, then added, soberly, "So, would you marry us?"
"Both of you, actually," B'Elanna piped up quickly. She looked pointedly at Chakotay. "It would mean a lot. To both of us."
Kathryn blinked, refusing to let tears form, and looked at Chakotay.
"My first official act as a captain?" Chakotay met Kathryn's eyes, and raised an eyebrow. It seemed to Tom and B'Elanna that an entire conversation took place in the moment's silence that ensued. They turned back to Tom and B'Elanna, nodding and smiling. "We'd be honoured."
There were smiles all around as the waiter brought another round, and the planning began in earnest.
There were many aspects of the renewal of their vows that Tom and B'Elanna had decided upon before they'd come to Kathryn and Chakotay with their proposal. They'd already arranged for a large hall, and chosen a date close to the end of everyone from Voyager's leave. Tom and B'Elanna were hoping to use the ceremony as an excuse for a get-together for the crew before new postings and lives began. With the assistance of his father, Tom had checked with the Pathfinder group, and planned the celebration around a scheduled transmission from Neelix, with the hope that he would be able to observe and then join in the festivities with the rest of the crew.
Since they'd both decided to stay in Starfleet, they wanted a full Starfleet ceremony, with a few personal touches. Tom surprised B'Elanna by telling everyone that he'd researched Klingon marriage rites, and wanted to include the ritualistic blood-mingling ceremony. At her startled look, he explained that he'd already spoken with the doc, who'd assured him that Janeway and Chakotay would not need to experience any discomfort to take part. B'Elanna smiled at him, shaking her head. Looking at Chakotay, she laughed, "Can you believe him?"
"Only you would think blood and pain were romantic, B'Elanna," Chakotay earned a glare for his comments, and laughed aloud.
"Speaking of blood, the food will be served buffet-style," Tom interjected, earning a loving smack from his wife.
"I told you, nothing ‘live'!" she retorted.
"I know, I know. No Klingon food." Tom smiled, loving B'Elanna's feistiness.
"Spirits, for a minute there, I thought you were going to make me eat gagh!" Chakotay shuddered, and made a horrible face, causing B'Elanna to burst out laughing.
"No, big guy, there are lots of choices for the non-meat-eaters among us," Tom said. "There'll be a veritable smorgasbord, including some of the exotic treats we brought back with us. But, with or without Neelix, there will be no leola root! Talaxian tomatoes, yes; leola root, no!" Everyone laughed, and Tom continued. "B'Elanna has agreed to let me showcase some of my favourite foods from the twentieth century now that we're not living on limited rations, but we've also agreed that there will be no jell-o."
"Thanks heavens for that!" Janeway toasted, as everyone clinked their glasses.
Their lunch meeting turned into an all-afternoon event. They discussed a variety of topics and finally decided to call it a day. B'Elanna needed to go to feed Miral, and so she and Tom left Kathryn and Chakotay alone.
"That was wonderful," said Kathryn, as Chakotay helped her to her feet. "Think we can add any little surprises of our own to make this even more special for them?"
"I wondered how long it would take for you to ask... I'm sure we can think of something." The smile was evident in his voice as Chakotay laughed. "We've got lots to do!" His hand rested protectively in the small of her back as they made their way out of the restaurant.
Tom and B'Elanna's request pleased Kathryn more than she would have thought, and she revelled in the happiness she felt at the upcoming ‘nuptials'. She wanted to make the day special, and put all of her considerable efforts and resources into making this a memorable day for everyone.
After many additional ‘working lunches' and much comm. traffic, the big day finally arrived. There was a slight drizzle when Chakotay arrived to pick up Kathryn, but nothing could dampen their excitement.
"You look very dashing, Captain." Kathryn looked up at Chakotay, wearing his older-style dress uniform.
"As do you, Admiral." He smiled, and offered his arm to her. She smiled as she linked her arm through, feeling as if she could take on the world. "Let's do it! Are you with me?"
Chakotay looked over, and winked. "Always."
Admiral Paris stood before the large assembled crowd. Over 200 people were patiently waiting for the beginning of the formalities that would see Tom and B'Elanna renew their vows. After calling for quiet, he paused a moment to be sure he had everyone's attention.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. This is a very exciting day for all of us, and I feel privileged to be part of such a momentous gathering." Pausing, he quietly cleared the lump from his throat and looked around at the assembled former crew. "I never imagined that my son would be lost to me, that I would mourn him for dead, only to have him returned to me after seven years, both of us changed by our experiences. Tom returned to me as part of an amazing group of explorers, a husband to B'Elanna, and father to my beautiful granddaughter, Miral. It's a wonder to me that you made it back, and that we've been given a second chance." He smiled, and then continued. "We are all here today to witness Tom and B'Elanna's renewal of their vows of love. We missed it the first time, and I'm so...happy ... to be here today." The Admiral turned to the side, and wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. He cleared his throat, and continued.
"B'Elanna is a treasure, and a wonderful match for our Tommy. She's feisty and proud, devoted, kind, determined... We have been truly blessed." Again, he wiped his eyes, but his voice was stronger when he spoke again. "She complements him, as he does her. They are wonderful together, aren't they?" This last question was met with spontaneous cheers and clapping.
Owen smiled and put an arm around each of them. "I have spoken to both B'Elanna and Tom about what they'd like me to say today before they renew their vows, and one message rang true from both of them. They both feel that the reason they have developed into the people that they are today is because of the quality of leadership they experienced on Voyager." More applause erupted in the hall, and Paris nodded, approving the sentiment.
"Admiral Janeway. Captain Chakotay." He nodded toward each of them as the cheering died down, and motioned for them to approach the dais. Chakotay pulled out Kathryn's chair, and escorted her to the front of the room. Admiral Paris shook Chakotay's hand and hugged Kathryn, quietly thanking and praising them for helping Tom turn his life around. The applause that had stopped while the command team made their way to the front had started up again with Owen and Kathryn's hug, and only subsided once Tom and B'Elanna had taken up their places as well. B'Elanna's father stood quietly beside her, beaming as he held an alert but quiet Miral.
Kathryn stood flanked by Owen and Chakotay, and began the standard Starfleet marriage ceremony, modifying the words to suit the renewal of vows.
At his turn, Tom stepped forward, and began to speak. He told how, thanks to B'Elanna, he'd learned to care about someone other than himself, and how her own struggles with self-acceptance had been a catalyst for his own growth and development. He spoke of the love he felt for her, stronger now than when they were first married. He kissed her tenderly and told her, "You're the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you more than I can tell you. You and Miral are such a gift - thank you. I know we'll have a long and happy life together. I can't imagine my life without you."
B'Elanna blinked back tears as she began to speak. With only a touch of a nervous laugh, she told their story, how she had thought he was cocky and arrogant until she'd got to know this "Fly boy" better, realizing that he was as lonely as she was and hiding behind the bluster. She'd never allowed herself to know anyone as well as she knew Tom, and she'd never opened up to another as she had with him. B'Elanna said that Tom gave her the strength to face her own fears and learn to love herself first, so that she could love someone else. "Our love makes us stronger as individuals, and together, we are unstoppable." She laughed as a few tears slowly made their way down her cheeks, and then kissed Tom before embracing him. They stepped apart after a minute, smiling and wiping their eyes.
Owen stepped forward at this point, standing between them, and asked them to turn to face the crew. The applause was loud, and Miral was not impressed, but her fussing stopped when she was returned to her delighted mother.
Kathryn stepped forward and congratulated Tom and B'Elanna. She began her prepared speech, and tried to keep it short, but found herself reminiscing about earlier times. About how her relationship with Tom had developed, and the battle she'd had with Chakotay over making B'Elanna Chief Engineer. She spoke of some of the trials and close calls they'd had over the years, how grateful she was to have had them serve by her side and how much she valued their friendship. The applause began as she stepped back, and continued for several minutes, until Chakotay stepped forward.
Chakotay spoke of his early days in the Maquis with B'Elanna, and of the frightened but feisty young woman who had joined his cell. It brought tears to many eyes, when he spoke at length of his pride as he'd watched her grow as a person over the years, her intelligence, and uncanny ability to work quickly through difficult engineering scenarios that more often than not, saved their lives. He referred to her as his sister, and spoke from the heart about what it meant to him to be part of such a special day in their lives. Chakotay also spoke of Tom, laughing about their first unpleasant times together and early days on Voyager. He talked of Tom's courage in saving his life on Ocampa, and how his grudging respect grew until he found that he had no choice but to like Tom. Chakotay smiled as he gave them his blessing, wishing them every happiness in the world.
After the cheering subsided, Admiral Paris took a step over to the command team.
"Are you ready, Admiral, Captain?"
Nodding, they moved forward. Chakotay hugged B'Elanna, and then shook Tom's hand. After congratulating Tom, Kathryn embraced B'Elanna tightly, whispering secrets. They let go, laughing through their happy tears, and Kathryn stepped back beside Chakotay. They stood, looking out at their crew, and Owen walked over and stood behind them.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Tom, B'Elanna... before we proceed to the blood-mingling, I would like to say a few words to Kathryn and Chakotay."
Grinning broadly, B'Elanna and Tom whispered "Surprise!" to one another, almost bouncing on their toes.
Reaching forward, Owen put Kathryn's left hand and Chakotay's right hand together. The silence in the room was intense.
Owen began to speak, loudly, and without preamble. "Do you, Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway, take this man, Chakotay, son of Kolopak, to be your lawful, wedded husband..." The rest of his words were drowned out in cheers, whoops and claps as the hall erupted. Chakotay squeezed Kathryn's fingers to keep her eyes locked on his. He didn't hear her say, "I do", but he saw her lips move and felt her squeeze his fingers in reassurance. Chakotay also answered, "I do" when Owen's lips stopped moving the first time. The second time they stopped moving, Chakotay stepped forward and gently, lovingly, kissed Kathryn. The people in the hall went wild.
Owen stepped forward and embraced Kathryn. She barely heard his words of congratulations, and his repeated thanks for bring his son back to him. Taking a step back, Kathryn smiled at Chakotay. As she embraced her new husband, Kathryn felt as if she was truly home.