In the months since Voyager's return to the Alpha Quadrant, many wonderful things had happened. An outside observer might think that reunited families and Starfleet tactical, scientific and medical advancements would top the captain's list of achievements.
Indeed, they likely would have if Voyager had made it home as it had initially done, without the message delivered to her by a version of her future self.
The captain that lost Joe Carey and said ‘Goodbye' to Neelix would have been focused on the greater good, on Starfleet's benefit. Any personal benefit would have been considered a secondary gain, and quite possibly overlooked in the process of settling in and incorporating and analyzing the new information.
The Captain Janeway who was assisted by the Admiral had a very different perspective. The Admiral had been heartbreakingly clear about the results of her actions (and inactions) with regard to Chakotay. Guilt over their fractured relationship and his early death, as well as the loss of other crew members, had prompted her drastic actions.
Upon consideration, there was no doubt in the younger Janeway's mind that her stubborn, older self had been sincere. Once Voyager was back on Earth and safely delivered from the Borg, Captain Janeway had done a great deal of soul searching, taking the time to consider many options.
Temporal mechanics aside, she needed to do the right thing, and not just what her heart wanted her to do. The future was already altered by virtue of no longer being in the Delta Quadrant, was it not? She didn't know if events would unfold for her as they had in the past, regardless of their location; perhaps her relationship with Chakotay was already splintered beyond repair.
She certainly hoped not. Kathryn finally allowed herself to acknowledge her attraction to Chakotay, and to admit what she had wanted for many years.
Chakotay had professed his feelings for her a long time ago, on a planet with an angry sky and an angry monkey. Much time had passed, with the ghosts of other lovers between them. Did he still feel the same? She needed more information from the man in question. She was determined not to waste the second chance that her future self risked everything to make happen.
Voyager had been home long enough that the post-mission interviews were complete, and the dead had been solemnly mourned. The work of studying the trip through the Delta Quadrant was well under way, and it was finally time to celebrate the many contributions and achievements of the past seven and a half years.
The Constellation Ballroom was a busy place, filled with the Voyager crew and family, and Starfleet's finest. Dinner had been served, field promotions made official, and toasts given as champagne flowed. The air was filled with laughter and chatter as the attendees waited while the tables were being cleared in preparation for the reception.
The Captain was still seated at her reserved spot, between B'Elanna and Harry. Rounding out the table were Seven, the EMH, Chakotay, Tuvok and Tom.
Kathryn looked around the table and smiled, filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. She hadn't seen some of her senior staff in several weeks - and even longer for Tuvok - and it was a pleasure to see them all together, in such a resplendent venue.
"It's so good to see all of you again," she said sincerely. "I've really missed you," she added, looking at Tuvok.
"And I, you, Captain," Tuvok intoned, bowing his head slightly. "It is pleasing to see you looking so well."
Kathryn smiled, and nodded in return. She took a fortifying breath, and began to speak, hoping to start the transformation of her future.
"I am grateful for many things. Each of you ..." she paused, searching for the correct word. "Each of you contributed in many, many ways to bring us all home. And to bring me home," she added, looking meaningfully at Chakotay.
He smiled sheepishly, and looked down, mildly embarrassed by her gratitude. The captain was more likely to express emotions with other crew members, and he felt an unexpected warmth bloom on his cheeks.
Before Chakotay could reply, a voice rose from the other side of the table.
"What a difference a few years can make; right, Captain?" interrupted Tom, raising his glass. "Here's to doing what needed to be done! And mostly above board!"
B'Elanna snorted at her husband's flippant, slightly tipsy comment, and soon everyone at the table joined in the laughter. Kathryn continued looking at Chakotay, hoping she could catch his eye and suggest they speak privately, but the moment was temporarily lost.
With the formalities over, chatter and laughter could be heard throughout the ballroom as the crew became reacquainted with each other, and introduced family to friends. As the noise level grew, it became more difficult to talk in a large group, and soon people were standing around the room in smaller clusters, closer together.
Janeway spied Chakotay talking with Tom, B'Elanna and a woman who looked vaguely familiar. As Kathryn approached, she realized it was the mother of Jenny Delaney, whom she'd met earlier in the evening. She intended to pull Chakotay aside, but was drawn into the conversation when Tom asked her to retell a humorous incident involving her daughter.
"And that was the last time Jenny volunteered to taste-test any of Neelix's leola root recipes!" Amid the ensuing laughter, Janeway noticed that Chakotay had drifted away from the group. She exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then excused herself to follow him.
Moving through the crowd, however, was not a smooth process. Janeway was slowed several times as people felt the need to address and acknowledge her. Seven and the EMH insisted she provide her perspective on some of the analyses they were running. Although their passion for their work was admirable, their discussion added to the log-jam of people blocking her path. After several minutes, and with waning patience, she finally reached Chakotay, only to discover that he was speaking with a woman she hadn't yet met, but whom she recognized immediately.
"Kathryn!" Chakotay greeted her. "I'd like you to meet Sekaya. She just made it to Earth yesterday."
Chakotay looked happier than Kathryn could ever remember seeing him, and it seemed that his joy was contagious, as she felt an answering smile on her face.
"Oh, I'm so happy to finally meet you. I feel like I already know you from all the stories I've heard over the years," Kathryn enthused, reaching for Sekaya's hands. Chakotay's sister had other plans, however, and Kathryn soon found herself enveloped in a warm embrace.
After a moment, Sekaya stepped back. "Chakotay has told me so much about you, as well. He always spoke so highly of you."
Ignoring the blush that had arisen on her cheeks, Kathryn laughed, and the two women continued talking about him, embellishing and joking about what exactly Chakotay had shared.
"Oh, look who's blushing now, brother!" Sekaya laughed, nudging his shoulder with her own. Kathryn and Chakotay shared an amused look, as he shrugged his shoulders and then smiled at his sister.
Sekaya noticed the look between her brother and former captain, and, sensing there was more to it, quickly decided it was time to make herself scarce. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment," she said, smiling as she winked at Kathryn, "I really need a drink. Can I get you anything?"
"I'll go," Chakotay replied. "What can I get you?"
"No, dear brother, let me do this." Sekaya walked away, patting a puzzled Chakotay on his arm.
Chakotay turned to Kathryn. "I apologize," he started. "She won't be much use to us without our order. Do you know what you'd like?"
Smiling to herself, Kathryn nodded. "Yes, I think I do. But it's not a drink. Can we go out on the balcony and ..."
"Chakotay! Captain! I'm glad you are together. I'd like to introduce you to someone very special."
Janeway's smile, when she turned to speak to the unsuspecting person who had interrupted them, was the one she used with long-winded delegates and politicos she needed to tolerate.
"How nice to see you, Harry," she lied. Harry didn't notice the deceit.
"Captain, Commander, this is Schanal Kenysny. We've been working together on the Voyager upgrades for the past three months - well thirteen weeks actually - and I just really wanted her to meet you." Harry suddenly realized he'd been babbling, and stopped speaking so suddenly that Janeway thought he might fall over.
Smirking to cover a wayward laugh, she nodded and then smiled more sincerely at the young couple in front of her.
"How very nice to meet you, Schanal. Harry has mentioned you in some of his reports."
Schanal and Harry beamed at one another. It was obvious to his captain that Harry was completely smitten. A smitten Harry was worth the interruption of her plan.
But only just.
"I'm glad to be able to put a name to a face," she said to Schanal. Turning to Harry, she added, "We appreciate you taking the time to introduce us, and won't impose on any more of your time. Goodnight Harry, Schanal." She then took Chakotay gently by the arm and strode away to find some privacy.
"That was quite the brush off you gave Harry," Chakotay whispered, as they made their way through the throngs. "You must be up to something really important!" He glanced over at his captain, smiling. "Is there something you want to tell me?"
"Yes, there is," Kathryn answered, before she could talk herself out of it. Then she found herself struck dumb, unsure where to start the conversation. It had seemed easier when she had predicted what he would say and how he would react. Not knowing took away all her bravado, and she felt embarrassed by her trepidation.
Chakotay looked at her inquisitively, and waited patiently.
"Captain?" he prodded, after a few moments. "Are you all right?"
"Kathryn," she replied, quickly. "Please. Call me, Kathryn."
"Of course." He tilted his head to the side, and smiled. "Now, Kathryn, what did you want to tell me?"
Kathryn looked up into the eyes of her former first officer, which still held a question for her. She held his gaze, watching as he studied her, and slowly their smiles grew into broad grins.
"You might think me a fool," she admitted, shaking her head.
Chakotay's eyes crinkled as he laughed. "I don't think I've ever thought that."
"If not a fool, then what?" Kathryn's chin rose slightly as she spoke, quietly daring him to respond.
"What is this about?" The seriousness of his tone made it clear that he accepted her challenge. Chakotay had mastered the art of intimidation as a Maquis, and though he wasn't angry, he still captured her attention and put her senses on alert.
Kathryn swallowed, and stood her ground. She hadn't gone through hell with the Borg, Devore, Hirogen and Q knows who else to be brought down by a single man at the edge of a ballroom.
"We've read each other's reports on our encounter with the Admiral, so I know we agree on what happened. With Voyager, at least," she clarified. "Can I ask what she told you about why she came back when she did?"
Chakotay furrowed his brow. "She said she wanted to change her past, to get us home sooner than we did the first time." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "She was surprisingly forthcoming once she got over the shock of seeing me alive."
"Oh," Kathryn breathed, eyes widening in surprise. "I didn't know she ... What else did she say about that?"
"You look pale. Let's sit." Not waiting for a response, Chakotay gently led her to an empty table against the wall.
"Thank you." Kathryn settled herself, breathing deeply. She looked expectantly at him, and, while waiting for him to speak, a waiter brought over some flutes of champagne.
Kathryn nodded her thanks, and took a sip to give herself a moment. It seemed to her that Chakotay was considering his words as carefully as she had been just moments before. Taking pity on him, she broke the silence.
"She told me many things about her trip home that I didn't want to hear. And I didn't want to experience them, either. Did she tell you what happened? About the crew who died?"
Chakotay shook his head. "No names. But I know that I was one of them, given her reaction."
"Not quite." Kathryn cleared the lump in her throat. "But you...the Admiral's Chakotay... died shortly after they returned to Earth."
"I'm not sure that was so bad," he observed. "It seems like he fulfilled his duty as Second In Command, if she and Voyager got home. I think he would have been content with that."
With no response from her, he continued. "But I'm thinking she saw it differently, for some reason I don't know. Yet," he added, as an afterthought.
Kathryn gathered her resolve and nodded. "She told me that we ... that they, the command team, struggled in those last years. And she wanted to ensure that didn't happen."
Chakotay grimaced, and rubbed the side of his neck to hide his discomfiture. "Kathryn. No. We both know that it would take more than that to have her take the risks she took, to mess with temporal mechanics just for a chance to rewrite history or die trying." He paused. "What else?"
"They disagreed on some command decisions."
"It's happened before, on a few occasions," he nodded, rubbing his fingers up the stem of his glass. "It's not something that I think would end bitterly."
"It was, "Kathryn acknowledged. "She gave an order; he disagreed. People died."
Chakotay nodded. "It's all finally starting to make sense."
Kathryn looked him expectantly. He smiled warmly at the flustered woman across the table.
"The Admiral asked me a lot of questions - very personal questions. I think she kept asking until she was satisfied with my answers." He chuckled softly, shaking his head, then looked up and met her eyes.
"She told me that you would come and find me to have a serious conversation about her timeline, and that everything would work out the way it should have been."
Kathryn shook her head and regarded him quizzically.
"She told me I needed to stop dating Seven," he added baldly.
"What?" Kathryn blinked a few times, shocked at his words.
"Yes. She told me, very plainly, that I was a fool for having given up and moving on, and that Seven and I needed to end things before we went through the aperture. More importantly, though, she said that her feelings were your feelings, and when this conversation happened, I should be honest about what I want."
Chakotay cupped Kathryn's cheek, and leaned closer.
"I want to kiss you now," he added, unnecessarily.
Kathryn smiled and nodded, biting her bottom lip.
Time seemed suspended as she watched his eyes darken and his mouth descend. She braced herself, her eyes closing and breath catching as their lips met. She'd imagined this moment, but nothing could come close to the reality of it. His lips were soft, supple but hotly demanding and she answered with a heat of her own; opening her mouth and pressing closer as his lips moved insistently over hers. They kissed for what seemed like hours, only breaking apart to change angles and gasp shuddering breaths.
After a time, his mouth softened and he slowly eased away, nipping at her upper lip before kissing her cheeks, her forehead and then her temple.
"She said that you'd like that idea," Chakotay confessed quietly into her ear as he held her.
"I'm so glad she remembered," she laughed.
"She said she could never forget."
Kathryn nodded in understanding. "I asked why she showed up when she did. Do you know what she told me?"
He reached out and took her hand as he shook his head.
"Everything was analysed. The crew's lives after her return, the advances to Starfleet, the impact of those last few missions - if she was throwing it all away, she needed to convince herself it was worth it."
She met his eyes and smiled. "It was important to her that we knew what we had, and that we knew what it felt like to give up and then lose the other, so we'd fight for it if we had a second chance. She knew how stubborn I could be."
"Which almost sabotaged her plans," Chakotay agreed. "Was it worth it?"
Her answering smile told him that she thought it was. And who was he to argue with two Kathryn Janeways?