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Disclaimers:  No infringement intended.  I obviously don’t own Star Trek or any of its properties

Notes:  This story was written by request for GSlovesvoy who generously contributed to the Queensland Flood Relief Fund.  GS wanted an in-the-life scene post-Endgame but set just before the reunion with a little bit of angst.  For you GS, I really hope I got it right.  And thanks to QS for as always donning the beta hat for me.  

Almost by Cheshire

He couldn’t be sure if it was his imagination or not, but it felt like a hush descended throughout the restaurant.  Without even looking, he knew that it wasn’t his imagination and grinning, he stood to greet her. 

The restaurant wasn’t overly crowded, but everyone had stopped their own conversations to watch her as she cut a path from the hostess’ desk to his table.  He understood the fascination.  She was a celebrity in her own right.  The captain that brought her crew home from 70,000 light years away.  The Federation President as well as the admiralty of Starfleet had ensured that everyone in the Alpha Quadrant knew who Kathryn Janeway was.

But he was captivated by her entrance for different reasons.  She looked stunning.  Free of her uniform for the evening, her auburn hair loose around her shoulders and still a bit wavy from being kept up in a twist all day.  The dark blue of her blouse accenting the color of her eyes, eyes that danced at him as she rolled them slightly, indicating she had noticed all the attention she was receiving.  Her grin was impish when the maitre d’ pulled out her chair for her. 

Chakotay knew it was childish, but he resented the glorified waiter’s actions.  He’d wanted to do that for her.  It was a missed opportunity to steal a quick kiss.  So when the maitre d’ asked her specifically if there was anything else he could do, Chakotay quickly ordered her favorite bottle of wine. 

Once the waiter had left, Kathryn placed her small purse on the table and smirked.  “Really, Chakotay?  Was that necessary?  He was only doing his job.”

He snorted lightly.  He’d been here for a half hour waiting and hadn’t seen anyone else receive that kind of attention, but he wisely decided not to point that out. It wasn’t the kind of thing she appreciated.  “I wasn’t sure you’d make it tonight.”

“Are you kidding?” She was genuinely surprised. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

The next day, Voyager would be back in the Alpha Quadrant a year to the day.  The official Voyager Reunion wouldn’t be until the following weekend, but the senior staff were getting together for the actual anniversary.  While he knew she would have broken warp barriers to arrive in time for the reunion, he hadn’t been entirely sure she’d put the same importance on tonight. 

A date for just the former command team to celebrate their homecoming.

Feeling relieved that his doubts had been unjustified, he asked, “So when did you get in?”

“What time is it?”

He glanced at the ornate clock on the wall of the restaurant.  “Ten after eight.”

“Ah, then we made orbit…ninety minutes ago.”

Chakotay was impressed she’d only been thirty minutes late.  “How did you manage that?  It usually takes that long just to get you out of Headquarters.”

“Sometimes,” she admitted slowly, “rank does have its privileges.”

“You beamed down first?” he asked, chuckling.  Kathryn usually eschewed the VIP status Starfleet always pressed upon her. 

A slight flush crept into her cheeks.  “I don’t like to abuse the privilege, but tonight was a special occasion.  I wanted to be on time.”  She noticed him cover a smile.  “Which I wasn’t, but damn it, I tried.”

He reached his hand across the table to her.  “The effort was appreciated, I assure you.”

“I even skipped going into the office,” she added plaintively. 

“You can send your reports in the morning,” he assured her.  She’d probably want to send them tonight, but he was fairly confident he’d be able to keep her distracted from work.

She knew, of course, that he’d deliberately ruled out getting any work done tonight.  Which, honestly, she admitted to herself was just fine.  “I missed you.”

“Likewise.”

They let go each other’s hands when the waiter returned, placing warm bread on the table, taking their orders, and leaving the wine bottle with Chakotay.  As he poured the glasses, he noticed a peculiar look on her face.  “What is it?”

She picked up her glass and swirled the contents.  “Do you remember the last time we were here?”

“Of course,” he admitted, sipping from his own glass. “I hadn’t been sure you’d show up that night either.”

“I almost didn’t.”

It was the first time she’d admitted to it, but it didn’t surprise him.  “I’m glad you did.”

“Were you?”

“Yes.”  The doubt surprised him.  “Why wouldn’t I have been?”

She took a sip of her wine before answering.  “It wasn’t exactly what I’d call a pleasant evening.”

“Everything that was said needed saying,” he argued, ironically defending her words and not his own.

“I could’ve been…nicer about it.” She grimaced slightly.  “Some of my remarks about Seven were…uncalled for.”

He smiled softly.  That night had indeed been painful.  Kathryn was one of the best at cutting someone to the quick using just her words.  If she’d actually drawn blood, he might not have survived the night, but her curt observations concerning his dalliances had not been unfounded.  “You were tired that night.”

“That’s no excuse.”

Chuckling softly, he took her hand once again in his.  “We’d only been home a week and the debriefings were unbelievably stressful.  The circles under your eyes were dark enough you looked like a raccoon,” he was only half joking. “You were exhausted, Kathryn.  I should have known better than to ask you for your opinion that night.”

His thumb was stroking the palm of her hand and she reveled in the feel of it.  A year ago and even this sort of casual touch would’ve been too much for her.  “You did it on purpose.”

He cocked his head to the side and scrutinized her for a moment.  “You knew?”

“At the time?” she huffed.  “No. But I figured it out…later. After I’d calmed down and the headache had worn off.”

“It worked, didn’t it?” he asked with a smile.  “It got you to admit your true feelings.”

“About a lot of things.”

It was true.  A couple of glasses of wine on an empty stomach with hardly any sleep and Kathryn had laid into him about his relationship with Seven.  She’d started out damning him for taking advantage of a woman who was too emotionally young for him and ended with how emotionally betrayed she felt.  More than a few heads had turned in their direction at her hissed words, but he had just been relieved she was finally getting it off her chest.  That she was finally showing some emotion after she’d kept herself so controlled ever since they’d come through the wormhole.

He’d been worried about her.  The senior staff had been worried about her.  They’d reached home and she’d barely even smiled unless there was a holocamera in her face – and even then it was obviously forced.  The debriefings that had been immediately launched had not helped.  Starfleet had promised to only touch on the most important matters, leaving the unessential points until after the crew had had some leave, but all the points they wished to discuss were emotionally damning to relive.  Admiral Janeway.  Unimatrix.  Equinox.  The Maquis.   It wasn’t as though Kathryn could simply step out of any of those debriefings.

By the time she’d arrived at dinner that night a year ago, he’d known the emotional dam she’d built was at its breaking point.  She’d had no room in her reservoir for anything else.  So instead of acting like the little Dutch boy plugging the dam, Chakotay had become the force of nature that pressured her into an explosion. 

“Everything became easier after that,” Kathryn admitted, interrupting his thoughts.

“You had your equilibrium back.”

“I had something back.” Her eyes sparked mischievously and before he could question it, she changed the subject.  “I heard Harry is actually going to make it back in time for the reunion.”

He wasn’t going to let her get away with her age-old tactic, but a trio of waiters laden with plates of food arrived at their table, distracting both of them from their conversation.  As they ate, they spoke of Harry’s music, Miral’s latest antics, his research and the unclassified portions of her latest mission.  She asked whether or not the dog had missed her.  He assured her that no one, including the dog, had even noticed her absence, and she assured him that despite the many subspace calls she’d received, no one on the ship had even been aware that she was involved with him. 

Once the plates were cleared away and she had her after-dinner coffee in hand, she leaned back in her chair, eyeing him over the rim of her cup.  She was armed with caffeine and apparently ready to delve back into more personal topics again.  “Do you know why I accepted your invitation to dinner a year ago?”

Considering the conversation they’d ended up having, it had never occurred to him to question why she had come.  “No,” he answered honestly.

“It wasn’t to discuss your relationship with Seven.”

He leaned forward, putting his arms on the table.  A tendril of concern coiled in his chest.  “Then…why?”

She cradled the small cup of coffee, looking into it as though it held her answers.  “To say goodbye.”

The taste of mushroom risotto that still lingered in his mouth soured.  “W-where were you going to go?”

“Nowhere.  Anywhere.” Kathryn lifted her shoulders slightly and dropped them.  “It didn’t matter really.  I just needed to get away…”

“From me,” he supplied.

A pause and then she nodded her head, admitting, “Yes.  I don’t…let go of things easily.  Maybe you haven’t noticed over the years, but I tend to have a stubborn streak.”

“It’s come up once or twice.”

“The point I’m trying to make is that it took me years…to get over Mark.  I buried Justin, but it was… months before I acknowledged that he was gone.”  She had to pause, the muscle in her jaw working, as she stared out into the restaurant for several minutes.  “And neither of them was standing beside me.  I wasn’t going to be able to get over you if I was still seeing you every day. If I was still having lunches with you, working over schematics by your side, digging through gigaquads of Delta Quadrant information for hours at a time.  I needed distance.  I needed to disappear for awhile.”

“Kathryn…you did disappear.  You were gone for two months up at that family cabin of yours.”

She shook her head, a ghost of a smile playing across her lips. “No, I didn’t disappear.  I told you where I was going.  I returned your calls.”

“You wouldn’t let me come see you.”

“No, I didn’t,” she admitted easily.  “I had to find out where the captain ended and Kathryn began before I could even begin to contemplate you and me.”  Chuckling self deprecatingly, she added, “You said it yourself; I was a mess.”

He grinned.  “I don’t think I phrased it quite like that.”

“Semantics.”

He let her win, knowing she would think she had anyway.   “When you came back…I noticed.”

“Well, I should hope so,” she quipped.  “We did move in together, after all.”

He huffed at her deliberate misunderstanding.  “You were more yourself,” he insisted.  “You laughed easier. You teased.  You were reaching out to people again.  You’d stopped doing that while we were out there.”

“I think it was…self-defense,” she admitted quietly after a long moment. “Not that I realized it at the time or would have admitted it even if I had figured it out, but I was really…afraid.”

“Afraid of what?” he asked quietly even though he already knew the answer.

“Losing them,” she answered simply, easily.  “Losing you.”

“But you didn’t.”

She managed a faint smile but it faded quickly.  “No.  I just lost myself.”

He offered his hand to her across the table.  “You’re here now.”  Gauging her mood, he added, “And you were almost on time.”

Jerking her hand away from his, she tried to look offended but was smiling too much to achieve the desired glower.  “You’re going to pay for that one.”

He pushed his chair back from the table.  “If you’re ready to leave, I await my punishment.”

Giving him a reproving glare, Kathryn picked up her purse and accepted his offered hand.  “You seem awfully eager for someone who’s facing punishment.”

“Kathryn, you’ve been gone for two months,” he said quietly, steering her through the tables and past the waiters.  “I’m way beyond eager.”

His hot breath on the back of her neck sent shivers down her spine.  She started slightly at his unexpected closeness and barely managed to acknowledge the maitre d’ as he held the door open for them.  “Thank you for everything.  The meal was delightful.”

The waiter bowed slightly.  “It was our honor to have you in our establishment again, Admiral, and may I say, welcome home.”

She paused, the heat from Chakotay’s close proximity warming her in more ways than one, but she wanted to acknowledge the host’s comment.  She’d heard that platitude many times over the past year and she’d probably hear it many more times over the next week, but taking Chakotay’s hand in hers, she meant it when she said, “It’s good to be home.”

~~~

 


 

Thank you Audabee for giving my words a home! 

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