Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything but I doubt they want this.
Written for VAMB's spring, using the first line supplied by TB.
Looking down at the PADD in his hand once again, he wondered how he was going to explain this to his captain.
Voyager stayed within range of the Hirogen array long enough for Seven to download the crew's messages from home and load them onto PADDs, one for each crewmember. Neelix had delivered most of them, his bonhomie and curiosity making him a natural postman. But for some reason, Seven requested that Chakotay be the one to personally deliver the captain's PADD.
Chakotay didn't query her as to the contents of the captain's message - for Seven surely knew. He'd seen a flash of knowledge in her eyes, quickly hidden, as she'd handed him his own PADD earlier. It felt wrong that Seven should know about the imprisonment and death of the Maquis before he did. News like that should be passed directly to people who cared, not via strangers. It was as if the receiver's reaction gave validation to the message; Seven's non-reaction seemed to trivialize it. His own grief was still a pulsating, raw thing in his chest, pushed down and buried until such time as he could absorb it and grieve in private. A vision quest maybe. Or red wine, anger, and tears with B'Elanna, Ayala, Tabor and the other Maquis onboard Voyager.
Whatever was contained in the captain's message could never equal that.
But Seven was insistent. When he took the PADD, she added, as she turned back to her station, "You should read it, Commander. You are mentioned by name."
He wasn't surprised; the message was probably from Starfleet and it was doubtless something to do with the advisability of making a renegade the first officer. So he nodded at Seven, with no intention of reading a private message.
"It mentions you in a personal sense," stated Seven. "It is from the captain's fiancÚ, Mark Johnson. He proposes you as a replacement mate for the captain due to his unavailability."
Chakotay knew he should chastise Seven for snooping - even if she had yet to fully understand the concept of privacy - but her words stunned him to silence. Instead, he took the PADD and marched down the corridors to deliver it.
The captain was in her ready room, coffee in hand.
"Is that my letter from home?" she asked, and the glow of expectation lit her eyes.
He nodded and turned to leave, mindful of the PADD's contents.
"Stay," she said. "Wait until I've read it."
He moved over to the viewscreen, stared out at the swathe of stars. Atoms and dust and swirling souls. Were the Maquis out there, part of the cosmos?
The silence from the room behind encompassed him. When he turned to face her, she was sitting on the couch staring down at the PADD.
"You knew the contents," she said and it was not a question.
He nodded, unwilling to explain how he knew. When he looked at her face, there was no sadness there, just a stoic acceptance, a blank mask, true feelings carefully hidden.
"Seven, I suppose."
He didn't confirm or deny her words.
"Mark has married a woman he met through his work. He waited for me for three years, but then he moved on." She massaged her temple with her free hand. "I feel like I should be crying. I've just been dumped after all."
He moved over to the couch and sat down beside her. "How do you feel?"
She didn't answer him immediately. "Happy for Mark that he's found someone, piqued that I'm so easily replaceable, but mainly relieved." Her hand clenched in on itself briefly. "It's as if strings have been cut. There's now one less person trying to mold my life."
He was surprised. He'd expected the stoicism, the lifted chin, the acceptance - she wasn't one to dream of what could have been - but he hadn't expected the relief.
"Sometimes, Chakotay, I feel my life is not my own. Starfleet, the crew, our journey, Mark, my mother. I have to be a captain, a leader, an explorer, a fiancÚ, a daughter. I can never be just Kathryn." Her mouth twisted. "Now I can strike 'fiancÚ' off the list. I wonder what I'll replace it with?"
"You don't have to replace it with anything," he said. "Just Kathryn."
Her eyes lingered upon his face and something long buried turned in his heart. He was reminded of another time, a planet far from here, and Kathryn clutching a bath towel over her breasts, hair damp and curling around her neck, looking up at him with a question in her eyes. Then, on New Earth, he'd recognized the moment for what it was - a shedding of the old, a sweeping in of the new: captain and first officer to potential lovers. The moment had balanced sweet and shining on the tension strung between them, and without a word being spoken they had accepted the change. From that point their lives moved towards a new relationship. Voyager's return had scythed through that potential, stopping their gradual slide toward intimacy.
Here and now, in her ready room, was another moment of possibility. There was a look in her face seldom seen. Hope, he could have called it. Hope for what they could be. He moved forward, touched her clenched hand. Her fingers uncurled and he took her hand in his own. "You have other options now, if you want to consider them."
"Maybe I do," she murmured, and her thumb stroked the back of his hand, once, lightly. "Mark suggests I should consider a relationship with someone from the crew. With you."
"Is that what you want?"
She didn't answer, just lifted his hands to her lips and kissed the backs, one then the other.
He sat with her without speaking, their hands entwined. He did not want to push her for more, indeed, now was not the time. There was so much that still had to be said between them, and despite her stated feeling of relief, he knew there would be a time of sorrow, of mourning what might have been, and a period of introspection before she would be ready to take the next step by his side.
There was his own grief too, so much greater, so much heavier than hers. Grief that had no overlay of relief to mute it. He should tell her about the Maquis, and he would. Just not now. But when he did, he knew she would be there for him also.
As if she sensed his thoughts, she met his eyes and asked, "What about you? Did you get a letter?"
He pushed down the darkness and sorrow her words brought and said, "Later. We'll talk about it later."
Seven flashed into his mind. The novice observer of humanity knew the messages he and the captain had received would be upsetting. And in her own heavy-handed way she had tried to make it easier for both of them. To comfort and be comforted.
A way forward. As just Kathryn and Chakotay.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne
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