Always Leaving

Summary: Written to two dialogue prompts: “You’re so terrified that everyone you love will leave you, that you’re always leaving them first.” and “Promise me you will come back… I need you to promise me.”

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

Notes: Set post-Endgame. Sequel to What Defines Us and If You Stumble...

Rated T

“They’re sending you where?”

 

Kathryn sipped her wine to avoid meeting his eye. “Cardassia Prime. It’s a diplomatic mission, nothing more.”

 

Chakotay set his knife and fork down firmly. “Tell me you’re refusing it.”

 

“I can’t refuse it, Chakotay.” Exasperation coloured her tone. “I’m a Starfleet captain – I go where I’m sent.”

 

“That’s bullshit. The Federation isn’t at war, Kathryn. In peacetime, you have the right to request your choice of mission and turn down the ones you don’t want.”

 

“That’s my point, Chakotay – it’s peacetime. We are not at war with Cardassia, and the Neptune isn’t the only ship going to this conference. There’s no danger here.”

 

He looked at her evenly. “Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me Cardassia gives a crap about a Federation peace treaty?”

 

“Cardassia is different now,” she said firmly. “Since the war there’s been a change of ideology in the government. And besides, their population was decimated and their cities and technology largely destroyed by the Jem’Hadar. They can’t afford to go to war with us, Chakotay. They need us.”

 

“Do you really believe what you’re saying to me right now?”

 

“Chakotay –” She tamped down her irritation with effort. “I can’t let past experiences – yours or mine – dictate the way I approach this mission. I have to believe that the Cardassian government, who by the way initiated this overture, is genuine in its desire for peace.”

 

“Let someone else do it,” he said abruptly.

 

“It’s my duty.”

 

“Kathryn, you’ve barely been here a week.” He softened his voice. “I’d like the chance to explore what we’ve started, but if you take this mission, how can I believe you’ll ever give us that chance?”

 

“This isn’t about that,” she snapped.

 

“Isn’t it?” Chakotay rose from his seat and came around the dining table to crouch before her, holding her gaze. “Kathryn, you are a dedicated, principled and courageous captain, and I love you for all of those qualities. But you’re also a woman who, for eight years now, has put everyone else ahead of herself, and I believe you need to put yourself first for a change.”

 

“Myself?” she asked. “Or you?”

 

He tilted his head in acknowledgement. “I’d be lying if I said I don’t have a vested interest here. I want the opportunity to find out what we can be together. I want us to be together… I want you to stay.”

 

“Chakotay…” She bit her lip. “Of course I want us to be together, but I can’t just refuse my duty to pursue a personal relationsh–”

 

“You can,” he interrupted. “You just have to want it badly enough.”

 

Abruptly she pulled her hands from his gentle grasp and scraped her chair backward, pacing away from him. “Don’t make me choose,” she grated.

 

He stood to face her. “I’m not making you choose between Starfleet and me. I’m just asking you not to take this particular mission.”

 

“Really? Because it sounds like you’re trying to control me.”

 

“You know what this is, don’t you?”

 

“Enlighten me.” She folded her arms.

 

“You’re afraid,” he said bluntly. “You’re so terrified that everyone you love will leave you that you’re always leaving them first.”

 

Her mouth dropped open. “That is … preposterous, Chakotay!”

 

“When you showed up here I asked you if you were going to run away again,” he said flatly. “Seems to me that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

 

Her hands dropped to her sides. Was that really what she was doing?

 

No.

 

“I’m not running away,” she said coldly. “Chakotay, you need to understand that I’m not going to abandon my career to play house with you.”

 

She saw the shock register in his eyes.

 

“That sounds familiar,” he managed, and she remembered, then, that he and Seven had broken up for the same reason.

 

Well, that reason, among others.

 

Brushing away the shame she didn’t want to feel, she stepped closer, carefully calming her voice. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t quite how I meant that to come out.”

 

A muscle flexed briefly in his cheek before he dropped his gaze. “I’m not asking you to abandon your career – I’d never demand you give up something so important to you. I’m only asking you to pass on this one, particular mission.”

 

“And if I do?” She reached out and tipped up his chin with one finger. “What happens if Starfleet orders me to the Romulan neutral zone, or the Tzenkethi border? Will you decide those missions are too dangerous for me, too?”

 

“The Tzenkethi never destroyed my homeworld,” he fired back. “The Romulans didn’t kidnap and torture you.”

 

“I see,” she said after a pause. “So this is really about the Cardassians.”

 

“Can you blame me?”

 

“No,” she said softly. “But I need you to understand something, Chakotay. I feel the same way you do about the Cardassians, and because of that, I need to go on this mission. I need to believe that there’s some kernel of goodness in them, because I can’t live with the thought that I despise an entire race of people for the actions of a few.”

 

===0===

It was the first night since she’d come to Wyoming that they hadn’t made love. They lay silently, not touching, each of them staring at the ceiling, and Kathryn couldn’t bear it.

 

She raised up onto her elbow. “Chakotay.”

 

He turned his head.

 

“When I get back from this mission, we’ll talk about … things. Us. What we both want, and where we go from here.”

 

His expression softened. “Okay.”

 

“Okay.” She smiled.

 

Chakotay lifted a hand to her neck, his thumb stroking her cheekbone, and she bent to kiss him.

 

“Just promise me you’ll come back,” he murmured against her lips, his other arm coming around her as she shifted over him. “I need you to promise me.”

 

In answer, she kissed him again and let her hands wander, and she hoped that he was distracted enough not to notice that she couldn’t make the promise he’d asked for.

 

===0===

Kathryn had been gone for three weeks now, and still Honey wandered the house whining as though missing a limb.

 

Chakotay knew how she felt. In the nine months since he’d moved to this secluded property he’d managed to avoid succumbing to loneliness. Until now, when a week spent openly loving Kathryn Janeway – reveling in the ability to talk to her without censoring himself, to kiss her and hold her – had turned his solitude into something he almost couldn’t bear.

 

Cardassia Prime was too far away for real-time communication, but Kathryn sent him daily subspace messages. Her tone was upbeat; she said diplomatic negotiations were going well and she was confident that the new government genuinely wanted to foster peace. With each communication his fears for her safety abated. So when a day passed without a message, and then two, he told himself that she was fine and it was probably just a communications problem.

 

On the third day he stopped trying to fool himself and contacted Starfleet HQ.

 

“There’s no need to worry,” Admiral Hayes told him. “The Neptune took a side-trip to inspect the Federation re-building effort on Aschelon Prime and got caught in an unexpected ion storm. They took some damage to their subspace array and have been unable to send long-range communications, but the Venture went to assist. They’re fine.”

 

“No casualties?” Chakotay was still suspicious.

 

“None,” Hayes assured. “Relax, Commander. I’m sure Captain Janeway will contact you as soon as she’s able.”

 

“I’m not a commander,” Chakotay corrected automatically.

 

“My mistake. Would you prefer the title of professor?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I’m told you’re not interested in resuming active service, but Starfleet doesn’t want to lose you. I’ve been authorised to offer you a position on the faculty at the Academy. How does Associate Professor of Tactics grab you? You’d be on campus three days a week and Starfleet would assist you if you want to pursue study in another field, say, anthropology.”

 

“I don’t –” Chakotay was taken aback. “I … thank you. I’ll consider it.”

 

“Just say the word, Professor. Hayes out.”

 

===0===

“I am so sorry.” Kathryn leaned into the viewscreen, her expression soft. “Chakotay, I know you must have been worried. If I could have contacted you –”

 

“I know you would have.” He smiled at her. “Tell me what happened?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “My ops officer completely missed the approach of an ion storm and we took fairly heavy damage. I probably reprimanded him more severely than I should have, but honestly, all I could think was that Harry never would’ve screwed up like that. And thank God he never did, or life on Voyager would’ve been even more precarious.”

 

“We had a good crew.”

 

“The best,” she said softly. She glanced down for a moment and when her eyes returned to his, they were clear and direct. “I’ll never lead another crew like ours, Chakotay. And to be honest, I’ve been wondering if I even want to.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’m tired,” she said bluntly. “I’ve seen and experienced more than most captains ever will, and I just can’t find it in me to set out to explore the unknown anymore. And the idea of spending the rest of my career in space, leading diplomatic missions, is just … God, Chakotay, the Cardassians –” She broke off to shake her head. “I’m trying so hard to take them at face value, but they set my teeth on edge.”

 

“Have they threatened you?” he asked, alarmed.

 

“No, nothing so overt, and I honestly believe they see the value in peace with the Federation. But everything they say has a double meaning. It’s all half-truths and insinuations, and … I suppose my history with them makes me nervous. I just feel constantly on my guard, and it’s exhausting.”

 

An image of Inspector Kashyk’s supercilious smile floated through his mind. It wasn’t the first time Chakotay had privately compared the Devore to the Cardassians, but as with those other times, he kept it to himself. “Maybe you just left your tolerance for deception back in the Delta quadrant.”

 

“Maybe. But most of all,” she lifted a hand to press her fingertips against the screen, “I miss you.”

 

He raised his hand to mirror hers. “Then come home.”

 

Her smile blossomed. “I’ll see you soon.”

 

===0===

He was in the woodshop when Honey, who’d been lying with her head on her paws watching him, raised her head with an excited whine and then shot out into the yard. Chakotay switched off the router, brushed the sawdust off his shirt and followed.

 

As she had a little over two months ago, Kathryn Janeway stepped from her hovercar and shaded her eyes against the lowering sun. Unlike last time, Chakotay took off towards her at a run. Her face broke into a smile. She dropped her overnight bag and leapt into his open arms, wrapping her limbs around him and holding his face firmly between her hands as her lips latched onto his.

 

Eventually, Honey’s desperate barking as she bounced around them could no longer be ignored, and Chakotay let Kathryn slip to the ground so Honey could lick her hands and face. She was laughing when she got up from the dirt, brushing off her knees.

 

“Now that’s the welcome I was hoping for.”

 

He reached for her bag and slung it over his shoulder, slipping his other arm around her waist. “That’s what you were hoping for – a dog slobbering all over you?” he grinned.

 

“Well…” she bit her lip, smirking up at him, “I did play out a few other scenarios during those long, lonely nights in my quarters…”

 

“You did?” He widened his eyes at her. “Do tell, Captain.”

 

“Not before you feed me,” she poked his chest, “and definitely not before coffee. And a shower.”

 

Chakotay pulled her close again, his lips finding that spot on her neck that invariably produced a moan.

 

“Okay, food can wait,” she gasped.

 

He smirked. “Let me shut up the woodshop and I’m all yours.”

 

“Oh, I hope so…” she stopped, eyebrow raised. “What were you doing in the woodshop?”

 

A slow grin started on his lips. “I’m building something.”

 

She was surprised to feel tears spring to her eyes at the sweet memory his words elicited.

 

“What could you be building?” she almost whispered.

 

He took her hands. “Come and see.”

 

She followed him into the small barn.

 

“I know it’s not very romantic,” he sounded apologetic. “But since we already have a bathtub and a headboard, I wanted to make you something new.”

 

He tugged at a dropsheet and she pressed her hands to her mouth, staring at his gift. “You made me a painting easel?”

 

Chakotay tugged at his ear. “You did say it’s beautiful around here. I’m hoping you’ll want to stick around and capture some of that beauty on canvas.”

 

Kathryn stepped closer, one finger tracing the elegant curves at the top of the easel. “It’s perfect,” she whispered, reaching blindly for him with her other hand.

 

“I still need to stain and polish it, but it’ll be finished in a few days.”

 

She turned to him suddenly. “You said we.”

 

“What?”

 

“You said we already have a bathtub. Does that mean…?”

 

“That I want you to live here with me?” He turned his hand in hers, twining their fingers together, and didn’t miss the brightening of her eyes. “That’s always been what I want.”

 

“Oh, Chakotay.” She let out an unsteady breath. “You were right, you know – I was running away. And there will probably still be times when leaving is my first instinct, but I want to stay here. I want to be with you.”

 

“You were right, too,” he offered. “I was letting my prejudice against the Cardassians cloud my judgment. And I had no right to tell you not to take that mission.”

 

“So we’re both right, and both wrong. Nobody’s perfect.” Kathryn gave a watery giggle. “I still hate to cook.”

 

“I track sawdust into the house and leave wet towels on the floor.”

 

“I’m hideous before my first coffee in the morning. And I’ll forget to eat, and I’ll stay up working until you force me to get some sleep.”

 

“I sing in the shower. Badly.”

 

Her smile faded slightly as she laid her other hand on his chest and said tentatively, “I’ll be in San Francisco for at least two days a week. And sometimes I’ll have to go off-planet.”

 

“Sometimes?” He tilted his head.

 

“Well, occasionally admirals do take diplomatic missions…”

 

“Admiral?” Chakotay’s fingers tightened on hers. “You’re being promoted?”

 

“They offered it to me months ago,” she confessed. “Before I went to the Beta quadrant. I wasn’t ready then, but now I have a reason to take it.” She searched his eyes. “I’ll be based in San Francisco, but I’ll be able to do most of my work from here. They’ll even install a personal transporter pad on the property for me, if you don’t object.”

 

His smile was broadening.

 

“So you’re happy?” She held her breath.

 

He wanted to tell her about his new, San Francisco-based job, about the way he’d missed her like a part of himself while she’d been gone, about the hopes and dreams for their future that he’d been ruthlessly pushing aside since their argument several weeks before.

 

Instead, he pulled her close and kissed her so tenderly that her body melted into his on a shuddering, ecstatic sigh.

 

“Yes, Kathryn,” he murmured against her parted lips. “I’m happy.”

 

Coffee and showers were postponed by silent and mutual decision, and Honey was sent to wait outside the woodshop, her ears twitching at each soft gasp and low moan that echoed from inside.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper