What Defines Us
Summary: Written to two dialogue prompts: “You left without saying goodbye. I hate you for that.” and “It was a mistake coming here.”
Characters: Chakotay, Janeway
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.
He was stacking the last of the logs at the side of the barn when a chorus of barks warned him he had company. Tugging his discarded sweater back over his head, Chakotay skirted the barn door and raised his eyebrows at the sleek silver hovercar parked in the dirt circle he called a driveway. Nobody around here drove anything that flashy, or that impractical, which meant his visitor could only be someone from –
Goddamned Starfleet, he thought resentfully, they just don’t give up.
It was almost nine months since he’d tendered his resignation – for the second time – and his annoyance with Starfleet’s repeated attempts to woo him back was rapidly building to ire. Wiping his hands on a cloth, he strode toward the car, intending to give his caller short shrift.
And then the car door opened and his visitor stepped out, and Chakotay stopped short, the angry words sputtering on his tongue.
If he didn’t know Kathryn Janeway as well as he did – had, he corrected himself – he’d have thought she was perfectly composed, but the slight tension in her curled fingers, the feigned indifference of her stance, gave her away.
That husky contralto reached out to him and sent tendrils of unwanted sensation up the length of his spine. Chakotay’s jaw clenched.
“Captain.” His voice was as emotionless as he could force it to be, and he didn’t miss the almost imperceptible flinch of her response. “To what do I owe the …” he paused slightly, deliberately, “pleasure?”
She swallowed. “I – came to see you. I was hoping we could talk.”
Without a word, he gestured in the direction of the cabin, and after a moment she turned to climb the steps. She wore crumpled jeans, hiking boots and a bulky jacket, but he couldn’t help noticing she moved as gracefully as she had the last time he’d seen her, in silver heels and that elegant blue dress that had clung so silkily to her figure.
Then he reminded himself that the homecoming ball hadn’t been the last time he’d seen her, and hated himself. For noticing, and for everything else.
He slammed the door a little harder than necessary behind them and tried not to take too much pleasure in her start of surprise.
“Coffee?” he asked gruffly, shouldering past her to the kitchen.
“Take a seat.” Chakotay waved at the battered pair of armchairs and she headed for them obediently, but before she could sit down, the pet flap in the back door burst open and a shaggy missile of sandy-coloured fur rocketed into the house, yipping and whining.
Kathryn’s face wreathed into a brilliant smile and her tense limbs loosened. “Oh, he’s beautiful!”
Tugging off her scarf, she dropped to her knees as the dog bounded over to her and immediately started licking her hands, tail swishing enthusiastically. Her laughter, rich and honest, brought an involuntary smile to Chakotay’s mouth which he instantly suppressed.
“What’s his name?” Kathryn looked up at him, blowing a fallen strand of hair from her eyes.
“Her name is Honey.” Chakotay turned back to the replicator. “I don’t keep real coffee here. You’ll have to settle for replicated.”
“Honey?” Her bright tone told him she was doing her best to ignore his surliness.
“I didn’t name her. I picked her up at a shelter.” Chakotay set her coffee and his tea on the kitchen bench. “She’s a little untamed. I’ll put her outside.”
“Don’t do it on my account.” Kathryn’s voice warmed as she scratched Honey behind the ears, and the dog flopped onto her side and gazed up at Kathryn with adoring brown eyes.
Chakotay rested a hip against the bench, sipping his tea and trying not to feel insulted that his dog apparently liked Kathryn better than she liked him.
Kathryn pushed herself to her feet and approached him warily, and Honey followed, sitting at Kathryn’s feet when she’d perched on a stool. “So,” she said carefully, “it’s been a while.”
She wound her fingers around the coffee cup and took a bracing sip. “Chakotay, I – I heard about you and Seven. I’m sorry.”
All the rage, all the resentment bubbled up inside him and he banged his half-empty mug down on the counter. Both Kathryn and Honey jumped.
“What are you sorry for?” he bit out. “It had nothing to do with you.”
Her mouth flattened into a line.
“She wanted to pursue her career and she didn’t want to live in the middle of nowhere. I had no interest in staying in Starfleet. We were fundamentally too different, so we split up. It happens.”
“I see.” Kathryn stared down at the counter. “I’m sorry, anyway.”
She straightened at his caustic tone, eyes flashing. “What do you want me to say, Chakotay? I am sorry. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. I’m sorry you’re not happy. I’m sorry we’re not –” She drew in a breath. “I’m sorry we aren’t friends anymore.”
“We made a mistake, Kathryn.” He wasn’t talking about Seven, and he knew she knew it. “All the apologies in the world can’t fix that.”
Tears sprang to her eyes and she placed her cup carefully on the bench. “The mistake was mine. I shouldn’t have come here.” She bent to collect her scarf and headed for the door.
“Kathryn.” It was wrenched out of him, and Chakotay sucked in a breath, then gave into impulse. “Don’t go.”
“Seven and I weren’t together, you know,” he told her quietly, when they’d settled in the armchairs with fresh drinks. “When you and I –”
“I realise that now.” Kathryn gazed pensively into her coffee. “I spoke with Seven a couple of weeks ago and she told me you’d only got back together after – afterwards.”
“It was a stupid idea.” Chakotay shook his head. “She was scared and I was angry, and we never should have tried to base a relationship on that. It barely lasted a month.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you,” she answered. “But when she showed up at the hotel the next morning and she was so upset –” Kathryn bit her lip. “Well. I should have known you wouldn’t do that to her.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you, either, Kathryn.” He stood abruptly, pacing over to the window.
“You’re still angry with me,” she pointed out.
“Because you left for the Beta quadrant without even saying goodbye,” he burst out. “You were gone for months. And then you were back, and just when I thought Starfleet had finally given up on me I get a summons from Admiral Paris offering me my old job back. As your first officer!” He barked out a laugh. “I fucking hated you for that, Kathryn. I still don’t understand what the hell you were playing at.”
She was silent for so long that he turned to look at her and saw she was hunched over her knees, her entire posture defeated.
“I missed you,” she whispered finally, raising damp eyes to him. “And it was the only excuse I could come up with to have you in my life again.”
“Oh, Kathryn.” His throat hurt. “You never needed an excuse. All you ever had to do was ask.”
The silence was broken by a soft, pleading whine, and Chakotay broke away from Kathryn’s blue gaze, bending to ruffle Honey’s ears. “It’s walk time.”
Kathryn got to her feet, quickly thumbing away the tears. “I should… I’ll go.”
“Kathryn.” His voice was gentle. “Why don’t you come with us?”
“Really?” She turned back, and the exquisite hope in her eyes made him unsure whether he wanted to smile or cry. “If you’re sure…”
“Come on.” He handed over her scarf and jacket. “It’s getting cold out.”
Wrapped up warmly, they left by the back door, Honey streaking ahead and circling back to bark encouragingly at them to pick up the pace. They walked in silence, Kathryn gazing around at the bleached, rugged hills, Chakotay surreptitiously watching her. Their breath puffed little clouds into the air and Kathryn’s nose turned red with the cold.
“It’s beautiful here,” she said eventually.
He shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. “It’s quiet, and there’s nobody around for miles. You’re the first person I’ve seen in days.”
“And that’s the way you like it?”
“It is.” He paused, then added, “It was. But there aren’t many people I’ve wanted to see.”
She sent him a quick, tentative smile. “I hope I’m somewhere on that list.”
Instead of answering he stuck out his elbow, and after a moment she linked her hands through it and he tugged her closer, feeling the warmth of her all along his side.
By the time Honey had worn herself out to a tongue-lolling trot, the sun was sinking behind the hills and Chakotay could feel Kathryn shivering beside him. Ushering her through the cabin’s back door and into the kitchen, he went immediately to the replicator and returned with a hot mug of coffee, wrapping her icy fingers around it. She gave him a grateful look as she sipped deeply, and he chuckled.
“Some things never change.”
Kathryn paused, the mug halfway to her lips, eyes serious. “I hope not,” she said softly.
He wanted to blurt it out then, to confess that for him, nothing had changed. But he’d spent too long in silence, and the thought of cracking his heart open for her again terrified him, so he said nothing.
“You keep trying to leave,” he remarked when she’d finished her coffee and mumbled something about getting back to San Francisco. “It’s dark out, and it’s a five-hour drive. Stay. I’ll make up the spare room.”
She chewed her lower lip. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“You’re not.” He tilted his head toward the unlit hearth. “Why don’t you start a fire while I make up your bed?”
“As long as I don’t have to sacrifice any hair for it,” she joked.
He grinned. “The firelighters are on the mantel.”
By the time he returned to the living room, Kathryn had removed her scarf and jacket and was holding her hands out in front of a merrily blazing fire, Honey at her feet. Firelight glinted on her hair as she smiled at him, and Chakotay felt that dismaying, familiar clutch in his heart.
“How about some soup?” he asked quickly to cover the moment.
They ate in front of the fire, legs stretched out and backs leaning against the armchairs. Afterwards Chakotay made hot chocolate and Kathryn’s eyes lit up. “I have an idea. Let’s toast marshmallows.”
So he replicated marshmallows and threaded them onto skewers, and as the evening drew on she told stories of her Beta quadrant mission on her new ship, and he told her about the changes he’d made to the cabin and his plans for building a greenhouse. And they talked about the things they’d seen and done in the Delta quadrant, laughing and sighing and sometimes just sitting in silence, and at some point she scooted in close, and then she was resting her head on his shoulder and his arm was around her.
They grew quiet.
The fire crackled and spat, and Honey sighed, resting her muzzle on her paws.
“Do you really think it – us – was a mistake?”
She’d spoken so quietly and he’d been so lost in thought that it took him a moment to respond. He looked down at her and found her blue-grey eyes clouded, but gazing at him steadily.
“That night,” he said slowly, “God, Kathryn, I can’t even tell you – I’d waited for so long, and hoped, and then right at the end of our journey I gave up. And then I had everything I’d wanted for seven years, right there in my arms. I thought it was finally our time.”
“And then everything went wrong,” she whispered.
“Yeah.” He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering.
Seven at the hotel room door the following dawn, still in her dress from the ball, incoherent and shaking almost convulsively; Kathryn, mis-buttoned into his shirt, hair tangled, face still soft with consummated love but her eyes dawning with horror. The misunderstanding. Kathryn grabbing her wrap and running barefoot into the corridor. Seven falling apart, having to call the Doctor to sedate her. And Kathryn disappearing, his frantic search for her, then the call from Tom reluctantly telling him that she’d fled off-world, that she’d be leaving soon on a new deep-space mission.
That morning was the last time he’d seen her. Until now.
“It wasn’t a mistake, Kathryn,” he sighed. “I can’t regret that night. I just don’t know if I can do this again. With you.”
She ducked her head. “Have I hurt you that badly?” she asked in a strangled voice.
The feel of her shaking against him, the hiccupping of her indrawn breath, was more than he could bear. “Don’t cry,” he said helplessly. “Kathryn, I – I just can’t be who I was, all those years on Voyager. I can’t be your first officer again. I’m sorry.”
She made a sound – he wasn’t sure if it was a sob or laugh – and cried, “I don’t want you to be my first officer, Chakotay! I don’t even want you to be my best friend, although… although if that’s all you can be – my friend – then I’ll take it, and gladly. Don’t you understand?” and she knelt in front of him, her shaking hands cupping his face. “Of all the mistakes I’ve made over the past eight years, you were never one of them. You were the one thing that was right. And I love you. I love you, Chakotay.”
She waited, searching his eyes, and when her words settled into his bones and his lips parted in a helpless, elated smile, she leaned in and pressed her mouth to his.
The first time he’d kissed her, they’d been almost overwhelmed with desperation, both of them consumed by a ravenous need to caress and taste and conquer. This kiss was different. Her lips were sticky-soft, tasting of salt and marshmallows and hope, and he could have kissed her forever but he kept smiling, and then she was smiling too and pressing small breathy kisses to his lips, his cheeks, his closed eyelids.
Eventually they drew apart and she sat back on her heels, her eyes still slightly shadowed. “I know I haven’t been fair to you,” she said before he could inquire. “And I know we have a lot to talk about – a lot to figure out. But I want this, Chakotay. I just need to know if this is what you want, too.”
There were so many things he wanted to say to her – reassurances, explanations, apologies – but in the end, this was what it came down to. He reached up and smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear.
“It’s what I want,” he told her, and at his silent invitation she moved gladly into the circle of his arms.