"He Loves Me? She Loves Me Not?"
Pairing : J/C
Setting: Earth, about three months Post "Endgame". For the purposes of this story, the setting is early Spring.
Summary: Exhausted and frustrated by the on-going Starfleet debriefings, Janeway and Chakotay spend time together at Janeway's cottage in the country.
Author's Note 1 : This is a stand-alone story, not a sequel or a prequel to any of my other stories
Author's Note 2 : A shortie written for Amanda47 in VAMB's Spring Fling to go with a couple of J/C wallpapers I'd made for her :
Leaving the final debriefing session of the week, Kathryn hefted her bulging tote bag onto her shoulder and hurried through the gardens of the Presidio, eager to get back to the tranquility of her cottage in the country. It had been another frustrating day spent justifying her Delta Quadrant decisions and all she wanted to do was get home and try to put the day - and the week - behind her. As this was a Friday and she wasn't due back for another debriefing until Monday, she thought she might even push the boat out and open one of the luxury food baskets people had pressed on her as welcome home gifts. Hell, the way she felt right now, she might even crack open a bottle of whisky.
Determined to shake off her bad mood she took a deep breath and slowed her pace to enjoy the scenery around her. It was a sunny Spring afternoon and the gardens were looking particularly beautiful today. The flowering cherry trees were in blossom and thousands of tiny, pink petals drifted here and there before settling in swathes along the edges of the paths like wedding confetti. Many of the other trees and shrubs had that hazy, lime-green blush to them as they came into new leaf and the daffodils were in full bloom and glorious in the sunshine. She'd always loved the contrast between their bright yellow heads and the green of their leaves or the lush green of a lawn. The sight of a bank of golden daffodils swaying in the breeze on a sunny day always gladdened her heart and lifted her spirits.
The strap on her bag was beginning to dig into her shoulder by the time she arrived at the transport station, but the fifteen minute walk had done her good and she was already feeling a lot less stressed. As she idled in line waiting to give her destination co-ordinates to the transporter Chief, she wondered if Chakotay had finished his last debriefing of the day yet and if he had, whether he'd feel up to joining her for supper. She hadn't seen him in several days and she already missed his company - Like Crazy - she thought with a smile and a roll of her eyes. It hadn't been this bad when she'd gone home to Indiana to spend a month or so on leave with her family before the debriefings began, and he'd gone home to Dorvan to lick his wounds after his breakup with Seven.
Before she could over-think things or worry about taking up too much of his time now that they were home, she tapped her Commbadge and asked the station computer to put her through to him, but all she got was a 'Commander Chakotay is unavailable at this time' reply. Thinking that he must still be in a debriefing, she left a cheerful message inviting him to spend the weekend with her at the cottage and asking him to comm her if he couldn't make it. That done, she people watched for a while until the Chief motioned her forward and onto the transporter pad.
Ten minutes later, after a short walk from the local transport station, she was on the country lane that led to her cottage. As she reached the top of the lane and the cottage came into view, she could see that there was someone in Starfleet dress-uniform sitting on her doorstep. She couldn't make out who it was at first thanks to a flowering shrub that partially blocked her view and her heart sank as she wondered what they wanted from her now, and why it couldn't wait until Monday morning. If this was some desk-jockey come to ask her more stupid questions or escort her back to Headquarters to go through things she'd already explained until she was blue in the face, then they could go to hell. She'd enjoyed the fresh air and scenery on her walks to and from the transport stations, but now her feet ached and the strap on her bag was really cutting into her shoulder. She wasn't going anywhere else this evening. Just then, the someone stood up and came out into the lane to meet her. It was Chakotay, large as life and wearing a smile that said everything from 'Hello, gorgeous!' to 'God, I've missed you!'
"This looks heavy," he said, taking the bag from her shoulder. As soon as it came free of her arm he winced and staggered backwards, pretending that it was so heavy he could barely support its weight. "What the hell have you got in here, Kathryn?! Not another dead Admiral? They're going to do a head count soon, and then what will you do?"
She laughed and swatted at his arm, overjoyed to see him. "Fool! It's not that heavy... it's just my personal logs and PADDs from Voyager and some novels to pass the time when they keep me hanging around. No dead Admirals, I promise." She slipped her arm through his as they continued on up the lane towards the cottage. "Mainly because my dead Admirals are stuffed into broom-cupboards all over Starfleet Headquarters. How about yours?"
"I don't have any - yet," Chakotay replied, darkly."
She gave him a knowing smile. "That bad, eh?"
They had reached the garden gate and Chakotay negotiated them through it and up the short path to the front door before he replied.
"Worse. I've spent the last three days being debriefed by an arrogant know-it-all - who I know for a fact has never commanded a Starship on the frontline in the Alpha quadrant let alone the Delta Quadrant - and if he insisted on dotting just one more petty 'i' and crossing just one more petty 't'...! Let's just say I had to get out of there before I really lost my temper. Fortunately for him, the Praetor called an early recess and released us all until Monday. I haven't even been home to change clothes yet, as you can see. I asked for a site to site as soon as I got your message." He looked down at his dress-uniform for a moment before hooking a finger inside the gold-braided collar and tugging it open. "I don't know about you, but I feel like getting good and toasted. Care to join me?"
"After the week I've had, I'd love to."
"I thought you might. Would you like to go out to a restaurant first... the least I can do is buy you dinner?"
Turning to enter her key code into the security pad, Kathryn grinned. "Hell no, let's just get to it. The last thing I feel like doing is going back out on parade for the paparazzi and the autograph hunters. All I want to do is change into something comfortable and relax with a huge glass of wine while we catch up. If we get hungry there are all sorts of delicious cheeses and things in some gift baskets I've received and we have the luxury of the replicator."
There was a click, and the front door swung open. As Kathryn turned to look at Chakotay again she caught him staring, and just for a second or two there was unguarded raw need and deep affection in his gaze. Her mouth went dry and her heart leapt in her chest as she realised what she was seeing. She knew that look. She hadn't seen it for the longest time and there had been times when she wondered if she would ever see it again, but she knew that look.
All trace of the look was gone now. Had she imagined it? She stared at him blankly. "Sorry, what...?"
"I said, after you. Are you alright, Kathryn?"
She shook her head as if to clear it. "I'm fine. I think I zoned out for a moment. Talking about food reminded me I haven't eaten a thing since breakfast. I must be hungrier than I thought." Stepping through the doorway, she covered her confusion by taking her bag from him and moving rapidly towards the stairs, talking as she went. "You know where everything is don't you, Chakotay? Of course you do. Help yourself to anything you need in the guest bedroom... replicate some comfortable clothes to change into if you like. I won't be long."
Her voice sounded overly bright and a little breathless to her own ears, but at least she managed to get up the stairs without tripping or bouncing off the walls.
Going into her bedroom she tossed her bag onto the bed, closed the door and leaned against it for a few moments to gather her thoughts.
What the hell had just happened? Had she had some sort of lucid daydream with Chakotay standing right there? She didn't think so, but she supposed it was possible. She had certainly had daydreams about him before, and they had certainly featured heated looks and undisguised longing - usually right before the kissing started - but as his Captain, she had always been very careful about where and when she indulged in them.
Maybe the stresses of the debriefing process were beginning to have an affect on her. Or maybe the fact that she'd missed lunch today really had caused her to zone out for a moment. She tutted sharply, quickly rejecting both reasons. It wasn't that she thought she was impervious - she wasn't - but she knew herself. This had nothing to do with her stress levels or her blood sugar levels. She'd been under tremendous stress for weeks at a time before this and it wasn't unusual for her to go without meals.
The more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that she hadn't imagined the look in Chakotay's eyes at all. It might have only lasted for a few seconds, but the depth of emotion had been too real to miss or imagine. Her heart soared and her eyes filled with tears of joy and relief as she realised what that meant; he wasn't pining for Seven of Nine any more. His heartache was well and truly over.
He loves me.
With the realisation singing in her head, she yanked open the bedroom door and took five fast steps out onto the landing before coming to an abrupt halt. All she wanted to do was tell him how much she loved him too, but after so many years of holding him at arms length and refusing to be anything other than his Captain and his best friend - not to mention standing by and saying nothing as his lonliness led him into his ill-fated affair with Seven - simply marching up to him and declaring her undying love probably wasn't the way to go. What if she was wrong. What if she'd read too much into the look. What if it was simply a deep affection for their long friendship. It was the tiniest sliver of doubt, but it was enough to give her pause. This was going to take patience and tact and some subtle flirting to know for sure. She'd waited this long, another few minutes wouldn't make any difference and she needed time to think about what she was going to say to him. Going back into her bedroom she let the door bang shut behind her while she hurriedly stripped, humming softly to herself as her uniform and boots came off.
Chakotay had watched Kathryn almost run across the hall and up the stairs and wondered if there was a lunar eclipse due, because why else would he have slipped up and let his guard down like that?
One second everything was fine and they were happily indulging in familiar banter. The next, Kathryn had turned to enter her security code and he'd found himself entranced by the fiery glint of sunlight on her hair, the elegant arch of her neck revealing the cute smattering of freckles he'd always loved. And, of course, she'd looked up at that exact moment and caught him staring. Oh, she'd covered well, but he hadn't missed the way her eyes had widened in surprise when they met his. She must have seen everything he was feeling.
He let his head fall forward against the door frame with a thump. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! How many times in the last seven years had she shown him that she loved him as a friend, but that was all they could ever be? She must think he was an idiot to keep on hoping even now. He looked around for something to kick, but settled for cursing himself out when everything in range seemed to be a Delta Quadrant keepsake that was precious to Kathryn.
He should leave. He should just make his excuses and leave before things become irreparably awkward between them. She was probably up there right now, mentally rehearsing yet another gentle indication of her refusal to be anything other than his Captain and his friend and he didn't know if his heart and his ego could take another rejection so soon after his break up with Seven.
Face it. She only wants to be your friend, nothing more.
But if he left, what then? His own romantic hopes and feelings aside, Kathryn was still his best friend and his anchor. She was the steadying constant in his life. He didn't want to lose the best friendship he'd ever had over this. No one understood the man he was now better than Kathryn did.
He sighed heavily and closed the front door, already knowing that he wasn't going anywhere. If Kathryn could only ever offer him friendship then he'd take it because having her in his life as a friend was infinitely better than not having her in his life at all. Later, when she let him down gently as he knew she would, he'd apologise for making her feel uncomfortable and they'd go on as they usually did, probably until the next time he let his guard down and made an ass of himself.
After a quick shower, Kathryn changed into a white tee, a soft blue overshirt, blue jeans, and sneakers and went downstairs. There was no sign of Chakotay and she guessed he was in the guest bedroom freshening up and getting changed out of his uniform.
Going into the kitchen she saw an open bottle of Merlot and two glasses on the counter beside a full cheeseboard and a plate of fruit and savoury crackers. Chakotay had been busy, bless him. It all looked delicious and her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since breakfast.
She was just reaching for her third cracker when Chakotay came in. Their eyes met and held and they smiled at one another, albeit a little awkwardly at first.
Chakotay was the first to look away, glancing down at the navy polo-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers he wore and briefly holding his arms out to the sides. "Thanks for the use of your replicator. It feels good to get out of the uniform."
"It does, doesn't it," Kathryn agreed, helping herself to a piece of Brie and some grapes before pushing the cheeseboard towards him. "Thank you for laying out the food. You'd better pull up a stool and dig in before I eat the lot. Wine?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Chakotay couldn't believe that it was going to be just that easy, but it was. They were soon catching each other up on news of their old crew and their families and by the time the second bottle of wine was opened, they were back to being completely comfortable with one another and making plans for the dinner they were going to prepare later. The only explanation he could come up with was that Kathryn had finally realised he was a hopeless case where his feelings for her were concerned and that she'd decided to live with it rather than lose his friendship, just as he had done. That was something, at least.
When they'd both eaten their fill of cheese, crackers and fruit, Kathryn topped up their wine glasses and said, "Shall we go out into the garden for a while? I'd like to pick some fresh flowers for your room."
Chakotay smiled. "Yes, let's. I've been wondering if you have any new plants or shrubs... you said you were thinking of adding some more of your favourites."
"You'll have to come and see. Come-on... bring your wine." Taking his hand, she pulled him up off his stool and out to the garden.
Each time Chakotay stepped into the garden he felt as if he were stepping back in time to some bygone age. Whoever had owned the cottage before Kathryn had obviously loved the English country garden look and cultivated a garden for the senses using texture, form, fragrance, and colour. The flower beds were currently crammed full of Spring flowers like daffodils, blue-bonnets, tulips, irises, foxgloves, and daisies, and the majority of trees in the garden were fragrant, blossoming varieties like cherry and star magnolia. A robin and a thrush were singing their little hearts out from the trees and a pair of fearless golden-crowned kinglets bounced across the lawn, chittering and chattering to one another as they looked for nesting material or insects, far too busy to be bothered by the intrusion. He breathed in deeply, letting the warm, scented air and the sounds of the garden wash over him. "It's so beautiful, Kathryn. You've outdone yourself."
Kathryn took a sip of her wine and beamed, obviously very proud of her little garden. "Thank you. Although I can't really take the credit for that because it mostly looks after itself. All I have to do is mow the lawn, weed and water the flower beds and enjoy what comes into flower. It's so rewarding to watch it come to life and bloom like this after Winter." Still holding his hand, she gave it a light squeeze. "Ready to see what's new since the last time you were here?"
"Lead the way," he smiled. "Just don't ask me to cover my eyes so it's a complete surprise. The wine is already starting to go to my head and I'll end up in one of the flower beds if I do that."
Kathryn chuckled and rolled her eyes. "Lightweight."
"Lush," he shot back with a grin.
Her mouth dropped open in an indignant gasp and she punched him on the arm causing him to spill a little of his wine.
"Ow! Hey, mind the wine...."
They snickered and grinned at one another, drifting closer together and holding hands again as they followed a gravel path that disappeared into the trees.
Kathryn showed him all around the garden, pointing out any new plants she'd added or other changes she'd made and took special pride in showing him the simple water-feature she'd added just the week before - a large stone bowl overflowing with water, artfully arranged on a bed of pebbles to enhance the sounds of running water.
With the tour almost over, Kathryn handed Chakotay her wine glass and knelt down beside a raised flowerbed to pick some yellow-eyed daisies for his room. "These will look lovely in that little yellow jug on the guest-room windowsill, don't you think?"
"They will," Chakotay agreed, setting their wine glasses aside and kneeling beside her to help. They picked daisies in comfortable silence for a while until Chakotay sat back on his heels, breathed deeply, and said, "Thank you for this, Kathryn. I really needed to get out of the uniform and far away from the suffocation of the debriefings this weekend. You're a life-saver."
Kathryn glanced over at him, smiled and winked. "Anytime. You're worth it."
"Oh, I don't know about that," he said, doubtfully. "Some would say I'm more trouble than I'm worth."
Kathryn looked up, suddenly reminded of the way he'd been just after Seven had dumped him with clinical Borg efficiency, when his self-confidence had been at its lowest ebb. At the time, she'd been dealing with her own heartache over the affair and painfully aware of the part her own romantic censure must have played in his disillusion with love, but she'd tried to be there for him. He'd withdrawn from her though, refusing to even discuss the break-up or hear a word against Seven.
Her expression softened as she watched him lean forward to gather more daisies. Such a handsome man ; such a big, powerful bear of a man. Inherently kind and gentle, but ruthless and dangerous in defence of those he cared for, or those he felt a moral duty to protect. She'd barely begun her not-so-subtle flirting and it wasn't quite what she had planned, but she supposed now was as good a time as any to tell him what he meant to her and how she really felt about him. Reaching out, she touched the side of his face so that he turned to look at her. "I meant what I said, Chakotay. You're everything to me."
He covered her hand with his own before dropping a light kiss onto her open palm. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound so glum. That was my frustration with the debriefings and too many pompous Admirals talking, I didn't mean.... I wasn't even thinking about Seven. I'm fine, honestly." Letting go of her hand, he gave her a small reassuring smile which brightened and grew as he said. "So, I'm 'everything' to you, huh? You really need to get out and meet more people, Kathryn. "
"No thanks. I've got everything I need right here."
He pursed his lips and considered her for a moment. "What do you mean by that, exactly?"
"You want me to spell it out for you?"
Leaning in, hoping against hope that she hadn't misread his true feelings for her, she kissed him gently on the lips and whispered "I love you, you idiot!" before pulling back a little to gauge his reaction.
His eyes were closed and when he opened them again he stared at her in confusion even as his heart leapt in his chest, caught between disbelief and hope.
She kissed him again and felt him smile just before she whispered "I need you, Chakotay."
She didn't get very far as she went to pull back this time. She was suddenly crushed to his chest so hard she could barely breathe and when he did ease up on her a little, it was to plant a searing kiss on her mouth.
As he deepened the kiss, several light and feathery touches brushed her thigh as the daisies she was holding fell to the path.
Soon, when the need to breathe forced them apart, Chakotay took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Kathryn, what the hell is going on? Are you tipsy... has the wine gone to your head? When you caught me staring earlier you almost went to warp to get away from me. I thought my feelings for you made you uncomfortable. I thought you only wanted us to be friends. Back in the Delta Quadrant ___"
"___ I was your Captain in the Delta Quadrant. I'm not your Captain anymore. I've loved you for so long, Chakotay, but there were so many reasons why we couldn't be together on Voyager and rightly or wrongly, I thought it best not to tell you how I felt. I was going to come to you and tell you how I felt if the Admiral's plan to destroy the hub worked, I swear, but by then it was too late. You were already involved with Seven."
Chakotay looked stunned. "Then why didn't you say something when Seven and I broke up?"
"I tried to talk to you before I went home to Indiana," she answered, quietly, "You were so hurt, so wounded... you were holding everyone at bay - me, B'Elanna, Tom, and the Doctor. You made it clear that you just wanted to be left alone, so I tried to give you the space you needed to heal." She stroked his face with the back of her fingers. "I thought that if I could just be here for you as your friend we'd work it out when you were ready. When I caught you staring earlier I thought I might have imagined what I saw in your eyes, but I didn't imagine it, did I? You're here with me now. You do still love me?"
"You didn't imagine a thing. Seven and I... I need to explain. I never meant for it to go so far. When she asked for my help on dating situations I was flattered. As I spent more and more time with her I could see that she needed me in a way that you couldn't or wouldn't allow." His hands moved from her shoulders to gently cup her face as he held her gaze. "Seven looked at me the way I wanted you to look at me - the way you're looking at me now - and before I knew what was happening my ego took over and I let myself believe that we were right for each other and that we could make a life together in the Delta quadrant. A beautiful young woman with a heart of gold thought I'd hung the moon and the stars and that's a force to be reckoned with for any man. There's no fool like an old fool, I guess. On Voyager it might have worked, but here on Earth...." His voice trailed away into a heavy sigh. "Yes, I was hurt when Seven's horizons suddenly opened up and she dumped me, but looking back, I can see that it was my pride and my ego that were hurt more than my heart. I never stopped loving you, Kathryn, but I couldn't wait forever. Our journey could have taken another 30 years in unknown space and there were no guarantees that we'd both survive a meeting with another species like 8472 or the Hirogen. When I saw a chance to build a life with Seven I took it. Do you understand?"
She nodded, unable to speak past the huge lump in her throat.
"Hey, no crying in the ranks," Chakotay said, pulling her into a closer hug and dropping a kiss onto her forehead. "If you start to cry, I'll start to cry and we don't have a handkerchief between us."
That made her smile inspite of herself and she blinked away her tears. Looking down, she saw the fallen daisies on the path and bent to pick them up. Handing one to him, she smiled and said, "He loves me?"
Catching on, Chakotay quickly picked a daisy from the flowerbed and gave it to her. "She loves me?"
They shared a smile and then a kiss before helping each other up off the path.
Kathryn pulled his arm around her shoulders and slipped her arm around his waist as they turned towards the cottage, their wine glasses forgotten. "We'd better get these in water before they wilt," she said, holding up the daisies.
"I'll fetch the jug from the guest room," Chakotay nodded.
Kathryn looked thoughtful. "If you like, but I was thinking they'd be better in the little green jug on the windowsill in my room. That way, we can both enjoy them."
Chakotay opened his mouth to ask how that was going to work, but quickly shut it again as he figured it out.
Thanks to my VAMBie friend Cath for
passing on this lovely apt picture