(PG-13)
    by Delta Story

    October 2007


    ~ A VAMB Secret Fall Ficlet ~


    (Story is set post “Endgame”)




There were many qualities that Kathryn Janeway admired about Chakotay, but this wasn't one of them. For someone who always seemed sensitive to the needs of others, sometimes he could be as obtuse as a Cardassian vole. Didn’t he know that his abrupt disappearance from Starfleet, not to mention friends and family, had many people concerned and worried? She knew he had his private side but this was taking it a bit too far.

Now, after more than three months of elusiveness, Chakotay had contacted her and requested that she join him for an ancient Native American ceremony– at midnight on the night of the full moon of October, in the high desert regions of New Mexico. Oh – and no transporters allowed, as they were considered a sacrilege to the spirits that resided in the hills. He would have a hovercraft meet her in Las Cruces that would bring her to the gathering. To top off everything else, he knew how much she hated the darkness of desolate regions but here she was, the sole passenger on a hovercraft floating in the cold night air.

Janeway hugged her arms around her body, hoping to still the involuntary shivering. It had been 20 C when she arrived in Las Cruces before the sun sank behind the high ridges of the Black Range mountains but now she knew it had to be close to 0 degrees. Silently she cursed herself for not bringing along a heavier jacket. Oh, well – surely they would be gathering inside a building with a fire if not a more modern form of heat. And – she reminded herself – I’m doing this for him. After all the many times he had been there for her during some of her darkest times on Voyager, this was the least she could do for her dear friend, her friend who had been assigned the captaincy of the newly refitted Voyager but who turned it down and disappeared for a quarter of a year.

~*~

Delayed deep space stress syndrome was what Starfleet medical called it when he had pulled his about-face. “It happens sometimes with long space voyages,” the EMH stated matter-of-factly. “Especially to ship counselors or captains.”

“But why him?” Janeway had asked him. “He seemed so stable and he was always the one who encouraged us to talk to him about problems. I probably would have lost my mind several times while we were in the Delta Quadrant without his encouragement and support.”

“Exactly,” the doctor retorted. “Who was there to console him?”

The doctor’s words put Janeway on the defensive. “But he always had his meditations, his medicine bundle,” she said. “He never asked for any help along those lines.”

“Did you ever offer your help?”

She felt the heat rise in her face. “Well, we talked…sometimes. And yes – I did ask him on occasion, when I saw him in a down mood, if there was anything I could do. But he always seemed to keep that side rather private – you know that.”

The doctor turned pensive and brought up some information on the computer monitor on his desk. “Hmm. I see that he told Starfleet medical almost the same thing during his psychological debriefing after Voyager’s return. They have noted here that his ‘emotional state has remained intact because of firm cultural beliefs and traditions’. And with that, they gave him a clean bill of health.”

Janeway stretched forward, leaning her arms onto the doctor’s desk, her eyes intense with questions. “So what triggered his sudden change? Why, when he had been absolved of all the Maquis actions and even honored for his work on Voyager, would he abruptly ignore his friends and crew of the last seven years and turn his back on a plum assignment? I know that he and Seven had broken up, but the split almost seemed amicable. Now, it’s as if another person has taken over his body. I must have tried to reach him at least a dozen times before he finally answered me and all he said was that ‘there are a few things I need to get straight in my life.’ When I asked him if he wanted to elaborate or get together to talk, all I got was a terse ‘no… not now’ and he broke the connection.”

She slumped back into her chair with a sigh and began picking at a loose bit of cuticle on her thumb. “I didn’t bother to try to contact him again. The next thing I knew, Tom told me that he asked for and received a leave of absence from Starfleet then had practically disappeared. He didn’t even give them a way to contact him and from the couple of people I’ve asked if they know where he went, they just shrugged their shoulders, almost as if they didn’t care or couldn’t be bothered.”

The EMH leaned forward. “But you care, don’t you?” he asked softly.

In desperation, Janeway took the stubborn skin tag between her teeth and tore it off. “Yes, I guess I do.” She sucked at the small, self-inflicted wound. “In many ways, I feel I’m to blame.”

The doctor’s uncharacteristic silence told her his opinion – that he agreed with her but dared not say so.

~*~

Four weeks had passed since her conversation with Voyager’s EMH – four more weeks of silence from Chakotay. Then came the brusque invitation from him, sparse in words but saying enough that she knew he was reaching out to her for some reason… finally. She also knew better than to ask him why. How many times had he tried to get her to respond or communicate with him during her own dark seasons of the soul on Voyager? She hadn’t been cordial to him then and she shouldn’t expect anything more from him now that he was lost in the struggle with his own personal demons. Since he had asked her to come to him, she knew he wasn’t ready to reclaim the life he had left behind so abruptly.

As the hovercraft swooped along the mostly barren terrain, she marveled at its silence. Even Voyager, working at its prime, had a constant undercurrent whisper of a buzz, something that let you know that you were aboard a mechanical transport of some kind. Now, alone on the floating vehicle far away from any lights of civilization, with only the moon and the stars providing their pristine light, she felt as if she were again flying through space, lost in the billions of stars of the galaxy. She closed her eyes and let herself be transported back to those happier times. Even far away from home, not knowing what lay before them, she still relished many memories of the camaraderie of those days on Voyager. Sometimes she thought that the more it became a reality that they really were going to make it back to the Alpha Quadrant and Earth, the more things started going wrong between her and Chakotay. What was it? Why had it happened?

Even up to those final few months, they had been able to share with another, to help and support one another. But then things began to fall apart. He rarely confided in her and she seldom noticed if he was around or not. In retrospect, she should have realized that he was afraid of what sort of reception awaited him and the rest of the former Maquis, especially with the cessation of hostilities with the Cardassians. She had tried to assure him that her reports to Starfleet were filled with examples of valor by the former Maquis, of how they had become an integral part of Voyager’s staff and crew. And damn it all – didn’t he realize that she was going to have a pretty tough time, too? After all, she hadn’t necessarily done everything by the book out there, either – seven years is a mighty long time to keep up the image of an ever-proper Starfleet captain. She was damned lucky that she escaped without a court martial over the Equinox fiasco alone, much less other numerous breaches in protocol.

Her rising ire was enough to warm her in the chilled desert air. Her breathing quickened as she realized she approached her destination – she could see the gleam of firelight against the background of the dark mountain ridge. Her heartbeat thrummed through the tightened muscles of her neck, each beat like an unanswered question. What would he say… what would she say? No… why had she even come, that was the question. It was almost as if a primal urge called her to this time and place.

The transport slowed as it approached its programmed endpoint and finally stopped about a hundred yards from some sort of gathering. Eerie shadows that coalesced into an ebbing wave became more defined and soon emerged as separate forms, a gathering of maybe fifty people circling around a large fire. Low murmurs of voices floated across the space, creating a background to the crackles from the fire.

Janeway shielded her eyes, accustomed to the more than thirty minutes that the trip took through the desert night, from the sudden glare of flames. She stumbled a bit as she stepped over the edge of the landcraft, stirring up a fine cloud of dust. An unseen hand came from behind her and steadied her as she let out a startled ‘oh!’ But she knew that touch, that grasp. “Chakotay,” she smiled as she turned.

Contrasting light from the fire and the inky night cast wandering shadows across his face. He appeared thinner than she remembered him, his face more chiseled and angular. It was difficult to read anything into his expression – no smile, no dimples, not even the hint of anything in his eyes. It was almost as if she were looking at an apparition of her former first officer.

Chakotay ran his fingers down her face, like a blind man trying to identify the face that went with a voice. “You came,” he said, almost in disbelief, his fingertips lingering as they reached the corner of her lips.

Kathryn dared a quirky smile and reached up and took his hand between hers. “Was there any doubt? Chakotay, I… we’ve… been concerned about you. You just… left – no goodbyes, no reason given. Even my Starfleet contacts were stymied, although they certainly knew you must have had good cause.”

The tall man turned away from her, his profile showing her a new leanness of his body. His shoulders had lost some of their breadth, matching the lankiness of the rest of his frame. She guessed he had lost at least fifteen kilos since she last saw him – he almost appeared starved. Even with his swarthy skin and in the dimmed light from the night skies, she noted wide dark rings underneath his eyes. There was no doubt that something weighed heavily on this man who usually took very good care of himself.

She stretched her arms out and circled his body, realizing that she could do that, something that his size had precluded until now. “Chakotay, please – talk to me. You have been there so many times for me, now let me be here for you.”

Chakotay turned within her embrace, taking each of her hands into one of his. He nodded over to the gathering of people around the fire, the dark mountains forming a backdrop against their bodies. “I had to come back to the beginning, Kathryn. I don’t just mean going back to Dorvan V, but back to the primordial spirit of my people… to the innermost part of me.” He gently led her towards the milling people. “These folk were the closest group to San Francisco who practice my beliefs and when I asked if I could join them for awhile, they agreed.”

Janeway noticed that they, like he, were all dressed in the soft, loose garb of Native Americans. He had let his hair grow, too, and pulled it back into a short ponytail that lay in the curved nape of his neck. Glints of silver-gray reflected from among his straight black hair. “But why, Chakotay? I thought that, after all the time we had been together, you considered the Voyager crew your family… your closest friends. Why this sudden disappearance act, without telling anyone where you were going or what your reasons were?”

He stared at the full moon, reflecting in silence for a couple of minutes. She allowed him to collect his thoughts – what were a few more minutes after all this time?

Still focusing on the gigantic moon, at its perigee stage in its annual swing around the earth, he finally spoke. “Kathryn, you know that my people labeled me as a contrary early in life – I found it difficult to follow the path of my ancestors and always questioned authority. Even after I seemed to have made peace with my roots, I still pulled at the reins of conformity, eventually disserting Starfleet for the Maquis, thinking that there I would find true meaning to my existence. Then came Voyager – and you – and I was almost certain I knew my real purpose in the greater scheme of things. Remember? I told you once… when we were on New Earth…”

How could she forget? The words, spoken many years ago, had etched themselves forever in her brain… and into her heart – words that she would never forget, words that she had wanted so desperately to carry further into their relationship but they both knew could never be. But time passed, situations changed, and their close friendship went through too many crises. Still, she had often wondered…

She reached up to his face, her fingers tracing the lines of his tattoo, the design she knew by memory. “Chakotay, there is no doubt in my mind that you were meant to be there by my side, doing just what you did, during those years. And I had hoped that our friendship would continue, that we would always be there for one another. When you left so suddenly, I couldn’t help but think that it was something I had done or said. That’s why I tried to contact you.”

He pulled away from her and sank onto the cold surface of a nearby boulder. “Don’t blame yourself, Kathryn. I’m the one who pulled away… I’m the one who tried to fill the widening void in our relationship by falling into Seven’s well-plotted script.”

She felt his eyes calling to her, daring her to look at him.

“She was a lot like you, you know,” he continued. “And she idolized you. I think it would have destroyed her if she ever knew that… that… at one time, you and I might have… could have…” His head dropped as his words fell off. He took a deep breath before completing his thoughts. “There was another way she was like you – I guess she knew that there was something forbidden in our relationship... she just didn’t know what it was.”

Kathryn sat down beside him. “Forbidden? Whatever would that have been? There was nothing that prevented the two of you being together.”

Chakotay’s face contorted in emotional pain. “Don’t you see? It was as if she were your daughter and that somewhere, in that all-knowing Borg brain of hers, she knew that we had had… something… and that it was wrong for us to be together. And she sensed that I could never give her my complete love.”

“So she was the one who ended your relationship?” Kathryn tried to keep her voice from quivering.

Chakotay nodded. “Yes and no. It was pretty much over shortly after we returned to Earth.” He looked at her again and she cringed at the pain in his eyes. “She told me that the closer she became with me, the more she realized that I was like two separate people: one who went through perfunctory motions with her, as if I were a Borg drone, just doing what I was programmed or told to do… and another person – a warm, compassionate, loving human, who rarely showed up in our private moments alone.

“That’s when it all hit me – when I grasped what she meant. I had become two people and each of these separate beings was fighting to take control of me. I knew which one I wanted to be but I also knew which one I had become. And the longer I stayed around all the hoopla of Starfleet and Seven’s ‘worship’ of me, the more I would become the empty, unfeeling automaton that had surfaced.”

“So… why did you come here?” Kathryn prodded.

“Why? To strip myself down to the bare essentials… to rid myself of all the excesses that had robbed me of my values… of my soul. I had to eliminate all from my life that had no meaning.” He pointed towards the moon now at the apex of its arced journey across the night sky. “Tonight, we here are celebrating what is known as the ‘joins both sides’ moon, the moon that joins the ending of the warm seasons with the beginning of the cold. As I reflected on the meaning of this transitory period, all I could think of was the need to rejoin two sides… two friends… two souls. It was as if that might be the answer to the division within myself, too – to try to reestablish the lost ties with my other half.”

Kathryn looked at him in rare silence as his words sank in. Could her own recent turmoil be linked to this same problem? Was it this lost friendship what had thrown both of their worlds into the chaos of the past couple of years? Was it all so simple? She felt the burn of welling tears flood her eyes.

“Chakotay, I never meant for us to go our separate ways in such an impersonal manner. And I never meant to take you for granted, but that’s pretty much what happened, isn’t it? I, too, remember some words I said to you once upon a time – how I didn’t know how I could live a day without you. I guess that’s what happened to me – I thought I could live without you, but it’s obvious that I can’t. I have never felt so lifeless or empty since we drifted apart. Every day I merely go through the motions, not even bothering to wonder if I can ever truly ‘feel’ again. Only when I received your invitation to join you here tonight did I realize how alone I had become… how much I missed your counsel and smile… how much I missed having you around all the time.”

For the first time since she arrived, Kathryn saw a smile emerge from him. “And you came,” he said softly. “No questions asked, no hesitation – you just came.”

Chakotay brushed back a loose tress of hair that fell onto her cheek. It was as if his touch pulled away all of the animosity and ambiguity that had blinded her for so long. She leaned into his sinewy body, finding strength and comfort in him. She breathed the salty muskiness of his body, subtle but alive with its message.

“So have you begun to renew that peace you once had?” she asked.

Chakotay pulled her closer. Her body radiated warmth in his arms. “Now I have,” he whispered huskily. “Your coming here tells me that you want to heal the rift also.”

Again she felt her eyes fill with unbidden tears. He knew her so well that even from the depths and distance of their separate despairs, he had shared her pain. Guiltily she thought that perhaps the burdens of her own anguish had added exponentially to those he endured.

A lone voice floated through the air, its sing-song chant arousing Janeway and Chakotay from their own world.

“What’s that?” she said with a start. “Am I keeping you from the ceremony? I didn’t mean to interrupt anything…”

“Shhh… shhh – it’s all right,” he said, soothing her. “It’s the concluding prayer of the night chant being sung by the medicine man.” He smiled down at her. “It’s almost as if he was waiting for you to come, for us to talk… for the words he sings tell the story of disorder being dispersed, of balance and peace being restored to creation.”

The couple waited for the sacred words to fade and watched as the participants also faded into the shadows. The fire had died down to a flickering glow and two or three people remained to douse the dying embers. Within minutes, Kathryn and Chakotay stood alone; the only sounds around them were the chirps and peeps of the cold night desert.

Kathryn looked up at the gleaming moon, the surrounding stars made almost invisible by its swath of light. Wisps of high clouds wove threads among the celestial bodies. “Chakotay, why is it that even having wandered for almost seven years in an uncharted area of space, that right now, looking up at a moon and stars I’m familiar with, I feel more adrift and afraid than I have in a long time?”

He stood behind her and pulled her back into his spooning embrace, resting his chin in her hair. “For the same reason I feel that way, too – because we are entering an uncharted territory in our lives. More often than not, we humans think we know everything; but in our arrogance, we lose everything. Each of us has to face his or her lonely road, finding the darkest side of ourselves, before can see the light to lead our way. We are beginning a new journey into the unknown right now, Kathryn, much like that trek across the Delta Quadrant. I don’t promise you that it will always be a smooth journey, but I do promise to love you and be with you always.”

He turned her around and cupped her face in his hands. Without any more prelude or preliminaries, he kissed her. It was a hard kiss, a deliberate kiss, punishing and demanding but full of love and promise.

Chakotay pulled back and Kathryn looked at him with eyes as wide and bright as the moon above them. Finally he smiled. “Kathryn, you can breathe now.” Only then did she realize that she had been holding her breath – or had the breath been knocked out of her? When words finally came, they shocked her but brought an even bigger smile to his face. “Why… why didn’t you do that the very first day we met?” she finally stammered.

“Maybe I should have,” he grinned, his dimples appearing as she remembered them from long ago. “But that would have been much too simple.”

“And you are a contrary,” she winked at him.

“And I am a contrary,” he nodded before kissing her again, this time softly and slowly.

“So… where do we go from here, Chakotay?” she sighed.

His arm swept a wide arc from horizon to horizon. “I don’t know, but wherever you lead… wherever you go, I’ll follow, my dear Kathryn – anywhere in this galaxy or beyond.”

It was then that Kathryn Janeway knew what love was -- it was as the apostle Paul said long ago: Love is patient, love is kind; it is not proud nor does it boast… it always trusts and hopes and perseveres... and the greatest gift of all is love. In her deepest heart, she knew that this was what they had forgotten and lost but now had found again.

She looked up at the moon and could have sworn that she saw it smile down on them. This truly was the time of ‘the moon that joins both sides’… the moon that heals and makes us one.

~*~


    I like the way your sparkling earrings lay,
    against your skin, it's so brown
    and I want to sleep with you
    in the desert tonight
    with a billion stars all around
    'cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
    and I know you won't let me down
    'cause I'm already standing on the ground.

    “PEACEFUL EASY FEELING”
    --- The Eagles








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