"We're worried about her, Chakotay. Oh, she makes all the society columns. She's the talk of the city and probably even the planet. Attends every function. Always surrounded by people…the hangers-on…the 'ares'…the 'weres'…the 'wanna-bes'… She has a different man on her arm every time. They flock around her and yet those of us who know her…" B'Elanna sighed heavily. "Let's just say I've never seen anyone more lonely and I'm worried about her. She reminds me of a line from one of Tom's old songs. 'Go to bed alone, and never know his name.' The more people she gathers around her, the lonelier she seems. She pulls them around her like a cloak, desperate to keep out the cold, but all it seems to do is keep it in."
Chakotay shook his head sadly. "So, there's nobody special in her life?"
B'Elanna actually snorted. "Oh, there are a lot of nobodies, and nothing special about any of them. She's surrounded by nobodies…shadows of real people….and she's becoming one of them." She looked up at her old friend. "She's a shell, Chakotay. She functions on the outside but on the inside, she's empty and so sad."
Chakotay stood and watched her, B'Elanna's words still echoing through his mind. She hadn't been hard to find at her home in Indiana. She sat on the edge of a small jetty, her legs swinging over the side and her hands under her thighs. Chakotay moved silently until he stood just a few feet away from her.
She looked up sharply at the sound of his voice. "What are you doing here?"
Without invitation, he sat down beside her. "I wanted to see you…see how you are…"
She shrugged. "Busy."
Chakotay nodded and smiled sadly. "Yeah. I've seen the news vids. I've read the society reports…"
Kathryn looked at him, her eyes cold. "Ahh…so you've come to take your turn then…partake of the returning whore and her favours. Is that it? Well, pick a number. I'm sure I'll get around to you in time…fit you in eventually, as it were…"
Chakotay stared at her with a mixture of shock and deep sadness. "What happened to you, Kathryn? The woman I knew would never have spoken like that…"
In answer, Kathryn merely shrugged and looked back out over the lake. "I just got tired of sleeping alone in an empty bed…"
Chakotay closed his eyes a moment before looking back at her. "I've news for you, Kathryn. You're still doing that, whether you want to believe it or not."
She looked around at him briefly then lowered her eyes. She shook her head before looking down at her feet.
Chakotay watched her closely. "A bed isn't empty if you're in it, you know. Besides, it's not the bed that's empty, Kathryn. It's you."
Her eyes flew to his at that. "Yeah…well…they're better than no one. Think what you like of me…" She was close to tears and he saw it.
He reached a hand out and stroked her arm. "Kathryn, I'm not judging you, but they won't fill the gaping hole inside you or cure the loneliness. I know that from personal experience."
Kathryn studied him closely, as if trying to gauge his honesty. Finally, she nodded. "Maybe not…but I can pretend for a little while…dream a little…." He heard the tears in her voice and then suddenly she was angry again.
"Look, Chakotay…if you've come here to have a go at me or condemn me…"
He squeezed her arm a little tighter. "I told you I'm not here to judge you. You do what you have to do to alleviate the loneliness and emptiness…to try and feel normal again…wanted again…a part of something important again."
He sighed and looked away, staring out over the water, watching the flight of a bird across the lake. "I don't have room to talk. Since we got back, I've had my share of Starfleet groupies…a different woman every night. Oh, it can be flattering but I know they don't want 'me'. They don't even know me or really care about me. I'm just something to talk about to their friends and compare notes on. I know I mean nothing to them…just as they mean nothing to me."
He saw the hurt his words caused. "We've all done it, Kathryn. Most of us are still doing it. I don't know about you and I can only speak for myself, but the more women I've been with, the emptier I feel…the more lonely I get. Those we do it with are poor substitutes for what and who we really want and need."
Kathryn stared at him until he turned his head to look at her. "And that is?"
He sighed. "Someone to really love, of course. Someone who'll love us back unconditionally. People we've lost …. partners who've moved on." He shook his head sadly. "Those we share the dark and empty night hours with…we're using these people just as much as they're using us. We use them to feel normal when we're anything but."
Kathryn bit her lip and looked back out over the water. "So what's the answer?"
Chakotay shook his head. "I don't know, but this way isn't it. I guess the answer is about finding that special someone…"
Kathryn looked back at him, the tears in her eyes almost ready to fall. Her voice was a whisper. "I thought I had…"
He saw the fear in her eyes that she'd perhaps said too much. He smiled sadly at her. "So did I…"
They were silent for several minutes until he sighed. "What happened to us, Kathryn?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. We lost sight of each other."
Chakotay stroked softly up and down her arm. She drew in a shuddering breath and looked deeply into his eyes. "I miss Voyager. I miss our family, Chakotay. I miss you."
He swallowed the lump he felt in his throat and nodded. "I do too." He tugged at her hand until she leaned off it and let him take it. He held it gently in his own and looked into her eyes.
"Do you think 'we' could still work, Kathryn?" He saw hope in her eyes for the first time, a tiny spark of life.
She nodded slowly, her voice soft. "I'd…like to try…would love…"
He squeezed her hand more tightly and laughed slightly to ease the tension. "At the very least, we'd have something to talk about…things in common. We're already best friends. The rest will just fall into place and happen if we let it."
She took his hand and let him pull her up. She smiled lovingly at him and nodded. "Home. Suddenly that word has new meaning."