Paramount owns all things Star Trek Voyager. I don't. Only borrowing them. Etc. Etc. Etc.
NC 17
Kathryn discovers that the dreams you often thought lost may just have been misplaced. Written for 2005 Secret Valentine on VAMB.
As usual – thanks to Judy for the beta and the title. You're a great pal.

The Best Gift Of All

by Kat Lady

The newscaster's face was solemn. "And finally tonight, our last report on the return of the Federation Starship Voyager. Starfleet officially announced what they called 'the end of this matter'. Admiral Billings spoke with our reporter earlier today and stated that the entire matter was now closed."

The newsreader cleared this throat. "Voyager and her crew returned six weeks ago to much public excitement and media frenzy, but received a rather more subdued welcome from Starfleet. One insider was quoted as saying 'basically they don't know what to do with them'. Under intense public and media pressure, the returning Maquis crew were pardoned. They were free to leave but were not offered the option of retaining their commissions. Most if not all of the returning crew resigned after their debriefings. Captain Kathryn Janeway, however, was held for much longer and eventually faced a court martial. A source whom we cannot name told us 'they just wanted it all to go away because Captain Janeway wasn't the returning heroine they wanted. They felt she was no longer under their control. She was a renegade to them because she joined forces with the Maquis she had been sent to apprehend'.

The camera panned in on the newscaster's face. "Leaked sections of Voyager's logs showed what this crew went through during their seven years in the Delta Quadrant and the public fell in love with them. However, it appears that Starfleet needed to show who was in charge. In a public show of that power, Captain Janeway was court martialled, stripped of her rank and discharged from Starfleet. Our source informed us, 'they wanted her punished and out of there and she was lucky to avoid a prison term'.

The newsreader smiled ever so slightly. "However, if Starfleet thought Captain Janeway was leaving in disgrace, they were sadly mistaken. She left Headquarters for the last time with her head held high and was led away by several members of her former crew to a hero's reception. Somehow we feel that her crew's opinion of her will always matter so much more than Starfleet's ever will."

He leaned towards the camera now. "This has been a PR disaster for Starfleet because of their own bad handling of the matter. The crew, and in particular their captain, have become the darlings of the public as well as several media personnel and we understand that job offers have flooded in for them all. However, Starfleet's treatment of them won't be forgotten for a long time. They'd do well to remember that the public have long memories. A source was quoted as saying that applications for the Academy's next semester are already well down. The story they wish would go away will outlive them all. This is Bill Downing for WKSF wishing you a good night." The report finished with a shot of Voyager coming in to land at her homecoming.

Kathryn shook her head slowly and closed her eyes. "Turn it off, B'Elanna. I've seen enough and had enough of all this."

B'Elanna nodded and did as asked, the image of their ship staying with her. She lay back on the couch and stared at the replica of Voyager which sat on the sideboard. Finally she tore her eyes away and let them roam around the room they sat in, finding it hard to reconcile one with the other. She shook her head sadly. "It was home for seven years. I can't get used to not waking up there every morning…going on duty in engineering…"

She looked across at the woman sitting across from her. "Sorry. I'm supposed to be cheering you up." She raised her glass. "I'm not sure if this stuff is helping or hindering."

Kathryn Janeway studied the amber liquid in her own glass and shook her head. "I think it's supposed to dull the senses…ease the pain…something like that."

B'Elanna leaned against the armrest. "And is it working?"

Kathryn drained her glass. "Not yet…but the night is still young…" She held her arm out for a refill, which B'Elanna obliged her with.

"And there's plenty more where this came from. Tom won't mind. Not if he wants to live anyway…"

Kathryn took a deep drink and sighed heavily. "Are you sure you don't mind your old captain getting totally blotto on your couch?"

B'Elanna laughed and refilled her own glass. "Not as long as she doesn't mind her old chief engineer joining her in that stupor." She saw the flash of pain cross Kathryn's face. "Are you going to be all right?"

Kathryn shrugged. "I'll survive. What choice do I have?" She shook her head. "Oh B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I'm just feeling…" She sat forward and dropped her head, swirling the liquid in her glass. She studied it for several moments. "I guess I don't know what I'm feeling. Nothing is the way it was supposed to be." When she looked up, her eyes were awash with tears.

B'Elanna stood up and moved over to sit down beside her. "Kathryn, what happened to you was the sickest, most unfair, most…" She felt her temper rising. "Those bastards. How dare they. And him. I can't believe him…" She wanted to kick herself. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I promised myself I wouldn't mention…"

Kathryn reached over and gripped her arm. "B'Elanna, you can say his name to me."

B'Elanna nodded. "I'm sorry for what he did."

Kathryn shook her head. "You don't have to make excuses for him or commiserate with me. He's a free man now and he made his choice. He left…resigned his commission…" She sighed. "He went home."

B'Elanna shook her head. "And what about you? What have you got?"

Kathryn shrugged. "I'll be fine."

B'Elanna laughed sarcastically. "I'd believe that if you at least had your career…if you had your work."

Kathryn merely shrugged. "Well, I'll just have to find something else. There are plenty of offers but I just want to take some time."

B'Elanna's temper got the better of her. She stood up quickly, barely keeping her balance. She waved her free hand wildly. "I can't believe those bastards just… After all you did for them…the loyalty and service you gave them."

Kathryn looked up at her. "B'Elanna, it's over."

B'Elanna stabbed a finger at her former captain. "You were pushed out. They needed a head to roll and it was yours. They even put you through a damn court martial. Anything to make them look in control. They had to let us go because the public and the media were behind us. They should have been behind you too. And you bloody well should have told us what was happening to you. You kept it all to yourself. We thought you were ignoring us…back with Starfleet now that we were home. How could we have known you were doing that for our protection…that they told you to stay away from us?"

Kathryn dropped her head. "It's not important. I did what mattered most. I got you home and you were all pardoned. That's all I care about."

B'Elanna swayed slightly. "They screwed you. They betrayed you. You served them so well and they just threw you out to make themselves feel and look all important and in control." She saw tears fill Kathryn's eyes and softened. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to hurt you but it makes me so damn mad." She sat down again. "I'm sorry. I've always had too big a mouth."

Kathryn smiled sadly. "It doesn't matter anymore, B'Elanna. It's over with and I can't turn the clock back. I'll live." She took another deep drink.

B'Elanna looked at her strangely. Kathryn felt her friend's eyes on her and looked up. "What's that look for?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "Nothing. I'm just worried about you."

Kathryn waved a hand in the air. "Oh B'Elanna, I'm not going to do anything stupid if that's what you're thinking."

B'Elanna remained serious. "Then why are you leaving San Francisco? You told me all about this cabin you've bought out in the wilds and how you plan to live there." She shook her head. "Kathryn, your friends are here. Why go away?" B'Elanna was close to tears now.

Kathryn lay back. "Because I have to. I need to find the woman I used to be…the woman I was seven years ago. Thankfully I have the funds from the sale of my old house." She sighed heavily. "Look, I only know how to be a Starfleet captain now. I've forgotten how to be a woman…forgotten how to be me. I'm not sure I even know who I am anymore."

B'Elanna lay back also. "And of course HE hurt you…walked away." She rolled her eyes. "Sorry again. You know I always speak too plainly."

Kathryn rolled her head to the side and smiled sadly, trying hard to hide her tears. "Yes, it hurt. It hurts like hell but I can't do anything about it. I miss him and I need him so much. It hurt beyond words when he wasn't there after they finished with me. He did what he had to do though. I don't blame him. When they kept me away from everyone, warned me to ignore you all, he probably thought I didn't want to talk to him."

B'Elanna laughed sarcastically. "He could have asked…waited to talk to you… He knew you better than any of us. He should have known you wouldn't just walk away from him."

Kathryn shook her head. "He did what he felt he had to do. What else was he to think? At least I know where I stand now." She turned her head and looked across the room. "On Voyager, my emotions were always so confused. Did he love me? Would we get back? Was there a chance for us?" She played with her glass. "Everything was so uncertain. This may hurt like hell but at least I know and it's a hell of my own making. Now I just need to get used to being without him."

B'Elanna looked at her sadly. "You really love him, don't you?" It was such a simple question and the answer was equally simple and honest.

Kathryn barely nodded. "Yes. I love him…more than I realized."

They were quiet for several minutes, neither knowing what to say. Finally B'Elanna took a drink and licked at her lips. "What are you going to do out there all on your own?"

Kathryn smiled sadly. "Walk in the woods, sleep late, paint, read, take time for me…find myself again and get to know that woman…try and get used to this new life."

B'Elanna shook her head. "I can understand some of that but it sounds so lonely."

Kathryn laughed but there was no happiness in the sound. "Well, I was always better at managing my professional life. My personal life has always been a mess…" She couldn't stop the tears and put a hand up to cover her eyes. "Oh God, B'Elanna, I'm sorry. I've made such a mess of my life and yet I couldn't do it any other way. I had to stand back from him."

B'Elanna put her glass down, took Kathryn's from her hand then pulled the older woman into her arms. "Come here." Kathryn went willingly and cried for several minutes.

Finally she pulled back and wiped at her red-rimmed eyes. "Oh God, I'm sorry. What a mess."

B'Elanna stood up and handed Kathryn a tissue then refilled their glasses. "Don't ever apologize for being yourself."

Kathryn smiled her thanks then returned to her drink. Both women drank quietly for a while until B'Elanna re-filled their glasses once more. Kathryn looked down at her drink. "B'Elanna, I'm really feeling this stuff now. I should be stopping, not having another."

B'Elanna was feeling it also. She shook her head, her eyes slightly unfocused. "No harm in letting your hair down once in a while."

Kathryn giggled, feeling bold with the alcohol. "Think that's what I should have done on Voyager with Chakotay?"

B'Elanna sniggered. "Would he have been able to cope with you?"

Kathryn stuck her chest out. "Baby, I'd have killed him." She broke down in peals of laughter, B'Elanna falling against her joining in.

When they finally caught their breath, B'Elanna wiped at her eyes. "Can I ask you something?" Kathryn nodded. "Did you ever get close to it? Did you ever even kiss?"

Kathryn smiled sadly and shook her head. "No. Not even when we were stranded on that planet. I thought one night he was going to but I backed off. Maybe in time we would have but…"

B'Elanna sighed and nodded, finishing the sentence for her. "We came back for you."

Kathryn just shrugged. "I don't regret that though…you coming back for us. I know he didn't either. We missed you all."

B'Elanna drew in a deep breath. "So there was never anything?"

Kathryn shook her head. "No…never…" She giggled suddenly. "I used to wish that he would just throw me against a bulkhead and fuck my brains out." She looked up suddenly, seemingly in shock. "Oh sorry…that wasn't very…" When she saw the shocked yet amused look on B'Elanna's face, she broke down in squeals of laughter, B'Elanna joining her. They fell together, tears rolling down their faces.

B'Elanna managed to catch her breath at last. "Kathryn, it took me the past two weeks of knowing you to get used to calling you Kathryn. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing you say 'fuck' for the first time though. That will live with me forever."

Kathryn giggled like a little girl. "There goes my captain's image…"

B'Elanna shook her head. "I loved and respected my captain. Nothing could ever change that. My friend, the one I've come to know these last weeks, is even more wonderful. Just remember one thing. You may be living out in the wilds but we're always here for you…just a transporter ride away."

Kathryn took her hand and squeezed. "I know that and thank you for your friendship. Don't worry…I won't be a stranger. You'll see me all the time. I let someone I cared about walk away before. I'll never do that again."

They hugged tenderly for a few moments before having another drink. When Tom got home, he found his wife and former captain passed out on the couch, several empty bottles lying around them. He just smiled and covered them with blankets. Before he went to bed, he replicated two hypos and placed them within easy reach of the two ladies. He knew they'd need them the following morning.

It was several weeks before Chakotay returned to Earth. His first stop was his oldest friend. B'Elanna sat and watched him as he sat in her living room.

He sighed heavily. "I saw the news vids you sent me."

B'Elanna chewed at her lip. "So you know now what they did to her and why she had to act the way she did."

Chakotay's anger showed. "Yeah…I saw and I know. Mike Ayala contacted me as well and filled me in. He also told me you wanted to see me."

B'Elanna shook her head. "She couldn't talk to us. They were watching her every move, looking for any indication that she was, in their words, 'working with us against them'… She believed our pardons were dependent on how she toed the line. She'd no access to the media or us so she didn't know what was happening on the outside. They expected her to be one of 'them' and not one of 'us'. In the end, we got our pardons and she faced a firing squad of her own. Public opinion got us our pardons and that pissed them off. They were determined to get their pound of flesh, their sacrificial lamb, and Kathryn was it. The court martial was organized and finished before we knew it and they cut her loose without a word. No 'golden handshake' or 'thanks for the years of service'. Just get out. Apparently they wanted prison time for her but were afraid of public opinion. Had they shot her, it would have hurt less."

Chakotay sat there just shaking his head. "I never knew. I thought she was just ignoring me. I thought it was her usual way to avoid anything emotional. We were back and it was like being in the cold light of day. The party was over and she was back with her own. She didn't need the Maquis rebel hanging around her neck, ruining her future career as the golden girl."

B'Elanna felt her anger rising. "You couldn't have been more wrong. Had you stuck around you might have found that out for yourself. I thought you knew her better…trusted her more…" She glared across at Chakotay.

He had the good grace to look uncomfortable and guilty. "So what am I supposed to do? It's all probably too late anyway…"

B'Elanna actually snorted. "If it's meant to be, it's never too late. You told me that once."

Chakotay shrugged. "Sounds like something I'd say to someone."

B'Elanna shook her head. "But not something you'd take onboard as advice for yourself?"

Chakotay sighed. "Why didn't she contact me afterwards?"

B'Elanna shook her head. "I guess she didn't want to upset your life. I think she also thought it was too late. You'd gone home…" She leaned forward. "Look, old man, if you love her and want her, you have to fight for her. She won't come to you. Not because she doesn't want to but because she's been so emotionally battered, she thinks she's not worth anything. Starfleet really did a job on her, no matter what front she puts up. She's withdrawn into herself. Whether she knows it or admits it or not, she needs someone to be strong for her."

Chakotay shook his head sadly. "I don't know. She probably never wants to see me again. Had she really wanted to be with me, she'd have said something on Voyager."

B'Elanna sighed heavily. "You and I both know getting us all home had to come first with her. She'd never have given you false hope or led you on in case that didn't happen. Your happiness came first."

Chakotay shook his head again. "I don't know. She never really gave any indication…."

B'Elanna laughed at that. "You know that's not true. Just because she didn't say it to you directly… Besides, she's just a damn good actress."

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I don't even know how she feels about me."

B'Elanna laughed softly at that. "Oh, she loves you. I know that."

Chakotay's face hardened for a moment. "Too bad she never let me in on her little secret then…"

B'Elanna's face grew serious. "Well, I happen to know that for a fact. She told me she loves you. In fact…" She stopped a moment and stared hard at her old friend. "Chakotay, if you ever repeat one word of what I'm about to say, I'll string you up with my bare hands…"

Chakotay's eyes widened. "What?" When she didn't say more, he nodded quickly. "I promise…now what?"

B'Elanna smiled. "She was here one night…a couple of weeks after those bastards let her go for want of a better way of putting it. It was just her and me and we got very drunk. The real stuff too…a few bottles from Tom's stash." She laughed at the memory. "Anyway, she told me…she told me she wished you'd just slammed her against the bulkhead and…fucked her brains out…"

Chakotay's mouth fell open. "Kathryn Janeway said that?"

B'Elanna nodded, trying to control her laughter. "She'd kill me if she knew I'd told you this but it is for a good cause."

Chakotay was still shocked. "She really said that?"

B'Elanna giggled as she remembered. "Yeah, she said that. Her words were pretty slurred but that's what she said. It was the first time I've ever seen the real woman. There was no uniform, no pips, just 'Kathryn'." She looked down at her hands and sighed. "It was wonderful to finally see her but it was also heartbreakingly sad." She snapped herself out of it and brought the grin back out. "So Chakotay, you just have to go out there and bloody well fight for her. Just take her."

Chakotay rubbed a hand across his face. He tried to make a joke to hide how he felt. "There are no bulkheads out there…"

B'Elanna made a face at him. "There are plenty of trees though…"

Chakotay stared in disbelief at B'Elanna. "So I just take her against a tree like some animal?"

B'Elanna smirked. "Maybe. Whatever turns you on."

Chakotay still stared at his friend. "B'Elanna, I think she'd have me arrested for rape."

B'Elanna simply shrugged. "Or she might enjoy it. She might have been waiting years for you to do it from what she said to me the other night."

Chakotay fell back in his chair. "B'Elanna, you were both drunk as skunks."

B'Elanna shrugged again. "That's often when the truth comes out. The booze loosens the tongue and we say what we normally never have the guts to say."

Chakotay shook his head. "We also often regret what we say."

B'Elanna pretended to think about that and then shook her head. "Nah. I say take a stand and stake your claim. Go out there and just slam her against a tree and make her see stars."

Chakotay looked at her and rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the advice from the Klingon Dating Agency but I think a more subtle approach would be better."

B'Elanna stuck her tongue out at him. "Well, if your way fails…" She grew serious then. "Seriously Chakotay…are you going to go see her?"

Chakotay smiled softly. "That's why you wanted to see me, isn't it?"

B'Elanna didn't deny it. "She promised to keep in touch but I barely hear from her. I think being on her own is doing more harm than good. I'm afraid of her sinking into a deep depression. I also think she's very lonely. She's out there and you weren't even on the damn planet. I think you need to sort this once and for all. So are you going to see her?"

Chakotay sighed heavily and waited a moment before answering. Finally he nodded. "I'm going to try. I can't live with not knowing if we could have been. I still love her and I probably always will. I walked away thinking she didn't want me when I should have hung in there. I should have known she wouldn't throw us aside like that."

B'Elanna nodded and smiled sadly. "Just be careful, Chakotay. I know I said about throwing her against a tree but…" She sighed. "I joke but this is serious. Please be careful."

Chakotay frowned. "Of what?"

B'Elanna licked at her lips. "I love you, my brother, but you hurt her badly. Please don't do it again." She shook her head. "Of course, in her mind, she's to blame. She hurt you and by extension herself. She believes she pushed you away and that's why you left." She sat back. "I suppose in a way you both share the blame. She couldn't let herself be with you until she got her ship and crew home and that hurt you badly. You leaving…not being there when she was let go…that broke her heart. She admitted how hurt she was, how much she missed you…needed you…" She spread her hands in the air. "Look, you hurt each other and life conspired against you both. I just want to see you happy together now. Forget the past and move into the future."

Chakotay sat back and watched her as she spoke. He finally smiled and nodded. "You're right. I hate it when you're right."

B'Elanna pretended to preen herself. "Hey, what can I say? I'm perfect."

Chakotay sent her a mock warning glare. "Watch it. I know all your secrets. I could blackmail you."

B'Elanna leaned over and smacked his leg. "And I know yours, so touché. Now are you going to go to her and fix this?"

Chakotay studied her a moment before speaking. "Yeah…but in my own way."

It took Chakotay a few days to get his plan together. The next day he hid behind a tree in the early morning light and watched the door of the small cabin Kathryn had made her home. He breathed in the sweet air, turning at a faint sound. For several minutes, he watched a squirrel forage for food before turning back to watch the cabin again.

The setting was beautiful. B'Elanna had told him that Kathryn hadn't just bought the cabin but the surrounding land as well so she had plenty of privacy. He smiled to himself. He liked that idea. He'd been here several times now, watching and noting Kathryn's movements and was pleased for his own purposes to see that she kept to a loose schedule, rising each morning about the same time. It pained him though to see how lonely she seemed. Her loneliness and sadness enveloped her like an invisible cloak around her shoulders. It weighted her down and he noticed how she rarely looked up towards the sky when she took a walk, her eyes always down. She also never encountered another person on her private land. He remembered B'Elanna's talk of depression and knew she was right. The woman he watched was someone who didn't seem to care much for herself or her life. Her hair always hung loose, her clothing usually comprised of baggy sweat pants and shirts.

The sound of the door opening caught his attention and he pulled back although he knew Kathryn couldn't see him. He watched as she moved out onto the porch, inhaling deeply as she stretched. She stepped forward and her foot kicked against something. She looked down and he could see her frown. She dropped her head to the side and studied the flowers at her feet. Slowly she bent down and picked them up. Before she examined them, she looked around the small clearing for almost a minute. Finally she studied the bouquet she held as she frowned again. The mix of wildflowers was tied with several silk hair ribbons but there was no card.

Chakotay smiled to himself as she studied the flowers, her fingers sliding along the silk ribbons. At least she hadn't thrown them away. He watched as she cast a last look around the clearing before returning inside. He whispered to himself. "Good morning, Kathryn. Get used to this."

Over the following days, Chakotay returned to his hiding place each morning to watch Kathryn emerge from her cabin to discover that morning's gift. On the second morning she'd been almost as surprised as the first when she found a small box, inside of which was a beautiful silver trinket box. He watched her confusion, a frown on her face, as once again she scanned the area for several minutes before going back inside and closing the door behind her.

The third morning Chakotay left a scented pillow, trimmed with lace, flowers, birds and butterflies embroidered all over it. He'd found it in a small craft shop in the local town. He watched as she turned it over in her hands but still she didn't smile. The only difference he noticed was that her hair was pulled back this morning with one of the ribbons he'd given her. He felt a glimmer of hope seeing that.

By the fourth morning Kathryn seemed to almost expect to find something when she opened her door. She studied the delicate china tea cup and saucer for several minutes. Chakotay had hoped for a smile or some acknowledgement that she was pleased. He saw none. She just kept her head down and sighed deeply as she closed the door behind her.

The next morning Chakotay suspected Kathryn knew she was being watched. She stood for several minutes and scanned the area around her cabin before going back inside, clutching the book of love poems which had been left for her.

On the sixth day Kathryn gasped when she opened a small velvet box to find a beautiful gold locket. Inside was empty of images though. She glanced quickly towards the trees but didn't look too carefully.

On day seven Kathryn found a small woodcarving of two love birds, the delicate marks in the wood proof that it was hand-carved. Chakotay watched as she stroked over the birds, her expression sad. She looked towards the trees and seemed to study them before going inside again and closing the door behind her.

The eighth day brought her a bound book, filled with images of her days on Voyager. Lying beside it were three roses…one yellow, one red and one white. To Chakotay's surprise, Kathryn sat on the porch to examine the book. He mentally flipped the pages with her, faces they both loved, past and present, staring out from the images. He saw how close to tears she was as she closed the book and with a glance in the direction of the trees, went back inside.

And then came day nine. Kathryn opened her door and stopped immediately. The porch was empty and she felt a strange emptiness fill her, something akin to disappointment. She looked around the clearing, her eyes scanning the trees.

"Looking for someone?" She spun around to find Chakotay sitting in a chair in the corner of the porch. She hadn't seen him when she came out first, concentrating only on the floor of the porch and the trees.

Kathryn swallowed, feeling nervous without knowing why. "They were all from you." It wasn't a question, yet she didn't sound fully sure either.

Chakotay smiled and nodded as he stood up. He saw she was wearing the gold locket. "Yes, they were. Do you mind?"

Kathryn shook her head. "They were beautiful. Thank you. I'm not sure what I did to deserve them…"

Chakotay smiled softly. "You deserve them…" He pointed to a large bouquet of pink and cream roses which lay on one of the chairs. "These are for you." He tried to read her face and couldn't. She had yet to smile.

Kathryn nodded as she looked at the roses. "They're beautiful gifts, Chakotay. I'll treasure them…" She looked back up at him.

Chakotay watched her carefully. "But…" Something told him to expect rejection and he felt his stomach tighten.

Kathryn sighed heavily and he saw the start of tears in her eyes. She shook her head. "Why are you here? Why all the gifts?"

Chakotay shrugged, keeping his smile. "Does there have to be a reason? I wanted to. That's all."

Kathryn shook her head slowly as she looked down at her feet. "I thought you went home."

Chakotay sighed sadly. "So did I but it wasn't home after all." He moved a little closer to her. "Kathryn, I made a terrible mistake. These gifts are my way to try and say sorry. I thought you'd like them."

Kathryn looked up quickly and for the first time he saw emotion. Pain and sadness were clear to see on her face. "I'd rather have had you…" She seemed shocked at her own admission and she dropped her head quickly. "Sorry." Her hand indicated the roses. "These are lovely but I don't need gifts."

Chakotay shook his head in confusion. "I just wanted to give you something. I needed to give you these…"

Suddenly Kathryn grew angry and her voice rose as she glared at him. "Well, I needed you. We were home and I needed you but you'd gone…"

Chakotay was shocked. "Kathryn, I didn't know you wanted me around. You gave me no indication of that. You ignored me…"

Kathryn interrupted him. "I had to. There was still no decision on the Maquis. I was cut off. I didn't know what the media was saying…what the public thought…and they told me to stay away and…" She turned around and looked out over the trees.

Chakotay watched her for several moments as he tried to take everything in. "This isn't how I saw this going."

Kathryn looked back at him. "Welcome to the club. Our homecoming wasn't how I thought it would be either." She shrugged. "Now all this from you. Was I supposed to just fall into your arms?" She regretted that immediately and looked down at her hands. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I didn't mean it."

Chakotay moved closer to her. "Why didn't you come to me?"

Kathryn shook her head. "You'd already left."

Chakotay shook his head and smiled slightly. "You could always have contacted me. Everyone knew where I was."

Kathryn played with a fingernail. "I thought it was too late."

Chakotay nodded at that. "And is it? Too late, I mean?"

Kathryn's eyes turned to his. He saw the warring emotions in them before she turned away. She didn't answer and a silence followed.

Chakotay made a quick decision. He moved closer to her and pulled an envelope from his pocket. "I'm leaving now…" She looked up at him and he didn't miss the pain on her face that his words caused. "I'm leaving you this letter and card."

Kathryn took the envelope as she stared at him. "You're leaving?" When he just nodded, she turned away. "Leaving again, you mean…"

Chakotay stepped back. "That's unfair and you know it." He sighed. "Just read the letter, Kathryn. I hope it explains everything. Read it and I'll be back later." Without another word, he walked down the steps and crossed the clearing. Kathryn watched him until he disappeared from sight.

Having placed the roses in water, Kathryn sat on the porch to read the letter and card. She wanted to kick herself for how she'd acted with Chakotay. She was taking everything out on him and knew it wasn't fair.

She forced her thoughts to the envelope in her hand and opened it. She shook her head in amazement at the card. It was one of the most beautiful cards she'd ever seen. It was a hand painting of roses in delicate pastel shades which tumbled over each other for prominence, surrounded with lace, pearls and tiny ribbons nestling between the folds of lace. Tiny little arrows were also sewn into the lace. A scent filled her nostrils and she lifted the card to her nose and inhaled, finding the paper of the card scented. It was simply sighed 'with love, C'.

Finally Kathryn opened Chakotay's letter.

"My dear Kathryn,
Today is St. Valentine's Day. Did you know that? I hope it's fitting that my gifts culminate on this day for lovers. Am I being too forward? I hope not.
First, I must ask your forgiveness. I broke my promise to you. I promised to always be by your side yet I left and I shall forever regret that.
I spoke with B'Elanna and I saw the news vids so I know what happened. I stupidly believed you wanted nothing to do with me. My own insecurities I guess but still no excuse.
Now I ask for a second chance. I love you, Kathryn. I love you so very much. I want to spend the rest of my life and beyond at your side if you'll just let me.
I want to walk this journey with you, to wherever it takes us. I want to lie in your arms and make mad, passionate love to you. I want to kiss you senseless and drive myself into your body so deeply, we become as one.
Do I shock you? I hope not and yet a part of me hopes I do shock you. I need to convey the intensity of my feelings for you.
I suppose I was trying to prepare you with these gifts.
I've hidden and watched you each morning…during the day. I think you know that. I had hoped to see you happier but I only saw a sad woman…and I believe that was my doing.
I'm so sorry for that.
I know I could have just come to you but this idea planted itself inside me and wouldn't let go so I followed it. Hence the gifts and flowers.
The wildflowers I picked around here, just adding the ribbons for your hair. The silver trinket box and pillow I found in the local town. They just spoke to me of you. The china cup and saucer spoke to me also, reminding me of the set you lost on Voyager. The book and wood carving I had for a long time, always meaning to give them to you, the locket also. And roses…well they just speak of love, don't they? Did you know that they symbolize both peace and war, love and forgiveness? You and I have known all these things. Now I pray they just represent peace and love and hopefully forgiveness on your part. Of the three single roses, white is for true love, the red for passion and the yellow for friendship. Fitting, I thought.

The card, Kathryn…that is an old tradition as is the celebration of this day – St. Valentine's Day. It's traditionally the day all the birds and animals take a mate so I'm hoping to continue that tradition. The idea of cards actually goes back to this country's civil war although the tradition of exchanging affectionate messages goes back to Roman times. In civil war days, their cards were often decorated with patriotic and political motifs. I did consider a Voyager design but I decided against it. That is our past and I prefer to look to the future.
I know your interest in these things, Kathryn. I'll give you a little history lesson. St. Valentine was a third century Christian martyr beheaded in Rome about 269 AD. He became attached to this ritual because his feast day on the liturgical calendar coincided with ancient pagan rituals associated with spring, the rebirth of the earth, the husbanding of animals, and the phenomenon known as 'spring fever'. His story is shrouded in mystery though. Somehow that seems more fitting, don't you think?
The arrows on your card also mean something. They represent cupid, a mischievous, winged child, whose arrows would pierce the hearts of his victims causing them to fall deeply in love. In ancient Greece he was known as Eros, the young son of Aphrodite. To the Romans, he was Cupid and his mother was Venus.
There are actually three recognized Saints named Valentine or Valentinus and they were all martyred. What we do for love…
One legend (yes, I'm telling you another ancient legend) contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young, single men, his crop of potential soldiers. Does that remind you of anyone? Starfleet?
Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When his actions were discovered Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Of course other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to yet another legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that he fell in love with a young girl, who may have been his jailor's daughter who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it's alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that's still in use today. Criminal and jailor or apprehender…ring a bell?
Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories show his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages Valentine was one of the most popular saints.
Another school of thought claims that the roots of the day lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. For 800 years the Romans had dedicated this day to the god Lupercus. On Lupercalia, a young man would draw the name of a young woman in a lottery and would then keep the woman as a sexual companion for the year.
Tom would have loved that one on Voyager. Quite a few would I think although sorting out the mess would have fallen to us.
On with the story. Pope Gelasius I was, understandably, less than thrilled with this custom. So he changed the lottery to have both young men and women draw the names of saints whom they would then emulate for the year (a change that no doubt disappointed a few young men). Instead of Lupercus, the patron of the feast became Valentine. For Roman men the day continued to be an occasion to seek the affections of women, and it became a tradition to give out handwritten messages of admiration that included Valentine's name.
So, Kathryn, traditionalist that I am, I continue with this as a way to show my love for you. I even travelled to Ireland, the land of your ancestors, for the materials for this card. Did you know the relics of St. Valentine are in a church in Dublin?
I wanted everything to be just right for you and yet I'm terrified. I can tell you that. I'm so afraid that you'll reject me and I'd only have myself to blame.
I believe we were meant to be together though. Look at the history we share.
I guess that was the reason for the memory book I gave you, the images of us and our crew, our family.
So alas, my dear Kathryn, I leave my heart in your hands now. If you want me to walk away, I will. You have to tell me that though. I'll fight for you this time. I probably should have done that on Voyager. I know getting your crew home had to come first but now should be for us, Kathryn. I love you with all my heart and I always will.
With all my love, Chakotay".

Kathryn sat for almost an hour reading her letter over and over. She still wore her night clothes, the idea of getting dressed pushed to the back of her mind. She wiped at her tears as she re-lived the loneliness and hurt keeping this man away had caused her. He understood though. He'd just proved that. He understood, forgave her and loved her still.

She jumped when she heard a voice behind her. "Did I go too far?"

Kathryn turned quickly, her tears clear to see. She shook her head. "No. I just can't believe you'd still want me…and after the way I spoke to you before…"

Chakotay sighed heavily. "I've always wanted you, Kathryn. I was just a coward for a long time although I know the time wasn't right for you. This time I'm going to fight for you."

Kathryn smiled sadly. "You think I'm worth fighting for?"

Chakotay nodded. "Oh, yes. I know you are."

Kathryn dropped her head and nodded. "I had to get them home, Chakotay. I was also so afraid of loving you…so afraid of losing you…getting hurt…"

Chakotay moved closer to her. "I think you're still afraid. Maybe I should have just claimed you, taken you before you had a chance to object."

Kathryn's eyes widened at his words, reminding her of what she'd said to B'Elanna. "What…?"

Chakotay smiled softly. "Don't kill her but B'Elanna let something slip about your night of drunken confessions. She had your best interests at heart. She also threatened to kill me if I hurt you again…"

Kathryn's face was a mix of shock and deep embarrassment. "She…told you…what I said…?" She stood up quickly and moved away. "I barely remember that night. I do remember saying…" She looked back at Chakotay, seeing the smile on his face. "Oh God…" She ran down the steps of the cabin and across the clearing.

Suddenly concerned, Chakotay followed her. "Kathryn, I'm sorry. I never meant to embarrass you. B'Elanna didn't mean to break your confidence."

Kathryn looked around her. "I'm not angry at her. It wasn't even said in confidence, just in…"

Chakotay finished for her. "In loneliness and in pain. I deserted you and should have been there for you. The reason for all that lies at my door." He saw her look around. "Kathryn, talk to me. There's no one here. This place is as private as you can get."

Finally she looked at him. "I don't know what to say…"

Chakotay moved closer to her. "Did you mean it? Is that really what you wanted?"

Kathryn's embarrassment grew. She looked down at the ground and finally nodded. "It makes me sound like the whore of the Delta Quadrant…"

Chakotay placed his hands on her shoulders and shook his head. "No, Kathryn. You were very lonely out there. I loved you and I believe that you loved me…" He shook her gently. "You did love me…?"

Kathryn nodded. "I did…I do…"

Chakotay smiled and nodded then grew serious. "Fighting that was damn hard. When you needed someone the most, you had to stand back from them. That takes unbelievable strength."

Tears filled her eyes as she shook her head. "I had to be strong but it was so hard. All I wanted was you…to just hold me…love me…"

Chakotay pulled her to him. "I'm here now if you still want me."

Kathryn clung to him and cried. "I want you…so much…"

Chakotay held her for several minutes until she calmed. Finally he eased her back. "I'm here and I'm all yours…anyway you want me."

Kathryn eased back a little more and wiped at her face. "I'm sorry you had to hear what I said to B'Elanna."

Chakotay smiled. "I'm not. I'm flattered in fact. It does the male ego no end of good to hear something like that." He leaned his head to the side to study her face. "Just how often did you think like that?"

Kathryn blushed deeply. "Too often…"

Chakotay smiled smugly. "If I'd only known. I'd never have lasted out there. I'd probably have done just what you were thinking."

Kathryn suddenly felt daring and moved closer to him. "It's never too late…"

Chakotay pulled her towards him as he remembered B'Elanna quoting his own words to him…'if it's meant to be, it's never too late'. He stroked his hands over her shoulders, his face serious now. "No, it isn't. Are you sure it's not too soon though?"

Kathryn sighed. She knew he was still offering her a way out if she wanted or needed it. She shook her head quickly. "I'm sure. I almost lost you because I waited. Seven years is a long time to wait. It's too damn long." She stared at him, her eyes almost pleading with him. "I'm just such a coward."

Chakotay stood back a little, his hands still on her shoulders as he looked her up and down, an almost feral look on his face. Her last words told him that she needed him to make the first move. He was happy to do so. He smiled and nodded slowly. "So…you'd have been in your ready room…" He stood back and let his eyes travel over her body before returning to her face. His expression spoke for him. The game was on.

Kathryn stood before him wearing just her nightdress and dressing gown. She tightened the tie belt as she looked at him, then clutched the lapels together. She backed away a little, playing the game with him. "Chakotay…" His name was a husky whisper.

Chakotay stalked her. Kathryn watched his face, mesmerized. She felt like an animal being preyed on and was almost shocked to realize how aroused she felt at the idea. He reached her and took her face between his hands, sliding his fingers through her hair. He leaned in and brushed his lips to her cheek, sliding them to her ear. He nuzzled there. "What would I have done, Kathryn. Tell me."

Kathryn felt herself shiver and knew it wasn't from the cold. The walls she'd built around herself for all those years were finally crumbling, leaving her totally exposed. "You'd have…" She swallowed quickly and licked at her lips. "You'd have…pinned me…to the wall…" Her words shocked her yet brought a feeling of liberation also.

Chakotay moved her sideways towards a large tree and pressed her against the trunk, holding her wrists to her sides with his large hands. "I'm afraid you'll have to make do with a tree." He pushed gently against her. "Like this?"

Kathryn sucked in a breath. "Yes…" She met his eyes for just a moment before looking away, clearly embarrassed.

Chakotay smiled down at her. "What is it, Kathryn? Are you embarrassed to be talking this way or by being turned on by it?"

Kathryn felt breathless as she met his eyes again. "I'm afraid of what you'll think of me…"

Chakotay grinned. "Oh, I love a woman who's not afraid to show her passion." He leaned down and nipped gently at her shoulder. "What would I have done then?"

Kathryn forced the words from her mouth. "You'd have…restrained me…when I struggled a bit…held my hands above my head perhaps…" Kathryn closed her eyes, barely believing she was speaking this way.

She opened them again when Chakotay chuckled. "But I need both my hands for what I plan to do to you…" He leaned back a little and looked down her body before nodding to himself. Kathryn watched fascinated as he reached down and opened the tie of her dressing gown, pulling it from her waist.

He looked back up at her and her eyes followed to meet his. "Maybe I should just tie your hands to that branch…" He looked up and she followed his line of vision. She felt his eyes back on her face and looked at him. She knew he was seeking her permission and she nodded slowly, giving it.

Chakotay grinned as he saw her pupils dilate in passion. "The eyes are the window to the soul, Kathryn. They don't lie and yours are telling me so much."

Kathryn's breathing quickened and made her answer for her. Chakotay reached for her hands and tied her wrists together. He pulled them above her head and secured the belt to the branch, leaving a loose piece between her hands and the wood. Kathryn watched, her eyes wide. She looked back at him when he took her face between his hands. His face was serious as he looked at her. "I'll stop anytime you say, Kathryn. You know that."

Kathryn nodded, her chest heaving. "I know…"

Satisfied, Chakotay grinned again. He ran his hands up and down her arms. "What would I have done then?"

Kathryn closed her eyes a moment, loving the feel of his hands on her body. "Then I'd have been powerless against you…couldn't have stopped you." Chakotay nodded as his hands moved down over her shoulders and wandered across her chest.

Kathryn moaned loudly. "You'd have pulled at my clothes…" The words were barely out of her mouth when she heard the ripping sound. Her gown had already fallen open without the tie in place and now her nightdress was split down the centre. She watched in wonder as he ripped all the way down, parting the fabric, leaving her in only her bra and panties, the remnants of her clothes hanging from her. She watched as his hands moved to her bra. That got the same treatment as he ripped it open, leaving her breasts exposed. With the cool air and the anticipation of what was to come, her nipples hardened and puckered instantly.

Kathryn groaned and bit down on her lip. "Oh God…" Her arousal was growing by the second, trampling down any last trace of embarrassment she felt.

Chakotay's lower body pinned Kathryn's legs in place as he bent his head and suckled gently at her breasts.

Kathryn's head fell back against the rough bark. "Oh yes…please…there…" She groaned and looked up when he removed his mouth. "Don't stop. Do it…"

One of Chakotay's hands cupped her cheek. "Yes?" Kathryn nodded against his hand. He leaned down to her ear and kissed along her hairline.

At the same moment, she felt his other hand slip inside her panties and she moaned loudly. "Oh God…yes…you'd…"

Suddenly Chakotay's hand moved from her cheek to cover her mouth. He pressed down gently. "I think I can take it from here. You have to stop giving orders, Kathryn." There was a hint of mischief in his voice. His hand moved from her mouth and dropped to join the other one at her hips. He leaned back and quickly ripped her panties away.

Kathryn gasped at the action, his mouth open. Before she knew what was happening, Chakotay pushed her panties into her mouth. His eyes locked with hers, seeking her permission again but he saw only her arousal. They both knew she could easily expel the makeshift gag from her mouth anytime she wanted. Kathryn breathed deeply through her nose as her passion rose higher and higher. Her hunger was written in her eyes and Chakotay read it easily.

He grinned again and pushed her back against the tree. There was just enough force in the movement to play the game but not to hurt. One of his legs went between hers, pushing them apart. He rubbed it against her mound, tearing a deep throated moan from her.

To Kathryn's frustration, he stood back then. He studied her body for a moment, running his hands up and down her from breasts to hips. Kathryn squirmed under his hands, desperate for his touch in other places.

He shocked her then when he spun her around to face the tree, her hands twisting easily in their bonds because of the gap between them and the branch they were tied to. Another ripping sound as he tore her gown and nightdress down the back, her bra with them.

Kathryn moaned deeply and dropped her head against the tree. She wondered fleetingly why she was allowing this but the feelings of passion and arousal inside her answered that question. She was enjoying every second of it.

The hands were back, stroking up and down her spine and across her shoulders. They stole around her waist and crept up to her breasts. He took one breast in each hand and squeezed softly, his fingers tweaking her nipples then pinching. Kathryn ground herself back against his body, wanting to scream for more.

The hands travelled on then, returning to her back then down to her hips. And then the leg was back between hers, his foot urging her to part her legs. He whispered into her ear once more. "Spread your legs wide for me, Kathryn. Spread them for me."

Kathryn's chest was heaving at this stage as she obeyed him. His leg pressed up between hers and his hand came around to slip between them, tangling with her hair before slipping into her abundant moisture. The moment his fingers made contact with her bundle of nerves, Kathryn jerked. Spirals of arousal spread up through her, coiling tightly in her belly. She was torn between pressing down on his hand and pushing back against him.

Chakotay decided for her. He pressed harder against her clit and pushed against her at the same time. His other hand left her for a moment and she knew he was freeing himself. She almost spit the panties from her mouth to beg him to fill her, to send her over the edge but held on. She pushed back when she felt him behind her, his erection hot and hard burrowing between her ass cheeks. He easily slipped into place, hovering just outside her body. He pulled her back a little so he could bend her forward.

Kathryn pushed back against him as much as she could, her head falling forward. She watched his hand moving between her legs and the sight pushed her even higher. He spoke softly to her again. "Something else doesn't lie, Kathryn. You're so wet down here. I'm honoured to have that effect on you."

Any embarrassment Kathryn would have felt had long left her. His words only added to what she felt now. His mouth moved over her neck and shoulder, licking and nipping at her delicate skin, sending her wild. She cried out against her gag and pulled against her bonds. He was driving her crazy and he knew it. "You're mine, Kathryn Janeway. I'm never letting you go again. I'm going to take you against this tree. I'm going to take you hard and make you mine." His words poured fuel onto the fire which was already consuming her. "Is this what you wanted? Is this what you fantasized about?" Kathryn barely managed to nod. "Be careful what you wish for, my love. You may just get it."

As the words left his mouth, his fingers entered her body and she bucked back against him. One hand pressed repeatedly into her tight entrance, the other played over her hard nub, working her up and up. He pushed her higher until she exploded against his hands, releasing herself onto them. He kept it up as she quivered through the aftershocks, his thumb now pressed hard against her anus, not entering but letting her know he was there. She spasmed through a second orgasm, biting down hard on the cloth in her mouth before he let her come down.

It was short lived. She felt herself turned back to face him, her eyes glazed over. He smiled into her face, his hands lifting her legs each side of his body. Somewhere, somehow, he'd managed to strip his pants off. Kathryn felt him against her folds now, rock hard as he stroked back and forth across her. Her eyes pleaded with him as she bucked against him, begging him to complete the journey. He complied slowly, pressing against her then pulling back.

Kathryn moaned loudly, hating and loving the sweet torture at the same time. And then she screamed as he rammed himself home, filling her beyond what she thought possible. There was a moment of stinging pain as she adjusted to the invasion but once he began to move within her depths, it turned to pleasure unlike any she'd ever known before.

Chakotay held her tightly to him as he withdrew and thrust forward, his pace quickening. Kathryn felt her third orgasm build and tightened her legs around him, counter-thrusting as much as she could. She ground herself against him and tightened her inner muscles, stimulating them both. They both groaned as they reached the apex and Kathryn spit her panties from her mouth as she came, her scream leaving her lips, startling some birds nearby who fled in fright at the sound. Chakotay followed her quickly with one last hard thrust. He held himself tightly inside her, emptying himself into her body.

Kathryn's head dropped forward onto Chakotay's shoulder. She turned her face into his neck, nuzzling him as she tried to get her breathing under control. "Oh God…Chakotay…" She was panting.

Chakotay pulled himself slowly from her body, hating the separation. He gently put her down on her feet, holding her steady until he was sure she could stand. He reached up and undid the tie binding her to the tree. He lowered her hands and unwound the tie from her wrists, rubbing the blood back into her hands. He smiled lovingly at her and stroked over her face. "Are you all right? I didn't hurt you, did I? You don't regret this?"

Kathryn reached her arms around his neck and shook her head. "Chakotay, of all your gifts, that was the best one of all. And no…you didn't hurt me nor do I regret a second." She laughed. "I may however, think differently later when my sore muscles kick in and I can't move. I'm not as young as I used to be."

Chakotay picked her up and carried her back towards the cabin. "Then I'll just have to massage them for you."

Kathryn wound her arms around his neck, lacing her fingers together. "Which in turn will lead to more sore muscles…"

Chakotay grinned down at her then kissed the top of her head. "And I'll take of those too…"

Kathryn sighed happily as she laid her head on his shoulder. "This could go on and on."

Chakotay stopped walking as he reached the steps and smiled lovingly at her. "That's the whole idea, Kathryn. Forever and ever. That's the idea." He kissed her lovingly. "Oh…and happy St. Valentine's Day, my love."