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Disclaimer: All things Voyager belong to Paramount. I gain no profit from this...other than the fact that Kathryn and Chakotay behave the way *I* want them to behave, not the way TPTB think they should act!

Summary: As Voyager journeys closer to home, Kathryn is suddenly faced with a tough choice. What will she ultimately decide?



Captain S'klar, newly appointed leader of the Moltarian Empire, began to laugh out loud while sitting on the bridge of his ship. A few of his crew members glanced over their shoulders, wondering what could possibly be so humorous. He chuckled some more, prompting his first in command, Tanari, to question him.

"May I ask what you are laughing about, Captain?"

S'klar looked up at him, tears of laughter still brimming his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Tanari. I was just remembering something I read in that library database we acquired a few weeks ago from that nice crew we encountered. Absolutely fabulous pieces of literature, and some very funny ones, too. You really should take a look at it."

Tanari smiled, for he knew exactly what his Captain meant. He had already read several novels contained in the database, and had enjoyed every single one. He settled back into his seat just behind S'klar, gazing out at the starfield passing before them.

"I wonder, Captain, if their ship ever made it back to their homeworld? What was the name of it?"

"Earth, I believe. A generous crew, that one. Don't worry, Commander," S'klar commented as he pulled up a few reports to his console. "If they followed our schematics correctly, then they are probably celebrating with their families right now."

Meanwhile, Voyager was soaring swiftly through the stars, moving closer to Earth. Her crew had gathered in the mess hall for a huge party, hosted by a most exuberant Neelix. Celebrating an event eight years in the making. Thanks to the Moltarians, Voyager would make it home much sooner than planned: Their sixty-year journey had suddenly been shaved down to a mere five days.

Captain Kathryn Janeway took a look around. Smiles surrounded her. Laughter emanated from every direction. Never has she seen a crew more spirited. It almost broke her heart to think that in a few days, this crew would no longer be hers. They had all grown so close, and she felt that she was losing a part of herself. But, to finally reach Earth again, well, that was enough to bring another smile to her face. Kathryn turned to leave the party, her heart full of joy. She had done what she promised this crew eight years ago. They were finally going home.

As she walked down the corridor to her quarters, she heard someone approaching from behind. She glanced back, and a smirk played across her face.

"Whatís the hurry, Commander?" she inquired, resuming her pace.

Chakotay finally caught up with her, and fell in with her stride, just behind her shoulder. A place where he just seemed to fit, but also a place where Chakotay knew he would miss being in a few short days.

"I didnít get a chance to speak with you at the party, so when I saw you leave, I thought Iíd follow," he answered, giving her a huge grin.

The door swished open to her quarters as Kathryn stepped inside. She motioned for Chakotay to follow as she immediately requested a cup of coffee from the replicator. He couldnít help but chuckle.

"Whatís so funny?"

"Coffee at this hour!? I thought you would be looking forward to a peaceful night's sleep for once."

"On the contrary, Commander, I donít want to miss anything. I haven't seen this part of space for a long time, and I want to be able to see everything again as if it were the first time." Setting her coffee down on the table next to her, she looked back up at him, still grinning. "Besides, I still have many recommendations to write...especially those on a certain first officer!"

"Oh, really? Maybe I should give you some help on *that* one!"

They both laughed. Kathryn couldn't turn her eyes away from his. She loved the way his eyes lit up when he laughed. She had found that her thoughts over the last few days with consumed with Chakotay. In fact, she had thought of little else. She was not only losing a fine first officer, but a trusting and loyal friend. It was going to be a terrible that Kathryn wasn't so sure she was ready to accept.

"What did you want to speak to me about?", she asked, shoving all those inner thoughts back for a few moments.

"Well, it's probably stupid of me to be saying this, but I feel that I *need* to say this before things get so out of hand that I *forget* to say it," he rambled, walking towards her. "What I really want to say is...well...I wanted to say...thank you!" Chakotay fumbled with the words as he took Kathryn's hands into his own.

Kathryn looked somewhat shocked. She had half-way expected a simple comment about how crew members would probably be having trouble focusing over the next few days, or that people would probably be late for duty shifts...something along the lines of ship's business. But certainly not a "thank you"...and a quite sincere one, judging from the look on his face. Kathryn couldn't resist a smile as he continued.

"Eight years ago, when our crews joined forces, you made us all a promise to get us home, no matter what the cost. You've kept that promise, but you've done more than that. You put your faith in a rebel crew which you barely knew. You have molded us all into much better people than we were before. B'Elanna has gained a lot more discipline in her life. Harry Kim has grown into an excellent Starfleet officer. And as much as I hate to say it, even Tom Paris has become a decent and dependable individual. You helped all of them...even me. Who knows where I would be today without you?

"And now, Kathryn, because of you, all of the former Maquis have received full pardons, and will be considered for other postings in Starfleet, regardless of their previous actions against the Federation. We will forever owe you a debt of gratitude."

"Chakotay...I..." she interrupted, feeling the tears stinging her eyes.

"No, Kathryn, let me finish. We've had our rough times, and we've had our share of good times. And looking back now, I don't think I would have changed one second of it. This has been the best damned space adventure I've ever had...and probably ever will. And for all of that...I wanted to say 'Thank you'."

Chakotay leaned forward, his only intent being to kiss her on the cheek, then turn and leave. That was all. But what happened next took him...and Kathryn...completely by surprise.

Why she did it, she will never know. Her first officer was thanking her graciously and giving her an innocent kiss on the cheek. But as Chakotay began to pull away, Kathryn had the sudden urge to shift her head ever so slightly. Her lips brushed very lightly against his...and their world came to a standstill.

Having had this close of an encounter with Kathryn was something that Chakotay didn't want to lose. He felt his heart racing as her cool blue gaze captured his and held it. Chakotay desperately searched her eyes for some hint of hope that she wanted this to continue...and praying that his years of holding out were about to pay off.

Kathryn willed herself to look deep into his dark eyes. Part of her wanting to see his reaction to what was happening between them. Another part wanting him to see exactly what she was feeling. And yet another part of her was screaming that all of this was wrong...but she chose to ignore that particular voice. All of this felt *so* right.

They continued to stare at each other for what seemed like an eternity, neither of them moving any closer or any further apart. Standing so close together that they could each feel the other's quickened breath whispering across their faces. Mesmerized at how simple this could be...if only one of them would simply make the next move.

Kathryn and Chakotay both jumped and instantly separated with the loud, startling sound echoing from her console. She silently cursed the person on the other end of that incoming message...sincerely hoping that it was not her sister or mother. And in both cases, planning to inform them of exactly *what* they had interrupted.

"I...Iím sorry, Chakotay. We really can't be doing this..." she started mumbling, knowing that she was lying...knowing that in a few short days, he would no longer be serving under her command.

"Well, I mean...we *shouldn't* do least, not right now." Kathryn offered him a soft smile as she watched the surprise quickly dissolve his disappointment.

Chakotay cocked his head slightly. "Does this mean you would *like* to pursue a relationship?"

She reached up and ran her fingertips lightly over his well-defined lips. "I can honestly say...that it means I'm seriously thinking about it."

Pure and absolute joy consumed his soul. He had been so afraid that once they returned to Earth, Kathryn would distance herself from everyone, and that his chance with her would be lost. Now, standing here, Chakotay began to take great comfort in the fact that Kathryn was at least *thinking* about a future for them. What harm could possibly be done in just a few more days?

The persistent beeping emanating from her console finally overpowered them, and they stepped even further apart.

"You'd better answer could important," Chakotay responded, smiling as he turned for the door. "I'll see you in the morning, Kathryn."

Kathryn tried to contain her tears as the door shut behind Chakotay. She had been so very close...why did she always have so much trouble when it came to her own happiness?

She sat down heavily at her desk, intending to berate her mother for the not-so-convenient message she was sending. Accessing the message, Kathryn felt her jaw hit the desk top.

Mark stared back at her from the viewscreen. Kathryn couldnít believe her eyes. He hasnít changed a bit, she thought to herself as he began to speak.

"Hello, Kath! I know you're busy, so I won't take up much of your time. I had to send you a message to let you know how glad we all were to hear that you were finally returning home. You donít know how many nights I dreamed that you were already here, safe and sound. Itís overwhelming news!

"There's also something I felt that I needed to tell you, like you don't have enough on your mind right now. But it's just something to think about. I probably shouldnít even be doing this, but my heart says this is right. I know...I'm let me just say it.

"Iím here for you, Kath. I donít mean just as a friend. I mean,...well, I guess I mean Iím here as whatever you want me to be. Now I know I told you a few years ago that I was married. Needless to say, with all the recent events, Melissa didnít want to stand in our way, so she's moved on, giving us her blessing. She told me before she left that you and I have always belonged together, and that she knew that she could never replace you in my heart. Melissaís a wonderful person, always thinking of others before herself. I was very lucky to have met her...but I feel more fortunate to have known you.

"So, there it is, Kath. All that I ask is for you to just think it over. I do want to say that I still care a great deal for you, and I always will. Iíll be at the Welcome Home celebration when you get here. It will be so good to see you again. Good-night."

Kathryn stared blankly at the now darkened viewscreen. For the second time that night, she found herself fighting back tears. Why was all of this happening to her? On top of all the excitement and anticipation of a successful return back to the Alpha Quadrant, why did her love life have to go completely haywire?

Of course, she still *cared* for Mark. Deep down, she knew that she always would. But did she still *love* him? And what about Chakotay? He had waited for just the right moments to express his deep feelings for her...feelings that she was beginning reciprocate. Now, they were finally in a position to where they could actually pursue those feelings. But then, Mark had given up his new life to pick up their relationship where they left off eight years ago. Could she really tell him now that she *might* not be interested any longer, leaving him alone once again?

Kathryn pulled her knees into a hug and closed her eyes. Why the hell did she have to have so many decisions? She half-laughed as she remembered something Chakotay said many years ago.

"Of course...I'm the Captain."

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 ]
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