Disclaimers: Paramount owns the characters. Amanda Marshall owns the song (it appears on her album "Tuesday's Child"). I don't own anything except a slightly warped imagination. This story may not be copied or distributed without permission.

Too Little, Too Late

by Lady Firebird

It never occurred to her that dropping by Chakotay's quarters without an invitation could lead to an awkward situation. After all, it never had before. So Kathryn didn't think twice about stopping by after dinner that Tuesday to discuss whether or not the crew's high spirits were compromising performance.

But when the door opened, she knew she'd made a mistake. Even though it was just past dinnertime, Chakotay was wearing a light robe and his hair was askew, as if he'd been sleeping. Kathryn's anticipation changed to concern as she stepped through the door.

"Are you all right?"

He rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Yes, I'm fine. What can I do for you?"

"It's a little early in the evening to be in bed..."

"Chakotay?" called a voice from the direction of the bedroom. "Who is it?"

Both of them froze, saying nothing as Marla Gilmore, recently restored to the rank of Ensign, walked into the room. She, too, was wearing a robe and had tousled hair.

"Oh, Captain," she said. "Excuse me. I didn't mean to interrupt."

"You didn't," said Kathryn, her face flaming. I did. "I'm sorry; I didn't realize this was a bad time." She began backing out of the room, but her first officer stopped her.

"What is it, Captain?"

"It's...nothing. We can discuss it in the morning." How could she get out of this gracefully? "Good night."

"Good night, Captain," they both said as the door shut behind her.

Tuesday night -- 7:30
I hear a voice
Doin' fine -- then it hits me
The voice that I am hearing means you're not alone

She'd heard the talk, of course. Voyager was too small a ship for any relationship to be a secret. According to rumor, Chakotay and Gilmore had been "together" for about six months now. But he'd never discussed it with her, so she'd assumed the talk was only speculation.

Apparently not.

Kathryn returned to her quarters, still reeling from the shock. She'd always assumed Chakotay would tell her about something this significant. Why hadn't he? True, protocol didn't require him to discuss his personal life with her, but what about their friendship?

Sighing, she walked to the viewport and stared out at the stars. Chakotay and Gilmore. They were both single, and well suited to each other. She hadn't heard any complaints from B'Elanna about favoritism or preferential treatment. There was no reason they couldn't have a relationship.

Even if it did leave her feeling hurt and betrayed.

I thought it would be easy but it's not
And now I would give all that I've got
But it's too little too late
No going back to the start

Kathryn didn't sleep well that night. Her mind kept going back to the scene in Chakotay's quarters. Sorting out her feelings wasn't difficult, but dealing with them was another matter entirely.

They were only a short distance away from the Alpha Quadrant now. In no more than three, maybe four weeks, Voyager would be home. She would have successfully completed her self-assigned mission. She would no longer have to worry about shipboard protocol, or command requirements, or any of the dozen other demands on her personal life.

Only once on this mission had she been able to shed the burden of command: New Earth. In the darkest hours of their experiences since, Kathryn had held on to those brief memories to sustain her. But she'd never dared to admit that to Chakotay.

It wouldn't have been just a breach of protocol; it might have been a temptation too strong for either of them to ignore. Kathryn hadn't wanted to take that chance. For her sake, for his and for the crews, she'd never acknowledged her feelings to anyone but herself. She'd always thought things could be different, once they got home. Chakotay's actions had certainly suggested he would wait.

It seemed he'd tired of waiting. The worst thing was, she couldn't blame him. They'd been out here for almost nine years. That was a long time to be alone.

She knew that from personal experience.

You only lose when you hesitate
And now that I would give you my heart
It's too little too late

She reported to the bridge early the next morning, having given up on sleep. Chakotay, on the other hand, wasn't late, but he wasn't early either. It was difficult to face him as they went through the routine of shift change. The night had been long and lonely.

When the change of shift was over, and everyone was at their posts, Chakotay inclined his head toward her and spoke softly. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

She ushered him into the ready room, getting herself a cup of coffee and offering him the same, which he declined. It was comforting to shield herself in the routines of simple hospitality, but she knew the moment was coming. Better to get it over with.

"I'm sorry you had to find out about Marla and me that way. I had intended to tell you..."

"When?" Her voice had a slight edge to it. "After the wedding?"

He flushed at her sarcasm, but, typically, refused to take the bait. "Actually, that was why I was going to talk to you fairly soon. I've asked her to marry me once we get back, and she's agreed. We'd be flattered if you'd perform the ceremony."

Kathryn raised the coffee cup to her lips, fighting for control. She'd meant her comment as a not-so-subtle jab. She'd never imagined she would hit so close to the mark. How had he slipped so far away from her?

Firmly shutting down that chain of thought, she lowered the cup back to the desk and forced her voice to reflect surprised pleasure. "I'd be honored."

It was the right thing to say, she knew, even if it left a taste more bitter than the coffee.

Two more weeks -- I start to wonder
If what I'm missing's really worth these tears
What's the point -- you've found another
And I just keep on talking but you just can't hear

It had been a little sooner than they'd thought; in nine years the borders of the Federation had expanded outward. Outside her viewport, the lights of the starbase flickered. There had been many times she'd thought she would never see Federation station lights again. Now, she wasn't so sure she wanted to.

Chakotay and Gilmore, along with several other crew members, had decided to leave Starfleet. After what she'd learned about Section 31 and the Federation's attempt at genocide, Kathryn was tempted to do the same. But Starfleet was all she had, now. She would be returning to Earth and requesting another assignment.

She'd hoped the rest of Voyager's crew would do the same -- at least the part about returning to Earth, anyway -- but it was now clear that their "family" would be disbanded here. So she'd agreed to perform the ceremony in the morning before Chakotay and Gilmore left to visit her relatives.

She'd tried to grow a shell around her heart, and made a tremendous effort to hide her true feelings, but all that had proven unnecessary. He'd never even suspected.

You swore you'd wait forever and a day
I never thought I'd live to hear you say
It's too little too late

Voyager's senior officers and the remaining crew from the Equinox attended the wedding. Kathryn recited the words automatically, forcing a smile of approval to her face and happiness into her voice.

She'd never thought she would be performing a ceremony to wed him to someone else. Intellectually, she'd known it might happen, but it was one of those things that never seemed possible, never seemed right.

Chakotay's voice was clear as he spoke his wedding vows.

So mad about me
You couldn't live without me
Now you say you're moving on

The excited knot of people in the wedding party left to go to a reception on the holodeck immediately after the ceremony, but Kathryn had to stay and sign the marriage certificate. She did so last, after the witnesses, after the bride and groom.

She looked up to see Chakotay watching her, a touch of sadness around the eyes. Gilmore, apparently, had gone on ahead.

"Thank you," he said softly.

She forced the right words out. "It was my pleasure."

"No," he said softly, crossing the room to take her hand. "Thank you for not objecting."

"Why would I object?" She had to consciously keep her voice even.

His eyes were kind. "I've known all along how you felt. I just didn't say so."

She felt tears begin to form. "Then why...?"

"I wanted to wait, but it was so lonely...and you seemed to be handling it so easily. Then Marla came along, and...well, you understand, I hope."

She swallowed a tear to keep it from running down her face. "Yes, I do."

His voice was gentle. "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I hope someday you'll be as happy as I am." He began to pull his hand back, but she clutched at it, stopping him for a second.

"Chakotay," she choked. "Please believe me when I say I'm happy...that you're happy."

"I believe you," he whispered.

I took the long way
I told you maybe someday
I guess I made you wait too long

She went to the reception. They would expect that of her, and she'd tried hard to never let her crew down. She offered a warm toast to the newlyweds, and Chakotay even danced with her a couple of times, but they didn't speak of their conversation. That last moment of intimacy and friendship was forever gone.

Kathryn realized that she'd meant what she said. She truly was happy that Chakotay had found a way to end the terrible loneliness that had plagued them all while aboard Voyager. Despite her past, Marla Gilmore was a good woman, and would bring him all the joy she'd hoped to offer. Maybe even more; Kathryn would always have put Starfleet first.

Still, it hurt to see them together, so obviously happy. She only stayed as long as was necessary to put in a proper appearance.

I know I've only got myself to blame
And I've still got my pride but just the same
It's just too little too late

She knew the reception was over by now, and Chakotay and Gilmore had surely already left for their honeymoon. But sleep still eluded Kathryn Janeway. Curled on the couch, her mind raced in the same circles again and again. She knew she would always remember that last conversation.

She vowed she would never forget the memories.

You only lose when you hesitate
And now I want to give you my heart
But you tell me it's too little too late


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