Kathryn wandered around the house, straightening things that didn't need to be straightened. She glanced at the chronometer for the tenth time in the last hour wondering why the minutes were crawling so slowly.
"Relax, Kathryn. He'll be home in an hour." Wishing she would take her own advice, Kathryn prowled around the room one more time then decided that the hot New Mexico sun had dropped enough to make it bearable outside. She went out the back door and headed toward the garden. The plants were thriving, but like every other day, were in need of water. She turned on the water and pulled the hose along behind her toward the Talaxian tomato plants. There were days when she wished they had chosen to use flexible irrigation for the garden and days when she was glad they used older methods. Today was the latter – it would take her about half an hour to water just the tomato plants. If she moved on to the beans and carrots, it would be another half hour.
Kathryn sighed in disgust twenty minutes later. She had been watering the entire garden every day for weeks now and always found it relaxing. Today she was bored – completely, absolutely, totally bored. She didn't feel like reading. She was on leave so she had no reports or paper work to distract her. The house was clean. She wasn't allowed near the replicator, much less the oven, except for coffee. Well, that was an exaggeration – she was allowed to use the replicator for preprogrammed items. But she couldn't very well complain – she was the one who had made the rule.
Kathryn moved on to the next plant then glanced around her. Not a person in sight. How many times over the years in the Delta Quadrant had she wished for even ten minutes with no one around her? How many times had she wished she were back on Earth? Well, maybe the midwest instead of the southwest, but still it was Earth. She had to admit that the low humidity was a welcome change from the summers in Indiana.
"Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." Kathryn was talking to herself – not unusual in and of itself, but she was starting to get the urge to answer. The last plant was watered. To water, or not to water. Hmmm. That sounded better with 'be' when Shakespeare said it. She opted for the 'not' and dragged the hose behind her to the faucet. She was hot and sweaty. Maybe a shower? That would take up another ten minutes and she'd feel better.
Kathryn trudged into the house and headed for the shower making a point not to look at the chronometer. If she didn't look, maybe it would actually move a bit. Ok, who did she think she was fooling? She was afraid to look and see that only a few minutes had passed while she was outside. Not only would it mean she had to go out later and finished watering the tomatoes, but she would have that much longer to wait until he got home.
Chakotay had just hung his uniform up in the closet when he saw Kathryn cross the room and enter the bathroom without even looking around. She looked hot and slightly unhappy. He smiled – maybe she had missed him today. He heard her moving around and the sound of the shower running. The echo of the running water changed slightly and he knew she had gotten in the shower. Resisting temptation was behind him now so he quickly stripped and padded quietly into the bathroom.
Chakotay had never analyzed the urge to make an overly large, walk in shower when he remodeled his house but he had always thanked that urge when Kathryn surprised him in it or he surprised her. Today was no exception. She was standing facing the spray with eyes closed as the water washed over her face and body. The spray was cool, but not uncomfortable. He watched her a full minute before moving closer. The first warning Kathryn had of his presence was the feel of his hands on her hips pulling her against him. She was slightly startled but immediately recognized his touch and his tactics. She leaned against him content just to have him home.
"Did you miss me?"
"Hey, I'm the one who was away all day. I'm supposed to ask that question."
"Never mind. You did. I can tell." Kathryn turned and grinned into his face knowing he would be smiling. "Want to see who missed the other the most?"
"It's not a contest, Kathryn."
"I'm sorry. I'm still getting used to this, to us."
"You don't have to apologize. I'm glad you missed me. I missed you, too."
"You're early, aren't you?"
"Yes. I spent most of the morning with personnel updating my file. You'd think they'd have all that from the records on Voyager but no, they have to ask me in person. Spent two hours after lunch with Starfleet medical doing the same thing. After about twenty questions that I could only answer by saying 'check my file from Voyager,' they finally gave up and agreed that they would have to check my file from Voyager. Then it was back to personnel to find out my assignment."
"What was it?"
"Believe it or not, personnel."
"For at least a year or two." Chakotay grinned as Kathryn's face lit up.
"That's wonderful." Kathryn sighed and then hugged him. "I didn't realize until this moment how worried I was that you might get an assignment that took you away from Earth."
"Well, it might. They said after I get settled in that they want me to do inspections and checks on the departments on the larger star bases and stations." Chakotay waited as the smile on Kathryn's face faded slightly. "They also said you could go along."
The smile returned. "Don't do that."
"I couldn’t resist. They expect that tour of inspections to be finished within the year. After that, unless I want another assignment, I'll be back here at headquarters indefinitely. They are also going to have me take over the sessions at the Academy for the command track students dealing with personnel issues."
"Sounds impressive for a mere commander."
"Well, that might change too in a few weeks. I'm near the top of the promotions list."
"I guess that shouldn't surprise me. They lost a lot of officers in the war with the Dominion. From everything I heard, we were lucky to have missed it."
"I know and I was lucky to have met you. I'm sorry we lost seven years but it was worth every second if I get to hold you like this for the rest of my life."
"You want to spend the next fifty or sixty years in the shower?"
"You know what I mean but if you were with me, I wouldn't complain."
"Well, I would – I want my coffee and there is no replicator in here."
"You'd leave me for coffee?"
"No, but if I can have both, I will. Speaking of having you…." Kathryn pulled his head down to kiss him. "Welcome home. I missed you."
"I missed you, too." He kissed her again. "Let's take this to the bedroom."
Later that evening, Kathryn and Chakotay sat talking as they watched the sunset from the deck at the back of the house sipping lemonade. The temperature had dropped but was still warm enough to convince Kathryn that coffee would have to wait for a cooler day.
"Kath, are you sure you're going to be happy staying on leave with me back on duty?"
"I'll manage. I want to do this and we both know I need the break."
"I know but it doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy."
"You're here and that makes me happy."
"But during the day I'm gone not to mention the nights I'll end up working late for one reason or another."
"I'll manage. I just need to get used to being alone in the house."
"Go visit your mother. Ask B'Elanna to bring Miral down for a day."
"I thought about that but I can't do that every day for the next five months."
"What about a dog? You had a dog before the Caretaker changed your plans."
"I can't do that to Molly. She barely remembers me. She'd be miserable away from Mark at this point."
"I meant a new dog. We could get a puppy."
"I don't know. Let me think about it."
"Want some more lemonade?" Chakotay stood and held out his hand for her glass.
"I don't think so." Kathryn put her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet. "Let's go inside and listen to the news before we go to bed. You have to get up early tomorrow."
"It's not that late."
"It will be by the time you get to sleep, old man." Kathryn smiled wickedly and pulled Chakotay into the house.
A few days later when Chakotay had a day off, Kathryn needed little convincing to go with him into town for supplies for his next project for the house. She didn't even ask what they were getting; she just put on some comfortable shoes and waited for him at the door. Chakotay was glad because his next project, while for the house, wasn't actually fixing up the house. He happily led her to the hardware store where he picked up a few things that he would eventually use. He did the same at a few other stores before suggesting they try a restaurant across town. Kathryn was puzzled why they would go so far to eat, but anything to stay away from the house and with Chakotay was fine with her.
They enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the open-air café. Kathryn decided that any café with coffee like this one would be high on her list of favorite stops when she went shopping. Later they strolled randomly around that part of town, exploring it for the first time. Only it wasn't so random. Chakotay was slowly but surely guiding them to a specific destination. He heard the telltale sounds first. Finally, Kathryn noticed them.
"Do you hear that?"
"That noise. Dogs barking."
"Yes. I think it's the animal shelter."
"The animal shelter?"
"You know, where homeless animals are taken until people adopt them."
"I know what an animal shelter is, I just hadn't realized there was one here." Kathryn glanced in the direction of the barking. "I wonder if they have any puppies."
"Let's go look." Chakotay didn't wait for an answer; he simply started walking in the direction of the shelter. The walked in and were greeted by a cheerful young girl who said her name was Jill. They talked to her briefly and Kathryn made it clear that were just wandering the streets and had decided to stop on a whim. The girl looked a little disappointed but encouraged them to take their time visiting the cats and dogs. Kathryn walked past the section with the cats but Chakota stopped to look at them.
"You already have a Kat, mister." Her cheeky grin was all the encouragement Chakotay needed to continue his plan so he moved on to the puppies.
"Look at these puppies, Kathryn. They must be only a few months old."
Chakotay was standing near a run with half a dozen bundles of fur tumbling around. The sign on the run indicated that they were Gordon Retrievers. Kathryn smiled when she saw them and immediately stooped down to entice them to the fence for a sniff of her fingers. Two of the puppies complied quickly but the others couldn't be bothered to stop their game.
"They're adorable, aren't they?" Chakotay was doing his best to entice Kathryn without sounding like he was trying to entice her. She glanced up at him with a suspicious look on her face.
"Did you know about this shelter being so close to the restaurant?"
"I knew it was in this part of town, but I chose the restaurant because I had heard about its coffee."
Kathryn talked and played with the puppies for a few minutes before standing up. Chakotay was watching her and smiling.
"You sure you don't want a puppy?"
"No. I don't think so. It takes a lot of time to train a puppy. Who's your friend there?" Kathryn pointed to a young black Labrador in the run next to Chakotay. She was standing right next to him, tail wagging, waiting for them to notice her. Chakotay turned to look at the friendly dog.
"Hey, girl. You want some attention, too?" He reached through the fence just far enough for her to smell his fingers. Her tail wagged faster indicating her approval.
"Do you need any information about the puppies?" Jill had joined them when she noticed their interest in the puppies.
"No, I don't think so." Kathryn was quick to deny any real interest but Chakotay wasn't so willing to give up. He asked Jill several questions about the puppies and their shots. He was so engrossed with the information that he didn't notice Kathryn had wandered over to the Lab's run and was talking to her quietly. He started to ask Kathryn a question and finally realized she was focused on the Lab. Maybe a change in tactics was called for.
"How old is the Lab?"
"She's three years old or so. Someone found her wandering on one of the back roads about ten miles out of town so we aren't sure."
"What's going to happen to her?"
"We'll keep her as long as we can, but older dogs are harder to place than puppies. If we get crowded with younger dogs, we might have to put her down." Kathryn glanced around the runs and saw that they were nearly filled with younger dogs. Chakotay heard Kathryn's sigh and continued asking questions about the Lab. Finally, Kathryn turned back to the conversation.
"If you want a dog that badly, Chakotay, let's get you one."
That wasn't quite what Chakotay had in mind, but when he tried to meet her eyes, Kathryn looked away. He smiled. His plan had worked – not quite the way he had anticipated, but close enough. He turned back to the young girl and started getting the details sorted out for them to adopt the Lab. It turned out the biggest problem would be getting the dog home. He had expected to take home a puppy, not a full-grown Lab. Jill suggested they check out the store across the street for a leash. Kathryn volunteered to go buy it while Chakotay finished up the paperwork.
Twenty minutes later, Kathryn returned with a water bowl, food bowl, brush, nail clippers, flea shampoo (just in case), a bright purple collar with matching leash, and a book about Labs.
"Sorry it took me so long. I had trouble remembering the directions to the house. They are going to drop off a forty kilo bag of dog food and some dog biscuits later today when they make some other deliveries." Kathryn passed all the supplies to Chakotay except the collar and leash before addressing Jill. "Is it ok if I go get her?"
"Sure." Jill was perplexed. From what they said, it appeared that the man wanted the dog, but from her behavior, it was clear that the dog was for the woman. She decided it didn't matter. She liked the Lab and the couple seemed to be good with dogs.
Kathryn and the Lab returned to the reception area quickly. Kathryn was smiling and telling the dog to calm down and the Lab had a silly doggy grin on her face as her tail stirred up a breeze. Chakotay thanked Jill and followed Kathryn out the door to the sidewalk.
Kathryn stood waiting for Chakotay to reach her. She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Thank you."
"For knowing what I wanted and letting me have the time to figure it out for myself."
"Well, at least it didn't take you seven years this time."
Kathryn laughed as the Lab danced around them. "I knew what I wanted -- I just couldn't have it. Now I have that and more." They turned in the direction of the house as Kathryn spoke. "Don't you have more to pick up for your project?"
"It can wait."
"I'm more likely to believe that your 'project' is on the other end of this leash."
"And if it is?"
"I'll let you know later tonight what I think of your latest project."
"I'll look forward to that." Smiling they made their way home.
Five months later Kathryn watched Chakotay and Quinn as they played with a ball in the back yard. Quinn had settled in immediately and claimed one of the rugs in their bedroom as her own. Just having her around the house had made it easier for Kathryn get used to Chakotay being gone during the day. She was a happy dog who loved people and never met a stranger, but was also politely protective of her people and their house. When Tom and B'Elanna visited with Miral, Quinn took up a post next to the crib and kept an eye on the baby. If Miral fussed, Quinn was immediately on her feet looking for someone to check on the baby. When Kathryn was watering the Talaxian tomatoes, Quinn stayed a careful distance from the spray. When Chakotay returned each night Quinn tore around the house in glee, sharing Kathryn's pleasure at seeing him again.
Suddenly Chakotay tossed the ball to Kathryn. Her reflexes were good and she managed to hold onto the ball as Quinn skidded to a halt in front of her. Laughing, she threw the ball as far as she could away from Chakotay. Quinn was after it in a flash. Chakotay came and sat down next to Kathryn as they watched Quinn wrangle the ball before turning to bring it back for another toss.
"You sure they are going to have room for Quinn on Vulcan?"
"They assured me our quarters there had a nice yard where she could play, and a park only a block or two away. Are you sure you want to make the trip?"
"I'm positive. Even if you work late, I want to be there to welcome you home."
Their conversation was interrupted by Quinn's nose. Chakotay reached down to pick up the ball and give it another toss.
"What did you think of the positions they offered you?"
"Whatever happened to asking what they were?"
"I knew before you did, remember?"
"Can't you at least pretend they were news?"
"Fine. I'll pretend you already told me. Now what did you think of them?"
"Well, I'm sure I don't want a ship and the star bases are too far from any place you could transfer. But you knew that."
"Then tell me what I don't know."
"I'm surprised actually that the one that is the most appealing is the one setting up new courses at the Academy."
"That’s only part time for the next year. Are you sure you don't want a full time position?"
"Well, I had been thinking about taking another six months leave, but I think a part time position would suit me just as well."
"You haven't mentioned that you wanted to extend your leave? Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing is wrong. Among other things, it's been really nice just being here knowing you were coming home at night. If I had thought 'fleet would consider giving me a part time position, I would have asked for it."
"You're not telling me something." Chakotay didn't think there was anything to worry about, but from her manner and voice, he knew she had something more to tell him.
"I've been thinking that maybe we need to get Quinn some company. She could use a playmate especially if we're both going to be working."
"Well, I'm off tomorrow afternoon. We can go over to the shelter to see if they have any likely companions for Quinn, although getting a new dog right before we leave for Vulcan might not be the best timing."
"I wasn't exactly thinking of a dog."
"You want a cat?"
"No, not a cat. Remember? I told you, you already have a Kat?" Chakotay and Kathryn both smiled at the reference.
"Well, you know how Quinn is so protective of Miral? Don't you think she'd like a baby of her own to protect?"
"Kathryn, is this a hypothetical question or are you trying to tell me something?"
"It's not hypothetical." Chakotay was speechless so Kathryn continued. "I just found out for sure today. Chakotay?"
Chakotay's complete silence had unsettled Kathryn. Her face conveyed her panic that he would be displeased to learn their life was going to be turned upside down.
"Did the doctor say this was a good idea?"
"Not quite, but she didn't say it was a bad idea either. I'm healthy and so is the baby. Right now I'm more concerned about what you think."
"What I think? You've known me for nearly eight years and you don't know what I think?"Chakotay pulled Kathryn closer in his arms. "What more could I want? First I got my Kat, then you got your dog and now we're going to have our own 'puppy'. This makes my life perfect."