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The hum of the transporter faded away, leaving Kathryn Janeway standing alone on the shore of a beautiful lake. She searched the nearby area for Chakotay, expecting to see him already here, since this had been his idea. As he had left her quarters the previous evening, after one of their increasingly common dinner dates, he had asked her to meet him planetside the next day.
Kathryn had readily agreed, but not without trying to glean at least one small clue as to where they were going. But he had smiled, said it was a surprise, and that the officer on duty would know the coordinates. He had then promptly disappeared before she could say anything else. And now, here she stood, having no idea of her whereabouts.
Seeing no sign of him, she strolled towards the edge of the lake, listening as the pebbles crunched beneath her feet. The sound echoed around her, piercing the silence, louder to her ears than it actually was. Soon she came to a stop and looked down, watching as the water gently lapped over her regulation boots, dampening the hem of her uniform trousers. She smiled at the simplicity of it.
Her eyes locked on the hypnotising motion of the water, back and forth, back and forth, before it reached further than before, only to sink beneath the stones. Finally, she looked up, curious as to the rest of her surroundings. She most certainly approved of his choice.
Not only was it beautiful, but was located somewhere where it would be highly unlikely that they would be disturbed. From what the officer in the transporter room had said, all the other crewmembers had decided to take this unexpected shore leave at least one continent away. While she enjoyed the company of her crew, time to herself was few and far between.
She noticed that the lake appeared to stretch for several miles. Her eyes strained to see the far end, but a dawn mist shrouded the other side, hovering over the water, effectively blocking her view. But the water she could see was a beautiful shade of deep blue, sparkling in the early morning sunlight. It remained completely still, not a ripple evident on the surface.
Tall mountains surrounded the lake on every side. Grass covered the lower half, giving way to rocks and small shrubs the higher the mountains climbed. Eventually, they came to a stop at sharp, ice-capped peaks. The sheer beauty of it took Kathryn's breath away. She took in deep breaths, the fresh air invigorating her, buoying her spirits.
Continuing her look around the lake she soon noticed something just up ahead. Leaving the spot she had occupied for the past few minutes, she moved towards it, realising almost instantly what it was, a small jetty. Obviously, this planet had been a common place for alien visitors at some point. Maybe it still was. It brought back memories of the many times she had spent sailing back home.
Since Chakotay hadn't yet arrived, Kathryn quickly decided it was the perfect spot to wait for him. She climbed the few wooden stairs onto the jetty, and strolled along to the end, this time the sound of her boots on the wood breaking the silence. Looking over the edge, she realised that the lake was deceptively deep. The few metres she had walked on the jetty had given way to at least twenty metres of water beneath her.
Sitting carefully, she felt the sudden impulse to roll up the trouser legs of her uniform. She brought the material up to her calf before swinging them over the edge, letting her toes dip into the water. But she pulled them back quickly drawing in a sharp breath at the cool temperature. Soon though, she began to gently ease them back in a little at a time, flexing her toes, enjoying the feel of the water against her bare skin.
As she sat contently, legs swinging to and fro through the water, her eyes wandered across the area. She had an idea why he had invited her here, though he hadn't given her the slightest clue that he had remembered. She would have to wait and see.
And she didn't have long to wait. The sound of the transporter interrupted her thoughts, and she swivelled her upper body to look behind her. There stood Chakotay, hands behind his back, looking directly her way.
Kathryn waved to him, inviting him to join her. Seconds later he was standing over her, looking down.
"You look comfortable," he said sitting down beside her.
"Mmm, very," she responded, watching as Chakotay copied her by pulling up the legs of his own trousers before plunging them straight in.
"Oohhhh," he cried, pulling them back out. "You could have warned me."
Kathryn smirked, leaned in close and said, "And where's the fun in that?"
Chakotay laughed at her response. This time he eased his feet back into the water, gradually becoming accustomed to the cooler temperature.
"It's beautiful," Kathryn began, her eyes still gazing out upon the water.
"I thought you'd like it. I came across it when Harry and I were going through some of the scans in astrometrics."
"It reminds me of some of the lakes where I used to go sailing," she said grinning.
She smiled at the memories that brought back. "Lake George as well. But I sailed quite a few lakes back home, and not just the ones on Earth."
They sat for a few moments, thinking, looking out upon the water. "But," Kathryn soon said, "Was there any particular reason we're here?"
"Don't waste anytime do you?" he teased.
"Of course not," was her only response.
Chakotay shook his head in mock exasperation but easily gave in. "I have something for you." He didn't get any further though, laughing at the look on Kathryn's face. "Okay," he said between chuckles, "Close your eyes and hold out your palm."
Curious, but without hesitation, Kathryn closed her eyes and lifted her palm from the wooden boards where they had been resting. She held it out, palm open. Seconds later she felt a gentle weight placed on top. "Can I open them now?" she asked.
"Not yet. First, I want you to think of somewhere. Anywhere." He waited a few moments, giving her time to think, to focus on one place instead of the myriad of places that was sure to pop into her head. "Do you have somewhere?"
"Yes," she replied quietly, wondering what that had to do with what he had placed in her hand. "Can I open them now?"
Kathryn opened her eyes and gazed down at her palm. She gasped at the sight before her. A beautiful stone, almost like crystal on the periphery, with a clear material in the middle lay before her. But it wasn't that which had caused her reaction, it was the image that appeared in the centre of the stone. A single tear made its way down Kathryn's cheek.
The image was of home, her home back on Earth. Where she was born, had grown up, the place where she wanted to return to more than anything. It had been the first place she had thought of when Chakotay had asked her to think of somewhere.
Kathryn gazed at the stone with incredulity, unable to believe what she was seeing. Finally, she looked up at Chakotay in amazement.
"Happy Birthday Kathryn."
Kathryn was at a loss for words. So she was right, he had wanted to wish her a happy birthday. But she hadn't expected this. There was so much she wanted to ask him, she didn't know where to begin. Eventually, "What is it?"
Chakotay smiled at her. "I picked it up at the last planet we visited, just after we'd completed trade negotiations."
"On Danven?" she interrupted.
Chakotay nodded his head. "They are very rare even there. Somehow, it senses the image a person has in their mind, and can then project it through this stone ... but only when the person is in contact with it. As soon as you break contact, the image will disappear."
Kathryn didn't try to break contact with the stone to test this theory, she was too mesmerised by what lay resting in her hand.
"What's it called?" she managed, without looking up. Instead she focussed on the picture of her house, the steps that led to the front door, memories flashing through her mind of the many days she had spent there. Voices from the past crept into her mind, and she tried to quieten them to hear what Chakotay had to say.
"A Touchstone. At least, that's the nearest translation the computer can give us. It's not quite accurate but .." he stopped there, watching Kathryn intently.
"It's the perfect translation," Kathryn murmured.
Finally Kathryn managed to break her gaze and look up at Chakotay. "Thank you." She didn't know what else to say, that didn't seem enough. "It's the best present I've ever received." She meant it; it was by the far the most precious and thoughtful gift she had ever received from anyone.
"You're welcome," he replied. Chakotay's eyes remained on Kathryn, as her eyes looked back on the Touchstone and remained fixed on it.
That image brought back so many memories, even ones she had almost forgotten. After taking in all she could, she looked up at Chakotay and hesitantly asked him, "Would you show me your home?"
Emotion flickered across his eyes at her request, and she realised she could barely begin to understand what images that question brought back to him. She was about to apologise when he said, "May I?" He was indicating to the Touchstone in her hand.
She nodded, and gently, Chakotay picked up the stone and placed it in his own palm. She watched his face closely as he closed his eyes, hoping she hadn't done the wrong thing. She then turned her attention to the stone in his hand.
The image had changed. Her home had disappeared and left another picture in its place. It was obviously from another planet, Chakotay's homeworld. "This is where I grew up," he began.
It was the first time Kathryn had seen an image of his home colony. She had had so many pictures in her mind as to what it might be like, imagined from the many stories he had told her, but none of them lived up to the reality. "It's beautiful," she said.
Chakotay looked at her and smiled, a far away expression on his face. At that moment, Kathryn realised it had been a long time since he had seen a picture of his home. He had once told her he hadn't been able to look at the images available in Voyager's database. And he didn't have the luxury of carrying a holo-image during his time in the Maquis.
"That's the house where I grew up." Chakotay began to describe the image that appeared on the Touchstone, describing in detail what they could see. As his thoughts wandered, the image altered slightly, giving them different viewpoints of all its surroundings.
Soon he had Kathryn laughing with tales of his life growing up. She had heard some of them before, but many were new to her. But then he hesitated, and the image changed once more. This time, the planet lay in ruins. Obviously after a Cardassian attack. The effect was brutal.
Kathryn quickly looked up at Chakotay. Pain, hurt and deep sorrow was clearly written across his face, as was anger, no doubt aimed at many people. He quickly placed his other hand over the image, trying to block it out. He closed his eyes, and took deep breaths. Kathryn felt for him, wanting to rid him of the pain that memory brought back. She wished once more that she hadn't asked him to show her. She placed her hands over his, the Touchstone now hidden.
"I'm sorry," Kathryn began, "I shouldn't have asked."
"No .. no, it's okay." He opened his eyes. "It was actually good to see it again, it's been so long." Hands still covering the Touchstone, Chakotay linked his fingers with Kathryn's, grateful for the contact.
"Thank you for showing me."
They sat together for a while longer, shoulders touching, thighs skimming. Chakotay gradually released his grip of Kathryn's fingers, and bit-by-bit, the Touchtone began to appear again. Kathryn looked down at her gift once more, and noticed that there was another image.
"Chakotay, there's an image on the Touchstone. It's different from the others."
Looking down, Chakotay noticed she was right, and moved his hands slightly to give them a clearer view. He didn't want to break contact with Kathryn altogether. They gasped, shocked at what they saw, recognising the image immediately.
The image on the Touchstone showed a picture of themselves, sitting right here on the jetty. Side by side, hand in hand, as close as any two people could be. They found it rather disconcerting.
"What ..?" Chakotay said startled.
Kathryn looked at their joined hands. "It must be because we're both in contact with the stone." Chakotay nodded.
"Is that what you're thinking?" Kathryn asked him.
Chakotay thought for a moment. "In a way. I was thinking how content I feel, how at peace being with you makes me feel. I suppose I am thinking of this moment." He looked at Kathryn, "What about you?"
"So was I," she admitted. "I was thinking how I haven't felt so relaxed in such a long time. How special moments like this really are."
He gave them a few moments to recover before repeating, "Happy Birthday. And you have the rest of the day off," he had almost forgotten to tell her. He smiled at her surprise. "I rearranged the roster. Tuvok has alpha shift for the rest of today and he has orders not to disturb you."
Kathryn remained silent, again at a loss for words at his thoughtfulness. "Is there anything else Voyager's Captain would like?" Chakotay asked, trying to lighten the mood. This hadn't meant to be so serious. He waited patiently for her answer; she was apparently giving it a great deal of thought.
"Actually, there is one more thing."
"Oh?" he said, a little surprised. "What?"
Kathryn looked straight into his eyes and said, "A kiss?"
Chakotay smiled, more than happy to carry out that birthday wish. He leaned in closer, and gently kissed her cheek, lingering longer than was usual before pulling back.
"Actually," Kathryn continued, "I was hoping for a real kiss."
She saw Chakotay's eyes widen slightly, and knew she had surprised him. But it quickly disappeared and he smiled again as he inched closer. This time he moved slowly, releasing his hold on one hand, bringing it up to her face. He softly caressed her cheek, before wiping where her earlier tear had marked her skin, letting his palm rest there. His fingers moved to skim across her ear, cupping the side her head in his hand.
Eyes closing, their lips grew closer, tender breaths hinting at how near they were. Before long their lips brushed together with the barest of kisses, so much love and passion apparent in that single touch.
Gradually, Kathryn opened her eyes, only to find brown ones looking straight into hers. As Chakotay's fingers tangled in her hair, Kathryn reached one arm around his neck, pulling him back towards her. Their lips met more forcefully this time, hidden passion finally allowed to surface. The kiss was long and deep as they lost themselves in each other, only aware of the feel of the other, forgetting everything else around them.
Gasping, they pulled back for air, but stayed in contact. Chakotay's arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her as close as possible, as Kathryn rested her head on his shoulder, turning her face towards his neck.
Whispering against his skin she said, "Thank you for a wonderful birthday."
Tightening his hold, and turning to place a loving kiss on her forehead, he smiled and said, "It isn't over yet."
Kathryn moved forward slightly to kiss his neck, smiling at what other possibilities the day could hold.
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