Here I Stand

Chapter 2

The car was an extravagance.

He'd resisted the whole idea at first. He had ready access to Starfleet transporters and shuttlecraft, so there was really no good reason to own a personal groundcar. But then B'Elanna had reminded him that Big Sur residents treasured their isolation, and the nearest transporter station to the house he planned to live in was almost 50 kilometers away in Monterey.

Harry had pointed out that the station at Monterey was not automated and tended to be unmanned after 2100 hours, and if he didn't want to bother Starfleet for a site-to-site every time he stayed late at the office, he needed a reliable way to get to and from campus.

Tom had waxed poetic about the Old Cabrillo Highway up the coast from Big Sur to Monterey and on to San Jose, some 200 kilometers of empty road winding its way along the Pacific Ocean, sometimes diving down among the rocks and waves, sometimes climbing to the clifftops hundreds of meters above.

They'd dragged him to buy the car.

He was ready to settle on a simple, reliable two-seat hovercar with just enough power to get him from Big Sur to San Francisco in a little over an hour and on one charge, when Tom Paris had spied The Falcon.

It was a vintage model from 2329 – the year he was born, B'Elanna noted with a smirk – and one of the last luxury machines off the Land Rover line. It was sophisticated and black and so far out of his comfort zone it made his head spin.

The four of them had stared at it for many long minutes while the Ferengi salesman stood by, rocking back and forth on his heels.

"This is the one," Tom said.

Chakotay shook his head. "It's too…showy."

"But powerful," B'Elanna countered. "In hover mode it'll get you to San Francisco in just under an hour, and you'll be able to make the round trip on one charge."

"It's too big," he said.

"But when your sister and her family come to visit, you'll be able to take all of them wherever they want to go in one trip," Harry replied. "And even in ground mode it'll eat up the rough terrain from the highway back to your house."

"It's too expensive," he said.

"But worth it," Tom purred, his eyes gleaming. "So, so worth it. If ever there was a good use for seven years of back pay, this is it."

Chakotay peered at their eager young faces. "You all just want to drive it."

Tom had practically exploded. "Damn straight, we do! Look at her! Just….just look at her!" He waved at the car. "Look at that classic Rover design, that strong frame, those sleek lines. They don't make them like this anymore, Chakotay. Think of it, just you and her, gliding along the Cabrillo Highway…" The pilot bounced on his toes. "Maybe I'll buy her."

B'Elanna poked her husband in the ribs. "Not a chance, Flyboy."

The Ferengi salesman slithered between him and the car. "Would the gentleman like to see her with the top down?"

Tom groaned. "Yes. The gentleman most definitely would."

The Ferengi salesman touched a control and the car's top slid away, revealing a gray and blood-red interior with deep, plush seats, carved wooden accents and gleaming silver controls. Chakotay's fingers itched to touch everything he saw. The Ferengi smiled. "Would the gentleman care to take her for a spin?"

They'd all climbed in, the Ferengi wedged in the backseat between Harry and B'Elanna, and rolled off the San Jose lot in ground mode. By the time they returned, B'Elanna was gushing about the purr of the vintage engine, Harry was filling out a loan application, and Tom was in tears.

Chakotay brought the car to a halt and rested his hands on the steering controls. The hyper-responsive, butter-soft steering controls. "I don't know," he said.

B'Elanna growled. Harry cringed. Tom buried his face in his hands.

The Ferengi poked his oversized head between the front seats. "Would the gentleman like to consult his lady friend?"

Chakotay frowned. "There's no lady friend," he said.

The Ferengi's wicked leer showed off a mouthful of polished, pointy teeth. "There soon will be, sir. I guarantee it."

Chakotay had a sudden vision of racing The Falcon down the Old Cabrillo Highway with a certain Admiral in the passenger seat, her beautiful hair flying behind her, one slim, pale hand resting on his thigh.

He bought the car.

Within a week, everyone affiliated with the Academy knew that Professor Chakotay was driving a mint-condition 2329 Falcon to campus every day. He'd never been one to covet material possessions, and yet he now owned the most ostentatious machine the Academy had seen in decades, maybe since a certain Cadet Kirk had turned up with a contraband racing cycle. More than once, Chakotay regretted the extra attention the purchase had brought him.

Tonight, for example. The wedding party had finally dispersed at midnight. Chakotay and Kayma had walked to the transport station to see the happy couple off on their honeymoon, then lingered with Tom, B'Elanna and Harry until it was the trio's turn to beam out. By the time they made their way back to the parking lot, it was nearly 0100 and a heavy fog was rolling in off the bay.

When he saw the shadow hovering near his car, Chakotay bit off a curse. Kayma followed his gaze and chuckled. "Oh, look. You get to show off the Midlife Crisis Mobile again."

"Watch your tongue, chitsa," he grumbled, the endearment softening the warning.

"Or you'll send me back to Ohio?"

"I might." He kept his eye fixed on the shadowy figure, barely visible through the fog. "I thought everyone had gone home by now."

"I'm sure he doesn't mean any harm."

"It's still awfully late to be hanging around another man's car."

She elbowed him playfully. "Another man's vintage, cost-me-a-fortune, I-love-it-more-than-life-itself car."

"It's just a car."

"You wipe the fingerprints off the controls every time you park it."

"It requires a little extra…maintenance."

Kayma laughed. "Sometimes you talk to it."

Chakotay ducked his head to hide his grin. "Has anyone ever told you just how irritating your forthrightness is, Kayma?"

She shrugged. "I'm a neurologist, not a psychiatrist. We don't sugarcoat."

"You certainly don't." They took a half-dozen more steps through the parking lot, and Chakotay frowned. "He's still there."

They both peered into the darkness. "Someone you recognize?"

"I don't think so. Stay close to me."

He circled around to approach the stranger from behind, hoping to take him by surprise. When he was almost close enough to touch the man's shoulder, Chakotay cleared his throat. The man started and whirled around, colliding bodily with them both. Chakotay steadied Kayma with one hand and pushed the stranger away from him with the other, instinctively moving into a defensive stance. "Excuse me, friend," he said in a low voice, "but you're blocking the door."

The man righted himself. He was at least half a head shorter than Chakotay, barely taller than Kayma. In the foggy darkness, Chakotay could make out little more than glittering black eyes and a receding hairline. He wasn't even sure of the man's species, beyond humanoid. "Quite a machine," the man said, and something edgy and dark in his voice sent a shiver down Chakotay's spine.

"Thank you," Chakotay said with a nod. "Now if you'll stand aside, please." He reached into his pocket for the starter.

"It's a 2331 Falcon, isn't it?"

"Actually, it's a 2329." He pulled Kayma behind him when she started to reach for the passenger door.

"Oh, of course. Now I see the distinctive grillework." The man finally stepped away from the car. "Have a pleasant drive, sir. Madam." He withdrew into the shadows and disappeared into the fog.

Chakotay stood rooted to the spot, frowning. Kayma grasped his sleeve. "Chakotay?"

He gave his head a little shake and opened the door for her. "There was something odd about that man."

"Other than the fact that he was drooling all over your car at one o'clock in the morning?" She folded herself into the passenger seat.

"Other than that, I guess not," Chakotay said, and closed the door behind her.

He tossed his coat into the backseat, slid behind the controls and activated the car in hover mode. Soon they were headed southeast through the city lights, along the Crystal Springs Reservoir and into the hills. As always, The Falcon responded instantly to his each and every touch. It thrilled him more than he cared to admit.

Near San Jose, he turned due south through the mountains. When the ocean came into view at Santa Cruz, he pulled over and turned to Kayma. "Mind if I put the top down?"

She clucked her tongue at him. "You're so predictable." She reached into the backseat for his coat as the top rolled away.

He chuckled and restarted the car in ground mode. "'Midlife Crisis Mobile,' huh?"

Kayma patted his knee. "I'm afraid you are a walking, talking cliché, Chakotay. All you need is an insipid blonde girlfriend."

His hands tightened on the steering controls.

Kayma snapped her fingers. "Oh, right, you had one of those."

"Seven's not insipid."

"If you say so."

Chakotay shook his head. "That's it. You're going back to Tohopa in the morning."

Kayma shrugged. "Fine. You know she'll just send Abeke and Neka to keep an eye on you in my place."

"I thought she sent you to work on your doctoral thesis."

"She let you think that." She tilted the seat back and pulled his coat tighter around her. "So you can take your chances with me or with my brothers. Your choice."

Chakotay sighed. "Life was so much easier in the Delta Quadrant."

"I'm sure it was," she said, and yawned. "You didn't have to decide what to do with your feelings for Kathryn."

He grimaced. "Kayma, I don't-"

"Deny it now if you must, but I'm not blind and I'm not stupid. When you're ready to talk about it, you'll know where to find me."

He rolled his eyes. "And I suppose you'll tell it like it is, no sugarcoating?"

"None whatsoever." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her toy with the buttons of his coat. When she looked up at him again, he saw only the shy, awkward child he'd known long ago, when he was a young officer and she was his little cousin in Ohio. "Would you mind if I went out with Harry?"

He winked at her. "I'd love it if you went out with Harry."

"Good." She yawned again and closed her eyes.

Chakotay stepped on the accelerator.

This last leg of the trip, the 110k from Santa Cruz along the Monterey Bay and on to Big Sur, was his favorite part of the drive. The Cabrillo Highway wound through the mountains to the Monterey Peninsula and then hugged the coastline the rest of the way home. The sea breeze rushed up off the water and filled his lungs with clean, salty air. The car, as flamboyant as it was, had helped him regain his sense of place on Earth. Just beaming from city to city made it too easy to forget how beautiful and diverse the planet really was, too easy to ignore his own surroundings. On his morning route from Big Sur to San Francisco, the ocean views gave way to forested mountains, rolling hills, and finally, the city. The peaceful drive deposited him at his office focused and ready to face his Cadets.

The drive home, from city to hills to mountains to ocean, often with The Falcon's top rolled down, blew away the cares of his days. Along the way he took note of cacti and redwoods and rabbits and coyotes. Before The Falcon, Chakotay would never have considered driving to be meditative, but in a way, it was. He nearly always arrived at home calm and centered.

Tonight, though, he couldn't quite let go of the heightened sensory awareness Kathryn's sudden presence had stirred in him. Jaw clenched and eyes averted from the bright-white glare of the moon on the ocean, Chakotay steered The Falcon along the coastline until the exit to his house appeared and he turned inland.

The rustic, single-story cottage almost 10k from its nearest neighbor, was perched on a cliff some 300 meters above the water and surrounded on three sides by ancient redwoods and oaks. The Falcon glided gently down the long lane through the woods. True to Harry's assurances, she was meant for this rough terrain. Chakotay patted the dashboard. "Nicely done, old girl," he whispered, mostly for Kayma's amusement. She snorted.

When he finally pulled up behind the house, Kayma yawned and stretched and wriggled out of the car. He followed her across the porch and into the house, ordering the lights to fifty percent. He loosened his tie and puttered around the tidy little kitchen. "Tea?"

"Too tired." She draped his coat over the back of his favorite chair by the fireplace. "Thank you for letting me tag along. I had a wonderful time."

"You need to get out more."

"So do you." She kicked off her high heels and curled her toes against the colorful wool rug near the fire. "We'll talk about Kathryn?"

"Later." He abandoned the teapot in favor of a single glass and a decanter of very old Scotch, both housewarming gifts from the Doc.

"You really don't mind if I date Harry?"

He poured himself a drink and hitched his hip against the marble countertop. "I really don't."

She bit her lip. "You won't tell Mom?"

Chakotay put the glass down. "Kayma, I know Tohopa would prefer you to stay within the tribe." Kayma nodded miserably. "Sekaya feels the same way about me. But I don't necessarily share that opinion."

She grinned. "Obviously."

"Obviously," he acknowledged. "I think it's far more important to listen to your heart. If your heart wants you to spend more time with Harry Kim, then I'll support you any way I can. I won't talk to Tohopa about it until and unless you want me to."

She nodded once, her dark eyes very bright. "Thank you, Chakotay." She padded off toward her room, her bare feet quiet on the pine floor, but turned back suddenly. "And if your heart wants you to spend more time with Kathryn Janeway?"

He shook a finger at her. "I said 'later,' Kayma. Go to bed. And next time you report back to Tohopa, you be sure to tell her I got out tonight."

She threw him a look of purest innocence. "Who says I report back to Mom?"

"Your comm logs."

Her laugh was a warm, welcome sound in his long-empty house. "Pancakes for breakfast?"

"It's Sunday, isn't it? Sleep well, chitsa."

She darted back to kiss him on the cheek. "You're a good man, Chakotay. Goodnight."

As soon as she closed her door, he took up the glass and the decanter, strolled out to the deck and sprawled across a lounge chair. The moon was still bright against the ocean, but the dazzling stars, as always, drew his gaze upward and his thoughts to the woman who had been the center of his Universe for almost eight years.

She'd looked so beautiful, and so content on the arm of another man.

And yet… She'd offered to help him find his feet again. Some small part of him grasped at the knowledge that he was on her mind. He'd made some horrible mistakes in his life, but perhaps none he regretted more than letting his friendship with Kathryn falter. It was past time to rectify that. Richard's presence in her life was a complication, but they'd survived the Borg and Species 8472 and the Kazon – and Kashyk and and Jaffen and Riley and Seven – with their friendship mostly intact. It would be difficult to see her with another man, but if Richard made her happy, Chakotay would learn to accept it.

He finished his drink and poured himself another. The night sounds of the forest wrapped around him – the skittering of small animals, the hoot of an owl, the bay of a lone coyote, and far below, the crash of waves. After a while, the moon didn't seem quite so bright, and although the sea breeze that lifted his tie and ruffled his hair was chilly, he felt a welcome little flame in the middle of his chest.

When the second drink was gone, he wandered back into the quiet house…but only after he wiped down The Falcon's steering controls.

She was definitely an extravagance.

He fully intended to take good care of her.

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