Chapter 1: Temporary Quarters
“Mr. Chakotay…the helm.”
“Set a course…for home.”
TEN MONTHS LATER
Admiral Kathryn Janeway looked up as her aide entered her temporary office aboard Earth Spacedock, juggling coffee in one hand and a stack of PADDS in the other. She chuckled as she stood up to assist her.
“Just make sure you don’t drop the coffee, Lieutenant.” The Admiral cautioned as she caught two errant PADDS as they fell.
“No chance of that, Admiral.” Lieutenant Bell smirked. “We wouldn’t want to stain Admiral Clark’s new carpet now would we?”
Janeway took the offered cup of coffee from her and settled back down in her chair. “Well we did promise to give his office back to him in….what was it he said?”
“Ahh yes…pristine condition.” Janeway nodded in remembrance. She indicated the newly added stack of PADDS on her already crowded desk. “Reports on Voyager’s refit?”
Bell nodded. “And then some. They’re having some trouble removing some of the integrated Borg circuitry installed earlier on.”
“I’ll have a look through later with the engineers. Chances are they’re going to have to leave them in.” Glancing on the nearby chronometer on the wall she noted the early hour. “What do we have lined up for today?”
“You’re having breakfast with the newly appointed Vulcan Ambassador. Captain Tuvok has apparently sung your praises and he’s anxious to meet you. Well…as anxious as a Vulcan can get.”
Bell continued. “Then you have the intelligence briefing with the team you assigned to monitor the so called ‘murmurings’ taking place on Romulus. After that is your inspection of the newly commissioned Alpha…”
“The Alpha Flyers? That’s today?” Janeway interrupted. “But the Parises…”
“The Parises who have been trying to take you to lunch…” Bell countered.
The Admiral had the good grace to look guilty. She held up a hand. “Ok, fine. I'm thinking that if I had made it to the lunch, I would have found out about how much progress they’d made. Go ahead.”
“Right then.” Bell continued with a grin. “Then you're beaming to Bloomington to meet with the caterers. Your mother and Admiral Stark will meet you there.”
Kathryn had an idea. “Could you ask Lieutenant Wildman if she could spare Naomi for that time? She’d love the field trip.”
Bell nodded. “I'm sure your former ‘Captain’s Assistant’ will be thrilled.”
“She would be. I haven’t spent much time with her since they moved to Earth after we got back. I’m making it a point to change that.” She gestured toward the outer office where the rest of her staff worked. “Do we have time to squeeze in a meeting today?”
“I already have it scheduled for when you get back at fourteen hundred.” Bell confirmed. “Then the stylist comes in to get you ready for the Admiral’s Ball this evening.”
“Do I really have to go?” Janeway mock pleaded.
“It would hardly be good form for the keynote speaker to be absent.” Bell deadpanned.
“I guess not.” Kathryn frowned at her desk. “Maybe I can get in a few reports sometime between the meeting and when I have to get ready.”
“Sure.” She smirked. “Once nothing else comes up.”
A knock on the door interrupted them and the Spacedock’s Security Chief poked his head through the door.
“Sorry to interrupt, Admiral.” He nodded toward Lieutenant Bell. “Carrie.”
“Come in Aleksandr.” Janeway invited.
Bell gave her boss a knowing look and waited for a sign of dismissal before heading toward the door. “Not too long, Commander Ivanov. She’s on a tight schedule today.”
“Acknowledged, Lieutenant.” The Russian born Security Chief saluted and watched in amusement as she rolled her eyes before she disappeared through the door.
“Why don’t you just ask her out and be done with it?”
He turned toward Kathryn, feigning ignorance. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” She conceded with a mock death glare. “So I guess that PADD in your hand is not a list of possible romantic restaurants then?”
“I'm afraid it’s not, Admiral.” He held the offending PADD out to her. “The revised security arrangements for the station. It looks like we’ll be having a larger turnout for the Admiral’s Ball this evening. I need permission to move Voyager to a more secure area.”
Kathryn grimaced at the thought of adding one more PADD to her stack, but she took it anyway. Ivanov waited patiently while she scrolled through its contents. “Looks good to me.” She thumbed off the PADD, adding it to her current stack before standing up. “Be sure to increase security around the perimeter. We can't have a repeat of last week’s breach.”
Janeway’s commbadge chirped; a signal from her aide that she needed to leave now. “That’s my cue to leave, Commander. Was there anything else?”
Ivanov walked with her as she headed for the door. “Just one thing Admiral.”
She paused before the doors. “Yes?”
“Does Carrie like Italian or Chinese?”
Kathryn didn’t hesitate with her answer. Giving him an appraising look she replied. “She likes Russian, Commander. Definitely Russian.”
Chapter 2: Class Dismissed
Chakotay wasn't sure which was more distracting; the two female students in the front row of his class who were clearly flirting with him, the Chancellor of the University who just ‘happened to be in the neighborhood' and decided to audit his lecture, or the Admiral who was sitting next to the Chancellor whom Chakotay thought he recognized put couldn't quite place.
No, he thought.
The distraction was definitely coming from his friend, colleague and scientific anthropology professor, Jack Grayson who was practically jumping out of his skin with excitement at the back of the class.
Thankfully the class was coming to an end.
"Okay everyone, assignments for next time." He smirked at the collective groan of his students, as his research assistant dutifully handed out PADDS.
The end of class chime sounded and some students filtered toward him, no doubt to ask further questions about their assignments. After the last one moved away, Chakotay breathed a sigh and turned, coming face to face with Chancellor.
Glancing at Jack who was barely concealing his impatience a short distance away, Chakotay greeted the head of the University.
"Chancellor O'Neil. I hope you enjoyed today's lecture."
"Immensely..." the Chancellor replied, his trademark Irish accent echoing in the rapidly emptying classroom. He turned toward the familiar Starfleet Admiral that Chakotay now noticed was standing beside him.
"Professor Chakotay, you remember Admiral West, the Director of Educational Services at Starfleet Command."
"Of course..." Chakotay took the offered hand of the Admiral who he now remembered he had met briefly at Voyager's welcome home gala. "...an honor to see you again, Admiral. Although I didn't get the impression that ancient artifacts and tribal origins were your first preference."
"Oh it's not, Captain." West assured him, the use of his rank not lost on Chakotay. "Your commission is still active, is it?"
"It is, sir." Chakotay confirmed. "Although my current position doesn't require use of the title."
"I'd imagine not." West smirked. "But it may be soon."
Chakotay frowned. "Sir?"
"As I said before, anthropology was never one of my favorites. But I found your lecture to be well researched, eloquently presented and you have quite a knack for bridging the generation gap with your content."
"Thank you sir, that's quite gracious of you."
"Chancellor O'Neil mentioned that you're interested in the position opening up in advanced tactics at Starfleet Academy, yes?"
Chakotay stilled. "I've been considering it."
"That's an understatement if I ever heard one." The Chancellor remarked to the Admiral. "While I'd hate to lose him as a member of the faculty, I feel it's a good fit for him." He returned his attention to Chakotay. "Don't sell yourself short, Professor."
Admiral West flicked his wrist, and a previously invisible aide stepped up beside them. "I'm heading off to the Admiral's Ball later this evening. If you'd care to attend, there are a few people you should meet, if you're serious about the position."
Chakotay absently watched the aide punch furiously into the PADD he was holding, before looking up at the Admiral and nodding before disappearing again.
"You and an escort have been added to the guest list..." West continued. "...and I'll have someone seat you when you arrive."
He was surprised at the sudden invitation, and he thanked his Starfleet training for being able to keep his expression in check. "I'd be honored sir."
"Wonderful. I'll see you this evening." The Admiral nodded at the Chancellor, and both men turned and walked away, the aide scurrying after them.
Chakotay released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He turned and made his way toward Jack who smiled conspiratorially at the retreating group as they passed. "Was that what I think it was about? And wasn't that Admiral West you were talking to?"
"It was. The Admiral came by to audit my class."
"Certainly that wasn't the only reason." Jack frowned. "I have it on good authority that West doesn't care for anthropology."
"He doesn't. He was more interested in my consideration for the position for Professor of Advance Tactics opening up at the Academy. He wants me to talk to a few people at the Admiral's Ball tonight."
"I knew it!" Jack's eyes widened. "You do know what this means then, right?"
Chakotay watched him nonplussed. "Yes, I've just been invited to the Admiral's Ball."
Jack shook his head. "Chakotay, an invitation like that just about guarantees you the position at the Academy. Think about it, his auditing your class was no coincidence my friend." He winked. "You've just been interviewed."
"You're making too much of this." Chakotay turned and started packing up his lecture material.
"Whatever you say..." Jack followed him out the class.
The cacophony of voices suddenly surrounded them as they stepped into the busy corridor. Some students hurriedly made their way to classes while others conversed in groups along the corridor. Jack had to raise his voice slightly to be heard.
"So...who are you taking as your guest tonight?"
"Seven of course." Chakotay looked at him like he'd grown an extra head. "Who else would I take?"
Jack gave him a pointed look. "I figured, since things between the two of you weren't..."
Chakotay gave him a warning look. "We're working on it."
He raised his hands in submission. "Well, just in the event she can't make it..."
Chakotay started his trek down the hallway, leaving Jack in his wake. "You'll be the next person I call."
Reaching his private office across campus, Chakotay tossed his bag on the sofa and settled himself at his desk. His computer was steadily chiming, indicating that he had unread messages. Switching on the monitor, he sifted quickly through messages from the Parises complete with pictures of Miral their daughter, an invitation for drinks from Mike Ayala with a footnote promising a discussion of some big announcement that Chakotay was supposed to know about, and finally a cursory note from Seven telling him that she would be off world from this afternoon.
"Computer, connect with Jack Grayson's office."
His friend's smiling face filled the screen. "Seven can't make it?"
"She's off world for two days."
If possible, his smile grew larger.
"We'll meet at the Space Café before. I'm going to need some liquid courage before stepping into a room full of ‘fleet brass."
"But I thought you wanted to come?" Chakotay queried.
"I'm coming for the food, the drink and the keynote address." Jack winked and leaned forward in his chair. "And speaking of the keynote address, I'm sure you're looking forward to seeing her again in person after all these months."
Now Chakotay was confused. He hadn't time to look over the program for the evening and had no idea what was scheduled. "Who?"
"The keynote speaker, Chakotay. Her remarks will be broadcast throughout most of the Federation." Jack rolled his eyes in exasperation at his friend's apparent bewilderment.
"Chakotay, the keynote speaker is Kathryn Janeway."
Chapter 3: Moving On
"There she is." Lieutenant Commander Tom Paris moved away from the assembled group to greet the Starfleet Admiral as she made her way toward them. "Admiral Janeway, welcome to Luna, home of the next generation of flyers."
"I'd bet you practiced that little welcome speech all night, Commander." Kathryn remarked as she came face to face with the pilot.
"Actually, he's been reciting it for days." B'Elanna Torres sidled up next to her husband. "Permission to hug the Admiral, Ma'am."
Janeway beamed. "Permission granted, Commander."
The two women exchanged hugs, and B'Elanna couldn't help but notice that her former Captain looked years younger. "You look great, Admiral. The brass is agreeing with you."
"Oh I doubt that." Kathryn smirked. "I happen to believe it's my mother's cooking." Her attention refocused on the group patiently waiting behind them.
"Our base commander was called away at the last minute or he would have done the introductions." Tom explained. "He sends his regrets by the way. So I'm gladly filling in for him today. Admiral..." Tom gestured toward the group. "...I'd like you to meet the finest collection of pilots in the Quadrant."
They moved to where the ten pilots assembled in formation. As they moved down the line, Tom quickly made their introductions. When they reached the sixth pilot, Tom paused.
"Admiral, this is Ensign Joshua Carey."
Kathryn paused in mid-stride, and as the Ensign stepped forward to pay his respects, she took the moment to keep her emotions at bay. Stepping up to him, front and centre, she spoke with a voice that was clear and precise, belaying any emotion churning within.
"Ensign, your father was a brave man, and a shining example to Starfleet. It was an honor serving with him."
He responded with an old fashioned salute; executing it with a precision that would have made Joe Carey proud. "It is my intention to carry on that tradition, ma'am."
Janeway nodded stoically, too overcome for words. Tom, noticing the change, finished the introductions quickly after that. Then they were headed for the hangar.
The two Commanders bantered on the way, and Kathryn managed to shake her sentimental mood. They arrived at the bay doors, and Tom, in his usual theatric fashion, stepped forward. "Admiral, I give you...drum roll please..." He pressed the control to open the doors. "...the Alpha Flyer!"
They stepped into a large shuttle bay full of fifteen of the federation's newest shuttlecraft. Their gleaming hulls reflecting off the deck plating making them appear almost translucent. Janeway moved in revered silence around the one closest to them, admiring its sleek form.
B'Elanna leaned close to her and recited with pride. "Ultra-aerodynamic tetraburnium alloy hull, retractable warp nacelles, parametallic hull plating, unimatrix shielding, ablative armor, and a Borg-inspired weapons system."
"Impressive." She breathed, brushing her hand across one of the nacelles.
"And she flies like an eagle." Tom supplied. "Want to see inside?"
Standing on the observation deck half an hour later, Janeway watched as the pilots took their newly minted flyers out for a demonstration.
"How was your trip to Vulcan?" B'Elanna walked up to her with two steaming cups and offered her one.
"Hot...as usual." Kathryn gratefully accepted the cup of her favorite brew. "I had a wonderful time with Tuvok and his family, though. He is now fully recovered, and should be returning to Earth with T'Pel at the end of the month."
"Rumor has it he's taking command of Voyager." Tom speculated.
"If he accepts." Kathryn winked.
"He'd better." A new voice cut in. "I've got a lot of credits riding on it."
Kathryn turned in surprise to greet the owner of the voice. "Harry! These two didn't tell me you were coming."
"Hello Admiral..." Harry Kim, now sporting a command red uniform grinned and gave her a hug, taking care to avoid spilling the coffee she held. "...Tom mentioned you'd be here. The Sahara is currently in orbit over Mars so I hopped a transport. I wanted it to be a surprise."
"Well, it's good to see you, Commander." She patted his arm affectionately. "How's Commander Darjenko?"
"Ready to retire." Harry joked. "Says he can't wait till I take over as first officer."
"I'm sure you're looking forward to it." Tom gave him a playful slap on his back. "First officer on a Galaxy Class vessel, our very own modern day Will Riker."
"Don't worry, I'm sure that girlfriend of yours will keep you in check." B'Elanna pinched his cheek. "How is Jenna?"
"Great." Harry took his friends' teasing in stride. "She's completing her internship at Starfleet Medical before taking a position on the Sahara. She says she's really enjoying working with The Doctor."
"Well there's a first." Tom crooked a smile.
"Speaking of firsts..." Janeway watched as B'Elanna refilled her empty cup. "...I received word that the commendation I put in for Tom for breaking the transwarp threshold is going to stand." Her smile widened as she watched her former helmsman meet her gaze. "In fact, you're getting the Cochrane Medal."
For once, Tom was at a loss for words, and he accepted the hugs and congratulations from his wife and best friend in silence.
Harry shook his head in amusement. "I'd never thought I'd see this again. Tom Paris, speechless."
"I almost forgot." B'Elanna settled next to Janeway, holoimager in hand. "She took her first step two weeks ago." B'Elanna boasted, switching on the unit to reveal holoimages of her daughter, Miral. "Tom managed to record it just in time."
"At this rate, she'll be flying shuttles by the time she's two." The proud father predicted.
"Not a chance, flyboy." His wife countered. "She'll be with me, building engines."
"Or commanding a starship with her Uncle Harry." Kim supplied.
"Did you all stop to think that she may choose to do none of those things?" Kathryn interjected.
"That's what Chakotay said." Tom replied. "Something about a path of lions headed for destiny and a pre-determined course to track the...well something along that line." He crinkled his eyebrow as Harry, B'Elanna and Kathryn barely contained their laughter. "Listen, he disguised the whole thing in one of those ancient legends of his, you'll have to excuse me."
They laughed outright now, and Kathryn decided to put him out of his misery. "I know that legend. It's actually a bedtime story for teething babies. He used to tell it to Naomi."
"Well that explains why I fell asleep soon afterwards." Tom scratched his chin. "Come to think of it, I had a toothache the next day."
The laughter began anew.
"When was the last time you saw him, Admiral?" B'Elanna walked alongside Kathryn, as they made their way back to the reception area. The flyers were just returning to base and Tom and Harry had gone ahead to meet with and congratulate the pilots, leaving the two women alone.
"Who Chakotay?" Kathryn had to admit that she saw this coming from a mile away. "We spoke once over the COMM, but the last time in person was really at the welcome home ball."
"Really?" B'Elanna was surprised at her admission. "I was under the impression that you two saw each other often..."
She stopped walking and turned toward her. "We didn't exactly part on amicable terms."
"You had a fight?"
"You're not well known for your subtlety, are you?" Janeway observed. "He never mentioned anything?"
"Not really." She bowed her head and Kathryn knew she was about to admit something. "We're not exactly...getting along either. We've been giving him a hard time about Seven."
"Seven?" She knew she shouldn't pry, but curiosity got the better of her. "What's going on?"
B'Elanna gave her a strange look. "You do know they're dating, right?"
"Of course I do." She rolled her eyes and they continued walking. "Although I think it's more serious than that. In the future Admiral Janeway's timeline, they were supposed to be married."
This time, it was B'Elanna who stopped walking. "Well there's something I didn't know. Does Chakotay know about this?"
"I have no idea. We never discussed it." Something B'Elanna said earlier came back to her. "Wait, you said ‘we've' been giving Chakotay a hard time. Who's the ‘we'."
"At first it was just me and Tom..." She shrugged. "...but after we returned and word spread, practically the entire crew had something to say to him about it..."
Janeway pinched the bridge of her nose. "Oh, B'Elanna."
"So I take it you didn't fight over Seven, then." A light came on inside B'Elanna's head. "Wait a minute...you knew about them from before, didn't you?"
"No, to both questions." Kathryn shook her head. "And before you ask, Chakotay and I never discussed it either. It's his business what he does and who he dates. If he's happy, then..."
"Happy?" She paused when a crewman passed within earshot and gestured for them to continue moving. "They don't have a thing in common, he's over twenty years her senior, they're at different stages in their lives; they want different things. Where's the happiness in that? And since she removed the implant blocking her emotions she's been..."
"Wait a minute..." Kathryn cut her off. "...she had the implant removed? When?"
B'Elanna frowned. "Just after the future Admiral Janeway came aboard. The Doctor consulted me and Harry just before...I'd always assumed you...The Doctor didn't tell you, did he?"
"No, he didn't." She ground out. "And he conveniently omitted it from his logs and reports too." Janeway made a mental note to pay a visit to the hologram soon. "Is she alright?"
"From what I can tell, she is. During the time she was working with us on the flyers, she seemed more outgoing and sociable. But I think no matter what The Doctor does, there are some things she will never completely be able to change. Have you noticed anything?"
"We had lunch together about two months ago." Janeway looked thoughtful. "She did seem more relaxed and less critical, but I will admit, there are some things that will remain a part of Seven's personality."
B'Elanna huffed. "You mean infuriatingly Borg."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "I thought you two were getting along better."
"We are. It's just that...didn't you notice anything different?"
During their lunch all those months ago, she did notice one thing.
Never once did she mention Chakotay.
"Well she talked about her work, her new friends..."
"...but she never talked about Chakotay, did she." B'Elanna finished for her. They'd entered the reception area and came to a stop near where they'd first congregated earlier. "She did the same thing the entire time she was here. I had to deliberately ask her something about him to get a response from her. Even then her answers were more factual than anything. If it wasn't for the fact that Chakotay hadn't mentioned anything, I'd have thought they had broken up."
"But you have no reason to think otherwise, do you?" When B'Elanna did not respond, Kathryn continued. "Maybe she felt uncomfortable talking to you about him because she knew how you felt about them being together." Janeway noticed that she didn't argue with her and knew that she was right. "Chakotay made a choice, and we both know him long enough to know that he would never enter this relationship unless he was serious. I can't order you to, but as his best friend he needs your support."
"I thought you were his best friend..." B'Elanna challenged. "...and now you're saying you two aren't even talking?"
"I didn't say that." Janeway denied. "Look, this transition has been challenging for all of us. At one time it was just us out there, one ship, one crew, alone, working together toward a common goal. Getting home. It would have been normal, even expected that we would have formed close knit relationships, and like in yours and Tom's case, fall in love. But we're home, and things have changed, will continue to change."
"Does that also mean growing apart?" B'Elanna was being truculent and she knew it. "You do know that will happen eventually if you two won't talk to each other."
Kathryn knew she wanted to get a rise out of her but she wasn't taking the bait. "I believe that our experiences out there have made us a family. I believe that no matter what, we will always remain that way, but we have to move on with our lives."
"While you're on that topic, Tom and I got your invitation. Is that what you're doing? Moving on?"
Any response Kathryn had opened her mouth to give was interrupted by Tom and Harry's return. "Well, Admiral..." Tom's usually quick senses failed to notice that the tone was no longer relaxed between the two women. "...your shuttle has returned and your pilot says you are on schedule to return to Spacedock."
"I really should go." She glanced toward the waiting shuttle. Despite the mood, they all exchanged hugs, with Janeway promising to have that lunch soon.
"Admiral..." B'Elanna followed her as she moved away. "...can you at least do one thing for me?"
Janeway turned at the entrance of the shuttle to face her. "Of course."
"I get the feeling he's needing his old friend right now. And I don't mean me. Call him."
"B'Elanna, you don't underst..."
"Take the first step, Admiral." She cut in. "I don't know what you argued about, but whatever it is, could you find a way to put the argument behind you?"
B'Elanna moved away, not waiting for an answer, allowing Kathryn to board her shuttle for her uneventful trip back to Spacedock, and leaving her no choice but to contemplate the young half-Klingon's words.
Chapter 4: "Hello, Kathryn."
Lieutenant Carrington Bell hurried across the classically decorated lobby of the largest ballroom in Monte Carlo, her heels tapping out a rhythm on the blonde hardwood floors as she hurried, a PADD clenched tightly in one hand, her dress hiked up slightly in the other.
She was late; the end result of what began as an argument between her and her superior officer's sister, who insisted that she wear the dress she was wearing now, and who, when Bell refused accede to her demand, actually had the nerve to make one COMM call and have it turned into an order.
Working for Admiral Janeway was nothing like she imagined.
It was even better.
The Admiral herself had ended up being dressed by her sister as well; the ‘Starfleet issue stylist' as Phoebe Janeway coined the middle aged lady assigned to dress Kathryn for the evening, being summarily dismissed the moment the younger Janeway sibling set eyes on her.
What followed was a mad dash to find the Admiral a suitable garment for the evening, and from what Bell had heard - she was yet to see the Admiral - a reverent hush had descended the minute Kathryn Janeway stepped out of the changing area. Right then and there, she was told, they had found...the perfect dress.
As things went, the Admiral's schedule fell apart after that.
Janeway was summoned to Starfleet Command, formalwear and all, to be briefed on a recent development of considerable urgency. The briefing lasted well over an hour, adjourned to release Kathryn to make the ball on time, as well as to have the issue at hand pushed further up the ranks.
It seemed that it was to be a working evening after all.
Kathryn had jokingly commented to her aide over the COMM afterward that she was certain that they broke some record on the best dressed Admiralty briefing to date.
At the time, Bell had already arrived at ‘ground zero' - another Phoebe inspired term - to ensure a smooth arrival for Janeway and to pacify all the dignitaries waiting all evening for the chance to speak with their ‘golden girl'. Halfway through, her COMM badge chirped, calling her back to base to solve the case of the missing PADD, containing Admiral Janeway's keynote address for tonight.
Mystery solved and crisis averted, Bell now found herself traversing the length of the massive reception area for a second time, its construction boasting some of the finest examples of French architecture. She hardly noticed that for the most part, the lobby was deserted, with only a few late arrivals hurriedly making their way into the main ballroom, and small gatherings were scattered about, congregating privately.
She herself was headed for one of the side entrances nearest to where she knew the Admiral would be standing, waiting for her to arrive, no doubt surrounded by those she had tried to pacify earlier.
She was too preoccupied skimming the PADD - to make sure the Admiral's speech was still all there - to notice the ornate carvings or the turn of the century teardrop chandeliers as she crossed the floor.
She was too preoccupied to notice that the same doors she was headed for had opened; two ushers holding them that way to allow a stream of waiters to enter from a nearby service area.
She was also too preoccupied to notice that she was about to slam bodily into two well dressed men who were standing near those same doors, conversing.
Out of the corner of his eye, one of the two men saw her coming first; her steady jog impressive given the six inch heels she was wearing, the dress molding her petit figure perfectly and almost seemed to aid her run. He smiled; but the smile slowly morphed into a frown when he realized that she wasn't slowing down, and it became clear to him that she was so focused on the PADD clenched in her hand that she hadn't seen them.
What happened next lasted a few seconds, but to those involved it seemed much...much...longer.
The second man was talking animatedly, slightly inebriated as intended, and totally oblivious to what was about to happen. He stopped talking mid sentence when he noticed his friend's facial expression change a split second before he unexpectedly lunged forward.
The first man heard his friend call out to him, but was already moving forward. Because just when he thought he could stop the young woman's frantic dash with hardly a scratch, the first of a long line of waiters chose that moment to cross the path between them.
Ordinarily, that would not have been an issue, but the waiter was carrying a massive tray using only one hand, expertly balancing no less than thirty glasses of champagne, blissfully unaware of impending disaster.
In one smooth action made possible by his boxing training, the first man swiftly ducked under the tray held high by the waiter, narrowly managing to avoid colliding with him as he moved forward, grabbing the woman around her waist and propelling her backward.
His quick action worked; except that the waiter panicked, and the tray slipped from his upturned palm.
Bell gasped as the wind was knocked out of her by some unseen force, and she had to admit that if she was only watching where she was going...
She gasped again, but this time it wasn't from the force of someone pushing her in the opposite direction - she had already been steadied by a pair of strong hands - but from the large tray of champagne which, as if in slow motion began its decent toward the floor.
She couldn't help but remember that old earth saying about a train wreck; you didn't want to look, but somehow you had no choice.
The second man was many things, but a slow thinker wasn't one of them. When he realized the reason for his friend's sudden movements, he anticipated the waiter's reaction. Sliding his hand under the tray just as the waiter lost his balance, he was able to defy gravity, and only a woman's gasp, followed by the clinking of the glasses as he righted the tray could be heard.
Grinning triumphantly, He turned to show off for his friend, and now captive audience who were nearest the doors and privy to the action. However, the sudden movement combined with his somewhat inebriated state, made him lose his center of balance.
His arm shifted, and three of the crystal flutes teetered off the edge of the tray, their glint as the light of the chandelier reflected against the clear crystal seeming to mock him while everyone watched helplessly as they crashed to the floor.
On the opposite end of the crowded ballroom, Janeway turned as she heard the sound of glass breaking, muted by the eruption of smattering applause.
She couldn't see a thing, due to her location, her curiosity mounting as she gazed in that direction, only to see her harried looking aide emerge from the applauding crowd, making a beeline for Janeway when she spotted her. Walking closely behind her and heading in her direction as well was a man she'd never met. Looking flushed and grinning wildly, he left in his wake a group of well wishers who patted his shoulder, as if to congratulate him.
But it was the man who was following them that caught her attention. Someone who she hadn't seen in months and the last person she expected to see tonight.
Her command mask slid seamlessly into place as they made eye contact.
Chapter 5: Tempers & Tabloids
She. Looked. Stunning.
The dress, a black column gown with white piping fitted her form flawlessly. Clearly not a ‘Starfleet issue' gown, Chakotay figured she'd chosen the gown herself. Her hair had grown out considerably since he saw her last, and she opted to pin it up in a loose chignon which highlighted her creamy shoulders, her neck flanked only by two thin white straps which held up the dress.
Blue eyes met chocolate brown when Voyager's former command team orbited each other for the first time in months.
In hindsight, Kathryn thought that maybe she shouldn't have greeted him so formally; this was Chakotay after all. And if she was going to consider B'Elanna's advice, this wasn't the way to start a reconciliation.
But if his flinch at her formality was anything to go by, then the damage was already done.
"I'm guessing that you had something to do with that little commotion over there?"
"You should know, Kathryn." Chakotay retorted. "You went to great lengths to make certain that I would be here tonight, didn't you? I'd say it was a stroke of luck that I was."
"What are you talking about?" She hissed quietly, mindful of anyone around who could become privy to their conversation. She was really getting tired of his attitude and she wasn't going to...
"Professor Jack Grayson, Chakotay's colleague at Oxford." Jack introduced himself to Kathryn, smiling at her in relief when she visibly relaxed and took his offered hand.
Jack wasn't lost on the obvious tension between the two, and made a concerted effort to divert it for now. Chakotay, being the private man that he was, never discussed their argument with him, but he figured it was serious enough for them to bring it out into the open like this.
"I'm afraid I'm partially responsible as well." He continued, throwing a pleading glance toward where Kathryn's aide stood.
"Lieutenant Carrington Bell." She took Jack's hand when he released Janeway's, picking up on his attempts to diffuse the situation. "I guess in all the commotion, we didn't have time for an introduction." She nodded toward Chakotay. "Professor, good to see you again and...thank you for the...assistance."
"You're welcome, Lieutenant." He nodded back, not taking his eyes off Janeway.
"Admiral..." Bell faced her superior officer. "...It's really my fault...actually...but, I'm afraid you're due onstage now." Bell finished with a relieved smile. She had to separate these two. Now.
"Tell me on the way." The Admiral ordered, still curious about what happened despite Chakotay's behavior.
Turning toward where Jack stood, she gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Professor. Someone decided that I was a suitable choice to give the keynote address tonight. It was traditional in the past to save the speeches until after dinner but since this is the first time its being broadcast live, I've got a primetime audience to entertain. Well, at least that's what the P.R. Department tells me. Maybe we could have a few minutes later? I'm really interested in your last dig on Cestus VII. I'm told you're planning to write a book?"
Jack nodded, clearly impressed, and watched as she turned back toward Bell without acknowledging Chakotay again. She held out her hand. "The speech?"
Carrie handed her the offending PADD that started all this. "It's all here, Admiral." She gave Chakotay and Jack one last look before guiding her boss toward the podium. "By the way, did I mention that you look absolutely stunning in that dress..."
"Aye, Admiral. It's really not that interesting, though. I was simply not watching where I was going and if..."
Jack watched the two women walk away before turning toward Chakotay. "She's much shorter in person."
"Shut up, Jack." Chakotay ground out.
The lights dimmed slightly, indicating to them that the official part of the evening was about to begin. Just as they rejoined Admiral West and his other guests at his table, a voice drew everyone's attention toward the stage.
"Good evening everyone. For those of you who have been living on the fringes of Federation Space this past year, my name is Admiral Marshall Stark. I'll be your tour guide this evening."
He was rewarded by widespread laughter and applause from the crowd.
Chakotay was not a follower of Federation politics. Coupled with the fact that he hadn't walked Starfleet's hallowed halls in months, he concluded that those justifications alone would explain why he didn't know the man. It was probably why he didn't get the joke as well.
Given his recent encounter, he wasn't in the mood either.
He leaned toward Jack and whispered. "I don't get it."
Jack looked at him like he was an errant child. "Chakotay, you really need to follow what's going on." He whispered back, leaning closer so as not to disturb those around their table. "Essentially, President Zife's reign is coming to an end. There's been some talk of corruption, so the Federation Council is looking for some new blood to throw their weight behind. Enter Marshall Stark; a career diplomat with a string of commendations and awards since before the war. There's talk that he could be the next Federation President."
Chakotay watched the Ambassador as he kept the attendees thoroughly entertained. Clearly a public speaker, he could see where he might win the hearts of voters everywhere.
He was Chakotay's height and build, but he had light blonde hair and striking green eyes. He seemed a few years older though, but he had a boyish handsomeness that Chakotay figured left him no shortage of admirers.
"He's currently the Ambassador to the Cestus System..." Jack continued. "...a group of about eight planets named after the star they orbit. I met him myself during the dig on Cestus VII last year. The one Admiral Janeway wants to discuss." He gloated; clearly thrilled that Kathryn knew about and was interested in his work.
"He went on a dig?"
Jack shook his head. "He only passed through. Said it's a hobby of his."
"You said he's a career diplomat. So he's never commanded a starship?"
The noise level in the room increased again, and Jack had to wait a few moments before he replied. "He commanded two galaxy class ships in deep space. He even captained the Hiroshi - a nebula class - during Worf 359. Won a medal of honor for that."
"Is there anything he hasn't done?"
"Well, he never turned a seventy year voyage into a seven year adventure, if that's what you're asking." Jack smirked. "And I doubt he could top the amount of first contacts and discoveries you've made."
"Ok, I get it."
"But...since you're asking...there is one other thing." Jack was debating whether or not to say, but Chakotay's probing glare was making it difficult to stay silent. Truth be told, Jack was curious to see Chakotay's reaction.
"What?" Chakotay prodded.
"There a rumor that he's involved with your former Captain."
The crowd broke into a standing ovation as Stark introduced their keynote speaker, and Chakotay had to delay his next question.
"Where the hell did you hear that?" He managed over the din, managing to keep his features neutral, knowing that his colleague was fishing for a reaction.
"The Federation Star." Jack stood and applauded alongside Chakotay, watching him closely. "They said it's serious. The latest is that they were spotted having lunch with Gretchen Janeway earlier today at an upscale restaurant in Bloomington. They think the two could be walking down the aisle soon."
"The Federation Star?" Chakotay glared at his friend. "You're reading tabloids?"
"Hey, don't recycle it until you try it. Not everything in there is conjecture."
"No, it's more like propaganda." Chakotay huffed. "Besides, Kathryn doesn't like blondes. Or politicians. They're not her type."
"Oh...that's right..." Jack hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. "...silly me. You're the expert on everything blonde and all things Kathryn, so therefore you would know. So I guess you think that hug Stark is giving her now is purely platonic then."
Chakotay turned toward the stage in time to see Stark's arms around his former Captain, while the press recorded the moment live for most of the Federation to see.
"I don't know Chakotay...might be some truth to those rumors." Jack pressed, sensing that this was affecting him more than he was letting on.
Stark was whispering something in Kathryn's ear and when he pulled away, she reached up and cupped his cheek briefly. He couldn't help but notice her facial expression and remember a time when...
He looked away. He didn't know why, but he just couldn't...
"I've watched her on the news a lot over the months..." Jack interrupted his thoughts. "...but I've never seen her look at anyone like that."
Chakotay saw it too. He was beginning to think his friend was right.
Everyone took their seats as she made her way to the podium, and the last of the applause died away.
Silence reigned as everyone waited.
Chakotay watched her scan the crowd, as if assimilating every nuance of those gathered. She certainly had their attention. Being a hero in these post war times certainly had its advantages; everyone wanted to hear what Kathryn Janeway had to say.
She had the whole room and almost certainly half the Quadrant in the palm of her hand, and despite his current animosity toward her, Chakotay wondered what she was thinking at this very moment.
There was a time when he didn't have to wonder.
He just knew.
Kathryn gazed at the huge crowd, thinking that the Borg Collective would be easier to address over a room full of brass. She couldn't see Chakotay, but she figured he was watching her closely, in all probability trying to guess what she was thinking.
There was a time when she knew he didn't have to.
He just knew.
Back then, he always knew. Now, she wasn't so sure. Their argument ten months ago and subsequent estrangement was proof of that.
She looked sideways to where Marshall stood with Carrie offstage, Marshall mouthing three familiar words to her, while Carrie was grinning mischievously, giving her the ‘thumbs up!' sign.
Facing the assemblage again, she took a deep breath and began.
"President Min Zife and Ambassador Siu Hua Zife, members of the Federation Council in attendance and those watching from their various locations around the Quadrant, Starfleet's Commander in Chief, Fleet Admiral Taela Shanthi, Fleet Admirals, and other ranking flag officers, Ambassadors, and other enlisted members of the exploratory, scientific and military organization we know as Starfleet. Specially invited guests, ladies and gentlemen, members of the media. Good evening, and welcome to the Admirals' Ball."
"My sister told me earlier that she was sure the floor of this historic room would collapse under the weight of so much brass assembled in one place..." She paused slightly as a rumble of laughter ensued. "...but I assured her that the room was checked for structural integrity beforehand." More laughter.
"Anyway, there are two galaxy class vessels in orbit, with a transporter lock on us...just in case..."
This time, Kathryn had to wait longer before she continued. She turned again toward where her aide was standing, winking at her before returning her attention to her audience.
One corner of her mouth rose in a classic Kathryn Janeway smile. "A funny thing happened to my aide tonight on her way to the Ball..."
Chapter 6: It's A Date
The applause was deafening as Kathryn made her way off the stage exactly thirty minutes later, Marshall stopping to squeeze her hand as they passed each other.
"Let's celebrate later. Your house in San Francisco...at about midnight?"
Kathryn smiled. "It's a date."
He returned her smile and continued on to address their audience.
Carrie met her halfway, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. "The Fleet Admiral is waiting for you."
Kathryn gratefully accepted the coffee, allowing Bell to lead her into an unoccupied anteroom, but hesitated before the two large intricately designed doors behind which the Commander in Chief of Starfleet waited.
Kathryn turned to face her aide. "Can I ask...do you have any idea how Chakotay managed to be here tonight?"
"No, Admiral. I do not." Bell replied. "But I can..."
"No...never mind..." Janeway shook her head slowly. "...it's not important. I was just..."
The doors slid open allowing a few occupants to exit, and Kathryn used the interruption as an opportunity to drop the issue.
"Please let Admiral Stark know that I'm with Admiral Shanthi."
Kathryn stepped through the doors, leaving Carrie behind at the entrance. She immediately surveyed the room. It was large; the smaller lobby leading to it belying its true size.
To one side, a large dining table laden with food and drink stood, two serving staff assisting the few guests sampling the menu. About a dozen other guests stood off to one side, conversing amongst themselves.
One or two of them broke off and passed her on their way out, stopping briefly to praise her on her speech. A few others who noticed her arrival purposely came over to congratulate her as well.
She moved further into the room, where against one wall, two large viewscreens were activated; one streaming a live feed of the activities outside, and the other was randomly skimming through various newsfeeds from around the Federation. A circle of lounge chairs and comfortable looking sofas faced the screens in a semi-circle.
She spotted the Commander in Chief of Starfleet lounging on one of the chairs, silently scanning a PADD. She was surrounded by about a dozen men and women, some of them Kathryn recognized as Shanthi's staff. Some were chatting quietly; others silently viewed the live feeds.
"Kathryn..." Fleet Admiral Taela Shanthi looked up from her PADD, acknowledging her arrival. "...everyone, dismissed." She ordered, her strongly accented command voice carrying throughout the room.
In a flurry of activity that could only result when an order from the highest ranking officer in Starfleet is given, the room cleared in record time. When the last person exited, leaving them alone, Shanthi's entire visage relaxed and she waved her friend over to the seat next to her. "It has been too long. When last have we met?"
"About two months ago, Admiral. We had lunch when you were passing through Spacedock on your way to Deep Space Six."
"Kathryn, I swear..." She shook her head. "...sometimes I am convinced that my first name is Admiral. We have known each other too long. When it is just us, call me Taela."
Janeway smiled and nodded. "I know how that feels. For seven years, my first name was Captain."
Shanthi laughed. "Well it is certainly better than Ma'am or Sir."
Kathryn held up her coffee cup. "Now that, I can drink to."
The Fleet Admiral showed her agreement by holding up her champagne glass. "To shattering the glass ceiling."
"And to the women throughout the centuries who kept it that way."
"That was a very interesting keynote address you gave." Taela commented after they had toasted. "The press, critics and so-called experts will be dissecting your comments for weeks to come. One would think you were running for Federation President instead of Marshall Stark."
Kathryn swallowed a mouthful of coffee. "Who said anything about Marshall running?"
Shanthi gave her a skeptical look. "The same people who said you two were dating."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow. "You're still reading tabloids?"
She held a PADD up for her to see. "I never stopped. There is more than just rumors and scandals in here, you know."
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "I sincerely doubt that."
"Speaking of rumors, is it true that you and your former first officer are not on speaking terms?"
Kathryn froze; her coffee cup halfway to her mouth. "Did you get that from the Federation Star as well?"
"Nothing that pervasive." She shook her head. "Owen Paris told me. I casually asked him about his family, and somehow you were included in the list. He said he spotted you and the Professor arguing at the welcome home ball. He said he has not seen you two together since. He seems to harbor some romantic notion about you both. I think it was something his son and daughter in law told him about your time on Voyager."
Janeway returned her cup to the table before facing her friend. "Taela, Owen is a gossip and you know it. You're just as bad for encouraging him."
"But he is right, is he not?"
She sighed. "Chakotay is at Oxford, teaching. I'm stationed at Spacedock. We're both very busy, there's the time difference..."
"Not for long. You are coming back to Headquarters next month. He is going to be teaching Advanced Tactics and possibly Cultural Anthropology at the Academy next semester." She gestured toward the doors. "As we speak, he is being courted by Admiral West." Shanthi noticed the look on Kathryn's face. "Is there something wrong?"
Kathryn was pinching the bridge of her nose, her eyes closed. "Nothing. Just a headache." She lied. "It's been a long day."
This time, it was Shanthi who rolled her eyes. "I did not get to be the CinC of Starfleet by my looks and charm." She touched her friend's arm. "He thinks you are pulling the strings for him am I right?"
"I don't know what he's thinking." Not anymore. She thought.
"I could have you court martialed for lying to a superior officer." She deadpanned.
Janeway smiled. "Who would you confide in then?"
Taela looked at her in genuine concern. "Who do you confide in now, Kathryn?"
The swish of the doors sliding open interrupted them, and one of Shanthi's adjutants entered, acknowledging Kathryn as he approached. Coming to attention before his commanding officer, he handed her a PADD.
"All of the department heads returned a few minutes ago, Admiral. This is their latest report as ordered."
"Thank you, Captain." Shanthi dismissed him absently as she read the PADD's contents. She finished, and then handed the PADD over to Kathryn.
She curiously took the PADD and Shanthi waited quietly while Kathryn read.
"Taela, Are you sure about this?" She looked up at last.
"It has been vetted through all the proper channels."
Kathryn leaned back and sighed. "How did you...?"
She hesitated. "I would...rather not say."
Janeway frowned but did not press further. "Does the Federation Council...?"
"They are convening an hour from now; they do not want to take any attention away from tonight, or attract the press, so they are moving discreetly. It is unclear however, whether or not they were informed beforehand. You should know that there is talk that the Federation President is responsible."
"Zife?" Janeway glanced at the PADD again. "Surely he must have known of the consequences to his administration if he..."
Taela held up a hand to silence her. Pointing randomly around the room they were sitting in, then to her ears, she indicated silently that the room may not be secure, so they would need to choose their words carefully.
"It is all still behind closed doors for the moment but it would not be long before the press, and then everyone becomes aware. I thought you should know, as I am going to be depending on your objectivity in the coming weeks." She sighed. "You would think I could spend my last few weeks until retirement quietly. This new issue would not make that possible now."
"Not by a long shot." Kathryn agreed.
"I am going to need you to do something for me, though."
"Of course." Kathryn replied absently.
"There is some additional evidence on a planet in the demilitarized zone that can't be moved but must be verified by someone from Starfleet."
Kathryn had a feeling she knew where this was going. It now became apparent that Shanthi had already had this planned the minute she walked into the room. Every part of their conversation was like elements of one of Chakotay's intricately designed sand paintings.
Shanthi continued. "They are at the location now, and I need someone to go down there and meet with them."
"When do I leave?"
"You misunderstand me." The Fleet Admiral informed. "The mission is yours to command of course, but there is someone else I have in mind for the meeting."
"With all due respect Admiral, You said yourself that I'm objective in all of this. I imagine they will want to meet with someone they know they can trust."
"And they will. Just not you."
Kathryn was taken aback. "Why not?"
"Because it could be a trap. Because I am not about to send one of my best Admirals into a possible ambush. And because the person I have in mind to send would be able to both relate to the informants as well as sense any duplicity on their part. And finally because the informants are former Maquis."
Kathryn frowned. "You're talking about..."
"Chakotay." Shanthi finished for her. "You would be his commanding officer again, albeit for the duration of this mission. I would not have given you the assignment if I did not think you were up to it."
Kathryn's command mask slipped into place for the first time since she'd entered the room. "Not a problem. What are my orders?"
"Good evening, Admiral. Nice to see you again." Shanthi grinned. "May I speak with Kathryn, please?"
Janeway's shoulders slumped, and her features relaxed. "You make me appear as if I have a split personality."
"We all do. It is a side effect of command." She tapped the PADD still in Kathryn's hand. "I know that Admiral Janeway can do anything she sets her stubborn mind to. But I need to ask if Kathryn can handle the command relationship again, given recent events between you and Chakotay."
Kathryn met her gaze steadily. "You know I can. It's my duty."
"Spoken like a true Starfleet officer." Shanthi raised her glass in a salute, letting the matter drop for now.
"I have officially given you command of the Nara and the Durga." She stood, as if to leave. "You have full autonomy over this. There will be a further briefing at Command the day after tomorrow at thirteen hundred hours. I will expect you to have your crews in place by then."
Shanthi made her way to the doors, pausing before the sensors triggered them open. Turning back to face Kathryn she wore a mischievous smile.
"Oh and by the way, nice dress. Your sister has impeccable taste. Must have turned a few heads tonight, I imagine. Including that of your former First Officer."
Kathryn opened her mouth to reply, but she was already gone.
Chapter 7: Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges
He moved with both grace and stature, earning a pause of acknowledgement from those he passed. No one dared stop him; the look on his face promising dire consequences if they did.
In his right hand he held a single PADD, its contents known only to him.
But not for long.
At the end of the long corridor, two guards dressed in all black and fully armed were posted in front of the large old fashioned ironwood doors. They snapped to attention as he approached, wasting no time in pulling the doors open, allowing him admittance into the room beyond.
He entered, and those gathered immediately came to their feet, the scraping of chairs on the hard wooden floors the only sound in the room as everyone rose in anticipatory silence.
Coming to a halt, he wasted no time with greetings, salutations, or introductory remarks.
"Tonight, the peace we have worked so hard for and so carefully to maintain is under threat. As we speak, information is being gathered, orders are being handed out and soon, the Council will meet to decide our fate."
There were faint murmurings around the room and he held up his hand to silence them.
"We have come too close to our ultimate goal to allow their plan to proceed unchecked. We will strike quickly. We will strike decisively. We will strike collectively. In times of war, the law falls silent."
Everyone remained silent but he could see the nodding of heads all around. He held up the PADD in his hand briefly, before handing it to the one standing nearest him.
"The list of targets; and your orders from our leader to take them out. He promises unimaginable rewards to those who succeed and a fate far worse than death to those who don't. You have until midnight."
One member of the group stepped forward, bowing his slightly. "Sir, with all due respect to our leader, midnight is but four hours away. Surely this can wait..."
The energy weapon sliced open his chest, its deadly force propelling him backward. Those standing behind him had to move as quickly as they could, given that they were caught by surprise.
The man calmly returned his weapon to its hidden location beneath his jacket. An eerie silence filled the room, briefly punctuated by the sound of a man breathing his last.
"Anyone else would like to share their opinion in defiance of our leader?"
A whispered murmur filled the room. At first it was inaudible, with no sense of purpose or rhythm. As the seconds passed, the man made out one word being repeated as if in a chant. The voices coalesced; and the volume grew.
The man smiled.
"Zife. Zife. Zife. Zife. Zife! Zife! Zife! ZIFE!"
He pivoted, heading back the way he came, the chanting echoing down the corridor behind him long after the doors closed.
Chapter 8: Plausible Deniability
Seven of Nine walked briskly across the shuttle bay, her steps measured and precise, despite the obvious weight of the duffel bag she carried. Waiting for her a few feet ahead, stood three familiar Starfleet officers whom she now considered her friends.
"Right on time." Tom Paris greeted as she approached them.
Seven came to a halt before the group. "Commanders..."
"Seven..." B'Elanna wondered when the former Borg would be comfortable enough around them to use their first names. "...we're not here in an official capacity. There's no need for the titles."
"Besides..." Harry Kim chimed in. "...if the Admiral finds out what we're doing, our ranks will be the last thing we'd be worrying about."
"Which brings me to ask you yet again..." B'Elanna faced her squarely. "...are you sure you want to do this alone? One of us could come with..."
"That won't be necessary." The optical implant above her left eye rose a few inches as she watched the three. "It is after all, just a survey of the sector for some anomalous readings."
"Well, that's the official story anyway." B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "I'm going to have a hard time convincing Chakotay when he finds out though."
"Let's just hope it won't come to that."
All four turned as The Doctor approached.
"Doctor..." Seven addressed him. "...thanks for coming."
"I wouldn't miss it." The hologram held out a PADD. "Reg sent this. It's the latest sensor readings and coordinates from the Takara sector."
"So let me get this straight..." Tom looked over Seven's shoulder at the PADD she was perusing. "...Two days ago, Pathfinder picked up COMM signals and energy readings consistent with a Borg vessel. You somehow convinced Reg Barclay not to inform anyone at Starfleet while you take off to investigate for yourself. What I don't understand is, why keep this from Starfleet? And why can't you tell us why you're keeping this from Starfleet?"
Tom waited for answer that didn't seem to be forthcoming. Eventually he sighed, moving away from Seven, his hands clasped behind his back, walking aimlessly in circles while she continued to read in silence.
He had almost finished making a circle around B'Elanna when she grabbed his arm, stilling him.
"As Seven said before..." She growled. "...the less you know, the better. It's for our protection."
"Of course it is!" Tom threw both hands up in the air for effect. "Because Kahless forbid that Admiral Janeway should find out that we managed to pull this together right under her nose. And I don't even want to think about Chakotay's reaction. What do they call it? Plausible deniability? I'm really looking forward to that conversation."
"Kahless?" The Doctor raised an eyebrow at Tom's choice of expression, his programming telling him it was most likely due to his choice of partner.
Tom shrugged. "You can blame B'Elanna for my evolving vocabulary."
"You're a beacon of support, Tom." Harry patted his shoulder. "Just imagine how I feel, lying to the Admiral earlier about my reasons for being here."
The Doctor cleared his throat. "Like I said, the chances of anyone finding out are slim to none. Unless something catastrophic happens in the next few hours that will cause any increase in security or defenses, Seven should be back home before anyone notices she's been gone."
Seven looked up from the PADD. "I am...regretful that I had to involve all of you in this. If we are discovered, I will accept full responsibility."
"No...Seven." Harry touched her arm gently. "We're the ones who should apologize. We didn't mean to make you feel guilty about this. Truth be told, there was no chance we would have refused to help you. You're family, remember?"
Seven looked at them one by one, clearly touched. "Family?"
The four friends and former colleagues studying her all wordlessly nodded in unison.
"What is this...an after school special? Let's get this show on the road." Tom piped up, leading everyone toward the shuttle.
Inside, Seven settled herself in the pilot's seat, while Tom leaned over her to enter commands. In the background, B'Elanna and Harry checked over the systems of the modified Alpha Flyer for a final time.
"You really think that he's on that ship?" Tom questioned curiously.
Seven glanced up at him. "Commander Tor...B'Elanna says that the vessel's signature is a perfect match. Their trajectory at the time we met in Unimatrix Zero increases the probability that it's Axum's ship."
Tom shook his head apprehensively. "I don't know, Seven. Leaving behind one boyfriend to go in search of another?"
She raised an eyebrow. Studying the pilot's expression more closely, she came to the conclusion that he was attempting to lighten the mood. "I believe Mr. Paris that you are engaging in an activity commonly known as dry humor."
"Here we go, Seven." The Doctor interrupted them as he made his way into the shuttle, hypospray and medical tricorder in hand. He administered the treatment, explaining its purpose as he began scanning her. "This little invention I've so brilliantly created only recently will enable you to go longer without regeneration."
"Thank you Doctor." She rubbed her neck where the concoction was administered, while he finished scanning her.
"Seven..." Harry joined them. "...we're finished here. I'm heading up to the control centre to monitor your departure. Good luck."
"I should go with him." Tom straightened up to leave. "It'll be hours until you're out of COMM range so just call if you need anything." He gave her a fatherly look as he patted the hull of the shuttle. "Be sure to bring her back before midnight in one piece."
Both B'Elanna and The Doctor headed toward the exit as well but Seven stopped B'Elanna before she could leave.
"I need you to do something for me." Seven requested when the half-Klingon walked back toward her. Pulling out a PADD from the duffel bag at her feet, she handed it to her. "It's a recorded message for Chakotay. I initially told him I would be off world for two days. I need you to send this to him; it would explain my further absence."
B'Elanna nodded and took the PADD, feeling the need to say something more. "Seven, I..."
"One of the reasons why Chakotay and I chose to keep our relationship private aboard Voyager, was to give us a chance to overcome the issues faced when being romantically involved and working together at the same time. Then the future Admiral Janeway came and then we were returned to the Alpha Quadrant, and our relationship became public knowledge. Needless to say, I anticipated the reactions from the crew; given my history with the Borg and my history with Chakotay. I believe that in the eyes of many of them, I would have been the last person Chakotay would have taken a romantic interest in. I can assure you that I am not offended by the comments made. None of it was directed at me personally. And I know they all meant well. Including you."
"Why are you telling me this now, Seven." B'Elanna asked, feeling uncomfortable at the former Borg's abrupt change in direction.
"After Admiral Janeway, you're Chakotay's closest friend." She clarified. "For reasons he is yet to disclose to me, he and the Admiral are estranged; so it would be inappropriate to ask her what I must ask of you now."
"Ask me what?"
Seven took a deep breath. "Since the surgery to remove the implant that affected my emotions, I have realized that I have residual romantic feelings for Axum."
"Tom Paris made a comment about ‘leaving one boyfriend to go in search of another'. I believe he is...accurate in his assumption. His only error is that since our return, I have been having trouble seeing Chakotay as a...boyfriend."
B'Elanna was stunned. "Seven, I'm flattered, but maybe you should be discussing this with Cha..."
"That is what I have to ask of you..." Seven cut her off in her usual manner. "...that you be the one to talk with him."
"Absolutely not." B'Elanna refused adamantly. "There is no way in Gre'thor that I will..."
"B'Elanna..." Seven's unaccustomed use of her first name quieted her. "...by all estimations, this will be a one way trip for me. I'm not coming back."
Chapter 9: Damn you, Kathryn
Kathryn stood almost hidden in the shadows of the dim lighting outside on the balcony of the ballroom. Dinner was officially over; and without the traditional lengthy speeches from various Admirals who loved the sound of their own voices, guests were free to socialize and enjoy the rest of the evening on their own.
She was leaning against the threshold, listening as another one of the evening's intermittent performances was introduced by Marshall.
Based on the reaction of the guests, the performances were a welcome reprieve from the drone of the posturing privileged competing for everyone's attention. Marshall was certainly in his element tonight, and he had the entire room eating from the palm of his hand.
Kathryn grinned along with the audience at something funny he said, then resumed her previous position; leaning against the waist high balustrade on her forearms, a champagne flute entwined in the fingers of both her hands, a data PADD resting beside her, the spectacular view of the night lights of the city beyond.
The doors she'd held open before slid slowly shut behind her, gradually muffling out the sounds from within, as she admired the skyline and enjoyed the fresh air.
Inside, the various news houses were in their element; with the extra time on their programs, they made the rounds of the groups of ambassadors, high ranking Admirals, council members and power brokers in attendance. They gathered what information they could, based on snippets of conversation picked up in passing, and brief interviews from the media hounds, but it was clear that the night belonged to Kathryn Janeway.
Kathryn herself opted out of the media glare as soon as she realized that many of them were more interested in who she was wearing as opposed to the content of her keynote address. Carrie had told her it was due to their audience demographic; that their 25-40 year old viewers across the Federation were sure to be duplicating her dress and hair soon enough, and that the traditional fashion houses which curiously were more in demand nowadays would have her gown posted in their shop windows by morning.
It was shortly afterward, when she ceremoniously declared her aide irreplaceable after freeing her from a particularly bothersome reporter, that Kathryn found herself a welcome secluded spot to gather her thoughts before...
She didn't turn around. Even after months apart, she could still tell when he was close. He must have slipped past the doors as they closed behind her moments ago.
She had successfully avoided him all night; his earlier behavior compelling her to disregard B'Elanna's counsel completely. But after Shanthi's orders, she had no choice now but to face him.
"Hiding from the press?"
Kathryn thought that he was never one to get straight to the point, and she doubted he was ever going to change.
"In a manner of speaking." She looked down at her glass, not willing to turn around just yet.
That didn't stop her from inhaling his fragrance, though. A mixture of all the elements was the first thing that came to mind, coupled with his own unique scent that was pure Chakotay. Her mutinous thoughts strayed to the memory of seeing him earlier tonight; she'd be blind not to notice how handsome he still was.
Chakotay swallowed. Sure he was damned angry with her, in a relationship with a stunning Nordic blonde, and probably had no right whatsoever to be thinking this way, but he'd be blind not to notice how beautiful she still was.
It was a clear, cool evening, the moonlight kissing her hair gently, giving it an almost ethereal glow, despite the shadows she chose to enfold herself with. The skin her gown bared looked radiant, healthy and a tinge tanned, and Chakotay figured that she had recently spent some time in the sun.
He couldn't blame the reporters tonight for being more interested in what she wore than what she said. But he knew her well enough to know how that would have irritated her immensely.
"It really is a beautiful dress." He spoke softly, his smooth, sultry baritone belying his true animosity at the moment. "I'm guessing you picked it out yourself?"
"My sister did." She turned around, unwittingly giving him a full private viewing of the garment in question. "It's a vintage design, created almost four centuries ago for an actress who wore it to an award ceremony. She was much taller than I am, but Phoebe insisted that it fit me better."
"I didn't see it on the actress, but I'm inclined to agree with your sister."
She moved toward him slowly, noting his unreadable expression. "Chakotay... I didn't have Carrie call you away to discuss designer fashion or my sister's taste in ball gowns."
"Ten months is a long time to hold a grudge, even for us." He confessed, thinking that she finally wanted to clear the air between them and give him the explanation he wanted from her. "Seeing you tonight made me realize that."
She snorted. "Need I remind you that you're the one who restarted this? I was prepared to move on, but when you..."
"Why did you change your mind?" He watched her closely as she closed the distance between them.
Her eyes narrowed. His directness made her think that perhaps he had changed after all. "Change my mind about what?"
He took a step toward her, stopping her in her tracks. "Don't play games, Kathryn. After the debriefings and we were all cleared, you were hell bent on making sure I didn't get the position at the Academy..."
"That's not what..."
"You never told me what happened back then." He ignored her attempt to correct him. "Instead, you handed me a consolation prize, a position at Oxford. Tell me, Kathryn, is the Chancellor really a ‘friend of the family'?"
"Paddy O'Neil grew up with my father." She really felt she shouldn't have had to explain, but she did nonetheless. "I was roommates with his eldest daughter at the Academy."
"How convenient for me."
"You would have gotten the position regardless." Janeway elaborated. "He was the one who called me."
"You're arguing semantics?"
"I'm not arguing at all." Kathryn's voice rose slightly in irritation. "Just like the last time, I'm trying to have a discussion with you and you insist on..."
"You seem to have forgotten what happened the last time." He reminded her. "There was no discussion, as you so eloquently put it. We almost started another war."
"Oh...I haven't forgotten." She tried to put some distance between them once again, but he grabbed her arm to hold her in place.
"That's funny, for a while there I almost thought you did forget." He murmured close to her ear, not lost on her exquisite scent, and how soft her skin felt where he held her. He had to shake his head slightly to maintain his train of thought. "Then all of a sudden, Admiral West is auditing my class and now here I am."
She pointedly looked at where his hand grasped her arm, before her eyes met his in a piercing stare. "What do you want from me, Chakotay?"
He released her arm but still maintained his fierce glare. "The truth would be nice. I've been waiting to hear it from you for a long time."
She eyed him speculatively, wondering what ‘truth' he was referring to. After all, they both had stockpiled a considerable amount over the years. Not willing to unlock any of hers, she opted to remain in safe territory.
This time, he allowed her to move away and she found herself back where he found her. "Well if you'd bothered to respond to my messages..."
"What? Two messages between now and when I saw you last?" He laughed sarcastically. "Such persistence. I will admire you for your timing though. Calling only when you knew I wouldn't be at home. I never thought of you as a coward, Kathryn."
"Maybe we should drop the subject before it escalates again." She suggested, turning around to face him again.
"I'm confused, Kathryn." He moved closer to where she stood. "Isn't this the reason you summoned me here? To put this to rest once and for all?"
"No..." She held up the PADD in front of him. "...this is the reason I asked to see you."
He stared at her in disbelief, then he snatched the object from her waiting hand. Tearing his eyes away from her, he focused on the PADD.
Kathryn had to take a step back as his anger grew and became a living thing.
"What...the hell is this?!" He stormed. "Is this true?! Last time I checked, all the Maquis who were not in prison were dead, Kathryn!"
"Not all of them." She answered quickly. "Some are under the protective custody of Starfleet Intelligence."
"Informants?" He scoffed. "The Maquis spy for no one. Least of all the Federation. What is this? Some elaborate scheme to get us to work together again? You could have just asked, Kathryn. But then again..."
"I think we're done here. You have your orders. You're dismissed, Captain." Kathryn's death glare was at full force now, but Chakotay didn't even blink.
"I'm not going anywhere, Kathryn." He closed the distance between them again. "We're going to have this out right here, right now. Starting with you being honest with me."
"Honesty?" This time, it was her turn to laugh sardonically. "I'm not sure you could handle it."
He leaned forward, their faces almost touching. "Try me."
"How is this relevant now?" She asked in frustration, in a last ditch attempt to withhold telling him anything. "This mission is only temporary. Three weeks at most, and then you can take up your precious position at the Academy, and you never have to lay eyes on me again."
He was taken aback. "Is that what you think I want?"
"I haven't seen you in almost a year. I think that's proof enough."
"So you're willing to walk away from seven years of..." Chakotay tried to describe their years together, but mere words could not... He exhaled heavily. "...we were friends Kathryn. Best friends. We even...what happened to us?"
"Life happened, Chakotay." She moved away from him, taking up a position near the doors. "But the good news is, we're home, and you're about to get everything you've ever wanted. What's the problem?"
"The problem is that I'd like to think that I got what I want on my own merit, rather than on your fame and influence." He ground out.
"Is that what you think?" She sounded incredulous. "Oh you are so naïve. You think it's that simple? There was a war, Chakotay. Allegiances shifted back and forth so many times it was sure to make even a Q dizzy. Trust has now become something that could be bought for a price in a back alley on a planet on the fringes of Federation space. Nothing worth getting is without consequence anymore."
"So what was your price, Kathryn?" He demanded angrily. "Who have you aligned yourself with?"
Kathryn sighed. "Chakotay, I didn't even know West was interested until tonight. And I certainly didn't know that we would be working together again."
"I find that hard to believe."
"You asked for the truth, Chakotay. Whether or not you choose to believe it is your problem, not mine."
"Good." He walked toward her, intending to return the PADD. "Because I'm turning down this little mission of yours."
"You can't do that." She hissed, watching his outstretched hand, her lack of movement indicating that she had no intention of taking it back. She moved past him, heading back toward the balustrade.
"I can and I will." He quickly moved behind her, catching up with her as she leaned against her arms once again. He slammed the PADD down beside her, making her jump. "You're hiding something. Unless you tell me what I want to hear, I'm walking out of here, right now."
"I can't." She forfeited, her eyes closing as she tried to control her breathing.
"Damn you, Kathryn." He whispered close to her ear before she felt him move away.
She heard the transparent glass doors swish open behind her, the sounds of the current performance increasing considerably before they slid shut again.
She exhaled quietly, feeling his heady presence quickly dissipate in the cool Mediterranean breeze.
Her shoulders slumped.
She wasn't looking forward to this mission. It was going to be a long three weeks.
Chapter 10: Countdown To Midnight
Huang Chaoying, current head of the Federation Security Council, and Alpha Centauri's representative to the Federation Council stood patiently outside her shuttle answering questions being thrown at her in rapid succession by the gathered press.
"Counselor..." One reporter's voice managed to win out over the others. "...Fed News Service here. Admiral Janeway's address tonight outlined the need for all member planets to strive for peace. Is this a realistic goal?"
"It has to be. You've all seen the effects of war. I can assure you that it is the council's number one priority."
"Counselor, counselor...Bolian Daily News. Counselor, there has been talk of Zife's involvement in corruption. Is this true?"
"I have no knowledge of this."
"Is it true that he would not be seeking re-election?" An unidentified reporter shouted.
"You will need to ask President Zife that." She responded tolerantly.
"But as head of the Security Council, surely you would be privy to any information regarding inappropriate behavior while in office. Or are you involved yourself?"
Everyone fell silent.
The counselor frowned. "I'm sorry, what media house did you say you were from?"
"Isn't it true that you are conspiring with others to remove Zife from office, and that you are supporting Admiral Stark as his replacement?"
"Who are you?" She growled. Behind her, two of her security officers silently moved closer. Her chief of staff, who had been standing quietly to the side, hastily stepped forward.
"Thank you everyone, no more questions."
The reporters resumed their questions in unison holding out their recording devices to pick up any comments. But she was already being escorted into her shuttle, her entourage in tow. She turned briefly, locking eyes with the stranger who stood, quietly rigid, watching her intensely amidst the mob of reporters clamoring for her attention.
"What the hell was that?" She asked her chief of staff as she slumped into her seat in the shuttle.
"I have no idea." He gestured toward one of the security officers. "I'm having a check done on the reporter's identity now."
Her pilot moved toward the front of the shuttle and prepared them for departure, while the rest of the vessel was secured for takeoff. They had just broken orbit of Earth, when the pilot opened a channel.
"E.T.A. for Jupiter Station is twenty minutes." He announced. "We should break orbit with Earth in five...four...three..."
The vessel suddenly shuddered, and alarms started sounding from the control panel. Everyone reached for something nearby to maintain their balance as the inertial dampers failed to perform.
"What's going on?" Chaoying grabbed the handles of her seat as the shuttle lurched.
"We've lost shields and navigation!" The pilot shouted over the noise of the klaxons as he struggled to regain his own balance and maneuver the shuttle at the same time. "We have power failures across the board, and we're being pulled back by earth's gravitational force! If I can't stop this, we'll burn up on re-entry!"
"Try restarting all systems!" The chief of staff yelled from his position behind the counselor, as they listened to the pilot send out a distress call.
"I've already tried...!" The pilot paused as power cut completely, plunging the shuttle in darkness, an overture to the certain fate of its passengers, the sounds of their screams heralding their doom.
From Earth, the stranger watched as a brilliant ball of fire lit up the night sky for almost a minute, and then went dark again. He ignored the shocked gasps and shouts of horror behind him, as he admired the stars briefly before calmly walking away.
Paris Residence, Nob Hill
Claire Paris sighed in relief as she dropped her shoes carelessly to the floor of the bedroom she and her husband shared. Situated on the top floor of their three storey mansion, it provided them with an unobstructed view of the San Francisco bay on a fog-free night.
Tonight though, the fog was coming in, and the only view Claire was admiring was that of their massive custom made four-poster bed. But before she could sink into its comfort and drift off into a blessed slumber, she needed a hot, long, bath.
"I can't believe those two..." The man of the house entered the bedroom behind her. "...they practically behaved like complete strangers the entire night. After seven years together on the same starship, one would think..."
He paused mid-sentence as his wife of over thirty years turned toward him, wearing only her underwear.
"After all these years, you still know how to shut me up."
She smiled, the look in her eyes drawing him closer to her. When he was within reach, she took his hand and pulled him even nearer.
"Do you remember the night we conceived Tom?" She whispered into his ear, feeling his free hand caress her hip.
"I had just returned from a mission and the house was filled with family for the reunion, and we couldn't get a moment to ourselves. We snuck away to the Four Seasons and spent the night in the only available suite they had."
"Suite...?" She leaned back slightly and quirked an eyebrow at him. "...as I recall, it was barely a double bed on the ground floor without a decent view of anything."
"Anywhere with you feels like paradise, my dear." He kissed her shoulder, behind her ear, and then her forehead, his eyes sliding shut with the action.
His lips had barely left her skin when his eyes opened. He stiffened, and the hand that had been on her hip tightened considerably.
For the second time in as many minutes, she called out his name in question. "Owen?"
"Don't move, honey." He addressed his wife first; then he addressed the masked man standing close behind her, pointing an energy weapon at his forehead. "Don't hurt her."
"We only came for you, Admiral." The intruder replied, making Claire jump with his proximity. He kept his eyes locked with his intended target. "Now Mrs. Paris, I need you to step away from between me and the Admiral."
When she didn't move, Owen squeezed her trembling hand. "Do as he says, Claire."
"Please..." Claire begged, her voice shaking, as she pulled away from her husband to face them. "...don't hurt us. Just tell us what you..."
"Quiet!" The intruder hissed. "Admiral, say goodbye to your wife."
"Why are you doing this?" Owen Paris barked; his Starfleet training ever present as his command authority asserted itself.
The intruder remained resolute. "Don't waste the last few moments of your life, Admiral." He glanced toward where Claire stood whimpering, tears falling unashamed down her cheeks. He pressed the phaser harder against Paris' forehead as his finger squeezed the trigger of the weapon.
"Say goodbye, Admiral."
Tom Paris reclined slightly in the pilot's seat of the one of the alpha flyers, bringing a glass of champagne to his lips.
His wife joined him soon after, finding a comfortable position on his lap. She kissed his temple gently before taking a sip of bubbling liquid from her own glass.
They were in synchronous orbit of the moon, their current resting place after a late evening jaunt around their solar system. The reason for their trip lay in a small bassinet behind them, sound asleep after a marathon crying session.
"You know, she is going to outgrow that thing soon." Tom glanced back at his sleeping daughter, his attention drawn away from the view of the moon moving lazily below.
"Hopefully by then, she wouldn't be teething." B'Elanna snuggled against his chest, sprinkling light kisses on his neck.
"Harry COMMed while you were with Miral." He caressed her leg, causing her to twitch slightly when he touched a ticklish spot. "Seven checked in to say she's on course and on schedule."
B'Elanna paused from her actions only to answer him. "I still think we should have gone with her."
He chuckled. "You just want to escape Chakotay's wrath when he finds out you had a hand in all of this."
B'Elanna swatted him, before leaning forward to place her glass on the floor. "I still can't believe that Seven..."
The beeping of the sensor alarm stopped her mid-sentence, and Tom released her so she could change position to access the controls. Her brow ridges pronounced themselves more as she frowned, trying to make sense of the sensor readings.
"This can't be right." She murmured disbelievingly as she ran a quick diagnostic on the sensors.
"What is it?" Tom leaned forward now, watching as she worked.
"I'm picking up two cloaked vessels off the port bow." She moved to the vacant seat while she continued adjusting the sensors. "They're heading toward the base."
"Have they detected us?" Tom was busy now, bringing all systems back online and getting ready to power engines.
"Not likely. I was testing the new shield frequency while I was feeding Miral. I haven't disabled it yet." She monitored the vessels' moments quietly for a moment. "They're heading for the base."
"Can we follow them?" Tom looked at her questioningly, his fingers poised over the controls which would engage them in a pursuit course.
"Yes, but keep your distance. I'm not sure about their abilities to detect us at close proximity yet." She gasped as another sensor alarm sounded. "They're over the base and powering weapons."
Tom attempted to open a COMM channel, but kept receiving an error message from the computer. He slammed his hand on the console in frustration. "They've jammed all COMM frequencies. B'Elanna...there's seven hundred people on that base...including..."
"I know...I know...Harry's down there." She studied the sensor readings; her horrified look matching her husband's when she met his eyes. "They've fired."
Chakotay stormed past Lieutenant Bell while she waited just inside the balcony doors. If he had looked back just then, he would have seen her frown at him before hurrying in the Admiral's direction.
It was close to midnight, and the crowd had thinned out enough to allow him to locate Jack's position in the room.
"Chakotay, over here." Jack smiled and held up his glass as he approached. He gave him a sly wink. "You've been missing, Professor. Have you been hiding out with your former commanding officer?"
"I've had enough socializing for tonight." He growled quietly so as not to attract attention. "Stay if you like. I'm leaving."
"Wait..." Jack grabbed his arm before he could leave. "...what happened? Did you and Janeway have a fight? I saw you on the balcony with her and..."
"...and now I'm leaving." Chakotay finished. "I will not be her token former Maquis rebel she taught to heel."
"Taught to heel?" Jack tilted his head, doubt clearly marring his features. "Chakotay, I hardly think..."
"She got me this position at the Academy." Chakotay elaborated. "She was the one who arranged this whole..." He waved his hands around the room, trying to find the right words. "...this...meet and greet tonight."
Jack started shaking his head slowly, his eyes creasing slightly in confusion. "Chakotay...Janeway didn't have anything to..."
Chakotay ignored him. "Can you believe she actually had the nerve to shroud the whole thing under some pretentious notion of..."
"Chakotay..." Jack stopped his friend's tirade by snapping his name. When he got his attention, he continued. "...listen to me. Janeway had nothing to do with this. I was the one who made the Chancellor call in Admiral West to audit your class."
He pulled back in shock, his voice dropping to a new low. "What?"
"Chakotay, you're miserable where you are. Don't get me wrong, you're doing an exceptional job, but Oxford isn't for you. Maybe it was in the beginning but..." He paused when he saw Chakotay's expression change to one he couldn't easily read. It made him take pause, but he was determined to finish. "I raised the issue with the Chancellor of you fitting in at the Academy. And the rest as they say is history."
"And you found it necessary to keep this a secret?" He glared at Jack.
"Hey buddy. I just wanted to surprise you." Jack held up his hands in surrender, taking a few steps back. "Besides, you know how colossally stubborn you could be. If I had simply suggested to you that you should re-apply for the position, you would have refused."
"Of course I would have." His shoulders slumped. "I don't know whether to punch you or to thank you."
"You can do both if you like." Jack turned his head sideways. "Just not on my good side, okay?"
Chakotay missed that last remark as the memory of his attitude toward Kathryn came back to him. Glancing remorsefully toward the doors to the balcony, he looked back at Jack who was now watching him with interest.
"I'll be right back."
He swiftly headed toward the doors to the balcony and arrived just in time to see Kathryn's aide step through them. Carrie saw him coming, and motioned toward the main exit with her head. He turned, and spotted Kathryn hurrying toward the doors.
He exited the room behind her, just missing the sound of multiple COMM badges as they erupted across the ballroom, their owners looking at each other curiously before opening their respective channels.
Kathryn's own COMM badge had chirped as well, and she was about to tap it when Chakotay caught up with her.
"Kathryn, wait." He rounded on her, forcing her to stop and face him. "I need to talk to..."
"Haven't you said enough?" She stepped aside and continued walking, becoming irritated when she realized he was following her. "You've made your position clear, Professor. We have nothing else to discuss."
They arrived at the transporter room together, the operator snapping to attention when they entered. "Good evening, Admiral." He nodded at Chakotay. "Professor, sir."
"My house, Ensign." She gave the young officer her coordinates, and marched toward the transporter pad, still ignoring Chakotay.
"Kathryn, listen to me." He stepped in her way again, eliciting a glare from Kathryn and a curious look from the Ensign.
She glared up at him. "It's late. We're both upset, and I'm meeting Marshall in a..."
"Marshall?" Chakotay's interest digressed for the moment. "So...you're...you and Stark..."
"Yes...me and 'Stark'." She heaved a sigh, showing her irritation, but frowned when he gave her a vacant look. "Chakotay, don't you check your mail?"
Her COMM badge sounded again, reminding Kathryn that she didn't answer it before. She stepped up on the transporter pad, tapping it to open the channel. "Janeway here."
She dematerialized instantly.
Chakotay whirled around to face the Ensign at the controls, about to reprimand him for not waiting for Janeway's order to energize. But the look on the officer's face silenced him, and he watched with a sense of rapidly growing dread as the younger man's hands skimmed anxiously over the panel.
"What happened?" He was surprised at how calm he sounded, despite the pounding in his chest.
"I'm n...not s...sure, sir." He looked up to face his superior officer. "I didn't initiate transport."
"Then where the hell did she go?" This time, despite his best efforts, his anxiety showed.
The Ensign hesitated. Then his face lit up, his fingers flying over the controls in an effort to reverse the transport. "She's here sir. In our pattern buffer. If I could just..."
The whining sound of equipment overloading filled the room. Sparks erupted from the console, throwing the Ensign against the wall behind him and knocking him unconscious.
Chakotay reacted instantly, managing to reach him and drag his unresponsive body toward the exit moments before the entire room dematerialized in the bright light of an explosion.
He heard the sound of debris whizzing past his ears and then something heavy hit the back of his head, forcing him to his knees and making him lose his grip on the Ensign.
Then everything went black.
Chapter 11: Aftermath
Palais de la Concorde, Paris.
"Over here Doctor, we've found her!"
"No one comes in or out except on my authorization, understand?"
"I need this entire floor searched for casualties and secured. That's an order."
"She's regaining consciousness...Admiral, can you hear me?"
"Can we get some more light in here?"
"Try not to move or speak, ma'am. I need to assess your injuries first."
"Will the Admiral be alright, Doctor?"
"We've found three more, Sir. I'm afraid they didn't make it."
"How the hell did this happen?"
"She has two broken ribs, some second degree plasma burns on her arms, a mild concussion and some other mild lacerations. Nothing I can't fix. You're going to be fine, Admiral."
"We're getting reports from other locations now, Sir. I'm afraid it's serious."
"Has anyone located Counselor Chaoying?"
"Admiral, we need to have you moved to a medical facility. Don't try to speak, just squeeze my hand if you understand."
"Sir, we've just received preliminary lists of the dead and missing from other locations."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Is the area secure?"
"Everyone get down!"
"What the hell was that?"
"We need to get the Admiral out of here, now."
"One of the main power couplings in the transporter room overloaded. The room is secure now."
"Can't we beam her out?"
"I wouldn't advise it. Transporters are fluctuating at best."
"Sir, the Federation President is calling a press conference shortly from an unknown location."
"Ma'am, we're going to move you on to the anti-grav lift now."
"A press conference already? That was fast."
"Sir, you're bleeding. Let me have a look at that..."
"I'm fine Doctor. Just see to the Admiral."
"Search teams report fifteen more injured and six more dead. They've completed the search and security has secured the floor."
"The Admiral is stable and ready for transport."
"Sir, Admiral Ross is in the building and on his way up."
"I'm already here. At ease everyone. Doctor, your orders are to move the Admiral to the secure location on this PADD. I've assumed command of the fleet until she is fit to return to duty. There's a shuttle waiting outside and my aide will direct you there. Do you understand? Captain, a moment please."
"Admiral Ross, with all due respect, this secure location is not a medical facility. Admiral Shanthi is injured and I need to treat..."
"Doctor, you have your orders. Do I need to relieve you of duty?"
"Good. Report Captain."
"We have sixteen injured including Admiral Shanthi, and nine dead. This floor has been secured and security teams are conducting a floor to floor search of the entire building. Most of the damage from the explosion though seems to be isolated to this floor. I'm told that there have been multiple targets hit tonight, Sir?"
"Admiral Ross, sorry to interrupt. We've just received word that Counselor Chaoying's shuttle has been destroyed. All hands are reported lost."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. We'll be leaving shortly."
"Admiral, what's going on?"
"Captain, you'll be coming with me. I'm going to need all the help I could get to..."
"Excuse me, Admiral, Captain. The President's press conference is starting. I'm putting it up on the viewscreen now."
"...now bring you live coverage of President Min Zife."
"You're bleeding, Captain. You should have the medic look at that cut."
"I'm fine, Sir. Thank you."
"Good morning citizens. Approximately thirty minutes ago, cross sections of our sovereign region were attacked by unknown elements. Our casualties number in the hundreds and our defenses have been compromised. Those responsible for this are still out there and we are going to do every..."
"Do we know who did this, Admiral?"
"Excuse me, Admiral. The latest casualty list."
"...am urging everyone to remain calm, and cooperate with our security forces as we restore order. All non-essential transports have been grounded or stopped at this time until further..."
"Paris to Ross."
"Owen? Is that you? I have your name on a list here that says you're dead."
"I would be if it wasn't for my aide. Son of a gun came back to my house to return Claire's scarf that she left in the shuttle. Turns out he's damn good with a phaser. Do you have Shanthi?"
"She's being moved to a secure location as we speak. Zife is talking to the press right now."
"So soon? Has he met with the council?"
"He wouldn't have had the chance. Aside from Chaoying, we've lost four other Council members. The Communications building took a hit as well so all secure COMM's and subspace communications have been rerouted through Spacedock. Owen...do you...I'm told that the base on...have you heard from Tom?"
"They're with me now, Bill. They weren't on the base when it was hit. We're on our way to the Janeway house in Indiana."
"Is Admiral Janeway with you?"
"Bill...Kathryn is dead."
Chapter 12: The Angry Warrior
The Professor of Cultural Anthropology sat in his darkened office at Oxford University, staring mutely at his computer screen, his mind replaying the events of a few hours ago. The room was silent; the only sound was his computer as it signaled incoming messages, but he acknowledged none of them.
Images of Kathryn flashed before him now and he found that he lacked the control to stop them. Kathryn giving him a hesitant smile when she first arrived at the ball. Kathryn studying the faces of her audience while she steeled herself to begin her keynote address. Kathryn looking like he'd never seen her in the designer gown. Kathryn's hurt look when he told her to shove her assignment.
Kathryn's startled expression when she suddenly dematerialized...
The computer beeped again, like it had been continuously since he had entered his office, but this time something in him snapped; his arm came up and in one fluid movement, he cleared his desk with one sweep.
"It won't bring her back, you know."
Chakotay silently acknowledged his friend sprawled in the seat across from him. When he had regained consciousness after the explosion, Jack was staring at him, his expression divided; part relieved that he had survived, and part worried at how he would take the news of Kathryn's death.
No, it won't bring her back, but it would avenge a senseless death. He thought.
And just like that, his rage returned. Curious how all it took was Kathryn being abruptly torn from his life for the angry warrior to rear its head.
"You think this has made you angry? Chakotay you have been angry for months."
His head snapped up. Had he spoken his last thought? He stared at Jack in bewilderment but did not respond to his accusation.
"I'm your friend Chakotay, so I'm not going to make this easy for you. Seeing you and Kathryn tonight confirmed something for me. Kathryn Janeway marched straight into your heart and took up residence there a long time ago. Being away from her has never been easy for you; it wasn't easy then and it certainly isn't going to be easy now. You just did a better job of hiding it then. You didn't lose her tonight. She was torn from your life that night ten months ago when you told her to go to hell. Then you began this pretense of moving on, but..." Jack's eyes widened as understanding dawned. "Kathryn was your peace wasn't she? You told me about finding your peace with everything in your past, but I never..."
Chakotay wasn't hiding it now. His face crumpled, and he buried his head in his hands. Taking a deep shuddering breath he tried his damndest to maintain his equilibrium.
Could he have stopped this? If he had only prevented her from going into that damned transporter room. If he had only stopped her from answering her COMM badge...If he had only...
"You're not responsible for this, Chakotay. There was nothing you could have done differently, my friend. So don't start blaming yourself."
Again, Chakotay wondered if he had spoken his thoughts aloud. The image of Kathryn on the transporter platform surfaced again and he felt the knot in his stomach grow larger.
"The sooner you accept what she means to you the sooner you could begin to heal. You've buried it for too long. You both have. You don't have to anymore. Grieve if you want, but the anger and the guilt are too self destructive. I know what you're capable of Chakotay and I won't let you make that mistake again. It's not what Kathryn would have wanted."
Chakotay shuddered again, fighting desperately to avoid breaking down.
Jack sensed his internal struggle and rose from his seat. "I'm going down the hall for some coffee. Think about what I said."
He heard the chair scrape the floor as Jack exited the room and remained where he was, his face buried between his hands.
"I thought he'd never leave."
Chakotay was on his feet in an instant, his body tensed, his entire visage suddenly emanating both caution and curiosity at his current visitor. Confusion marred his features for a fleeting moment as he reflexively reached for a nonexistent phaser.
Then recognition dawned.
"Professor Chakotay. I imagine I'm the last person you'd be expecting."
Chakotay silently regarded this version of the Relativity's Captain.
"You're probably wondering which Braxton I am. In my timeline, I was able to prevent the one you met from succumbing to temporal psychosis. We have been monitoring yours and Admiral Janeway's movements for the last eight years."
Chakotay fixed his gaze on him as he paced the room, waiting for him to continue. "And you decide that now is the time to show yourself? How about three hours ago, before..."
"There are things that I know for certain and others I can't predict. The events preceding now were one of those anomalies I couldn't anticipate. Your actions have caused consequences that no one could have foretold."
"My actions?" Chakotay glowered impatiently. He was not in the mood for parables. "Care to elaborate?"
Braxton studied him carefully before continuing. "Picture this...if you hadn't joined Starfleet, Voyager would not have been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, you would have become a famous paleontologist and your father would still be alive today."
Chakotay stared at him skeptically. "No one can know that for sure. Not even you, Braxton. If your records reflect, the future Admiral Janeway made sure of that."
Braxton didn't appear concerned by Chakotay's doubts or his subtle attempt to disparage him. "One day, a young girl fell ill with a deadly strain of the Levodian Flu she picked up while on a trip to Mars. Her father opted to forego an assignment to the border region in order to remain at her bedside. Another officer was assigned in his place...a Captain Hiromi Sulu. He went on to sponsor a young man from Trebus admission to the Academy."
Chakotay's eyes widened. "So if Sulu didn't get the assignment..."
"It's rather ironic, actually. As a famous paleontologist, you would have discovered that the land your father held as sacred was in fact not. Your analysis of the artifacts would have revealed that they came from another planet, not Trebus. With nothing keeping them on the planet, your tribe would have left, thus saving them from the destructive power of the Cardassians."
Braxton smirked. "Still present but lacking a certain ‘angry warrior'. You made it a point not to target Federation outposts or innocents, but I'm afraid the other cell leaders did not subscribe to that philosophy. Your sway within Maquis ranks was resolute, and your presence significantly altered the philosophy of the group. Without your influence though, things weren't as idealistic."
Chakotay contemplated the Captain's words silently. "What does this have to do with tonight?"
He tilted his head to one side, as if in thought. "Have you ever heard of Section 31?"
"From the Federation Charter or the rogue group that isn't supposed to exist?"
"The group." Braxton clarified. "They needed to solidify their positioning without exposing themselves."
Chakotay glared at him. "You mean they needed someone else to do their dirty work."
He nodded. "And they still needed to maintain control. Because of your non-involvement with the Maquis, Section 31 managed to infiltrate their ranks, eventually taking control of the group altogether. They went on to commit some of the most atrocious war crimes the Federation has ever heard of. Tonight would not have happened if that timeline continued to exist."
"So you're saying that my decision to join the Maquis resulted in Kathryn's death? That Section 31 somehow..."
Braxton's COMM badge chirped. "My time is running out. Your friend is returning." He made his way around the desk and picked up the computer lying carelessly on the floor. After returning it to its original position he returned his attention to Chakotay.
"In about sixty seconds, your computer is going to beep again, signaling an incoming communication. You need to answer it. It will be Fleet Admiral Shanthi, and she is going to ask you to continue the mission without Admiral Janeway. I need you to accept the mission."
Chakotay's contrary nature reared its belligerent head. "I refused it once before, why should I accept it now especially after..."
Braxton's COMM badge chirped again. "Time's up. There's a reason why you didn't get the position at the Academy ten months ago. There's a reason for Kathryn's senseless death. Accept the mission, Chakotay. You'll find all the answers to your questions there."
He raised his hand to tap his badge to give the order for transport but Chakotay stopped him.
"Wait...in the timeline where I didn't join Starfleet, you said that Voyager never went to the delta quadrant. What happened to Kathryn?"
Braxton hesitated. When Chakotay looked at him pleadingly, he relented with a sigh. "Kathryn Janeway would have married a philosopher named Mark Johnson and later resigned her commission to start a family. By all accounts, you two would never have met."
The door to the office flung open, and Chakotay turned to see Jack enter, his arms loaded with food and coffee and breathing heavily. "Chakotay, it's all over the news...there's been other attacks around the...are you alright?"
Chakotay turned back toward where Braxton stood only to find an empty space. Before he could respond, his computer alerted him of an incoming transmission.
Chapter 13: The Commander In Chief
The Commander in Chief of Starfleet sat at her desk in her office, staring at an image of herself embracing her mother on the day she graduated from the Academy.
Ever since she was a little girl, Taela Katsaros had been fascinated by the Starfleet uniform. In her creative arts class, she always seemed to include some version of the utilitarian garb in her offerings, much to the dismay of her teachers who always made it a point of discussion during parent day.
Her mother always thought she would outgrow the habit; her father was always too drunk to care. He hit her mother during those moments of inebriated insanity, and Taela would always huddle in the furthest corner available to watch; hoping for one of those uniformed officers to come and take him away.
It never occurred to her that, years later, she would be the one to actually do it.
The events leading up to that fateful day started when she was seventeen years old, and her mother planned a trip for her to visit her uncle - a civilian engineer - on Mars. It was a much anticipated trip; Taela's first, and there was no way she was going to miss it.
So it was with panic and anxiety setting in that Taela - the night before she was due to leave - started feeling as though she were coming down with the flu. She sat on the bed in her room, her mother's tricorder in her hand. Her mother, a nurse at the local hospital in her village, kept a medkit at the house in case of emergency.
She stared at the readings as it scrolled, the sound of her father yelling at the top of his voice outside an appropriate backdrop to her inner turmoil.
The Levodian Flu.
Her heart sank, the results almost taunting her that if she were to show her mother this, there was no way she was leaving the planet.
The flu was creeping slowly through her village, new cases pulling her mother out of the house at all hours to assist the medical team who struggled to contain it.
And now she was manifesting early symptoms.
The house suddenly became eerily quiet. She looked up, staring at the bedroom door, trying to determine what was happening outside.
Suddenly the door swung open making her jump.
"Taela..." Her mother stood before her, eyes wide with fear and something akin to shame, her lips trembling as she struggled to form the words. "...pack your bags. There is a shuttle leaving for Mars in a few minutes. You are going to be on it."
"Mother, are you...?"
"Do as I say, daughter!" Mother divided her gaze between daughter's face and the tricorder in her hand, before swiftly turning around and going back the way she came.
Then the door shut again.
Half an hour later, Taela was at the transport station, standing outside a waiting medical shuttle. Apparently her father had gone out, presumably for more Kentucky bourbon, which explained the sudden silence. Her mother had taken the brief reprieve to promptly usher her out of the house.
"Your uncle will be waiting for you at the shipyards." Her mother nervously straightened the jacket on her daughter's shoulders. "This shuttle is due for maintenance there, and the pilot owes me a favor. It will be a direct flight, so you would not have to go through the transporters."
Her mother smiled; the first Taela had seen in many months. "I am your mother, Taela. You cannot hide anything from me. Your uncle will see to your recovery."
Taela nodded, tears in her eyes. She hugged her mother feeling her warmth and finding comfort in her familiar smell. She had no idea then that it would be four years before she felt her mother's embrace again.
"We're ready to go." The pilot called from the entrance to the shuttle. To Taela, he looked no more than a few years older than her mother.
Her mother released her and used her shoulders to turn her around. "Taela, this is Owen. He is a Starfleet Commander."
Taela's eyes widened in awe of her new acquaintance, briefly forgetting her manners. A quick nudge from her mother brought her back to her senses. "Nice to meet you, Sir."
"Sir?" Owen laughed, patting her on her shoulder. "It will be a while yet where you're concerned. By then you would be addressing me as...Admiral Paris."
"And here I thought your only reason for joining the ‘fleet was for the girls." Taela's mother teased.
Owen winked at her before turning his attention to her daughter. "What do you think, Taela?"
"I think I want to be your superior officer, so I could order you around."
He laughed again. "I like you. You've got spunk. You remind me of my friend Edward's little girl; her name is Kathryn. She's on Mars right now actually. I'm going to introduce you two. I think you'll be great friends."
"I remember that day like it was yesterday."
The familiar voice pulled the C-in-C from her musings and she swung around in her office chair to face her visitor. Admiral Owen Paris was standing at her office door, a pensive look on his face as he stared at the image in her hand.
She gestured for him to come in. When he sank gratefully into the offered seat, she handed the photo to him. "It was one of the proudest days of my life. The first of my family to graduate. My mother cried throughout the ceremony. She said I had honored the Shanthi name, and that I would become a great leader one day."
"Is that why you changed your last name to your mother's maiden name?" Owen leaned forward with interest. It was the first time she'd told him this story.
Shanthi nodded. "It was only fitting. My father tarnished the time honored Katsaros name and I wanted nothing to do with it. As powerful and influential as he was, he did not deserve to have his name associated with such a privilege. Removing him from my mother's life was simply not enough."
"Your mother was a remarkable woman." He glanced at the photo one more time before handing it back to her. "I'm glad I had the privilege of knowing her."
"There was a time I thought it would not be possible." She stood up to pace behind her chair, the stunning view of the city through the large windows at counterpoint to her actions. "That day we parted at the transport station began a dark period for my mother. She spent years running from my father; always needing to stay one step ahead, always just out of his dominant reach."
"But you saved her, Taela." Owen reminded her. "You made sure he would never hurt her again."
"Not before she almost lost her life." She paused to gaze out the window before she added quietly. "She took a huge risk coming to my graduation."
"She told me that day that she would have moved heaven and earth to be there." He smiled wistfully. "From where I sit, it was well worth the risk."
"It was." Shanthi agreed, moving back to her desk to return the photo to its honored place. She picked up another image, holding it up for Owen. "Do you remember when this was taken?"
"Your uncle took this picture." He studied it in awe for a moment before meeting her steady gaze. "Was I ever that young?"
"Were we ever?" She raised an eyebrow, a hand coming up to her hip in true Janeway fashion, making Owen wonder who influenced who.
He shook his head in amusement. "We had just arrived on Mars, and Katie was touring the shipyards with Edward when we ran into them. You two became fast friends as I could remember."
"We had no choice." Taela smiled, remembering. "I gave her the Levodian Flu. They quarantined us for four days. Edward had to give up an assignment to stay with her."
"He put me on report for that, you know. Your mother could have at least given me a heads up. Even Katie reprimanded me. Imagine being dressed down by a preteen with a serious death glare."
Taela grinned. "I am really going to miss her."
Owen frowned. "So am I, Taela. So am I."
She moved toward her replicator. "How is Marshall taking the news?"
"He's trying to remain stoic; but his aide told mine that when he was on the COMM with Gretchen Janeway he broke down."
"Oh my, I forgot about Gretchen and Phoebe." Taela commented as she keyed in an order for drinks. "How are they?"
"I'm worried about them." Paris admitted. "Gretchen wants to see a body this time before she accepts anything, and Phoebe wants to have the memorial service and get it over and done with."
She returned to her desk with two tumblers and an unmarked bottle of something that resembled bourbon. "And her former first officer?"
He gave her a knowing look. "So you noticed that too did you?"
"I may have heard something." She shrugged. When he gave her a disbelieving look, she relented. "Tabloids and rumors aside, I think they would have had a real chance at something few people ever experience in their lifetime."
Owen accepted a glass from her and silently offered to pour their drinks. "Have you spoken with him?"
"About an hour ago. He seemed shell-shocked, but he readily accepted the mission to the demilitarized zone."
"You seem surprised."
"Kathryn told me he had turned her down. They argued about it. It was the last conversation they had before she..." Taela looked down at the dark liquid swirling around in her glass.
"As awful as I'm feeling, I wouldn't like to be Chakotay right now."
She looked up at him. "Guilt is not an easy burden to carry. He is going to be carrying that one for a long time."
He raised his glass in a toast. "To shedding our burdens."
Taela complied, her eyes filling, and her voice hitching slightly. "To Kathryn Janeway."
Owen nodded, joining his glass with hers. "To Kathryn." ****** Cestus Prime
First there was darkness and silence.
Slowly, the familiar sounds of life crept around the edges of that lifeless tableau. The steady chirps and clicks of medical equipment, the occasional brush of someone's hand against hers, the muted sound of a familiar voice.
Still there was darkness.
The next time, she was aware of the darkness alone, but the sounds were much less muted; she felt as though she were slowly floating into her own body, and this time someone was calling her name.
But still, the darkness returned.
This time, awareness hit her like a shuttle, and her eyes flew open with the suddenness of it all. The sounds were erratic now; the medical equipment alarming as it was programmed to signal impending doom. Someone was shouting.
"Get The Doctor in here, now!"
"Honey, stay calm, you're safe. The Doctor will be here to..."
"She's going into neurogenic shock; give me ten cc's of..."
"No wait! She's stabilizing."
"Stay with me sweetheart..."
"She's been through a lot, but she's going to be fine."
The sound of the alarms quieted and then there was only silence.
Darkness and silence.
Then she heard her name again. Felt a hand squeeze hers.
"Kathryn? Kathryn can you hear me?"
Chapter 14: The Future President
The Future President
Nanietta Bacco stood on the balcony overlooking the opulent grounds of the massive estate. It was early morning when they arrived in Pike City, the capital of Cestus III, and she surmised that it still was, but she didn't feel bothered enough to find out the exact time of day.
In fact, her full attention was focused on a certain red-haired Admiral standing near a fountain in the vineyard, chatting with one of the wine growers - a Gorn. An intimidating species known for their xenophobic nature, Mord was almost twice her height and four times her build, but based on the reptilian's expression, he was clearly engrossed in whatever discussion she was having with him.
Under normal circumstances Etta - as her closest friends called her - wasn't one to eavesdrop, but she would give anything to hear what they were talking about.
"I've watched her do that exact same thing countless times. But it always amazes me every time I see it."
She turned toward the sound of the voice behind her. "What does?"
Voyager's former EMH stepped toward her and they both turned toward their unsuspecting subjects in unison. "She has this way about her; one conversation and you will be willing to go to the edge of the universe with her."
"It must have been quite an experience out there..." She commented, referencing Voyager's epic journey. "...I'm not aware of anyone else who would have been equal to the task."
"And I imagine that we would have never made it back with anyone else but Kathryn Janeway." He nodded toward the woman in question before moving in her direction. "Excuse me Governor; I need to check on my patient."
Bacco watched the hologram make his way, failing to suppress a grin when they caught sight of him. Janeway's expression had formed quickly into her trademark glare. Mord, conscious of her change in mood, stepped defensively in The Doctor's direction. She watched their banter for a few moments more before returning inside.
She found Marshall sitting on the sofa in the living area, reading from a PADD. He looked up as he heard her approach, concern marring his handsome face.
"The casualties on Luna Base number in the hundreds." He stood up to greet her as she neared; a sign of respect for her position. "They have now accounted for everyone except Commander Harry Kim, and an Ensign Joshua Carey. They have been officially listed as missing."
Waving him back to his seat, she joined him. "Zife and his cohorts have taken a lot of lives over this. It's time to end this."
Stark nodded in agreement. "I've spoken with Admiral Shanthi. Captain Chakotay has taken command of the Nara and is enroute to the coordinates."
"So what now?" Bacco asked.
"Now...we wait." He looked away from her as Kathryn's voice floated in their direction through the open glass doors.
She studied his preoccupied expression and could not resist asking. "How long have you been in love with her, Marshall?"
He ran his hand through his hair, but kept facing away. "The truth?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Naturally. I wouldn't expect anything less of you."
"I only realized two nights ago, at the Admiral's ball, that I loved her the moment I met her."
"But that wasn't her at the Admiral's ball." Bacco reminded him. "In fact, it hasn't been ‘her' for the last six months."
"Don't you think I know that?" He stood up to pace, the movement of his body revealing the tenuous hold he had on his emotions at the moment. "I should have known...somehow recognized that it wasn't her."
"You had no way of knowing she was a duplicate, Marshall. Until a few hours ago, we didn't even know the technology existed."
"Not in this timeline it does." He glanced at her bewildered look. "Braxton brought it back with him from another timeline. The Doctor was good enough to inform me."
"Did she - the real Kathryn - tell you about her time away on the mission with Braxton?"
"We haven't had the chance to talk about anything." He ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "The Doctor hasn't let her out of his sight, and she seems to be avoiding that discussion."
"Well..." Bacco concluded. "...she's back now, and the council will want answers. They're not going to take kindly to her fiddling with the timeline again. What was she thinking? Imagine, agreeing to substitute an alternate Kathryn Janeway - an advanced representation no less - for the real thing."
Marshall stopped pacing and turned to face her. "You're forgetting that she is bound by the temporal prime directive. She doesn't have to say a word. Not even to me, Etta."
"Well she can't stay dead forever. How is she going to explain this?"
Their dialogue was suspended as Janeway herself entered the room. "Good morning." Kathryn's finely tuned senses quickly picked up the tense mood in the room. She nodded tentatively at the Governor, her eyes lingering on Marshall a few moments longer. "Am I interrupting something?"
"Not at all." Bacco stood up. "In fact, I was just heading down to check on our first meal of the day." She moved toward where Kathryn was standing. "I'll leave you two alone. Take as long as you like." She gave Marshall a pointed look before making her exit.
They stood silently, facing each other, their eyes locking for a long moment before Marshall looked away. He spotted a nearby table set up with a tea service and he headed in that direction. "Coffee?"
"Yes, please." Kathryn watched as he meticulously prepared their drinks. "The Doctor has given me a clean bill of health."
Marshall walked toward her, their drinks in his hands. "That's good news." He held out her drink, turning quickly toward the sofa where he settled.
Kathryn held her cup, its warmth infusing her hands as she watched him sip from his own beverage, his eyes not meeting hers. "I've just had the most interesting chat with Mr. Mord outside."
"Really. How so?"
"Aside from his love of winemaking, it seems that he is an avid reader of the Federation Star."
Marshall sipped his tea, but didn't answer.
She continued. "It seems that according to the tabloid, you and I are getting married."
His teacup came down on the coffee table with such force, it shattered. He was on his feet and in front of her in seconds. "Damn you! Damn you, Kathryn! You think you could just walk back in here after six months and think nothing of it? I thought she was you!"
"Marshall I'm sor..."
"Don't." He stopped her, his breathing hard as his dark mood intensified. "You could have told me." He leaned in closer. "YOU. COULD. HAVE. SAID. SOMETHING."
Kathryn watched him turn away abruptly, trying to bring his temper back in check. "I couldn't." She whispered. "The temporal prime dir..." She stopped when he turned back toward her, a look of pure revulsion on his features.
"I took...whatever it was...to my bed, Kathryn. I made love to...I thought it was you. I got down on one knee and asked..." He turned away again, his head bowed, his shoulders shuddering as he fought to regain his self control. "Who else knew about this?"
"The Doctor, and my mother and Phoebe." She looked away and her voice lowered.
He looked back at her in surprise. "Your mother?" He laughed sardonically. "Now it makes sense why she didn't show any emotion when I told her about your death. At the time I thought it was because she'd lost you before and was better able to handle it than the rest of us."
He shrugged. "Carrie. Your former crew. They're not handling your ‘death' very well, Kathryn. Especially your former first officer."
Her eyes widened and she met his gaze. "You saw Chakotay?"
"No. Taela told me." He studied her reaction with interest. "Why do you ask?"
"I haven't seen him since the welcome home ball." Kathryn recovered quickly. "It's been...strained since then."
"Well, he was at the Admirals' Ball two nights ago. Carrie mentioned seeing him arguing with...her, and that he tried to save your...her...life when the transporter overloaded. You fooled us all, Kathryn."
She looked away and her voice lowered. "You were never supposed to find out."
His voice deepened and his eyes darkened. "What?"
Kathryn took a cautious step back. "I was only supposed to be gone for two weeks. Remember that vacation I took with Phoebe?"
"Six months ago, to Risa yes. But what does that have to do with...?" Realization dawned. "You never went to Risa, did you?"
"No, I didn't. Braxton said I'd be back before anyone noticed. But something went wrong, and two weeks turned into six months." He started to ask what went wrong, but she stopped him. "I can't go into detail, but the decision was made to send the duplicate, and I was in no position to disagree. I'm sorry Marshall. I had no choice."
"Your mother and sister knew, Kathryn. You didn't think I deserved the same courtesy?"
"I didn't think we'd still be..." She moved away from his intense gaze, not able to meet his eyes. "...clearly ‘she' saw something that made her change her mind."
"You were planning to end our relationship?" He looked at her incredulously.
Kathryn turned back to face him. "No. She was. For all intents and purposes, she was me, Marshall. She had my memories, my feelings. I just figured she would have followed through on this as well."
He blinked at her for a few seconds, trying to make sense of what she was saying.
"What was it?"
Kathryn frowned. "What was what?"
"That...thing." He waved his hand around. "Your replacement." He noticed her hesitation. "You owe me at least that, Kathryn."
She sighed. "During Voyager's fourth year in the Delta Quadrant, we came across a biomimetic lifeform which lived on a Y Class planet. It had the ability to change itself into anything it came into physical contact with. It would duplicate everything, right down to memories."
"I remember that. Starfleet asked the scientists at Questor to analyze the silver liquid. But as far as I recall, its ability to maintain a particular molecular structure was only transient. It was deemed useless and the project was abandoned."
"In the timeline I visited, that Silver Blood was set to revolutionize cloning technology." She paused, taking her first sip of the coffee in her hand. "There, The Doctor was able to synthesize an enzyme that allowed it to remain bonded for a protracted period. Where is she now?"
Marshall froze, only now realizing that she didn't know. "Your EMH didn't tell you?"
She frowned. "Tell me what?"
"When she was beamed from the transporter room by the Relativity, it somehow caused the circuitry to overload. Apparently placing your matterstream in the pattern buffer at the same time caused a cascade failure. They had time to pull you back before the explosion, but not before sacrificing the duplicate in the process. She's gone, Kathryn."
She exhaled heavily. "So she was sacrificed to save me."
"You sound like that's a problem. Based on what you've said, she wouldn't have lived a normal life span anyway."
"You don't understand." Kathryn intoned. "She was their first successful prototype and their last hope. It wasn't supposed to be like this. And then I was pulled out by Braxton before I could know for sure if my mission was successful."
He could sense her anguish, but his resentment toward her prevented him from giving her any form of comfort at the moment. He still needed answers.
"So what happens now?"
"I'm not sure if I'll hear from Braxton in a hurry. And I've got..."
"No Kathryn..." He interrupted. "...I meant what happens to us."
"I'm not quite sure." She whispered, her head bowing so she could study the floor. "I need some time to consider this."
"Of course." He turned and headed toward the doors. "I'm staying at the Consulate until the end of the week. Let me know if you need anything."
Kathryn watched him leave in silence, knowing that all she had to do was say the word and he would stay. But she had her duty to consider now. There would be time for everything else later.
She tapped her COMM badge. "Janeway to the Durga. Energize."
The room dissolved around her for a moment, and was replaced by Durga's cargo bay. Governor Bacco was waiting for her next to a shuttle that looked a lot like an Alpha Flyer.
Standing next to her were the familiar faces of Commander Harry Kim and Ensign Joshua Carey.
Kathryn quickly made her way toward them, surprising Harry by pulling him into a hug. By the time they pulled apart, he had recovered, and was smiling down at her. "I'm fine, Admiral. Thanks to some quick thinking by the Durga's transporter chief. If it weren't for him, more lives would have been lost."
She turned toward where Carey stood watching the reunion in awe. This was a side to the legendary Admiral Janeway he was sure he was privileged to see. "Nice to see you again, Admiral."
Kathryn nodded. "Likewise, Ensign."
"Bridge to Admiral Janeway."
She hit her COMM badge. "Go ahead."
"The EMH has been beamed aboard. We're ready for departure."
"Acknowledged. Stand by." She watched Harry and Joshua exit the cargo bay before turning toward Bacco.
"That's my cue to leave." The Governor handed Kathryn a PADD. "It's the duplicate's log entries for the last six months. I thought you might like to be brought up to speed."
She accepted the PADD. "Thank you Etta. Thanks for everything."
She nodded. "I'm sorry about Marshall. I hope you two could work it out after this is over."
Kathryn gave the order to transport the Governor to the surface, and then made her way to the bridge.
"Admiral on deck." Someone announced, and everyone rose to attention.
"As you were." Kathryn moved toward the viewscreen, watching Cestus III as it spun lazily. "Set a course, Captain. For the Devron System."
The Demilitarized Zone
"All stop." Chakotay ordered, rising from his seat. "Onscreen."
When nothing appeared, Chakotay turned toward his ops officer. "Well?"
"It's there, Sir. They're cloaked." His console beeped and he looked down. "They're hailing. Audio only."
"Open a channel."
"This is Captain Chakotay of the Federation Starship Nara. Please identify yourself."
"Chakotay? Sveta, get your ass up here. They sent Chakotay."
Chakotay's brow furrowed as he heard shuffling noises and another familiar voice came over the COMM system.
"Take the cloak offline, and raise the shields, Ro." She ordered. "Put them onscreen."
Chakotay couldn't help but smile. Sveta was always the more cautious one. Their ship shimmered into view but Chakotay didn't get a chance to identify it before his former Maquis comrades and ex-girlfriends came into view.
Ro Laren and Svetlana Korepanova both frowned when they saw him.
"Chakotay you look like hell." Ro exclaimed. "What's her name?"
Chapter 15: Revelations
The Demilitarized Zone
Chakotay briefly scanned the office as he entered. When he had materialized in main engineering moments before, the first thing he noticed was how advanced the technology was. His brief observations before he was quickly ushered into this adjacent room revealed a cornucopia of carefully integrated components; some he had never seen before, and some he was sure looked familiar.
Despite its vast array of modified systems however, there was one thing about this vessel he did recognize without a doubt.
Except for its size - this vessel was significantly smaller - the design was almost identical to Voyager.
"So...a Starfleet Captain..." Sveta moved around the chair where Chakotay was now sitting, eventually taking up a position across from him. "...can't say that it suits you though; you look like you haven't slept since your promotion."
"She's right..." Ro Laren chose that moment to join them. She handed Sveta a PADD, then moved to lean against the desk, settling herself so she could study Chakotay closely. "...although I had no idea you liked redheads."
"Ro..." Sveta warned, her eyes not leaving the PADD she was now studying.
"She was my Captain for seven years, Ro." Chakotay corrected, a little put out by her offhanded comment. He was in no mood for her caustic sense of humor right now. "And she was also my best friend."
"So you never slept with her?" Ro exclaimed, not quite believing that the Chakotay she knew would have passed up the opportunity to bed his eye-catching superior officer. "Not even after you got back from the DQ?"
"Ro..." This time, Sveta looked up. "...they were in command of a lone ‘fleet vessel thousands of light years from home, in an uncharted and sometimes life threatening part of space. It wasn't the Love Boat."
Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Sveta shrugged. "Ro has been bombarding us with artifacts from the twentieth century..." She bent her head, returning to the PADD. "...been driving us crazy for weeks."
Ro should have retorted with a quick witted remark. But something Chakotay had said moments before struck her as odd. "You said that she was your best friend. Did you two have an argument?"
Chakotay looked at her, clearly puzzled, and their lack of empathy toward him so far was testing his patience. "Kathryn was killed in a transporter accident, Ro. We had an argument moments before she was..."
He trailed off and watched as both women abruptly looked at each other, silent communication passing between them for a long moment. He suddenly felt as though he were an outsider, not privy to some well kept secret.
Both turned toward him at the same time.
"Where did you hear that?" Sveta queried, the PADD in her hand now lying on the desk, forgotten.
Chakotay was already distressed; but now he was getting angry. The fact that he hadn't had a decent night's sleep since Kathryn's death wasn't lost on him, and he was fighting to remain even tempered as a result. "I was there when it happened." He almost shouted, his fists clenching. "Like I said, we argued before it hap..."
"Chakotay..." Ro interrupted. "...Kathryn's not dead."
"Come again?" He dared her to repeat her last remark, disbelief and outrage eminent in his words.
"I don't know what Starfleet told you, but she survived that explosion." Sveta leaned forward, pushing the PADD she held earlier toward him. "This is her, less than thirty six hours ago, standing in the garden of the Governor's compound on Cestus III. Sometime after that, she beamed aboard the Durga."
Chakotay stared at the images on the PADD, at a loss for words.
He looked up after a while. "Where did you get this?"
"We were scanning for traces of a substance known as Silver Blood..." Sveta explained, pausing when a look of recognition crossed his features. "You know what it is?"
"I'm surprised that you do." He expressed, clearly taken aback. "It's a substance exclusive only to the Delta Quadrant. I doubt you'll find any except what Voyager managed to bring back. Last I heard it was being kept under tight security at Headquarters."
For the second time, Chakotay felt as though he was clueless. Both women glanced at one another again, and then Sveta nodded to Ro. As before, they both looked at him in unison.
"Spirits..." He threw up his hands in surrender. "...would someone tell me what the hell is going on?"
"We can do better than that, we can show you." Ro tapped her communicator. "Tessa, what's our ETA?"
"We will arrive at the Romulan Neutral Zone in less than six minutes."
"Bring the cloak online and head for the Devron System when you get there."
Chakotay who had leaned forward in pensively while they were speaking, was about to ask about the risks of entering the restricted area when his COMM badge chirped.
"Nara to Captain Chakotay."
Sveta smirked. "Took them long enough to call. No doubt they're wondering where the hell we're headed. Tell them to fall back; they can mask their signature in that gas giant a few parsecs off their port bow. We'll drop you off there when we're done."
"They're not going to like this." Chakotay tapped his COMM badge. "Chakotay here, Commander. There's a gas giant a few parsecs off your port bow. You can mask your signature there until I return."
"Return Sir? Please clarify?"
"I'm remaining on board this vessel and we're heading into the neutral zone."
"You have your orders, Commander. Chakotay out." He closed the connection and turned to face the two women. "So, what now?"
Sveta stood up. "Now we tell you everything."
Sollente Outpost, Outside the Devron System
Tom Paris walked briskly down the corridors of the space station, barely keeping up with the Lieutenant who was currently escorting him to his destination.
At the moment, they were in synchronous orbit with the planet below, but based on the covert nature of this particular Starfleet outpost, they would not remain stationary for long.
When he and B'Elanna had first beamed aboard, they had been instantly separated. B'Elanna had been escorted to another part of the massive ship building facility, the largest free moving, self sustainable structure ever constructed by the Federation to date.
Tom had watched her go; her entire visage awed in anticipation of the possibilities of what she was soon to discover.
He had to admit, when they were summoned to report to ‘fleet Headquarters on the eve of his former commanding officer's memorial service, he couldn't believe Starfleet would be so thoughtless. Surely they would appreciate that he and B'Elanna would not want to miss the opportunity to say their farewells to the woman who had single handedly changed both their lives.
He was even more outraged when they were issued orders to immediately head for this location. At the time, he had no idea the station existed, and was surprised to learn that it was not the only one constructed. Thoughts of protesting were short-lived, though, when his normally hot tempered wife accepted their fate with a calm acquiescence.
"She's gone, Tom..." B'Elanna had taken his hand and squeezed it gently, and he had wanted to cry at the gesture which was so familiar to Janeway's. "...she wouldn't want us to prolong our grief. And she certainly wouldn't appreciate the fuss."
He wished Kathryn Janeway could see them now, marching on despite their inconceivable loss, just like she trained them to.
He wished he could come close to being as strong as he knew she was.
"Sir, the Admiral will be with you shortly."
His escort's voice brought him back to the present, and he looked around, finding himself in a lounge with a spectacular view. Outside the viewport, the Durga moved slowly as it prepared for docking, and he watched as the invisible pilot guided the vessel with impressive precision given a ship it's size.
Absently, Tom wondered which Admiral he was waiting for and he silently practiced the choice words he would use to describe his displeasure at being dragged away from Earth at such an inopportune time.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted another exit, and deciding to kill time exploring until his host arrived, he ventured through the doors.
And stopped short.
His jaw dropped in shock. Before him sat well over a hundred Alpha Flyers.
The entire shuttle bay was abuzz with activity, and he was hardly noticed as engineers of different rank bustled about their duties.
He was just coming to terms with the fact that his hard work over the last few months hadn't crashed and burned with the destruction of the Luna base when a familiar voice sounded behind him.
"I thought you might appreciate this view."
He turned around slowly, as if not trusting himself to see who the owner of that distinctive voice was.
Kathryn Janeway smirked when Tom continued to stare.
"I do believe Commander, that I've managed to render you speechless, yet again."
Chapter 16: The Mission
Sollente, Outside the Devron System
Janeway waved him off. "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
Tom's face fell solemn. "Permission to hug the Admiral."
Kathryn gave him a small smile and whispered. "Permission granted, Commander."
"Don't ever do that again." He husked as he held her tight.
Just when Kathryn thought he would never let her go, he pulled back to look at her again. She grinned. "Feeling better?"
He nodded. "I just wanted to do that in case I never get the chance to again." He gestured toward the shuttles behind them. "Speaking of what I never expected to see again..."
"Admiral Shanthi's philosophy..." Kathryn explained the obvious duplication of the now destroyed Luna Base. "...why build one, when you could build two? Or hundreds in this case."
"Kind of like a ‘plan B' then."
They had been walking through the shuttle bay as they conversed, and now Tom stopped and turned toward her. "So what now?"
"Now, I have a mission to finish." She met his gaze squarely. "Which leads me to the reason why you and B'Elanna are here." She looked around. "Where is B'Elanna?"
In all the excitement with the shuttles and seeing his former Captain again, Tom had completely forgotten that his wife would not know that Janeway was alive. He was about to answer when a loud gasp echoed behind them.
B'Elanna, who had moved quickly in their direction, thumped her husband on his chest before pulling Kathryn into a tight hug. "You're not dead..."
"Well I certainly hope not." Janeway muffled, quickly losing her ability to breathe. "I never imagined encountering Mr. Paris in the afterlife. Or being smothered to death for that matter."
B'Elanna realized her over-zealousness and quickly pulled away, looking apologetic.
Kathryn noticed the worry in her eyes and tried to reassure her. "I'm fine, B'Elanna. Our Doctor gave me a clean bill of health. How do you like the Sollente Base?"
"This place...it's...it's amazing!" She gushed. "Tom...the engines...they're incredible. They've got integrated Borg systems that resembles what we did on Voy..." She paused as realization kicked in. "Come to think of it, most of what I've seen seems rather familiar." She turned toward Janeway. "Admiral?"
Kathryn placed a hand on the young woman's shoulder. "The engineers here on Sollente think you were crazy for trying some of what you did. But they also think you are incredibly brilliant. Everything you've seen on this station was derived from your work on Voyager." As if on cue, the deck plating under their feet started vibrating slightly. "With some notable additions of course."
"Which is...?" Tom questioned as the shaking passed.
"Transwarp." B'Elanna answered, her admiration clearly showing.
An aide approached them. "Admiral, the Durga is ready to depart. All transfer of equipment has been made and the Captain reports that all systems are ready. Sollente's bridge also reports ready to go to transwarp."
Janeway dismissed the aide before addressing her two former officers once again. "It's time for this facility to leave this system, and I have a mission to finish." She pulled out two PADDS containing their orders and handed them over. "Sorry for uprooting you two this soon, but I believe you would be a valuable addition to this mission. That is if you don't mind having me as a CO again."
"Oh...I don't know..." Tom teased, earning a glare from B'Elanna. "...but then again, maybe it's not a bad idea if we keep an eye on you for now."
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Let's do it."
The Devron System
Chakotay looked up from his study of the planet's surface as Sveta called out to him. He snapped his tricorder shut and walked toward where she stood, on the edge of what appeared to be a small abandoned settlement.
For the most part, the planet was M class, but its arid surface and humid atmosphere made habitation near to impossible. It was currently night on this side; the two suns currently scorching their way across the other hemisphere, but that did not make the air any less stifling.
"I'm getting stronger signals from here." Sveta reported, her own modified scanning device beeping as results streamed across the screen. "It's coming from that third building to the left."
Chakotay wiped the sheen of sweat from his brow and watched as Sveta reached up and tapped her COMM badge. Moments later, Ro and three others materialized before them. Two of them - well built, combat ready men - immediately broke away and began scanning the area, moving further away.
Ro winced as the humidity hit her for the first time. "It's hotter here than I expected."
"I was under the impression you'd been here before." Chakotay remarked.
"We have..." Sveta answered. "...but Tessa here is the only one who's been planet side."
Ro had been scanning her surroundings while Sveta spoke, but now she turned back to the remaining group. "Chakotay, this is our resident science officer and ops specialist, Tessa Omond."
"I've followed everything about Voyager since it went missing." Tessa gushed as she took Chakotay's hand. "It's truly an honor to meet you."
"The consummate groupie." Ro added. "You'd swear she was right there in the Delta Quadrant with you."
"We should get moving." Tessa broke her connection with Chakotay, noting his subtle reaction to Ro's comment. "It may be warm now, but the temperature drops suddenly, and we wouldn't want to be caught outside."
"So let me get this straight..." Chakotay commented as they entered the building they'd scanned earlier. "...a few days ago, you were scanning for traces of Silver Blood, which led you to Admiral Janeway..."
"Well, not exactly the Admiral herself..." Ro corrected. "...but it was at her precise location."
"Ok, fine..." He ran a hand through his hair. "...the Admiral's location. You told me before that your search had begun on a planet in the Demilitarized Zone. Remind me...why are we here again?"
"Because what we had located on that planet is no longer there." Chakotay was being deliberately obtuse. Sveta gave him a pointed look before continuing. "Tessa, who was on this planet at the time of our discovery, believes she picked up similar trace readings. She thinks that it was originally constructed here."
"It was." Tessa, who had disappeared earlier on, returned with excitement and anticipation in her step. "And it's here, right now."
The Durga's Ops Officer scanned the data on his console. "Captain, we're picking up a vessel matching the prototype's projected coordinates. It's heading toward us."
The Captain looked up at the view screen. "The Nara?"
"Still maintaining its position in the gas cloud. The interference is preventing us from contacting them." A beeping noise sounded from his console. "The prototype is hailing us."
"On screen." The Captain ordered as he rose from his seat.
"Captain." Ro Laren gave him a curt nod before she continued. "We've been expecting you. Is the Admiral aboard?"
"I'm right here." Janeway, who had already been summoned by Durga's Captain, stepped off the turbolift and moved to stand next to him. "Just as you requested. I'm told that Captain Chakotay is with you."
"He's still on the planet." She confirmed. "I'm advising that you beam aboard, Admiral. It's not a good idea for your ship to remain in this part of space for long. Despite their losses from the war, there are still a few Romulan warbirds patrolling."
"Admiral..." Durga's Captain turned to face her. "...surely you're not considering..."
Kathryn held up a hand. "I'm well aware of the risks, Captain. But I made a commitment to follow this through. And I intend to do just that."
"Mind if I tag along, Admiral?" Tom Paris, who had been silently observing, stepped into view.
"Well if it isn't the prodigal son." Ro greeted the Commander as he came face to face with her.
"Ro Laren..." Tom greeted. "...can't say I'm surprised to see you. To see you and Sveta teamed up though...now that's a surprise."
Ro smiled slightly. "I have to admit, when they told me that Janeway finally tamed the son of Admiral Paris, I didn't believe it. But now, here you are...in full Starfleet glory, no less. Tell me Tom, does the uniform still itch you between the..."
Durga's Captain cleared his throat loudly, but it was Janeway's death glare that silenced her.
"Mr. Paris and I will be beaming aboard." She all but ordered. "The Durga will remain on the edge of the neutral zone. Is this acceptable to you?"
"I have no objections, Admiral." Ro nodded, still smirking from her remarks. "Prepare for transport. Energize."
When they materialized on the prototype's bridge, Kathryn took in her surroundings. Tom's low whistle confirmed what she was seeing; that most of the technology here was not widely used but was incredibly advanced. She couldn't help but think that she could have used some of this technology when they were in the Delta Quadrant.
She met Tom's gaze and raised an elegant eyebrow. "Well, does it?"
Tom looked confused. "Does what?"
"Does it still itch?" She smirked.
Now this was the side of Kathryn Janeway that Tom rarely got to see, and he was going to take full advantage of it.
He took a breath and opened his mouth to answer, exuding nothing but confidence in his response.
"Admiral..." Ro greeted them, and Kathryn almost laughed out loud at the look on his face at being interrupted from what was sure to be an epic answer to her question.
"...Commander..." Ro glanced between the two ‘fleet officers knowingly, before she continued. "...welcome aboard."
Sveta closed the heavy door hard behind her, stopping to dust off the snow from her coat. "It's really coming down out there." She shivered. "I almost didn't make contact with the ship."
"The Admiral?" Chakotay asked, his outward calm belying his inner anxiety at seeing her again.
"She's aboard." Sveta nodded. "Tessa wasn't joking about the sudden change of weather. Did she have any luck in pinpointing what's causing the interference to our COMM system?"
"No luck yet. You'll have to go outside to establish a COMM channel until she figures this out."
"Where is Tessa?"
"Her tricorder picked up schematics of a bunker below us. She went down to check it out. I was about to go looking for her."
"I'll go." Sveta offered. "You could wait here for the others. I know you're anxious to see the Admiral again."
She started to walk away but changed her mind. "I wanted to apologize for Ro's earlier comments about you and the Admiral. She could be a bit...insensitive sometimes." She smiled. "But you already know that."
Chakotay tugged at his ear, before returning her smile. "Yes, I'm aware. But thanks for the apology anyway. Even though it wasn't necessary."
"So...just out of curiosity..." Sveta couldn't help but enquire. "...what is the deal between you and the Admiral?"
"Let's just say that it's...complicated. And leave it at that."
Sveta could tell that Chakotay would not be any more forthcoming about the subject. "I should go and find Tessa."
After she left, Chakotay could not help but reflect on the nature of his and Kathryn's relationship. What had started out over seven years ago as an uneasy alliance had evolved first into a cautious solidarity for the sakes of their crew. Then a slow understanding developed which led to the beginnings of a bond Chakotay had never before experienced.
He couldn't describe it as just friendship; it was so much more. And it cemented itself during their stay on New Earth.
Chakotay exhaled heavily.
If there was one experience he both wanted to remember forever and at the same time forget indefinitely, New Earth was it.
The sound of the heavy doors opening broke his reverie. Ro stumbled in first; followed by Kathryn. To Chakotay's surprise, Tom entered behind them.
Tom was busy shutting the door behind them and the women were preoccupied shaking off the snow that covered them, so they didn't notice Chakotay standing there.
Ro looked up first. "I expected more of a welcome party. Where is everyone?"
"Tessa found an underground bunker and they went to investigate."
At the sound of his voice, Kathryn froze.
The last time she had heard his voice was at the welcome home ball over ten months ago. Turning slowly she came face to face with him. "Hello Chakotay."
"It's been awhile."
He frowned in confusion. Nobody mentioned that she'd suffered amnesia as a result of the accident. "It's only been a few days. The Admiral's ball, remember? I thought you were..."
Realization dawned and she remembered her duplicate's interaction with him. Cursing herself for the misstep, she opened her mouth to explain.
And immediately ducked as phaser fire whizzed past her from behind.
What ensued was the sound of heavy phaser fire and a lot of shouting as the sound of the others returning to the source of the firefight followed.
"Hold your fire!"
"Admiral get down!"
"What the hell?!"
"Paris don't even..."
The smell of energy weapons permeated the air as silence descended. It only lasted a few seconds but as the residual air of phaser fire cleared it was clear that considerable damage was done.
Tom and Kathryn were both pointing their weapons at Ro, who had taken up position over Chakotay's prone form, both hands wrapped around her phaser, which was still trained on him. Sveta was pointing her weapon at Tom, and one of the two male escorts had his own weapon trained directly at Janeway. The other escort laid face down, the only casualty, thanks to a well timed shot by Tom.
"Ro, what the hell?" Paris shouted, absently noticing that Janeway made it a point not to look down at Chakotay. "What have you done?"
"I suspected all along..." She breathed. "...but I only knew for sure when he mentioned the Admiral's ball."
"Suspected what?" Janeway ground out.
"Look at him Admiral." Ro met her eyes for the first time. "Look at him."
Nobody moved. Keeping her phaser on Ro, Kathryn looked down at Chakotay.
"Damn you Ro." Sveta uttered another string of expletives that gave the translators a hard time to decipher. "You could have waited."
"Waited for what?" Ro shouted back. "We knew what he was the minute the scanners picked him up on the Nara."
"No we didn't." She hissed. "We thought he was carrying the liquid, not made from it!"
"That's enough you two." Tom ordered, wincing at the slight injury on his left shoulder. "Now, let's all play nice kids. Lower your weapons slowly and we'll all pretend that we didn't just try to kill each other."
Kathryn ignored them all as she stared. A gaping hole was where Chakotay's chest should have been. But instead of blood, Kathryn watched in horror as a silvery liquid oozed from the wound. "He's..."
"Not your Chakotay." Ro finished for her as she lowered her hands. "He's a duplicate."
He moved with both grace and stature, earning a pause of acknowledgement from those he passed. No one dared stop him; the look on his face promising dire consequences if they did.
Days before, when he walked this same corridor he carried a PADD with specific instructions. Now that the mission was executed, his new task was to deal with those who failed to carry out the instructions.
At the end of the long corridor, two guards dressed in all black and fully armed were posted in front of the large old fashioned ironwood doors. They snapped to attention as he approached, wasting no time in pulling the doors open, allowing him admittance into the room beyond.
This time, the room was deserted save a lone figure bound to a chair, the only piece of furniture in the otherwise empty room. He was stripped naked from the waist up, his visible skin clearly showing the marks of torture.
He moved directly toward the semi unconscious man. Coming to a halt mere inches away, he wasted no time with greetings, salutations, or introductory remarks.
"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges."
The man slowly raised his head, ignoring the shards of pain that wracked his body to perform that small action. "The war is long over." He rasped painfully.
"That is where you are wrong. It will never be over." He replied. "Why do you resist? You must be in extreme pain. Just tell us what we need to know."
The injured man opened his mouth to speak, blood sliding down his chin. He beckoned the man closer.
The man leaned in.
"Go to hell."
The man straightened a menacing smile on his face. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a small remote device.
"Not before you, Chakotay."
Chakotay's screams could be heard echoing down the long corridor.
Chapter 17: To The Rescue
The Devron System
"Let me look at that injury, Admiral."
Janeway, who was hunched over a console, waved him off. "Later Tom. I'm getting close."
"I can't stand here and do nothing while you bleed to death, you know."
She looked up for a split second. "I'm hardly ‘bleeding to death' Mr. Paris. If you want to do something, get me a cup of coffee. Black."
"Chakotay is somewhere out there, Tom." She cut him off, not stopping her work on the console. "We have no idea when he was duplicated and replaced. But we were led here and I believe that whatever we find here will lead us to him. And I will find him. I'll be damned if I lose a precious moment just to tend to a paper cut."
"It's hardly a paper cut, Admiral." He argued. "You were hit by phaser fire. At least let me..."
The console suddenly lit up. "Here we go!" Kathryn exclaimed, now ignoring Tom completely while she entered commands, smiling in satisfaction at the sound of power coming on as other consoles and panels lit up the bunker.
Tessa returned to the room having realized Janeway's success. "You did it, Admiral. The entire bunker is now active." She placed a modified tricorder on top of the console. "Now let's see what we have here."
She entered some commands, cursing as her access was restricted, but eventually she made a breakthrough. Two large shuttle bay doors behind them started to open slowly.
Kathryn and Tom started moving toward the opening doors, but they stopped when Kathryn's tricorder started alarming.
"Damn! Shut those doors, now!" Janeway ordered. She hurried back toward the console where Tessa's fingers worked feverishly across the console. The doors immediately closed.
"What's wrong?" Tom asked.
"I'm getting high readings of thalaron radiation."
"Thalaron?" Tessa exclaimed in disbelief as Janeway moved to join her at the console. "Is that what this is?"
"Shut everything down." Sveta and Ro entered, followed closely by their two bouncers - as Tom called them. "We have to leave now. We've got company."
It manifested in different forms, his body threatening to permanently shut down as a result.
He frequently slipped in and out of consciousness, and each moment of wakefulness made him wish for oblivion once again. He tried to determine how long he had been held prisoner in this room. Hours? Days? His bouts of unconsciousness made it difficult for him to tell.
His captors wanted details of things he was completely unaware of; and considering that they had chosen to take him when they did, he was nonplussed at their motives.
"Who were your Maquis contacts?" The man from earlier questioned again.
"I don't know." He hissed. He was getting tired of this. "Maybe you should have actually let me meet them before you..."
"Admiral Janeway..." The man continued. "...where is she?"
"She's dead." Chakotay muttered.
"That's what the Federation thinks."
Chakotay's stopped breathing momentarily. This was new.
His captor smiled in realization. "But you didn't know that, did you?"
"Not likely." A new voice joined the conversation. "He was already here, with us, when she rejoined the living."
Despite the pain he was in, Chakotay thought he recognized that voice. In fact, when he focused his eye that wasn't swollen shut, he watched as the figure stepped out of the shadows in that familiar walk he had come to know well. The effort he had taken to raise his head failed him and his gaze dropped from the man he had called his friend and colleague at Oxford for almost a year.
"Hello Jack." He whispered.
"Chakotay..." Jack Grayson moved slowly around his captive. "...I see you and Aleksandr here have become well acquainted." He stopped next to Earth Spacedock's current security chief.
Commander Ivanov snorted. "I've had the pleasure of working with your former Captain these last few months. An intriguing woman. But I imagine you already know that."
Chakotay knew that they were trying to get a rise out of him but he had no intention of taking the bait. "It must be frustrating how she has managed to elude you."
Jack, who had been pacing again stopped where he was and placed his two gloved hands on Chakotay's bare shoulders. Leaning forward, he whispered in his ear from behind. "Oh we will find her."
Chakotay's shoulders shook in demented, almost delirious amusement.
"Not if she finds you first."
Somewhere near the Neutral Zone
Janeway stood on the Durga's bridge, facing the viewscreen before her. "Where are you headed now?"
From her location on the prototype vessel, Sveta tilted her head to one side. "You know we can't tell you that, Admiral."
Ro leaned into the viewscreen. "You know the saying, Admiral. If we tell you, we'll have to kill you."
Janeway's hand rose to her hip, one corner of her mouth quirking up into a semi smile, purposely ignoring the alarmed look she was getting from the Durga's Captain. "Can't blame me for trying."
Sveta shook her head in amusement. She really liked this woman. Given enough time, and the right circumstances, she was sure they would have become great friends. "I could see why you and Chakotay would have hit it off." Her smile faded. "Find him and bring him home, Admiral."
The signal cut and Janeway sighed.
"The prototype is moving out of range, Admiral." The Durga's Captain reported. "They're going to warp."
"Notify the Nara of our new coordinates. Set a course."
Janeway nodded and stepped off the bridge. She was making her way down the corridor when a voice called out behind her.
"Admiral!" B'Elanna jogged up to her. "I was just coming to find you."
"Have you found anything new?"
She nodded as she handed Janeway a PADD. "There was a thalaron generator in that bunker."
Kathryn's eyes widened. "Powering what?"
B'Elanna nodded toward the PADD in her hand. "It's all there, the specs, engine design, weapons systems. It's some sort of a warship."
B'Elanna shook her head slowly. "Romulan. There's more."
Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose. "Go on."
"It seems that they were experimenting with cloning technology. Tom and Harry are on the Nara now going through the data."
"Bridge to Janeway."
She opened the channel. "Go ahead."
"Admiral, the Nara is hailing. It's Commander Paris."
"Patch him through." Kathryn raised a curious eyebrow at B'Elanna while they waited for the connection to be made.
"Admiral..." Tom's anxiety showed in his voice, which peaked their interest further. "...you're not going to believe what we've found. I suggest we change course and head back to Earth."
"Back to Earth? Tom, what's going on?"
"Harry and I think we know where Chakotay is."
Chapter 18: The Rescue
Admiral Taela Shanthi looked up as her aide entered. She couldn't help but notice that he looked pale with shock. "What is it?"
He hesitated. "You have an incoming communication on a secure priority channel. It's...Admiral Janeway."
Shanthi blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
"She's aboard the Durga, Ma'am."
"Kathryn?" Shanthi stared at the screen disbelievingly when the connection was established. "But the reports..."
"Really Admiral..." Kathryn smirked. "...I thought you got your information from the Federation Star. They reported that I was alive and well and vacationing on Risa. They had no idea how close they were."
"How close they were to what?"
"It'll all be in my report, Admiral." Janeway interjected. "But we have some more urgent matters to attend to I'm afraid. I have some information that I'm sending to you now." She signaled to someone off screen.
Shanthi acknowledged receipt of the information and took the opportunity to scan through some of it. She looked up in surprise. "Are you sure about this?"
She gave a curt nod. "As sure as I'll ever be."
"If what I am seeing here is accurate, you have just achieved the impossible. "Again."
"I'm afraid I can't take full credit for that, Admiral. I had some help."
Shanthi gave her a knowing look. "So Captain Chakotay was successful, then."
"Kathryn..." Shanthi frowned. "...what is it?"
Exactly twenty minutes later, the Fleet Admiral stepped into her command center. A massive newly constructed multi-level structure, it was built into a subterranean rupture, formed in the earth by a Breen energy weapon during their attack on the planet years before.
Presently, it was a hive of activity and the Commander of Starfleet was about to increase the momentum.
Admiral Marshall Stark looked up when she entered, one of the first to notice her arrival, not to mention the determined look on her face.
"Admiral?" He greeted as she approached, a question in his voice.
He was curious and at the same time wary; the Fleet Admiral had abruptly summoned him away from Paris where he had escorted Governor Nanietta Bacco - head of the Cestus System - to an emergency session of the Federation Council membership. President Zife was scheduled to address them; and the event was to be broadcast across the Federation.
She wasted no time with salutations. "Kathryn Janeway is alive." She observed his reaction. "But I will hazard a guess that you already knew that."
"Admiral..." He began, but she silenced him with a glare.
"I just spoke with her over the COMM. She told me everything." Her gaze softened, but only slightly. "If we both survive this, with our lives and careers intact, I will decide on an appropriate punishment for you. In the mean time...there has been a change of plans. I need you to ensure that everything is in place, as we discussed."
"Consider it done, Admiral." He nodded, immediately realizing the meaning of her words. "But if I may...what has changed?"
Shanthi gazed across the room at her staff, numbering in the dozens, working feverishly as they communicated with her fleet across the quadrant.
He was standing on the shore, facing the waves as they rolled in. To his left, the beach seemed to go on forever. To his right, a tree lined forest beckoned. The ocean was rough; a consequence of some bad weather occurring in the distance which seemed to envelop the horizon.
The wind was picking up, bringing the promise of rain, and in the distance the thunder rolled, in counterpoint to the lightening that preceded it.
His rapt attention was drawn away by a flurry of movement and he turned and faced the beach. From a distance, an animal he could not yet recognize swiftly moved in his direction. Behind it, a familiar figure moved in slow, measured steps toward him.
Both moved closer, and he could see the animal clearly now.
His spirit guide.
Was he dead?
He jumped as laughter sounded behind him and he turned around and came face to face with...
The old man had stopped laughing, but his smile lingered. "The spirits aren't ready for you yet, my son, you're not finished."
The animal brushed his body against his leg and he looked down. He rubbed his hand against its head, and looked up again.
The old man had disappeared.
Instead, he came face to face with Jack Grayson as reality slammed into him. Someone was screaming and after a few moments, he realized that it was him.
"Where is she, Captain?!" Grayson was losing his patience. He grasped his jaw with one hand and squeezed as he bent closer. "Where is Janeway?!"
Chakotay grunted, his nerve endings burning like fire throughout his tortured body. With all the energy he could muster, he whispered.
Palais de la Concorde
President Min Zife stood behind the doors that led to the chamber which seated the Federation council. He knew from the various aides and security that lined the hallway as he passed, that the room was filled to capacity.
It was going to be his first address to the council since the attacks.
And it was going to be a turning point in his turbulent political career.
The massive chamber doors slid ceremoniously open and the sounds from within the soundproofed chamber assaulted him. Still, he stepped forward confidently, ignoring, yet reveling in the attention he was receiving from the press, their holocameras recording the moment for history.
As he predicted, the room was packed to capacity. Slowly, as its occupants became aware of his entrance, they rose to their feet; a sign of respect for the position of the leader of the United Federation of Planets. He moved toward the seat of power, influence and authority, stopping - not for the first time - to admire its intricate design. Standing at the podium beside it, he waited as a hush slowly consumed the chamber.
The lights in the chamber dimmed; and his blue skin seemed to shimmer in the spotlight which now focused on him.
In the eerie silence, Zife began to speak.
"Four days ago, our peace was once again placed under threat, and the resilience of our membership tested..." He shifted slightly from one foot to another, his gaze not leaving those he addressed.
Just outside the chamber, Admiral William Ross was studying a PADD containing classified information and orders handed down by the CinC herself. Standing next to him to his right, Admiral Owen Paris busily communicated with the heads of the security teams, who were preparing to make their own history.
The forcible removal of a sitting President.
To Ross' left, Admiral Marshall Stark stood on the wings of history itself, observing the scene as it enfolded before him, the future Presidency about to be placed squarely in his hands.
Across multiple cities on multiple planets across the Federation, the largest single military exercise in its history was currently underway.
The takedown and dismantling of Section 31.
With information supplied by Admiral Kathryn Janeway from data retrieved on a distant planet in the Neutral Zone, Admiral Taela Shanthi, Starfleet's Commander in Chief, coordinated the most intricate and intrepid mission ever executed. Done right, no one would ever again question the might of the Federation.
Or of a woman's ability to stand at the helm.
Far above Earth's surface, the Durga and the Nara orbited, their respective cloaks shielding them from detection, the element of surprise in their sole possession.
Aboard the Durga, Admiral Kathryn Janeway stood resolute, watching a live feed of the President's address, the increased activity on the bridge around her harmonizing the melody of her own thoughts.
The Durga's Captain touched her arm, and she realized that he had called her more than once.
"The Ranger team reports that they have effectively neutralized the enemy. They're outside the doors to the room where they're holding Captain Chakotay as we speak. It's a heavily shielded area, resistant to sensors and transporters, but they're sure he's in there."
"Tell them to hold their position, I'm heading down there. I'll be leading the assault myself."
"But Admiral..." The Captain began what was sure to be a litany of Starfleet protocols condemning what she intended to do.
Janeway held up a hand to silence him.
"Why are you doing this?" Chakotay mumbled softly, and Jack had to lean in close to hear him.
"Do you remember when you told me that you thought Janeway was responsible for you not getting the position at the Academy? Well, it's true when I said that she had nothing to do with it. What she didn't tell you though was that she knew the reasons why. You see Chakotay, ten months ago, your former Captain had a meeting with someone from your recent past." He smirked. "Or is it distant future? Temporal mechanics always confuse me."
Chakotay flinched. "Braxton."
"That's right." Jack leaned in closer. "I could tell you all this because I have no intention of letting you live. It seems Chakotay that you and the Admiral are at the center of some significant future event. Something that will change the Federation forever, and completely sidetrack our mission. We can't allow that to happen. Now..." He held up the device for Chakotay to see, his finger poised over the main control button. "...where is Janeway?"
Janeway crouched before the large doors, pressed against its rough surface. Surrounding her, six Rangers waited for her orders.
"Admiral..." The Ranger huddled across from her whispered, handing her a compression phaser rifle. "...for your protection. I understand it's your weapon of choice."
"Let's hope we can settle this without me having to use it."
"We still haven't been able to penetrate the shielding..." Another one spoke softly from behind her. "...we'll have to go in blind."
Janeway nodded brusquely, signaling for them to move in.
The doors swung open behind him but Jack Grayson didn't turn around, his gaze fixed on his prisoner. "I said that I didn't want to be disturbed."
"That's too bad..." She watched him swing around in shock at the sound of her voice before she leveled the business end of an energy weapon at his forehead. "...Hello, Professor."
Janeway paced the empty room they had just stormed. "Somebody tell me what the hell is going on." She growled. "And where the hell is Captain Chakotay?!"
Chapter 19: In The End
Jack leaned closer fearlessly; causing the phaser she held to press harder into his forehead. "Lieutenant Carrington Bell..." He sneered, not breaking the visual hold he had on her. "...can't say that I'm surprised."
Carrie matched him stare for stare. "Slowly Professor, you are going to hand me the device. Then you are going to help me carry Captain Chakotay out of here."
"Sorry, Lieutenant...I can't do that. Nobody leaves this room alive." He smirked. "Except for me, of course."
"It's over Jack, give me the device."
"It's set to emit a massive energy surge throughout his body. Shoot me, and Chakotay here is as good as dead."
"Carrie?" Chakotay groaned. "Is that you? But how...?"
"I'm here, Captain."Carrie kept her gaze on Grayson. "We're getting out of here soon."
"I'm curious, Lieutenant..." Jack took a step forward, causing her to move back slightly, the phaser still pressed to his forehead. "...how did you find me?"
"Commander Ivanov's request to move Voyager to a more secure location when it wasn't necessary rang a few alarm bells." She answered, tightening her grip on the phaser. "You also have a knack for hiding in plain sight."
"Very good!" Jack exclaimed. "At the time though, when Aleksandr came up with the idea, I thought it was brilliant."
"The device, Professor. Now."
"Come on, Carrie..." Jack smiled sardonically. "...what do you say we take the time to get to know each other better? We have been playing this cat and mouse game for...what? Two years?"
"Professor..." Bell started to reprimand him but he started moving back, away from her. "...stay where you are." She ordered.
Jack raised both arms in surrender, but he kept moving back until he was standing behind a semi-conscious Chakotay. He grasped the hair on his head and tugged hard until Chakotay was looking at Carrie.
"I have a confession to make, Chakotay." He hissed close to his ear. "The Admiral's Ball wasn't the first time Carrie and I met. In fact, you could say that we have crossed timelines more often than I could count. Look at her Chakotay..." He growled. "...doesn't she seem familiar to you somehow?"
"That's enough, Jack." Carrie warned.
He ignored her. "The dark hair, piercing blue eyes, the high cheekbones...I'll give you a hint, Captain. She's from about twenty five years into the future."
Carrie noticed the change in Chakotay's features as recognition dawned.
"You're Kathryn's daughter?"
"You're half correct, my friend." Jack whispered in his ear. "She's yours too."
Janeway tapped her COMM badge with barely constrained impatience. "Harry, I need answers. You said that this was the location."
She was standing in the deserted room of a secluded warehouse, watching the Rangers scan for the power source that controlled the building's shielding.
"All the data we had pointed to that location, Admiral. He's supposed to be there."
"And yet, I'm standing in an empty warehouse...." She paused as the Commander approached.
"Admiral, we have disabled the shielding, it's..."
"Admiral..." Harry's voice cut in with urgency. "...I'm picking up a massive energy surge; you need to get out of..."
Harry didn't have time to finish as the building exploded in a sea of bright light, seen clearly from the Nara's and Durga's cloaked positions in orbit.
The Durga's Captain turned around to face his ops officer. "Do we have them Lieutenant?"
The ops officer shook his head slowly. "All except Admiral Janeway, Sir."
A COMM channel came to life. "Paris to the Durga. We've got the Admiral, Sir."
The Captain exhaled a breath he didn't know he was holding. He made a mental note to shake Chakotay's hand when this was over. Having Janeway as a C.O. and living to tell the tale was apparently no easy task.
"Patch her through." He ordered.
Paris hesitated. "I'm sorry Sir. She has already left she ship. She took one of the Alpha flyers and ordered COMM silence. We can't raise her."
He looked around at his ops officer who nodded in confirmation. "And you let her go alone?"
"Not exactly." Paris responded. "She took The Doctor with her."
Sitting in a cloaked Alpha Flyer, Janeway fiddled with The Doctor's emitter on his left upper arm, cursing softly as a miscalculation made his form fizzle out of view.
"Be careful!" The Doctor warned her when he re-materialized. "Commander Torres warned that this was delicate work. Maybe we should..."
"Shut up, Doctor."
She squeezed his shoulder when she was done, coming around to face him full on. "Not bad." She mused, looking him up and down. "Now, say something."
"A minute ago you wanted me to shut..." He paused when he realized he sounded like her.
Kathryn smirked and gestured a nearby control panel. "Take a look."
The Doctor leaned forward and gasped at the image of two Kathryn Janeways reflecting back at him. "Nice work, Admiral."
"You remember what you have to do?" She asked, stripping out of her uniform jacket and turtleneck in favor of a darker color ribbed combat pullover.
"I happen to have a very good memory, if I may say so."
"I'm aware of that." Kathryn paused what she was doing to look at him. "Just don't embellish. Try to behave as I would under the circumstances."
"I'm a doctor, not an award winning actor."
"Just do your best, Doctor." She picked up her compression phaser rifle and moved past him, calling to the computer to initiate transport. She turned to face The Doctor as the blue light enveloped them both. "See you soon."
"A daughter..." Chakotay whispered in wonder. Then he laughed hysterically, startling Jack and Carrie with the sudden erratic outburst. "...She may be Kathryn's daughter, Jack, but she's no more my daughter than she is yours."
Jack recovered quickly. "What are you talking about? You're delirious, Chakotay. I was there when Carrington Janeway was born. I was there when she married the great grandson of the legendary Gabriel Bell. You were at Kathryn's side for it all. This isn't the only timeline we were great friends, Professor."
"You're not my friend..." Chakotay paused as a coughing fit wracked his injured body. "...in any timeline. And I'm not her father."
"You seem pretty sure." Jack tightened his hold in Chakotay's hair when he seemed to weaken further with the effort to speak. "How is that?"
"Because..." Chakotay tried to laugh, but ended up coughing instead. "...a virus we both caught on a distant planet called New Earth made sure we couldn't have a child together."
"He's right, Jack." Carrie, who had been silent throughout the exchange, moved forward, her weapon still trained on him. "Chakotay kept his promise to remain at Kathryn's side, but they never became a couple. There were only three people who were aware of this before I was born. You weren't one of them."
Jack looked at her strangely. "But you..."
"Your pursuit to prevent my birth has resulted in multiple temporal incursions." She explained. "We have no way of knowing who my father was...or will be in this timeline."
"It doesn't matter." Jack finally released his grasp on Chakotay, causing him to slump forward. "If you found me, it means that Janeway isn't far behind. If I can eliminate her..."
"I can't allow that to happen, Jack." Carrie was moving forward now. "There's a reason why she has to remain alive. And it's far bigger than giving birth to me."
"Janeway to Torres."
"Oh thank Kahless! Are you alright, Admiral?"
"I'm aboard Voyager now. Report."
"The Doctor is in position. Sensors are picking up energy spikes, but we've still got a lock on him. So far everything is going according to plan. Tom is with me and we are on our way to one of the Alpha Flyers now. We'll be ready to go in a few minutes."
"Tom here, Admiral. The mole is in the Durga's Brig. I don't have to tell you, the Captain isn't pleased at the moment with your lack of communication."
"He'll get over it, Mr. Pa...is. I'm on...way...to...hol...deck..."
Kathryn closed the channel and pulled out her tricorder. Sure enough, the interference was being caused by the unusual shielding erected around the holodeck.
She was right where she wanted to be.
Someone grabbed her from behind and she let the tricorder slip from her grasp.
"Easy, Admiral..." Commander Ivanov held her firmly as she struggled to break his grasp. "Jack has bigger plans for you, but I will kill you if I have to."
She stilled. "Jack Grayson? Chakotay's friend?"
"You didn't know?" Aleksandr huffed. "Tell me you didn't think that Zife was behind all this." When she didn't respond, he continued. "Zife was a willing patron, content to keep his hands clean while we did all the dirty work."
He dragged her toward a nearby panel, and Janeway watched as he keyed in an override that would temporarily drop the shielding. The computer chirped. "Override active for ten seconds...nine..."
"Come along, Admiral..." Ivanov ordered as he moved her through the holodeck doors. "Your destiny awaits."
The chamber almost seemed to vibrate with the thunderous applause as everyone rose to their feet. President Min Zife raised his hands to silence his audience and had to wait until everyone had returned to their seats before continuing.
"This is the dawn of a new era." He announced. "No longer will we be at war. We will gain more allies and together we will grow and strengthen. We will once again emerge..." He paused slightly as he observed movement in his peripheral vision. "...emerge as a formidable..." He paused again.
Anxious murmurs from those in attendance started making its way around. Everyone started noticing the gradual yet subtle appearance of Starfleet security officers, as they took up positions in the great chamber.
Zife cleared his throat and prepared to continue.
Out of the shadows, Zife recognized Admiral Ross as he stepped forward. He watched as his aide intercepted him, no doubt to enquire as to the reasons for their appearance.
By now, they had captured everyone's interest, and Zife made no further attempt to continue his address. The volume level increased as Zife left his position, making his way slowly toward where Ross waited.
"Admiral? What is the meaning of this?"
"Sir, you need to come with us now." Ross explained softly. "We have reason to believe that this location is under threat."
Zife looked around. Security had already begun to evacuate the chamber. "That's impossible! Where did you get your information?"
Ross spoke in calm tones, his expression giving nothing away. "We can do it this way, Mr. President, without attracting any more attention, or you could face a public removal from office."
"I...I beg your pardon?!" He was clearly outraged. "On what grounds?!"
"Treason Sir. For starters. There's always the matter of breaking the Temporal Prime Directive, not to mention your breaching of about a dozen General Orders."
"You have no evidence!" He postured. "Do this, and I will have you court martialed!"
"We have all the evidence we need, Mr. President."
Both men turned at the sound of the voice and watched as the familiar figure entered; the last of the Council and press exiting before the doors closed behind them.
Zife spoke first, surprise laced with contempt in his voice.
"Janeway. You're supposed to be dead."
"That's what you wanted everyone to believe." Janeway sauntered toward him. "And I would have been if it wasn't for the quick thinking of my former chief engineer. Nice touch, though, putting a mole as ops officer on the Durga."
Ross interjected. "I guess trust is hard to come by, isn't it? You were afraid that Section 31 would use the information on the planet to blackmail you to serve them instead of the other way around."
Zife smiled and glanced toward his aide who nodded at him in confirmation of something. "You'll never be able to prove any of this. My ‘mole' as you call him has already erased both databases of the Nara and the Durga. He'll also be setting both their self destruct sequences."
"Oh he succeeded in erasing the databases..." Janeway paused at his look of triumph. "...but we were able to apprehend him before he took any more lives."
"And who Admiral Janeway, will save your life?"
Zife stepped back as his aide leveled a phaser at Janeway's head.
Janeway didn't flinch. "It's over, Zife."
"That's where you are wrong." He stepped back further. "It will never be over." He turned toward his aide. "Kill her."
The aide lowered his phaser toward her heart and fired.
The Doctor's holographic matrix shimmered slightly at the impact of the energy weapon, but maintained Admiral Janeway's form.
"Don't you hate it when that happens?" The hologram moved forward, until he invaded Zife's personal space. "When you think you have the upper hand, only to realize that someone else is holding all the cards. You see, Mr. President, the data wasn't saved on the ship's databases you erased. It was saved in my memory and then transferred to a secure location. You'll have your day in court, after all."
"Clever woman, that Kathryn Janeway. If I have one regret, it's that I never had the opportunity to get to know her better. But like you, I'm just a tool, an instrument used in the furtherance of a much bigger plan."
Without further warning, he disappeared in a shimmer of light.
"Enough of this..." Jack hissed impatiently, his hand that held the device rising. "...we're at a stalemate here. One of us has to give in, and just so you know, it's not going to be me."
"I'm not conceding, Jack." Carrie confirmed her words by inching closer, prepared to fire. "I would really like to avoid any further incursions into the timeline, but..."
"I wouldn't do that if I were you..." Ivanov pushed Janeway forward and away from him, giving him more room to train his weapon on her.
Kathryn turned back to glare at him, but quickly refocused her attention on the man bound to the chair, unconscious. "Chakotay..." She breathed. Then she looked up at the other woman present. "Carrie?"
"While I would love to bear witness to this historic reunion..." Jack quickly moved toward Janeway. "Kathryn and I have somewhere we need to be. Computer, energize."
He grabbed her by her upper arm, quickly tossing the device toward Carrie.
Carrie reached out to catch the device, and could do nothing to avoid the blue shimmer of the transporter beam that enveloped Kathryn and Jack. In her side vision, as if in slow motion, she could see Ivanov turning to aim his weapon at her.
Without a moment's hesitation, she pointed at him and fired.
Before he hit the floor, an explosion ripped open a wall of the holodeck, throwing her and Chakotay halfway across the room.
"Chakotay!" Carrie called out to him, coughing from smoke inhalation as the ship's fire suppression systems kicked in.
It was pitch black, but Carrie would make out her distinctive voice anywhere.
"Over here Carrie." Janeway called out. "The explosion interrupted the transport before we could beam out."
Emergency lighting bathed the room in an eerie glow, and Carrie could see Kathryn hunched over Chakotay's still form.
And Jack Grayson step out of the residual darkness behind her, phaser in hand, preparing to fire.
Chapter 20: Fata Morgana
"Don't do it Jack."
He looked at her moving toward him, suddenly irritated. He was becoming tired of their little game. "And why shouldn't I, Carrie!" He hissed; his weapon remaining fixed on Janeway.
Kathryn turned at the sound of his voice, momentarily alarmed that he had crept up behind her without her knowing. She wanted to stand up and face him, challenge his authority over whether she lived or died, but she remained where she was, uncertain if any sudden movements would alarm him and cause him to fire at her.
More importantly, she needed to remain close to Chakotay, in order to monitor his condition. Her hand was resting on his chest, and she could feel his shallow breathing beneath her palm.
They were running out of time.
Something was wrong.
They should have been able to transport out by now.
"Can't you see, Carrie?" Jack was still talking, as if he knew they weren't going anywhere. "Her demise would alter history, the likes of which humanity will never see if she remains alive to interfere."
"Haven't you done enough!" Carrie pleaded with him, aware that they needed to buy time at this point, until they could be rescued. "You can stop this...just listen to me...Jack!"
Jack reached downward, dragging Kathryn to her feet. Pulling her up against him, he slowly dragged his weapon up her body. "I had so much planned for you, Kathryn...but this will have to..."
Carrie could feel the familiar tingle of a transporter beam around her as she watched Kathryn and Chakotay dematerialize before Jack's surprised and helpless form.
"We have them Commander." The Doctor rushed toward Chakotay, and two medics helped him lift the unconscious Captain to a biobed.
"Acknowledged. I'm on my way. Kim out."
Carrie exhaled a breath she didn't know she had been holding, but the relief was short lived, as a wave of dizziness overcame her.
The Doctor paused in his treatment of Chakotay to briefly look Janeway over. "Admiral, are you...?"
"I'm fine, Doctor." She lied. She was uninjured, but she was more shaken up than she cared to admit. "Tend to Chakotay."
Their brief exchange sounded muted to Carrie's ears, and she turned as if in slow motion as the doors to sickbay slid open, admitting Harry Kim.
Her head was pounding and her vision dimmed slightly as she fought to regain her composure. A medic tried to scan her, but she absently waved her away. "I'm fine."
Harry paused slightly in surprise when he spotted her, but continued toward the Admiral.
"Report." Carrie heard her order her former ops officer.
She shook her head and her vision cleared slightly, and she felt less sluggish. Harry was reporting that Jack had transported off Voyager soon after they did.
"We're still trying to pinpoint his location..." He stated in obvious frustration.
The room tilted as nausea overcame her, and she grabbed for a nearby table to steady herself.
Janeway came into view. "Carrie, are you alright?"
"I'm fine." She repeated Janeway's mantra, just before darkness overcame her.
Admiral Janeway slowly sipped her coffee while she listened to the Durga's Captain give his report.
"...arrests are going moderately well with minimal resistance. Thanks to some quick thinking by Commanders' Torres and Paris, we now have Zife in custody. If they didn't intercept his transport when they did, he would have been long gone."
She leaned forward and accepted the PADD he handed her. "Good work Captain. Thank you."
"Any word on Captain Chakotay?"
"Still in surgery, but The Doctor says he's out of danger for now."
"That's good news. I understand that Commander Bell was instrumental in saving your lives." He smirked. "Not to mention, a certain tricorder set to overload, causing a cascade effect. Quite the explosion, Admiral. I'm impressed."
Kathryn returned his smile. "Not the desk bound Admiral you expected, Captain?"
"Not in the least, Admiral."
Janeway nodded and stood up to join him on the other side of the desk where he stood. "It was touch and go for a while, and the timing could have been better, but I'm relieved it's over."
"Which leads me to my second report." He handed her another PADD. "Sensors detected some form of distortion that made Voyager appear to be slightly out of phase. It made the transporters unable to get an accurate lock to beam you out safely."
"A distortion?" Janeway studied the PADD she held.
"That's what Commander Kim is calling it. He said that it almost changed the shape and size of Voyager."
"Hundreds of years ago, seafaring captains used to report unusual changes or projections of ships or shorelines along the horizon. Many of them used to believe it was a curse but it was later proven to be simply a natural phenomenon. Somehow Grayson managed to manipulate subspace using some form of modified technology in order to achieve similar results. How did you manage to disable it?"
"We didn't." Durga's Captain announced. "It remained active until Jack Grayson transported off Voyager."
"So then how did we beam out?"
He threw up his hands in defeat. "Commander Kim is tearing apart the transporter array as we speak, but we still have no idea."
Kathryn could think of only one explanation. "I know of only one ship capable of overriding technology that advanced."
"Well if that ship was present, it's no longer here. We've been conducting long range scans since we arrived in the system."
She smirked. There was no way conventional scanners would have detected that ship if it didn't want to be found, but she wasn't going to enlighten the Captain just yet.
If he picked up on her lack of disclosure, he respectfully declined to call her on it.
"And last but not least..." He concluded. "...the Durga is prepared for departure on its next assignment."
She nodded in acknowledgement. "Ready for a covert trip to the Neutral Zone, Captain?"
"Looking forward to it." He paused. "It's been an honor, Admiral."
She nodded to dismiss him. "Good luck, Captain."
He took a step back and tapped his COMM badge. "Durga this is the Captain. Energize."
The darkness cleared as her consciousness returned rapidly from its deep abyss.
She gasped as she lurched forward into a sitting position, the sound of medical equipment alarming around her.
"Easy Lieutenant." The Doctor leaned over her, tricorder in hand. "You gave us quite a scare, but you're going to be alright."
She looked around her as The Doctor gently moved her to lie back down but her blurred vision didn't allow her to see much. Her hand reached up to touch her head. "How long was I...?"
"About three hours." The Doctor pressed a hypospray to her neck, and immediately her vision as well as the pounding in her head cleared. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"I was...there was an explosion. Admiral Janeway was trying to...Chakotay was...then Jack..." The memories rushed forward and she sat up again. "I'd lost my weapon in the explosion...Jack was going to...I shouted out to him...tried to stop him..." She gave him a panicked look. "...the Admiral..."
"Is just fine." The Doctor assured her. "You distracted Jack long enough to enable you to be transported off Voyager."
She slumped back on the bed, suddenly feeling tired. "Did Captain Chakotay...?"
"He came out of surgery a short while ago. His injuries are extensive, but they are no longer life threatening. Your actions saved his life, Carrie."
Her eyes where suddenly very heavy and she closed them. "Jack...I have to find..."
"You're not going anywhere, young lady..."
The Doctor pulled a blanket over her sleeping form, and retreated to a nearby console where he began running tests on his patient. "Computer...begin analysis."
He moved away, preparing to deactivate himself until the analysis completed, when the computer voice sounded again.
"Two out of thirty scans complete. Overall analysis will be complete in twenty one minutes."
"That was quick." He mumbled as he returned to the console. "Computer, display the results of the two completed scans."
He looked back at his sleeping patient in surprise before returning his attention to the results.
"...will continue to keep you informed of the latest news regarding President Zife's apparent resignation from office. That's it for me over here in Paris, France, home of the Federation Headquarters. Back to you Jane. Thanks Nick. In other news, the Palais de la Concorde Press Liaison has remained silent on speculation that Admiral Marshall Stark will be replacing President Zife as interim..."
"Mute transmission." Marshall ordered, taking a sip of his bourbon, relishing the feel of the liquid as it slid down his throat.
Around him, the Space Café was almost deserted; most citizens opting to remain at home for the evening, given recent events.
On any given night, the usually bustling locale boasted clientele the likes of ‘fleet Captains, Admirals, University Professors, and Federation officials.
But tonight, it was just Marshall sitting at the bar, and a smattering of patrons unwilling to give up dinner reservations they probably waited months for.
A couple passed him on their way to the dining area, muttering to each other as they recognized him, but he opted to ignore them, instead nodding his gratitude to the bartender as he switched off the newsvid.
"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools."
Marshall made a show of looking around before settling on the woman now seated next to him. "I seem to have misplaced my fools. And what do you know about Hemingway?"
She shrugged. "My mother was an avid reader of ancient literature. Made for some rather interesting bedtime stories when I was a child."
"I can't imagine."
"The bedtime stories?"
"No, you...as a child."
She mock glared him, but he hardly batted an eye.
"Any word from Kathryn?"
He flinched then, and it was all he could do not to down the rest of his drink in one swallow. "Not since she left Pike City. I know she's been...instrumental in recent events, but a COMM call would have been nice."
"Oh you are bitter."
"No...I just miss her. But I'll survive."
"Famous last words. You know where she is. You could call her."
He turned slowly to face her as he spoke. "And what would be the point in that?"
"You think you're different from her, but you're exactly the same."
"The word stubborn comes to mind."
He smiled at that. "Drink?"
She shook her head. "I'm on my way to ‘face the music' as they say. Must keep a clear head. I was hoping to take you along with me though; none of this would be possible without you and it wouldn't be the same without you there."
He studied her carefully. In all the years he'd known her, he'd never seen her so tense, so...uncertain.
"In the midst of winter, I see within you the invisible summer."
His words had the desired effect, and she visibly relaxed. "Tolstoy?" She smiled when he nodded. "So you aren't drunk, after all."
"Only if I have to pilot you to your destination." He stood up, reaching out his hand to take hers. "Shall we? Let's not keep your constituents waiting, Madame President."
If he were human, he could say that he couldn't count the number of times he witnessed the familiar tableau before him.
However, his exceptional memory could pinpoint the exact stardates and times, and he supposed that the ability to remember took away from its effect somehow.
Most of the time, he was the one holding vigil at her side, praying to his sky spirits to keep her alive to die another day, but sometimes, as it was now, she was the one looking over him.
The blanket he had placed over her dozing form earlier was now discarded, along with her uniform jacket and command mask. She was sitting up now, her right hand cupping his cheek; her left hand tucked neatly in his, her eyes willing him to survive this.
He was loathe to disturb her; but she would never forgive him if he let her be, just so he could watch one of those rare moments when all he could see was Kathryn Janeway.
Besides, the cup of coffee he held was not going to drink itself.
His holographic form mimicked a soft sigh, but her impeccable hearing - thanks to his exceptional care - picked up the sound. She looked up, and he could almost hear the command mask sliding into place.
"Doctor..." Janeway stood up almost to attention, gratefully eyeing the coffee he held. "How's Carrie?"
He hesitated; buying time while she took her first swallow of coffee. He had no idea how many directives he was breaking if at all, temporal or otherwise. In fact, he wasn't sure if he was...
"Doctor, you're frowning."
He guided her away from Chakotay's bedside. "Test results on Lieutenant Bell showed elevated amounts of tachyon radiation, usually consistent with..."
The Doctor nodded. "There's more. She collapsed due to the effects of sensory aphasia, an early symptom of temporal psychosis. It appears Admiral, that she has made more than one trip from the future."
"The future? But how do you know...? Doctor, you're frowning again."
"I have the computer running the analysis again, but..."
"Doctor..." Janeway growled.
"I needed to run some tests before I could successfully treat her for both conditions. When I ran her DNA scans, analysis showed the genetic marker for sensory tremens."
The Doctor continued unhindered. "Like Captain Chakotay, it was suppressed before she was born, of course, but..."
She didn't hear anything else The Doctor said; she was staring at Chakotay's unconscious form.
Chakotay had a daughter in the future.
And it didn't take her two guesses to imagine who it was with.
"Let's leave the future where it belongs, Doctor." She turned around decisively, forcing him to meet her steady gaze. "There's a reason why the temporal prime directive exists."
"Understood, Admiral." He turned to move away.
Janeway was surprised that he didn't put up more of a fight but she didn't risk asking him why. She was curious about just one thing though.
So she stopped him before he reached the doors to the office.
"Just one question, Doctor."
He stopped, and turned to face her, a triumphant look on his face. So she did want to know who the mother was, after all. "Yes, Admiral?"
"From our perspective of the timeline, when will she be born?"
Well, she was certainly unpredictable, if nothing else.
"Based on her current age which the computer analysis confirmed, I estimate twelve months from now."
Chapter 21: Sweet Little Lies
He loved watching her.
She was sitting on a chair, immersed in the PADD she held in one hand, her ever-present coffee in the other.
To anyone else watching, she would be the picture of emotionless concentration.
To him, the emotions danced across her face as whatever she was reading evoked them. One after the other.
She looked tired; a look he hadn't seen since their debriefings months before. He figured she had been holding vigil at his bedside; another one of the many unspoken agreements they had with each other.
Another agreement involuntarily came to mind, and he wondered when that particular one had silently and without fanfare, been mutually discarded.
Maybe it was the fact that he hadn't been alone with her like this for over a year. Or maybe it was his most recent brush with death that caused him to let go of some of his inhibitions. Maybe he was just damned tired of this game they played. But whatever it was, he found the murmurings of something familiar and long forgotten stirring within him.
Her nose winkled slightly, and he assumed she was trying to find an elusive solution to a complex problem.
He dared not move; for fear that she would become aware that he had regained consciousness, and then she would smile that lopsided smile of hers, and they would joke lightly about cheating death yet again. And then all too soon, their easy banter would be over, and she would disappear behind that damned command façade of hers.
No, he would keep her oblivious to the fact that he was awake for as long as possible, and savor the opportunity to see her in one of those rare moments he could watch her without her knowing.
"How long do you plan to just lie there and stare, Captain?"
Or maybe she knew all along.
"You're going to have to teach me how to do that." His voice sounded raspy from lack of use, and she quickly discarded PADD and coffee, in favor of a cup and straw.
"It's an old Janeway secret." Her lopsided smile appeared, on schedule, and he mentally started the countdown until she went into command mode. "I'll tell you, but I'll have to kill you."
"Then I'm at your mercy." He sipped the cool, soothing liquid. "Just make it quick; I'm tired of slow, agonizing deaths."
She rolled her eyes in amusement and he checked another item off his mental checklist.
"Drink." She placed the straw back on his lips. "You sound like you were in a shouting match with a Tholian."
"How long have I been out?" He watched her put the cup aside and turned back to position herself on the edge of his bed.
"About forty eight hours. The Doctor kept you sedated. How do you feel?"
He moved to sit up. "Just some bruising to my ego. I should have known about Jack."
She grasped his hand. "Chakotay. You had no way of knowing."
Chakotay was shaking his head. "I counted him as a friend, Kathryn. Either he was a brilliant actor or an evil twin."
The data she was just studying immediately came to mind. It was the security report from Voyager, which included the results of scans that showed trace evidence of Silver Blood. Janeway had immediately been notified and the entire investigation was deemed classified and reduced to that single PADD.
Kathryn squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I guess we'll never know."
"Kathryn..." He cleared his throat, looking down at their clasped hands. "...about our argument the other night..."
"Chakotay, its okay..." She started to interrupt him, but he stopped her.
He met her steady gaze then. "I need you to hear me out. Jack told me that you had nothing to do with me getting the position at the Academy."
She frowned. "He did?"
"Yes, at the Admiral's ball, after we argued, just before you..."
"Died?" That much she was told about that night. She made a mental note to read her duplicate's logs the next chance she got.
He nodded, a momentary chill running through him at the memory. "One minute I was sitting in my office, informing Admiral Shanthi that I had accepted the mission, the next, I wake up in a room, bound to a chair. Jack was the one who masterminded everything. He admitted as much to me when he held me in captivity." He gave her a meaningful look. "I'm so sorry Kathryn...I said some things to you..."
"I remember. You were indelicate, indiscreet, and entirely less than tactful...Sounds like anyone you know?" She cupped his cheek briefly with her free hand and the smile returned. "We both said ‘some things'. Truce?"
How did she do it? How did she make those feelings he was sure he had purged ages ago suddenly rise to the surface. He had expended a lot of time and energy over the years putting his feelings for her aside. Now, just one look, one smile, one word, and he found himself wanting. She was here, now and they were alone, and it had been a long time since he came face to face with these emotions and it made this situation too unpredictable, too unsettling...
They locked eyes, and she didn't move as his hand came up to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear. It had been a long time since she came face to face with these emotions and she was surprised she still felt this way. This was both familiar and forbidden territory, and one of them needed to come to their senses. Fast. He was close, too close, and what she saw in his eyes made this situation too unpredictable, too unsettling...
"Ah, I see you're back with us, Captain." The Doctor breezed into the room. He paused, tricorder in hand, acutely aware now that he had walked in on something. "Or I could come back..."
Kathryn broke his gaze first. Sliding off the bed, she released Chakotay's hand. "Its fine, Doctor. I should go check on Carrie anyway..."
"No need." He waved the tricorder over his patient. "She checked herself out over an hour ago. She said that she wanted to return to the Nara to look over Mr. Kim's scans."
"How is she?" Chakotay enquired. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kathryn flinch slightly. Curious.
"She's fully recovered, thanks to my exceptional care." The Doctor closed his tricorder. "I'm declaring you fit, Captain, but I would like you to remain overnight for observation." He turned toward Janeway. "Admiral, my records show that you're almost due for your annual physical. Since you're already here..."
Her glare stopped him short.
"Or maybe some other time, when you can squeeze me into your schedule." Chakotay watched with barely concealed amusement when The Doctor backed away slowly as he spoke, until he disappeared through the doors.
His chuckle made Janeway look around. "What?"
"He should be immune to your glares by now." Chakotay pointed out. "I thought he would have put up more of a fight."
"I think he secretly enjoys torturing me with those physicals." She complained as she return to her seat on his bed, their earlier tension already fading. "But his focus has shifted to Carrie for now. She's been fighting him tooth and nail."
That sounded familiar. He thought, and the memory of Jack's words came rushing back.
"Kathryn, Jack said some things about Carrie that you should..."
"She did manage to escape his watchful eye long enough to visit you..." She joked nervously, interrupting what he had to say. This was the conversation she had been dreading and was not completely certain she should be having with him. "...would you believe? She used some tired old excuse that I needed a coffee break, but I get the feeling she wanted to make sure that you were ok."
The tension was back, and she abruptly pulled away from him, and her command façade snapped into place.
Their little game was over.
"I know she's from the future, Chakotay." She was pacing now, her hands fisted at her side. "And as I told The Doctor, we have to consider the temporal directive."
"Fair enough." He watched her as she paced. "But don't you think that Carrie shot that particular directive to hell when she returned to our timeline?"
"Chakotay, don't you see?" She stood, facing him now. "The less we know the better. Jack has done enough damage to the timeline as is. I'm not about to go tinkering with temporal mechanics again. Even talking about it is giving me a headache. I've learned my lesson. We're not discussing this."
He knew then that she had made up her mind. "Okay, but on one condition."
Her hand rose to her hip. "What's that?"
"That you stop pacing and sit down, you're making me dizzy." He deadpanned.
She sighed, retaking her seat. "How are you, really? We haven't really talked since the welcome home ball. And even then it wasn't really a conversation. You've been through a lot since. Especially this last week."
He tugged at his ear. "It's hard to believe that it's only been a week since the Admiral's ball. With everything that's happened, it feels longer."
She gave him a pointed look; he was avoiding her question.
He relented. "I'm fine Kathryn. Our estrangement aside, I've had to make a lot of...adjustments."
There was so much he wanted to share with her; but he sensed that their already precarious relationship precluded any such discussion. Particularly when a significant part of it included Seven.
It was then he realized that he had never really discussed Seven with her. Surely by now she would be aware of their fledgling relationship; B'Elanna had been extremely vocal and he was sure she would have shared her...concerns with Kathryn.
"Harry said that Seven is still off world...he's been trying to reach her, but apparently she's out of COMM range." She settled herself more comfortably next to him. When she noticed his expression, she shrugged. "Chakotay, I'm not blind; I saw all the signs. I've known about you and Seven almost from the beginning. The future Admiral Janeway simply confirmed it for me when she came aboard."
He stared at her in shock. Was she reading his mind now? "So you've known all along? And you never said anything?"
"It wasn't my place." He started to object, but she held up her hand. "You know how it is on a ship as small as Voyager. Besides we weren't really the best of friends coming down to the end there were we?"
He had to admit, she was right. While their command relationship endured, their friendship, and something else that would remain nameless, did not survive their seven year trip.
"I guess not." He eventually admitted. "But for what it's worth, it would have been nice to have someone to discuss it with."
"And my door was always open." She patted his hand lightly. "With no ship's counselor to speak of, we had to be there for each other, regardless."
"I wish I had known that then."
Both turned to see Carrie standing at the door, an inquisitive smirk on her face.
Chakotay's curiosity grew when felt Kathryn tense beside him. She stood up to address Carrie, the smile on her face belying her true emotions. "Nothing that concerns you, Lieutenant. How are you feeling?"
"The truth? Like I've gone ten rounds with a Targ. But please don't tell The Doctor."
"Your secret is safe with me." Kathryn patted her shoulder lightly.
Both women turned toward Chakotay, who had witnessed their exchange in silence. It was all he could do not to gasp aloud at the similarities between them. Save the dark hair, Carrie looked just like her mother.
Unexpected feelings of regret washed over him. Not to mention envy at the man lucky enough to be the father of Kathryn's child.
"I'm going to check in with the Nara." Kathryn announced. "I'll be just a minute."
"Carrie can keep me company till you get back." Chakotay grinned mischievously, knowing that she was going to do more than just communicate with the ship. "Enjoy your coffee."
"Take your time, Admiral." Carrie smiled at Janeway's mock glare toward Chakotay. "I'll keep him out of trouble."
Janeway nodded and moved toward the exit. When the doors triggered open, she took one last look in their direction. Carrie was perched on the edge of the bed where she was sitting earlier, and by the way Chakotay was grinning, she was obviously saying something to make him laugh.
She took a deep breath. It was all he could do not to gasp aloud at the similarities between them. Save the blue eyes, Carrie looked just like her father.
As the doors to the room slid shut behind her, unexpected feelings of regret washed over her. Not to mention envy at the woman lucky enough to be the mother of Chakotay's child.
"Janeway to the Nara." She tapped her COMM badge, shaking her head to clear her thoughts.
"Kim here, Admiral."
"Harry, I need you to run a sensor check on transporter signals originating from Chakotay's office at Oxford the night of the attacks. I have a theory."
"Aye, Admiral. Give me thirty minutes."
"Thanks Harry. Janeway out."
She whirled around at the sound of the familiar voice. "Marshall? Are you alright? Is someone..."
"I'm fine, no one is hurt. I ran into Commander Paris at the Zife debriefing. He told me I'd find you here. Is Captain Chakotay...?"
"He's fine. The Doctor's discharging him tomorrow."
"That's good news."
Their words were stilted, completely opposite to their usual easygoing banter. He couldn't remember a time when they were ever like this.
"Congratulations on your new position." She offered, completely aware of the tension. "Chief advisor to President Bacco. How is Nan handling it?"
"Like she was born to be Federation President. It was a good choice."
"That I didn't take the position? Not for a second. It's not my time." He moved closer to her, taking her hands in his. "Kathryn, we need to talk."
"Marshall, I don't think..."
"Then, don't...think." He squeezed her hands. "No pressure. Just meet me for dinner at Space Café later."
"I can't Marshall. I'm sorry."
He released her hands. Holding them up in surrender, he took a step back from her. "I'm sorry. Maybe I shouldn't have come. I just...I miss you. And I didn't know how much until you were no longer around. I just wanted you to know that."
He walked away from her slowly and she took one last look at him before returning to Chakotay's room.
They didn't notice her enter, and Kathryn took the opportunity to watch them interact with each other. Chakotay was telling her one of his stories and she was listening intently.
What was she doing? She thought. This was right. She had to let the future happen the way it was supposed to.
She fidgeted slightly, and her movement caught Chakotay's eye.
"Are you back already? Where's your coffee?" His smile faded slightly when he saw the look on her face. He knew that look. He'd seen it only once before. The day they left New Earth.
And it scared the hell out of him.
"I...I forgot." She clenched her fists to cover the fact that her hands were shaking slightly.
"Admiral? Carrie was walking toward her. Are you alright?"
"Of course." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Just a slight headache." She reassured her as best she could, relieved when Carrie seemed to accept her excuse. "I'll be right back."
Chakotay watched her leave the room, wishing with everything within him that he had stopped her. Not that it would have worked.
"Maybe I should check on her." Carrie looked toward the doors.
"No. She'll be fine." He lied. "She really hates it when she forgets to get the coffee."
In his heart, he knew that wasn't true.
He was standing at the turbolift with his head bowed. He looked up when he heard her.
She was moving resolutely toward him and he knew she had made some monumental decision but he was afraid to hazard a guess.
"Space Café. One week from tonight, when I get back from Proxima."
Chapter 22: Planets Aligned
"Kathryn! Over here."
Kathryn smiled in acknowledgement, and made her way across the main restaurant of the largest hotel on Proxima, eliciting gracious stares from the other patrons. She acknowledged a few familiar faces, before arriving at their table.
"You look great, sis..." Phoebe Janeway looked her up and down after she released her from a hug. "...for someone who's been busy saving the world. Again."
They took their seats together, and Kathryn ordered a merlot from a passing waiter before returning her attention to her younger sister. "Do you have to glamorize everything like that? I was just doing my job, Phoebe."
"Right." She glanced around the room. "Tell that to your admirers over there. Face it, sis, you're the ‘fleet's blue eyed girl of the moment. Enjoy your fifteen minutes while it lasts."
Kathryn gratefully accepted her wine from the waiter. "The only thing I'm going to be enjoying is this wine." She sipped slowly from her glass. "Remind me again, why you had to drag me all the way to a crowded restaurant on Proxima? There are acceptable restaurants on Earth, you know."
"But none of them serve the best wild mushroom agnolotti this side of the sector."
She held up a hand. "Please tell me that the man you're dating isn't the chef here." When Phoebe didn't answer, Kathryn rolled her eyes. "Would it have been that difficult to bring him to mom's house for dinner?"
Phoebe shook her head. "He's been having a busy week and couldn't get away. Besides, I wanted you to meet him before I took him home to mom's."
As if on cue, the man in question slid into the seat next to Phoebe. "Sorry I'm late..." He kissed the side of her head. "...we have a full house tonight." He turned toward Kathryn. "You must be Phoebe's sister."
"Kathryn, please." She took his offered hand. "Although it's nice to be called something other than Admiral, or ma'am."
"That's easy for you to say." Phoebe interjected. "Try being referred to as ‘the Admiral's sister'."
"Aiden Vittorio." He introduced himself. "It's an honor, Kathryn, Phoebe's sister."
Kathryn watched him in amusement. "I like you already, Aiden."
Phoebe slid out her seat. "What do you say you guys get acquainted while I check with the front desk on my room reservation?"
Both nodded and Phoebe leaned toward her sister and whispered threateningly. "Do not go all Starfleet Admiral on him to try to intimidate him. Understand?"
Kathryn nodded, a sly smile playing on her lips. "Aye Phoebe."
Phoebe glared at her before moving away.
Kathryn turned to face Aiden. "So...Vittorio. Is that Italian?"
Minutes later, Phoebe had received her confirmation from the attendant at the front desk. She turned around, intending to return to the restaurant when her gaze caught a familiar figure.
She paused, deliberating whether or not she should make her way over.
Her decision made, she moved quickly before she had time to change her mind.
Chakotay looked up from the shuttle schedule he was studying from his position seated on a lounge chair. A familiar face was looking down at him expectantly, and he had no trouble remembering her name.
"Phoebe Janeway, hello." He stood up to greet her.
"I thought that was you." She eyed him curiously. "What brings you to Proxima?"
"I've just finished a meeting with the Ambassador for the Solarian System. I'm planning to take my students there on a dig in a few months."
"You're still at Oxford? Kathryn mentioned that you'd gotten the Advanced Tactics Chair at the Academy."
"I did." He confirmed. "I'm just finishing off the semester at Oxford. Besides, I promised my students this trip months ago. I couldn't let them down." He paused, considering his next question. "How is Kathryn?"
It was a cowardly move, he knew...pumping her sister for information. But he hadn't seen or heard from her since he was discharged from Starfleet Medical, and he had been debating since then if he should contact her. The memory of the look on her face that day when she stood watching him and Carrie still bothered him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what she had to say.
Phoebe felt an idea forming in her head. "You can ask her yourself. She's sitting in the restaurant over there, probably scaring the hell out of my date. Care to join us for dinner?"
He looked down at the shuttle schedule he was reading, suddenly unsure. The idea of having dinner with Kathryn sounded wonderful but he didn't think she would appreciate the intrusion. "Well actually...I was hoping to catch a shuttle back to..."
"Chakotay." Phoebe looked at him with an expression that reminded him of her sister. "Face it. All the shuttles are booked until tomorrow morning, and staring at that schedule wouldn't get you a last minute seat on one. Besides, if Kathryn has spoken of me at all, she would have told you that I don't take no for an answer."
"A Janeway trait I assume." He smiled when she nodded in agreement. Realizing that he would not win this argument, he tossed the schedule on a nearby chair. "Ok. You win. Lead the way."
Phoebe smiled in satisfaction when she approached their dinner table to see Kathryn and Aiden laughing and talking.
"Good to see the two of you getting along." Phoebe pointed out, reclaiming her seat next to Aiden. "Kathryn, look who I found, wandering around the lobby."
"Chakotay?" She blinked in surprise, but reflexively shifted to allow him to sit beside her, while Phoebe introduced him to Aiden.
"There was no wandering involved." He said in his defense, carefully measuring Kathryn's reaction toward seeing him. "My meeting ran late and I missed my shuttle. Phoebe found me scanning the schedule for a vacant seat."
"Not on a night like this." Kathryn informed him. "There's a lot going on in this sector since Zife's resignation. President Bacco is meeting with all of the Federation Councils this week."
"That explains why the restaurant has been so busy." Aiden chimed in, signaling one of the waiters to set another place at their table for Chakotay. "You're joining us for dinner, I hope?"
"Excuse me." Kathryn stood up abruptly when her COMM badge chirped. "I'm expecting an update from the Nara." She exited the restaurant quickly, ignoring the curious stares from her sister and her date, and the raised eyebrow from Chakotay. "Harry, what do you have?" She asked as the restaurant doors shut behind her.
"Admiral, the head of the Questor Group has been trying to reach you. ‘fleet Headquarters rerouted the communication to the Nara."
"Put him through." She ordered.
"Mark..." Kathryn greeted her former fiancé. "...thanks for doing this. I really appreciate your help. Has your team been able to get anything?"
There was a long pause. "Kathryn, where did you pick up this signal?"
The tone of his voice troubled her. "At Chakotay's office at Oxford. Why?"
"When you told me you wanted me to have a transporter signal analyzed for anomalies, I thought you wanted to check for anything the biofilters missed. What we didn't expect to find, was a temporal signature or a tri-axilating frequency modulation embedded within it. Kathryn, for all intents and purposes, this technology hasn't been invented yet. My experts tell me that what you have here is a basic blueprint for temporal transport."
"Are you sure?"
"They ran the analysis three times." He hesitated. "And there's something else."
"Let me guess...the signal has appeared before."
"How did you know?"
"Call it a hunch. Where did you detect the other signal?" She had to ask; although she had a feeling she already knew the answer.
"I'm sending the coordinates to Commander Kim now. It's a planet just inside the neutral zone."
"In the Devron system?"
"Actually yes...Kathryn...is there something you're not telling me?"
She sighed, taking a seat on a nearby sofa. "Mark, there's a lot I'm not telling you. Thanks again for your help."
Mark knew her long enough to know a dismissal when he heard one. "You're welcome. Let's have dinner soon. Liv has been wanting to catch up."
"I'd like that." She pinched her nose to quell an oncoming headache.
They ended the communication, and Kathryn tiredly dropped her hand on the seat beside her, looking down when it came into contact with a PADD. Her COMM badge chirped again.
"We've received the coordinates, Admiral. We can be at Proxima to pick you up in eight hours."
She switched on the PADD, and a display of the shuttle schedule for Proxima came up. "Acknowledged. Janeway out."
She looked toward the doors of the restaurant, then back down at the PADD. There was one seat available on a shuttle headed to Earth. It was leaving in fifteen minutes.
"Planning to run?" Phoebe asked from above her.
She looked up. "Believe me; the thought has crossed my mind. But it looks like I'm stuck here for the next eight hours."
She grinned. "Then it's a good thing I booked an extra room."
Kathryn was shaking her head. "Of all the people, you had to run into Chakotay? And invite him to dinner?"
"I didn't think you'd mind." Phoebe looked at her incredulously. "You said that you'd patched things up."
"We did...we have."
"Then what's the problem?" She sat on the coffee table across from Kathryn.
"When has it not been complicated between you two?" Phoebe rolled her eyes, recalling the many nights she and Kathryn had stayed up talking about her time on Voyager. More specifically her time with Chakotay.
"I've been reading Alternate Kathryn's logs over the past few days. Do you know she hasn't mentioned Chakotay once?"
"They were estranged, working and living on different continents. You would have done the same thing if you weren't out there, changing history." Phoebe pointed out. "You watched him walk away and into the arms of another woman. And what's worse, you played the token best friend and showed genuine happiness for them. I think Alternate Kathryn was trying to move on. She was you, no doubt about that. Then there's Marshall of course."
Marshall. She'd almost forgotten. "If I had gotten back from my mission on time, I would have broken it off." She admitted quietly.
"With Marshall? Really?" Phoebe leaned back on her hands. "Boy...did your alternate get it wrong. They were planning a wedding, you know."
"I know. I have no idea what changed." She lied. Her alternate must have been privy to everything she knew now about Carrie.
Phoebe was shaking her head. "I don't get it...I thought you loved Marshall."
"I did...and I do...everything was just happening so fast. I needed time to..."
"You weren't completely ready to move on from Chakotay." Phoebe finished for her. "Despite his attachment to the blonde."
"Like I said...it's complicated."
"Katie..." She sighed, leaning forward, grasping her sister's hands in hers. "You're home now, and yet you still hide behind these walls of protocols and excuses and whatever else you're using to construct that façade of yours. One of these days you're going to wake up and regret that you never openly acknowledged how you feel about him. From what you've told me, there's no doubt how he feels about you. Chakotay may be an ass for going after Seven, but you're the one with the problem."
"Are you two coming, or do we have to start without you?" Aiden called out from the restaurant entrance.
"You wouldn't dare..." Phoebe glared at him.
To Kathryn's amazement, Aiden merely winked playfully at her, before returning inside. "Did he just survive the famous Janeway glare?"
"I swear, he's impervious to it." Phoebe shrugged, then rose to her feet. "...what do you say, Katie? It's just a meal. Let's keep it simple tonight and see where it goes. He's still your friend, right? So let's call it dinner with a friend, your sister and her date. And if something happens...well...there is that extra room I booked that you could put to good use."
"Phoebe!" Kathryn hissed, softly.
Two hours, multiple servings of agnolotti, enjoyable conversation, and five bottles of wine later, the four bantered and laughed together over the best coffee cheesecake Kathryn had ever tasted.
"This is better than..." She paused to find the words.
"Sex?" Phoebe suggested, causing Aiden to exhale some of his wine through his nose.
"You're drunk Pheebs." Kathryn stated, after carefully studying her.
"And what if I am?" She slurred slightly, moaning softly when Aiden nuzzled her hair.
"Ok, you two. Get a room." Chakotay teased.
"You're just jealous, Captain." Phoebe waved an unsteady finger at him. "You blew it when you could have had it all."
"Phoebe." Kathryn warned.
"Why didn't you do it Chakotay?" She ignored her sister's reprimand. "Why didn't you just press her against the wall of her quarters and scr..."
"Ok..." Aiden stood up, pulling Phoebe up with him. "...time to go. Kathryn, Chakotay, we must repeat the evening sometime. Minus the extra bottles of wine of course."
"Of course." Chakotay nervously glanced at Kathryn, who, for a split second, was looking like she was going to kill her sister. Then she relaxed and smiled up at Aiden.
"Definitely Aiden. It was nice meeting you."
"Kathryn..." Phoebe whispered conspiratorially "...remember what I said to you earlier..."
"Goodnight Phoebe." She watched as Aiden pulled her away.
"I'm just saying..." She threw over her shoulder on her way out.
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a moment until Kathryn looked up at Chakotay, who was trying his best not to look at her.
"Oh for heaven's sake." She refilled her glass of wine. "We've been through worse. I'm not letting my sister make the evening awkward for us now."
"You're right." He agreed, raising his glass for a refill as well.
"So why didn't you do it?" She asked, catching him totally off guard.
It was a loaded question and they both knew it.
Blame it on Phoebe's outspoken ways, all the wine they'd consumed, the present company, or all of the above, but Chakotay knew that the line they had drawn years ago was looking blurred at the moment.
He slid closer to her in the seat, until his arm came around her shoulders, their faces almost touching. To his surprise, she remained right where she was.
He studied her; still as beautiful as the day he'd first seen her over the viewscreen, standing on Voyager's bridge. She was flirting with him now, that was clear, but there was something else; a sort of bravery about her...as if...
She was waiting expectantly for an answer, her expression a mixture of mischief and confidence. Mischief because she thoroughly enjoyed this flirting game of theirs, confidence that the line wouldn't be crossed.
And why would it be? He thought. It was just a game. One they'd played so many times over the years. They would play it, and then both would revert to the status quo.
He had a theory.
And before he answered her question, he needed to test it.
"Seven broke up with me." He said simply.
He was right. That was the game changer. Like clockwork, her face changed and she started pulling away from him.
But he had no intention of playing tonight.
"How?" Kathryn asked.
"A Dear John letter via B'Elanna." He replied, watching her closely, knowing that the wheels were turning in her head.
"Are you alright?" She edged further away from him.
"I will be." He moved closer to her. "Shall I answer your first question now?"
"No...no it's fine." She started to stand. "How about we go for a walk? I could use some fresh..."
"Sit down, Kathryn."
Slowly she sat.
"Look at me."
He waited until she was watching him before he spoke. "Now answer one question for me. What if...just for one night...our planets aligned?"
"Chakotay..." She started edging away again but he grabbed her arm to keep her still.
"Just one night, Kathryn, no safety nets, no protocols, no excuses, no consequences. Just you. And me. There's never been a night quite like this. And given our proclivity for bad timing, there probably never will. What if we were granted this one night? What do you think that would be like?"
Blue eyes met chocolate brown as Kathryn studied him, his words coursing through her. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen; he and Seven were not supposed to break up, they should not be sitting here together.
But here they were, their planets suddenly aligned, with nothing preventing them from taking that one single step.
Chakotay was watching her carefully, waiting patiently for her answer. Usually, he would pull away after a few moments, apologizing for crossing the line, before he walked away.
He wasn't moving.
This isn't right. She thought. But what if - based on the future as she knew it - this was all they were going to have?
She took a deep breath.
"I think it would be spectacular."
He watched her with a mixture of caution and untainted desire. "Kathryn..."
"Now, are you going to answer my question, or not?"
He stared at her for so long; and just when she didn't think he was going to answer...
"I didn't press you against the bulkhead in your quarters, Kathryn, because you would have thrown me in the brig." He answered honestly. "But, for what it's worth; every time I entered your quarters, I wanted to do just that."
She leaned closer to him, placing her palm against his chest. "For what it's worth, I'm glad you didn't. I had no intentions of sharing you with Voyager."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Excuse me..." Kathryn leaned against the reception desk. "...my sister, Phoebe Janeway booked a room..."
The clerk smiled. "Admiral Janeway, of course. Ms Janeway stopped off a few minutes ago and left instructions to give you the code."
She and Chakotay shared a look.
In a silence that only could be described as reverent, they walked slowly along the deserted hallway leading to the room. As they walked, his hand brushed hers gently. Eventually, Chakotay grasped her hand in his, both lost in their own thoughts, but acutely aware that everything between them was about to change.
Inches away from the door, the gravity of what they were about to do hit home, and Kathryn hesitated.
Chakotay stopped and looked back at her.
"Chakotay..." She breathed.
"Yes." He whispered.
"Maybe we shouldn't..."
Before she could finish, his hand dropped hers and rose to the back of her neck. Pulling her against him, he lowered his head until his lips touched hers.
The kiss was slow, soft, and sensual, just enough to keep Kathryn from remembering what she was going to say.
Both moaned softly as Chakotay deepened the kiss, opening her mouth with his tongue to explore for the first time.
Then, as soon as it started. It was over.
"You were saying?" He asked as he stepped away from her.
She covered the last few inches to their room, where she keyed in the code. The doors obediently swung open, and she turned to face him, tugging him forward with her into the room.
Chapter 23: Now Or Never
"I don't need to tell you to watch your back Jean Luc." Janeway counseled her old friend.
"Hardly." The legendary Enterprise Captain replied.
Kathryn gave him a wry look. "The Son'a, the Borg, the Romulans. You seem to get all the easy assignments."
"Just lucky Admiral." Picard responded, matching her smile with one of his own.
"Let's hope that luck holds. Janeway out."
The door to her office slid open as she closed the communication and she looked up.
Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have gotten past the outer office without his presence being announced first, but her staff was still relocating from Spacedock, and she was yet to choose a replacement aide for Carrie.
"Chakotay, this is a surprise." She greeted calmly; watching as he stormed in, anger marring his features.
He marched directly to her desk. "I think you know why I'm here."
She had an idea; it had been a week since their night on Proxima, during which - aside from the fact that she was away on a mission - she had deliberately avoided him. All his calls went unanswered, all his messages ignored.
Kathryn leaned back in her seat. "Let's pretend one of us doesn't."
"I had drinks with Ayala last night."
Or maybe she had no clue why he was here after all.
All the same, she decided to play along. "How is Mike?"
"Talkative." Chakotay ground out, leaning closer to her from his position across the desk. "He had some interesting things to say. Tell me Kathryn, did Proxima mean anything to you, or was it merely another one of your experiments you were conducting..."
"Chakotay..." She whispered, meeting his incensed gaze. "...how could you think..."
"You know how the story goes..." He cut her off, his voice low and dangerous. "...let's see what the former first officer - or is it Maquis terrorist - is like in bed before I go off and marry someone else." His voice rose as he spoke, and he was almost shouting now.
Kathryn blinked. She had completely forgotten about the invitations her alternate had sent out to her former crew. "Chakotay listen to me..."
"Nice touch, telling the crew to keep the impending nuptials quiet so as not to alert the press." He reached forward with one hand to grasp her chin to stop her from looking away. "Funny though, my invitation seems to have gotten lost in the mail."
Kathryn frowned. Her alternate mentioned in her logs that after considerable thought, she had sent one addressed to ‘him and Seven'.
He pulled away from her to pace a few steps away, running his hands through his hair in an attempt to calm himself. Ayala had caught him off guard; and Chakotay's reaction wasn't lost on his old friend. He hadn't reacted like a surprised friend which most likely fueled Ayala's suspicions. Chakotay, knowing full well how fast the Voyager rumor mill travelled, had to dispense of any suspicions immediately.
What was more alarming to him now was the fact that Kathryn wasn't denying anything.
She wasn't exactly admitting to anything either.
"Chakotay, it's not what you think." She whispered to his back.
He swung around to face her. "What? What Kathryn?! Proxima?! Or your plans to marry Stark?! I have been betrayed many times in my life, Kathryn, the most recent being Jack. But even though there were moments during the time I've known you that it didn't always appear that way, you have always been the one constant I could count on."
She thought it odd that he didn't refer to Seven's sudden, more recent departure, but didn't call him on it. She stood up, moving around her desk to stand directly before him. "Proxima meant the world to me, Chakotay. I need you to know that."
"Well excuse me if circumstances don't allow me to believe you right now." He turned toward the exit. "Have a nice life."
He was almost out the doors when she called after him. "Jack Grayson didn't betray you. He had a twin brother."
That got his attention when she knew nothing else would. He stopped dead in his tracks, but remained with his back to her.
Kathryn took his silence and the fact that he hadn't moved to leave as a sign to continue. "Both of you were abducted from your office at Oxford the night of the attacks by Jack's twin brother, James Grayson. James was the one who imprisoned and tortured you, Chakotay, not Jack. Did he ever mention having a twin brother?"
He took a deep breath. "No, he didn't. I...I had no idea."
"While I was on Proxima, I received information which led to where Jack was being held captive."
"Did you find him?"
"We did...but..." Kathryn hesitated. "I'm sorry Chakotay...we were...too late."
He still hadn't turned around. She saw his shoulders slump slightly and heard him murmur something in his native language. "How did he die?"
"Chakotay, you don't need to..."
"Humor me, Kathryn."
"He was tortured - most likely for information about your friendship - then left for dead. The Doctor said that he succumbed to his injuries within days. We didn't know...otherwise we could have gotten to him sooner, maybe even..."
"His wife, Marie..." He enquired, abruptly cutting her off.
Kathryn exhaled heavily. "She and their two sons have already been informed. Due to the sensitive nature of events surrounding his death, we have had to...exclude some of the facts."
"Something I know you're very good at." Chakotay accused, his hostility returning. "It's good to know he was a true friend until the end."
He was out the doors before Kathryn could utter another word.
Lieutenant Carrington Bell hated funerals. Maybe it was because she had attended one too many in her short lifetime, or maybe it was because she hated the sense of loss that went along with it. All she knew is that if she never attended one again, it would be too soon.
The Doctor stood beside her, sheltering them both under a large black umbrella, looking just as uncomfortable as she was. But for him, it was nothing to do with the fact that they were at a funeral and everything to do with the current weather. He kept looking down at his holographic feet, frowning at his muddy boots.
Of course it was raining. It wouldn't be a good day for a funeral if it wasn't. Carrie thought wryly.
"What is it about funerals and bad weather?" The Doctor mumbled, ignoring the proceedings playing out before them. He was about to say something else, but his vision caught the familiar form of Admiral Janeway as she slowly made her way toward the gathering.
Admiral Stark followed closely behind her for a moment, his security escorts keeping a close watch. They separated; Stark handing her the umbrella they were sharing before he headed across to pay his respects to Jack's widow and sons. Janeway continued on until she was standing slightly apart from the crowd, just out of earshot.
Carrie followed The Doctor's line of sight, and watched with interest as Chakotay caught sight of Janeway as well. He moved to join her where she stood, a short distance away from where they were congregated.
Chakotay moved under the shelter of her umbrella, the light drizzle shielding them from prying eyes. Their faces were a blur, but based on their body language, it was not going to be a friendly conversation.
The Doctor looked away, and Carrie figured it was out of a time honored respect for their privacy. "Let me get this clear..." He leaned closer to her, his voice lowered. "...Captain Chakotay thinks that Admiral Janeway is going to marry Admiral Stark in the future and give birth to you. Admiral Janeway thinks that Captain Chakotay and Seven of Nine will give birth to you. And you're not going to tell them the truth?"
"Remember the temporal prime directive, Doctor. I'm duty bound not to interfere."
"Even if it results in you not being born."
"It's a chance I'm willing to take. But the fact that I exist at all proves that something went right."
"That something you're referring to is not possible. And yet, the fact that you now exist contradicts that. I know what your test results say, Lieutenant, but there's no way that Captain Chakotay and Admiral Janeway could conceive a child together." He glanced at where the couple in question stood, still engaged in a heated discussion. "Aside from the fact that they probably detest each other right now, there's that little matter of the virus they both carry, remember?"
"That's why you're here."
"I don't understand."
"You will soon. Good luck, Doctor." She patted his shoulder before stepping out into the rain.
He frowned, watching as she headed toward where Admiral Stark stood a short distance away, wondering what luck had to do with anything.
"Doctor?" A voice sounded behind him.
He turned. "Professor Johnson." He greeted the head of the Questor Group.
"I've been meaning to visit you at Starfleet Medical." Mark explained. "There's some research that Questor is currently conducting that is along your line of expertise. I was hoping that you would consider coming in to take a look."
"I would be honored, Professor." The Doctor smiled, his curiosity peaked.
"Please, if we're going to be working together, you might as well call me Mark." He paused. "Although, I'm not sure what I should call you other than Doctor."
"That's because I'm yet to choose a name for myself. It's become more of a philosophical dilemma for me. I'm sure you understand."
Mark grinned, patting him on his shoulder. "You're coming to the right place then." He quipped. "I'm sure we'll find a name for you yet."
Kathryn glared at him. "Taking your current attitude into consideration, you and Marshall are night and day."
"How does that work?" Chakotay gave her a distasteful look. "Do you intend to alternate? One at night and one at day?"
"That's unfair, Chakotay."
"Is it? You want to talk about unfair?" He hissed. "You're treating our night on Proxima like it was a one night stand."
"For all intents and purposes...it was." She didn't think he could have gotten any angrier, but he was hurting her and she wanted to hurt him back. "Our planets aligned for one night only, remember?"
His face fell, and his anger seemed to fade slowly. "You don't mean that."
"The hell I don't." She hissed, battling to keep her anger in check and her voice calm. "What did you expect Chakotay? Seven just broke it off with you. I'm not about to become your rebound replacement bed warmer. And I certainly am not about to return the favor either. We're adults, aren't we? We had one consensual night. And we scratched a seven year itch. That's all."
He stared at her, disbelief flooding his features.
"Oh hell..." She looked away. "...don't look at me as if I've grown two heads. And please don't tell me that you've bought into the whole romantic notion that we could survive seven years of unrequited love, free of erosion or decline, and then come together for one night and expect to undo all the hurt we've inflicted on each other."
"It wasn't easy out there for either of us, Kathryn." He replied, his voice lowered. "I know that. And I'm realistic enough to know that neither of us are the same people who met for the first time over our viewscreens almost eight years ago. But if our night together was anything to go by..."
She was shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Chakotay. I meant what I said about that night meaning the world to me, but I can't be at that place you want me to be. At least not now. So much about the future has changed already."
The service was ending; and she could see Marshall and Carrie talking quietly off to one side. Then, when Carrie caught sight of Kathryn watching her, realization dawned and she politely excused herself. A look of concern came across her face as she headed their way.
"Is this about the future Admiral Janeway?" Chakotay brought her back from her distraction. "Kathryn, we've talked about this, you could never be her, and you never will. Her circumstances were entirely different. And if you hadn't noticed, I didn't see the time police anywhere around to stop her."
"You don't understand, she came back to..." She hesitated.
Chakotay looked around to see what she was looking at. It was then that it occurred to him that she wasn't telling him everything. "What do you know about Carrie, Kathryn? And what did the future Admiral Janeway tell you that you're not telling me."
He grabbed her shoulders. "Don't. We agreed not to have any secrets between each other again. You've never been one to go back on your word. If that night on Proxima meant anything to you..."
Carrie quickened her pace, realization setting in as to what Janeway was about to do.
Kathryn looked away from her and met Chakotay's piercing gaze.
It was now or never.
"Carrington is yours, Chakotay." She blurted. "Not mine. Yours."
She felt him stiffen, and she winced when his hands unconsciously squeezed her shoulders.
"The future Admiral Janeway came back to save Carrie's life." She continued quickly. "I only realized it when The Doctor told me when she would be born. It fits the timeline, Chakotay. If we had remained in the Delta Quadrant, you would have married Seven and a year from now had a daughter, Carrington. She would have your dark hair and Seven's blue eyes. She would inherit her father's temper and her mother's tenacity. She would have been a miracle birth, I'm told, as it would have been near impossible for you two to conceive."
Chakotay released his grip her shoulders slowly, his hands sliding down her trembling arms before he turned away from her completely. The rain had increased slightly, but he hadn't noticed as he put some distance between them.
"You would never get to see your daughter grow up, because she and Seven would go down to the surface of a hospitable planet, where they would be killed in an ambush between Voyager and some unfriendly species. You would hate me after that, because the only reason why Seven would leave the ship in the first place was because I suggested that she let Carrie get some fresh air. What harm could befall them? Scans of the planet showed it uninhabited so there was no way..."
"Admiral." Carrie's firm voice silenced her.
She was standing a respectable distance away, but there was no respect in the way she glared at Janeway. "Admiral. Let's take a walk."
As Kathryn moved to step forward, Chakotay grasped her arm. "This isn't over."
He released her before she could shrug him off, nodding to Carrie before heading back toward the gathering.
Her command mask cemented into place, and they put some space between them and everyone else. Kathryn was taking small, contemplative steps, and Carrie dutifully matched her course and speed.
"When I couldn't reach you over the COMM, I thought you had already returned to the Relativity." Kathryn began.
"I did...briefly." She brusquely admitted. "Jack...James did a lot of damage to multiple timelines. We've started analyzing the effects."
"Any word on his whereabouts?" Janeway asked when they were a good distance away, knowing that Carrie was waiting for the right moment when she could tear into her.
"Based on the information you supplied us from Questor, we have reason to believe that he's already left this timeline." Carrie looked around to see how far they had walked. "Captain Braxton wants a head start on fixing the temporal incursions before going after him again, so I'll be leaving shortly. What the hell were you thinking?!"
"Easy Lieutenant." Janeway warned. "I still outrank you."
"Not where temporal matters are concerned." She shot back. "And its Commander to you, ma'am. Where I come from, it's my actual rank. You were advised not to discuss anything pertaining to what you know about what happens in the future. Especially when it concerns details of my existence."
"I thought you'd be pleased that I'm giving things a push in the right direction."
She was shaking her head. "Captain Braxton was right."
"You are a menace to all things time related."
"I'm touched. Tell him I said thanks for the compliment." She laced her response with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
Carrie dropped the issue in favor of something more urgent. "Your trip to the Devron System, I understand that you have some new information?"
Janeway handed her a PADD. "I'm surprised Braxton didn't realize this until now."
"He's not pleased." Carrie replied, skimming the data on the PADD as she spoke. "Your discovery of the real Jack Grayson changes everything. How did you find him?"
"I had Questor analyze the transporter signal from Chakotay's office at Oxford the night of the attacks. Turns out he wasn't the only one abducted that night. How is it that you never knew that Jack Grayson had an identical twin brother?"
"Because James Grayson supposedly died in when they were very young; some sort of freak accident. We're thinking that James was the one who actually survived and went on to assume Jack's identity. In all of my encounters with him, we never encountered the existence of his brother. Until now. Braxton thinks that the future Admiral Janeway's interference in your timeline is somehow related."
Kathryn's eyes widened. "You just said in all of your encounters. Does this mean that we've met before?"
She nodded slowly. "I'm unable to go into details, but yes, we have."
They had stopped walking and were now facing each other. Kathryn reached up and cupped her cheek for a moment.
"I'm really going to miss you, you know." Janeway confessed, pulling her hand away and tilting her head to one side. "Where on earth am I going to find another aide like you?"
"I could tell you..." She mock glared at her. "...but I'll have to break the temporal prime directive."
Kathryn rolled her eyes.
"But..." Carrie continued. "...suffice it to say, that you will be very pleased with your final choice."
She sighed. "So...this is it, then."
"You're a stubborn, infuriating officer. And I say this freely knowing that you can't put me on report." Carrie snapped to full attention. "It's been an honor, Admiral."
Kathryn was never good at farewells, and this was no exception. "Likewise, Lieutenant." She said softly, a hint of emotion tainting her voice.
She tapped her COMM badge. "Bell to the Relativity. Energize."
As she dematerialized, Kathryn heard her final words. "See you in the future, Admiral."
Chapter 24: The Right Fit
ONE MONTH LATER
Admiral Kathryn Janeway strode into the reception area of her former mentor's office, smiling as his aide rose to greet her. He returned her smile nervously as he fumbled his way in her direction, and Kathryn couldn't help but be reminded of a younger Harry Kim, fresh out of the Academy.
"Go on in, Sir." Kathryn blanched at the term, as he moved hastily to key open the door for her, his third attempt successful. "He's expecting you."
"Katie..." Admiral Owen Paris greeted his former protégé, and she nodded her thanks to his aide as she took the offered seat. "...Craig, some coffee for the Admiral, thank you."
The aide stumbled over a nearby chair as he hurried away, and Janeway looked toward her former mentor with a raised eyebrow, while she mentally chastised herself. Harry was never this green. "New aide?"
Paris shook his head, clearly not as amused. "Temporary replacement. My regular is on a much deserved vacation." His face relaxed slightly. "Speaking of new aides, the scuttlebutt around here says that you've gone through eight in the past four weeks."
She rolled her eyes. "It's five actually, and I'm being...selective."
He smirked. "Admit it Katie. No one could replace Carrie."
"Don't be so sure. My new aide is starting today, and I have a good feeling about this one. I've asked him to join us when he's finished getting his credentials. You could judge for yourself." She leaned over and handed him a PADD. "Final reports from the Enterprise debriefings on the Shinzon affair."
He took the PADD from her, adding it to the others on his desk. "That was some nasty business out there. Picard is still reeling from the loss of Data."
Kathryn nodded her agreement. "I've assigned B'Elanna and Harry to assist with the integration of his systems with the android they found on Kolarus III."
He looked at her skeptically. "Do you think it's going to work, this...new android?"
"B'Elanna thinks it's worth a try. She's working on a way to safely upload Data's memory banks into the new model."
"Well, if anyone can do it, B'Elanna can." He concluded. "So, are you ready for this weekend?"
"As ready as I'll ever be." Janeway grinned, pausing to accept her coffee from Craig's shaking hands. "Although you'll never know it if you visited our house in Indiana right about now."
"You're mother is calling it ‘grand central station' after the old New York subway system hub." Paris joked. "But she's in her element; after all, it's not every day her firstborn gets married."
"It doesn't help that Voyager's one year anniversary celebration is the same weekend." She reminded him. "Imagine trying to plan a rehearsal dinner with half of the senior staff already booked to attend some of the other celebratory events that were organized. Not to mention the time difference between Indiana and San Francisco, where most of the events are being held."
"Somehow I have no doubt that she can pull it off." Paris stated confidently. "So...you and Marshall Stark. I wouldn't have pegged him as your type, but I have to admit you two make a great team."
She deliberated silently for a moment.
"Can I ask you a question?"
Paris thought that she seemed...apprehensive about something. He gave her a reassuring look. "Of course, Katie. What is it?"
Kathryn thought of telling him not to bother, that she was just being a nervous bride, but her inquiring nature won out. "How did you know...about you and Claire I mean, that she was ‘the one' you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?"
He stared at her, deep in thought for a moment. Then he gave her a sentimental smile. "Your father introduced me to her; did I ever tell you that?" He nodded in confirmation when her eyes widened in surprise. "Claire worked for the civilian consortium Edward contracted to draw up the designs for his prototype shuttles. Suffice it to say, I disliked her on sight. This beautiful, headstrong, independent, well educated woman took one look at me and decided that she would never be with an authoritative, controlling ‘fleeter like me. Our first date was a disaster and needless to say, ended quickly."
"What happened?" Kathryn leaned forward, intrigued.
"We argued...of all things about which table we should sit at. I hated window seats, and she loved a good view. I couldn't stop thinking about her after that night, though. I pursued her for weeks but all my calls went unanswered. Then one day, she marched into my office, demanding to know why I wouldn't leave her alone."
"What did you say?"
"I told her..." His voice shook slightly with emotion as the memory resurfaced. "...that she was the first woman I'd met that the thought of marrying didn't scare me in the least."
Kathryn smiled widely at the sentiment. "That's a charming story, Owen."
He gave her a mock glare. "And one you will never repeat, young lady." He warned. "I have a certain reputation to keep up, you know." He studied her intently; grinning away as she drained her coffee cup. "Katie, I've always thought of you as one of my own, more so after Edward's death. I would have never agreed to walk you down the aisle if I thought you were making a wrong choice. Marshall is a good man, and he loves you."
Kathryn reached forward and grasped his hand. "Thank you. It means a lot to hear you say that."
The sound of a throat clearing made them look up. "Sirs..." Craig's head hovered just inside the door, his expression seemingly traumatized at the sentimental sight before him. "...Admiral Janeway, your new aide has arrived."
Kathryn gave Owen a sympathetic look. He glared back at her.
"Show him in, Craig." Paris ordered as the young man's head disappeared behind the doors. "And Ensign?"
The head popped back in. "Yes Sir?"
"Take the rest of the day off."
Paris breathed a sigh of relief as the aide disappeared, frowning at Janeway as her shoulders shook with barely contained laughter.
The doors opened again, admitting another officer, one that Kathryn only knew for a short time but held dear to her heart. He had a quiet confidence about him as he slid to attention before them, and Kathryn could not have been prouder.
"Admiral Paris." He addressed the elder man, before turning his attention toward Janeway. "Lieutenant Joshua Carey reporting for duty, Admiral."
"Welcome aboard Lieutenant." She greeted him. "I take it you've finished up with security."
"I have Admiral. I also took the liberty of stopping by your office to check on your appointments for the rest of the day. While I was there, a message came in from your sister reminding you of your final fitting at Pierre's, and then lunch with her in Old Town. She's already enroute."
Janeway glanced at Owen who was clearly impressed.
She quirked an eyebrow. "A test, if I may?"
She heard the quiet chuckle of her former mentor as Carey stiffened.
"Of course, Admiral." He replied assertively.
"It's the Admiral's Ball..." Janeway began. "...and you're responsible for the seating placements at my table. Those to be seated are as follows; Nechayev, Ross, Paris, Hayes, Chapman, Moore and Bennett. Starting from my left and moving clockwise, how would you choose to seat them?"
The young Lieutenant didn't hesitate.
"Ma'am..." He responded confidently, although his use of the term elicited a soft groan from Paris. "...from your left, and moving clockwise, they would be seated as follows; Chapman, Hayes, Ross, Nechayev, Moore, Bennett and Paris."
Janeway remained silent, her head tilted to one side as she contemplated his answer. "Why would you seat Nechayev between Moore and Ross?"
"Admiral Moore, having just returned from Starbase 73 where he is stationed, would definitely want to discuss situational tactics with Admiral Nechayev, ma'am. Admiral Ross of course would want to be included in that discussion so it was necessary to ensure that he was seated within earshot."
Paris was frowning. "I usually sit next Chapman, why the change?"
"That was before you had a new granddaughter, who just happens to be Admiral Janeway's goddaughter, Sir." Carey clarified. "No doubt, you would have some new holopics to update her with. Admiral Chapman, who could care less about situational tactics and gurgling baby girls would pass the time discussing recipes with Admiral Hayes, who, at the behest of his wife, recently started taking cooking classes."
"Not bad, Lieutenant." Janeway complemented.
"If I may, ma'am?"
Janeway nodded curiously. "Go ahead."
"I seated Admiral Bennett beside Admiral Paris, due to the fact that Bennett recently became the proud father to a baby boy, and - having been subjected to Admiral Paris' boasting all year, would be itching for some payback. Ma'am. Sir."
"You'll do." Janeway stood up finally, nodding her approval.
"Keep an eye on this one, Janeway." Admiral Paris winked. "I may steal him from you yet."
"Not a chance." Janeway headed toward the door. "See you at the rehearsal dinner, Admiral."
She heard his confirmation as she exited the office followed by Carey. "Tell Phoebe that I'm on my way. And schedule a meeting with my staff for 1300 hours. Since you're going to be around for a while, I'll need to introduce you properly."
"Aye, Admiral." Carey replied, a hint of a smile in his voice.
Janeway gave him a mischievous look. "No more ‘ma'am'?"
He grinned openly now. "Crunch time is over, Admiral."
The sound of his racing heart is the only thing he hears as he dances an intricate dance around his opponent.
He's within punching range; but has managed to avoid any major blows so far. He keeps his hands up to protect his face and he barely hears his trainer yell instructions to him from the far corner. But the din of his heartbeat is too loud and his thoughts echo deafeningly in his mind, and he misses his words.
He manages to land a good combination at his opponent - a Nausician - but not before the large burly alien gets in a few good shots. Two good low blows and an overhand right hook that snaps his head back.
His head collects the hook easily, but it's the next shot that throws him. He hits the canvas in a sprawl and the bell rings before the Nausician could do any more damage.
"You dropped your guard." Boothby scolded from above him, his blurred face coming into view. "Didn't you hear me when I told you to keep your head down?"
Chakotay took the old man's offered hand and rose from the canvas. "No, I didn't." He confessed.
"You're distracted. And you're getting old." Boothby walked away from him. "Come back when you're head is unstuck from your ass."
"Computer, end program." Chakotay ordered as he exited the holodeck.
His first officer joined him as he entered the turbolift. "We'll be arriving at Spacedock in less than an hour. We have already received clearance to dock and disembark." He reported, and Chakotay marveled not for the first time at the way in which the man always seemed to know where he was, and be able to join him at just the right moment.
"You were never in the Maquis, were you Commander?"
"Sir?" He looked at Chakotay confused.
"Never mind." They arrived at their destination, and Chakotay exited the lift first. "Have you spoken with Admiral Janeway's office?"
"She's not an easy Admiral to reach, but I finally managed to speak with her new aide." They made their way down the winding corridors of the deck, and he had to jog slightly to keep up with his Captain's steady pace. "She's currently at Pierre's in Old Town. They'll be having lunch at a nearby restaurant afterward."
"They?" He paused. He was not about to face her again with Stark around.
"Her sister is with her, Sir."
Chakotay exhaled, resuming course to his quarters. "Anything else?"
"Admiral West wants a meeting this afternoon at 1500 hours, your debriefing is scheduled for 0800 hours tomorrow, and you have a communication waiting from Commander Torres, Sir."
Chakotay stopped at the doors to his quarters which immediately slid open for him. "Did she say what it was about?" He wasn't in the mood for one of her tantrums today.
"She didn't. But then again, she didn't look very happy either."
He groaned inwardly. "Very well then. Dismissed."
He entered, finding the light on his computer flashing with the waiting communication.
"B'Elanna..." He greeted cheerfully, knowing that it would do nothing to improve her mood. "...what a pleasant surprise."
"Don't you ‘B'Elanna' me." She growled. "I haven't seen or heard from you all month, and now I hear from Tom that you're not going to be at the anniversary ball!"
"I have a lot to do..." He tried to explain, watching as her anger ratcheted up a notch. "... I'm heading up a tactical training mission which leaves the next morning, and I'm nowhere near..."
"So you're missing the wedding as well, then." She angrily cut him off. "Chakotay, what's going on? Did you and the Admiral have another fight?"
"We're fine, B'Elanna." Chakotay couldn't help but notice how much he sounded like Kathryn with that remark. "She'll understand when I tell her."
"You haven't told her yet?!" She yelled. Then she shouted some unsavory words at him in Klingon.
"We haven't exactly spoken since Jack's funeral." He admitted. "I'm meeting her today."
"And how long would you be away for?" She huffed.
"Six weeks." He held up a hand to ward off her next onslaught of expletives. "I will see you and Miral before I leave; don't worry."
"You're running from her, aren't you." She stated quietly, her anger set aside for the moment.
"What? No B'Elanna." He denied, but it came out sounding weak to his ears. "Contrary to what everyone thinks, our worlds do not revolve around each other. In case you haven't noticed, someone else is in her orbit now."
"Of course I have ‘noticed'." She ground out, not appreciating his condescending attitude for a second. "And I hate that I can't find anything wrong with him. I hate to say it, but he's perfect for her."
Chakotay tried not to flinch at her last remark. "Then what's the problem?"
She looked at him wistfully. "I guess we've been expecting a happy ending to our little fairytale for so long, it's just..."
"Not what you expected?"
"Not at all. But then again, that's the story of our lives." She paused, considering her next words. "Chakotay?"
"Have you ever wondered, what it would be like, if the timing was right for you both...if just once your spirits had smiled on you...and your planets aligned?"
Memories of Proxima he thought he'd buried in a desperate bid to regain his equilibrium came rushing to the fore. The way her skin felt as he slowly slid the straps of her dress from her shoulders. The way she tasted as his tongue dipped into her mouth for a deepened kiss. The way she moaned when his lips grazed that sensitive spot behind her...
"It hasn't been like that between us for a long time." He lied. "We've both moved on."
"You are such a horrible liar." She accused, her irritation reasserting itself. "And you're a p'tahk. See you on Sunday morning."
The screen abruptly went blank and Chakotay stared stupidly at it before he sighed.
Today was going to be a long day.
"I don't know..." Pierre circled Kathryn slowly, scrutinizing her closely. "...I feel like...something is not quite right."
"It's perfect, Pierre!" Phoebe sounded from a corner of the studio of the famous designer. "What could you possibly think is wrong?"
Kathryn witnessed the exchange of words in silence. They had spent the better part of two hours adjusting and refitting, and now she was running dangerously close to missing her staff meeting. "Pierre...we've been standing like this for..." She looked up at the chronometer, stifling an expletive. "Surely you could..."
"Ah Haaa! I see it!" He exclaimed triumphantly, his heavily accented voice echoing across the studio. Leaning forward, he removed an errant strand of thread from the back of her dress, holding it up in the mirror's reflection for her to see. "Now it's perfect."
Both Janeway women rolled their eyes.
"Off you go." He shooed them, and a visibly relieved Kathryn hurried into the changing area before he could change his mind.
Back in uniform, Kathryn exhaled in relief when they stepped out of the studio, an excited Pierre animatedly issuing instructions to his assistant in their wake.
They walked closely together, avoiding the post lunch crowd - Starfleet and civilian alike - as they made their way toward the nearest transport station.
"Lunch is going to have to be a stop for coffee, I'm afraid." Kathryn informed her sister as they rounded a corner.
And came face to face with Chakotay.
He hadn't seen her in a month; and it wasn't until he saw her now, standing before him in complete surprise, that he realized how much he missed her.
He opened his mouth to greet her, but she beat him to it.
"Chakotay..." Her voice belied any anxiety she felt at seeing him after so long. "...I didn't know you were back already. How was the dig?"
"It was a good experience for the students, and we did manage to make some small discoveries." He answered mechanically; not at all like their usual conversations about his field of work.
Phoebe glanced between the two with interest; this was nothing like their interaction over dinner on Proxima a month ago.
Chakotay caught the look on Phoebe's face as he turned to acknowledge her. "Phoebe, it's good to see you again. We never did get to have that other dinner."
"That's ok." She shrugged, noting the warning look that Kathryn gave her. "You can make up for it at the rehearsal dinner."
He tugged at his ear. "Phoebe, may I have a moment with Kathryn?"
Phoebe would give her most prized painting away for free, just to hear the exchange currently taking place between her sister and the handsome former Maquis. She was standing out of hearing range, but she could make out Kathryn's tense shoulders as Chakotay used his hands to emphasize something he was saying to her.
She watched Kathryn nod curtly but the look that momentarily crossed her face almost made Phoebe gasp aloud. It was gone before she could put a name to it, but one thing about it was certain; she never wanted to see that look on her sister's face again.
"Kathryn..." Phoebe interrupted them, knowing that her sister would be relieved that she did. "...we have to go, or you'll be late."
Ever the Starfleet officer, Kathryn recovered quickly. Her mask slid into place and she turned toward her sister. "And I did promise you that coffee after all." She looked back quickly at Chakotay. "Have a safe trip, Captain."
She moved away, resuming her course toward the transport station. "Coming Phoebe?"
Phoebe glared at Chakotay, who had the grace to look contrite. "You're not coming to the wedding, are you?"
"Phoebe..." He began.
"You selfish bastard." She hissed. "In spite of everything that's happened, you're supposed to be her best friend. Go to hell."
She left him staring after her, jogging to catch up with Kathryn, placing her arms around her shoulders to give her comfort as only a sister could.
Chapter 25: What Happens On New Earth...
The sound of silverware gently knocking against champagne glasses filled the dining area of the restaurant, where close to seventy guests celebrated.
Tom Paris stood, a smirk gracing his features as he gazed at the expectant crowd, holding up his hands for silence.
Kathryn, from her position seated at the largest of the dining tables, issued a forewarning. "Don't make me regret this, Mr. Paris." She cautioned; her deep voice rich with humor, as those within earshot laughed.
"As master of ceremonies tonight..." He began as everyone quieted. "...it is my esteemed honor to welcome you all to this joyous event." He paused briefly as a smattering of applause interrupted him. "As part of Voyager's former crew, some of whom are in attendance, tonight is special to us for two other reasons; the one year anniversary of Voyager's return from the Delta Quadrant - which we'll be celebrating later this evening - as well as the birth of the first baby born in transwarp, my beautiful daughter, Miral."
Applause and whistles sounded, and beside him B'Elanna squeezed his free hand while the other raised the champagne flute he held.
He continued when everyone settled. "None of this would have been possible, save for one woman, who happens to be present here tonight...none other than the bride to be, Kathryn Janeway."
Kathryn had to blink quickly to keep her tears at bay. Next to her, husband to be Marshall Stark, with his arm around her shoulders, kissed the side of her head.
They were both caught by surprise when everyone rose to their feet, and held their glasses up as Tom continued his toast.
"Join me everyone, in honor of the stubborn, red-headed, never say never, Captain, who kept her promise and got us home despite the odds. And even though she's part of the brass now, she would always be the Captain in our hearts, and I'm sure I would still follow her to the ends of the universe. Just as long as we have a slipstream drive to get us back."
Laughter followed, and Kathryn glared at him, before she gave him her trademark crooked smile.
He raised his glass higher. "To the bride to be, Kathryn Janeway."
The guests echoed his sentiment in unison. "To Kathryn Janeway."
While everyone returned to their seats, Kathryn stood and moved over to Tom, not surprised when he pulled her into a quick hug. "Congratulations, Admiral." He whispered as they pulled away.
Outside one of the restaurant's large windows stood Chakotay, watching the festivities and taking care to stand out of sight of anyone celebrating inside.
Although, he wouldn't have noticed if he'd been seen.
He only had eyes for Kathryn. She looked stunning in the vintage gown she wore, not unlike the one she had donned for the Admiral's Ball.
She seemed genuinely happy; a thought that was confirmed for him when she accepted a surprise gift from Stark, tilting her head slightly to allow him to place the necklace around her neck, her smile radiant as she examined her new trinket.
Chakotay was forced to look away when Stark leaned in to kiss her softly on her bare shoulder. Just over a month ago, in a hotel room on Proxima, he was the one kissing her there.
His thoughts dissipated as he felt a familiar presence behind him. Deciding to wait a moment before exposing his observer's location, he glanced back at the activities inside, in time to see Kathryn pull away from Stark as The Doctor interrupted them.
"There you are, Doctor." Inside, Kathryn greeted the EMH, as Marshall turned to chat with Admiral Paris. "Where have you been? You missed most of the rehearsal dinner."
"Admiral..." The Doctor guided her to an unoccupied table at the far corner of the restaurant. "...can we speak privately? there's something you need to know."
"And it couldn't wait until afterward?" She smiled her greetings at a passing guest before returning her attention to him.
"I'm afraid not, Admiral." He said quietly, and her brows furrowed in concern. "It's about you and Captain Chakotay."
"What about the Admiral and Chakotay?" B'Elanna pulled up alongside where Tom and Harry stood.
Harry stared at B'Elanna, and couldn't help but notice that Tom appeared unfazed by his wife's appearance. "You do realize that this is the men's room..."
"Of course I do." She leaned forward casually to check her appearance before heading into one of the private stalls. "The women's room was too crowded."
"Harry here was just telling me that the Admiral was with him on Proxima just over a month ago." Tom thumped him on his shoulder. "He was about to give me the juicy details when you interrupted."
"There are no juicy details, Tom." Harry rolled his eyes in true Janeway fashion. "She was there to have dinner with her sister. The Nara was scheduled to pick her up the next morning."
B'Elanna called out from behind the closed door. "So how did you know that Chakotay was there?"
"Chakotay was there? On Proxima? With Kathryn?" Back in the dining area, Gretchen stared at her youngest daughter from the seat beside her.
"They weren't there together." Phoebe clarified, keeping her voice low so as not to be overheard. "I ran into Chakotay outside the restaurant. He asked about Katie, and I invited him to have dinner with us."
"Katie must have been thrilled." Gretchen wasn't a stranger to the tenuous relationship between her daughter and her former first officer.
"Not at first." Phoebe paused to sip her champagne. "But it turned out to be a great evening. In fact..."
Gretchen raised an eyebrow. "In fact what?"
Phoebe shook her head but couldn't readily dismiss the possibilities forming in her mind. "Forget it...it's nothing."
"What are you thinking?" Gretchen pressed.
"I could hear the wheels turning in your head, Tuvok." Chakotay called out to the figure hidden behind him. "You can come out now. I know you're there."
"Curious, I hardly made a sound, and yet you knew of my presence." The Vulcan stepped out from behind a nearby tree, his brow raised.
Chakotay shrugged. "I wouldn't be a good Professor of Advanced Tactics if I didn't. Besides, all those years on Voyager have fined tuned my senses. The question is...how did you know I was here?"
"Well, you were not inside when I arrived, and given Commander Torres' rather colorful explanation for your notable absence, I surmised that you were not going to be in attendance. However, given your history with Admiral Janeway, I concluded that you would not be able to stay away."
Chakotay regarded the newly minted Starfleet Captain closely. "And you knew that I would be here...tonight."
Tuvok nodded once. "Indeed. Although, I have considered you many things Captain, but never a coward."
"Excuse me?" Kathryn fixed a steady gaze on the Doctor's face. "What about Chakotay and I?"
The Doctor glanced briefly around the room. "I was hoping to see him here tonight so that I could tell you both together."
"He's not coming." She stated quickly, waving a dismissive hand. "Something came up, and he couldn't make it."
He looked at her, surprised. "I can't imagine anything that will keep him away tonight. His best friend is getting married; it's Voyager's one year anniv..."
"Well something has, and he did." Janeway cut him off. "Now...are you going to tell me what's going on? And how does it involve me and Chakotay?"
"I think something happened between Katie and Chakotay on Proxima." Phoebe leaned in to whisper in her mother's ear.
"What do you mean, ‘something happened'?" Gretchen gave her daughter a confused look.
"I think they slept together that night."
"Phoebe!" Gretchen hissed quietly. "Kathryn would never..."
"Mom..." Phoebe cut her mother off. "...yes...she would. Aren't you the least bit curious about the fact that Chakotay is not here tonight?"
"The thought did cross my mind." Harry watched B'Elanna emerge from the stall and make her way over to the sink. "But I figured that we'd see him later, at the anniversary party."
"Chakotay's not coming Harry..." Tom informed him. "...not even to the wedding."
"I'm sure he has a good reason." Harry defended his former commanding officer. "Besides, what does Proxima have to do with any of this?"
"I think Proxima has everything to do with this." Phoebe announced.
"You're speculating." Gretchen dismissed her words. "Besides, if - as you say - this were some masterfully orchestrated love story which began some seventy-five thousand light years away, where is Chakotay now?"
"I'd bet my last bar of latinum that he's standing outside the restaurant right now, working up the courage to come in and talk some sense into her." Tom speculated.
"Not that Marshall isn't a great guy..." B'Elanna added. "...but I always thought those two would have come to their senses when we got home."
Harry stared at his best friends, like they'd both become possessed by alien entities. "You're both delusional. I'm leaving."
Tuvok pressed on, unfazed by Chakotay's attempt to leave. "You have never denied your feelings for Kathryn Janeway, and while you have never openly admitted them either, standing here in the dark, watching while she goes off and marries another is not the logical thing you would do. And yet, here you are."
Chakotay stopped in his tracks, taking a deep breath before he spun around.
"Tuvok, what's going on?" Chakotay watched him warily. "Did B'Elanna put you up to this?"
"I can assure you, that the Commander or no one else for that matter knows of your presence here." Tuvok assured him. "But I have reason to believe that the relationship between you and the Admiral has...changed. Much like that time when you both returned from the planet you called...New Earth."
Janeway tensed. "What about New Earth, Doctor?"
The Doctor leaned forward slightly. "I've been consulting at Questor for the past few weeks, assisting the medical and science teams there. They've been studying your data from the plant and animal life you were experimenting on."
"Yes but my work never amounted to anything." Kathryn informed him. "Most of my work was damaged in the storm."
"But not as much as you think." The Doctor corrected. "In fact, if you had continued, you would have found a cure."
Kathryn's eyes widened. "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure, mom." Phoebe refilled their champagne glasses while she spoke. "It's the only explanation for their sudden estrangement."
Gretchen was shaking her head doubtfully. "I don't know, Phoebe. It's not Kathryn's style to just go off and spend the night with a man, even if that man happens to be Chakotay. And what about Marshall?"
"She and Marshall weren't together at the time, remember? They had a fight and they agreed to a break."
"And you're saying that Katie's sudden decision to marry Marshall now was somehow spurred on by something to do with Chakotay?"
"I'm saying that you shouldn't just take my word for it." The Doctor handed Kathryn a PADD. "All of the results are here...with some additional information which is the reason for my late appearance here tonight."
She thumbed on the PADD, studying The Doctor's features before lowering her eyes to the data as it scrolled across the small screen.
Kathryn paled as the results of the latest testing were displayed, and the PADD trembled in her hand as she met The Doctor's steady gaze.
"Are you sure?" Her voice sounded shaky to her ears. "This is real?"
"This is real, Harry." Tom called after him as he left. "The only one delusional here is you."
"That's our Harry." B'Elanna grinned as the door slid shut behind their friend. "You know how he, Tom. He's like a kid who thinks of Chakotay and Janeway like they were his parents. No kid wants to hear that their parents are having sex. Remember how he went into denial after they came back from...what did they call the planet?"
"New Earth." Tom answered.
She held up a finger in remembrance. "That's the one. Most of us thought something happened on New Earth."
"Nothing happened on New Earth, Tuvok." Chakotay's tone warned that the Vulcan was intruding on forbidden territory. "Not that it's anyone's business. As for the present, the Admiral and I are friends. Nothing more."
"So you say."
Chakotay glared at him. "Have a good evening, Tuvok."
"And you as well, Captain." Tuvok called after Chakotay's retreating figure.
Kathryn stared at The Doctor's back as he walked away. As he passed the table where her mother and sister were sitting, she caught Phoebe's eye. The look on her face must have concerned her sister, because she immediately excused herself and headed in her direction.
"Katie..." Phoebe sat down in the seat that The Doctor had just vacated. "...are you alright? You look like you've just seen the ghost of Christmas future."
Kathryn blinked a few times to stay focused on her sister's words. "I think I just have, Phoebe. I think I just have."
Moments after Tom and B'Elanna exited the men's room, Marshall Stark stepped out from inside one of the private stalls.
He exhaled a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. A simple trip to the men's room was suddenly transformed into him inadvertently becoming privy to a discussion he was sure he was not meant to overhear.
He quickly freshened up and made his way toward the dining area.
He needed to talk to Kathryn.
Marshall turned at the sound of his name, frowning when he saw the Federation President's chief aide hurrying toward him. "Elliot, what is it?"
"Nan is calling an emergency meeting with the Security Council in a few minutes. There's been a...development."
His frown deepened. "And she couldn't reach me over the COMM?"
"Her office went to COMM silence an hour ago. She sent a shuttle to meet us." He handed him a PADD. "The pilot gave me this."
He took the PADD, but didn't turn it on. "Do you know what's happening?"
He nodded. "Approximately eighteen hours ago. Starfleet lost communication with four of its deep space Starbases. Including the Sollente Outpost."
"Sollente?" He glanced over at where Kathryn was sitting, talking with her sister. Sollente was under her command. "Does Kathryn know?"
"No one knows but Shanthi's office, Nan and us." Elliot followed Marshall's gaze briefly before fixing it back on him. "And it has to stay that way, until we have more information."
Marshall nodded. "Any ideas what happened yet?"
Elliott took a deep breath. "All indicators are pointing toward the Borg."
Chapter 26: The Eleventh Hour
Gretchen Janeway could count on one hand, the times in her life when she had been rendered speechless.
The night Edward proposed to her on bended knee.
The sight of her newborn daughters when they were placed in her arms for the first time.
The day they told her that they had made contact with Voyager.
None compared to the vision before her now; her little Katie standing facing her, in her wedding gown, the most beautiful, contented look on her face.
The dress was clearly a work of art, framing Kathryn's lean body like a glove; a strapless diamond embroidered garment which trailed slightly behind her and appeared to sparkle in the light with her every movement.
A lone tear slid down her cheek. "Oh Katie..."
"Mom, I swear..." Kathryn blinked back her own tears. "...if you make me cry again..."
"Oh no you don't..." Phoebe entered Kathryn's childhood bedroom behind their mother. "...no crying before the big event, that's an order."
Gretchen moved closer to her elder daughter, grasping her bare shoulders briefly before pulling her into a tight hug. "I wish your father were here. He would be so proud."
"I wish he were here too, mom." Kathryn whispered back.
A small whimper caught their attention. Both older women looked across at Phoebe who was desperately fighting tears.
"Look what you did." She accused. "Now I'm going to get all weepy."
Gretchen and Kathryn pulled the youngest Janeway into their group hug, and the three held on for a few precious moments before they unanimously separated.
"I hope I'm not interrupting." Owen Paris was standing at the threshold of the room, mindful that he had just witnessed a special moment. "I'd like a minute with the bride, if I may."
"Of course..." Kathryn waved him over, not missing the concerned look on his face. "...please, come in."
"I should go and check on the early arrivals." Gretchen dabbed at her moist eyes, noting the older man's official tone. "You have just under an hour to go, Katie."
"I'll come with you." Phoebe followed her mother out, giving Kathryn a reassuring wink before she shut the door behind her.
"You look beautiful, Katie." Owen took her hand, kissing it solemnly before letting it fall to her side. "Marshall is a lucky man."
"Thank you." Kathryn smiled at his gesture. "But I think I'm the lucky one."
"Any word from him?"
Kathryn tilted her chin toward the light as she faced the full length mirror, checking for smudged make-up. "Not since he left the rehearsal dinner last night." She turned to face her former mentor. "Have you found out anything?"
He frowned, and Kathryn realized that he knew more than he was telling her. "Maybe you should sit down."
She didn't budge; and the knot that appeared in her gut the minute Marshall was called away tightened. "Maybe you should just tell me what you know."
Admiral Paris exhaled. "It's the Borg, Kathryn. They're back."
"You're late." B'Elanna glared at her oldest friend as he waited expectantly on her doorstep.
"And you look stunning." Chakotay admired her as she stood before him in her shimmering formal gown.
She rolled her eyes at his noble attempt to appease her. Stepping aside, she punched him playfully as he moved past her into the house. "I thought you had an early departure?"
"We've been unexpectedly delayed." Chakotay explained as he looked around the room, noting how quiet the house seemed. "Where's Miral?"
"You just missed her." She gestured for him to follow her upstairs. "Tom's mother decided at the last minute to take her to the wedding. She wants to show her off to her friends."
"Chakotay..." Tom looked up briefly as they entered the couple's large dressing room. He was hunched over on a nearby sofa, shining his shoes. "...so, you're going to make the wedding after all?"
"Not likely..." Chakotay ignored B'Elanna's glare as she made her way over to the dresser to finish her make-up. "...I only came to see Miral before I left."
"Well, it doesn't look like you're going anywhere in a hurry." He informed him. "All Federation vessels have been 'grounded' as it were. Nothing is going anywhere for the next twenty four hours."
"Where did you hear that?" B'Elanna turned to face him.
Tom stood up to admire his work. "The news broke moments ago." He gestured toward the muted viewscreen in the corner of the room, where news headlines were still streaming across the screen. "Looks like something's up."
"Probably an ion storm." B'Elanna concluded. "If it were something more, we would have been called in by now."
"So I guess you could make it to the wedding after all, old man." Tom tapped Chakotay's shoulder as he passed him.
"That doesn't change anything." Chakotay remained resolute. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" Tom pressed. "You did get an invitation, and she wants you there. Care to explain what's keeping you away?"
When he didn't answer, B'Elanna chimed in.
Something happened on Proxima, didn't it?" She challenged.
He flinched, clearly caught off guard. "It's not what you think, B'Elanna..." He wasn't about to discuss Proxima. Not now, and certainly not with her. "...look, maybe its best if I go. I'm sorry I missed Miral. Be sure to give the Admiral my regards."
Tom stopped him in his tracks before he reached the door. "Chakotay, you are a sad excuse for a man."
"Excuse me?" He turned around to face him.
"Tom..." B'Elanna cautioned, but he waved her off.
"Wasn't it enough that we had to watch you two circle each other for the better part of seven years?" He inched forward slowly, not taking his eyes off Chakotay. "Granted, the Kathryn Janeway I know would never put anything above ship and crew. But it was no secret that she loved you and you loved her. Would it have killed you to wait until we got back? Or didn't you think she could actually pull it off?"
"That's enough, Tom." Chakotay warned. But the determined look in the younger man's eyes told him that this was a long time coming.
"Did I hit a nerve?" Tom remarked sarcastically. "Are you admitting that you didn't drink the Janeway kool-aid like the rest of us, and believed that she would get us home like she said she would?"
Chakotay's anger was rising, and it was becoming clear that Tom had hit a nerve. "You're out of line, Commander."
"Then you can demote me when I'm done. But I'm damn well going to finish what I have to say." Tom snapped. "Every time she had to watch you move on to the next alien in line because you couldn't get your head out your ass, it took a little more from the woman and replaced it with the Starfleet officer."
"We were friends, Tom. We had no agreement." He admitted hastily, without thinking, and instantly regretted revealing anything to the younger man.
Tom was staring at him. "You really are an idiot, aren't you? She couldn't ask, she was your commanding officer. And even if she could, she wouldn't have made that request of you. She wanted you to be happy, whether it was with her or not. You're not the best at hiding your feelings, remember? She saw how hard it was for you. So she sacrificed her happiness for yours."
Now it was Chakotay's turn to stare.
"All you had to do, was wait." Tom continued. "And just when we had home handed to us on a silver platter courtesy the future Admiral Janeway, you had to run off and find the next available blonde. Of all the women in the universe, did it have to be Seven? The one person Janeway had allowed herself to get close to, other than you? You think that the future Admiral came back for all of us. But think again; she only came back for you. She gave you a second chance. You are a piece of work Chakotay. No, correction; you're an ass. And I would punch you right now if it wasn't for your damned boxing skills and the fact that you can throw me in the brig. I hope you're happy now, because you blew it big time. And in about an hour, she's getting married to someone else. I hope you're happy now."
He turned to move away, but abruptly changed his mind. "You know what? DON'T come to the wedding. You don't deserve to see her happy. Because she sure as hell is happier than I've EVER seen her. How does it feel, big guy? Knowing you're not the one marrying her today...knowing that it could have been you, waiting on the other end of the aisle, instead of Marshall Stark."
He stepped back and grabbed his jacket in one fluid motion, before he stormed out of the room.
There was a stunned silence for a few seconds. Then Chakotay slumped into a nearby chair. B'Elanna studied her former commanding officer a few moments longer.
"He's right, you know." She said finally.
"I know. He should have punched me though. It would have hurt less."
B'Elanna sighed. "So what now?"
"I don't know." He combed his hand through his hair before meeting her steady gaze as she sat down across from him. "Any advice for the old man."
B'Elanna studied this man, her friend, who was fiercely private and extremely proud. The man who - in a rare fit of frustration - had poured out his heart to her in confidence, the very same night he had returned from a planet he'd called New Earth. She had never seen him that way before, and thought she never would again.
"Unrequited love..." She began quietly. "...is the perfect romantic construct. It allows two cowardly people to act out a fantasy of love, without having to face any real consequences. Are you the coward Tom just accused you of being? Or are you the angry warrior you professed to be, on a distant planet many years ago?"
Chakotay gave her a small smile, revealing a hint of his trademark dimples, as the memories of a distant uninhabited planet surfaced. "When did you become so wise?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "I heard it on one of Tom's old movies." She leaned forward, taking his hands in both of hers. "I've had the honor of serving with the best commanding officers the universe had to offer. Both of whom, as stubborn and infuriating and self-sacrificing as they are, deserve each other, despite what Tom says."
Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "Thanks...I think."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Do you love her?"
"With all my heart."
"Good." She smirked. "Now, go get your girl, Captain."
Admiral Marshall Stark glanced at the chronometer for the hundredth time from his position at the large conference table. He was supposed to be getting married in less than an hour, but here he was, at the presidential palace in Paris, amidst a flurry of activity, as the quadrant's top officials tried to make sense of what was happening.
"You picked a hell of a day to get married." Taela Shanthi, Starfleet's Commander in chief, broke his reverie. He looked up to see her towering over him, her visage all business, in contradiction to the hint of a smile gracing her features.
"I'm sure Kathryn will be pleased to hear that the Borg are about to crash our wedding." He retorted lightly before falling serious. "Has Owen...?"
"He is informing her as we speak." Shanthi informed him. "We are going to have to ask her to..."
"Admiral..." Shanthi's aide interrupted them. "...you should see this."
He switched on the viewscreen, drawing the attention of those in the room. "The top three media houses are already asking for Starfleet's official response." He informed them as a reporter described what they were currently watching.
"...those of you just joining us, this is a live feed from a civilian cargo vessel, located just a few parsecs shy of deep space nine. As you can see, it is a single Borg sphere, and it appears to be stationary for the moment. Reports are coming in that communications beyond the sphere's location is impossible, and the cargo vessel reports that it is unable to hail deep space nine due to some sort of interference from the ..."
"Admiral..." The aide interrupted again. "...we have an incoming long range transmission. It has a Borg signature."
Shanthi made eye contact with the aide. "From the sphere?"
He shook his head. "No Sir. The signal seems to be originating from approximately two light years away from the location of the sphere. We are being hailed, Sir."
Shanthi and Stark both glanced at each other before turning toward the communications display in unison as the head of Starfleet gave the order.
"Admirals..." Seven of Nine's image filled the screen, her expression one of urgency. "...it is imperative that I speak with Admiral Janeway."
The large Victorian style house stood proudly on the vast property that for over three hundred years was handed down from generation to generation amongst the Janeway clan. Today, the sprawling Indiana estate would be host to one of the biggest events in its remarkable history.
Chakotay walked contemplatively up the pathway leading to the back entrance of the house, his steps measured and precise. His thoughts though were another matter, and only his face reflected his inner turmoil.
To one side of the three storey building, he could see that a portion of the property had been cordoned off; and within its limits guests entered and mingled amongst a beautifully decorated reception area. Adjacent to that, a few guests - some of whom he recognized as Voyager's former crew - began seating themselves in the area prepared for the ceremony itself. There were fresh flowers everywhere; most of the bouquets situated at the specially constructed altar where Kathryn and Marshall would exchange vows in a traditional ceremony.
For now, that area was deserted, save a typically stoic Tuvok, who was sitting at the front row, no doubt preparing for his role as marriage officiant.
The scene before him gave him pause. Now that he was here, he was not really sure what the outcome of this encounter with Kathryn would be; he hadn't really thought this far ahead when he left B'Elanna's house. All he knew was that he wanted...no needed to see Kathryn one last time before she...
"You've got some nerve."
Chakotay turned around to face her. "Phoebe, I..."
"Tom mentioned that you would try to show your face..." She was shaking her head. "...but I didn't believe him; thought you were too much of a coward. What are you doing here, Chakotay?"
"I came to talk to Kathryn." He stated simply.
"The hell you are." She growled between clenched teeth, the famous Janeway death glare on full display. "Leave. Now."
The name cracked like a bolt of lightning, and Chakotay would recognize Kathryn's husky command voice anywhere. But he didn't turn around. Instead, he watched as Phoebe turned her steely gaze toward her elder sister.
He figured that whatever look was deflected back toward her was significant enough to make her back down.
"Fine!" Phoebe shrugged in a show of indifference before leaving them alone.
Chakotay turned around then, and the sight of her made his breath catch in his throat.
It was exactly how he had always imagined her on her wedding day. She was glowing, and the dress she wore added to her aura of happiness. His heart twisted in his chest and he found himself at a loss for words.
"Let's take this into the study, shall we."
He followed her silently while she led him into a nearby office, admiring the way she moved gracefully, despite the cumbersome length of the dress.
With the heavy wooden doors securely shut behind them. She let out a sigh. "It's already been a long day, Chakotay. And I'm due to walk down the aisle in less than..." She glanced at the chronometer. "...thirty minutes. So if we're going to do this, we need to be quick."
She waited for some sort of response from him, but none was forthcoming. But the look he was giving her made her spine go rigid.
The first time he looked at her like that, it was from across a table on a distant planet in the Delta Quadrant...the second time was when he slowly worshipped her body for the first time in a hotel room on Proxima. Either way, this was dangerous territory.
But what he said next came totally unexpected.
"I want you to be happy, Kathryn."
She exhaled a breath she didn't know she was holding, and visibly relaxed. For one fleeting moment, she had imagined that The Doctor had disclosed to him what he had already told her the night before. Another thought was that he had come to stop her from marrying Marshall.
So he was here to give her his blessing after all.
"Which is why I have to tell you that I love you."
She gave him a startled look.
"I love you Kathryn Janeway." Chakotay pressed on. "I've loved you for a long time and I should have said something sooner but..."
Kathryn was shaking her head as he spoke. "Don't...please. You have to stop, you can't do this; you can't look at me that way. Stop looking at me!" She babbled on, in a last ditch attempt to stave off anything else he might want to say. "I love Marshall and he loves me and we're getting married! You can't do this! Not when I'm finally happy...you have to stop, Chakotay. Go back to Seven if you like, or find someone else, but leave me alo..."
In a swift move that caught her by surprise, Chakotay grabbed her shoulders and crushed his lips against hers to silence her.
It was a bruising kiss, but no less passionate than those he'd shared with her as they lay tangled together in post coital bliss over a month ago. At first, she was stiff with shock, but eventually her traitorous body responded and molded to his as he deepened the kiss.
"You think I don't want to stop loving you?" He breathed against her mouth when they parted for air. "I don't want to hurt Marshall. And Seven doesn't drive me to insanity when I see her, she doesn't have that quirky little smile when I say something funny, and spirits know how I love that smile."
He pulled her lips to his again briefly, before punctuating kisses along her jaw, until he reached that sensitive spot behind her ear. "Seven doesn't look into the depths of my eyes and know exactly what I'm thinking..." He whispered into her ear. "...what I'm feeling. I would settle for anything, but please Kathryn, please don't omit me from your life again. I know what I said about Proxima, but I can't leave this at only one night. Spirits...I'd settle for just watching you from across a crowded room, because I've tried, Kathryn, I've tried to stop loving you. But I can't...I can't."
He released her then with a slight shove as he turned away from her to compose himself.
Silence reigned, and it was at least a minute before either of them spoke again.
"So what does this mean?" Kathryn spoke quietly from behind him. Her hands were trembling and she was fighting to remain in control of her emotions.
Here she was, minutes away from marrying Marshall, but kissing Chakotay like her life depended on it.
He turned to meet her gaze once again, his face composed, but his eyes were still ablaze with passion.
A soft knock on the door interrupted them.
"Katie..." Gretchen Janeway pushed her way inside, not surprised at the other occupant in the room. Nodding toward him briefly, she redirected her attention toward her daughter. "Marshall is on the COMM from Federation Headquarters. He says it's urgent. I'll send it down here."
Gretchen glanced between Kathryn and Chakotay, who hadn't taken their eyes off each other since she entered.
"Thanks mom." Kathryn kept her eyes on Chakotay as her mother exited.
Seconds later, the COMM terminal chirped and Kathryn jumped slightly. As she turned to answer the call, Chakotay grabbed her upper arm to stop her, pulling her against his chest.
"You have a choice to make, Kathryn. Just one step...one single step. Walk down that aisle and there's no turning back. You will become Mrs. Marshall Stark and you will have the time of your life. I know you will, because he loves you and he will do that for you. Or you could take one single step into my arms and I can't promise the glamour a life with Stark can give you, but I can promise that I will love you for the rest of my life. Just one step, Kathryn, will dictate the rest of your life."
While he spoke, his arm had snaked around her waist securing her to him. He raised his hand to her hair to tuck away a stray strand behind her left ear.
"I don't want to rush you, but you're due to walk down the aisle soon. I'm going to leave you now, but know this. I love you. I'm in love with you. And I will not stop. Spirits know I've tried. So make your choice."
He released her then, and without hesitation, made his way out of the room.
Kathryn stared at the door long after he had gone, the chirp from the COMM terminal reminding her that Marshall was waiting.
"Marshall..." She breathed when his face appeared on the screen. He looked tired, and...concerned.
"Has Owen spoken with you?"
"Turn on the newsvids."
Kathryn did as she was told, and turned on the viewscreen in the corner of the study. She gasped as the image of a large Borg sphere appeared. "Owen didn't mention..."
"This is a recent development." He paused as someone off screen handed him a PADD. "Listen...Kathryn...about the wedding..."
Outside the study, Gretchen and Phoebe waited for Kathryn to come out. They had borne witness to Chakotay's abrupt departure moments ago, and were debating Kathryn's current state of mind, as well as what transpired between her and Chakotay.
The doors suddenly swung open, and Kathryn stepped out, her Admiral's mask firmly in place.
She gazed at her closest family for a moment, as they stood watching her expectantly, considering the easiest way so say what she had to say next.
"Mom, Phoebe..." She began calmly. "...I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. There's not going to be a wedding today."
Chapter 27: Honor, Part I
Honor, Part I
"Regeneration Cycle Complete."
Seven of Nine's eyes immediately opened and she stepped away from the alcove. Sensing she was not alone, she scanned the area; her optical implant aiding her in quickly locating the room's other occupant.
Axum, formerly known as Five of Twelve, Secondary Adjunct of Trimatrix 942, moved forward slowly, keeping his gazed fixed on her. "Sleep well?"
Seven hesitated; her first instinct was to tell him that the Borg do not sleep. But thinking through his question, she decided on an alternative answer.
"The new alcove is...acceptable." Her voice echoed as she spoke, giving away the room's true size.
"You seem apprehensive." He looked at her closely. "Is there something wrong?"
She shook her head, understanding that he would not yet be in tuned with her human emotions, despite the weeks they spent together, becoming reacquainted. "I am perplexed. When I made contact with Admiral Janeway to inform her about our findings regarding the sphere, I hardly expected her to come out here to see for herself. And now..."
"My brief association with her during our time in Unimatrix Zero has showed her to be a headstrong, determined human." Axum interjected. "She would have come regardless of your objections."
"I assured her that the sphere is dead; are we certain...?"
"I have the others running continuous scans." Axum was within close range of her now, and placed his hands on her shoulders in a human-like attempt to reassure her. "There are still no signs of life, save the interference it is emanating. Given its intensity, I am surprised your Federation detected our signature."
"We have made several strides in technology since we last met."
"Speaking of technology, I am looking forward to meeting your holographic Doctor." He dropped his hands from her shoulders to examine them. They were still covered in implants as was most of his body; whatever skin that was visible looked grey and pasty.
She grasped his hands in hers, pulling them around her waist as she brought her body closer to his. Releasing one of his hands, she cupped his cheek. "He will make you whole again. I promise."
Admiral Kathryn Janeway crossed the room slowly as she paced; her left hand skimming lightly across the smooth surface of the large Amitra desk, her mind contemplating what lay ahead.
The presidential office was quiet now; in stark contrast to the earlier buzz of President Bacco and her team, who had invited Janeway to join them to give her insight on what appeared to be their latest Borg threat.
She paused in her musings to admire the centerpiece of the Presidential office; it's intricate detailing giving the appearance of a wooden finish, but its hardened surface ostensibly as sturdy as metal.
"Etta had it moved in here when she took office." Marshall's quiet tone sounded from behind her.
She turned around in time to see the doors slide silently shut behind him. "I was trying to remember the name of the material it's made from."
"Salish, I believe it's called." He moved forward until he was standing within reach of her. "Etta is just concluding her address to the security council. They've given Admiral Shanthi their authorization to proceed."
Kathryn nodded her acknowledgement. "Then my orders are officially in effect." She moved past him on her way to the exit. "I should get going."
"We would have been married by now."
"I know." Kathryn stopped before the doors triggered open, but did not turn around. This was exactly the situation she was trying to avoid. "The Borg have never been known for their timing."
"Don't...Marshall." She turned, blinking a few times to hold back her tears. "I'll be back. Then we'll have the wedding of the century."
"Phoebe told me that Chakotay came to see you."
Kathryn stiffened, unrestrained memories of their brief meeting, of his lips gliding across hers flashing across her already befuddled mind. "I'm going to kill her."
"No you're not." He moved closer now, until they were touching at different points on their bodies. "She meant well. I think she wanted me to go find him and punch his lights out."
"I would like to punch her lights out."
"Are you in love with him?"
"Marshall...how could you ask me that?" She gently cupped his cheek, her ability to maintain her composure remarkable given the suddenness of the question. "I love you. I'm marrying you. And as soon as I ret..."
"What happened on Proxima, Kathryn?"
Her mask slipped, and she dropped her hand, clearly taken aback. She took a step away from him. "What do you know about Proxima?"
Her reaction told him more than he needed to know. "Nothing more than an overheard conversation in the men's room. It was more filled with speculation and innuendo than anything of substance. The look on your face now, however...speaks volumes." He tilted his head to one side. "Did something happen between you and Chakotay on Proxima, Kathryn? Is that why he came to see you?"
She took a deep breath, wishing for all the world that she wouldn't have to do this now. But she owed it to Marshall to do the honorable thing. So she calmly exhaled, met his piercing gaze with one of her own, and told him everything.
"It was one night. You and I...we weren't..." She waved her hand between them to indicate that they were not together at the time. "I could blame it on the wine, or on the fact that I was feeling vulnerable, or just because it was about damn time. But I won't. I wanted it to happen. And I don't regret it. And I certainly didn't expect to be admitting it to you now. But it wasn't about love then, Marshall, and it isn't about love now."
"Would you do it again?"
She gave his question some thought before she answered. "I would never do anything to hurt you, you have to know that...but...yes...I would."
He grazed his thumb across her lower lip before he kissed her gently. "Thanks for being honest with me."
Her COMM badge chirped. "Admiral..." Tom Paris' voice filled the air between them. "The gang's all here. We're ready to roll."
She made a mental note to remind the young Commander of the appropriate ways to inform his commanding officer that they were ready to depart. "Acknowledged, Mr. Paris. Stand by."
Marshall kissed her forehead, her nose, then her lips. "Be careful. Stay safe. Come back to me."
She merely nodded, temporarily at a loss for words. Stepping back, she slapped her COMM badge. "Janeway to Voyager. Energize."
Janeway materialized on the bridge to the sound of everyone coming to attention. "Admiral on the bridge." Harry Kim's voice rang out.
She gazed around the room she once called home for seven years, almost gasping out loud in surprise. Her one request to the Admiralty was for the use of Voyager on this mission. She just didn't expect her former crew to show up as well. Tom was not exaggerating. The gang was all here.
Tuvok, as stoic as ever, in his usual place behind tactical, nodding curtly as their eyes met.
B'Elanna, fighting a smirk as she stood before the engineering console.
Harry, no longer the fresh out of the Academy Ensign, but now the Starfleet Commander in his familiar stance at the ops station.
The Doctor, no doubt putting in an appearance to observe what was going to be an historic moment; the coming together of Voyager's former crew for one last mission.
Tom, once a convicted felon, now a proud husband, father, and now friend, his eyes full of gratitude and emotion as he watched her from the Conn.
Then there was Chakotay.
So many thoughts about him flooded her mind now, the former ‘fleet Commander who gave up everything to save his home planet. The former Maquis who sacrificed his ship to save hers. The man who promised to stand by her side and share her burdens. The man who hours before, had declared his love to her. She met his gaze a few moments longer, before making her way to the Captain's chair.
She signaled for Harry to open a ship-wide channel.
"Words cannot describe what it feels like to have you all here." She began. "So I will just say thank you. A special thanks to Captain Tuvok for temporarily giving up command of Voyager and to you all for volunteering for this mission. I don't know of another time in the history of Starfleet where a crew has come together like this - despite rank - to take on a mission. But this is a mission of epic proportions, and dealing with the Borg - as you all know - is no small task. It seems that Starfleet recognized this, and...well...here we are. This could be nothing but a salvage mission, or it could be or our greatest battle to date. But I know, we will all serve as we always do; with honor and without fear, and one way or the other, we will ensure that the Borg never venture this way again."
She turned to the helm. "Mr. Paris...set a course. Bring the engines online and prepare to go to transwarp."
She and Chakotay took their seats in unison. He glanced at her, saw the calm determination he'd become accustomed to over the years. She glanced at him briefly, saw his unrelenting support reflected in his dark eyes...along with something else.
She returned her gaze to the helm.
Chapter 28: Honor, Part II
Honor, Part II
"Please state your name for the record."
"Chakotay, Captain. Service number four, seven, alpha, six, one, two."
"Remember, Captain, you're still under oath. Yesterday, we discussed your arrival at the location of the Borg sphere, as well as your meeting with the rogue Borg cube upon which Seven of Nine was aboard. Now, please tell us of your first encounter with the sphere itself."
"As I mentioned yesterday, sensors showed that the sphere was, for all intents and purposes, dead. Axum and the others aboard the 'rogue Borg cube' - as you call it - confirmed those readings. Admiral Janeway though, was not convinced. She wanted to take a closer look for herself."
"That's when the sphere was boarded?"
"Not right away. First there was the matter of the interference emanating from the sphere to be considered. It was interfering with transporters and the Admiral wanted to ensure that they were fully functional in the event of an emergency. The away team boarded about three hours later."
"And the away team comprised of?"
"Captain Tuvok, Commander Harry Kim, Lieutenant Commander Ayala, Seven of Nine, and Admiral Janeway."
Nine hours later, Chakotay exited the room where the court martial was being conducted. It was ten days after the destruction of the Borg sphere, one week into the proceedings, and the second day he was testifying.
It was also two weeks since he had last seen Kathryn Janeway alive.
Considering what now lay tethered to a biobed in a quarantined, excessively secure area at Starfleet Medical, she was as good as dead.
Shaking his head to unsuccessfully rid himself of those morbid thoughts, he exited the massive glass structure that housed Starfleet's Command Division, also home to the Judge Advocate General's offices. A cool breeze hit him and he paused; the promise of an evening shower was imminent.
Closing his eyes, he deeply inhaled the fresh air, relishing the difference between the recycled air he had filled his lungs with all day, and the crisp, clean air he now breathed.
His respite was brief however; he had somewhere he needed to be.
Phoebe Janeway met him at the entrance to Starfleet Medical, her resemblance to her older sister so uncanny, his heart skipped a beat.
"There you are..." She grabbed his arm, pulling him inside, just as the first few drops of rain hit the ground. "...Mom is already upstairs. I was about to come find you." She held up a previously unseen cup to him. "Coffee?"
He gave her a grateful smile, his eyes showing her more than just gratitude for the beverage. Phoebe's animosity toward him had all but disappeared; she was now his biggest fan, supporter, and defender.
"They wanted a detailed account of our efforts to disable the interference on the sphere." He revealed as they traversed the long, otherwise silent corridor before coming to a stop before a turbolift. "We haven't even gotten to the part about when the away team left Voyager."
They entered the lift, and Chakotay called for their floor.
"Why do they have to put you through a tedious court martial? Can't they just take the information from your ship's logs?" Phoebe asked. She already knew the answer to that; she just needed something...anything to take her mind off their evening ahead.
Even if that meant asking the same questions every day.
"There is no ship..." Chakotay answered patiently, well aware that he had already disclosed this to her yesterday. And the day before that. "...therefore no ship's logs. At least, not until we find her."
"And you're sure Voyager wasn't destroyed?"
"Your sister will kill me if it was."
They arrived at their floor, and the doors slid open to reveal a heavy security presence. They were immediately scanned, and their identities double checked and triple checked, before being allowed to proceed. In their wake, almost a dozen of the quadrant's top experts in Borg technology worked feverishly. Ahead of them, a massive glass enclosure loomed.
Phoebe gave him a solemn look. "I think in her current state, she'll kill you anyway."
"Please state your name for the record."
"Chakotay, Captain. Service number four, seven, alpha, six, one, two."
"Thank you, Captain. Please be reminded that you're still under oath. We will resume where we left off yesterday regarding the findings of the away team."
"Pardon me if I appear truculent Admiral, but wouldn't the away team be the ones you should be asking of their findings?"
"All of them - with the exception of Admiral Janeway and Seven of Nine - have already testified, Captain. And no, you do not appear truculent, but you do sound impatient. It would please the court to hear what was actually reported to you. Please continue."
"As I stated yesterday, the away team was on the Borg sphere no more than forty minutes. During that time, the reports were the same; there was no life on that sphere. Nothing was functional. It was, essentially, dead. That was...until...they were transported back to Voyager."
"All except Admiral Janeway, of course."
"Captain, do you need a minute?"
"No...I...I'm fine. Yes...yes, of course. All except Admiral Janeway. Captain Tuvok reported that they had split up, but they kept their COMM lines open. They lost communication with her a few minutes before they were transported back. We knew that the transport originated from the sphere, although the sensors didn't show it. There was no way we were going to risk sending another away team without further information, so we scanned every square inch of that sphere. She was nowhere to be found."
"He's here." Phoebe announced ominously as she handed him a cup of coffee.
He nodded his gratitude, and together they headed for the turbolift. It was another long day, and it was going to be an even longer evening. "Who is?"
Phoebe studied his tired face, noting the heavy dark circles under his eyes. "When was the last time you slept?"
He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I haven't slept since I met your sister. Who's here?"
Chakotay frowned. It was the first time that the man had stepped foot anywhere near Starfleet Medical, despite pleadings from the Janeways that his presence was necessary, if not essential. "Right now?"
Phoebe nodded. "Mom says that Voyager's EMH marched into Federation Headquarters himself and ordered him here. I'm told it was one hell of a confrontation."
Chakotay figured that a very good reason must have existed for Kathryn's future husband to stay away; and an even better reason for the EMH to have left Starfleet Medical at all, since he hadn't ventured beyond the glass structure since...
Phoebe was looking at him curiously. From outside the turbolift. They had arrived at their floor and she was already being scanned by security.
"Are you coming?" What she really wanted to ask him was if he was alright, but she knew that none of them were, so it would be pointless.
Chakotay sighed, stepping off the lift and submitting himself to the scan. Phoebe was looking at him worriedly. He must have been lost in thought again.
To his surprise, Seven of Nine met them as they approached the glass enclosure. "Seven..." He looked around for Phoebe to admonish her for not telling him that Seven was also here and looking somewhat...recovered. But she had already vanished, probably gone in search of her mother. "...are you alright? The Doctor didn't mention..."
"I am...on the mend." She attempted a smile, but she was clearly still shaken by recent events. "I understand that a court martial is underway. I have been asked to give evidence, as soon as I have made a full recovery. The Doctor informed me that you disobeyed orders not to attempt a rescue. I am grateful that you did."
Then in a surprising move, she reached toward him, pulling him into a hug. "Thank you, Captain, for coming back for us." She whispered in his ear, before abruptly pulling away.
He didn't know what to say, and even if he did, she had already put some distance between them. He watched her go, amazed that her humanity seemingly remained intact, despite her harrowing experience.
"Kathryn did an amazing job with her."
The familiar voice sounded behind him, and he turned around and came face to face with Marshall. "Admiral Stark."
"Hello Chakotay." Stark made his way toward him. "I think it's time you and I talked."
"Please state your name for the record."
"Chakotay, Captain. Service number four, seven, alpha, six, one, two."
"Remember, Captain, you're still under oath. Yesterday you reported that you commenced a search for Admiral Janeway, which you outlined in detail. Please continue from that point."
"The search lasted two days before we found her. Or rather, before the Borg wanted her found."
"That was the day the sphere came to life. Everything became clear then."
"They were waiting for her all along."
"They wanted her for their Queen."
By the time he arrived at Starfleet Medical, Gretchen and Phoebe Janeway were already on their way out. The day's proceedings seemed to be never-ending; with Chakotay having to outline every intricate detail of Kathryn's transformation into the Borg Queen.
Well, from his perspective anyway.
It was something he never wanted to relive again.
As if sensing that he needed it, Gretchen gave him a silent hug before continuing toward a waiting ground transport. Phoebe paused a few moments longer, her features no less shell shocked than her mother's had been. "It's been a rough day..." She informed him. "...The Doctor thinks she's over the worst of it."
In the domed glass enclosure, The Doctor was attending to her unconscious form, checking her monitors and analyzing her readings. He had performed more than a hundred surgeries on her already, meticulously removing implant after implant, trying to restore her body to its original form. As for her mind, The Doctor insisted that the best way to bring her back was for those closest to her to be around.
He looked up - no doubt having programmed a subroutine to alert him when someone was near - and waved him in.
As he rounded the dome toward the entrance, he could see her still form on the biobed. Her restraints had been removed, and so had a considerable amount of implants. She looked nothing like the Queen that appeared to them two weeks ago, threatening total annihilation, leaving a path of destruction in her wake every time they resisted.
Her skin was still a grayish pallor, and she was still bald, but gone were the snake-like tubing that spiraled out of her skull, gone were the glowing mechanisms scattered throughout her body that controlled her every movement. She looked more like Kathryn than he'd seen her in the last few days, and his hope soared.
"Phoebe said she'd had a difficult day..." He began as the security team resumed their position at the entrance when the doors sealed shut. "...what happened?"
"I tried to remove the spinal clamps..." The Doctor explained, wrapping up his examination of her. "...she went into a series of convulsions; worse than before. I had to abort the surgery when she flatlined and we came too close to losing her."
Chakotay shuddered inwardly. "Do you know the cause?"
He nodded, closing his medical tricorder. "It seems that some of the technology is already fused with her central nervous system. I have the 'dream team' out there trying to find a way around that."
Chakotay couldn't help but smirk at what was obviously a Tom Paris reference to describe the team of experts assigned to bring her back. "I see you have removed the restraints."
"No need for them. She slipped into a deep coma moments ago." He walked Chakotay over to an adjacent desk and gestured for him to sit on one of two chairs, before administering a hypospray to his neck. Immediately, he felt the fog of exhaustion lift.
In hindsight, it would appear to Chakotay that The Doctor wanted him lucid for his next words. "My neural scans are not detecting any brain activity. Captain, I do not believe Admiral Janeway survived the assimilation."
"Please state your name for the record."
"Chakotay, Captain. Service number four, seven, alpha, six, one, two."
"Thank you, Captain. Please be reminded that you're still under oath. Today we will discuss the crux of the charges laid against you; disobeying a direct order to abort the mission, and your unauthorized undertaking to rescue Seven of Nine and Admiral Janeway."
Chapter 29: Between The Already & The Not Yet
The first thing she noticed was the silence.
With the weight of countless voices lifted, she felt...
Her brain registered it in extremes; ripples of it coursing down her spine, the resulting throb in her head making her nauseous.
And a hand instantly clutched hers.
She cried out, the slightest touch to her heated skin burning through her like a relentless fire, her nausea all but forgotten. Her body convulsed, and then a series of smaller seizures shook her small frame uncontrollably.
"Doctor! She's awake!"
The Doctor was at her side in seconds, scanning and checking the alarms on the monitoring equipment that screamed her elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and...
"Admiral..." The Doctor called out to her while he double checked the readings with the tricorder he held. Quickly administering a powerful analgesic, then an equally potent sedative, he leaned toward her once more. "...Admiral, can you hear me."
Instantly, Kathryn felt her pain ebb away, and the uncontrollable jerking of her body stopped. "Yes..." She breathed, just before slipping into unconsciousness again.
Chakotay, who had initially made way for The Doctor to work, anxiously returned to her bedside. Clearly shaken by the suddenness of her awakening, he looked to the hologram for answers. "What happened?"
"The treatment is working." He held up a hand to ward off any further questions as he ran a deeper scan of her. "Her immune system is beginning to re-assert itself with a vengeance, and her body is rejecting some of the implants." He tapped his COMM badge, signaling his medical team. "Doctor to Surgical Bay, we have to get the Admiral into surgery. Now."
B'Elanna greeted him with a hug as he walked into her kitchen. Tom, who had grudgingly let him through his front door, entered behind him. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine." Chakotay repeated his former Captain's mantra as he slumped in the nearest chair at the dining table. "They should have a verdict any day now."
"I still can't believe they court martialed you for this." She complained, handing him a cup of tea. "What's the worst case scenario?"
He frowned, recalling what his Judge Advocate had said to him earlier. He had painted a realistic picture for Chakotay, in an attempt to prepare him for the worst.
"With Voyager still lost, coupled with your refusal to obey orders, you're looking at a dishonorable discharge, and probably some jail time - maybe a year or two - at worst." The young, but gifted JA had told him.
He had defended Chakotay's case brilliantly; while at the same time had effortlessly managed to showcase the issue in the court of public opinion. "But there is a silver lining." He reassured. "One that the brass over there at HQ realized too late."
"What's that?" Chakotay had asked. At the time, he couldn't think of any way out of his situation.
"Your one saving grace is that the Admiral is alive. That and public opinion being on your side of course. The press is eating this up. You're the hero of the hour, Chakotay."
B'Elanna glowered as Chakotay relayed to her what his JA had said. "Those p'tahks should be giving you a medal for saving her life. How is she?"
"Still in surgery." He took a sip of the hot beverage, remembering when she had awakened earlier. "She showed signs of neural activity, but The Doc doesn't want us to get our hopes up...yet."
"Oh thank Kahless." B'Elanna took a seat at the head of the table, only to come to her feet again when Miral's cries echoed from her room.
"Stay put..." Tom, who had been silently listening to the exchange, waved her back to her seat. He gave Chakotay a scathing look before refocusing on his wife. "...I'll get her back to sleep."
"You know you two are going to have to talk this out eventually." B'Elanna commented when they were alone. "He's still not happy with how things are between you and the Admiral."
"I know." Chakotay admitted. "I was thinking that now might not be a good time, though. He's still angry."
"I wouldn't say angry is the word." She clarified. "More like disappointed. Betting pools aside, deep down, he really cares about what happens to you two."
"I'll talk to him." He promised. "Soon."
"Speaking of discussions, Tom said The Doctor told him that you and the great Admiral Marshall Stark had a - to use Tom's words - ‘sit down'." She leaned closer conspiratorially. "I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. I hope you dealt thoroughly with the p'tahk."
"Stark is not a bad person, B'Elanna."
"Have you lost your mind?" She looked at him like he had grown two heads. "Did I hear you correctly? Since when are you on his side?"
"I was never on anyone's side." His tone of voice reinforced his point. "It's a stressful situation for all of us. Especially him."
B'Elanna huffed, appalled at Chakotay's sudden show of support. "So stressful that he couldn't be at her side, until The Doctor had to practically order him there?"
"You're forgetting that no crew alive has ever experienced what we have." He rebutted. "We have all seen each other at our worst; been to the brink countless times, and one way or another, we always made it back. Our situation made us used to taking risks, while harboring unrealistic hope. From Stark's perspective, Kathryn Janeway no longer existed. All he saw was the Borg Queen, determined to destroy us all."
B'Elanna was staring. "We saw the Borg Queen too Chakotay. And we didn't run away like cowards. We knew that if there was even the remote possibility she could still be alive, we had to take the chance."
"Stark is a realist B'Elanna. He didn't see what our experiences in the Delta Quadrant taught us to see." He countered. "We took a huge risk; we were trying to save our former Captain, or die trying. Stark's position and experience didn't allow for an emotional response, he had the fate of the entire Federation to consider."
"And now, what?" He looked at her, exasperated. "We're still not sure if she's..." He hesitated, rubbing his hands over his face. "I'll say it again. Stark is not a bad person."
She was shaking her head. "Unbelievable. You. Are. Unbelievable."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Aren't you the same person who tried to stop her wedding?"
"That wasn't my intention." Chakotay remembered that confrontation, like it just happened. She had looked so radiant that day, so happy and content. And then he was kissing her, pouring his heart out to her. "I just wanted her to be sure she was making the right choice."
B'Elanna gave him a skeptical look.
He sighed in resignation. "Okay, and if in the process, she realized that she was making a mistake..."
"Did she, realize that she was making a mistake?" B'Elanna queried.
"I don't know." He shook his head slowly. "I left her alone to think, and to make her decision. Then this thing with the Borg happened."
"Admiral Stark must be thrilled." She said sarcastically, watching Chakotay as he sipped his tea.
A COMM unit chimed somewhere in the house, and Tom's voice echoed down the hallway that he would answer it.
"Have you thought of what you would do if she goes ahead and marries him?"
Chakotay looked up from his tea, meeting her gaze. Truth be told, the thought had been on his mind since he confronted Kathryn on her wedding day. The feeling in his gut deepened.
"Not really." He lied. "I suppose I would wish her well, and move on."
B'Elanna studied his face, then shrugged, dismissing his words. "You are such a terrible liar."
Tom appeared in the kitchen then, his eyes fixed on Chakotay. "That was the JAG's office trying to reach you. They've reached a verdict."
Chakotay looked around the courtroom, absently hearing the doors slide open and shut behind him every time someone entered. The room was filling quickly; and he noted the familiar faces of Voyager's former senior officers, and a smattering of her former crew, as they settled in their seats. Even Tom, who didn't look any happier with him, was here to show his support nonetheless.
He felt Kathryn's absence more strongly now.
He figured if she were here, she would squeeze his hand, or cup his cheek, or place her hand over his heart, reassuring him that it would all work out in the end.
Spirits, he missed her.
As if sensing his mood, The Doctor moved forward to whisper quickly in his ear. "She's out of surgery." He announced quietly. "Everything went well. I thought you might want to see her after this is over."
"Thank you Doctor." Was all he said. He wasn't sure if the verdict would allow him to do that though. It hit him then that he may not be a free man after today.
The doors slid open again, and this time Chakotay looked around.
Admiral Marshall Stark strolled in, taking one of a few available seats left, close to the rear of the room. The two men held each other's gaze for a moment, Chakotay looking away first as his thoughts and memories coalesced and he recalled his conversation with the man who would be Kathryn's husband.
Two Days Earlier:
"Hello Chakotay." Stark made his way toward him. "I think it's time you and I talked."
"With all due respect, Admiral, this isn't the time." Chakotay's expression was not inviting. "And it certainly is not the place."
He had started to walk away, but Stark's next words gave him pause.
"I know about Proxima."
Chakotay looked back at him, his features unreadable, save the glint of anger in his eyes.
"You wanted to talk..." Chakotay began. "...let's talk."
They were occupying the far corner of the deserted dining area of Starfleet Medical. Only the replicator banks were active at this hour, and the lights had been dimmed in accordance with the time of day. Chakotay wasn't desirous of having it out with him in the corridor outside Kathryn's room; and Marshall had his personal security find them a secluded spot.
"When did you first realize that you loved her?"
Chakotay's eyes shot up to meet Stark's.
"What?" Marshall chuckled darkly. "You think I don't know? You wear your heart on your sleeve, Captain. Like I said, I know what happened between you and Kathryn on Proxima, that you spent the night together, and that you visited her the day we were supposed to get married."
"This wasn't something we planned." He realized at this point, that denying anything would be a waste of time. "The last thing we wanted to do was to hurt anyone."
"Even though Kathryn and I weren't...when she admitted that you and she..." Marshall was shaking his head, lost in his own thoughts. "...I wanted to kill you, you know. Part of me actually hoped that it was you the Borg had taken instead of her."
Chakotay didn't know how to respond to that.
He stared at a spot over Chakotay's head for a minute, before meeting his gaze again. "That night, when I was informed that Kathryn had been assimilated and transformed into the Borg Queen, it was like someone had reached in and ripped out my heart. I couldn't breathe. I could only think that I would never see her again. When the reports came in that the Queen had been captured and quarantined here, I needed to know...so I came as fast as I could."
Chakotay looked at him in surprise, but remained silent. He'd had no idea that Stark was there that night.
"I saw you, perched on the side of her bed, where I should have been sitting, saying the things that I should have been saying. Only you weren't saying it to her, you were saying it to some...some Borg Queen you had ripped from her collective. All I could see was the enemy; the one I gave the order to destroy."
There was a gasp, and only afterward did Chakotay realize that it came from him. "You gave the order?"
"You saw the destructive path she had laid. She would have annihilated us, and no one could bring themselves to order her to her death." Marshall admitted. "Shanthi, Paris, Hayes. Even Nechayev who admittedly had a strained history with Kathryn. They all balked when the decision had to be made. It wasn't her, I kept telling myself. It wasn't her. Then I gave the order to destroy the sphere."
"So you stayed away out of guilt." Chakotay accused; a tinge of anger in his voice, his initial shock fading fast. "When she needed you the most."
"How self-righteous of you." An eyebrow raised in a challenge, Stark waited a moment before he plowed on. "I'm not about to justify my actions here. And from where I stand, you're not entirely guilt free in that department."
"You have no idea what you're talking about." Chakotay ground out in his defense.
"Don't I?" He countered, pushing away from the table to stand, signaling the beginning of the end of their conversation. "I'm a very powerful man, Chakotay. But I'm also an honorable man. I know all about your checkered past with my future wife. I am also well aware that you tried to plant the seeds of doubt in Kathryn's head about marrying me. I could have made sure that you never crossed paths with her again, but I chose not to, because quite frankly, if I were in your position, I would have probably done the same thing. We have two things in common, Chakotay; we're both men of honor, and we both love Kathryn Janeway. But I'll be damned if I'm going to stand idly by and watch you take her away from me. As soon as she recovers, we're getting married, and I'm going to make her the happiest woman alive."
Chakotay had stood up then, not at all intimidated by the Admiral's declaration.
"Then you don't know Kathryn Janeway very well." His voice was calm as he spoke with confidence. "For as long as I've known her, no one has ever made up her mind for her. As you will soon find out, Admiral, either way, the choice will be entirely hers."
"Captain Chakotay please stand."
The order shook him back to the present. The room had already come to order, although Chakotay couldn't remember standing up then.
He rose to his feet now, coming to attention, prepared to accept his fate.
His Judge Advocate gave him a reassuring pat on the back.
The room fell silent as the judge made her ruling.
Chapter 30: Semper Fidelis
She loved watching him.
He was comfortably reclined on a chair next to her bed, immersed in the PADD he held in one hand, his other hand clasped around hers where it lay beside her.
To anyone else watching, he would be the picture of emotionless concentration.
To her, the emotions danced across his face as whatever he was reading evoked them. One after the other.
He looked exhausted; a look she hadn't seen on him since she returned from Unimatrix Zero. She figured he had been holding vigil at her bedside; another one of the many unspoken agreements they had with each other.
A few other agreements involuntarily came to mind, and she mused that all it took was one night in a hotel room on a military outpost to reduce those parameters to nothing more than meaningless boundaries and obsolete restrictions.
She dared not move; for fear that he would become aware that she had awakened, and then he would smile that damned dimpled smile of his, and they would joke lightly about cheating death yet again.
And then all too soon, their easy banter would be over, and she would retreat out of...out of what? Fear? Guilt? Denial?
No, she would keep him oblivious to the fact that she was awake for as long as possible, and savor the opportunity to see him in one of those rare moments she could watch him without him knowing.
Her gaze travelled the area of the room they were in. Starfleet Medical. Why was she here anyway? What exactly happened to her?
The last thing she remembered, she was beaming onto the Borg sphere and...
She must have made a sound, because when her eyes snapped back to his, he was staring right at her.
He rose slowly, not taking his eyes off hers as he called to The Doctor. At least she assumed that was what he said when she saw his lips move, the sudden rushing noise in her head drowning out all other sounds as memories of what she had done slammed into her.
She had been taken by the Borg.
They had made her their Queen.
Sure enough, The Doctor appeared overhead, one of his programmed subroutines producing a worried frown. She wanted to ask him what was wrong with her, but she found that she was gasping for air. She inhaled, and the smell of blood overwhelmed her already overloaded senses.
She should be dead...this shouldn't be happening...
She knew that Marshall gave the order that would kill her.
Kill the Queen.
After all, she had already slaughtered so many...
She felt the hiss of a hypospray against her neck, then another. The noise went away just as suddenly as it had begun.
Her heartbeat slowed, and she felt herself calm.
And then she heard her name.
She realized that Chakotay was still there. And he was still holding her hand. And it was the most wonderful thing in the world.
"...has announced that all public interplanetary transports will resume normal services in the aftermath of the Borg attack. That must be a relief to our holiday travelers Nick."
"It certainly is Jane, a welcome New Year's gift. No more long lines at the transport stations in the foreseeable future. But the real news is the ruling in the court martial of Captain Chakotay."
The bar was crowded, but not overly so, with an assortment of both ‘fleet officers and civilians alike. A few of the patrons watched the newsvid alongside him; no doubt recognizing him from the footage that streamed across the screen. Most of them congratulated him in passing, with a few stopping to enquire about Kathryn's condition. None of his well wishers stayed longer than a few moments though, and for that, he was grateful.
"...unprecedented move, this entire case played out in the court of public opinion as well, but despite the outcry for the charges to be dismissed, this was an outcome so unexpected, even the great Admiral Marshall Stark, widely known for his charming rhetoric, was left speechless. That must have been..."
The general mood in the bar was celebratory; but he observed a solemn undertone as everyone reflected on how close they came to losing their very existence. They never thought they would see the end of the year.
And what a year it was, he thought.
"Nick, a courthouse insider told us that Stark quickly exited the room, while the former Voyager crew, who are renowned for their extraordinary loyalty to each other, just stood there, stunned."
"That's right Jane, no one expected Chakotay to leave that building a free man. Remember folks, you heard it here first. Not guilty on all counts..."
"Is this seat taken?"
Chakotay looked away from the viewscreen which was now showing footage of B'Elanna pulling him into a hug after the verdict had been announced.
Tom Paris was standing next to the only available barstool, watching him expectantly.
He shook his head, returning his attention to the viewscreen.
"...and especially since Starfleet takes its protocols very seriously. Our intrepid Captain, responsible for the loss of the most famous ship of the decade, defied orders to save his former commanding officer. Our behavioral experts are calling it ultimate example of the deepest loyalty amongst the former crew of Voyager. That said, no one expected him to walk away from that without at least..."
"They're calling it the ‘Hail Mary Defense' of the century." Tom slid onto the barstool, watching the news report highlight the events from the day before. "Congratulations, by the way."
"Thanks." Chakotay replied, his eyes still fixed on the screen. "I still can't believe that I'm here."
"And drinking coffee alone in a bar, minutes away from the New Year, no less." Tom waved the bartender over. "Something stronger than coffee please."
He glanced at Chakotay to see what he wanted, but he declined the offer. "Just coffee, thanks."
Tom raised an eyebrow.
"...as for if what was dubbed as the wedding of the year is still going to come off, well Jane that's anyone's guess. Both the Stark and Janeway camps have been silent on that particular subject. Remember that particular event was abruptly..."
"What do you want, Paris?" Chakotay tore his gaze away from the viewscreen to level a glare at him, fully expecting another standoff.
Tom didn't bat an eye. "Listen, I'm not going to apologize for what I said the other day. I meant every word."
"I never doubted that." Chakotay replied, not sure where the conversation was heading. "And there's no need to apologize."
"Good." He shot back, pausing as the bartender returned with his drink. His features morphed into his trademark boyish grin. "Just so we're clear. Because I fully expect you to make this right."
"You have my word." Chakotay assured him, relieved that they could try to put this behind them.
"...that Admiral Janeway is still at Starfleet Medical, and sources say that she is expected to make a full recovery. In other news, Federation President Nanietta Bacco is expected to address the..."
"You hurt her again, and I'll not hesitate to punch you this time." Tom threatened lightly, but Chakotay knew he would follow through if necessary.
"I would deserve nothing more." His lips twitched in amusement. "Anything else?"
"Oh yeah...before I forget..." He stood up, downing his drink in one mouthful. "...B'Elanna sent me over to let you know that Stark has left the building."
Chakotay shrugged. He wasn't about to admit that he had left Starfleet Medical, the minute he'd heard that Stark was on his way up to see Kathryn. Seeking refuge at the bar across the street, just to avoid another confrontation with him may have appeared like a cowardly act, but he liked to think of it as...regrouping.
But to Chakotay, somehow the man sitting next to him with that infuriating look on his face knew better. That and the fact that he had something else to say. "And?" He prompted.
Tom gave him a knowing look, a smirk forming. "And that the Admiral is awake, and is asking for you."
"...and what a year this has been, Jane. As we count down to the year 2380, let us all take a moment to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, by giving their lives so that the rest of us might live free..."
B'Elanna was standing outside Janeway's room, watching the two men approach. One, her husband, and the other one she considered a brother. They exchanged a look before focusing on her.
Tom reached her side first. "Everything okay with you two?" She asked softly in his ear as he embraced her briefly.
He pulled back, kissing her softly on her forehead ridges, before caressing them gently. "Consider the hatchet buried."
Chakotay mouthed a thank you to her as he passed, and entered the room.
Kathryn was sitting up on the bed, her face turned away from him as she talked quietly with her mother. Her features restored, save a slight pallor to her complexion, she looked just as she had before she beamed away to the Borg Sphere.
Phoebe, who was sitting on the sofa near the door, looked up.
"Hey..." She stood up and stretched, pulling him into a hug before she whispered. "The bastard couldn't even stay to wish her happy New Year." She complained. "What meeting could be so important, that he couldn't wait a few minutes?" She pulled back, giving him a quick peck on the cheek before moving away completely.
Their movement caught Kathryn's attention and she looked at the unlikely pair in surprised amusement. Her eye lowered at the package he held in his hand and her eyebrow rose.
"It's late." Gretchen Janeway announced, clearly reading the signals from her youngest daughter that these two should be left alone. She shared a brief smile with Chakotay, before cupping her elder daughter's cheek in a familiar gesture. "We should be going."
Mother and two daughters embraced briefly, before Gretchen led the way out, Phoebe giving him a mischievous wink before the door slid shut behind her.
"Well..." Kathryn glanced pointedly toward the door where her sister and mother had just exited. "...looks like you have a fan for life. And that's no easy feat where my sister is concerned, I should inform you. Did you use your dimples on her?"
"Kathryn, you know I can't reveal my secrets." Chakotay wiggled a forefinger as he stepped closer to her. "Besides, it helps that Stark is not her favorite person at the moment."
"Don't remind me." She rolled her eyes, remembering the face-off between Phoebe and Marshall. "They almost came to blows a short while ago."
"How are you feeling?" He asked, perching himself at the edge of her bed.
"Like I've been assimilated." He noticed that her voice was raspy, and she winced slightly as if she was in pain. "What's in the bag?"
"You don't miss a thing, do you?" He smirked, pulling out a medium sized cup, before tossing the bag into a nearby waste receptacle.
Kathryn recognized the logo print on the cup from the bar across the street. "Please tell me that you didn't sneak in alcohol."
"Better." He opened the plastic lid, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the room.
She accepted the cup with a smile he knew he would give anything to see again. "Chakotay, you're a lifesaver."
"I figured one cup couldn't do any harm." He watched her appreciate the smell before taking her first sip. Her eyes closed in pure bliss, and Chakotay had to clear his throat and look away.
He was tugging at his ear when she laid her free hand on his arm, drawing his gaze up to meet hers.
He placed his hand atop hers, their eyes silently communicating all that they left unsaid. They both knew how close they came to losing her.
"You're welcome." He glanced at the chronometer, just as the hour slid to midnight. "Happy New Year, Kathryn."
He took the cup from her hand and placed it on a nearby table. Taking both of her hands in his, he held them to his lips for a moment, before releasing them. Leaning forward deliberately, he placed a light, feathery kiss on her right cheek, then her left. His lips grazed her forehead, the tip of her nose, and then tasted her coffee flavored lips.
When he pulled back, her eyes were closed.
She opened them, just as a tear slid from the corner of one eye.
And just like that, the dam burst, and Chakotay held her shuddering form in his arms as best he could without hurting her, while he prayed to the spirits to give him the strength to make her burdens lighter.
"I've been thinking..." Marshall brushed a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. "...we could get away for a few days, go somewhere private...Kate, are you listening to me?"
"What...?" Kathryn looked at him, frowning. They were seated at one of the bay windows in the living room of her childhood home in Indiana. She had been released into her mother's care by The Doctor a few days before, and she had - to his surprise - followed his orders to rest. "...I'm sorry, my thoughts were...what did you say?"
"That we could go somewhere for a few days, alone." He repeated. "How about the lake house? It would be too cold to sail, but I'm sure we could find other ways to amuse ourselves. And we could talk about setting a new date for the wedding as well."
"Sounds like a wonderful idea Marshall..." She began.
"Why do I feel a ‘but' coming on then?"
"It's just that..." What would she say? That since that night in her hospital room with Chakotay; she couldn't seem to think about anything else?
After her tearful meltdown, she and Chakotay had talked for hours; or rather, she had talked, and he had listened. He had reclined on the bed beside her, before gathering her in his arms. He held her as she told him of the horror she had felt when she realized that she was about to be assimilated, knowing that this time, there was no going back. She told him about waking up at Starfleet Medical, the memories of what she had done as a Queen rushing back to her. She confessed her guilt of how much destruction she had wrought; that she should have known they were waiting for her, that if she had not beamed onto the sphere in the first place, none of this would have happened.
He listened, held her silently as she suffered through a second crying spell, before they both finally fell asleep just before dawn, curled into each other. That was how The Doctor found them later that morning.
She had been discharged late that afternoon, and she hadn't seen Chakotay since.
"Huh?" She blinked a few times to bring herself back to the present. "Right. The trip. You know, I really don't think mom would be willing to let me out of her sight just yet."
He seemed to accept her answer, and he nodded before rising to his feet. "Well then, when she does, let me know." Leaning forward, he kissed her temple. "I have a meeting with Etta and the Security Council. Want to have dinner afterward?"
Phoebe watched Marshall's shuttle depart before making her way downstairs. Kathryn was still sitting where she'd left her earlier on, deep in thought.
"Everything okay?" She joined her sister on the window seat.
Kathryn nodded. "Marshall just came by to let me know that the search for Voyager is still continuing, but they haven't turned up anything yet."
"Is that all?"
"He wants to set a new date for the wedding." Kathryn disclosed. "He's mentioned it a few times over the last few days, and I get the feeling that he wants it to happen sooner rather than later."
"How do you feel about that?"
"I'm not sure about anything anymore." She admitted with a sigh. "My counselor says that resuming life as it was before I...well, he thinks it's a positive step in the right direction."
"And what do you think?"
"I think he doesn't have a damn clue what he's talking about."
Both sisters stared at each other for a few moments, before bursting out in laughter.
In the kitchen, Gretchen Janeway raised her head at the sound. Smiling to herself, she resumed her attention to the brownies she was making.
It seemed that everything was going to be alright after all.
Chapter 31: One Single Step
Kathryn closed her eyes, inhaling the clean, crisp ocean air that blew gently, rustling the leaves of the nearby trees that dotted the beautifully landscaped garden.
She sat with perfect posture on one of the ornate marble benches that she figured were strategically placed away from the trees to give a clear view of the night sky. A long, elegant flute dangled from between two of her fingers, half full, but long forgotten as she watched the familiar stars overhead.
Behind her, a large ancient castle stood, its condition remarkably well preserved despite the centuries that had gone by. Inside the main ballroom, invited guests mingled and danced; their collective voices blending pleasantly with the music as it carried faintly across the cool night air to where she sat.
They were there to celebrate; the marriage between one of her former crew and an old - temporarily lost - love, a welcome reprieve from the harrowing time recently endured.
It was shortly after performing her duties as wedding officiate, and wishing the happy couple well for the future, that Kathryn excused herself from Marshall's side, suddenly feeling the need for fresh air.
She didn't turn around. The feeling that she was not alone, that she was being watched coursed through her, and she knew without a doubt, that it was him.
She knew that he was going to be here tonight; he was invited after all, and it was mentioned that he was around. But she was yet to lay eyes on him. It was as if he deliberately kept out of her orbit all evening, quite content to remain that way until he was ready to make himself known.
She raised the hand holding her champagne glass, intending to take a sip.
She paused, with the glass nearly to her lips. There was something about the way the man said her name, she thought. Nearly everyone called her Katie, and those who didn't, called her Admiral Janeway. Marshall called her Kate.
But Chakotay, he always only used the romantic whole of her name.
When she looked up at him, she couldn't help but admire how handsome he looked. His tailored tuxedo fitted his well built form with no effort on his part and Kathryn had to consciously tell herself not to stare.
"May I join you?" Chakotay, for the most part, was admiring his former commanding officer, grateful that it was a civilian event and the attire was black tie. The minute she had arrived, he had noticed the admiring looks she received from those present. The floor length formal gown fit her form flawlessly, her graceful movements only serving to highlight her beauty more.
Kathryn gestured for him to sit beside her. "I haven't seen you all evening." She pointed out, not missing how his heated gaze travelled the length of her body.
Bless Phoebe for her impeccable fashion sense, she thought wryly.
"You look stunning, Admiral." His free hand caressed her knee lightly, his fingers appreciating the deep red velvet material of her dress, the thigh high slit revealing a seductive sliver of her shapely legs when she crossed them, his eyes travelling the expanse of flesh the strapless gown exposed. "This color suits you."
"You don't look too shabby yourself, Captain." Kathryn returned, staring at his hand as it left her thigh to brush an errant strand of hair behind her ear.
"There's a good chance that you almost outshone the bride today." He ventured, pausing to sip from his own wineglass.
"Almost..." She held up her forefinger to emphasize her point. "...is the operative word here. And I'm sure that Seven's new husband would disagree."
"Axum would understand." Chakotay said. "He thinks the world of you, you know."
"I know." Kathryn nodded, looking away from him to watch the stars.
"And he's not the only one." He took her free hand in his.
"I know." She repeated, almost in a whisper. Her gaze remained focused on the stars as she garnered the courage for what she was about to do. "Can I ask you a question?"
He smiled; certain that she could see him from the corner of her eye. "You needn't ask permission. You know that."
"Did you love her?"
His smile faded slowly, and he took a deep breath. "Seven was my most valiant attempt to move on to date, and I hope you understand when I tell you that looking back, this is not something that I can say I completely regret. I had the opportunity to get to know someone special, to see what you saw in her all those years ago. I can admit now that I was wrong about her, Kathryn. Seven is a remarkable woman. But she wasn't you."
"A noble speech, but it doesn't answer my question." Kathryn remarked.
He lifted his hand from hers briefly to tug at his ear. "I think it does."
They fell into a thoughtful silence for a few moments. Then Kathryn spoke.
"Chakotay I...I want you to know, that it's okay. You had every right to move on." She said softly, finally turning her head to face him. "As you do now."
He blinked, not getting the full meaning of her words. "What are you saying?"
"I think it would be easier if we forgot everything that happened, and we just go back to the way things were."
"Easier? The way things were? Is that why you have not been returning my calls...?" Chakotay asked her gently, caressing her hand with his thumb, as if to coax an answer from her. "...why you have avoided being in a room alone with me, since that night at Starfleet Medical? You want to..."
"Marshall wants us to get married right away." She blurted, not sure why she said that. But now that she did, there was no taking it back.
His hand stilled. "And what do you want?"
She met his gaze, staring at him for a long moment before she responded. "Back in the Delta Quadrant...there were so many things that I was afraid of, and most of the time I managed to lock them up behind closed doors, and then...we're home, and this happens...we happen."
"Some would say that it was inevitable." Chakotay offered.
"But avoidable." She countered, watching the lines on his face crinkle in confusion. "I don't want to see you hurt anymore, Chakotay; which is why I've decided to move forward with the wedding."
He exhaled heavily, pulling his hand from hers. Turning, he leaned forward, his forearms on his knees, his glass dangling between the fingers of both his hands as he studied the swirling liquid within.
"And you think that marrying Stark would accomplish that?" He ground out, his voice rising as he spoke. "That watching you live your life with someone else would not hurt me just as much, maybe more? What could possibly make you come to that conclusion?"
"Chakotay, I know you're angry, but..."
"You're damn right I am!" He spat, rising from his seated position to stand, facing her. "Stark gave the order to kill you, Kathryn! Do you think you'd be sitting here now if I didn't disobey that order? I love you, and if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change a thing."
"That's the point!" She rose to her feet to meet his glare, her voice also rising. "He was able to do something that you would never be able to! This...this...thing between us..." She waved her hand between them. "What kind of love is so potent...that you would risk the safety of the entire Federation just to save...?"
"So you're saying that I should have just let you die. Is that it?"
"I'm saying that you can't think straight where I'm concerned. And neither can I."
"My mind is perfectly clear." He fought desperately to regain his composure. His outward visage calmed visibly, but his heart was twisting in pain. "You know, there were times during the months after we got back, when we were not in touch, when something would happen, something worth sharing with someone special, and I found myself reaching for the COMM to call you."
"Chakotay..." She tried to cut him off, but he was having none of it.
"I had to stop myself. It was so natural to just be with you, and I so wanted to share everything with you, that in those moments I forgot where I was and who I was with."
"Is that why you and Seven didn't last? Because you couldn't talk to her?"
He shook his head. "Seven and I didn't last because I didn't love her. I couldn't, not when I already loved you. There...does that answer your question? Nothing, in my entire existence has prepared me for the privilege of being yours, Kathryn. When I'm with you, I feel... I know...the true meaning of peace."
His words shook Kathryn to the core, and she felt herself unable to breathe as her feelings for him threatened to overwhelm her. It would be so easy to give in to him again, like she had that night on Proxima.
"You don't belong to me, Chakotay. You are free to choose the life you want." She ignored the muted clamor within her heart that warned her that she was making a mistake. And as she watched the light go out in his eyes, she knew that her words had the desired effect. It pained her to see him like this, pained her to walk away again, but in her mind, she was doing the right thing. It was for the best.
It had to be.
Lifting a hand, she placed it on his chest in an all too familiar gesture. "Be happy, Chakotay."
"Kathryn...wait..." He grasped her upper arm when she tried to move away. "...don't do this. Can't we just..."
"Kate?" Marshall was heading their way, a worried frown on his face. "I've been looking everywhere for you." He looked pointedly at where Chakotay held Kathryn's arm. "Is everything alright?"
Kathryn turned to face him, and Chakotay dropped his hand. "It's fine. I just needed some fresh air."
"Admiral Paris is looking for you." He looked at Chakotay briefly before focusing on Kathryn; not missing how upset both of them looked. "Voyager's been located in a nebula near the Devron System. They're sending a galaxy class to bring her in, and he wants to discuss some preliminary details with you."
"Tell him I'll be right in." Kathryn requested, still slightly shaken.
But Marshall didn't move. "Maybe you should head on in now; Owen is anxious to see you, and I'd like a few words with Captain Chakotay, if it's okay."
"Sure." Reluctantly, she stepped between the two men, taking one last look at Chakotay, then Marshall, before heading back inside.
Marshall watched Kathryn until she disappeared into the crowded ballroom, then turned his attention to Chakotay.
"Captain." Marshall stood with his feet slightly apart, his hands shoved into the pockets of his tuxedo pants. "I wanted to let you know that I think we got off to a bad start the last time we spoke. I would like to rectify that."
"What do you want, Stark?" Chakotay was in no mood to prevaricate. He sensed that this was no mission of mercy on his part; he wanted something from him.
Marshall nodded, understanding his cool reception, knowing that if he were in Chakotay's shoes he would have had a similar reaction. "This whole thing with Kate and the Borg...it's been...it's been tough on both of us, but especially her. It hasn't been long, but I feel like things are finally beginning to settle down."
"Listen, Chakotay...you and Kate..." Marshall watched his features harden but pressed on. "...I understand that it wasn't easy out there on Voyager; that it would have been inevitable that you would grow close, and that what happened on Proxima was unavoidable. Some might even refer to it as natural progression. I want you to know that I don't blame you. She's an amazing woman, and if what I witnessed earlier was any indication, there's a significant connection between you two. And I know that it's not easy for you to say goodbye to each other."
Chakotay took a menacing step closer to Marshall. "Understand this, Admiral. Kathryn may have chosen you to spend the rest of her life with, but I will never say goodbye to her."
He brushed past him, intending to head back indoors.
"Captain?" He called after him. "Just one more thing."
Chakotay stopped in midstride and turned around.
"You saved her life." Marshall acknowledged. "Even after I thought it was over, you went and got her back. And for that, I will always be in your debt."
Chakotay studied the man for a few tense seconds before he responded. "I didn't save her life for you, Stark. And as for that debt you think you owe me, just treat her right. If you hurt one hair on her head, if she sheds one tear, or loses her smile for a second, I'll be right there. And I'll make sure you never see her again."
"Eight ball, side pocket." Kathryn announced, before she successfully made the shot, winning the game.
"Two out of three?" Phoebe suggested, leaning unsteadily on her cue. How much had they had to drink anyway?
"Are you sure?" Kathryn eyed her closely. "You look a little worse for wear, sis."
"Stow it." She leveled a death glare at Kathryn, frowning when she merely laughed at her. "How is it you could drink as much as I have, and yet still remain with your wits intact?"
"It's because I got the Irish genes, and you didn't." Kathryn busily racked the balls for their next game. She paused, giving Phoebe a meaningful look. "Thanks for this."
"For what?" She slurred slightly.
"For dragging me out of the office, for bringing me here, getting me drunk...you know...the usual." She grinned and looked around the rustic bar. "I thought this place was torn down years ago. It's good to see that some things haven't changed."
Phoebe wasn't sure if this was the right time to raise the subject, and was debating whether or not she should say anything.
"Katie, how are you, really?"
"I'm tired, Pheebs." She confessed, their game all but forgotten for the moment. "It's been nothing like I thought our first year back would be. The Federation is broken, so much is different now, and there's so much to be done. But under the circumstances, I wasn't about to just run off and take a leave of absence."
"And what a year you've had." Phoebe reminded. "Time travel, the Romulans, the Borg..." She saw her sister flinch slightly at the last one. "...the almost wedding. What is it with you and fiancés anyway?"
Kathryn gave her a mock glare.
They gave up on their rematch, and retreated to a nearby booth. "Remember that aide you had for a few months, what's her name? Kerry, Carly...?" Phoebe gestured for the waiter to refresh their drinks.
"Carrie." Kathryn corrected, her tone wary.
Phoebe nodded, completely unaware of Kathryn's internal yellow alert. "That's the one. I really liked her. She's a lot like you."
"Hardly." Kathryn scoffed, rolling her eyes. She's more like her father. She thought. Despite her eagerness to drop the subject, she had to ask. "What made you think of Carrie, anyway?"
The waiter returned with their drinks, and Phoebe paused to swallow a mouthful of hers. "She said something to me just after you came back from the time travel thing. I didn't give it much thought, until a few days ago, after you were rescued from the Borg."
"What did she say?"
"Everyone thought you were dead, and mom and I had to fake our way through, knowing that you were still alive. Did I mention that Carrie was the one who told us that you were back?"
Kathryn stared at her sister. She had no idea.
"Yep...well anyway, she told me that she saw Chakotay just after the explosion at the Admirals' Ball. You know, the one where your..."
"I got it." Kathryn encouraged her to get to the point. "Continue."
"Well, Carrie said that Chakotay looked like his soul had been ripped out of him when he thought you were dead. She said that she had never seen anyone look so broken like he had that night."
"He may be a man, but he's not afraid to show how he feels." Kathryn wasn't sure where the conversation was going, so she opted to play along for the time being. "He'd just suddenly lost his friend."
"Oh, it was more than that, Katie." Phoebe enlightened her. "I'm sure of it now. At the time, I thought Carrie was exaggerating, but then I saw it too. It was the night your EMH told him that all test results showed that you didn't survive the assimilation. Starfleet was recommending...well they were..."
"They were what?" Kathryn asked, although she already knew the answer. It would be standard operating procedure under the circumstances to euthanize her.
"They wanted to..." Phoebe shuddered, not willing to repeat the words. "...they said that it would be quick, and painless. Chakotay reacted so badly, that your EMH had to sedate him."
Kathryn merely stared at her silently.
Phoebe was shaking her head in amazement. "Well if this isn't the saddest love story I know, I don't know what is. This isn't just a command relationship, Admiral Janeway. You know it, I know it, and Chakotay knows it. Hasn't been for a long time."
"You have no idea what you're talking about." She whispered.
"Famous last words." Phoebe declared, earning herself another glare. "I've sat and listened to you tell story after story about you and Chakotay during your time in the Delta Quadrant. I know I've teased you mercilessly about it, but it never really occurred to me until now that he really was much more than your support, your first officer, your best friend. He's seen you at your worst, and yet he keeps coming back for more."
"That's what best friends do." She argued. "We've both been through things that..."
"You were a Borg Queen, for goodness sakes! It doesn't get much worse than that. And all he could think of was losing you." She watched Kathryn shaking her head and pleaded with her. "It's me, Katie. Phoebe, your sister. Not one of your crew. Talk to me."
Kathryn sighed. "There's nothing to say. That's all in the past now, and I'm marrying Marshall."
"Marshall is a good man, and he loves you, but I have to ask...are you sure about this?"
"Of course I'm sure." Kathryn replied without hesitation. "I know everyone thinks that it's all happening so fast, but I love Chakotay and I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
Phoebe gave her an alarmed look.
"What?" She caught her sister's expression, wondering what she'd said to make her look at her like that.
"You just said Chakotay."
She blinked. "Chakotay what?"
"Kathryn..." Her voice lowered. "...you just said that you love Chakotay."
"No I didn't."
"Yes. You. Did." Phoebe frowned. "Kathryn, what's going on?"
She looked her sister square in the eye, realization dawning, her next words voiced like an epiphany, her heart thudding in her ears as the quiet clamor now gained dominance.
"I think I've made a huge mistake."
"Good morning, Captain." The Doctor breezed into the examination room, humming one of his livelier operas.
"Doctor." Chakotay nodded tersely, instantly regretting his action. His last conversation with Kathryn was still fresh on his mind, and he had to make an extra effort not to outwardly show how much her rejection stung. He slid onto a biobed, noting with relief that The Doctor hadn't noticed his sullen disposition. "You're in a good mood."
"I am." He practically bounced with every step. "I'm being honored by the Questor Group for my contribution to nanotechnology."
"Congratulations." Chakotay forced a smile for his benefit as he reclined in a comfortable position.
"Thank you. I'm very excited. It's going to be a gala event. You're both invited of course, you and the Admiral." Once again, The Doctor missed Chakotay's reaction as he fiddled with his medical tricorder. Turning toward a nearby console, he keyed in some commands and ordered him to remain still while he programmed the scanner.
"Wouldn't miss it." Chakotay said graciously.
"Routine physical for your field trip, I presume?" The Doctor surveyed the data that started scrolling on the holographic screen above the bed.
"That's right." He confirmed, thankful for the change of subject. "I'm taking the final year cadets on a dig next week. We're going to..."
"...Beta Kupsic, yes. Your research assistant was in here earlier. I overheard her mentioning it to my nurse." The Doctor injected him with a hypospray. "That's for that nasty virus I hear that's going around on Starbase Montgomery."
"And you can renew my contraceptive booster while you're at it." Chakotay requested. "Might as well update it now, as I'm here. I'm not sure if I'll get a chance for another Doctor's visit until after the trip."
The Doctor paused, looking at him for the first time since the examination began. "You're updating your booster?"
Chakotay frowned. "Why not? I know I asked you not to the last time I was here, but it's not like if I..."
"But I thought you and the..." He shook his head. "...never mind."
Chakotay's eyes narrowed. "You thought what?"
"Well, time is running out, and with just about one week left in the possible conception window, I figured that..."
"Conception window?" Now Chakotay looked confused. "Doctor, what the hell are you talking about?"
"You and the Admiral." The Doctor continued, blissfully unaware that Chakotay really had no idea what he was referring to. "I discussed all of this with her, and when she finally agreed to take the serum and didn't request her own booster update I just assumed...surely she would have..." He frowned at the look of pure incredulity on Chakotay's face as comprehension dawned. "...she never talked to you, did she?"
Chakotay slowly sat up on the bed.
"Maybe you should start at the beginning."
Kathryn stepped out of the public transport building and into the bustling rush hour crowd, glad that she had chosen not to transport directly from her office to her house. The weather was perfect for a change, and she needed the diversion a fifteen minute walk home would afford.
She had fallen in love the minute her real estate broker had brought her here. Once a popular neighborhood known for its crowded nightspots and impromptu street parties, Noe Valley's two commercial corridors were now evolved into a serene cornucopia of eclectic restaurants and cafés, whose clientele mostly consisted of the locals who frequented them.
The upscale residential section boasted well maintained homes and scenic parks, whose residents were content to remain out of the glare of the public eye. Most, but not all of them, were families of those serving in Starfleet, and a quiet camaraderie existed amongst them.
One particular coffee shop had ‘sealed the deal' for Kathryn, and it didn't hurt that it was just around the corner from the house she now called home. Renovated by the previous owner just before the war, the large two storey Edwardian structure contained all of the modern conveniences that she missed when she went to her childhood home in Indiana.
Despite her mood, she couldn't help but smile to herself in remembrance. Gretchen Janeway had initially called all the technology ‘an abomination', but conceded that if it made her firstborn happy, then she could learn to tolerate it. Kathryn in turn - in honor of her mother's concession - had the kitchen remodeled to her specifications, so that at least once a month when she visited, Kathryn could eat a decent, home cooked meal.
Exactly fifteen minutes, and one quick stop at the coffee shop later, Kathryn rounded the corner of her street and stopped, dead in her tracks.
The idea she'd had to walk home was not looking so good after all.
Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders in true Admiral style, Kathryn marched toward what unavoidably awaited her.
"Admiral...Admiral...!" The throng of reporters came to life the second they spotted her approaching. "...Admiral! Could you comment on the recent break-up between you and Admiral Stark?"
Kathryn silently marched the last few meters toward her house.
"Admiral Janeway, who was the one to actually end the relationship?"
Marshall moved fast, she thought, as she approached the steps leading to her front door. They'd only had this discussion this afternoon.
"Is Admiral Stark dating someone else?"
She hadn't spoken to anyone after she flew back from Paris, so she assumed that he'd gone ahead and released a public statement.
"Admiral, is there another man in your life?"
She almost laughed at that one; they had no idea how ironic that question was.
"What were you wearing at the time, Admiral?"
She almost rolled her eyes, but it turned into a glare when a particularly exuberant reporter accidentally knocked her cup out of her hands, spilling its contents onto the sidewalk.
"Is there any hope of reconciliation in the future?"
Not in a million years, she almost blurted as she made her way up the steps. She knew where her heart was now. The question was, whether she had succeeded in pushing him out of her life completely. Their last conversation didn't end as well as she'd hoped, and his and Marshall's verbal sparring didn't help matters either.
"Does Captain Chakotay have a part to play in your decision?"
She almost missed a step and had to grab the stone railing to maintain her balance.
Pausing to regain her composure before she entered the code to her front door, she turned to face her audience. They immediately fell silent.
"First of all, I want to thank everyone for all of the warm wishes during my recovery." She began cordially. "I want to assure everyone, that despite the rumors, Admiral Stark and I remain close friends, and I ask that you all respect our privacy during this time of transition."
A few of the reporters retreated, but some remained, shouting new questions to her as she entered her house, shutting the door behind her.
She briefly leaned back on the closed door, eyes shut, listening to the mob as they moved away.
The strong smell of freshly brewed coffee made her open her eyes.
Pushing away from the door, she was about to reflexively call for lights, when she realized that they were already on.
"Phoebe...?" She called out for her sister, assuming that she had sought asylum here. Given what she had just experienced, the press was probably hounding her family as well. She made a mental note to call her mother later. "...Phoebe, are you here?"
Kathryn made her way toward the kitchen, thinking that her sister was raiding her stash of their mother's caramel brownies. "Phoebe, I swear...if you only..."
The person she saw there, waiting patiently for her, was the last person she expected to see.
A quiet chirp drew her attention to the opposite side of the kitchen. In a previously empty space on her counter, an antique auto barista quietly brewed fresh coffee. She refocused on the person responsible.
"Chakotay, what are you doing?"
"I'm making you coffee."
"No...I mean, what are you doing here, in my house?"
"You really should change your door code Kathryn." He casually reclined on a sofa that lined one of the walls of the dining portion of her kitchen. "I'm flattered, but really? My service number?"
She stared at him incredulously. "How did you get in without anyone seeing you? The press is camped out in the park across the street from my house."
"I have my methods. I was Maquis, remember." He watched her divide her attention between him and the auto barista. "A gift from me...to you." He explained. "The salesman at the store said that it brews the best tasting coffee on Earth. The way I figure it, if I am going to make you coffee in the morning from now on, it would have to be the best."
"Chakotay, what are you talking...?"
"Of course, you won't be drinking any coffee until the baby comes, if I have any say, but..."
"Wait...baby?" She paled visibly. "What baby? Chakotay, what's going on?"
"We'll have to start trying from now, seeing as the conception window is almost closed and all...but you already know that."
"What the hell are you talking about?!" There were only two people who were supposed to know anything about this. Her and...
He rose to his feet. "I had an interesting visit with The Doctor today." He said calmly.
Kathryn cleared her throat. "You saw The Doctor?"
Chakotay nodded slowly, watching the rest of the color drain from her face. "Routine physical before I leave on a dig next week. He was surprised that I wanted to renew my contraceptive booster. Seems he got the idea that you and I were trying to have a baby."
Kathryn's mouth felt dry. And her hands trembled slightly. "He must have jumped to conclusions when he saw us that morning in my room at Starfleet Medical." She rasped.
"I doubt it." He shook his head in disagreement. "No, I think it had more to do with a conversation you and he had at your wedding rehearsal dinner." He saw her open her mouth to rebuff him and he cut her off. "Don't deny it, Kathryn. I was there. I saw you and The Doctor talking. You looked surprised at whatever he was saying. Now I know why."
"You were there?" She whispered.
"I'm surprised Tuvok didn't mention it to you." He watched her eyes widen further in surprise. "He and I had a nice chat that evening. But that's for another discussion. Why didn't you tell me, Kathryn? Why didn't you tell me that Carrie was ours?"
"I didn't know anything until that night." She defended calmly, relieved that he wasn't yelling at her, which meant that he was taking all of this in stride. "And even then I couldn't be entirely sure that Carrie was ours. Being cured of our...problem doesn't mean anything, Chakotay. It's just a coincidence."
"You don't really believe that, do you?" He moved closer to her, in slow, deliberate steps. "You really think that it's a coincidence that The Doctor happened to discover that he can synthesize an antibody that will neutralize the New Earth virus, and allow us to have a child together? You don't think that the timing - Carrie's presence in this timeline, Questor deciding to take up the research, you and Stark ending your relationship - no...Kathryn, you can't possibly think that this is all ‘just a coincidence'."
"I didn't know what to think at the time. I still don't know what to think."
"And yet you let The Doctor give you the serum. And yet you walked away from Stark." He took another step toward her. "When I heard the news release about you and Stark, I knew it was you that had changed that stubborn, infuriating mind of yours. The only question is...why?"
Kathryn stood her ground, watching him as he moved closer. "I realized that I was looking at this the wrong way. I felt that this...intensity between us was a weakness."
"And now?" He dared hope that it would be as easy as this to win her back.
He was still a short distance away, but close enough that Kathryn could see the light flicker in his eyes. "And now my feelings have...changed."
A few steps closer. He needed to know for sure. "How so?"
She needed some assurance before she could open her heart to him. "Why don't you tell me what you want first?"
Chakotay almost cried out in frustration. "Spirits...Kathryn. Is this really necess...?"
The look on her face, the pleading in her voice...she needed her assurances as much as he did. He quietly acquiesced.
"I want...you, Kathryn Janeway. And tonight I'm going to make sure you never doubt what I want ever again. Tomorrow morning, I'm going to wake you up to make love to you. I will watch you come apart in my arms, as you gasp my name. We will share our days together and our nights will be filled with our passion for each other. We will marry in a small ceremony; family and friends only, who will bear witness to something eight years in the making. We will fill this house with children and they will know their parents love and the story of how it was born. From this point on, I'm going to forever be by your side, Kathryn. Nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart, and you will know how it feels to be mine. And I will know what I am living for."
Kathryn's eyes glistened with unshed tears. "Don't I get a choice in all of this?"
"You've had a lot of time over the years to make a lot of choices. It's my turn now."
"And what if I tell you I don't want to play?"
He closed the distance between them until they were breathing the same air. She could feel the heat of his body even though they weren't touching. "I'd tell you that this is not a game, Kathryn. I've allowed you..."
"Allowed me?" She raised an eyebrow.
He sighed. "Fine. I've watched you - without interference - take your journey until it has finally led you back to me. All I need from you now is one single step. One last step. It has to be yours and yours alone. Take it now, Kathryn. Tell me what you want."
A lone tear made its way down her cheek. "All I want is for you to know how much I love you."
"Oh Kathryn..." He breathed, kissing the tear away. Taking her two hands in his, He pulled her flush against him with her arms around his waist. He kissed her nose lightly, then mumbled against her lips before claiming her as his. "...I've always known."
Nine Months Later
"There you are."
Phoebe Janeway grabbed his arm, ushering him quickly through the entrance, and a feeling of déjà vu washed over him. The last time she had met him here was under circumstances he'd rather forget.
Now was the time to make new memories.
He had gotten everything he had ever wanted. And more. One week after that day at her house, Chakotay and Kathryn had married in a small ceremony on a private beach in the Gulf of Mexico, where they had honeymooned after.
Two months later, after she had thrown up her coffee for the third time that morning, Kathryn had glared at him and told him she was pregnant. Nine weeks along, The Doctor informed them smugly, before his holographic face registered surprise at what his scans revealed next.
Chakotay sighed. Coffee and pregnancy for Kathryn Janeway didn't mix, and if she couldn't have it, then he couldn't either. It turned out to be the longest nine months of his life. And he wouldn't change a thing.
"Where the hell have you been?" Phoebe's question brought him back to the present. She handed him a cup of coffee, well aware of his deprivation, then quickly helped him pull off his coat. "B'Elanna was about to hack the transporters to beam you directly here."
"Cut me some slack, Pheebs." Chakotay hurried down the corridor after her. "I came straight here from Spacedock. Besides, we didn't expect anything to happen for at least another two weeks."
"Well it's happening now." She stopped in front of a pair of double doors. Turning to face him, she made busy work of straightening his uniform. "Are you ready?"
"I've been ready for a long time." He gave her a beatific smile.
They turned as the doors slid open, and Gretchen Janeway almost bumped into them. "Well it's about time." She gave him a mock glare and a kiss on the cheek, raising an eyebrow at the cup he held. "She's been asking for you for the last hour. Better drink that coffee before you head in. You're going to need it...Daddy."
Chakotay did as he was told, then moved through the doors.
He couldn't see her, but he knew she was lying on the biobed. The Doctor was blocking her from view, his back to Chakotay while he examined his patient.
"Just keep breathing, Admiral." He heard The Doctor advise. "It's almost time."
Chakotay had to smile at the string of expletives that escaped the mouth of his wife and soon to be mother of his...
"Just...do it!" She grunted through a particularly painful contraction. "And where's that husband of mine? I'd like a few choice words with him."
A weaker man would have bolted, but Chakotay couldn't think of anywhere else he wanted to be.
"I'm right here, Kathryn."
The Doctor turned, and stepped aside allowing Chakotay to see his wife. She gave him a relieved smile, almost forgetting her earlier words, and he moved toward her, pulling her into his arms.
She raised an eyebrow, as he whispered in her ear.
She could have sworn that she smelled coffee.
"I love you, Kathryn." He kissed her swollen tummy, knowing from her expression that he'd been found out, certain that she'd deal with him later.
"I love you, Chakotay." She cupped his cheek as the pain receded temporarily. "But I'm never doing this again."
He laughed, and took up position behind her. "Come on Kathryn. Let's bring our son and daughter into the world."
Chapter 32: Fields Of Gold
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
"Welcome everyone, to an historic evening, where we have come together to celebrate a partnership, four years in the making."
Janeway looked around at the faces of her audience as they applauded and smiled proudly. They had all contributed in some way, shape, or form to make these negotiations a success. And for that, she was grateful. Without them, this venture would not have gotten off the ground.
The applause died down, and she continued. "This is notably one of the Federation's most positive accomplishments to date, and I am proud to have been a part of it. "Tonight, it is my honor, to officially welcome the Dorvan System's return as members of the Federation."
This time, those in attendance rose to their feet, their thunderous applause almost drowning out her introduction of the next speaker.
"I am especially privileged, to introduce our keynote speaker, on this her last official duty as President of the Federation. She has served us well, and has returned dignity and integrity to the office. Please join me in welcoming, President Nanietta Bacco."
Everyone remained standing, the applause deafening now as President Bacco walked toward where Kathryn stood. Both women embraced for a few moments, and exchanged a few emotional words.
As Kathryn made her exit off stage, her aide joined her.
"A flawless speech, Admiral." Lieutenant Commander Joshua Carey complemented, leading her in the direction of her table. "Your best yet."
"It should be. You wrote it, after all." Kathryn reminded him with a smirk. In the background, President Bacco was thanking the guests for their show of support. "Whatever am I going to do without you?"
"Don't worry." He reassured, stepping aside and gesturing for her to move ahead of him. Around them, the audience was returning to their seats. "I handpicked my replacement myself."
"Captain Riker will be lucky to have you on the Titan." She pointed out, absently noticing that he had led her past her table and toward a rear exit. "Any news on Chakotay's ship?"
"As a matter of fact..." He paused for effect. "...they arrived at Spacedock during your speech."
Her eyes widened in barely concealed excitement. "Where are they now?"
"They were already in a shuttle and on their way to Earth the last time I checked, so they should be on their way home." He gave her a playful wink. "Unless a certain young lady demands ice cream."
Carey noticed his commanding officer's divided look; she was deciding whether to leave the function now, or complete her obligations for the evening. She did, after all, spearhead the whole thing.
"I have already made your excuses." He told her, watching her features change into a mixture of joy and gratitude. He was going to miss working for her. "Have a good evening, Admiral."
Kathryn materialized on the front lawn of her mother's house and immediately took off into a run, peeling off her dress uniform jacket as she burst through the front door almost colliding with her brother-in-law, Aiden.
"Where are they?" She addressed a startled Phoebe who was nursing her three month old son, Tyler.
"Well, hello to you too." Phoebe greeted, ignoring the glare leveled at her. "They're outside, in the field. B'Elanna called, she said that... "
She was out the door before Phoebe could finish.
Contrary to the late hour in Paris, it was only mid-afternoon in Indiana, and Kathryn reveled in the cooler temperatures that signified a change in the weather. The ‘field' as her sister called it, was the extensive corn field located at the back of the property. She and Phoebe had spent part of their summer as children exploring between the tall stalks. As teenagers, it was the perfect spot to hide out with friends, or to simply be alone.
Their father had cleared a small area of the field, and it was there they would spend many nights staring at the stars, and listening to the nightlife while they pointed out as many constellations as they could.
Kathryn moved effortlessly between the stalks, now turned into a golden brown by the sun's rays. The sound of children's voices alerted her to their location as she hurried across the field. She paused briefly; listening to her daughter's piercing laughter as her father called after her. She couldn't hear her son's voice yet, but she was sure he wasn't too far behind.
She reached the clearing, and stopped short. Her five year old twins, along with Phoebe's elder son, four year old Cameron, had tackled Chakotay to the ground. The family dog, a three year old male beagle named Max, danced around them, barking excitedly.
Her daughter, a stunning replica of her father with her straight dark hair and skin slightly lighter in color than his, laughed as Chakotay tickled her. Her blue eyes - the only gift from her mother - twinkled with joy as she met her father's brown ones.
It was her son that spotted her first.
With a shrill of joy that belied his quiet nature, Dyami launched himself at her, running as fast as his little feet would carry him. His shock of red hair bounced in the wind as he moved, his blue eyes never leaving his mother's. Everything about him was Kathryn save his dimples, which was all Chakotay.
His squeals alerted the others, and Kathryn soon found herself surrounded by three pairs of little arms. Max, now drawn to the commotion, squeezed in between their legs.
Chakotay chuckled as he rose to his feet, dusting himself off while he watched the reunion play out before him. "Okay guys..." He called out to them after a few minutes. "...why don't you check to see if Grandma Gretchen is finished with the brownies?"
They released Kathryn immediately, and she watched as they took off, disappearing through the field toward the house, their excited squeals carrying in the wind as they hurried away, Max keeping pace with them.
She felt Chakotay's hand comb through her hair and turned just as he latched his mouth onto hers. His free hand wrapped around her waist as he deepened the kiss and her hands came around his neck pulling him closer.
"Spirits, I've missed you." He punctuated his words with kisses as his lips moved along her jaw line, to nibble at her ear, then kiss the sensitive spot behind it, before moving down to her neck. He pulled back to look at her, smoothing her hair away from her face, before he joined his lips with hers again.
"I left during Etta's speech...went home first..." She sighed between kisses. "...but you weren't there."
"A certain young lady demanded to see her grandmother." He moaned when she slid her hands under his shirt to caress his chest. Grabbing her hands, he pulled them away as he broke the kiss. "I want you Kathryn..." He husked by way of explanation for his abrupt actions. "...but after two months away from you, I want it to be slow and sensual, not fast and furious."
"Have you heard from B'Elanna?" She let him pull her forward, leading them to one of the deck chairs.
"Didn't Phoebe tell you?" Without releasing her hands, he sat, pulling her down between his legs while he reclined. "They're coming over to our house for lunch tomorrow. Harry is on shore leave so he'll be there with his family as well."He exhaled while she snuggled against his chest, placing light kisses against his neck.
"How was the trip?" She smiled when he moaned again. He was obviously aroused, but was managing his self restraint quite well.
He slid his hand to her waist, pushing her undershirt up, hearing her gasp when his hand touched her bare skin. "Trebus is wonderful this time of year. The twins enjoyed it, and they loved spending time with their cousins and Aunt Sekaya. By the way, she says to tell you that your apology for not being able to make the trip is accepted, but only this one time."
"Acknowledged." Kathryn looked up as two Federation shuttlecraft flew past them overhead. From the sounds they made, they were preparing to land.
"Expecting company?" Chakotay raised an eyebrow at her as she sat up.
"That's the al-Rashid and the T'Maran." She was on her feet and heading back toward the house.
"The Presidential transports?" Chakotay followed her, jogging slightly to keep her pace. He frowned. "I thought you left during President Bacco's speech?"
"I did." She wound her way through the field eventually emerging in the backyard with Chakotay behind her. "She would still be in Paris."
The shuttles were already on the ground, and Kathryn watched as Federation security officers disembarked, immediately securing the area.
"Katie, what's going on?" Gretchen had joined her and Chakotay where they stood, while Phoebe ordered the children to stay on the back porch with her and Aiden.
Chakotay answered for her. "It seems Gretchen, that your daughter has a special visitor."
Kathryn ignored the sarcasm in his tone as Marshall Stark stepped out of the al-Rashid. He looked around the property briefly, before making eye contact with her.
"Let it go, Chakotay." Gretchen advised softly as Marshall approached them. "Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. He's about to become the most powerful man in the quadrant. But you have the one thing he could never have."
"Kate." Marshall embraced Kathryn gently, then took Gretchen's hand before kissing her on the cheek. "Gretchen, it's been too long."
"Mr. President." Chakotay's steely voice interrupted his greeting. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Marshall waved his hand dismissively. "Please, no formalities necessary. Besides, I'm not President for another..."
"Six hours." Kathryn finished for him. "From our perspective."
He met her gaze. She was still as beautiful as the last day he saw her, on her wedding day. "Kate, can we have a moment?"
"You have got to be kidding me if you th..." Chakotay stiffened when Kathryn touched his arm to silence him.
"It's okay, honey." She squeezed his hand softly before pulling away. She returned her attention to Marshall. "Walk with me."
"I see your husband is still his usual charming self." Marshall observed as they headed around the side of the house toward the old barn.
"What are you doing here, Marshall?" Kathryn asked, ignoring his comment. "We haven't spoken in years; you never returned my calls..."
"For what reason?" He stopped walking as they approached a nearby hedge. "To listen to you talk about your life that I wasn't sharing with you? You have no idea how hard it was to walk away from you, Kate."
"Don't worry." He raised his hands in surrender. "I didn't come here to discuss the past."
Kathryn waited expectantly.
"I want you to come to work for me." He stated plainly. "As the head of diplomatic affairs."
"Hear me out." He interjected. "We've had a few turbulent years since the war, starting with the collapse of the Romulan government and ending with the return of a few former Federation member worlds. During most of these events, you have been instrumental in ensuring that we don't spark another conflict at best."
"But what about...?"
"Safranski is good with policy, but weak with diplomacy. I have decided that my new cabinet will reflect a separation of the two. He will still head up the Ministry of Exterior, but you will be in charge of the new Diplomatic Mission."
"And when there's a need to...?"
"You will decide when and if you want to leave Earth, if you do, you will have a fleet of ships at your disposal, all fully equipped for a traveling family of four."
She raised an eyebrow. "You have everything figured out, don't you?"
"Just say yes, Kate."
"What about us? You said before that it wasn't easy for you."
He looked away from her for a moment. "We said our goodbyes, over five years ago, and it probably took me just as long to come to terms with your decision." He took her hands in his. "I will always love you, Kate. But I know now that I wasn't what you needed. We were friends before. I'd like to be friends again."
Kathryn stared at him for a long moment before she nodded in acceptance of his words, a hint of a smile gracing her features. "I'll have to discuss this with Chakotay first."
"I wouldn't expect otherwise."
"You two will have to learn to get along." Her smile widened slightly.
He flinched, releasing her hands to run them through his hair. "I'll have Ava throw a few of her famous dinner parties to help ‘break the ice'."
"How is your lovely wife?"
"She's wonderful." But she's not you, he thought, matching her grin with one of his own. "We're expecting our second child next spring."
"Congratulations. Mr. President."
"Damn, I've missed you."
"I've missed you too." She admitted. "I've missed your friendship."
"It's yours again, if you want."
The sound of giggling children caught their attention. Kathryn didn't turn around.
"You can come over." She ordered, only turning to face them when she heard them shuffling toward where she and Marshall stood.
Marshall stooped down to their eye level. The girl, clearly the leader of the pack, stood ahead of the other two, but protectively closer to the red haired boy, whom Marshall thought was the splitting image of Kathryn. "All yours?"
"The shortest one is Phoebe's. Say hello Cameron."
"Hello Cameron." The boy repeated obediently.
Dyami rolled his eyes, and Marshall detected a wisdom in the boy that belied his young age. "An honor to meet you, Mr. President. My name is Dyami Janeway." He gestured toward his sister. "And this is my sister..."
"I can introduce myself, Dyami." She hissed, maintaining her defensive stance.
Marshall smiled. "Dyami. That's an unusual name."
"It means ‘eagle' Sir. One day, I'm going to be Federation President like you."
"Technically, I'm not President yet."
"That's not entirely correct, Sir." Dyami responded. "Very few people know this, but you've already placed your thumb print on the official documents naming you as the successor to President Bacco. Historically, it's the only few hours where two presidents exist, which allows for a seamless transition. Only your deference to the outgoing President during her last hours prevents any conflict."
Marshall glanced at Kathryn who merely shrugged. She had a few years to get used to the idea that her son was a prodigy.
"And you must be..." Marshall returned his attention to Kathryn's daughter.
"Carrington Janeway." The little girl took his hand in a strong handshake. "My friends call me Carrie."
Ten minutes later, Marshall boarded his shuttle, retaking his seat.
"Well?" The woman sitting opposite him raised an eyebrow.
"You were quite the firecracker when you were a kid."
She rolled her eyes. Another familiar gesture. "Is she going to take the job?"
"She will." He confirmed, watching her sigh in relief. "Why is this so important?"
"I can't tell you. Temporal Pr..."
"...Prime Directive, I know." He studied her recognizable features. "You never told me that you had a twin brother."
"Dyami?" She smiled as memories of their childhood surfaced. Looking out the viewport, she watched as the two shuttles took to the air. "He was the best brother anyone could ask for."
The smile faded into a frown. "I couldn't save him in my timeline, but now..."
Marshall reached for her chin, turning it gently so that she could look at him. "Is that why you came back six years ago, Carrie? You did all of this to..." His eyes widened. "You told me once, at Jack Grayson's funeral, that it was much more than just ensuring that you were born." He slumped back in his seat, staring at her. "You could have been born to any parents, you could have even been my daughter. But Dyami, it had to be Chakotay and Kathryn. That's why you asked me to let her go." A thought occurred to him. "How many timelines did you crossover before you figured it out yourself?"
She returned her attention to the viewport. They were leaving orbit and heading toward open space. "Too many."
"Why is he so important?"
She met his gaze, and when she did, he saw in her eyes just how much she had sacrificed for this moment. "Without him, the Federation would not survive."
"Your uncle will be waiting for you at the shipyards." Taela's mother nervously straightened the jacket on her daughter's shoulders. "This shuttle is due for maintenance there, and the pilot owes me a favor. It will be a direct flight, so you would not have to go through the transporters."
Her mother smiled; the first Taela had seen in many months. "I am your mother, Taela. You cannot hide anything from me. Your uncle will see to your recovery."
"We're ready to go." The pilot called from the entrance to the shuttle. To Taela, he looked no more than a few years older than her mother.
Her mother released her and used her shoulders to turn her around. "Taela, this is Jack, the pilot I told you about."
Taela's eyes widened in awe of her new acquaintance, briefly forgetting her manners. A quick nudge from her mother brought her back to her senses. "Nice to meet you, Sir."
He reached out and shook her hand, smiling at her. "A pleasure to meet you ma'am. My name's Lieutenant Jack Grayson. But my friends call me Jack."
~It Is Finished!~
A heartfelt thanks to all of you who read and reviewed this - my first fanfic. It has been quite a ride, and I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.