Captain Kathryn Janeway stepped out of her ready room onto the bridge with a lightness of spirit that she hadn't felt in seven long years. Her crew was finally back in the Alpha quadrant and they would soon be entering Earth orbit. She simply stood for a moment and looked at her senior staff, although there were a few absences. However, she was too happy for Tom and B'Elanna to be truly saddened by their absence.
Chakotay noticed her standing there after a few moments. "Captain, we'll be entering Earth orbit in fifteen minutes. All systems are reporting at maximum efficiency and Tom and B'Elanna are on their way to the bridge for Miral Paris to meet her godmother."
She acknowledged him with a nod, then turned to Ops. "Mr. Kim, please open a channel. I would like to address the crew."
"Aye Captain," said Harry as Tom, B'Elanna, and Miral stepped out of the turbolift.
"Captain," said B'Elanna, "I would like to present your newest crewman, Miral Paris."
"Oh, B'Elanna she's gorgeous! May I hold her for a moment?"
"Of course, Captain," said B'Elanna. Harry took the momentary pause in conversation to tell the Captain that the channel was open.
She thanked him and then addressed the crew. "As you have all heard by now, we are in the Alpha quadrant and will shortly be in Earth orbit. I wanted to thank you for being the most outstanding crew that it has ever been my pleasure to serve with. We also have a new crewman aboard, Miral Paris. I'm sure you're all anxious to see your families and loved ones, so you can all begin preparations to disembark. Janeway out."
With these remarks she quietly and pointedly turned the bridge over to Tuvok and handed young Miral back to her mother before she motioned for the Commander to follow her into her ready room. She moved across the room and stood in front of her couch staring out the window. He looked closely at the reflection in the window as he drew nearer and was shocked to see that the Captain was crying.
"Kathryn, are you all right?" Chakotay whispered.
"I'm sorry Chakotay. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm so happy, but I can't seem to stop crying."
"It's okay, Kathryn. I think it's just the stress and pent-up emotion of the last seven years that are finally being released."
They sat on the couch for a long time, staring at the stars that hadn't been seen in what felt like lifetimes. Finally the Captain spoke up with a total non-sequitor.
"I pity her, you know."
"The Admiral. She had so much, yet she once told me that she envied me."
"Envied you? Why?"
"Because I still have my best friend. You see...in her time you were dead, Chakotay. And she said that you had never been the same since..." She looked up sharply, catching her slip in time.
"It's okay. I know about Seven."
"Seven repeated enough of what the Admiral told her that I was able to figure out she died in the other timeline. I didn't know you knew."
"Yes. I had a long talk with myself. She made me promise to never let my best friend slip away. So, in that spirit...would you and Seven like to accompany me to my mother's for a while? She would be delighted to meet you both."
"I don't know, Kathryn. Seven might not..."
She interrupted him. "Seven agreed to go to Indiana with me a long time ago. Please, Chakotay, I want my mother to meet my excellent first officer who saved his captain's life many times."
He smiled affectionately. "Fine, Kathryn, as long as Seven agrees we'll come." And with that they continued to sit and chat as only two old friends can.
* * *
The next morning the Captain walked onto the bridge and received the report from the officer in charge as the watch changed and the senior staff came on duty. The entire senior staff including Tom and B'Elanna took their places.
"Mr. Paris, eta to Earth orbit?"
"Fifteen minutes and counting, ma'am."
"Incoming message, Captain," said Ensign Kim.
"On screen, Ensign."
The face of Admiral Paris appeared on the view screen. He cheerfully greeted the Captain, then continued, "Captain, Starfleet Command felt that you and your crew should not be bombarded with the press at first, so your return has been kept secret. To keep this away from the press you will be landing on the Academy grounds instead of the Parade grounds."
"I appreciate your consideration, Admiral."
"The families of your crew have not been notified. We have already made travel arrangements for your crew, though."
"Thank you, Admiral."
"See you when you disembark. Paris out."
* * *
Many, many hours later Kathryn Janeway stood at the transporter console setting it for an automatic beam out. She worked at this as the last of her crew, her senior staff, were waiting to be beamed off the ship.
She walked slowly to the platform, glancing around at her staff and finally stepped up onto the platform and gave the command to energize. They appeared in front of Admiral Paris and snapped to attention.
"At ease," he said. "Captain, the rest of your crew is already being transported to their homes. They will be brought back in about a month for debriefings."
Harry was the first to speak. "My parents have an apartment in the city, and if it's all right I would rather just walk there, sir."
"Very well Ensign," replied Admiral Paris. And, with that hugs were exchanged and he departed. The rest of the senior staff departed as well, and soon only Admiral Paris, Chakotay, Seven, and the Captain were left standing there.
Chakotay turned to Kathryn. "Seven and I will stay in Starfleet quarters for a day or two to let you and your family catch up, then we'll come out to Indiana. Okay?"
"Thank you, Chakotay. I'll see you two in a few days then."
By the time this was all decided, it was late at night. Admiral Paris led her to a transporter platform. When they got there he looked at her and softly said, "Thank you for bringing Tom back. I missed him very much."
"Admiral, I am honored to have served with Tom, and B'Elanna is a wonderful person and the best engineer that it has ever been my pleasure to serve with. Just remember that Tom has changed a lot since you last saw him."
"Thank you for what you have done for them both. Oh, and by the way Kathryn - I called your mother tonight and told her to expect company, but not that it was you."
"Then I guess she's in for a bit of a surprise."
"Good luck...and welcome home, Kathryn."
Chapter 2: Coming Home
When the blue transporter haze cleared the first thing Kathryn saw was her mother's shocked and totally disbelieving face.
"Kathryn," she whispered. " it really you? But how." She cut herself off and started again. "Never mind, I don't care how you got here."
Kathryn stepped down off of the platform and into her mother's welcoming arms. They both began to cry. After a few minutes they collected themselves and walked towards the living room. They sat down on the couch and Kathryn began to explain how they got home, all the while editing out the most dangerous parts for her mother's sake.
Then she began to just talk to her mother - she had missed her oldest confidante while she was in the Delta quadrant.
"Oh, Mom," she sighed, "You have no idea how much I've missed talking to you."
"Didn't you have anyone to talk to on Voyager?"
"Chakotay - he is, was, my First Officer - and I would sometimes sit up all night talking. But it's just not the same," she added with a smile.
"I'm glad you had someone, Kathryn. I was worried about you not having someone you could talk to because you were the Captain. I know how stubborn and focused you can be, and you also have a tendency not to let people in. You can't imagine what a relief it was when we were told that Voyager was still intact and you were all alive."
"I'm so sorry, Mom. It was hard enough on the crew, being stranded out there, but at least we knew that our loved ones were still alive. I can't imagine what you and the other families of the crew went through."
"Oh Kathryn, it's not your fault. You made the right decision and I'm very proud of you for making it, even with its consequences. Not many people could have made that decision, or brought their ship seventy thousand light years in only seven years." Gretchen was unable to suppress a yawn.
Kathryn glanced at the time. "Oh, Mom, I had no idea it was so late."
"I'm not as young as I used to be," Gretchen told her with a smile.
"We'll have plenty of time to talk tomorrow, Mom. It seems like it's been days since I last slept."
Gretchen led her daughter to her childhood bedroom and hugged her tightly to her chest when they reached the door.
"Welcome home, Kathryn dear."
* * *
The next morning, the Captain was the first to rise. She quietly got up and looked around her bedroom. It felt familiar to her yet strange at the same time. She opened her closet door and began looking for some appropriate civilian clothing.
When she finally found some comfortable yet not too dusty pieces of clothing, she dressed and went downstairs. The first thing she did was to walk into the kitchen to make coffee. It had been seven long years since she had tasted fresh coffee, and she was more than willing to wait for it to brew instead of using the replicator.
Once she had her mug of coffee in hand, she began to wander around the house looking at what had changed over the last seven years. When her mother finally walked downstairs she found her daughter in the living room staring at pictures of Phoebe and her family.
"Did you know she named her eldest daughter after you?" Gretchen queried.
"Mom, I didn't hear you there. Yes, she told me when Voyager first started getting transmissions from Earth. It was a shock, because Phoebe and I never really got along well. I didn't realize how much I cared about her until we were gone and I couldn't argue with her any more."
"She really missed you too, Kathryn. Now come on, let's go down to the kitchen. You look as if you could use a few good meals, and knowing your cooking skills I doubt that you've already eaten breakfast."
"You sound exactly like Chakotay. He's always trying to make me eat more or sleep more and he absolutely despises my cooking."
"Well, he is your First Officer. Isn't it his job to take care of you?"
"I suppose so. But you needn't have worried about my eating habits while I was in the Delta quadrant, Mom. Chakotay is almost as stubborn as I am."
"Amazing - I didn't think there was a man as stubborn as you were. I think I would like to meet him someday. He sounds very interesting."
"Actually, I invited Chakotay and Seven to come and stay here for a while if it's all right with you."
"Seven? Oh, of course, that young woman you rescued from the Borg."
"I told them to come out here in a few days. They're staying in Starfleet quarters right now."
Her mother looked a bit startled at first but then spoke. "That would be wonderful, Kathryn, I would enjoy meeting Seven too. I've heard a lot about her." Gretchen paused, trying to determine the best way to approach the subject. "Kathryn...from what you've told me now and in the past...I wondered if you and Chakotay might be more than just friends."
For a moment Kathryn just stood there looking a bit stunned, then as she opened her mouth to reply there was a loud noise like a slamming from the front of the house.
"Mom!" shouted an obviously hurried Phoebe Janeway. "Is everything okay? I was on my way to Earth for an exhibition and about five hours ago Admiral Paris called me and said to." She trailed off as she walked into the kitchen and saw her sister sitting at the kitchen table.
"Oh my God! Kathryn!" she exclaimed, and then she was running forward and embracing her sister.
Phoebe pulled back and looked at her for a long moment. Her final pronouncement was, "Kathryn, you have a lot of explaining to do."
The three women talked for hours, catching up on each other's lives. Kathryn told anecdotes about her crew, while Phoebe and her mother filled her in about the lives of various family members. The previous conversation about Chakotay was soon forgotten.
Over dinner that night the discussion resurfaced in a new form. They had been discussing Phoebe's husband, whom Kathryn had never met but would be arriving the next day. As Phoebe was passing her mother dessert she asked her sister with her customary bluntness, "Well, what about you, Kathryn? Surely you must have been involved with someone over the past seven years."
Kathryn felt a bit uncomfortable with the question and couldn't manage to answer with her usual imperturbability, so her answer was a bit more snappish than she meant it to be. "Not that it's any of your business Phoebe, but yes, I did have one or two casual relationships. Nothing serious, though."
"That's not like you Kathryn," commented Gretchen. "You're not usually a casual relationship person."
"I know that Mom, but I wasn't out there to look for relationships. I was trying to get my crew home."
Sensing that this was a very sensitive subject for her sister, Phoebe began to subtly change the subject away from Kathryn's love life...although she did file it away for later.
A few hours later after their mother had gone to bed they were seated on the couch both armed with a cup of fresh brewed coffee to keep them awake. They had been sitting there in silence for a while when Phoebe started laughing softly.
"What's so funny?" asked Kathryn.
"I was just thinking that I didn't realize how much I had missed you until we almost got into an argument earlier."
Kathryn chuckled softly. "Just like old times."
Phoebe became serious. "I'm sorry about before. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. You were always so touchy about your relationships. I should have known better."
"It was nothing. I'm sorry I snapped at you."
"Oh come on, Kathryn. I know you - you wouldn't have gotten that defensive if it was no big deal. And besides, I remember how little you like to share your emotions. It was a dead give away."
They sat there in silence for a long moment before Kathryn started to answer. In the end she decided that she should at least tell her sister. Maybe it would even make her feel better.
She began to tell Phoebe about her best friend, how they had met and all the things they had been through together, and finally about how Chakotay had started dating Seven. When she finished she merely sat there, tears flowing down her face even though she didn't remember starting to cry.
"Kathryn...I don't know what to say. I didn't realize how painful a subject it was or I wouldn't have said anything. I'm sorry I brought it up."
Kathryn squeezed her sister's hand.
"What are you going to do now?" asked Phoebe softly.
"I don't know, Phoebe. I haven't really thought about the future much past getting my crew back on Earth. Right now I think I'll just try to get through their visit without having a mental breakdown."
"I'm sure it will all go wonderfully, Kathryn."
She sighed. "I hope you're right."
Chapter 3: The First Step
Kathryn Janeway sighed nervously and tugged at her new civilian clothing. Then she got up and began pacing again. Seven and Chakotay were supposed to arrive sometime that afternoon and the waiting was getting on her nerves.
"Kathryn, will you please sit down?" said Phoebe. "You know Mom will be furious if you pace a hole through her carpet."
The Captain stopped her pacing and chuckled softly.
"Sorry - it's a hard habit to break. I'm surprised the carpet in my quarters managed to survive seven years of my pacing."
"Well, will you at least sit down? Pacing isn't going to make them get here any faster, you know. Besides, do you actually think that when they get here you'll be able to act like everything is fine?"
Kathryn started to open her mouth to protest, but then shut it dejectedly and sighed. Dropping onto the couch she quietly muttered, "Phoebe, you know me too well."
"Precisely, that's why you should trust me when I say that everything is going to be okay."
"I know, it's just."
She was interrupted by the tone signaling that someone was at the door. She glanced quickly at her sister's encouraging face, took a deep breath and then got up off of the couch to answer the door. She opened it to the sight of her smiling First Officer and Seven of Nine.
It wasn't hard for her to force a smile as he stepped forward to hug her affectionately. Despite everything, she was still pleased to see Seven and she gave her a warm squeeze on the arm.
"Well, don't just stand there," she said with forced cheerfulness. "Come in."
She turned slightly as Phoebe and her mother came up beside her and she introduced them to the couple at the door. Everyone was soon involved in the conversation and even Seven was interacting well with everyone. Of course, the conversation soon drifted to Starfleet and what would happen to Voyager's crew now that they were back in the Alpha Quadrant.
"Do you know when the briefings are supposed to begin?" Chakotay asked Kathryn.
"I talked to Admiral Paris this morning. He apologized but said that Starfleet would like to begin debriefing us about two weeks before the rest of the crew. He also assured me not to worry about the Maquis. He says they won't be prosecuted and any of them that want to remain in Starfleet can keep their commissions."
"That's good. We had always been concerned about what would happen to the Maquis when we got back to Earth."
"Well," said Phoebe, "I wouldn't be worried about anything. I don't think that Starfleet would dare to deny their newest heroine and her brave crew anything."
"That's not entirely true, Phoebe. I made some decisions that may not sit very well with Starfleet Command," replied Kathryn.
"Now, now, Kathryn I refuse to let this conversation turn to talk about Starfleet and all of Voyager's dangerous missions. You three are on vacation for the first time in seven years. You should enjoy yourselves," said Gretchen quickly.
Chakotay laughed softly. "This is nothing. You should see how hard I had to work to convince her to take a break while we were on Voyager."
This caused Phoebe and Gretchen to laugh in understanding while Kathryn mock-glared at Chakotay.
They continued to converse for a while, and later that day Kathryn took Chakotay and Seven around her native Indiana showing them local tourist attractions and where she had grown up.
When they finally returned to the Janeway home, it was late at night so everyone retired to their quarters for the night.
As Kathryn was getting ready for bed, she heard a soft knock on her door and Phoebe poked her head inside. Kathryn motioned for her to come in and Phoebe moved over to sit on the bed. Phoebe raised her eyebrows in question.
"Well?" she asked softly.
Kathryn set down her hairbrush and turned to her sister with a sigh. "Oh, Phoebe I hadn't realized how much I took his presence for granted until he was gone for a few days. Seeing them together does hurt...but I do enjoy having them around again."
Phoebe thought for a moment. "Well, Kathryn...it seems to me that you have two choices here. You can either tell Chakotay how you feel about him and deal with the consequences or accept the fact that they're together now and just get on with your life."
"How can I tell him now, Phoebe? He's happy with Seven. He's moved on...and no matter how much I want to tell him, I can't risk destroying our friendship."
"Whatever you're going to do, do it soon. You can't keep living like this."
Kathryn turned around and looked at her reflection in the mirror. "I know, Phoebe. I know."
* * *
The next morning Kathryn was up early, determined to get a positive start on the day. When she got to the bottom of the stairs she was surprised to see that Seven and Chakotay were already up and in the living room, and for some reason Seven appeared to be preparing to go somewhere.
Seven saw her first. "Good morning, Captain."
"Good morning. Is everything all right?" she asked.
"Everything is fine," replied Seven. "Last night I received a communication from my aunt. She was aware that I was on Earth and she invited me to visit her for the day. Chakotay and I thought that it would be best if I were to go alone for the first visit so that we can get better acquainted. I will be spending the day with her."
"That's wonderful Seven. I hope that your visit goes well."
Seven smiled slightly. "Thank you, Captain."
"Now if you'll excuse me I haven't had my morning coffee yet."
As she entered the kitchen and began to pour herself a cup of coffee, she pondered the day wondering what it would bring. She took a long sip of the warm liquid and let the warmth flow down her throat before she turned back towards the living room.
As she neared the room she heard Seven call for a site-to-site transport to her aunt's house. Seven was gone by the time she entered the room, and she sat down in the chair across from Chakotay without saying a word. After they had been sitting for a moment she spoke up.
"How is she adjusting to being back on Earth, Chakotay? Is she really okay?"
"She's doing as well as any of us, I think Kathryn. You know Seven - she always adapts."
They both shared a smile at this observation.
"But what about you?" he continued. "How are you doing now that you're back on Earth?"
"I'm adjusting well and I love being with my family...but in some ways I miss Voyager. I miss the crew and having a goal to focus on."
"Have you thought about what you want to do now?"
"Not really. I think my main goal now is to get through the debriefings without getting court-martialed."
"What are you doing until the debriefings begin?"
"I don't know. I just thought -" She paused as the communication console in the living room lit up. "Sorry."
She turned to the console and hit the button to accept the transmission. The smiling face of Tom Paris filled the small screen on the terminal before her.
"Hello, Captain. It's good to see you."
"You too, Tom. How are things?"
"Miral's teething already. She's making such a fuss I think the Admiral would consider evicting us if he wasn't so taken with her and B'Elanna."
She chuckled. "I always thought your father would fall for them."
"Sorry to call this early in the morning, but the rest of the crew insisted."
"The rest of the crew insisted? What's going on?"
"Well, most of the crew and their families have been in contact with each other and they decided to meet at the real Sandrine's in Marseilles to have a big celebration for our safe return, to remember those who didn't make it home and to meet each other's families. The crew elected me to convince you and your family to attend."
She smiled. "We wouldn't miss it."
"Good. I think you might have had a mutiny on your hands otherwise. It wouldn't be the same without you."
"I'm looking forward to it."
"Oh, by the way - do you know where I can reach Chakotay? I thought he was staying in Starfleet quarters but I haven't been able to track him down."
One side of her mouth curled up in a smile. "As a matter of fact, I'm sitting here looking at him."
"Oh," said Tom, concealing his surprise.
"He and Seven are staying with me for a few days," she explained.
"Well, tell them that they and their families are invited too, of course."
"I'll see you tonight, then. 1900 hours, Marseilles time. Paris out."
And with that the screen went back to its previous blank state. She paused, seeming to think for a moment, then turned excitedly to Chakotay.
"I have an idea. You wanted to know what I had planned to do before the debriefings. I don't have anything planned, so let's go to Marseilles for the day. We can go to Sandrine's tonight and Mom and Phoebe can meet us there."
He smiled. "That sounds like a great idea."
"Good. Why don't you call Seven and let her know about tonight and make sure that she knows that her aunt is invited."
As she said all this she got up from the couch deposited her dishes in the sink and began to walk towards the stairs.
"I'll be right back. I'm going to get ready and I also have to wake Phoebe. Her husband is supposed to be calling her this morning and she wanted to be awake before he did. He was supposed to come here yesterday but he got delayed."
* * *
Kathryn smiled happily as she studied her appearance in the mirror. She had brought two dresses with her to Marseilles and she wasn't sure which one she wanted to wear tonight. Finally she decided that she was feeling daring this evening even though she was tired. She and Chakotay had spent the entire day together exploring the city and all that it had to offer. The day had gone wonderfully. They had talked a lot and their friendship, which had been growing more distant since Chakotay and Seven had been dating, was repaired to almost better than it had been before. She was sorry that the day was coming to a close, but she couldn't wait to see her crew again.
By the time she was ready it was well past 1900 hours. The party had already begun, but she was keeping to her tradition of arriving at the party a little late.
As she exited the hotel room she had rented for the evening she was surprised to see Chakotay standing outside her door dressed for the party.
"What are you doing here, Chakotay? Where's Seven?"
"She and her aunt got delayed. They should be here in an hour or two, so I thought I would wait for you and go with you if you don't mind?"
"Of course I don't mind. Thank you for waiting for me. Have you seen Phoebe or Mom yet?"
"Yes, Phoebe just arrived, but your mother has been here for a few hours now. She's very popular with the crew, but be careful Tom has got her telling all of your most embarrassing childhood stories."
Kathryn laughed and looked resigned. "Well at least she hasn't got out any old pictures of me."
They exited the hotel and began to walk towards Sandrine's. When they arrived a few minutes later, Tom and B'Elanna greeted them at the door.
"Welcome to Sandrine's," announced Tom as they approached.
The Captain looked around the bar with a smile. "I'm impressed, Tom. Your recreation on Voyager was quite accurate."
"He even convinced Sandrine to let us have the place to ourselves for the evening," added B'Elanna.
Tom pulled Chakotay towards the other side of the room into a conversation with Harry Kim and a few other officers, leaving the Captain alone with B'Elanna.
"Did you bring Miral?" she asked B'Elanna.
"No, we left her with one of Tom's sisters. She's teething and kicking up a fuss. You wouldn't believe the noise she's capable of. I didn't think she would be a very good addition to the party in her current mood, and Jenny seems more than capable of handling her."
They started moving across the room. "Looks like most of the crew is already here," observed the Captain.
"Samantha, her husband and Naomi are already here," said B'Elanna. "Naomi is dying to see you by the way. She's crazy about her father and she wants you to meet him."
"I'll have to be sure and find her."
"She's okay for right now I think. Your mother is over there with her right now and they're getting along wonderfully."
"That figures. Mom always was good with children. I think I'll go find them now, as a matter of fact."
"Sure Captain, I should go call and check on Miral anyways."
The Captain briefly scanned the room looking for Naomi and her mother. She eventually spotted them at the far side of the room. The crew had cleared out the center of the room and created a makeshift dance floor so she began easily walking across the floor greeting people as she crossed. Just as she was about to reach the other side she felt a hand on her arm. She turned expecting another well-wishing crewmen. Instead she found Chakotay.
"Would you care to dance?" he asked with a smile. "My previous partner," he glanced towards Naomi, "Stood me up."
"Of course...but only one. Naomi apparently wants to see me."
He held out his hand and they whirled away out onto the center of the dance floor.
At the same time, Seven entered Sandrine's, unnoticed by everyone. She saw the Captain and Chakotay and began to walk towards the dance floor. She stopped near the edge of the dance floor, waiting for the dance to be over before she announced her presence. Standing near her were Tom, B'Elanna and Harry. She was standing slightly behind them, so they hadn't noticed her come in either. She started to walk towards them, but paused as she overheard their conversation.
"I don't know Tom," B'Elanna was saying. "I don't think they're a couple just because they're dancing now."
"Maybe not by itself," he conceded, "But they're back in the Alpha Quadrant now - she doesn't have to worry about him being her first officer...and besides, he's been staying at her home in Indiana. He was there when I called her this morning."
"So what?" interjected Harry. "You said Seven was staying there as well."
The conversation ended there however because the dance drew to a close and the Captain and Chakotay walked over to join them. Seven also joined the group. When Chakotay saw her, he stepped over to her side and greeted her and then they exchanged a small kiss. They failed to notice the shocked reaction of the group that was standing there and the Captain's barely perceptible flinch.
When the music started up again, Chakotay spoke to Seven in a low voice and he followed her towards the dance floor.
After they were out of earshot, B'Elanna was the first to react.
"What the hell was that?" she whispered in the direction of Tom and Harry.
"Are they...together?" said Harry incredulously.
"They couldn't be," said Tom, watching them dance.
"It sure looked that way," muttered Harry.
"But...Seven?" said B'Elanna.
The Captain was unable to ignore their conversation and depsite her similar reaction she felt obliged to speak up. "That's enough, B'Elanna. I know you don't agree, but it's really none of our business." She took a deep breath and paused before she before she began speaking again. "From what I can see they seem very happy together and I for one wish them the best."
With that everyone resumed what he or she was doing. Tom and B'Elanna moved off to dance, with B'Elanna still muttering angrily about Chakotay.
Kathryn slowly walked over to the booth where Phoebe was sitting and sank into the seat slowly with an exhausted sigh.
"Are you okay, Kathryn?" At her sister's surprised look, she added, "I could see you from across the room. I have a pretty good idea what the others were saying."
"I really wanted to agree with B'Elanna you know, but I just couldn't. He's happy with her and as long as he's happy I'll just deal with it."
"Well Kathryn I know just what will cheer you up -why don't you go talk to Naomi? She's been asking about you all evening."
"I think I will. She's so happy right now it's hard to be sad around her."
As she walked over too the table where Naomi and her parents were sitting, Phoebe remained seated. She was thinking about her sister. She knew that Kathryn couldn't go on this way much longer. Finally she decided that she would have to do something about the situation, but she just didn't know what to do. Fortunately she was saved from having to decide what to do because Chakotay slid into the booth across from her.
"I see Kathryn left you to fend for yourself," he commented as he sat down.
Phoebe smiled. "You know Kathryn - her crew comes first. She's over there taking to Naomi. Where's Seven?"
"She's talking to the Doctor." He glanced around to make sure they were isolated before he turned back to her and lowered his voice. "How's Kathryn doing?"
"You tell me - you're the one who spent the day with her."
"We talked, and she said she's fine...but it seems like she's been a bit off for the last few days."
"It will probably take her some time to adjust to being back on Earth."
"It's more than that."
Phoebe took her time considering what she would say. She knew the real reason Kathryn was acting the way she was, but she couldn't say that to Chakotay. Orcould she? Kathryn would kill her of course, but itwould at least make someone take action - whether it worked out or not at least everything wouldn't be hanging in limbo like it was now.
Chakotay noticed how long she was taking to answer. "You have noticed the difference, haven't you? Is it the debriefings? Is there something she's not telling me?"
"She hasn't talked to me about the debriefings."
"Is she in some kind of trouble with Starfleet? Are they going to force her to resign? Please, Phoebe -I've known her for too long for her to hide when something's bothering her."
"There is something bothering her," she conceded, "But it's...it doesn't have anything to do with Starfleet."
"You see...she has a problem and she has two choices. The problem is if she chooses one she'll be miserable for the rest of her life and if she chooses the other she won't be able to live with herself."
He didn't answer, and the pained expression on his face was obvious.
Phoebe wondered if he knew what she was talking about. "Are you all right?"
"I'm just surprised she didn't talk to me. I know I'm not her First Officer anymore, but I thought she still trusted me. Why didn't she tell me she had a problem?"
"You are the problem," she blurted.
Phoebe sat there with her mouth hanging open for a few seconds before she stammered, "I mean, I don't...forget I said anything."
"What do you mean, I'm the problem?" he demanded.
The words left her mouth before she had a chance to think. "She's in love with you."
For a moment just sat there with a blank expression. "But she never said..."
"She wanted you and Seven to be happy...even if it was at the cost of her own happiness."
Chakotay seemed to think about this for a moment then started to get up from the booth. "I don't really know what to say. I think...I need to think about this for a while."
With that he got up from the booth in silence. She watched him move through the crowd away from her and she sighed.
"Oh Well, she thought, What's done is done. I just hope that I'm not around when Kathryn finds out what I just told him.
Chapter 4: Revelations and Evasions
Chakotay punched furiously at the small blue punching bag in front of him in frustration and anger, hitting it swiftly each time it swung back towards him.
It had been ten days since the party at Sandrine's but his conversation with Phoebe still hung heavily in his thoughts. He had wandered away from Phoebe in shock, not at the revelation that Kathryn loved him - he'd had suspicions about that for years - but at the fact that she had done nothing about it. He understood her reasons while she was on Voyager, but it upset him that she hadn't told him now that they were back on Earth.
Of course, he was dating Seven...but that was part of the problem too. He believed that he genuinely had feelings for Seven as well as the Captain, but he was unsure what to do. He wished he could talk to someone about it, but Kathryn was his closest friend and, well...he could hardly talk to her about it. So here he was on the holodeck, in his favorite boxing program, beating up on a small blue bag filled with sand. He had tried boxing holographic opponents, but he was too distracted to strategize and he had lost three matches in a row before switching to the bag.
As he boxed, he reflected on the previous week. He had been distracted and awkward around Kathryn all week, especially when Seven was around. Kathryn had never said anything about his behavior, but from the odd glances she kept giving him, he knew that she must have noticed something.
Suddenly a voice startled him out of his reverie. "Torres to Chakotay."
With a sigh he quickly walked over to his combadge, which he had laid on a bench nearby so that it wouldn't get damaged. "Chakotay here. How are you, B'Elanna?"
The impatient and harassed voice of B'Elanna Torres answered him quickly. "You're late, Chakotay. You were supposed to meet us at the restaurant a half hour ago and now Miral is pitching a fit because she's teething, hot, fussy and hungry. That's how I'm doing. Where are you?"
He winced. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna, I was in a holosuite and I lost track of time. Let me change into more appropriate clothing and I'll be there as soon as possible."
He could hear B'Elanna sigh over the comm. "We'll be waiting."
As he said this he hurriedly began to exit the holosuite and requested a site-to-site transport back to Kathryn's house.
He entered the quiet house and noticed a PADD on the kitchen table. He paused and scanned it. It was a note from Kathryn telling him that she was spending the day at the beach with Phoebe and her family. She also told him that Seven would be gone for the day as well as she was going to see her aunt, but that both she and Seven would be back home in time for dinner that evening.
He sighed, knowing that she might have enjoyed having lunch with B'Elanna, but he knew that she would also enjoy spending time with Phoebe and her family.
He jogged up the stairs to his room and quickly changed out of his sweaty clothes. After he had put on clean civilian clothes, he called for a site- to-site transport to the restaurant where B'Elanna was waiting.
* * *
Kathryn Janeway sat on the southern California beach, relaxing and enjoying watching Phoebe's kids as they played in the ocean.
She was enjoying the afternoon immensely and was glad that Phoebe had convinced her to come, declaring that it would be good for her. And Phoebe was right - she was enjoying herself...however, it was times like these that made her wonder what her life would have been like had she pursued a family instead of a career in Starfleet.
She sighed heavily and was about to get up to go find her sister when Phoebe sat down next to her.
"Why the long face Kathryn?"
"I was just thinking about what might have been, had I made different choices."
"You mean Chakotay?"
Kathryn glanced over at her sister with an unreadable expression. Phoebe met her gaze steadily and finally Kathryn looked away.
"Not really. It's related in a way, but I was really thinking about what my life would have been like if I'd had children. Obviously that hasn't been an option for the last seven years."
"Well, what about now? You're not in the Delta quadrant anymore."
"No," she said carefully, "I'm not."
"Then what's stopping you?"
"I'm not going to jump into anything." She smiled wryly. "Before I can have children I would have to find a father for them."
Phoebe laughed, but then looked candidly at her sister and said with customary directness, "I thought you already had, Kathryn."
At this comment Kathryn glanced quickly over at her sister then her gaze flicked back out towards the children and their father. When she finally turned back to face her sister, Kathryn's face was a mask showing nothing.
"I won't tell him, Phoebe. He has Seven now and he's obviously very happy with her. He's certainly been acting more comfortable around her lately than around me. I won't ruin his chance at happiness."
"How do you know that you wouldn't make him happier than she would?"
"I won't say anything to him," she insisted. "Besides, why do you think he would be happier with me?"
"Because when I - "
Phoebe stopped abruptly as she realized what she had almost revealed.
"When you what?" prompted Kathryn.
Kathryn's eyes narrowed. "Phoebe."
"It's nothing," she insisted. "Just...a conversation I had with Chakotay."
But it was too late; Kathryn had already figured it out. "You told him," she whispered in horror, her eyes wide.
Phoebe watched her for a moment then began to explain. "It was an accident, Kathryn. I didn't mean to tell him - it just slipped out."
Kathryn remained silent, staring ahead at the waves crashing on the beach.
"I'm sorry, Kathryn," continued Pheobe, "I know you didn't want him to know, but he was concerned about you. I really didn't mean to tell him."
Phoebe stopped talking knowing that whatever she said now was useless. So she just sat there waiting for Kathryn's reaction. She didn't have to wait very long.
"I'm going back to the house," she said quietly.
Phoebe opened her mouth but before she could think of something to say Kathryn had picked up her belongings and was already making her way down the beach.
* * *
They were halfway through the meal when Chakotay finally realized that B'Elanna had been talking to him for the last few minutes. When she had asked his opinion on something or other, he had finally realized that she was talking to him.
"What did you say, B'Elanna?"
B'Elanna stared at him in concern for a moment then sat back in her chair, ignoring the meal in front of her.
"What's the matter, Chakotay? You've been distracted ever since you got here. Is everything okay with you and Seven?"
"Everything's fine." He tried to change the subject away from his mood. "How bad is the rumor mill? I'm sure it can't be good."
"Honestly, I don't know. I don't think anyone knew until that party at Sandrine's that you two were together. Quite frankly, I think it surprised a lot of people."
"What makes you say that?"
"You're not exactly an obvious match."
"Look who's talking."
B'Elanna smirked. "Well, you have to admit that when Seven first came aboard Voyager you obviously didn't get along with her and didn't really trust her either. And to be blunt, most of the crew always thought that if you ever got involved with someone on Voyager it would be the Captain."
Chakotay was silent for a moment, considering her comment. "There was never anything between us beyond friendship, although I admit that I did wish for more at times. We did flirt occasionally, but nothing ever came of it. I had always hoped that if we ever got home that maybe our relationship would change."
"You're home now," said B'Elanna.
"But I was already dating Seven when the Admiral showed up. Besides...I didn't really think that Kathryn cared about me like that anyway. But now..."
"What do you mean? What's changed?" B'Elanna's eyes widened. "Did the Captain admit that she has feelings for you?"
He looked up, surprised that at her perception.
"Something obviously happened," she continued, "And it's bothering you a lot."
"She didn't say anything to me...but I found out from her sister and now I don't know what to do. A year ago it would have been so simple - I would have just gone and told Kathryn that I felt the same way, but now with Seven in the equation...it wouldn't be fair to her if I decided to explore a relationship with the Captain."
"Would it be fair to her to stay in a relationship with her if you're in love with someone else?"
"No," he said slowly, "I suppose not." He sighed. "I guess I should at least talk to Kathryn and see where it goes from there. I owe her that much."
B'Elanna smiled. "Go on. We'll have lunch another time."
He stood to leave, but as he turned to walk away B'Elanna laid a hand on his arm, making him stop and face her.
"Good luck, Chakotay. The whole crew has watched the Captain struggle to get us home for so long, and now we just want her to be happy."
He smiled and nodded to her in acknowledgement then left the restaurant.
The transport and the walk back to the house seemed to take forever, especially when he was so anxious about telling Kathryn. He paused at the door for a moment, just to collect his thoughts, and then opened the door and walked into the house.
He could hear voices coming from the kitchen, and when he entered the room he saw Phoebe and her mother sitting at the kitchen table. He started to greet them, but immediately noticed their tense attitude.
"Is something wrong?" They glanced at each other and avoided his gaze. Phoebe's expression seemed guilty and concerned. He immediately noticed the missing presence. "Where's Kathryn? I thought she was spending the day with you."
Phoebe paused a moment and glanced at her mother and answered him without looking up from the table.
"She's gone," she said softly.
It felt like the air had been sucked out of his lungs and when he anwered his voice came out uneven. "What?"
Phoebe finally looked up at him. "She was already gone when we got home. She left a note saying that she would be returning to Starfleet Headquarters. She didn't say when she would be back."
Chapter 5: Surprises and Beginnings
Irene Hansen smiled at her blonde-haired niece's perplexed expression. She and Seven had been talking over lunch, and Seven had slowly begun opening up to her aunt about her private life. It was difficult for Seven to open up to people, especially a virtual stranger like Irene, but she needed someone to talk to and her aunt appeared to be very wise in the area of human relationships. They had begun by discussing how Seven was adjusting to being on Earth and had led up to how odd Chakotay and the Captain had been acting recently.
"I do not understand their behavior. They are good friends but of late they have been acting strangely around one another."
"How has their behavior been strange, Annika? Could they simply be adjusting to being back on Earth again?"
"I do not believe that this is the cause for their unease. The Captain has been acting almost awkward around the Commander and myself which is unusual because the Captain is known for her calm and poise under any circumstance."
"What about Chakotay? You still have to bring him around for dinner sometime dear. you said he was acting strangely too?"
"Chakotay has been very distant. This behavior only began recently, but has become more pronounced especially since Captain Janeway left for Starfleet Headquarters a few days ago."
"Well, dear, I don't know him personally so I don't really know what could be bothering him. However, if you're that worried about him why don't you talk to him about it? That's what people in successful relationships do."
Seven paused before replying, glancing down at the remains of lunch, still on the table before them. As she began clearing the table, she turned back to her aunt to finish their conversation.
"Thank you for your advice. I am still unsure of many human customs, especially those involving relationships. I will talk to Chakotay about this." She smiled. "As much as I have enjoyed this meeting I must return to Indiana. Chakotay and I have made plans for this evening."
"That's wonderful. Where are you two going?"
"The Captain's mother told me about a restaurant the other day that I believe will be the perfect place for our next date."
"Well I'm glad that you're going out tonight, but I'm sorry that you have to leave so soon," said Irene as she walked Seven to the door. She watched with a smile as her niece moved confidently towards the nearest public transportation stop.
* * *
Chakotay paced aimlessly in the Janeway living room as he waited for Seven, who was upstairs getting ready for dinner. The past week and a half had been hard on him and he knew the stress was beginning to show. In fact, he was surprised no one had commented on his odd behavior. He had been moody and stressed since Kathryn had left. He wasn't certain what had happened the afternoon that she left - Phoebe wouldn't say - but he was certain that it had something to do with him, especially when the Captain hadn't returned his calls.
However, he thought, as Seven walked down the stairs in a gorgeous, red, spaghetti-strapped dress, he could do nothing about it now, so he would just take Seven out for a nice evening. Maybe he would even call Kathryn again later. She had probably just been busy earlier.
He was jolted out of his reverie as Seven asked him if he was ready to leave. He nodded in acknowledgement and offered her his arm as they left the house.
The restaurant was only a short distance away and they arrived there quickly. As soon as they were seated, Seven noticed that Chakotay once again didn't appear to be focusing on the present and for some reason that disturbed her. Soon the silence had become uncomfortable and Seven began searching for a subject to break the silence. They were both just beginning to speak when the waitress interrupted them, asking for their orders.
When the waitress left, he spoke up. "Why don't you go first?"
"I was merely going to ask what you did today while I was gone."
"Well, before she left Kathryn and I had made plans to go see an archaeological dig up in Alaska today, but she forgot to tell me where it was and then she wouldn't answer my calls so I could never find out where it was. So I ended up just not going."
"That's unfortunate. I know that you enjoy archaeology."
"Yes, I think I would have really liked it...but there's no since in worrying about it now. How was your lunch date with your aunt?"
"It went well. We discussed many things. She told me more about my parents and showed me some old photographs of them and even a few of me from when I was just a small child. I must admit it was interesting to see my parents."
Noticing her obvious desire to continue, yet also seeing her seeming hesitation to discuss them further, Chakotay tried to draw her out.
"Tell me about them. What they were like," he said quietly.
"They were your average humans, although according to my aunt I resemble my father greatly."
Seven paused for a moment, as if she were uncertain and trying to collect her thoughts. Chakotay, taking advantage of her momentary silence and trying to comfort her, reached across the table for her hand. He brought it to his lips and gently kissed her knuckles.
When he looked back up at her he began to speak, but Seven noticed he didn't quite meet her eyes.
"I would like to see those pictures someday. I would especially like to see the parents of such a talented and wonderful woman."
Seven looked slightly uncomfortable by his obvious flattery, but was saved from replying by the reappearance of the waitress with their food.
After they had began to eat Seven suddenly looked up from her food as if just remembering something.
"You said earlier that the Captain was not responding to your calls. Do you know if she is well? Her recent behavior has been strange and I am worried about her."
Chakotay froze for a moment then looked up at her again not quite meeting her eyes.
"I'm not sure, Seven. I talked to Phoebe yesterday and she said she hasn't spoken to Kathryn for a few days, but when they last spoke Kathryn was doing fine."
"It is somewhat unusual for the Captain to be this reclusive especially now that she has returned to Earth and her family. I wonder if something is upsetting her or if she is merely concerned with doing her duty to the best of her abilities."
"I'm not sure, Seven. I." He trailed off as if he was unsure what to say. "I don't know. She probably just wanted some space to think and readjust."
He cocked his head as if listening then stood and held out his hand to her.
"Why don't we dance, this song sounds perfect."
Seven looked up at him for a moment startled, but then took his hand and they walked out onto the dance floor. As they danced Chakotay noticed Seven occasionally glancing at him peculiarly.
He finally grew curious and asked after a moment.
She delicately raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
"You were looking at me oddly," he explained.
"I was considering your recent behavior. You have been acting strangely. Are you all right?"
He paused as if considering his answer. His reply, when it came, was at first serious, but then took on a more mischievous tone.
"Oh, I'm fine. I've just been wondering how the crew is adjusting...and I was also thinking about my beautiful girlfriend."
With that he gave her his most charming smile and pulled her in for a kiss. This tactic managed to distract Seven for the moment.
However, later that evening when Seven was thinking back on the events of that night she realized that Chakotay had never really answered her question.
* * *
The next morning when Seven had finished regenerating, she walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. As soon as she entered she was greeted by Gretchen Janeway.
"Good morning, dear. Would you like some breakfast?"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Janeway."
"What would you like? I'm cooking this morning, and please call me Gretchen."
"Very well, Gretchen, I believe that Chakotay recommended your pancakes."
"Yes, he really seemed to like them."
She turned her back to Seven as she began to fix the pancakes.
"Speaking of the Chakotay," said Gretchen as she worked, "He asked me to tell you that he wasn't going to be able to be here this morning. He said he had a few things that he had to take care of at Starfleet Headquarters, but that he would see you this afternoon while you were at you aunt's."
When Seven finished her pancakes a few minutes later, she turned to Gretchen.
"With you permission, may I use your communication console? I must contact Tom Paris, I need to locate a former colleague of ours."
"Go ahead, dear. I hope nothing is the matter."
"Not at all. I merely wish to speak to him...he is a close friend."
"Well, that's good, I hope you can get a hold of him. Go on, I'll take care of the dishes."
Seven walked into the living room and activated the communication console. Soon the ever-mischievous face of Tom Paris appeared.
"Seven, what a surprise. How is everyone? Is the Captain enjoying her vacation?"
"I am unsure about the Captain's current activities, I have not seen her recently. However the Commander and I are well. How is Miral?"
Seven asked this with only polite interest, but at this topic Tom's face lit up with an ear-to-ear grin.
"She's great. She has her mother's fiery nature, but she isn't teething so badly right now. But, I could talk about Miral all day, is there something I can do for you?"
"I was wondering if you knew where to find the Doctor?"
* * *
"Seven! Please come in."
"Thank you, Doctor."
As she entered she took in his eternally unchanging features, and yet, she noticed something different about him. Something she couldn't quite define, or perhaps, she thought, it was just the light. She glanced around quickly taking it all in. The standard Starfleet quarters that the doctor was staying in had been modified with special holo emmiters for the Doctor. They were not cluttered with much furniture and were very large and spacious, with just a few works of replicated art hanging on the neutral tone walls.
"It's wonderful to see you Seven, you must have come to congratulate me on my newest paper. It's about one of the Vidiians numerous -"
He looked up startled at her harsh tone, but grew immediately concerned when he was her distressed expression.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I did not mean to speak so harshly, but I need your opinion."
"Well, of course you came to me. I am qualified to offer expert opinion in many areas. What seems to be the dilemma?"
Seven stood for a moment in her customary pose with her hands behind her back and then slowly began to speak.
"I am worried about Commander Chakotay and by extension our relationship."
At this the Doctor's expression darkened slightly but this went unnoticed by Seven, who was still speaking.
".have both been acting oddly lately, especially when they are around one another. I am concerned about their behavior."
She paused and cocked her head slightly almost glaring at the Doctor.
"Are you listening, Doctor? You appear to be distracted."
The Doctor's quick reply was both indignant and defensive. "Of course I'm listening. My auditory subroutines are functioning perfectly."
He paused for a moment, for the first time really noticing Seven's appearance. It was flawless as usual, but behind the perfect exterior he could see a very worried individual. He stepped forward with concern in his eyes.
"Are you all right, Seven? Did something happen?"
"Chakotay has been acting very distant and evasive since the Captain departed for Starfleet Headquarters."
A flicker of worry passed across the Doctor's face before he replied. "He's probably just worried about the Captain and the outcome of the debriefings. Everyone knows that the Captain works to much."
"I am not sure that is the complete problem."
"What do you think the problem is then, Seven?"
She paused for a moment then straightened slightly. As she faced the Doctor she looked a bit unsure, as if she was gathering her determination.
"To your knowledge, Doctor, have the Captain and Commander Chakotay ever been in a romantic relationship?"
The Doctor's quick and decisive reply was very unexpected. "Well of course they have. They are both adults and both have pursued several relationships."
"That is not what I meant and you are aware of that. Please answer the question, Doctor."
The Doctor slumped slightly and turned away from Seven, cursing her intelligence and her observational skills as well as the fact he was the person she had picked to have this discussion with. As much as he hated the fact that she was involved with Chakotay he still did not want her to be hurt. Finally he turned back to her.
"There have been rumors about them over the years...however, it has never been proven with certainty."
"But in your personal opinion?"
"It is possible that they were in a relationship or at least had feelings for one another."
Seven considered this for a minute looking more that a bit lost and unsure. "I am uncertain what to do in this situation."
The Doctor took the opportunity to quickly try to console her. "In all likelihood they were never involved. There could be many other explanations for their odd behavior."
"I do not believe that Doctor, and I doubt you do. It is obvious to everyone that they have a very strong connection. I was just not aware of the depth of that connection."
"Perhaps you should ask Commander Chakotay about it. Better yet, why don't you just get away for a few days, you could spend a few days here with me. Just so you would have plenty of room to sort things out." He chuckled slightly and gestured at himself. "Obviously I don't take up much space or create a large distraction in the room."
His attempt at humor, meant to distract her, did not work. Her expression was distant, a mask behind which she was hiding, but it softened slightly as she acknowledged her attempt at humor.
"Thank you for your offer, Doctor, but I will return to the Janeway residence for now. I am unsure how to proceed but I will let you know whatever the outcome. I have appreciated what you have told me and I will consider everything you have said."
"Very well, Seven. It was good to see you, no matter the circumstances."
"You too, Doctor." And with that she walked out of his apartment and stood stiffly waiting for the oblivion of the beam out that she had just requested.
A few moments later she slowly, yet precisely walked into the Janeway house with an air of weariness. She was surprised when she found the house deserted, although she had known it would be empty when she returned. Gretchen, she knew, was seeing Phoebe and her family off at the departing space dock. They were returning to their off-planet home after spending almost a month on Earth.
She walked into the living room, the silence hanging like a heavy weight on her shoulders. She slowly sat down on the couch and waited patiently for Chakotay to return from Starfleet Headquarters.
It was nearly an hour before the front door opened and she heard his footsteps in the hallway.
He stopped abruptly when he entered the room and saw her sitting there waiting.
"Seven," he said after a few seconds. "Did you get my message earlier?"
"Yes, Gretchen told me."
She said it a bit stiffly and was not surprised when he noticed her tone.
"Is everything all right, Seven?"
Ignoring his questions she calmly replied, "We need to talk."
"About what? Is there a problem?"
"The problem is us, Chakotay."
He sat down next to her and reached out to grasp her hands, trying to make her look at him, but she refused and rose from her seat, stepping away from him. He looked stunned for a moment, but then found his voice.
"Why are you acting this way, Seven? What happened?"
She paused, then turned around slowly with an incredulous expression on her face. "You don't know?"
At his blank look, she plunged forward. "You have been acting oddly for days and although I have been trying to talk to you about it you will not respond."
He was unable to hide his guilty expression. "It's nothing really, I've just been under some stress lately and."
She cut him off. "Perhaps you could tell me the cause of this 'stress'?"
He immediately froze, knowing better than to tell Seven another woman was in love with him and that he might be in love with that woman too.
"Precisely," she remarked, but it was said without any real anger or malice in her voice. "Chakotay, I know these last few days have been hard and I have decided to, for many reasons, terminate our relationship."
He sat there, once again stunned. Finally when he spoke it was just one word.
"As I said I have more than one reason. The principle reason is that, through my own observations as well as those of others, I have concluded that you have feelings for someone else, specifically the Captain. I am not certain if she feels the same about you...but I do not wish to be involved with someone who wishes he was elsewhere."
He was silent for a minute after she finished speaking then opened his mouth as if to refute what she had said, but then slowly closed his mouth in grim acceptance. They both sat there for a moment before Chakotay broke the uncomfortable silence.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I am uncertain. I have not thought about it yet."
"Well," Chakotay said in a neutral voice, "don't worry about accommodations. I'll be leaving for Starfleet Headquarters tonight to get settled in before the briefings begin so you're free to remain here."
"That is unnecessary. I will be accepting an invitation from the Doctor to stay with him."
"That's good." He let out a deep breath. "Seven...I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you and I hope this causes no hard feelings. It wasn't because of you. I shouldn't have gotten involved with you in the first place, it wasn't fair to you really." He paused and looked away. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry.'
"I'm sorry as well...however if I had to lose you to another woman Captain Janeway is the only person who I would accept losing to. And I wish you both luck and happiness."
And with that Seven of Nine walked out of the room and back up the stairs. From her room she called for a direct transport to the Doctor's quarters. When she arrived he immediately glanced at her with an expression of surprise that quickly turned to concern as he noticed the tears running down her face. Without thinking he moved over to her and began to console the emotionally overloaded former borg drone as best as he could.
* * *
"Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, please be seated. You both know why you are here?"
The comment from Admiral Ross was both a statement and a question, which caused both members of the command team to answer quickly while remaining stiffly at attention. Seeing their positive response the admiral resumed speaking.
"You may now be seated."
When both the command team and the review board were seated he continued.
"We have reviewed all of your logs, however we wanted to discuss certain incidents with you personally. When we are finished we will determine how to best proceed. Admiral Paris, would you begin please?"
With that the seemingly endless onslaught of questioning began. Four hours later when a lunch recess was finally called, both the Captain and the Commander were exhausted. As they stood and exited the drab conference room, Chakotay turned to the Captain.
"Would you care to join me for lunch, Captain? I know of a restaurant nearby."
The Captain quickly interrupted him. "No thank you, Commander, I have some crew evaluations that I have to finish before the rest of the crew comes before the review board."
"Well in that case, Kathryn, would you like some help?"
"Thank you for the offer, but that won't be necessary."
She turned and quickly began to walk in the opposite direction down the corridor. He sighed as she walked off, knowing her well enough to realize that her crew always came first and devoutly hoping that her beloved crew was not being used as an excuse to avoid him, as he feared.
* * *
Several days later the command team looked even worse. Chakotay was frustrated by the Captain's continuing reluctance to talk to him in a private situation. The Captain was emotionally exhausted just from being around Chakotay and trying not to break down in front of him. Both were having a difficult time trying to keep their disagreement from affecting how they acted around the debriefing committee.
Finally, a week into the debriefings, after the last meeting of the day, Chakotay decided that he couldn't take not knowing anymore. He had no plan, he just began walking through the crowds surrounding Kathryn. However, as he approached he immediately saw his opportunity, at least to get her to go to lunch with him. She was being harassed by Admiral Alynna Nechayev, famous for her disagreeable nature and her rumored involvement in many black ops.
So when he walked up behind Kathryn, lightly touching her arm to get her attention, he immediately noticed the flicker of relief in her clear blue eyes instead of the trapped expression that had recently been in them when she was around him. However as he started speaking her enthusiasm faded slightly.
"Captain, Admiral. I'm sorry for the interruption, but I was just wondering if you would like to join me for lunch, Captain. There's a little restaurant very near here that I think you would enjoy."
Her famed death glare played across her face for a moment as the full implication of the situation hit her. She was flanked by the Admiral and would not risk showing her a split in the ranks. Besides, she would accept any excuse to escape Nechayev. So pulling her Captain's mask into place she smiled graciously and accepted his invitation with an expression that was almost too sweet, and excused herself from the presence of the Admiral.
After they had walked a short distance down the corridor she glanced up at him and sighed.
"Don't think I don't know your motive, Chakotay."
"It was nothing, Kathryn, I was just doing my best to rescue my commanding officer from a dangerous situation."
This time her glare was enough to silence him and they continued that way on their way to the restaurant and well into their meal, speaking only when spoken to by the waiters. By the time they were halfway through with the meal Chakotay was growing frustrated with her. She was refusing to let him in by merely being the courteous Captain and he couldn't stand it any longer.
He set his fork down loudly. "Stop it, Kathryn. Please just stop."
She looked up at him in surprise, and her lips parted slightly.
"Why won't you tell me what's the matter?" he continued. "You weren't this standoffish when I first came aboard Voyager and I know you've been avoiding me ever since I got here. And now that we're sitting across from each other you're still avoiding telling me what's really bothering you."
"What do you mean, Chakotay? I haven't been avoiding you and I've been talking to you all week."
"Don't try to fool me with that one, Kathryn. We both know that the only time you've talked to me since I got here was on a professional basis."
"Oh," she countered her soft tone of voice a deliberate counterpoint to his loud confrontational tone. "So now I'm lying."
"No," he sighed, frustrated. "I just.I don't know, Kathryn. I guess I just feel like you've been shutting me out lately.'
She sighed and leaned back in her chair. "I'm sorry, Chakotay. The last thing I wanted was for our friendship to be hurt like this."
"Then talk to me," he said, urgently leaning forwards in his seat, "Tell me why you're so upset with me."
"I guess I was just...well, I was afraid."
"Afraid? Afraid of what?"
She paused as if gathering her courage and he realized how hard this really was for her. Just as she began to speak again his commbadge chirped.
Paris to Chakotay.
"Chakotay here. What can I do for you, Tom?"
I was wondering where to find Seven. I need -
Chakotay didn't hear the rest of what Tom said, all he saw was the Captain's face freeze and immediately close down completely.
"I don't know, Tom. Chakotay out."
He ruthlessly cut Tom off, only concerned with the fact that Kathryn looked as if she was preparing to leave.
"I'm sorry, Chakotay. I can't do this."
"Kathryn, wait. Seven and I aren't together anymore."
He had planned to wait until later to tell her, but all he thought was that he had to get her to stop even if was just for a moment.
"What?" was her shocked reply and, for one split second he had hoped that she would at least listen to him and let him explain, but his hopes were dashed when she continued. "What happened?"
Knowing it might not be the wisest course he still chose to be brutally truthful. "She realized something that even I hadn't realized. I'm still in love with you."
"No," she said, squeezing the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "No. Don't do this, Chakotay. Please don't. Don't say that."
"No," she said hoarsely.
She turned around and left the restaurant before he had a chance to react, heading for the relative safety of her quarters.
Once he recovered from the shock of her abrupt departure, Chakotay rose from his seat and followed her quickly out of the restaurant. He refused to allow the conversation to end there.
He stepped out onto the street, and looked for her among the crowd outside the restaurant. He could just barely see her, pushing her way down the street towards where he knew she was staying.
He followed her down the street, unable to catch up to her and losing sight of her from time to time. He finally saw her turn into her apartment building and he reached it a few minutes later. He took the stairs two at a time and opened the door to the third floor. When he turned into the hallway, he found himself staring at the shocked and enraged face of Kathryn Janeway.
"You followed me here?" was her incredulous greeting.
"I needed to talk to you," was his calm yet urgent rejoinder.
"What could we possibly have to talk about Chakotay?"
"How about our feelings for each other? How about everything that has happened since Admiral Janeway came on board Voyager?"
When she merely looked at him saying nothing he plowed on.
"Phoebe told me how you feel about me, Kathryn."
"I know," she said slowly, her calm voice betraying her turbulent emotions. "I was very upset about that. Especially now that you've told me about you and Seven. I'm sorry that I had something do with that."
"I'm not," he said simply. "It wasn't the right choice for either of us."
"So what happens now?"
"I don't know, Kathryn. You know what I want. You always have. The question is, what do you want?"
As he uttered these words he saw the semi-calm in her eyes change to a turbulent blue. "I.I don't know, Chakotay."
He sat there stunned and then his numb calm morphed into uncontrollable fury. "You don't know. For seven years you pushed me away and put the crew first. For seven years we've waited for this chance, and you don't know?"
She flinched more from shock than from the sting of the barrage. Even at his angriest he had never lashed out at her like that. However, his remarks had also made her furious and she quickly verbally lashed back at him.
"That's right. I don't know. You know, I'm tired of this. Having to put up with you blaming me for the way things were. I had responsibilities, and you never seemed to understand that. As if it wasn't enough being stranded out there, you had to lay that on me on top of everything else."
"Don't blame this on me, any of this. You're the one who decided that nothing could happen between us. You're the one who stranded us out there in the first place."
At this the Captain's face went pale and she began to shake with rage and hurt.
When she spoke again her voice was icy calm and very cold. "Get out."
After she spoke they were both silent for a moment staring at one another. Finally he turned and walked back towards the stairwell. As he opened the door he turned back to her.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Kathryn. I shouldn't have come...I guess I hadn't realized that you had changed, changed into to someone I don't recognize."
And with that he turned and started down the stairs.
However, had he stayed he would have seen Kathryn lean back against the wall and heard her racking sobs as she realized the full impact of the fight and the consequences of what had been said.
* * *
The next morning Kathryn went about her usual morning rituals but with a weariness and resignation that had only rarely been present, even during some of the worst times in her life. So, when the chime rang signaling that someone was outside her quarters, she answered without much enthusiasm. When the doors hissed open they revealed the smiling face of her former mentor, Admiral Owen Paris.
"Admiral. It's certainly a surprise to see you. Please come in."
"I normally wouldn't have come to bother you so early, Kathryn. In fact, Tom advised me against it. I believe he mumbled something about 'not before the Captain's first cup of coffee' or something like that."
"Well, Tom has certainly gotten wise over the years. He knows most of my quirks."
They both laughed at that for a moment but then the Admiral began eagerly talking again.
"The truth is, Kathryn, this news could have waited until later but I just wanted to be the one to tell you and I felt that you should be told as soon as possible."
"Well, please don't keep me in suspense any longer. Or didn't Tom also tell you that I hate surprises?"
"He did at that. Captain, I would like to officially inform you that the former Maquis on your crew have been cleared of all previous charges and most have even been given the appropriate medals for their conduct. Concerning you personally, you will not be court martialed. For now you will keep the rank of Captain and within a few years if nothing detrimental happens you will most likely be promoted to the rank of Admiral."
The Captain stood there trying to absorb all that the Admiral had said through the not quite lifted fog of sleep and the painful emotions still fresh from the previous evening.
"'t quite know what to say Admiral, except thank you. I was hoping that Starfleet would look past some of my crew's more detrimental attributes and see how exceptional a crew that they truly are. It appears that they did."
The Admiral shook his head slightly before speaking. "That certainly sounds familiar, Kathryn. You're always thinking about your crew first. I have one more piece of news for you personally. You're being assigned to a refitted and updated Voyager. You will be given your new mission in a few days and you may requisition what ever of your former crew that you wish to have."
"Again, all I can say is thank you, Admiral. That is much more than I had hoped for. When will we leave?"
"Your official orders will come through for you in a few hours. Right now there's a shortage of ships in the Fleet, so Voyager will leave as soon as all of her crew are on board, probably in about three days." He smiled at her amazed and grateful expression. "I suppose I should leave you to your coffee. I suspect you'll be busy for the next few days."
"Yes, sir. Thank you again, Admiral."
* * *
Tom Paris strode down the corridor with a small travel bag over his shoulder. After seven years history was once again repeating itself and he would soon be reboarding Voyager. However, this time it would be quite different. He would be joining Voyager because he wanted to, not because it would get him out of the prison colony sooner. He also had a loving wife and a beautiful daughter. He wouldn't be an outcast.
As he turned the corner he was jolted out of his reverie as he bumped into someone.
"Tom!" exclaimed Harry Kim. "It's great to see you. I thought you and B'Elanna had boarded yesterday."
"It's great to see you too Harry, but I thought your parents were going to be here to see you off?" The young ensign groaned at his parent's exuberance was all the answer Tom needed as they fell into step with one another.
They continued walking down the corridor without talking, just absorbing the familiar surroundings of the ship that had been their only home and safe haven for the last seven years. As they both turned to go their separate ways to their respective quarters, Harry stopped and turned back to Tom.
"Before I forget, Tom, the Captain said that she wanted to see us as soon as we got our gear stowed. B'Elanna too."
"Thanks, Harry. I'll be sure to tell B'Elanna."
* * *
Ten minutes later the threesome stood outside the Captain's ready room waiting for the Captain to open the door. Finally she called quietly.
They entered quietly and instead of finding the Captain in her usual chair behind her desk they found her standing in front of her couch staring at the familiar stars of the Alpha Quadrant.
"Well, B'Elanna," she said at last, "How do you like your new engines?"
"They appear to be in good condition, Captain."
"Good." She turned around to face them. "You're probably all wondering why I called you here. I'm sorry I couldn't have done this when we had more time but I felt that I should do it now. Ensign Kim."
She had said all of this with a very serious expression and in a very formal manner. When Harry stepped forward she looked at him for a moment, and then started speaking again.
"At ease, Ensign. While I'm glad you're back on board I do believe that you are out of uniform."
Harry's expression became one of bewilderment while behind him Tom and B'Elanna smiles grew earsplitting and even the captain began to have a hard time keeping a straight face as Harry let out an unsure, "Ma'am?"
"I believe that you are missing this."
And without further ado she reached up and handed him another pip signifying the rank of Lieutenant.
After Tom and B'Elanna had finished congratulating him he turned back to the Captain. She raised her hand, momentarily forestalling Harry before he began to thank her.
"No time for that, Lieutenant. We have to get under way. I believe that you and Tom were the last two crewmembers to board, so as soon as you take your posts we'll be ready to go."
They left the ready room, followed by the Captain, and took their positions on the bridge. After a few seconds, they noticed that there was one noticeable absence - the First Officer's seat was empty.
Just as Tom was about to comment on this fact the turbolift doors hissed open and a hurried looking young woman stepped out. Harry and B'Elanna exchanged questioning glances at the back of the bridge.
The woman descended towards the Captain's chair, stopping when she was facing it.
"Sorry I'm late Captain, I had a hard time convincing the transporter operator that I was on the right ship."
"That's all right just this once, Commander."
Captain Janeway stood up and offered her hand to the young woman. "Welcome aboard."
"Thank you, Captain."
Captain Janeway turned slowly around the bridge.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Commander Alyssa Fielding, our new First Officer."
Chapter 6: Life Goes On
Commander Chakotay, formerly of the Starship Voyager, paced around the cramped apartment that Starfleet had provided him. It had been two weeks since Voyager had left on its new mission, exploring an uncharted area near the Romulan Neutral Zone, and it had yet to truly sink in that Kathryn had left without him. Sure they'd had an argument, in fact he was still angry about it, but they had always tried to keep private disagreements just that - private. But it didn't really matter now. What was done was done and now all he had to figure out was what to do next.
He like, all the other Maquis aboard Voyager, had been pardoned and allowed to retain his rank. In truth, he also had many metals and commendations. His problem wasn't a lack of options but deciding what to do now. He had several offers for first officer positions and Starfleet had offered him command of one or two small ships, if that was what he wanted. After much thought he had still come to no decision about his next posting, so finally he closed his eyes and just picked one. When he opened his eyes he found himself holding a PADD showing the details about the first officer position aboard the USS Excelsior.
"Well," mused Chakotay aloud, "It seems to be as good of an assignment as any."
With that he quickly opened a comm channel to the Excelsior's Captain, Thomas Danforth, who was currently on Earth.
A pleasant looking older man appeared on the viewscreen in front of him. "Commander Chakotay. What can I do for you?"
"Is your first officer position still open, sir?"
"Yes," said Danforth, obviously a little surprised. "But I understood you were still holding that position aboard Voyager."
Chakotay wished that the link was audio only so that he didn't have to try to conceal his pained expression. He was sure he was unsuccessful, but he managed to keep his voice steady at least.
"No, Captain. I no longer hold that position." He stiffly added. "In truth, Voyager isn't even in the solar system at this time."
Danforth raised an eyebrow but made no further comment. "Well, in that case Commander, welcome to the crew of the Excelsior."
"Thank you, Captain."
"The pleasure is mine, Commander. Danforth out."
* * *
The mess hall aboard Voyager was seldom quiet, especially at this time of day around the shift change. However, the mess hall noise level appeared to be on the rise as Tom Paris tried to feed Miral some type of unappetizing vegetable. B'Elanna looked on in amusement, laughing at the sight of Tom being defeated by a baby.
"What's so funny?" Tom demanded with a mock hurt expression. "Maybe you'd like to try feeding her."
"Oh no, you're not getting out of it that easy, Flyboy. It's your turn tonight."
Before Tom could reply a loud discussion a few tables down caught their attention.
"I wonder what that's about?" muttered B'Elanna to no one in particular.
She recognized two of the three people at the table. Ensign Brooks and . Yes, that was it. They were both competent if undistinguished members of Voyager's combined crew. The third person, an ensign whose name she didn't know, appeared to be one of the new Starfleet crewmembers. Just as B'Elanna turned back to Tom to ask if he knew the name of the new ensign, she saw the group erupt into a furious argument. The people at the surrounding tables quickly backed away. B'Elanna immediately began to move to break up the argument before it turned into brawl. However before she could get there Commander Fielding appeared, as if out of thin air, and began to stop the fight. When the three had been separated and quieted, she looked at them intently for a moment and then began to speak.
"Would one of you care to tell me what happened here?"
When none of them would meet her gaze or answer her question she turned to the new Starfleet ensign.
"Ensign Blake. What happened here?"
"It was just a misunderstanding, ma'am," said Blake stiffly.
Fielding was unsatisfied and turned to Ensign Brooks. "Ensign? Would you care to elaborate?"
Brooks was not as calm as Ensign Blake. "We were eating lunch, Ma'am. I knew Ensign Blake from the Academy. We were eating with Crewman Doyle when Blake found out that Doyle was one of the former Maquis crew. Blake started insulting Doyle and I got upset because we're all one crew now, and that's what matters. The discussion got pretty heated after that."
Fielding turned back to the two men. "Would either of you care to contradict this?"
After both had told her no, she sighed and quickly dismissed them. Tom and B'Elanna exchanged uncertain glances as Fielding walked out of the mess hall.
"Well, that was interesting," said B'Elanna as she lowered herself back into her seat.
"It certainly was. Especially how Commander Fielding handled it...or didn't handle it, for that matter."
"I know what you mean," said B'Elanna as she took Miral from Tom's lap, "But it was nice to see Brooks stick up for Doyle even if she did go about it the wrong way."
"Yeah, it was. I'm sure Chakotay and Captain Janeway would have been proud, if it hadn't ended in a shouting match."
Janeway to Torres.
B'Elanna looked up from the console she was working at. "Torres here, Captain."
I need your report on the engines. You told Commander Fielding that the diagnostic wasn't finished yet when the shift started.
"So far, the diagnostic shows that the engines are as good as new. It should be finished in a few minutes and I can send you a full report then."
Understood. Janeway out.
She was about to start the final steps of the diagnostic when she noticed an imbalance in the plasma relays. She was about to go take care of it herself when she saw Lieutenant Nicoletti walk by.
"Lieutenant," she called, "The plasma relays are out of alignment again and the Captain wants this diagnostic finished. Get somebody to go up and realign them."
"Yes, ma'am," responded Nicoletti.
Satisfied, B'Elanna returned to completing the diagnostic. A few minutes later, she checked the plasma relays again and frowned. Not only were they still not balanced, the problem was getting worse.
She looked around and saw Nicoletti on the other side of the warp core. "Nicoletti!" she called, moving towards her. "Why aren't the plasma relays fixed?"
Nicoletti seemed surprised. "I'm not sure, Lieutenant. I'll go see what the problem is."
"Do that," muttered B'Elanna, returning to her work.
Less than a minute later, she noticed that the problem was still getting worse, and it was bordering on dangerous. Fed up, she left her station and moved towards the lift to the second level. As soon as she reached the lift, alarms went off around Engineering as the imbalance became dangerous.
As the lift rose, she could hear raised voices. "What in the name of Kahless," B'Elanna demanded as she stepped off the lift, "Is going on up here?"
The raised voices became louder, and she was surprised to see a small group of officers near one of the consoles scuffling with each other. Lieutenant Nicoletti and Ensign Ashmore were apparently trying to break up the fight.
As B'Elanna approached, she heard Nicoletti call for Security.
"What's going on here?" demanded B'Elanna. The fighting threesome didn't pay any attention to her. Immediately she moved towards the fray intending to stop the fight. As B'Elanna reached them she saw with shock that the three were the participants in the previous evening's mess hall dispute. Ensign Blake, who was currently under attack by Ensign Brooks, saw B'Elanna moving towards the fight and shoved at Doyle attempting to get one last blow in before the fight was stopped. Doyle recovered from the shove and launched himself at Ensign Blake. B'Elanna, trying to break them up, was caught in the middle as Doyle slammed into her, sending them both to the ground.
B'Elanna lay on the ground stunned for a few seconds before she roughly shoved Doyle off her and climbed to her feet.
"Get those relays aligned!" she snapped at Nicoletti, ignoring the fight as the alarms continued blaring.
Nicoletti released Ensign Brooks, whom she had been holding back, and ran to a nearby console. She worked furiously for a few seconds. "It's not working. They're too far out of alignment."
"I'm shutting down the plasma flow," said B'Elanna.
One of the consoles across the second level blew, sending sparks flying in the direction of the warp core.
"We've got blown EPS conduits on decks fourteen, eleven, and seven," reported Nicoletti.
The alarms stopped abruptly as B'Elanna succeeded in shutting down the plasma flow.
She leaned forward on the console and let out a deep breath.
Janeway to Engineering. What's going on down there?
"Torres here, Captain. We had a problem with the plasma relays."
Is everything all right?
B'Elanna sighed and slowly turned around. The threesome that had started the fight were staring at her in shock as it sank in what their actions had caused.
* * *
B'Elanna stormed through the ship, frightening a few of the new crewmembers.
She had mellowed since she had come aboard Voyager and especially since the birth of Miral; however, cases of incompetence and stupidity like the one today still had the ability to make her furious. When she finally stormed off the turbolift, she found, surprisingly enough, that Tom had the bridge. Fielding and Tuvok were suspiciously absent.
As soon as she made her presence known outside the ready room the Captain called her in. To her surprise the Captain was not pacing around the room, but was instead sitting behind her desk reading over reports.
The Captain looked up from the stack of PADDs as B'Elanna approached her desk. She slowly set down the one she was reading and motioned to the chair.
B'Elanna sat down and waited for the Captain to speak.
"I just read the Doctor's report," said the Captain, picking up a PADD. "Three crewmen suffered burns from exploding conduits. Ensign Blake suffered a broken nose. Half the systems on deck fourteen are still out." She set down the PADD. "What happened?"
"I noticed an imbalance in the plasma relays and told Lieutenant Nicoletti to send someone to fix it. She told Ensign Blake and Crewman Doyle to take care of it."
The Captain raised an eyebrow slightly. "I take it they were unsuccessful."
"They never started," said B'Elanna, her annoyance beginning to show in her voice. "Ensign Brooks happened to be in Engineering as well. That's where the problem started. The same three were almost brawling in the mess hall last night."
"Why wasn't I informed of this?"
"Commander Fielding broke it up but didn't put them on report or make a note of it. Nicolleti was unaware of that and delegated the repairs to Blake and Doyle. They got into another brawl and never made the repairs."
"What caused the fight?"
"That's the ironic part. They were fighting because Blake started insulting Doyle about his former Maquis status and Brooks got upset and stepped in."
The Captain sighed and massaged her temple with her fingers. "I want a full report on my desk by 0800 tomorrow." She picked up another PADD. "Dismissed.
B'Elanna turned, still furious and started to exit the room. She was amazed that the Captain had not reacted to the fact that Fielding's handling of the situation, or lack thereof, had only added to the problem and because of it the ship could have been seriously damaged.
As she stepped through the door she muttered wistfully, "This would never have happened if Chakotay was still on board."
"Excuse me, Lieutenant. What did you say?"
B'Elanna whirled, the expression of shock that she had actually spoken that out loud was matched only by the Captain's look of outrage. It took B'Elanna only a fraction of a second to come to the conclusion that she should not tell the Captain what she had said and another fraction to determine a hopefully convincing lie.
"Oh I didn't say anything, Captain. I just cleared my throat. It's feeling a little raw. I should probably go see the doctor."
The Captain was clearly unconvinced, but unwilling to call B'Elanna a liar. "Yes, maybe you should, Lieutenant."
She turned back to the stack of PADDs and B'Elanna left the ready room.
When the Captain's shift ended she was still staring unseeing at the same PADD, an odd look on her face the only clue to her conflicted thoughts.
* * *
The Captain sighed wearily as she walked down the deserted corridors towards Sickbay. She still had three hours before the night shift ended and she went on duty; however, since she had been unable to sleep she had decided to go check on the injured personnel in Sickbay. When she entered Sickbay, she was surprised to see the Doctor scanning Seven as she sat on a biobed. Although, the Captain noted, as she stood right inside the doors, Seven could not be seriously injured - not the way she and the Doctor were interacting, almost flirting.
As the Doctor move around the biobed and towards his office the Captain approached Seven, trying to keep her expression neutral and thoughts of Seven and Chakotay out of her head.
"How are you, Seven?" she asked warmly.
"Fine, thank you, Captain. The Doctor was merely making an adjustment to my radial implant."
"I wondered if you were injured by one of the exploding EPS conduits."
"There was no damage to Astrometrics."
Then an uncomfortable silence fell; finally the Captain stepped back from the bed, starting for the Doctor's office. She was almost there when Seven quietly called after her.
She turned around. "Yes, Seven?"
Seven took a deep breath collecting her thoughts and then started.
"Captain, I would like to thank you for everything you have done for me, especially for allowing me to return to Voyager. It is one place that I truly feel at home."
The Captain stood there surprised that Seven still apparently considered her a friend. She approached Seven with a warm smile and touched her arm in a friendly manner.
"I'm very happy to have you on board. I would have missed your unique perspectives very much had you not come with us."
"Thank you, Captain. I." Just as Seven was about to say more the Doctor came up, walking briskly.
"Captain," he said cheerfully. "I thought you'd like to know that I've successfully treated all three of the crew who suffered burns."
"Thank you, Doctor." She stood there for a moment longer, but seemed to reconsider and quickly turned and left Sickbay.
* * *
As the end of her shift approached the Captain glanced idly around the bridge. The shift had seemed to drag on and after seven years she could easily recognize when her crew was bored. Tom, too seemed to be feeling the mood.
"You know I don't think I have ever wished quite this hard for some anomaly. This area of space is very...well, boring."
The Captain smiled in amusement, glad that Tom had broken the tedium, and replied wryly, "Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Paris. The last time you said that we almost ran into a Borg cube."
"Now Tom," said the Captain mischievously, "That's not the right response. Lieutenant Kim what is it?"
"Sorry, Captain," he said, glowing with pride at his promotion, as he emphasized her rank.
As the Captain turned back towards Tom and caught a glimpse of Fielding's expression, a mixture of horror and amazement. She frowned momentarily, but shrugged it off as she rose from her chair.
"Commander Fielding, you have the bridge. I'll be in my ready room." She started for the ready room doors, but turned around halfway there. "Inform me if Mr. Paris gets his wish."
She heard Tom and Harry chuckle as she left the bridge, and she smiled to herself. As soon as the silence of the ready room settled on her, though, the smile faded. She stood there for a moment as for some reason she was overcome by a feeling of loss. She missed Chakotay. She missed his advice, she missed his support...she even missed him disagreeing with her.
Trying to shake the feeling off, she moved towards her desk. A fraction of a second after she sat down, the chime on the ready room door sounded.
Commander Fielding entered. "Could I have a word with you, Captain?"
"Of course. Have a seat." When Fielding was seated, the Captain leaned back in her chair. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, ma''s just how you interact with your officers. It is very unorthodox."
She smirked. "I suppose it is. Because of previous circumstances the usual command distance between captain and crew has been lessened."
"It just seems wrong, Captain."
Janeway raised an eyebrow, part amused and part annoyed. "Well I'm sorry that you don't approve Commander, but this is how I run my ship and as my first officer I expect you to respect that. Is that clear?"
"Yes Captain, but."
Tuvok to Janeway.
Tuvok's voice suddenly cut through Fielding's. Even though Tuvok's timing was usually horrible, today the Captain greatly appreciated it.
Captain, we are receiving an incoming message from Earth. It is from Captain Danforth of the Excelsior.
"Patch it through to my ready room, Tuvok." She looked back at her first officer. "Commander, I believe your shift has ended."
She quietly exited the ready room and the Captain turned to her console to acknowledge the incoming message.
"Captain Danforth," she said when the face appeared on her screen.
"It's a pleasure to talk to you, Captain Janeway, although I'm sure you're wondering what this is about."
She smiled and leaned back in her chair. "I have to admit that I'm curious."
"I wanted to discuss your former first officer, Commander Chakotay."
The Captain's mask remained firmly in place on her face, but when she responded she had to concentrate on keeping her voice even.
"What can I tell you, Captain? If you are asking for my opinion on the Commander I would have to say that he is a very loyal and outstanding officer."
Danforth paused before continuing. "Well, Captain, if you don't mind me asking...if he is such a good officer why didn't you keep him aboard Voyager?"
The mask remained, but it was harder to keep her voice steady this time. "As a matter of fact, I do mind you asking. However, I will say this. It had nothing to do with his performance or his capabilities."
Danforth seemed a bit startled at her refusal, but accepted it calmly. "I see."
Captain Janeway steeled herself for the question she knew she couldn't resist asking. "If you don't mind me asking, Captain, why do you want to know?"
"I'm looking for a new first officer, and Commander Chakotay has accepted my offer. I just wanted to make sure there weren't any problems I should be aware of."
Despite the feeling that she had been punched in the stomach, she managed to smile. "Not at all, Captain."
Danforth nodded, satisfied. "Thank you for your time, Captain, and I appreciate your opinion."
When he had signed off, Kathryn leaned back in her chair and sighed dismally. Her shift had not been busy enough to keep her mind off of how furious she was with Chakotay and added to her confrontation with Fielding and her talk with Danforth...her day was not going well.
She thought she had accepted the fact that Chakotay was no longer her first officer, but his accepting a position on the Excelsior had such a feel of finality to it that she was still reeling from Danforth's news.
Slowly she walked towards the door, pausing for a moment to clear her expression and then walked back on to the bridge. Quickly she called for a status report, when everything was satisfactory she turned the bridge over to the duty officer and entered the turbolift. Once inside she took a moment to decide her destination. Finally she decided to head for the mess hall. She entered, almost surprised to see it that full now that the replicators were no longer rationed.
She drifted towards the kitchen to see what Chell had fixed up today. As she peered over the selection, including some of the crew's favorites from both the Alpha and Delta quadrants, she heard the distinct voices of Tom, B'Elanna and Harry behind her. She turned to greet them, but stopped when she heard their murmured conversation.
"And Chakotay didn't say anything to you?" Tom was saying.
"Nothing," said B'Elanna. "Until Fielding stepped on the bridge I had no idea he wasn't coming." B'Elanna paused and sighed. "I just don't like her. Honestly, I think Tuvok would have been a better choice."
"He might have been trying to avoid Seven," chipped in Harry. "I heard they broke up before we left Earth."
"Where did you hear that, Harry?" asked B'Elanna.
"I wonder what happened with that," mused B'Elanna curiously.
Privately B'Elanna wondered if Chakotay had broken up with Seven to tell Captain Janeway about his feelings for her. But then if so, why was Chakotay not aboard Voyager? Still musing, she glanced up from the table and to her surprise she saw the Captain standing very near their table, holding a plate of food and glancing around the room as if looking for a place to sit. Quickly she nudged Tom in the ribs.
She cleared her throat and hoped the Captain had not overheard them. "Captain, would you care to join us?"
Trying to keep her voice from wavering, the Captain managed to smile politely. "No thank you. I think I'll just take this back to my quarters, I have a few stacks of reports to read over."
Tom decided to try again. "I'm sure we're better company than those reports, Captain."
Then her familiar grin played over her lips and she seemed to change her mind. "You seem to think very highly of your charms, Mr. Paris."
Tom got a mock hurt expression on his face as Harry and B'Elanna laughed.
"Captain, I'm wounded," he said, playing along.
"I think you'll live, Flyboy," cut in B'Elanna.
The Captain joined them. After eating in silence for a few moments, she decided to press them for some information.
"How is the crew doing? Both with Fielding and the incident in Engineering?"
The three exchanged a quick glance before he replied.
"Well, most of the crew are upset about Fielding," said Tom slowly. "Some just dislike her personally and others don't like her because she's not Chakotay."
"The general consensus among the crew is that she is competent enough," continued Harry, "But she doesn't have the people skills that Chakotay did."
"What about the incident in Engineering?" asked the Captain again.
"I think most of them are proud of the way Brooks stood up for Doyle," said B'Elanna. "They think that Blake was an idiot, and it's bringing the old crew closer together, although it is making the new additions feel a little left out."
The Captain was about to reply when Fielding's voice came over the comm.
Fielding to Janeway. Please report to the bridge.
The Captain smiled in bemusement. "On my way."
She glanced back at them as she neared the exit and said, "You were right, Tom. You were better company than those reports."
* * *
Commander Chakotay sighed as he entered the ship's lounge. He ordered a synthehol and moved to a deserted table by a nearby viewport. It was not, he reflected as he drank, that there was really anything wrong with the Excelsior. It just wasn't Voyager. He missed the familiarity of the crew and the sense of camaraderie. Captain Danforth was a good Captain but he was very regulation bound, and Chakotay had often found himself disagreeing with how the Captain handled situations.
Most of the crew were very formal with him and a few even appeared to be afraid of him. No, what he really missed was Kathryn. It had been weeks since they had talked and almost a month since they had talked without fighting. He had still been angry at her when he found out that Voyager was leaving, but he had still expected to be her first officer. He was shocked when he received no orders to report to Voyager and even more so when Kathryn sent him no explanation. He supposed that Kathryn was still upset about their last fight and not his brief relationship with Seven, because Seven, unlike him, was aboard Voyager.
He was rising to get another synthehol when Captain Danforth's voice cut into his thoughts.
Yellow alert. All senior staff, please report to the bridge.
When he got to the bridge he found the Captain staring at the screen, an image of an nameless alien paused on its surface, waiting for him.
"Commander," he began, "We have a situation. The Nausicaans want me to come down to their planet to mediate a trade settlement that is very important to their world. Since they have previously been highly xenophobic this is a phenomenal opportunity. I'll be going down in a few minutes."
A few moments later they entered the turbolift as Danforth prepared to lead the away team down to the surface. However, Chakotay did not like something about the situation. So as soon as they boarded the turbolift he began trying to dissuade the Captain.
"Captain, please don't do this. This situation feels like a set up."
"Do you have any evidence of this, Commander?"
"No Captain, just an opinion."
"I'll listen when you have some solid proof, Commander. I feel this situation is too important for me not to go personally."
"Very well, Captain. If you'll excuse me I'll go back to the bridge."
When he reported back to the bridge, he found that a situation had already developed. Hostile aliens, who were opposing the negotiations, had captured the away team.
Eight hours later the situation had finally been resolved, with only a few injuries on both sides. However Captain Danforth was among those injured. When the Captain had finished talking to Chakotay in Sickbay, commending Chakotay on his handling of the situation, Chakotay decided to tell the Captain of the decision he had come to during the last few hours.
"Captain...I am officially requesting a transfer."
Danforth looked up at him in surprise but said nothing.
"I have decided for many reasons, mostly personal, to leave. I don't think I'm the right first officer for this vessel and I'm sure you can find someone better."
Danforth sighed in resignation. "I was afraid of something like this was going to happen, I noticed that you didn't seem very comfortable here. "
He closed his eyes for a moment collecting himself from the pain of his injuries.
"I think I'll head back to Earth, sir, and look for another first officer position if anyone will have me."
"I wish you luck, Commander."
"Thank you, sir."
* * *
When Captain Janeway entered the bridge she immediately took in who was on duty. Lieutenant Ayala was on tactical, Ensign Lang was at Ops, an ensign whose name she had not yet learned was at the helm, and surprisingly Seven was also on the bridge.
"Captain," said Fielding as she turned to face her, "We are receiving an automated distress call from Kestrik IV, one of the Federation colonies near the Neutral Zone."
Janeway nodded curtly in acknowledgement and turned to Ops. "Ensign, inform Starfleet Command." She then addressed the Ensign at the helm. "Set a course, warp eight."
Once she finished that she turned back to the Ensign. "What's our eta, Ensign?"
"Four hours, Captain."
She nodded and hit her commbadge. "Senior staff, report to the briefing room."
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, the Captain surveyed her officers seated around the briefing room table and explained the situation.
"We have received a distress call from Kestrik IV, a Federation planet near the edge of the Neutral Zone. The signal was automated and we haven't been able to raise the colony again."
"How large is this colony?" asked Tom.
"Approximately five hundred inhabitants," Fielding informed him.
"They haven't responded to our hails," continued the Captain. "I want an away team ready to beam down when we reach the planet. Tuvok, I want one of your security teams standing by. Doctor, have Sickbay on alert. We may have casualties."
"Understood," he responded.
"Tom, you and Seven will accompany me and Tuvok's security team to the surface."
"Captain," interjected Fielding, "I have to object. That's against protocol."
Fielding gained the attention of the entire table before all eyes turned back to the Captain. She regarded Fielding calmly. "Yes, Commander, I'm aware of that. Thank you for the reminder."
"I will be leading the away team," interrupted the Captain firmly. Fielding pursed her lips together and said nothing further, so the Captain turned her attention to Ensign Kim. "Harry, get me as much information as you can on this colony before we arrive. Is there anything else?"
When a chorus of "No, Captain's" returned to her she said quietly, "All right then. Dismissed."
Tuvok, however, hung back from the rest and when she beckoned him over he stood before her patiently.
"What is it Tuvok, old friend?"
"As your Security chief I am concerned for your well being. You have not slept in almost twenty-four standard hours and you are about to go on a possibly dangerous mission."
"What do you suggest, other than that I stay aboard Voyager?"
"I would suggest that you get some rest before we arrive at the planet."
She bristled at the suggestion momentarily then nodded. As she exited the room she turned back to Tuvok with a wry smile. "Thank you for not saying that I should stay aboard Voyager, Tuvok."
"You are most welcome Captain."
* * *
Several hours later the away team stood on the surface moving slowly through the colony, now in ruins.
"Captain," called Tom, "I think you might want to look at this. It looks as if the colonists were all evacuated in a hurry."
The Captain moved over to join him. "Do you know why?"
"I'm not sure. There's no sign of natural disaster and it looks as if they were attacked, however there are no signs of bodies. The distress beacon is totally automated."
Her face clouded over and she hit her commbadge. "Janeway to Tuvok. Have you found anything out there?"
She paused waiting for his reply and then tapped her commbadge again. "Tuvok, please respond."
Captain we are under attack by -
His voice was suddenly cut off and she immediately grabbed her phaser and with Tom right beside her, they started towards the now audible sound of distant phaser fire.
* * *
Aboard Voyager, Harry stood at his post monitoring the status of the away team. An alarm on his console went off.
"Commander, it looks like the away team-"
He was interrupted by Ayala at tactical. "Romulan Warbird decloaking directly in front of us!"
Fielding looked a bit shocked for a moment, but then her eyes narrowed and she stepped towards the viewscreen menacingly.
"Shields up. Red Alert."
* * *
Captain Janeway followed Tom as they dodged around the ruins, trying to reach the fight they could hear clearly now. They were almost within visual range when the wall of one of the buildings next to them disintegrated from a phaser blast, sending debris everywhere.
The proximity of the blast threw them to the ground. Tom got to his feet first and helped the Captain up, pulling her behind a pile of rubble.
"Are you all right, Captain?"
She nodded, momentarily stunned. She could feel blood trickling down her face from a cut on her forehead.
"Paris to Voyager. We're under attack - get us out of here!"
Stand by, came Fielding's businesslike voice over the comm.
* * *
"Lieutenant Ayala, what's the warbird's status?"
"Their shields are up and they're powering weapons."
"Hail them," Fielding ordered to Ensign Kim over her shoulder.
"They're firing!" yelled Ayala.
Voyager shuddered as the Romulan torpedo struck home. "Return fire," ordered Fielding. "Target their weapons array."
* * *
The pile of rocks they were hiding behind was struck by another phaser blast. Captain Janeway raised her phaser and aimed at the building across the street where she was certain their assailants were. She fired, then took cover again behind the rocks. They were fired on again, and their shelter disintegrated a little bit more.
"We can't stay here for long," Tom muttered.
"Agreed," she muttered back. She looked down the street and saw a building that looked like it would offer both protection and a good strategic position. She nudged Tom and motioned towards it. He nodded in agreement. They both stood and fired simultaneously at their attackers before moving down the street, keeping up a constant stream of phaser fire.
Just as they had nearly reached the building, their unseen attackers fired again, hitting the building just behind them as they ran. The wall exploded outwards, throwing them both to the ground.
The Captain cried out as she hit the ground hard, and it took a few seconds before her vision cleared. She pulled herself to her knees and looked for Tom. He was a few meters in front of her, just pulling himself to cover. She started to do the same, scrambling to get out of the open.
* * *
"We've disabled their weapons," reported Ayala.
"Drop shields and get the away team out of there," ordered Fielding.
"Energizing," said Harry. "I've got them. Raising shields."
"I'm detecting another warbird decloaking off the port bow!" said Ayala.
"Helm, get us out of-"
Paris to the bridge, came Tom's voice over the comm.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" asked Fielding.
The Captain didn't get beamed back aboard. All we got was her commbadge.
"The second warbird is charging weapons...and I'm reading a third one decloaking as well."
Fielding considered only for a second. "Helm, set a course away from the planet at maximum warp."
The bridge was silent for a heartbeat before Harry reacted. "What about the Captain?"
"We can't afford to lower our shields, Ensign."
"You can't just leave her down there!" insisted Harry.
"We can't afford a conflict with the Romulans either."
Her words were suddenly underscored by a shudder as the ship absorbed phaser fire.
"Take us out of here," she ordered the helm again. "Now."
* * *
Captain Janeway awoke to the sound of voices arguing nearby. Groaning as she sat up she discovered that she was only minorly injured even thought her whole body ached. She reached for her commbadge to locate her crew but felt nothing but her uniform. She quickly picked up her tricorder and began scanning for her crew. To her slowly dawning horror she could find no sign of any of the away team...but saw a more immediate problem. A group of Romulans moving in her general direction.
Chapter 7: Completion
Two tense hours had already passed since Voyager had left the planet. Commander Fielding had spent most of that time in the Captain's ready room conferring with Starfleet Headquarters.
Now she had called a meeting of the senior staff. As they slowly, almost begrudgingly, entered the room, she began to note carefully or not so carefully concealed expressions of disbelief and fury. When Seven, the last to enter, was seated Fielding began the meeting.
"Commander Tuvok, what is our tactical status?"
"We sustained some damage to the weapons systems, however they are being repaired as we speak. Shields are holding at 93 percent."
"Thank you. Lieutenant Kim, Damage report."
Harry looked a bit startled for a moment, then answered automatically. "Hull breaches on Decks nine and eleven. One serious injury and several other crewmen have minor injuries."
"Very well. I have been in contact with the admiralty. We have been ordered back to Earth."
"What about the Captain?" B'Elanna exploded, no longer able to keep it in. "She's still on that planet!"
Fielding frowned. "Lieutenant Torres, your outburst is unacceptable if understandable. However, I have been assured that Starfleet will pursue a diplomatic solution."
"A diplomatic solution?" demanded Tom. "How long will that take, Commander?"
"I don't know, Mr. Paris, but that's none of our concern. We were ordered - "
She was interrupted when Harry spoke up. "She wouldn't have left us behind, Commander. Orders or no Captain Janeway would have found a way not to leave us behind."
"Lieutenant," she snapped, "you are out of line and this is not a debate. You all have your orders and I expect you to follow them. Now...unless there any helpful comments, you are all dismissed."
* * *
Harry Kim stood numbly at his post processing data and acknowledging orders like a skillful automaton, as he watched the matte gray of Starbase 102 drift into sight on the view screen. He stiffly called out facts for the Commander's attention and hardly noticed when a furious B'Elanna arrived on the bridge. However his attention was captured when he heard Fielding announce to B'Elanna that Starfleet Corps of Engineer techs would be coming aboard for the repairs.
Incredulous, B'Elanna just stared at her for a moment. "Fine. Who will I be coordinating this operation with?"
"Nobody, Lieutenant. This will be a strictly S.C.E assignment."
"Are you questioning my competence?"
"No, Lieutenant, I'm not. However, your recent actions have been hostile and unpredictable. I suggest you take a day of leave and spend some time on the Starbase."
Furious, B'Elanna turned on her heel and stormed off the bridge.
* * *
The air of business-like efficiency that the Starbase seemed to give off combined with her daughter's influence began to calm B'Elanna. Once she was thinking rationally again she supposed she could understand the commander's point, but it also showed how little Fielding knew or trusted her; it was very frustrating working with a person like that after having worked with Captain Janeway and Chakotay for the last seven years.
That also presented the other problem - the old crew didn't trust Fielding and it was beginning to cause trouble between the old crew and its new additions. She scowled suddenly as her daughter seemed to catch her mood and started bawling at the top of her lungs. B'Elanna shifted Miral in her arms, turning the child to face her, checking to see if a new tooth was trying to break free, when she noticed a very familiar looking person sitting in a restaurant across the corridor and froze in shock and disbelief.
* * *
Sickbay, like most of the other sections of Voyager, had been given additional personnel before she was redeployed. So now when he would have most welcomed a task of any kind the Doctor found himself with nothing to do. Just as he was about to go regale some of the orderlies with tales of his many miraculous discoveries and perhaps see if any of them shared his fondness for opera, he saw Seven of Nine walk calmly into Sickbay. Normally it would be the nurse's duty to gather information for him before he proceeded but today the Doctor decided to handle it himself.
"Hello, Seven. What can I do for you today?"
"I do not require medical attention. However, I have not seen you since we came aboard Voyager," she explained, and "I have come to miss your presence since we came aboard. You have also often assisted me in understanding my humanity and since Captain Janeway was left behind I have had many conflicting emotions."
"Well of course, Seven. That is a very natural response. Your relationship with the Captain is very complex and there are still many unresolved issues between the two of you."
The doctor continued speaking to her trying to explain the emotions she was feeling as well as attempting to comfort her. Something the Doctor had been doing a lot of, mused Seven, no longer listening to him. She thought back over the past weeks, especially since her break up with Chakotay. Thinking of him was now no longer painful only slightly wistful. She had no ill feelings either towards Chakotay or the Captain due mostly to the doctor's influence.
The Doctor had graciously accepted her into his quarters and helped her through her initial depression after the breakup. They had developed an even closer friendship after spending much time together; after all they now had all the cultural delights of the Alpha Quadrant at their fingertips, and as Voyager crewmembers, access to many of the more exclusive events.
No, Seven suddenly realized, what she was feeling for the Doctor, these strange, exhilarating feelings were most definitely past friendship. She had known for quite some time that, the Doctor, had at one time had romantic feelings for her; however, he had not once acted on the recently. When she heard the Doctor calling her name she suddenly tuned back into what he was saying.
"Seven were you listening? I believe that."
However much to his surprise Seven interrupted him mid sentence. "Doctor," she began as she started pacing around the room, "I believe that we are very good friends, are we not?"
"Yes, of course." The Doctor agreed even though he was obviously confused by the sudden change of topic.
"And as good friends we should be honest with each other. So let me ask you Doctor, do you still have romantic feelings for me?"
The Doctor appeared at first to be quite shocked by her question but when he answered her it was quiet, simple and lacking his usual bravado but full of emotion. "Yes, Seven, I do."
He paused, waiting for her rejoinder, and when none came he finally gave into his curiosity. "Seven may I ask why you asked that question now?"
"Because I realized that I have romantic feelings for you as well." She paused for a moment, finally stopping her pacing, and faced him. "Doctor, I would like to begin a romantic relationship with you."
The Doctor stood for a moment stunned and numbly nodded his agreement.
* * *
It was impossible, even more impossible than the fact that she had been thrown off of her own ship during a major repair operation. No - it simply could not be him, no matter how much it appeared to be him in profile.
When she neared the table she called out to him, her tone a mix of hope and disbelief. "Chakotay?"
"B'Elanna!" came the startled reply as he turned rising out of his chair quickly and looking equally shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same. I thought you were still on Earth."
"No I, uh, accepted a position aboard the Excelsior. Things didn't work out and I'm headed back to Earth. What about you? I assume you're here with Voyager."
"Yes," B'Elanna replied tersely, "but with Fielding in charge I'm starting to wish I wasn't."
"Commander Alyssa Fielding, your replacement. Although she really couldn't replace you, a fact that I think the Captain was starting to appreciate, before the incident that is."
"What incident, B'Elanna?" He demanded anxiously worry creeping quickly into him. "Why isn't Kathryn in charge?"
"You don't know," she breathed. "But I mind. We received a distress call from a planet near the Neutral Zone and went to investigate. She insisted on leading the away team, I'm not sure that she trusted Fielding to lead it. Tuvok, Seven and the security detail came under attack; Tom and the Captain went to help them. They discovered that the attackers were Romulans about the time Voyager came under fire. The away team was beamed up, but something went wrong and the Captain wasn't beamed up. Another warbird appeared and Fielding ordered us away from the planet."
When Chakotay spoke again he spoke softly but in a tone that alluded to his fury. "Fielding just left her? How could she have." He paused for a moment. "Is anyone being sent back on a rescue mission?"
"Starfleet ordered us back to Earth for a debriefing on the situation and Fielding refused us so much as a shuttle to go after her."
"I'm going after her B'Elanna. I have to, after all this is my fault."
"What are you talking about Chakotay? You weren't even on board."
"That's the point - if I had been there I would have led that mission instead of Kathryn and she would be safe now," He became quiet then and muttered almost to himself: "All because of some stupid fight." Then he seemed to come back to the present. "I'm going to need your help B'Elanna, if you're willing to get a small shuttle or transport. I have to go after her."
"I'll help you any way I can," stated B'Elanna without hesitation, "but I think we should get, Tom, Harry, Seven and maybe even Tuvok and the Doctor down here before we do anything. I think between us we could come up with something a little better than that. Besides we all owe the Captain more than we could ever repay."
"All right," Chakotay sighed, resigned. "I don't like involving all of you in this. I don't think this will be a Starfleet approved mission, but," he raised a hand before B'Elanna could object, "I'm glad for the help, I'll stand a better chance with all of your help."
Half an hour later the entire senior staff of Voyager had gathered at the restaurant with B'Elanna and Chakotay. B'Elanna had arranged for Miral to go back aboard the ship and she was currently playing under the watchful eye of Samantha Wildman. When everyone had finally quieted down after seeing Chakotay and receiving the explanation for his presence that had been demanded, B'Elanna finally stated the reason for the meeting.
"I'll get to the point. Chakotay's going after the captain, and I'm going with him. I want to give anyone who wants to the chance to come with us."
Not surprisingly Tuvok was the only one who objected. "Commander, this is not a logical course of action. We should work with Starfleet to get Captain Janeway back, not against them."
"They're insisting on a diplomatic solution, Tuvok. The Romulans will simply claim that the Romulans there were not apart of the government and Starfleet will be unable to help her." Chakotay paused for a moment then stated simply: "She would and has done the same for all of us, Tuvok."
Tuvok paused and seemed to consider what had been said. "Commander, I still believe what you are doing is not logical and is over emotional...however, I do believe that you have a chance and my presence will improve your odds. So I will assist you."
Chakotay smiled tightly at him and nodded. The others relaxed ever so slightly. "Thank you, Tuvok. Now...does anyone have any actual suggestions as to how we pull this off?"
Tom spoke up quickly. "We'll need Voyager whatever we do. It shouldn't be too hard - just beam aboard, Chakotay takes command and we -"
"No, Tom," cut in Chakotay. "As simple as that sounds we can't do that. We would have half of Starfleet chasing us which would hurt our chances of getting her back even more."
"What do you suggest then?" demanded Tom.
To everyone's surprise Tuvok was the one to offer up a solution. If Commander Fielding were unable to command Voyager, I would be forced to take command. In which case, I would of course allow Commander Chakotay to come aboard as a passenger."
The full implications of Tuvok's calm statement sunk in around a very quiet table as everyone realized the true brilliance of the Vulcan's suggestion. Tom was the first to regain his voice from the shock of such an Maquis- worthy statement comment coming from Tuvok.
"You know, Chakotay, it would be a real shame if Commander Fielding came down with the Tarcessian Flu. I hear it's been going around lately, an especially virulent strain at that."
"Yeah what a shame that would be," muttered B'Elanna in a very unconvincing manner.
"Well Doc, do we have your help?" questioned Harry, thinking of the Doctor's sometimes pesky morals.
"For the Captain? Certainly, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, Doctor," cut in Chakotay. "Harry - you, Seven, Tom, and the Doctor head back to Voyager and get started. Be sure and act normal - we don't need Fielding getting suspicious. B'Elanna and Tuvok, if you aren't needed aboard Voyager you can stay here and help me plan. We'll begin as soon as Fielding is ill enough to be beamed over to the starbase Sickbay."
* * *
Kathryn Janeway sighed wearily and tried futilely to wipe a few of the many layers of mud off her face. She had been successfully evading the Romulans for the past four days, but now she was growing tired and slowly running out of options. She had left the ruins quickly after she had regained consciousness and moved into the forest, barely avoiding one of the groups of Romulans.
After that near encounter she had avoided the Romulans for two days but then her luck had run out when a patrol had accidentally seen her. She had barely gotten away from them and since then had been tracked and harried mercilessly. It had been several days since she had rested and exhaustion was starting to set in. The teams that had been relentlessly pursuing her had finally made a mistake. They had left a hole in their defensive screen that would allow her to pass between them and hopefully into a less dangerous area of the planet. Only one obstacle stood in her way - the planet itself.
She had already slipped past the groups of Romulans without too much trouble, now as she rested a moment and examined the scans of the terrain up ahead she cursed quietly. Obviously she had not gone as unnoticed as she had thought because two teams were moving quickly towards her. Swiftly she gathered up her phaser from where it had been resting on the rock next to her and began running through the forest that was suddenly becoming less dense and rockier as the minutes went by. She slowed as she reached the next obstacle even thought she could hear the distinctive sound of disruptor fire coming closer and closer. She turned catching a glimpse of her attackers as she slid over the edge and began climbing down the massive sheer cliff. No, she thought with a grim smile as she gingerly lowered herself down the cliff face, she was not, as Chakotay would have said had he been there, suicidal, she was just determined. For at the bottom of the cliff, there were caves. Caves that contained elements that would render the Romulan sensors virtually useless.
"Of course," the captain muttered out loud as she climbed, "B'Elanna was right - if Chakotay was here this wouldn't have happened. He wouldn't have left."
Dismally she wondered as she climbed if she would ever see him again, if he would want to see her again considering the way she had treated him. Suddenly she was startled out of her thoughts as she felt the cliff shake under her. She looked up to see the Romulans firing at her. Apparently they were very bad shots because she had not been hit...yet. However, their actions were having some unexpected consequences. Pieces of rock had begun shattering off of the cliff face around her and some were even flying down from above her, creating some very dangerous natural missiles. Quickly scanning the cliff face near her the Captain saw an overhang which could shelter her from the falling rock. Just a she reached the ledge's scant protection she heard the loud noise of disruptor fire closer than any yet. She numbly realized a fraction of a second later that her handholds had been practically vaporized and before she could grab another handhold she was falling helplessly through the air.
* * *
"We're nearing the planet, Commander," stated Harry.
"Very well. Tom, drop us to impulse. B'Elanna, are those modifications on line yet?"
"Almost. I'm adding the finishing touches now, but they'll be ready when you need them."
"All right. Harry, have you got a transporter lock on the Captain?"
"No, sir. I have her life signs...they're very faint though. I can't seem to got a lock on her."
Seven at her usual bridge position behind the Captain's chair peered anxiously over the readings. "You will not be able to gain a lock Lieutenant. There are several elements in the caves below the captain that can block sensors as well as our transporters."
Chakotay paced the bridge for a moment, as tense as a coiled spring but just as he was about to speak Tuvok calmly gave the tactical update. "Two warbirds have decloaked in front of us in a lower orbit."
"Tuvok, you have the bridge. Keep those warbirds distracted. Tom, you're with me. We'll take the Delta Flyer."
Just as they were about to enter the turbolift Seven called out to him. "Commander - may I accompany you? I believe I can be of assistance."
He hesitated for only a moment then quickly and silently nodded.
"Shields up, Lieutenant Kim," ordered Tuvok as the turbolift doors closed behind the threesome.
"Sir," reported Lieutenant Ayala, "their weapons systems are online and they are preparing to fire."
"Open a hailing frequency, Lieutenant."
"Romulan Vessel, this is the Federation Starship Voyager. Please stand down; we are here with no hostile intentions."
The Romulans' only response was to open fire on Voyager. The ship shuddered as the first few blasts hit, but Tuvok remained calm, even as the Warbirdss began to surround them in a seemingly impenetrable and inescapable pattern.
"Is the Flyer away?"
"Very well. Enable the borg shields and disable their weapons and propulsion systems."
* * *
Aboard the Delta Flyer the uncomfortable silence was only broken by Tom's occasional report. As they prepared to land, the Romulans only occasionally harassed them and the small weapons that were fired at them were only meant for ground combat and did no real damage to the Flyer. As soon as they landed and exited the Flyer, the trio began scanning for life signs.
"This way, Chakotay," called Tom gesturing towards the base of the looming cliff about ten or fifteen meters away. Hastily they scrambled towards it, Chakotay calling out Kathryn's name loudly, not caring about attracting the nearby Romulans.
The only sound on the suddenly deafening silent air was a low pained groan. Seven, who was nearest to the noise, scrambled over the rocks and then called quickly: "Over here." She knelt next to the Captain, then called over her shoulder at the others. "Lieutenant Paris, she needs medical attention immediately." She turned back to Kathryn. "Captain, you will be all right in just a moment. Assistance has arrived."
Chakotay and Tom rushed to her side, Tom opening his med kit and rapidly beginning to scan and stabilize her. Chakotay came over to her other side and grasped her hand in a gesture of comfort. "It's okay Kathryn, Voyager is here and we're getting you out of here."
"Chakotay?" she whispered weekly in an almost disbelieving tone. Then she sank back into a state of unconsciousness.
"Tom, can we move her?"
"We really don't have a choice, Chakotay. We need to get her to Sickbay quickly."
"All right. Seven, grab the gear. Tom, cover us. I'll carry her."
Quickly scooping her up into his arms, they started back to the Flyer. It seemed to take an eternity but when they finally reached it they had no trouble getting off the planet. Chakotay, however, stayed in the back of the shuttle with the Captain as they returned to Voyager. Halfway to the ship, Tuvok's voice came over the Comm system.
Voyager to Commander Chakotay. We have disabled the Romulan vessels.
"Good Tuvok, lower the shields and beam the captain directly Sickbay."
Aye sir." A few seconds later she shimmered out of view.
* * *
Four hours later Chakotay had yet to get to Sickbay. He had spent the last few hours organizing the retreat from the planet as well as overseeing the minor repairs that Voyager needed. In a way he had been avoiding going to face Kathryn. He knew that she had been badly injured but the Doctor had been fully confident that she would be fine. And now, finally exhausted and all options for avoiding her any longer looking flimsier by the minute he slowly walked into a turbolift and headed towards Sickbay.
The Doctor walked cheerfully over to talk to him as soon as he entered. "You're just in time, Commander. The sedatives I administered are just about to wear off. She should be coming around in a few minutes."
"How is she?"
"She suffered severe internal bleeding and injuries and broke several bones. I was able to stop the internal bleeding and set and knit the bones back together. However she will be very weak for the next few days and will need to be limited to bed rest for the first day."
"Well, Doctor, I wish you luck with that. Can I see her now?"
"Certainly Commander, but don't stay to long. I don't want her overexerted."
Chakotay walked slowly towards the biobed where she lay. He paused for a moment beside her just soaking in her presence, tracing over the familiar beautiful features with his eyes that he had not truly seen for over a month. He had been too busy and concerned when they were on the planet to really look at her. But now he saw that even though her face was relaxed in sleep he could see the toll the stress of the last few months had taken on her. He saw her eyes flutter open and quickly reached out to take her hand in his.
"Chakotay," she gasped weakly, "What happened? Did Voyager come back for me?"
"It looks like you fell off of a cliff on Kestrik IV. You were severely injured when we found you so we brought you here for the Doctor to patch you up. You gave us a pretty good scare there for a while." He neatly dodged her last question not wanting to upset her by telling her that her crew had disobeyed orders to come back and get her.
She nodded, accepting his explanation and not questioning his dodge. Then she cocked her head at him as another thought hit her. "What are you doing here, Chakotay? You were stationed aboard the Excelsior."
"I requested a transfer off of the Excelsior. I met B'Elanna at Starbase 102 along with the rest of the crew. It was a strictly Maquis style operation." He smiled at her then with a lopsided grin. "After Fielding left, we commandeered Voyager and came back for you."
Tears welled up in her eyes as she realized what he and her crew had done for her, what they had risked to get her back.
"Thank you," she said simply, "but you shouldn't have. What will Starfleet do to you?"
"You don't understand Kathryn, we had to. You mean too much to this crew, to me for us to just leave you there."
And, once again he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. However, he was prepared for her usual strained dismissal when he saw something different in her eyes.
Her response, more abrupt than her usual calm and controlled reply, changed the subject slightly. "Chakotay...can you forgive me for what I did? For what I said? I, I didn't mean it. I was scared. For years I had been running from it and suddenly all my excuses were gone and I was afraid. Afraid to try because I was afraid it might not work and I couldn't stand the thought of losing you."
He paused for a moment stunned. Unable to continue looking at him and fearing rejection she developed a sudden interest in a spot on the wall behind him.
"Kathryn, I don't know what to say. I regret what I said...I don't blame you for stranding us in the Delta Quadrant. If you hadn't, we wouldn't be here. Half of us would be in prison and Miral wouldn't even have been born. We wouldn't have become friends. I'm sorry for lashing out at you like I did and," he held up a hand to forestall her speaking, "as for losing me Kathryn, you never really did."
At her startled expression he amended his last statement. "Oh, I thought I was over you, but I wasn't really with Seven and she knew it. Before I did actually. So, Kathryn...what will you do?"
She stared at him for a moment stunned by his revelation and his obvious love for her. :Chakotay, I love you and I want to make this work. It will be difficult...but if we can travel 70,000 light-years in seven years then we can do anything, together."
As her statement registered on his brain a slow smile spread across his face and he could no longer resist. He slowly drew her to him in a tender yet passionate kiss.
The Doctor's discreet pointed yet totally unnecessary cough startled them back to reality all to soon, however.
"Commander...as happy as I am for you, the Captain is still in need of rest."
"Of course, Doctor," he turned back to Kathryn, "I'll be back as soon as my shift ends."
"Do you have to go? I've hardly seen you in the past few months."
"Yes, as much as I want to stay. You need to rest and I need to make sure Tom doesn't wreck your ship."
"Well when you put it that way, hurry back."
Chapter 8: Epilogue
Captain Kathryn Janeway stood silently in her quarters on Earth. It had been two long weeks since her incident with the Romulans and, she thought with a smile, since she and Chakotay had "broadened the parameters of their relationship." The following weeks had been interesting to say the least. First, there had been Starfleet Command, furious with her crew for taking off against orders. Then, there had been Fielding's totally unprovable accusations that she had been deliberately infected with the Tarcessian flu. However, her accusations had been dismissed because of the lack of proof.
"Kathryn," called a voice form the kitchen.
"Yes Chakotay?" she replied as she walked in to where he waited.
He smiled at her as she entered and kissed her lightly. "Admiral Paris just called. He wants you to come by his office this morning. He said that Starfleet command has reached a decision about the crew."
"Good. I suppose I should be going then - he hates to be kept waiting."
"Hey," he called catching her arm as she started out the door, somehow almost magically sensing her apprehension. "Don't worry. After the Borg Queen."
As his statement trailed off he was pleased by the quick grin that passed over her face. "There was two of me then."
"I think one of you will be enough for the galaxy now."
She playfully hit his arm then began the short walk to the admiral's office.
* * *
As Kathryn waited in the admiral's outer office, she smiled slightly, remembering the first time she had come to see the Admiral as a young cadet over twenty years ago. She had been so nervous that day, she thought ruefully, and so impatient with the wait. Now she almost felt like a cadet again, waiting to see what was going to happen next. After what would have seemed like hours to Kathryn the cadet, she was ushered into the admiral's inner office.
He looked up from the PADD he was reading abruptly and smiled. "Hello, Kathryn," he said as he rose to greet her warmly. He gestured at the chair in front of his desk.
"Thank you, Admiral."
"Why so formal, Kathryn?"
"I'm sorry Owen," she replied as she relaxed slightly in the chair. "I wasn't aware this was an informal meeting."
"It's been too long since I've seen you. I heard from Tom how badly you were injured."
"Our doctor has gotten very skillful at patching people up over the years."
They continued chatting like that for a few minutes, mentor and former student just catching up before the admiral finally began trying to address the reason for her summons. "You know, Kathryn," he said solemnly, "I had grown to accept your incredible daring for your crew even before you got stranded in the Delta Quadrant...but what I didn't expect was what your entire," he paused, stressing the word slightly, "crew would be willing to risk for you." He paused again but she remained silent. "I suppose I should have seen it coming, but." He trailed off. "I must say that was quite a coincidence that Commander Chakotay happened to be on Starbase 102 at the same time as Voyager."
Kathryn smiled warmly. "I would have to agree, Admiral, but I'm glad he was."
"So am I." He chuckled. "Only you, Kathryn, would try to climb down a sheer cliff face without climbing gear."
She held up a hand as if to ward off his lecture. "Don't worry, Owen - Chakotay and I have already had this discussion several times."
The admiral noticed the totally non-regulation ring on the third finger of her left hand, but didn't comment on it as Kathryn continued talking.
"If you'll excuse my presumption, Admiral, I don't think you called me here just to talk about my head-strong nature."
"No, Kathryn - I asked you to come to tell you what Starfleet command has decided to do with your crew regarding this... incident."
She stiffened slightly in her chair and he noticed the subtle shift from Kathryn back to the captain.
"Only your senior officers are being held accountable; the rest of your crew, while being sent a disciplinary letter, was deemed to be merely following orders. Your senior officers will receive more than a slap on the wrist...especially Commander Chakotay, since he was the ranking officer on board."
Kathryn didn't reply but her expression became still and calm, a reaction which many races in the Delta Quadrant had come to fear. The admiral continued, seemingly oblivious to the captain's rising fury on behalf of her crew.
"As for the senior staff, the incident will go on their permanent records and they will be working on a type of probation for the next six months. In addition to this, I seriously doubt Starfleet Command will consider Commander Chakotay for promotion or command for some time."
"Chakotay is one of the finest officers I have ever had the pleasure of serving with," returned Kathryn angrily. "If anyone deserves his own command, it's him. How can you punish them like this when all they did was go back for their commanding officer."
Paris' face fell. It was clear that he was nothing more than the messenger. "I know, Kathryn, I know... but in the eyes of Starfleet Command they nearly caused a border dispute with the Romulans. Besides, most of the senior admirals think this incident just proves what they had already suspected - that your Maquis crewmen are unpredictable and dangerous."
Her eyes blazing, the Captain locked gazes with him. "Is that what you believe, Admiral?"
"You know me better than that, Kathryn."
She sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry. This is just...wrong."
"You have more important things to worry about. If it weren't for the black spot on Chakotay's record from this latest incident, he would have been transferred off Voyager before you even returned to Earth."
"What are you talking about, Owen?" she asked, more sharply than she had intended as her patience ran low.
The admiral's demeanor became more serious and formal. "Your...personal involvement with Commander Chakotay has not pleased Starfleet Command. Many feel he is a corrupting influence on you."
Kathryn chuckled softly her mood changing wildly, "If he hasn't corrupted me after seven years I don't think he's likely to now, Admiral. If anything Chakotay is a very positive influence on me."
"They won't believe that, Kathryn, and you know it."
"Owen," she said in a softer, less confrontational tone, "I couldn't have survived these last seven years without him. I couldn't have done it by myself."
"Tom speaks very highly of you both."
"Tom is the best pilot I've ever served with, and as for B'Elanna, she is an extremely talented engineer, probably the best in Starfleet...and I would never given her a chance if not for Chakotay."
"You don't have to tell -"
The Admiral was cut off as the terminal on his desk came to life and his aide interrupted. "I'm sorry sir, I know you didn't want to be interrupted but Admiral Ross insisted it was urgent."
"Thank you, Commander." Turning back to Kathryn he said, "I have to take this call, so you're dismissed. Your next mission will be given to you within the next week. Thank you, Captain."
"Thank you sir"
* * *
When Kathryn entered the apartment she had been sharing with Chakotay she wearily walked in and flopped down next to him on the couch. On the walk back she had spent a great deal of time thinking about what the admiral had said to her. Most of it had upset her, especially the treatment of her crew.
"Chakotay," she began as he watched her waiting for her to speak first, "Admiral Paris had some bad news."
She quickly informed him about what disciplinary measures Starfleet Command would be taking, then internally debated whether or not to tell Chakotay bout what the Admiral had said concerning their person relationship.
She was saved from deciding by Chekotay's usual perceptiveness. "What's really the matter, Kathryn? I don't think that's all that bothering you, love."
Despite having no intention of telling Chakotay about what was really bothering her, his casual use of that endearment melted her determination. Snuggling further into his arms she laid her head on his chest and murmured, "They want to take you away from me."
Instantly understanding what she was saying Chakotay muttered darkly, "They don't approve of our relationship."
"Of course not," responded Kathryn. "I was supposed to capture you, not fall for you. They consider you a bad influence on me."
"What are they going to do about it?"
"There's nothing they can do, so far," state Kathryn firmly as much to reassure herself as Chakotay. "We've done nothing against regulations. Besides," she said, raising her head to look him in the eye, "I would resign my commission before I lost you."
Chakotay smiled, stunned by the depth of her emotion but at the same time not, for Kathryn Janeway did nothing in half measures.
"Have I ever told you how much I love you, Kathryn?"
"I believe you have," she paused mischievously, relief in her eyes now that the tense part of their conversation had passed, "but you can tell me again, Chakotay."
* * *
The next morning the mood was once again somber as the command team prepared to tell the crew of Voyager about Starfleet Command's decision. The captain and the commander were highly present and almost formal with very little of Kathryn and Chakotay showing through. They had decided the previous evening that the senior officers would be briefed first, followed by an announcement to the rest of the crew. Kathryn watched with a feeling of eerie familiarity as her senior staff filed into the conference room aboard Voyager that had seen the hatching of so many wild schemes and adventures in the Delta Quadrant.
Clutching her cup of morning coffee in her hand Kathryn walked over to the table and sat after her officers had been seated. "I'm sorry to pull you all from your shore leave but I felt I should be the one to inform you." She took a deep breath. "I spoke with Admiral Paris yesterday..." She saw Tom's face darken slightly and wished she had better news to give them. "He informed me that you will all be held on probation for the next six months, with the exception of Chakotay, who will be held to slightly stricter measures."
"But that's not fair, Captain," burst out B'Elanna, "we all took part in this, not just Chakotay."
"However, Lieutenant, it is logical to Starfleet command as Commander Chakotay was the most senior officer on board at the time," interjected Tuvok, ever the devil's advocate.
The captain sent Tuvok a grateful glance glad for his years of solid support before answering B'Elanna. "I know, B'Elanna, and I can assure you that I will be appealing to the Admiralty on his and all of your behalves. None of you deserve this and I'll not have all of your careers ruined because of me."
After the immediate flury of protests died down, Harry spoke confidently with a calmness and certainty that would have seemed foreign to him in his first days aboard Voyager. "Captain, I think I speak for the entire crew when I say that if we hadn't gone back for you, like you did for us so many times, our careers and our right to wear this uniform would have been worthless."
A hardy "Here, here" from Tom and other supporting responses from the rest of her eclectic senior staff put a lump in the Captain's throat at her crew's obvious loyalty. When she felt capable of speech again, she was interrupted by Tom Paris.
"Captain, with your permission..." She nodded at him to continue, noting his ever-mischievous expression which had so quickly appeared from his somber demeanor of just moments before. "Since Neelix, our informal moral officer is no longer aboard, the crew chose me to do this." Tom suddenly became strangely formal again. "On behalf of the crew of Voyager I would like to invite you and Commander Chakotay to join us in Holodeck three this evening."
Glancing over at Chakotay to see if he knew more about this than she, she was met with an equally puzzled gaze, but nevertheless received a nod of acceptance from him. "Well of course Tom we'll be there but if we knew what this was about."
Tom shook his head with an impish smile on his face. "I'm afraid that's classified, Captain. Need to know only. But trust me, you won't regret it."
To his surprise, she didn't respond flippantly as he had expected and said instead: "I do trust you. I trust all of you implicitly, and you will never know how much I appreciate all the loyalty and trust that you have placed in me over the years." Reverting to a more business like tone before they could respond she continued: "Now if that's all, I believe we all have pressing shore leave to get back to."
* * *
"Do you think they'll approve?"
"You worry too much Harry, of course they'll like it," Tom reassured him while convincing himself that he really believed that.
"You'd better be right, Flyboy, or else we'll all be spending a very long time in the brig," interjected B'Elanna as the trio looked around the crowded room inside the holodeck that had been specially decorated for the occasion.
* * *
"Do you know what they're up to?"
"No more than you do, Kathryn."
Turning to face her, Chakotay truly looked at her for the first time that evening. Tom had said to dress in a semiformal manner but had said, quite firmly, that no Starfleet uniforms were allowed. Kathryn had followed his instructions to a T. The dress she wore was a deep blue that perfectly complemented her eyes and could be called both elegant and daring. Just like the wearer, Chakotay thought with a smile. Noticing his smile the Captain quirked a questioning eyebrow at him. "Just noticing the beautiful scenery."
She absorbed his comment for just a moment before she said playfully, "Oh, so I've been relegated to scenery now, Commander?"
Before he could reply the holodeck doors whooshed open, revealing the smiling face of Tom Paris and company.
"Captain, Commander. Welcome to Sandrine's."
He gallantly stepped back and gestured for them to enter the room. Surprised at all the elaborate deception just for a party at Sandrine's the captain turned to Tom to ask for an explanation when she was interrupted by Tuvok.
"Captain as you are well aware, I often view such social gatherings as this an illogical waste of time that could be better spent relieving stress and tension in a more disciplined way. However," he paused as if to further ponder his thoughts, "in light of recent events I will merely say that Voyager functions best when her Captain is happy. Live long and prosper, my friend," he said showing uncharacteristic emotion for a Vulcan, then he turned and calmly headed back into the crowd leaving the Captain bewildered.
It seemed that Chakotay was equally confused. "What was that about?"
"I have no idea... but whatever it was I'm sure Tom is behind it."
"Actually, Captain," interrupted Harry from behind her, causing her swing around abruptly startling Chakotay, "it was a joint decision. The whole crew came up with it."
"Well then what is this about, Lieutenant?"
"I'm not at liberty to say." He grimaced and gestured ruefully at the rest of the crew and then added, "but I think this evening's appointed speaker is about ready to begin."
Still in the dark, the captain began looking around the room, crowded with Voyager's entire crew and noticed almost at once a large view screen set up against one wall. Suddenly as if noticing her attention to the view screen, the room suddenly went quiet. To her great surprise, it was Neelix's smiling face that appeared. For a moment Neelix appeared to be scanning the crowd as if looking for someone.
When his gaze finally found her his face lit up, "Ah, Captain, just the person I've been looking for."
"It's good to see you too, Neelix," she replied warmly.
"Why thank you, Captain," said her former moral officer and frequent Master of Ceremonies in his usual jubilant mood. Rushing quickly on he said, "Captain, in my weekly talks with various crewmembers it was brought to my attention that you and the Commander had finally - to borrow a phrase from the twentieth century - hooked up."
At this comment the captain's gaze became steely. While she and Chakotay had done nothing to hide their relationship she still felt that there was a certain distance that a captain should maintain from her crew.
Neelix, however, continued oblivious to the Captain's growing unrest. "The crew eventually informed me that you had become engaged."
Startled and quickly muffled gasps throughout the room indicated that some of the crew remained unaware, while the cheering and whistling indicated that in general the crew was quite happy about it.
After the noise died down, Neelix continued, "It soon came to my attention though that so far no engagement party had been arranged."
That was when it hit Kathryn exactly what was going on. She looked over at Chakotay and saw him laughing truly enjoying the crew's antics and the elaborate steps they had taken to get Kathryn and Chakotay there as well as appreciating the gesture in the spirit that it was meant.
That was what finally did it for the Captain. She too dissolved in laughter at all the trouble the crew had gone to and the daring and initiative that they had shown in executing it. The crew quickly split into comfortable and familiar groups as the party truly got into swing.
Kathryn clutched Chakotay's arm as she tried to regain her composure, although she wasn't trying very hard for she truly felt at ease among these people who had been her family and her only constant reminder of the Alpha Quadrant for seven years.
She watched as members of the crew went up to talk to Neelix and even as he eventually signed off, she whispered to Chakotay: "This was a wonderful surprise; I'll admit though they did have me worried for a moment."
Before he could reply, Voyager's senior staff seemed to converge around them. Tom and B'Elanna came bearing champagne for Kathryn and Chakotay and the Captain noticed with some surprise that Seven seemed to be rather cozy with the Doctor. She made a mental note to ask Tom or B'Elanna about that later.
She looked around at them all for a moment noting the changes in them that had occurred since they had first left the Alpha Quadrant and since they had returned and she said simply but from the heart: "Thank you."
They seemed unsure as to how to respond for a moment but quickly and joyfully launched into telling her who had been responsible for what aspects of the party and the myriad of amusing stories that went along with it.
* * *
Much later that evening, Phoebe Janeway, who had been invited to the party at almost the last minute, sat alone in a deserted corner watching the happy couple. She had greeted Kathryn and Chakotay earlier that evening when she had arrived and had immediately noticed how happy Kathryn looked and filed it away to tease Kathryn about in the future.
Now she glanced around the room once again trying to locate Kathryn and Chakotay. She finally spotted them seated at a table across the room with Tom Paris, B'Elanna Torres and Harry Kim. Kathryn, she noticed, had a look of peace and contentment on her face the likes of which she had never seen before. Not when Kathryn was with Justin or Mark or with any other time or place; a look of supreme contentment. Her thoughts, though, were torn away from her sister as her husband returned with their drinks.
* * *
Laughing at the comment B'Elanna had just made about some of Miral's odder habits the Captain, hardly noticed the change in the music out on the makeshift dance floor behind them.
Chakotay, however, did, and rising and bowing in a gentlemanly fashion asked, "May I have this dance, Kathryn?"
She smiled, took his outstretched hand and quickly excused them from the conversation at the table. As Chakotay led her out on the dance floor, Kathryn marveled at how peaceful and happy she felt. It had taken her seven long years but she had finally returned home. Now though, she knew home was wherever she and Chakotay were.
As he wrapped his arms around her she put her head on his chest, content and for once not caring about protocol.
"Chakotay," she murmured quietly, "no matter what happens know that I will always love you." And, standing there together, the Angry warrior had found peace in the arms of his Warrior Queen and together they found strength for the journeys life would bring, their continuing journey.