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For Auld Lang Syne

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Her arms laden with vegetables, Kathryn backed through the screen door, pushing it closed with her elbow. She’d have to fix that broken spring one day – but not today. Stamping her feet on the mat to remove the greenhouse mud from her boots, she smiled to herself. What a joy it was to be able to put things off. Procrastination had become her new life’s passion. Not having to do anything was an indulgence and a delight with which she was becoming more and more enamoured.

Life had become a procession of lazy days filled with nothing more urgent than deciding what time she should get up and what she was going to have for her next meal. There were no major life or death decisions to be made. No frantic dashes across unknown space fleeing aliens bent on their destruction, or dodging galactic phenomena that seemed ready to wipe them out of existence at any given moment. It was just one blissful day after another, filled with nothing of any importance or urgency. It was heaven.

Making it to the kitchen counter she dumped the armful of freshly harvested potatoes and carrots into the sink, quickly flicking on the tap to fill the sink and rinse the dirt off her hands.

Kathryn stared as the water washed the dark soil from her fingers and palms, her mind instantly taking her to another garden – a garden thousands of light years away, in what seemed like another lifetime. Her smile faded and she sighed.

It all felt so unreal – like some half forgotten memory. She’d only been home for nine days and already the seven years in the Delta Quadrant had taken on the hazy quality of a dream; almost as if it had happened to someone else.

The sense of dissociation had been troubling and Starfleet, with its usual expediency, had organised her immediate psychiatric evaluation. She’d already attended several counselling sessions during the previous week. On the whole, the counsellor thought she was doing well and to be honest, Kathryn thought she wasn’t doing too badly either. Seven years in the Delta Quadrant had been no picnic and no small thing from which to recover – marooned, seventy thousand light years from home with no way back except to traverse endless light years of unknown and potentially hostile space. There were bound to be some residual effects from their isolation and the constant stress.

Just thinking about it made her heart pound in her ears, so she quickly turned off the tap and found the brush to scrub the vegetables. She did as the counsellor had suggested and found something mundane and humdrum to do; a simple chore to keep her hands busy and her mind off thoughts of her seven year ordeal.

While she cleaned the potatoes and carrots, her gaze drifted to the view beyond the window and her face softened into smile. It was snowing again and she watched, mesmerised, as the delicate flakes fell like confetti from the sky. With a small sigh, her hands stilled. She’d never really thought much about snow but since she’d been home, much of her time had been spent marvelling at the simple things that she’d so carelessly taken for granted before her exile. It was a mistake she would never make again.

Growing up here in Indiana, the snow had merely been a fact of life. She’d considered it, each winter, as an unavoidable annoyance, bringing with it the cold, the discomfort of damp clothing, red noses and mud. But on Christmas morning, Kathryn had woken to the world coated in white. It had been the first snow of the season and the first she’d seen in seven years. Inescapably drawn to it, and needing to connect with this thing that was an integral part of her past, she’d wandered outside before the rest of the house was awake.

Her mother had found her, standing in the garden in her shirtsleeves as the white flakes floated down from the sky. She knew that Gretchen had been concerned about her unusual behaviour, and although Kathryn had tried to explain what she was feeling, it was difficult to find the words to adequately express her unsettled emotions.

After looking into Kathryn’s eyes for a long moment her mother, bless her, had just nodded, draped a jacket around her shoulders and left her to her silent reverie.

With her eyes closed and her face lifted towards the heavens, Kathryn had savoured each newly remembered sensation. The bite of the frigid air on her exposed skin, the way her ears ached in the cold, how the chilled air burned her nostrils as she breathed, the gentle kiss of snow flakes on her skin and the trickle of melted snow on her face and neck. She’d forgotten, but now delighted in the reawakening of these memories; each one signifying something akin to a rebirth. She desperately needed to reconnect with life, with her inner self and to find where she fit in this old life she now had to start afresh.

Her hands rested in the warm water as she stared sightlessly out of the window at the white winter landscape, remembering. For seven years she’d looked towards home. It had been her beacon, the bright light that had drawn her onwards, relentlessly beckoning her with vague promises of life, love and fulfilment, but she hadn’t given any real thought to what would happen once she was actually here. There’d been obscure and nebulous plans of Starfleet and a new command, with Chakotay at her side and perhaps a family, but while she’d still been so far from home, she’d shied away from making any firm commitments, not willing to tempt fate.

In a strange way, her life in the Delta Quadrant had been a simple existence. It had been filled to the brim with purpose. In the zealous pursuit of her goal of reaching the Alpha Quadrant and Earth, her every waking moment, and some of her somnolent ones, had been consumed with that single-minded quest for home. However, having at last achieved her objective, she’d been left with very little. It sounded overly dramatic, she knew, and perhaps not as dire as she painted the picture to herself, but, even so, she was floundering and unsure in which direction she wanted to take her life.

In many ways it was going to be a process of elimination. There was no Chakotay. They’d burnt their bridges and he was now with Seven, although she avoided thinking about that at the moment. Every time thoughts of them flashed through her mind, she felt a burning stab of betrayal. She had no right to feel this way and only had herself to blame for his loss – if you could even call it that. Could one lose something that one didn’t have in the first place? Most likely not, but the logic of her inner argument didn’t lessen the pain. It was best just to push past it and move onto other things.

Starfleet was there for her, but not in the capacity she’d envisaged. Her arrival, sixteen years prior to her other self, meant that she was considered too young for an Admiral’s chair and because of the trauma and longevity of her mission, there was no guarantee of another starship command. It all hinged on her proving her fitness for command, and at the moment she had real doubts about her ability to do that. Having lived such an unyielding existence for seven years, with her one aim of getting her crew home now achieved, her purpose in life had evaporated. It was like someone had kicked her legs out from under her and, in those frightening moments of anxiety and self doubt, she felt rudderless and not a little lost.

The irony of the situation was fairly apparent and her mouth twisted into a rueful grin. Here she was, home at last, and she was as misplaced here as she had been in the Delta Quadrant. At times it felt as if she was grasping at straws, desperately trying to find a firm handhold – something to anchor her to this reality – but what she thought was substantial, kept slipping from her grip. For someone like Kathryn, who was so used to being in control, the instability was unsettling to say the least.

“Have you finished those, dear?” Kathryn started as her mother spoke, coming up behind her and placing her hand gently on her daughter’s shoulder. Kathryn turned towards her and smiled reassuringly. She knew Gretchen was worried about her, she would be too, if their situations were reversed, but deep down she knew she was all right. All she needed was time.

“I’m almost done. Sorry, Mom, I’ve been daydreaming again.” Kathryn indicated the view outside with the scrubbing brush. “Isn’t it beautiful? I hadn’t realised how much I missed it until now.”

Gretchen kissed her cheek. “I’m sure you did miss it, but just didn’t allow yourself to acknowledge the fact. I can understand that. It made a good deal of sense in light of your situation.”

Kathryn contemplated her mother for a moment, a great surge of affection catching her off guard. Gretchen understood her dilemma, loved her no matter what, had never given up on her and never would. Kathryn leaned over and kissed her mother’s cheek, speaking from her heart. “It’s so good to be home.”

Gretchen smiled and stroked her daughter’s cheek. “I know, sweetheart. I know.”

Kathryn nodded, secure in the knowledge that her mother did know and her understanding gave Kathryn a wonderfully solid base from which to begin her reassimilation into her Earth-bound life.

It was New Years Eve tomorrow. 2379 was just around the corner and Kathryn was determined to make it a good year. A year of rediscovery and renewal, the perfect time to start her new reclamation project – herself.

Phoebe and Richard, sans children, would be arriving this afternoon and there was a big celebration at the Starfleet Academy Hall tomorrow evening. A sort of combined welcome home and New Year’s Eve party planned for the Voyager crew and their families. Ordinarily Kathryn wasn’t all that enthusiastic about parties, but she’d missed everyone and was looking forward to seeing them all again, meeting with their families and friends, and catching up on how their returns were shaping up.

Tom and B’Elanna had already been on the comm., to check what time she’d be arriving at the celebration and to make sure that she knew they’ d be waiting for her in the foyer.

The young Paris family had settled in with Tom’s parents for the time being and it appeared that the animosity that had existed between Tom and his father had been resolved. Kathryn was so pleased for her former pilot. He’d done himself, and his family proud during his time on Voyager. They couldn’t have made it home without him or B’Elanna, and Kathryn had made a point of telling Owen just how indispensable both had been to Voyager’s safe return.

“I’m just going to check the living room fire, dear. Call me if you need me.”

Kathryn watched her mother go and then turned back to her chores. Digging the potato peeler out of the kitchen drawer, she sat at the table and began the tedious, but satisfyingly mindless, job of preparing the vegetables for their evening meal. She couldn’t help a quiet chuckle, imagining what the crew would think of her sitting here doing KP duty.

As she worked her way through the carrots and potatoes she let her mind wander but almost leapt out of her seat when there was a sharp rap on the back door and deep voice came from behind her. “You must be Kathryn. Is Gretchen home?”

Kathryn swung around, holding her potato peeler like a phaser. She looked ridiculous, she knew, but there were years of combat training to overcome and she was a little on edge at the moment. Whoever this stranger was, he was lucky it wasn’t a real phaser or he’d be picking up his own remains off the floor.

“Ah, there you are, Jonathon. Have you met Kathryn yet?” Gretchen walked through the door from the living area, not the least bit surprised to find this person standing there.

The tall, fair haired man, with his hands up in surrender, smiled at Kathryn but directed his answer to her mother. “No, not yet. She’s too busy trying to kill me with her potato peeler.”

Gretchen looked at her daughter with a frown. “Kathryn?”

Kathryn rolled her eyes and slapped the peeler on the table. “Well, if you’re going to sneak up on people like that, you’re bound to run into the odd kitchen utensil or two.” She stood up and extended her hand. “How do you do? I’m Kathryn.”

The handsome stranger shook her hand firmly and gave her a broad smile. His teeth were dazzling white. He was almost too good to be true. “Jonathon Bergen. I’m very pleased to meet you. Gretchen has told me so much about you, that I feel like I know you already.”

Kathryn slid her hand from his and gave him a slightly dubious look. “Really?”

Jonathon grimaced. “Sorry, that was probably one of the most pathetic lines you’ve ever heard. I just wasn’t expecting you to be here in the kitchen.” He shrugged. “And here I was intending to make such a splendid first impression. Can I start again?”

His genuine embarrassment and self deprecating manner were winning Kathryn over very rapidly. She laughed. “Permission granted.”

“Oh, do I have to salute, Captain?”

“Not yet, but we’ll see.”

He laughed. “Kathryn, I’m very pleased to meet you.” This time he picked up her hand and kissed it gently.

Kathryn arched an eyebrow. “You are a charmer, aren’t you?”

With this Gretchen laughed. “He certainly is. Coffee, Jonathon?”

He reluctantly let go of Kathryn’s hand and then turned to Gretchen. “Thank you. I’d love one.”

Kathryn sat at the table again and continued peeling the vegetables.

“Can I help you there?”

Kathryn looked up at the blond haired man and shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m almost done.” Looking away, she attacked the last few unpeeled carrots.

He was hovering and Kathryn got the distinct impression that he was here to see her, not her mother, and this was one of Gretchen’s rather unsubtle attempts to introduce her to an eligible man. Kathryn tried not to sigh.

Gretchen was over by the sink organising the coffee, turning she gave her a look. “Kathryn, you can finish that later, dear. Why don’t you take Jonathon into the living room where it’s warm?”

Kathryn shot her mother a tight eyed frown but Gretchen just ignored her and shooed her off.

Gritting her teeth, Kathryn turned and smiled at their visitor. “Let me wash my hands.”

Jonathon smiled and nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets, then pulling them out again, putting one on his hip and then letting it drop to his side. He was unnaturally nervous, which was ridiculous. As the Director of a multi-planetary building contracting company, he’d consulted and negotiated with dignitaries and high powered leaders from all over the damned galaxy. Yet meeting this woman had him all sweaty palmed and stuttering like a teenager.

She was only a small woman, barely coming to his shoulder, but she exuded an extraordinary sense of power and confidence. Not only was she beautiful, she was smart, talented and accomplished.

To have survived in the Delta Quadrant for seven years, he knew she had to be a rare breed. It was almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like to have been stranded, alone, so far from home. He had some knowledge of the strength of character required to lead people successfully, but the situation she’d found herself in, with all those people relying solely on her, must have been overwhelming at times. The sheer tenacity and will power required to have made it all the way back to Earth was astounding. So no wonder he was nervous. He was in the presence of a true greatness.

He almost laughed out loud though, when Gretchen snatched the tea towel from her daughter’s hands and swished it at her behind to encourage her through the doorway. Jonathon supposed that even the greatest of heroes had mothers.

“I’ll be in with the coffee in a moment. In the meantime, you two get to know one another.”

Kathryn glanced at her mother’s guest and Jonathon gave her an apologetic smile.

It appeared he was just as uncomfortable as she was.

They moved through to the living area and Kathryn poked at the fire and threw another log onto the smouldering embers, watching silently as the sparks shot into the air and the wood started to hiss and crackle as it caught alight. She was ill at ease, not to mention annoyed with her mother for putting her in this position, but with a silent sigh, she turned to her guest. “So Jonathon, where do you live and what do you do?”

Kathryn didn’t feel the least bit like making small talk and even less like making a good impression on this man, whom her mother had foisted upon her out of the blue. She’d been home for a little over a week and was nowhere near ready to even start thinking of relationships. The man was handsome, and most likely a very personable fellow, but he was barking up the wrong tree if he thought Kathryn was going to start something with him, just on her mother’s say so.

Kathryn watched him as he stood awkwardly by the couch, shifting from one foot to the other uncomfortably; obviously aware of her thinly disguised animosity.

Jonathon cleared his throat. “I’m based in New York, but I travel a great deal. I’m the managing director of Bergen Industries. We are a construction company that specialises in terraforming and biosphere development. We work with Starfleet on occasion but the bulk of our work is for private mining contractors setting up small colonies and dome habitats for their workers on planets throughout the Alpha Quadrant. It’s fairly routine and not nearly as exciting as what you’ve been doing for the last seven years.”

Kathryn stared at him for a long moment. Exciting? She supposed that it might appear that way from the outside, but she was sorely tempted to give him an uncensored account of what she and her crew had endured for all those years in the Delta Quadrant. She refrained though. It really wasn’t his fault that he didn’t understand. It wasn’t something that anyone who hadn’t been there could comprehend, and certainly not a civilian.

Starfleet and the press had put such a positive spin on the whole Voyager mythos that it was hard not to assume that they’d spent the last seven years on some sort of extended luxury cruise, swanning from one pleasure planet to the next as they wended their way merrily home. Kathryn knew that the public didn’t want to know about the harsh reality of being stranded thousands of light years from home without backup, resources or the likelihood of getting home in one’s lifetime. But it would give her great pleasure to wipe the ingratiating smile off Bergen’s face by telling him about the likes of the pernicious Vidiians, who hunted them to harvest their organs, of their frequent and terrifying confrontations with the Borg and her own experience of being assimilated. Of being cruelly experimented on by the Srivani, their violent battles with the Hirogen, losing one crewmember after another in situations that were too horrible and soul destroying to articulate; being kidnapped, manipulated, brainwashed, beaten and broken so many times that she’d lost count. As tempted as she was, and as therapeutic as it might have been, she didn’t utter a word. Instead, she smiled sweetly and muttered some platitude or other about it not being all it was purported to be.

Thankfully her mother chose that moment to arrive with the coffee and the next few minutes were spent pouring and distributing the cups and caramel brownies. Gretchen filled the awkward silence with chatter about the weather and Phoebe’s visit. Kathryn gave rudimentary grunts in answer, not really listening to what she was saying. It had obviously been her mother’s ploy to lull her into a false sense of security because no sooner had Kathryn accepted her cup of coffee and taken her first sip, that her mother hit her with a clanger, that came out of nowhere.

“I’ve asked Jonathon to escort you to the New Year’s Celebration tomorrow night, and he’s graciously said that he would love to. Isn’t that nice of him, dear?”

Kathryn choked and sprayed her mother with coffee. No more than she deserved, Kathryn thought to herself. “What!?”

He mother wasn’t the least bit bothered by Kathryn’s obvious dismay and dabbed delicately at the coffee splatters. “You heard me. Seeing as there isn’t anybody else hammering down the door wanting to take you, I asked Jonathon if he wouldn’t mind. He didn’t have anything else planned for the evening, so it suited both of you as it turns out.”

“Mother!?” Kathryn was furious. “I’m quite capable of going to the party on my own. I don’t need, or want…” Just then she remembered that Bergen was still sitting there, so she turned to him and said apologetically. “I’m sorry, Jonathon. Thank you for stepping into the breach at my mother’s behest, I’m very grateful, but I don’t need an escort, in fact, I’d prefer to go on my own.”

Bergen opened his mouth to say something but Gretchen interrupted him. “Nonsense. You don’t want to turn up to a ‘do’ like that without an escort and I can vouch for Jonathon, he’s a perfect gentleman. Aren’t you, dear?”

Kathryn was seething. She’d forgotten what a manoeuvrer her mother could be and as stubborn as hell. She would never accept no for an answer.

Jonathon opened his mouth again, but this time it was Kathryn who interrupted him. “Thank you, Jonathon, but contrary to what my mother thinks, I’m quite used to being on my own and more than happy to attend the party unescorted. I’m sorry if she got you here under false pretences.” She moved to stand, glaring at her mother as she did so. “I’ll be in the kitchen finishing the vegetables.”

Jonathon rose to his feet as well and spoke quickly, before she could leave the room. “I would love to take you, Kathryn. Not just because your mother asked, but because I think we would have a lovely time together. I’m really quite nice when you get to know me. I’ve even been known to be vaguely witty and fun to be with on occasion.” He was looking at her with a twinkle in his eye and was making a point of trying to defuse the situation between her and her mother. It was brave of him to try and Kathryn, for all her abrasiveness, didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Her mother was the one who was the target of her wrath, not Jonathon. He was just an innocent bystander. Poor fellow. He would know in future not to come between two Janeway women.

While Kathryn was busily trying to find something to say that would let him down gently and convince him, and her mother, that she was adamant about not taking an escort, her mother intervened. “Well, that’s settled then. Jonathon, be here at six tomorrow evening and we can all beam out to the party together.”

Kathryn closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. Opening her eyes again, she glanced at her mother. Gretchen might appear to an outsider as a sweet, mild mannered, grandmotherly type, but she was as tough as duranium shielding and once she’d made up her mind about something, there was no arguing with her. Some people had compared Kathryn’s stubborn streak to that of her mother’s, but she wasn’t even in the same league. Knowing that she was beaten, Kathryn grudgingly acquiesced.

“All right. I’ll do it, but please, both of you, this is the last time. Mother, no more. Do you hear me?”

Gretchen nodded, not the least bit chastened or contrite. “For now. Jonathon, would you like some more coffee?”

He gave Kathryn an apologetic smile and she had to admit, he was a handsome man, with a certain sincerity about him that was appealing. She smiled in return and turned towards the door. “If we want to have any dinner tonight, I’d best get back to the vegetables. Good bye, Jonathon and I’ll see you tomorrow evening, it seems.”

Bergen moved towards her and reached for her hand again. He raised it to his lips. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Kathryn wondered if her assessment of him was premature. He was slick, that was for sure. She nodded at him, extricating her hand at the same time and, with one more withering glance at her mother, she left the room.

Seated at the table again with her potatoes and carrots, Kathryn reviewed the last half an hour. She shrugged to herself. If keeping her mind off her woes was her mother’s plan, she’d succeeded. For the first time in days, her mind had been occupied with thoughts other than those of her first officer and her misery. Maybe her mother wasn’t so far off the mark as she’d first thought. Jonathon Bergen, hmmm. She’d do some investigating once he was gone and find out all she could about him. There were sure to be Starfleet files that she could access with the relevant information. There was no way in Christendom that she was going to venture out with someone on whom she hadn’t done a background check. It might appear to kill the spontaneity of the situation, but she’d been to the Delta Quadrant and back, and only survived by keeping her wits about her and covering all the bases. He might seem benign, but she’d been caught out before and what was that old saying? Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

She tossed the last of the carrots into the pot and sat back. If nothing else Bergen was easy on the eye and it wouldn’t do her reputation, or self esteem, any harm to have him hanging off her arm. A handsome accessory, so to speak. It might even be fun to see some of her crew’s reactions when she made her entrance with the tall and debonair Mr Bergen. She wondered if Chakotay would think anything of it, or whether he would be so preoccupied with Seven that he wouldn’t notice.

Kathryn frowned. It wasn’t like her to be this vindictive. She was happy for Chakotay. Really she was. They’d never made any plans or promises as such. New Earth was a long time ago and no one could expect a person to retain feelings for another when there was never any mention or reference to them in all their years together – as command team – Kathryn added as an after thought.

“Are you sure I can’t help you with that?”

Kathryn startled again and jumped to her feet. Deep in thought, she hadn’t heard Jonathon enter the kitchen. “You can start by not sneaking up on me again. Do you always tip toe around like that? It’s very disconcerting and a touch creepy.”

Bergen had the good grace to blush and offered Kathryn another apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, but you were so deep in thought that I didn’t know how to get your attention without finishing up with a vegetable peeler imbedded in my chest. You look like you could do some real damage with one of those if you had to.”

Kathryn’s mouth twisted into a half smile. “Keep sneaking up on me like that and you’ll find out just how much.”

He laughed. It was a jolly sound. A hearty laugh that was contagious and Kathryn relaxed and laughed along with him until they petered out into silence again.

Jonathon indicated the replicator with a nod of his head. “Can I get you another coffee? Gretchen tells me that you’re rather partial to the odd cup or six.”

”My mother has been doing some talking, hasn’t she? But since you’re offering, yes please. Just black, thanks.”

He nodded and moved to the replicator, ordering them both a cup. While he was still facing away from her he continued talking. “I’m sorry this all came as such a shock. Gretchen asked me a few days ago, when we met at Starfleet headquarters, if I wouldn’t mind doing her a favour. I agreed straight away before I knew exactly what it was. She seemed to think that you’d welcome some company. Which reminds me. You might want to ask her about the get together she’s organised for New Year’s Day. It’s going to be here apparently and all of your crew is invited.” He turned around to catch Kathryn’s jaw drop and her face contort. He gave her an encouraging smile before he continued. “Gretchen was talking to Tom Paris when I ran into her. She introduced me and I caught the tail end of their conversation. He seemed very keen to get everyone together without all the pomp and ceremony of the New Year’s Eve ‘bash’, I think he called it. I get the impression that you’re not really in the mood for surprises at the moment and thought you might appreciate a heads up.”

Kathryn blew a breath through pursed lips, shaking her head. “My mother needs a leash. Thank you, you’re right. I’d have probably behaved badly if it was sprung on me as a surprise. And if I was near any kitchen utensils it could have become very ugly.” He laughed again and handed Kathryn her coffee. At his gesture towards one of the spare chairs; she nodded and indicated that he should take a seat. She continued. “I apologise for my terrible manners. I hope you realise that it wasn’t you I was upset with. Life has been a little chaotic since last week. I’m still finding my ‘land legs’ so to speak. Things have changed so much since I’ve been gone.”

Bergen smiled and looked towards the living area. “Some things not so much, it seems. Mothers are same the galaxy over. And apology accepted.”

They sat in silence again but this time it was much more comfortable, with neither of them feeling they had to fill the quiet with mindless chatter. Finishing her coffee, Kathryn placed her cup on the table and looked towards her companion. “It’s probably a little late to ask, but would you like to stay for lunch? It’s only me and mother, Phoebe and Richard aren’t due until later this afternoon. You would be most welcome. It might stop me from committing matricide as well. You’d be doing my mother another favour. I’m still not sure if I can talk to her civilly yet.”

Bergen huffed a laugh and nodded. “No, I don’t have plans and that would be lovely. Can I help you get it ready?”

“Oh, God, no. I don’t cook. I’m surprised, with everything else my mother has told you, that she didn’t mention how dangerous I am in the kitchen – and I’m not talking about potato peelers.” She added sotto voce. “It’s a standing family joke and my first officer also used to torture me endlessly about my culinary incompetence.” At her own mention of Chakotay, Kathryn’s face flushed involuntarily and she turned away, hoping that Jonathon wouldn’t notice. She spoke quickly to cover her discomfort. “If you want something edible, it’s the replicator or my mother’s cooking. You’d be wise to steer clear of anything that I’ve cooked. Just remember that I’ve given you fair warning.”

“Noted.” Then he laughed and looked at her for a long moment. “It’s nice to meet you, Kathryn.”

She sat back in her chair and smiled. “You too, Jonathon. A real pleasure.”

Gretchen barrelled in the door and bending over Kathryn’s shoulder to see if she had finished peeling the vegetables, kissed her daughter’s hair. “I thought you two would get along. Has she invited you for lunch, Jonathon?”

He gave Kathryn a wink and smiled. “Yes, Kathryn has and, thank you Gretchen, I’d love to stay.”

“I’ll get us some sandwiches then shall I? Kathryn has warned you, I hope, that you mustn’t ever eat anything she’s prepared.”

“Yes, she did mention something along those lines. I’ve been duly warned, but I doubt it’s that bad?”

Both women stopped what they were doing and stared at him. Jonathon looked back and forth between the two of them and grinned. “Okay, I get the picture. No eating Kathryn food, ever. Got it.”

Gretchen nodded, convinced that he’d gotten the message and Kathryn relaxed back into her chair.

Jonathon looked at the vegetables on the table. “Peeling vegetables doesn’t count?”

Kathryn shook her head. “No. Peeling, slicing, dicing and trimming don’t count, but if there is any mixing, blending or heat involved, stay well clear.”

He chuckled and picking up both their empty cups, stood and carried them to the sink. He was about to ask Gretchen if she needed help when she turned to him. “If you want to make yourself useful, you and Kathryn could bring in some more wood for the fire. It’s stacked on the back porch, but it would save us having to do it once Phoebe and Richard arrive.”

Kathryn got to her feet. “Just out here, Jonathon. I’ll load you up.”

They gathered the wood and piled it in the living room. By the time they’d finished bringing in their second load, lunch was ready and they sat down in front of the roaring fire and ate soup and sandwiches. They talked amicably but Kathryn noticed that Jonathon refrained from asking her anything about Voyager or what had happened in the Delta Quadrant. She appreciated his sensitivity. He must have realised, after her earlier reaction, how reticent she was about speaking of her experiences. Most people weren’t so considerate. It was the first thing that everyone asked when they saw her. Some were more subtle than others but, not surprisingly, it was what everyone wanted to know about.

Starfleet had released small snippets of information to the public which only made them hungrier for more. The stories were being blown completely out of proportion as journalists tried to extrapolate from the tidbits they were fed, what they presumed had happened. The stories encompassed everything from articles vaguely resembling the truth to the most ridiculously outlandish fabrications. She, personally, had been portrayed in all manner of extremes, ranging from a virginal, self-sacrificing martyr of the likes of Joan of Arc, to a brittle, manipulative martinet who would have made Lucrezia Borgia look like a saint. Try as she might, she found it difficult to ignore the slights and innuendo, and she wasn’t the only one in their sights. The Maquis had come under scrutiny as well, with some opinions within the community at polar opposites. There were those who hailed them as heroes and others asking for their immediate incarceration. Her relationship with Chakotay had been put under the microscope as well, and they’d been accused of all manner of inappropriate behaviour. Kathryn did an internal eye roll… if only they knew.

She knew that eventually she would have to answer her critics, as well as her supporters, but for the moment she was avoiding paying them too much attention; willing to let them fight it out amongst themselves and wait for the dust to settle before entering the fray.

She broached the subject of Voyager and her crew herself in a round about fashion. Looking at her mother she enquired. “Jonathon tells me that you ran into Tom Paris the other day at headquarters.”

“Hmmm, yes. I was there seeing Owen, and Tom happened by. He’s a delightful young man and he couldn’t be more supportive of you, Kathryn. He was desperate for news; wanting to know how you were and if you would be up to having some visitors. From how he spoke of you I could tell that your crew adores you. I’m not surprised. You have your father’s way.” A soft smile lit her mother’s face at the mention of her late husband, then she continued. “I told Tom that you were settling in and that you would love to see him and the crew. They’re coming here on Sunday.”

“So I gathered.” Kathryn shot back and arched her brow at her mother. She mused for a moment. “It will be good to see them. Did Tom say anything about B’Elanna and Miral?”

Gretchen nodded. “Yes, he showed me a holoimage of Miral; a beautiful baby, and apparently they’re all doing well. He said he was looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.”

Kathryn couldn’t help smiling. Her crew. Her heart swelled with the thought of them.

Every single brave soul held a special place in her heart. Together they’d been to hell and back, forging a bond stronger, almost, than family. She looked towards Jonathon. “They’re all good people and every single one of them gave everything they had. All of them were so brave in the face of the dangers we encountered out there. B’Elanna, Tom’s wife, was a former Maquis and the finest Engineer I’ve ever worked with. You’ll meet them all tomorrow evening, but be prepared. They’re not your typical Starfleet crew.” Kathryn smiled warmly.

“I’m looking forward to it. In particular I’m looking forward to meeting your EMH. We’ve used the reprogrammed EMH Mark One on many of our constructions.”

Kathryn grimaced. “I would avoid talking about that if I were you. It’s not something about which he’s particularly accepting. In fact, I wouldn’t mention it at all. Our Doctor can be rather bumptious and officious and if you don’t want to spend the entire evening being lectured on the rights of holograms, I’d find something less controversial to talk about. If you want to hear him talk enthusiastically about something innocuous, ask him about himself. He can talk for hours on that subject.”

“Okay. No mention of the EMH Mark One. What about your first officer. Chakotay, isn’t it?”

Kathryn nodded and felt a flush colour her face. At the same time she could feel her mother’s eyes drilling into her. She ignored her stare. “Yes, Commander Chakotay. What did you want to know?”

Jonathon shrugged. “We’ve been given the task of redeveloping some of the worlds in the old Demilitarized Zone. I’d be interested to hear what he has to say about Starfleet’s plans for the sector.”

Kathryn gave a non committal shrug. “You’ll have to ask him. I’m not sure of his thoughts on that. We didn’t talk much about what happened on his home planet and I don’t know what his plans are now that we’re home.”

“The tabloids have linked him romantically with the young Borg woman. Is that right? Your Seven of Nine?”

Kathryn heard her mother make a ‘phfttt’ sound in the background but chose not to acknowledge it, yet noticed that Jonathon glanced towards her. Kathryn spoke first, to divert his attention; thinking now that this was perhaps a bad idea to speak about her crew and her experiences. “She’s not my Seven of Nine, but yes, she and Chakotay are together. Well they were, last I heard.”

“Do you know what Starfleet plans to do with her? There has been some discussion in the press as to what her role will be and where she would best serve a purpose.”

Kathryn frowned. “Seven? I have no idea, but I would have thought that they would be eager to utilize her abilities. She’d be invaluable in regards to the information she could provide about the Borg and hundreds of species both here and in the rest of the galaxy.”

Jonathon nodded and looked thoughtful. “She is Borg though and there’s a lot of fear and resentment to overcome.”

Kathryn gave him an unbelieving look and he back peddled a bit. “Not me. I’m all for her living in the community but there has been some debate.”

The horrified look on Kathryn’s face intensified. “I’m going to have to read more of the public press. I’m out of touch. But I’m certain Starfleet will treat her well. She’s far too important for them not to take good care of her. And besides, she’s a formidable young woman. I doubt she’d go quietly.” Kathryn turned towards the fire and sat in silence. She could feel Jonathon’s eyes on her but she was too busy with her worried thoughts to be bothered acknowledging him.

Kathryn had thought that Seven and the Doctor’s futures were secure and that they, along with the rest of the crew, would be treated with equal consideration. She now felt the familiar wash of guilt that she may have been wrong in her assumption. Owen had assured her that her whole crew would be treated fairly, but did that include Seven and the Doctor? Perhaps it didn’t and with that thought the seed of worry that had insinuated itself at Bergen’s inquiry, flared into real concern.

Starfleet, at some level, considered the Doctor as merely an integrated component of the ship. And Seven? Well, what Jonathon had said was true. She was Borg, and even though she wasn’t a member of the Collective anymore, there were some who might consider her a traitor and a risk to security. Kathryn was now concerned that the distance she’d imposed because of the young woman’s relationship with Chakotay, might have put her in jeopardy. She would look into this as soon as she could. No matter what her feelings were towards Seven, Kathryn still felt honour bound to ensure that she was safe and secure here on her home planet.

There was movement beside her and Jonathon was standing. “Well, I’d best get going. Thank you both for lunch and, Kathryn, I hope I haven’t offended you with my questions?”

She frowned as she looked at him. “No, but you’ve given me food for thought.”

He nodded and turned to Gretchen. “I’ll see you tomorrow evening then, Gretchen. Kathryn?”

With a nod Kathryn quickly acknowledged his goodbye then turned back to the fire, not really noticing his departure. She was vaguely aware of the sound of the front door closing and then turned to her mother as she re-entered the room. Kathryn’s face was creased by a worried frown.

“Are you all right, dear?”

“Yes, but I have to make some calls.” With that she stood and made her way to the study.

Her first call was to Owen Paris. She’d caught him between meetings and without preamble, launched into her interrogation. “Owen, I know that you assured me that the crew would be looked after and treated fairly, but I need to know what Starfleet plans to do with the Doctor and Seven of Nine. I’ve heard some disturbing rumours that there may be issues.”

Owen Paris looked at her quizzically. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, Kathryn, but both the EMH and Seven of Nine are to be treated like the rest of your crew and in accordance with Starfleet guidelines. As a measure of good faith the Doctor has been given sole ownership of his mobile emitter, although he has agreed to allow Starfleet to analyse the technology. Seven has already accepted a position as head researcher into nanotechnology and Borg studies on Jupiter Station under the auspices of the Zimmerman Foundation. From what I gather the EMH has also requested that he be based there. Apparently he and the good Doctor Z have developed something of a friendship.”

Kathryn was a bit taken aback. “Are you sure?”

“I’m certain. I only spoke to them yesterday and arrangements are already being made to accommodate them there after the debriefings are over. In fact, one of Voyager’s Borg alcoves is being installed on the station as we speak. I can forward the paper work to you, if you would like to look it over.”

“I’d appreciate that, Owen.”

“Kathryn, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Please don’t pay it any mind. I’ll let you know if there are any issues that arise with any of the crew. For the moment, all is in order and it’s just a matter of organising the schedule for the debriefings and letting the crew know when they’re expected to present themselves before the panel.”

Kathryn nodded. Her fears allayed for the time being. “Thank you, Owen. I appreciate everything that you’re doing for the crew.”

“I have a vested interest too, you know. I’ve become rather attached to my beautiful granddaughter, and that daughter-in-law of mine, as irascible as she can be, has also found a place in our hearts. Elizabeth is besotted with her, and I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for Tom. He’s a changed man.” Owen Paris started to look a bit teary. “I am too, you’ll be pleased to know.”

Kathryn smiled. “I’m happy to hear that, Owen. They’re good people and we couldn’t have made it home without them.”

He nodded, fighting the emotion of the moment.

“Give that granddaughter of yours a kiss from me and I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Taking a deep breath, Owen Paris smiled broadly. “I’m looking forward to it, Kathryn. And don’t worry. It’s all under control and going according to plan.”

“Thank you, Owen.”

The screen went blank and the Starfleet insignia filled the empty space. Kathryn stared at it for a time before she rose from her seat and made her way upstairs. Phoebe would be here soon and she wanted to gather her wits and make herself presentable. Her sister had an uncanny knack for seeing past any of the roadblocks that Kathryn put in place to hide her real feelings, so she needed to be prepared for the barrage of questions and accusations. It was a bit like coming head to head with the Kazon. Her sister could be one scary woman but fortunately she had better hair.

Kathryn stood in front of the mirror staring at her reflection without seeing. Seven was going to Jupiter Station. Where would that leave Seven’s relationship with Chakotay? It was a bit of a stretch to imagine him living there with her, but if it was true love then perhaps he was willing to make the sacrifice. Absentmindedly picking up her brush from the dressing table she continued to wonder. What if their relationship was over? Would that open the way for her and Chakotay to pursue a deeper connection now that they were home, and was it even plausible? Most likely not. The man had made his feelings clear when he’d chosen to begin a relationship with Seven of Nine. Kathryn’s eyes shifted focus and she stared at reflection. He obviously didn’t have any feelings for her anymore or he wouldn’t have moved on to Seven. Besides, Kathryn wasn’t sure if her pride would allow her to play second fiddle, even with someone she cared for as deeply as Chakotay. Her mind was in turmoil again. Just when she’d resigned herself to moving on, she was faced with this dilemma.

She chided herself. What was she thinking? She didn’t even know if Chakotay and Seven’s relationship was over and already she was planning on leaping into bed with him.

Bed!? Good Lord, where had that come from?

Swinging around to face the doorway, she mentally slapped herself. There was a lot going on in her head that she wasn’t consciously aware of and she would have to be vigilant. The last thing she wanted to do was make a fool of herself, especially after maintaining her control so diligently for so many years. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the thoughts of her first officer to the back of her mind where they were best kept for the time being.

There was a sudden ruckus downstairs and the sound of a familiar tread on the stairs. “So what did you think of him. He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?”

“Hello to you too.”

Phoebe barrelled into the room and strode over to her sister, pulling her into a quick embrace. “Hi. Well, go on. What did you think of him? Wonderful, or what? Let me tell you, if I wasn’t already married, I’d be giving you a run for your money.”

“I’m assuming you’re talking about Jonathon Bergen.”

Phoebe rolled her eyes. “How many other gorgeous men have you met today? Of course I’m talking about him. Mom told me he was coming over. Are you going with him to the New Year’s Eve Party?”

Kathryn nodded and watched as Phoebe pumped her arm and hissed. “Yesssss!”

It seemed Kathryn had been the victim of a Janeway conspiracy. She’d had no chance of escape.

Phoebe made her way over to Kathryn’s closet and peered inside. “What are you going to wear? It has to be something spectacular. If you’re going with that Adonis, you’d better scrub up.”

“Phoebe, for God’s sake. It’s just a New Year’s Eve party, not an audience with royalty. And besides, the man is older than I am, he’s hardly an Adonis. I think I’ve got a few dresses there that’ll do.”

“Kathryn Janeway, you’re not going to just ‘make do’ this time. You’re going to wow him off his feet and anyone else who needs to be wowed.”

Kathryn looked closely at her sister. Was there another agenda here? Kathryn was suspicious. Very suspicious. Phoebe was her mother’s daughter when it came to the manoeuvring genes. Things were never simple with Phoebe, and Kathryn had a niggling feeling of unease about this. “I don’t need to ‘wow’ anyone. It’s only my crew, their families and a few Admirals at the party, none of whom require ‘wowing’ of any sort. What are you up to, Phoebe?”

“Oh, don’t be such a stick in the mud. What happened to my fun loving and irreverent sister? You were never this staid before.”

A frown marred Kathryn’s features as she contemplated her younger sister, a little hurt at the jibe. “A lot has happened over these intervening years, Pheebs. There’s a lot of water under the bridge and I’m not the same woman I was seven years ago. I won’t ever be her again. Life isn’t as simple as it used to be.”

Phoebe touched Kathryn’s arm gently. “No, it isn’t, but you’re not going to let that beat you, are you? You have to fight for what’s yours and what you deserve. You’ve been the perfect Captain for seven years and I know you’ve struggled to maintain that mantle of responsibility. It goes against your nature and Kathryn, it’s time to let go. Time for you to have something of yours for a change. You gave so much during those years out there, that I’m afraid that there’s not a lot left of the old you. Please, for me, for Mom and most importantly, for your sake, will you at least try to find a part of the old Kathryn? We lost you for a long time and we grieved deeply, but then we found you, please don’t make us mourn again.”

All the frivolity had left her sister and Kathryn could see past the cheery exterior to the pain and grief that her loss had brought. It was selfish of her to not acknowledge that.

As much as she’d suffered during the seven years of isolation, her family had suffered equally. A little effort on her part, to recapture some of her old, fun loving ways, wasn’t really too much to ask.

Kathryn pulled Phoebe into a warm hug. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ll try, I really will.”

Phoebe pulled out of her sister’s arms but held her shoulders as she stared into her face, still serious but with a twinkle in her eye. “Resolutions are what you need and the New Year is the perfect opportunity to make some changes. I want you to promise to keep them too.” She mused for a moment and then launched into her list. “Number one will be to ‘find the old Kathryn’. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Not with me leading the way and pointing you in the right direction.” She tapped her lip and eyed her older sister. “Another one should be to find yourself a man. Kathryn, you’ve been alone too long. You need a life and you deserve some happiness. I’m going to make it my mission to ensure you find someone who is equal to the task of loving a Janeway woman.” She smirked. “Not an easy undertaking in anyone’s book. Ask Richard.”

“Only two resolutions?” Kathryn smiled at her sister. “That’s very restrained of you, Phoebe.”

“Hey, I haven’t finished yet. Number three… you need to get laid.”


“Well, you haven’t had sex in seven years. If it was me, I’d be panting after it and it would be the first thing on my agenda.” Phoebe’s eyes flicked downward. “It’s probably closed over.”

Kathryn shut her eyes and screwed up her face, only to peer at her sister through one half opened eye as she groaned. “Phoebe, you’re the pits, did you know that?”

“Well, it probably has. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Isn’t that what they say? For someone who loved a good old romp – I lived next door to you for years Kathryn, so I know – I can’t believe you’ve gone all this time without it.”

“How do you know that I haven’t had sex? For all you know, I could have been ‘romping’ my way through the Delta Quadrant.”

Phoebe gave her a knowing stare, but restrained from saying anything.

Kathryn’s shoulders slumped and she caved in. “All right, it’s been a while, but that’s no excuse to hop into bed with the first male that crosses my path.”

“Even one as delicious as Jonathon Bergen?”

“Especially one as good looking as Jonathon Bergen. Besides, he’s not really my type.”

“How can he not be your type? The man is one of the most eligible bachelors in the quadrant.”

“And why is that? Aren’t you the least bit suspicious of someone like that?”

“Suspicious, smicious. The man is adorable and an absolute gentleman.”

Kathryn arched her eyebrow. “He’s all yours then and you’re welcome to him. You know how I hate being manoeuvred into situations like this.”

“Look, just go with him to the party and see how things develop from there. Don’t disregard him before you’ve gotten to know him. You might find that he is your type after all.”

Kathryn gave a derisive laugh. “Don’t bet on it.”

“We’ll see.”

Kathryn wasn’t going to win this argument, and she certainly wasn’t going to tell Phoebe the truth… that she couldn’t fall in love with anyone until she’d freed her heart of Chakotay’s hold. But before she was forced to start making excuses, she was saved by her mother’s voice from the bottom of the stairs.

“Phoebe! Kathryn! Are you coming down anytime soon?”

“We’re on our way, Mom.” Kathryn pointed towards the door. “After you, troublemaker.’

“Who me?”

Kathryn didn’t bother to answer that, but grinned, giving her sister a gentle shove to push her out of the room.

Gretchen looked up at her two daughters as they trotted down the stairs. “There you are. Dinner will be ready soon. Richard is just contacting his parents to check on the girls and I’m having a brandy. Would you both like one?”

Phoebe headed straight for the drinks tray and poured both her and Kathryn a healthy snifter, then handed Kathryn hers.

Richard Wallace, Phoebe’s husband entered the room, carrying his glass. “Hello, Kathryn.” He kissed her cheek then moved over to Phoebe’s side. “The girls are fine.”

She nodded and then raised her glass. “I think this deserves a toast.” She looked at Kathryn intently. “To finding what’s lost.”

Kathryn looked at her sister again, trying to gauge whether there was some sort of hidden meaning in the toast, considering her musings just prior to her arrival, but her sister simply smiled kindly, and clinking their glasses together, they chorused. “To finding what’s lost.”

Kathryn rolled over in her bed and squinted against the light spilling in from between the curtains. She sat up and pulled them all the way back. The sky was clear blue and the sun was reflecting off the glistening snow. It was a beautiful day; cold and crisp, but without a cloud in the sky for as far as she could see.

It must be fairly late, but it didn’t matter. There was no reason to get up early these days and she delighted in the indulgence of staying in bed until whenever she pleased.

Last night had been wonderful. She’d forgotten how much fun she and Phoebe had together. They’d fallen into the teasing banter of years gone by and towards the end of the night they were collapsing in fits of laughter at the merest hint of anything amusing. The several glasses of brandy and two bottles of red wine they’d imbibed might have had something to do with the jocular mood, but it was still a joy and Kathryn couldn’t wait to spend some more time with her today.

Over the course of the evening, Phoebe had convinced Kathryn that she had to wear something dazzling and preferably haute couture to tonight’s party, threatening to find the dress for her. Kathryn wasn’t too sure about trusting her sister with the selection, but Phoebe had convinced her that she had much more of an idea of what was in fashion and where to go to find it. They’d traipsed upstairs after dinner and Phoebe had performed a scorched earth policy on Kathryn’s wardrobe, recycling most of her Delta Quadrant clothing.

Taking great delight in throwing away Kathryn’s staid and sensible clothing, Phoebe had peppered her with snide comments about her taste and style, telling her the whole lot should just be phasered out of existence, but even in her half stonkered state, Kathryn had managed to rescue a few of her sentimental favourites. They were mostly the dresses from New Earth.

She and Phoebe were going shopping next week, to replace her now nonexistent wardrobe, but the dress for this evening had to be collected from Paris. They were going there today, to visit a designer friend of Phoebe’s, whom she swore would have the perfect gown for Kathryn’s ‘coming back’.

Smiling, Kathryn slid out of bed, wrapped herself in her dressing gown, and padded downstairs. It was after ten in the morning and the house was quiet. It looked as though she was the first one up and she wasn’t surprised. These cold winter mornings made it difficult to get out of bed.

After a quick cup of coffee, Kathryn showered and dressed in some of her few remaining clothes, and headed back downstairs. Phoebe and Richard were having breakfast and after another cup of coffee, she and Phoebe headed out for the day.

The trip to Paris was a success and Kathryn and Phoebe arrived home just after lunch, laden with trinkets and their dresses.

Kathryn’s gown was beautiful, yet not something she would have ordinarily chosen for herself, but she’d been convinced by Phoebe and Andre, her sister’s designer friend, that it was perfect for this evening’s celebration. The party was a black tie affair, so an elegant gown wasn’t out of place. If she were truly honest with herself, Kathryn would have been more comfortable in her dress uniform, but she’d promised her sister that she was going to try and recapture some of her old flair and if nothing else, this dress would launch her down that road very successfully.

The afternoon was spent resting and then they prepared for the evening.

Kathryn gave herself one last once over in the mirror. She’d heard Jonathon arrive five minutes ago and knew she couldn’t delay her appearance any longer. The dress was indeed very beautiful, although she still wasn’t convinced that she did it justice. It certainly was eye catching, with its black beaded bodice and flowing red skirt, beaded delicately with black roses on the lower half of the skirt. Her hair had been pulled up loosely, with tendrils curling around her face to soften her look. She picked up the earrings that Andre insisted that she wear and after putting them on, she twirled. With a shrug, she decided, she’d do.

Grabbing her wrap, she took a deep breath and made her way downstairs. She could see Jonathon in the living room and he turned towards her as she came down the last few stairs. His jaw literally dropped, and then a broad grin spread across his face. He made his way towards her, holding out his hand, his eyes bright with admiration. Laying her hand in his, he lifted it to his lips and kissed it, not taking his eyes off hers as he did so. He whispered. “Magnificent. You look stunning, Kathryn. Absolutely beautiful.”

She smiled. “Thank you. You look very debonair yourself.” He was wearing a tuxedo and there was no doubt about it, he was a very handsome man. They would make a striking pair. Kathryn met her sister’s eyes and Phoebe winked and smiled. Phoebe was wearing a gown in shimmering bronze that highlighted her dark hair and brown eyes. With Richard beside her in his tuxedo, they looked spectacular.

With her confidence building each moment, that long forgotten fire began to burn in her belly. The old Kathryn was on her way back.

Gretchen moved over to Kathryn’s side. “You do look very beautiful, dear. You’re going to turn some heads tonight.” Kathryn gave her mother a questioning look, but Gretchen turned away and rallied everyone. “Time to go. We don’t want to be unfashionably late.”

They moved into the study to the transporter. Phoebe and Richard beamed out first, Gretchen immediately after, and then Jonathon and Kathryn beamed out last of all.

Kathryn stepped off the transporter platform in the lobby of the Academy Hall. She was instantly swept into a warm embrace by B’Elanna. “Captain, it’s so good to see you. You look amazing.”

B’Elanna was wearing a figure hugging silver dress and looked exquisite. Tom was close behind her and kissed Kathryn’s cheek and gave her a broad grin as he nodded his approval. “Fabulous. You’ll knock ‘em dead, Captain.”

Kathryn stepped back and made her introductions. Jonathon shook Tom’s hand but Kathryn couldn’t help noticing B’Elanna’s blatant stare as she was introduced to her escort. She made a note to question her about it later. The Doctor was the next person to approach. He pulled Kathryn into a hug as well, talking the whole time about what had been happening and his plans for Jupiter Station. Kathryn could barely get a word in edgeways and had to interrupt him so she could introduce him to Jonathon.

The music began to swell and Tom looked at Kathryn. “I think that’s your cue, Captain. We’ll see you in there.”

Tom and B’Elanna made their way into the hall. The Doctor offered Gretchen his arm and she smiled and waved to Kathryn over her shoulder. Phoebe gave her a thumbs-up signal and she and Richard followed the others.

Kathryn looked up at Jonathon and shrugged. “Are you ready?”

He grinned. “Are you?”

“I’m very tempted to head the other way, but they’d most likely follow.” Taking a deep breath, she tucked her arm into his. “Okay, it’s now or never. Let’s do it.”

He grinned and together they walked into the hall. The music swelled and all eyes turned towards the entrance. When Kathryn made her appearance there were gasps and sighs from those gathered and then a rapturous crescendo of applause.

Kathryn stood in the entrance way, smiling broadly. Her eyes swept around the room, meeting with the familiar faces of her crew, graciously acknowledging their adulation and waiting serenely until the cacophony died to a dull roar. It did her heart good to see them all again and it occurred to her that she’d missed them more than she’d realised.

Harry was standing closest to her, with his parents beside him, and all three were clapping wildly, Tom and B’Elanna were standing with Owen and Elizabeth Paris, Samantha Wildman was with her husband, who held Naomi in his arms so she could see. The Delaney twins were there, Mike Ayala, Ken Dalby, Mariah Henley, Noah Lessing, and Angelo Tessoni; all of them cheering and clapping. Chapman, Bristow, Jor, Lang and Nozawa were huddled together, plus many other familiar faces, all grinning and applauding. It was a wonderful and heart warming welcome.

Her eyes lit on the smiling face of Seven of Nine. She looked beautiful and so human. Her hair was loose about her shoulders and she was wearing a demure gown of chocolate brown. Beside her was Chakotay. He was also smiling and as Kathryn’s gaze met his, a jolt shot through her. She thought she’d been ready to face him, but nothing could ever have prepared her for the look in his eyes. Her reaction was immediate and involuntary and she gripped Jonathon’s arm, making a small gasping noise. It was only a momentary slip, but it was enough for Jonathon to look down at her and whisper. “Are you all right?”

Dragging her eyes away from Chakotay’s she smiled up at her escort. “I’m fine thank you, just a little overcome with the welcome.”

Kathryn’s gaze swept over the crowd once more and she tried not to look in Chakotay’s direction, but her eyes had other ideas and before she knew it, they were staring at one another again, as if they were the only people in the room.

Jonathon’s voice in her ear jolted her out of her stupor. “Would you like to sit down, Kathryn and get your bearings?”

She shook her head and, tearing her eyes away from Chakotay’s, smiled at him apologetically. “No, no, I’m fine. A drink of something wouldn’t go astray though, and then we have to do the rounds. You’re welcome to make your escape if you like, but I’m going to have to go and mix and mingle.”

Jonathon pulled Kathryn’s arm tighter against his side in answer. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.” Stopping a passing waiter, he handed her a glass of champagne and took one for himself. He tilted the glass in her direction and toasted. “To the most beautiful woman in the room.”

Kathryn smiled, but was uncomfortable with the overt flirtation and pulled her arm free, ostensibly to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, but also to put some distance between her and her enthusiastic escort. After a few fortifying sips of champagne, they began to move around the room, greeting the crew and meeting those family members who hadn’t been at the Presidio on their arrival.

Kathryn meandered her way around the room, moving from group to group, laughing and enjoying the company of her crew. As the evening wore on, she became more and more relaxed. She’d managed to lose Jonathon somewhere along the way but wasn’t the least bit concerned. It was very kind of him to have been here with her and he’d admirably performed his duty as handsome accessory, but she was happier without him. The pressure of introducing him, not to mention having to dodge the inquisitive glances that his presence triggered, was something she could do without.

She was saying her good byes to Megan Delaney, ready to move onto the next group when she felt a presence behind her. Chakotay! The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as if there was electricity in the air. How did he manage to do this to her even after all these years? It was uncanny and a tad disconcerting. Steeling herself and pasting a benign smile on her face, she turned to greet him.

“Chakotay! Sneaking up on me?”

His eyebrow twitched but he smiled gently. “I can’t have been terribly successful, you knew I was here.”

“I usually do.” Kathryn could have bitten her tongue. It wasn’t a terribly subtle response, even though it was true. Grasping at the first thing that came into her head as a way of retrieving her gaff, she waved offhandedly towards him. “It’s that distinctive aftershave you use. I’d know it anywhere.”

Kathryn was floored by his next words as he leant forward slightly, moving well within her personal space. His hot breath sent another shiver down her spine as he whispered close to her ear. “I don’t wear aftershave, Kathryn.”

His eyes were twinkling with evil delight and Kathryn was very tempted to turn her back and walk away. He was enjoying this far too much for his own good and she hadn’t decided if his teasing was cruel or exciting.

If only she knew what was happening with his relationship with Seven of Nine, but no matter where it stood, he had no right to taunt he like this. Miffed, she decided it was time to put a damper on his mirth and pulling away from him, raised her voice to be heard over the hubbub. “So I hear you’re off to Jupiter Station with Seven.” Surely that would put him in his place and remind him of his responsibilities.

He wasn’t the least bit fazed, however, and took a step closer to her. She could feel the heat of his body and his heady scent was doing astonishing things to her unruly mind and body.

“No. Seven is going with the Doctor to Jupiter Station. I’m staying here in San Francisco and once the debriefings are over, I’ll be looking for a job here.”

“You’re not going to Jupiter Station?” Kathryn was confused and, thanks to his proximity and her mutinous emotions, knew her eyes were looking a little glazed. She just hoped that Chakotay, and anyone else who might notice, would put it down to the revelry and too many glasses of champagne.

He shook his head. “No, as I said, I’m staying here.”

“Oh.” Kathryn wasn’t sure what to say.

He moved closer still, his hand resting lightly on her hip as he spoke quietly in her ear again. “Kathryn, we need to talk.”

Kathryn swallowed. “We do?”

Chakotay nodded.

Her mouth had gone dry and her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. His eyes sparked with an intense look and unconsciously he did the same; his tongue slipping between his lips. Her eyes were riveted to his mouth and it made her knees go weak but to her delight, she felt him tremble too.

What the hell was wrong with her? She took a deep breath and steadied her voice. “What do we need to talk about?”

This time, when he leaned forward, his mouth touched her ear. It was almost a kiss and she shuddered as he spoke. “Us.”

Pulling back, her eyes met his and they locked in silent understanding. She swallowed again, and muttered. “Us?”

Chakotay nodded, his eyes not leaving hers.

She held his gaze and reviewed her options. Maybe this would be her opportunity to find out where his relationship with Seven stood, and where she fitted into the picture. There was so much they needed to say to one another; so many misunderstandings to untangle and connections to re-establish. Unfortunately, or not, Jonathon chose that moment to find her in the crowd.

“Kathryn, there you are, I’ve been looking for you.” He swooped to her side and took her hand, making a point of holding it proprietarily between his own before chafing one hand up and down her forearm.

Chakotay’s eyes darkened and Kathryn could see the jealous anger in their depths. It thrilled her, but she was also concerned for Jonathon and certainly didn’t want there to be any sort of unpleasantness. Jonathon had no idea the sort of trouble he could be in.

She looked up at him and saw him locked in a challenging glare with Chakotay, each man trying to out stare the other. Maybe Jonathon was more aware than she’d given him credit for.

Kathryn slid her hand from Jonathon’s. Perhaps if she removed herself, it would defuse the situation, and so smiling at both men, she made her excuses and retreated to the lady’s room.

B’Elanna had been watching the drama unfold and, seeing Kathryn leave, followed her. The Engineer stepped into the powder room, noted that it was empty except for Captain Janeway and, gently closing the door behind her, moved to her former Captain’s side. “Are you all right, Captain?”

Kathryn had been standing in front of the mirror staring past her reflection, deep in thought. She was trying to make some sense of her encounter with Chakotay. There was obviously a lot going on that she was unaware of and meeting B’Elanna’s eyes in their reflection, she heaved a deep sigh. “Now that I’m not your captain, perhaps you should call me Kathryn.”

B’Elanna nodded, it was a fairly poor attempt at diverting the conversation, but she wasn’t going to be deterred. “Fine. Are you all right, Kathryn?”

Kathryn huffed. “You know. I have no idea.” She turned to face B’Elanna, needing to speak to someone who might understand. “Is your life in as much turmoil as mine and is all the crew feeling the same way? I don’t mind telling you that I’m a little lost and have no idea where I’m going or what I should be doing.”

B’Elanna wanted to laugh, but didn’t. She was touched that Kathryn saw fit to confide in her and looked at her with a good deal of empathy. “Turmoil? Try throwing a newborn baby into the mix. You’ve got no idea.” She pulled some chairs over and the both sat down. “We’re all feeling it and I imagine it must be even worse for you.

“For seven years we’ve been moving in one direction, towards home. Not really imagining that we’d get here in our lifetimes, and now all of a sudden, here we are.” B’Elanna shook her head. “I still don’t believe it sometimes.”

Kathryn nodded in understanding. “Everything’s the same, but everything’s different. So much has happened while we’ve been gone and it’s like we’re living a strange shadowy version of our old lives.”

B’Elanna nodded enthusiastically. “Exactly! Tom and I were trying to figure it out the other day but couldn’t put it into words. All I know is it helps to talk about it. Tom and I have each other, and Kathryn if you ever need to talk, please call me.”

Kathryn squeezed the younger woman’s hand. “Thank you. I might just take you up on that.”

They were silent for a moment, both lost in their own thoughts, and then B’Elanna turned to Kathryn. “Can I ask you a question?”

Kathryn nodded. “Certainly.”

“Where did you find that male version of Seven? My eyes nearly popped out of my head when you introduced him to me. You haven’t been doing any secret experimenting have you and building Nordic men from scratch in your barn? Tall, blonde and built. He’s gorgeous, you know, and everyone is wondering who he is and if he’s a permanent fixture?”

Kathryn shuddered slightly, his resemblance to Seven only just striking her with B’Elanna’s mention of it. “No, he’s not a permanent fixture, in fact, I only met him yesterday. My mother organised it and you know…” She turned to B’Elanna with a wide eyed look. “I haven’t the slightest idea how she knows him. Perhaps she’s had my old chemistry set out and has been building them herself. I suppose that’s one way to get your daughter a boyfriend… make him yourself.”

They both snorted and laughed. It felt good.

“Well, it’s certainly put a few of the men on yellow alert. I saw Ayala and Chapman eyeing him warily earlier and I don’t even want to tell you what Chakotay said when you came through the door with Mr ‘Blond and Gorgeous’ on your arm. It put a dent in my delicate Klingon sensibilities, let me tell you. I shudder at the memory.”

“Mike Ayala, Chapman and Chakotay?”

“That’s only a few. There were others as well. You’ve certainly got all the eligible bachelors on their toes now. They’re all very protective of you, you know.”

“I didn’t think that Chakotay was particularly eligible. What about Seven?” She had no interest in the others, but Chakotay’s reaction intrigued her in light of what had just happened out near the dance floor.

“It’s over, apparently. If it ever really started to begin with…” B’Elanna curled her lip in distaste. “I could never see the attraction myself. I mean, what have they got in common? I think it must have been some sort of mid-life crisis. The man is almost fifty, don’t forget, and they’re bound to do something dumb at that age. He could hardly get himself a hover-bike or take up hang gliding while we were out in the Delta Quadrant.”

Kathryn gave B’Elanna an incredulous look. “A hover-bike might have been less dangerous.” She shook her head and spoke without thinking. “I can’t believe they’re not together any more. Admiral Janeway said…” Instantly realising that she’d said too much, she turned away and looked at her reflection again.

“What did she say?”

Kathryn gave B’Elanna a long look, so tempted to tell her of the Admiral’s bitter revelations from all those weeks ago. “I can’t. The temporal prime directive.”

“Oh, pftttt. It hardly matters now, does it? She’s long gone and her timeline is never going to happen. Surely the temporal prime directive doesn’t apply anymore.”

Kathryn thought for a moment and then met B’Elanna’s eyes in the mirror. She was right; there was no harm in telling her. Kathryn had held the festering truth inside her for long enough and it would be a relief to tell someone else of the Admiral’s shocking revelations. “In the Admiral’s timeline, Seven and Chakotay married. Seven died three years later in his arms and he was never the same again. Neither was I, according to the Admiral.”

“Never the same? Well, that’s hardly surprising. He probably shouldn’t have married her. No doubt he was wracked with guilt because he’d never loved her. Not when he’s always loved you. I bet there was a lot more to that tale than what the Admiral told you.”

“Maybe. I didn’t think to ask at the time. I was in shock.” Kathryn’s face crumpled slightly and she shook her head.

Seeing this, B’Elanna laid her hand on her former captain’s arm. “I don’t blame you. We were all in shock when we heard he was going out with her. But he does love you, you know. He always has.”

“He used to. I cared deeply for him for years too, but a lot has happened. It didn’t survive the passage of time.”

“Bullshit!!” The word exploded from B’Elanna’s mouth. Kathryn stared at the young woman, only to be glared at in return. “You still love him, don’t you? It sure looked like it out there.” B’Elanna jabbed her thumb in the direction of the ballroom.

The barriers between captain and subordinate seemed to have been demolished with that one word and Kathryn decided that now wasn’t the time to prevaricate. “Yes, all right, I love him still. I always will, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re meant to be together. Life isn’t that simple.” Kathryn shrugged. “For me, anyway.”

“Again, I say bullshit! If there are two people who are meant to be together in this world, it’s you and Chakotay. He’s lost without you and I think you’re feeling lost too. Am I right?”

“That’s not just because of Chakotay. Give the poor man a break. He’s not responsible for the fact that I’m feeling like a fish out of water. I think we’re all feeling like that.”

“All the more reason to hold onto the things that ground us. You need one another.” B’Elanna swivelled around in her seat and gently turned Kathryn to look at her. “Think about it. You’ve worked together every day for the last seven years, give or take a week here and there. You’ve been best friends and almost lovers for most of that time. It’s just not normal to call an abrupt end to a relationship like that. Of course you’re going to feel the loss. It’s like losing a part of yourself. The pair of you are a mess and you need to sort this out before it has lasting ramifications.”

Kathryn’s mouth tilted in a crooked smile as she listened to the impassioned and wise words of her friend. “Thank you, B’Elanna. I needed to hear that. Scarily, that makes such a lot of sense.”

“Hey, it’s the least I can do, Kathryn. You’ve always been there for me and you were never backward about pounding some sense into me when I needed it.”

Kathryn huffed a laugh at her irascible former Engineer and now, dear friend.

With a grin and a wink, B’Elanna stood up and checked her dress, smoothing the wrinkles and tugging at the bodice. “Having a baby does wonders for the bust line. I could almost give Seven a run for her money at the moment.”

Kathryn laughed and stood up beside her. She gave herself a once over and blew out a breath, ready to face the crowd and Chakotay.

B’Elanna gestured towards the door. “Shall we go get ‘em, Kathryn?”

Kathryn laughed. “Let’s”

Together they walked out of the ladies room ready to put Kathryn’s life to rights.

Kathryn surveyed the room, seeing Chakotay over by the orchestra talking to Harry and Mr and Mrs Kim. Jonathon was with a group of distinguished looked gentlemen near the buffet and the rest of her family were scattered throughout the crowd. Kathryn turned to B’Elanna. “I’m just going to get a drink and a bit of fresh air before I tackle anything. Will you join me?”

“I might have to beg off on this one. Tom is signalling me, it looks like he needs to be rescued from Necheyev. Can I meet you out there in a minute?”

Kathryn nodded and smiled as she caught the desperate look on Tom’s face from across the room. “Sure.”

Skirting the dancers, she grabbed a glass of wine and sneaked out one of the French doors onto the wide patio. It was nowhere near as cold here in San Francisco as it was in Indiana. The building, however, like all Starfleet buildings, was surrounded by a forcefield which kept the weather at bay. It allowed one the sensation of being outside without having to contend with the blustery cold winds and rain. It was as warm on the patio as it was inside. Kathryn wandered over to the railing, placing her drink on the broad stone balustrade, and looked out over the view. Lights glittered off the water of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge was in full view. She was standing there thinking over what B’Elanna had said, when she heard a shuffling sound to her left.

She turned and looked into the shadows. “Hello?”

“Captain Janeway.”

A small shabbily dressed man emerged from the shadows and stepped up close to Kathryn. She eyed him warily. “Good evening. Can I help you?”

“I hope so. My name is Simon Ressick.” He thrust his hand towards her and Kathryn took it briefly. His grip was clammy and unpleasant, and Kathryn had to fight the urge to wipe her hand on her dress as he continued to talk. “I’m glad I caught you alone. I wanted to ask you a few questions about your time in the Delta Quadrant?”

“I don’t think so Mr Ressick. Are you a guest here this evening?”

The man shuffled uncomfortably and looked off to his left. “Umm, no not exactly.”

“Well, then I think you should leave. This is an invitation only affair and I don’t want to have to call security.”

His beady eyes quickly scanned the area. “There’s no one here, Captain. No one will ever know that you’ve spoken to me. I just need something meaty to give my editor tomorrow.” He took a threatening step towards her and Kathryn stood taller. “You know, if you don’t tell me something, I’ll just make up it up anyway, so you may as well tell me the truth.”

Chakotay had seen Kathryn leave the hall and decided to follow her.

Bergen had seen her leave as well and then watched as her dark haired first officer took off after her. He glanced at Gretchen but she hadn’t noticed her daughter’s departure. Jonathon thought it wise to follow just in case Kathryn needed to be rescued.

Both men walked out though different doors, arriving on the patio at about the same time. They glanced at one another and then over to where Kathryn stood, discussing something with a shabbily dressed man. Jonathon took a step towards her, but Chakotay put out his arm to stop him.

Bergen frowned at him and hissed. “She might need help. Are you just going to stand there?”

Chakotay gave the blond haired man a sideways glance. This new man in her life obviously didn’t know her well or he would have been aware that Kathryn could look after herself. “Kathryn isn’t the one who needs help and she won’t appreciate us butting in. She’ll ask for help if she needs it. Just wait and see.”

They couldn’t hear the exact words but the general tone of the conversation wasn’t pleasant and Kathryn’s stance was a defensive one. Chakotay had to smile. The shabby man had no idea what he was taking on and very soon would rue the day that he underestimated Kathryn Janeway.

Chakotay could feel the blond man itching to move towards her, but kept a strong hold on his arm.

Kathryn’s antagonist took an aggressive step towards her and in the blink of an eye, the man found himself face first on the ground with his arm twisted painfully behind him and her stilettoed heel digging into the middle of his back. Kathryn spoke quietly but assertively. “Don’t move a muscle and I won’t dislocate your arm.”

Looking up she saw Chakotay and Jonathon standing just outside the doors. Jonathon’s mouth was hanging open and he looked like he was about to have a heart attack. In contrast, Chakotay was leaning nonchalantly against the doorway, smiling. She grinned at him and quirked her eyebrow. “Do you want to call someone to take out this garbage or should I just toss him over the edge?”

The man, Ressick, squirmed and then squealed as she pulled his arm higher, straining the shoulder joint.

Jonathon’s gaze darted between Kathryn and Chakotay, not believing that they could take this all so calmly. His voice squeaked unattractively. “I’ll get someone.” And with that, he dashed inside.

Chakotay pushed away from the door and wandered over towards her. “Beating up the guests again, Kathryn?”

She grinned. “He’s no guest. Chakotay, meet Simon Ressick former journalist and soon to be resident of one of Starfleet’s finest establishments – the New Zealand Penal Settlement.”

Without taking his eyes from Kathryn’s, Chakotay smiled and addressed the prostrate journalist. “Pleased to meet you, Mr Ressick.”

There was a muffled grunt and whimper from the man on the ground and Kathryn pressed a little harder with her heel. “How are you enjoying the evening, Chakotay?”

“I’m having a lovely time Kathryn, and you?”

“Most enjoyable, thank you.”

They stood and stared at one another for a long moment, until the doors to the hall burst open and Jonathon, with two security officers hot on his tail, spilled out onto the patio. Several other people, who had no doubt been alerted to trouble by the presence of the security guards, peered out into the darkness and watched the drama unfold.

“We’ll take it from here, Ma’am.”

Kathryn shot a look at Chakotay and watched as a knowing grin spread across his face. He took her hand as she let go of Ressick’s arm and helped her step off the prone man’s back.

With a wicked twinkle in his eye, he inclined his head. “Ma’am.” Kathryn rolled her eyes and without a backwards glance they walked to the other end of the patio, away from prying eyes.

Ressick was dragged to his feet by the guards, and they called for an instant beam out.

Jonathon watched from his place by the doorway as, in the fading light of the transporter beam, Kathryn and Chakotay wandered towards the shadows at the far end of the patio. He rubbed his hands together happily and slipping in past the sightseers, he looked over towards Gretchen, to catch her eye. She saw him and raised her eyebrows in question. He gave her a nod and they both smiled. Mission accomplished. Phoebe saw the exchange and pushed her way through the crowd to her mother’s side.

Her eyes darted over to where Jonathon was standing. “Mom, what have you been up to and why wasn’t I in on it?”

Gretchen patted her daughter’s hand. “What do you mean, dear? Me? Up to something? You must be mistaken.”

Stepping right in front of Gretchen, Phoebe leaned in close and growled. “Mother?”

Gretchen looked a little annoyed and pulled Phoebe to the side, out of range of anyone’s hearing. “It’s all been fixed, dear. Kathryn is with Chakotay, and everything is going to work out just fine.”

Phoebe’s head snapped around to see if Kathryn and Chakotay were anywhere close by, but couldn’t see them and turned back to her mother, her forehead creased in a confused frown. “She’s with Chakotay? How do you know? But isn’t he with Seven?”

Gretchen answered her calmly. “Yes. I just do and no, he’s not anymore.”

Phoebe looked even more confused with that answer and, with a brisk shake of her head, tried rattle her thoughts into place. She set about prising more information out of her mother. “I still don’t get it. You’re going to have to start from the beginning.”

Gretchen looked at her daughter with narrowed eyes. “You have to promise never to tell, Kathryn. If you do, I’ll tell her it was your idea.”

“Mother! That’s…” Phoebe’s face blanched slightly. “…a very good incentive. Okay, I promise.”

Satisfied, Gretchen launched into her rendition of what had happened. “Well, I knew how she felt about Chakotay.”

“She told you?”

“No, but a mother knows these things. The way she spoke about him in her letters and the way her eyes lit up whenever he was mentioned, I could just tell. Then seeing him with her when they first landed, I knew he loved her too, all they needed was a little nudge in the right direction.”

“A nudge? But what about Jonathon Bergen?”

“He was the nudge.”

Phoebe’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Gretchen nodded. “I’ve known Jonathon for many years. I use to play Bridge with his mother. It was just fortuitous that I ran into him the other day. I asked him if he would help me set this up. He’s devilishly handsome and the idea was to make Chakotay jealous. We needed a way to manoeuvre them together. I was going to help but Jonathon managed on his own. Bless him.”

“So this was all a set up from the beginning?” Phoebe took a step back and eyed her mother, impressed with her scheming. “Not bad, Mom. Not bad at all. You could get a job with Section 31. No one would ever suspect the grandma.”

Gretchen deadpanned. “Who says I don’t work for them already.”

Phoebe snorted a laugh but her mother remained poker faced. Phoebe stopped laughing abruptly and stared. “Mom?”

At her daughter’s stunned look, Gretchen’s collapsed into laughter. “You’re easier to fool than your sister. Now go and have a peek for me and see if things are going well out there?”

“Where are they?”

“Hiding in the shadows on the patio, necking, if they know what’s good for them.”

Phoebe took one more look at her mother then turned away to do her bidding, but swung back around again and kissed her cheek. “You old schemer, you. You’re amazing.”

Gretchen cupped her daughter’s cheek. “I love you too.”

Phoebe wound her way through the crowd to the patio doors and stuck her head outside. She peered into the darkness and in the dim light she could just make out the silhouettes of her sister and her first officer at the far end of the veranda. There was very little space between them. Her mother would be pleased. Slipping back inside she closed the door behind her and smiled to herself. Well, two of those resolutions were taken care of and, if all things were equal, the third would hopefully be obliterated before morning.

Phoebe muttered cheerfully. “Happy New Year.”

Jonathon Bergen looked around the room. Now that Kathryn was where she was supposed to be, he was dateless and alone. He scanned the room and caught sight of a tall willowy blonde over on the other side of the room. Seven of Nine. Her back was towards him and he ran his eyes over her. Exquisite. She must have felt his eyes on her, because she turned slowly and met his gaze steadily. He wandered over to where she was standing and introduced himself. In doing so, he looked into the biggest bluest eyes he’d ever seen. He smiled broadly and, to his delight, she smiled in return.

Chakotay and Kathryn walked to the far end of the patio, away from the fracas with the journalist and away from the inquisitive stares of the onlookers. They had some things to discuss and needed to be alone.

Once they felt they were far enough away, they turned to face one another. Chakotay smiled and Kathryn arched an eyebrow.

“So, Chakotay, you’re staying in San Francisco.”

He nodded. “Yes, and where are you going to be staying, Kathryn.”

“I hear San Francisco is a nice place to live. Friendly people and the weather’s good.”

“Any other plans?”

“Not yet. You?”

“Nothing set in stone. I’ve got some inquiries to make before I can make any solid plans.”


“Uh, huh. Personal inquiries.”

“Oh. And when did you plan on making these inquiries?”

Chakotay lifted his arm and feigned looking at a wrist watch. “About five seconds from now.”

Kathryn smiled, counting down in her head, her eyes not leaving his. “Time’s up.”

He nodded and leant forward gently pressing his lips to hers. It was a sweet kiss, barely a touch, but it was closer than they’d ever been before and Kathryn could feel the lingering tingle on her lips from his touch. He was very close and she whispered against his lips. “Are you sure you don’t wear aftershave? You smell very good.”

Chakotay grinned and mumbled against her lips. “Nope, no aftershave.”

Kathryn made a sound somewhere between “Damn.” and a whimper, and before he could move, she pressed her lips firmly to his. Her hands slid around his neck and her fingers wove into his hair, holding him tight to her. His arms wound around her and they came together in a deep warm kiss.

Their bodies moulded together and, with his arms tight about her, he lifted her off the ground.

It felt like she was floating and when they broke apart to gasp for air, she laughed. Her toes were barely touching the ground.

“What’s so funny?” He was kissing her neck and shoulders, nipping at the skin with his lips, the rub of his rough cheek against the soft skin of her neck, sending shivers down her spine.

“I thought I was floating.”

He grinned. “Sorry, no magic. Only me.”

Kathryn sighed. “I don’t want magic. I only want you.”

He pulled away a little and looked into her eyes. They glittered in the reflected light from the ballroom and he tilted her chin slightly so he could see her better. “I’m pleased to hear it. I’ve always wanted you. I love you, Kathryn.”

She nodded. “I know that now, and I love you too.”

They stood in the dark, in one another’s arms, kissing and talking quietly. It had been an unremarkable slide into their role as lovers. For some reason Kathryn had always thought that it would take some sort of cataclysm or disaster to bring them together, but in a way this seemed more real. Most of what they’d experienced in the Delta Quadrant had some measure of disaster and dread attached and if it hadn’t worked to throw them together out there, then chances were it wouldn’t have worked here. This comfortable merging from friends to lovers was perfect and so very satisfying.

“Kathryn? Are you there?”

Kathryn pulled out of Chakotay’s arms and straightened her dress. “Down here, B’Elanna.”

“What are you doing lurking in the…? Oh, hello, Chakotay.” She grinned. “That’s what you’re doing lurking in the dark.” B’Elanna started to back away. “I’ll leave you to your… lurking.”

“You don’t have to go, B’E.” Chakotay draped his arm around Kathryn’s waist.

“The hell I don’t. If I don’t tell Tom about this straight away, he’ll be after me with a bat’leth. Do you know how long that poor man has waited for this to happen?” B’Elanna quickly moved forward and kissed them both. “Congratulations, you two. I’m so happy for you both.” Still smiling she turned and started walking back towards the hall, muttering to herself. “I wonder if the pool is still a going concern… we could make a killing. Set Miral up for life…”

Kathryn turned to Chakotay and smiled, shaking her head. “Is it too late to throw them in the brig for insubordination?”

Chakotay shrugged. “Probably not, but the paper work would be a bitch.”

“Good point.”

All of a sudden there was a hushed silence from inside and then applause. Kathryn looked at Chakotay. “What time is it?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, but it must be getting close to midnight.”

“That’s probably the five minute call. We’d better get in there then or someone will come chasing after us.”

Hand in hand they made their way back to the crowded room. There were a crush of people on the dance floor and the large clock in the corner was counting down to midnight. Four minutes and twelve seconds to go. Chakotay pulled Kathryn into his arms and they joined the throng on the dance floor, swaying to the music. They danced past members of their crew who smiled broadly and nodded, offering their congratulations and approval. News had travelled fast but it warmed Kathryn’s heart to know that everyone was so pleased for them.

The music faded when there was a minute to go and Tom Paris took to the stage to lead the countdown. Kathryn and Chakotay stood together surrounded by their crew, family and friends. All eyes were on the clock and everyone joined in the final countdown. “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Happy New Year!”

Balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling as the crowd cheered and, kissing those closest to them, welcomed in the New Year. Chakotay smiled down at Kathryn. She turned into his arms and kissed him, in front of the entire gathering. The noise faded around them and they pulled apart to find the whole room staring at them, smiling. Tom, now standing with B’Elanna, began the applause and slowly but surely the entire room joined in, thundering their approval with an ovation that shook the rafters of the old Academy hall.

Kathryn and Chakotay stood arm in arm and grinned. After a few minutes, Jonathon and Seven approached and offered their congratulations, Gretchen, Owen and Elizabeth Paris and a procession of Voyager crew moved towards them in waves, each chorusing their approval and wishing them good luck. Kathryn was overwhelmed and the happiest she’d been in years.

Once the initial rush of well wishers had waned, they all linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne. This archaic tradition and song held a particular resonance for the Voyager crew and her captain. When the last chords faded, there was deep, sad silence as they all looked at one another, remembering those they’d lost and left behind in the Delta Quadrant. It was a sobering moment and Kathryn could see each and everyone of her crew lost in the memories of missing friends and comrades.

After a few minutes, she caught Tom’s eye and with an understanding nod, he called for a toast. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our intrepid leader, Captain Kathryn Janeway.”

There was a roar from the crowd as she took the podium, smiling, she gave Tom a kiss on the cheek as she handed him her drink and took centre stage. There was a call from somewhere in the audience of “Hey, where’s mine?”

Kathryn searched the sea of faces, finally finding Crewman Mitchell standing there with a broad grin, looking very pleased with himself. Kathryn pointed at him and gave him a mock glare. “Oh don’t you worry, Mr Mitchell… you’ll get yours.” There was a guffaw of laughter from his friends, as they slapped him on the back and rubbed his bald head. He grinned at Kathryn and she smiled back.

Holding her arms up, she called for quiet. “Welcome to the year 2379.” There was another crescendo of applause that died down as Kathryn spoke again. “Today is the beginning of a new era for all of us. With heavy hearts we say goodbye to old friends and comrades. They will always be with us, in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. In many ways, it signifies the end of a unique adventure but also the beginning of a new journey, just as special and filled with potential. We have been blessed. These years, in essence, are stolen out of time, a bonus if you will, and I urge you all to treasure them for the gift that they are. Use them to the best of your ability, be happy and live like there’s no tomorrow.” Kathryn turned to Tom and he handed her a glass of champagne. “I offer a toast, to you, my friends and family. We achieved the near impossible, we survived with grace and dignity and I couldn’t be prouder of you all. To the Voyagers, past, present and future, I wish you happiness and joy in your new lives. In the words of our absent friend Tuvok, may you live long and prosper. I’m sure if he was here, and much to Neelix’s delight, he’d be dancing.” Kathryn sipped her drink in honour of her crew.

Tom stepped forward and held his glass aloft. “To the Captain.”

The whole room chorused. “The Captain.” And another roar of applause washed through the crowd. Kathryn smiled and accepted the accolades and after a minute or so, she gave the orchestra leader a nod and the music began again. The dance floor filled and Kathryn and Chakotay began to do the rounds, accepting good wishes and congratulations from everyone they met.

They left the party an hour or so later, slipping out the back way, unseen. Or so they thought.

In fact, they’d made their escape under the watchful eye of Kathryn’s mother. Gretchen had enlisted the help of her co-conspirator, Jonathon Bergen and Voyager’s bridge crew to ensure that their get away was clean and unhindered.

It occurred to Kathryn, as she and Chakotay hailed a hover cab and headed off into the night, that it had seemed unnaturally easy to leave without being nabbed by friends or family on their way out. She had a sneaking suspicion that her mother had a hand in it and that the matriarch and chief manoeuvrer of the Janeway clan also knew a lot more about this evening’s events than she was letting on. When she saw Phoebe again, she’d have to make sure she got the low down on what her mother had been up to. But for now, she was simply content to sit in the back of the vehicle with Chakotay as they made their way to his apartment.

Tucked up under his arm, Kathryn looked out of the window at the passing scenery and smiled. Was it only yesterday that she was feeling so out of place and lost? It seemed like a lifetime ago. She snuggled further into the warmth of Chakotay’s side, resting her head on his shoulder, smiling as she felt his lips on her forehead and his hand gently stroked her arm. It was good to be home.

Kathryn woke with a start. She was naked and sprawled across an unfamiliar bed. Two frantic heartbeats later, the memories from last night came rushing back and she relaxed, wriggling deeper into the bedclothes and hugging Chakotay’s pillow under her head. She was alone in the bed and peered through one eye at the bedside table, the chronometer read 0947. She was getting damned good at this sleeping-in business. Yet another recently acquired skill and, thanks to a few other almost forgotten ones, she’d not gotten much sleep last night. Smiling to herself, her hand wandered down to touch her swollen tender flesh and stickiness between her thighs, a remnant from last night’s love making. And what a night it had been. Joyous and abandoned; the lusty fulfilment of seven years of unrequited desire.

The hover cab had dropped her and Chakotay at his apartment building and they’d walked sedately through the lobby to the lifts – their restrained manner hiding a maelstrom of emotions. They didn’t dare touch but walked the prescribed command distance apart. To the casual observer they may have seemed controlled and calm, on closer observation, the tension was clearly evident.

The concierge nodded to them as they passed, his only reaction at seeing his famous tenant, Commander Chakotay, with the equally famous Captain Janeway, was a rapid blink and a muttered greeting. Chakotay assured Kathryn that he was discreet. Not that she was concerned about anyone knowing about them, she just didn’t want to have to confront a herd of reporters the morning after their first night together. There was nothing quite like sleazy tabloid reporters to put the damper on things. Last night’s encounter with Ressick not withstanding.

It took a several seconds for an empty lift to arrive and while they waited in silence, without looking at one another, Chakotay ran his fingers over the back of Kathryn’s hand where it hung at her side. She trembled, unable to control her reaction. The heat that had been slowly simmering in her belly, burst into a blazing inferno and she gasped, but didn’t dare look at him.

The lift arrived.

Kathryn, on shaky legs, with Chakotay’s hand on her lower back, stepped inside and turned to face the mirrored doors. Chakotay pressed the button for his floor and stood unmoving as the doors closed. As soon as they’d shut, their eyes met in the door’s reflection and like lightning, Chakotay grabbed Kathryn, pushing her back against the lift wall, kissing her hard and pressing his body into hers – all evidence of the chivalrous paramour disappearing in a flurry of hands and lips. In his place was a man possessed. With a barely restrained hunger, he ravished Kathryn leaving her gasping and whimpering with need. He was aroused, demanding and as sexy as hell.

She could feel his erection grinding into her hip and she lifted her leg so she could rub herself against him. With one leg hoisted against his side, she was open, ready and willing. At her silent invitation his hands reached under her skirt, cupping her bottom; a sobbing cry leaving her lips as his fingers pressed into her through the fabric of her panties.

Panting in her ear, he muttered words of love interspersed with grunted obscenities – his breath hot and moist on her neck, the words earthy and erotic. This was a very different side to Chakotay and it thrilled Kathryn to see him driven to such intensity of passion and loss of control.

She bit down on his shoulder to stop from crying out as he pulled aside the crotch of her panties, sliding his fingers through her sodden folds and plunged them deeply inside her. Her body gripped him, holding him inside her as the moisture gathered and the telltale pulsing of her inner muscles sent a warning of her oncoming orgasm. She rode his hand for several heart stopping seconds and then pushed it away from her, not wanting their first encounter to end prematurely, and needing to keep her wits about her until they were safely ensconced in his apartment.

Her hand slid down his front and cupped him through his clothes, her fingers running up and down his length, feeling the mouth watering size of him outlined through the taut fabric. She was now all the more desperate to see him.

After what seemed like the longest ascent in history, the two lovers stumbled out of the lift and into the corridor. Thankfully it was deserted as, still wrapped in each other’s arms, they bounced off the walls, ricocheting like a pinball up the hallway. They kissed and fondled each other, not really paying attention to where they were going. Finally making it to Chakotay’s door, Kathryn found herself being pinned up against a doorway as Chakotay held her hands above her head with one hand, and kissing her neck, fumbled with the door mechanism with his other hand.

The door slid open and they tumbled into the room, laughing at the glorious absurdity of it all. Clothing disappeared, left in puddles on the floor and flung haphazardly across the room. Within moments they were together in bed, their bodies gliding over one another’s, hands skimming, fingers kneading and touching, mouths open as they gasped and sighed, crying out in unbridled joy at their long awaited joining.

They spent the night making love, each coupling more exquisite than the last. They learned the secrets of each other’s bodies; the places that made them shudder with delight, whimper with need and cry out in pleasured pain. It was at times intense, bringing tears to their eyes, and at other times carefree and abandoned; their climaxes fierce and frenzied, each more extraordinary than the one before.

Kathryn had never made love like this in her life. They were insatiable. She felt empowered and almost indestructible as she straddled his hips, riding him to one mind blowing climax after another and then was left humbled as he took her powerfully from behind, holding her small body flush against his, pounding into her as if he could fuse them together as one being. Even now she could feel the throb of want pulsing within her. Her sexual reawakening had been passionate and deeply loving and, with her eyes still closed, she sighed and smiled, cupping her mound and pushing into her hand. She wondered where he was as she began to rock against her fingers.

She felt the bed dip and opened her eyes to find him sitting smiling at her. “Don’t tell me you’re starting without me?”

She grinned, and rolling over, pulled back the covers, inviting him in. “I’m more than happy for you to join me.”

Without a word, Chakotay hauled off his tee shirt and slid out of his boxers, crawling into bed beside her. His hand closed over hers where it cupped her groin, his fingers weaving through hers, and pressing into her hot sticky flesh, plunging in and out of her depths, the heel of his hand pressing hers hard into her clitoris. With his fingers entwined with hers, he teased and toyed with her and she kissed his neck, nipping and biting at him.

Increasing his pace, Kathryn arched off the bed, desperate for more, riding the waves higher and higher, but wanting the feelings to last forever. Her other hand gripped his erection, running up and down the smooth shaft, her thumb rubbing over the sensitive tip, pressing into the small opening and then sliding down the silky hardness again and again.

Pulling his hand away from her, she slid down his body, and without warning took him in her mouth, her tongue massaging him, her teeth lightly scraping over the ridge and head of his penis.

His whole body jolted as her hot mouth surrounded him and he gripped at the bedclothes to stop himself from thrusting into her. It was delicious torture and his face broke into a beatific smile, his hand drifting down to cup the back of her head to hold her gently against him.

She sucked firmly, her lips and tongue teasing him until, without warning, she pulled her mouth away and slithered up his body. Before he could register what was happening, she raised herself on her knees, straddling his hips and holding him at her entrance, plunged down, taking him to the hilt in one smooth movement.

Chakotay cried out, gripping her hips and stilling her for a moment. The sensation was almost too much and his climax was but a breath away.

Kathryn smiled down at him, her hands planted firmly on his chest as she tightened her inner muscles, teasing him. He gritted his teeth, determined not to let her win. Although there really wasn’t a loser in this game, two could play and without warning he arched his hips, plunging even deeper into her.

Kathryn gasped and shuddered, the tell tale tightening pushing her closer to the edge, but she refused to be beaten and leaning forward brushed her lips across his. “I love you and I want you to come, hard.” She rose up and plunged down over and over.

With her words and her actions, Chakotay was lost, his groin tightened and in jagged ill timed thrusts he came, pressing up into her, spilling deep as he felt her clamp down around him, her body shuddering in a series of spasms before she collapsed onto his chest, gasping in a breathless laugh.

He was so filled with joy. She was free and at peace and he’d never been happier.

Stroking his hand down her back for several minutes, soothing and exulting in the new and delightful indulgence of touching Kathryn whenever he pleased, he kissed the top of her head. “So did you sleep well?”

Kathryn smiled broadly and lifted her head from his chest, resting her chin on her folded hands. “Like a baby… once I got to sleep. That was quite a night. Thank you.”

Chakotay laughed. “No kidding. We’re going to have our work cut out for us living up to that standard. But I’m willing to try.”

“What a trooper.” Kathryn grinned.

He saluted. “You can’t accuse me of not giving my all. Always eager to please.” He grinned and Kathryn slid higher and kissed him sweetly.

“Your commendation is in the mail and I know just where to pin it when it arrives.”

He chuckled. “Ouch.”

Kathryn grinned. “You know, we have to get up soon.”

He nodded. “We’ve still got a few minutes and since we’re talking commendations, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“What is it?”

Without a word, he leapt out of bed and scooped her up, carrying her into the bathroom. He set her feet on the floor and turned on the shower. “How are you at washing backs?”

Kathryn considered the question for a moment. “Not bad with backs, although I think I’m better with fronts.”

Chakotay nodded. “You’ll do then.” And with that he handed her a wash cloth and the soap, and taking her hand, they stepped into the shower.

Some back washing was done, and a good deal of front washing as well, but there were other activities that took up most of their time. With a grin, Kathryn wondered how long it would take for the criss-cross pattern of the bath tiles to fade from her back. Hopefully before their next water conservation exercise.

Kathryn bowled in through the back door of her mother’s house, with Chakotay beside her. She kicked the door closed with her foot thinking briefly that she really must fix that broken spring one day.

“Mom! We’re here.”

Gretchen came through from the living room carrying a bunch of flowers. “Ah, there you are, my dears. Just in time. We need some help with the chairs and someone to carry the glasses into the parlour. Chakotay, dear, could you give Tom a hand, and Kathryn take these and see if you can find a vase. Harry bought them, isn’t that sweet?” As she was chattering, Gretchen kissed both their cheeks and dumped the flowers in Kathryn’s arms before turning to Chakotay again. “Tom and Harry are through there.” Gretchen handed him a box filled with wine glasses and pointed through the door from where she’d just emerged. “Just follow the crashing and banging, you’ll find them.”

Chakotay gave Kathryn a quick peck on the lips before he disappeared through the doorway to find Tom.

“Are many of the crew here yet, Mom?”

Gretchen shook her head. “No, only about a dozen or so, but there should be more arriving soon. Tom said to expect about ninety or so. It will be cosy but I’m sure you won’t mind that.” Looking at her daughter out of the corner of her eye, she smiled knowingly.

Kathryn had the good grace to blush slightly but concentrated on arranging the flowers, pretending not to notice her mother’s scrutiny. When she’d put the last bloom in the vase, she stood back to admire her handy work and then turned to her mother, pausing for a moment before she spoke. “I’m very happy, Mom. He’s a good man and I love him dearly. He loves me too, which makes it just about perfect.”

Gretchen nodded. “That’s wonderful, Kathryn. I’m very happy for you both. I knew it would all work out for the best.”

Kathryn gave her mother an intense look. “How did you know, Mom?” Her eyes narrowed. “I think I smell a rat?”

“No, I don’t think so, dear. That’s most likely the caterers; they’ve set up their ovens in the garage.” Gretchen patted Kathryn’s cheek lightly as she walked past; picking up the vase of flowers and heading back towards the living room.

Kathryn stared after her mother and, with a bewildered shake of her head, decided it was too difficult to get a straight answer and laughed at her mother’s rather obvious diversionary tactic. She hadn’t been an Admiral’s wife for nothing. Kathryn just hoped that Phoebe would be more forthcoming, but she wouldn’t bet on it.

“Helloo! Where is everyone?” Phoebe’s voice came from the back landing.

“Speak of the devil.” Kathryn muttered under her breath and then in a louder voice called to her sister. “In here, Pheebs.”

Phoebe and Richard came through the door, stamping their feet and laughing. “There is a convoy of hover cars leading nearly all the way back into town. Is everyone going to fit?” While she was talking, she kissed Kathryn on the cheek and pulled off her coat, draping it over the chair near the stove to dry.

Gretchen arrived back in the kitchen and kissed her youngest daughter. “They should all fit, but it will be cosy. Hello, Richard, dear. They could probably use your help in the front room.”

“Sure.” He kissed Gretchen and as he kissed Kathryn’s cheek he whispered in her ear. “Is that where the beer is?”

Kathryn grinned. “I have no idea, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Chakotay or Tom since I got here, so most likely.”

He nodded and headed out the door without a backward glance.

There was a commotion at the front door as the first of the guests arrived and Kathryn made her way there to greet them.

Before long, the Janeway house was filled to the gunwales with Voyager crew and the happy sound of their chatter and laughter. Kathryn stood towards the back of the room as she’d often done at crew get togethers, watching, with a warm heart, all the people she loved enjoying the day. Chakotay was talking to Gerron and Dalby, his hearty laugh reverberating around the room; Tom was standing with B’Elanna, Miral asleep in his arms, as they talked to the Delaney sisters and Mariah Henley. Harry, the Doctor, Ayala and Ashmore were discussing something that involved a good deal of enthusiastic hand movements. After watching the Doctor’s rather detailed hand gestures, Kathryn decided she really didn’t want to know what they were talking about.

Surveying the room she thought to herself that there wasn’t much more she could want out of life than what she had right now. She wasn’t foolish enough to think that all her problems had been swept away after one night with Chakotay, but her life had direction again and it was a start. Phoebe’s New Years Resolutions for her had been fulfilled. She had tapped into the hidden remnants of her old self, found herself a man and she’d been ‘laid’ and then some. Truly happy for the first time in years, it was hard to stop smiling.

A hand landed on her shoulder and a voice rasped in her ear. “Well, with that look on your face, I hardly have to ask how last night was, but I’m going to anyway. Come on, tell me. How was it, and how do things stand on the New Year’s Resolutions front? All sorted?”


“Hey, I’m your sister and besides, they were my resolutions. It’s my prerogative.”

Kathryn thought about stringing her sister along with a display of prudish indignation but then thought better of it. So instead, she leaned in close, with an evil grin lighting her face and whispered. “If you really have to know, it’s three for three.”

Her sister barked a laugh and pulled Kathryn into a tight embrace. “Good for you. You certainly made short work of those. I’m so happy for you.”

Kathryn smiled, her eyes meeting Chakotay’s across the crowded room. His smiling face was filled with love as he looked back at her. “Not nearly as happy as I am.”

Phoebe followed her sister’s gaze and grinned. “And nowhere near as happy as Chakotay, I’d wager.”

Kathryn nodded her head slowly, a slight blush of colour rising in her cheeks. “I think the odds are pretty good on that one.”

Phoebe arched her eyebrow and smirked. “Well, if nothing else, it’s good to know the plumbing is still in working order.”

Kathryn looked appalled for a moment. “Phoebe!” Then she glanced back at Chakotay, remembering the look on his face this morning as he took her up against the wall in the shower. There was something to be said for having things in ‘working order’. She turned to her sister and whispered intensely. “God yes, isn’t it wonderful?”

Phoebe almost choked on her drink, stared at her sister for a heartbeat and then they both burst out laughing.

Gretchen watched from the other side of the room as her two daughters fell about each other, laughing and she took a deep satisfied breath. Raising her eyes to the heavens for a moment, she thought to herself that Edward would be so pleased and proud of both his daughters.

With a final quick glance around the room at the happy gathering, Gretchen turned and bustled back out to the kitchen to check on the food. The comforting rumble of laughter and the hubbub of friendly chatter followed her and she smiled. They were home, they were safe and, for the foreseeable future, all was right with the world. It couldn’t have been a better new year.