As the hour grew later, and the crowds thinned, Kathryn Janeway laid her cue stick across the pool table. Her glass of wine, untouched for the last half hour as she took on Michael Ayala in a final duel, waited for her at the highboy just off to the right. She unzipped her jacket – a rare informality on this last night of Voyager’s journey – and hung it on the back of her chair. As she sipped her Chardonnay, she saw Ayala heading towards the door, Dalby and Hensley with him. Chakotay stood by the door, speaking to each exiting crew member in turn, and Janeway pushed back the feeling she should be by his side. There would be plenty of time for good-byes in the morning.
The last senior staff meeting had occurred earlier in the day. Janeway had looked from face to face – Tuvok, Chakotay, Tom, Harry, B’Elanna, Seven, the Doctor. Seven years ago, she hadn’t known anything about them, and in the morning, she would have to learn how to be without them. She’d kept her voice clear, level, had injected the proper mixture of optimism and authority, as she’d described what would happen when Voyager arrived at Deep Space Nine. There would of course be docking procedures – Tom said he already had received the instructions from the station’s Ops – and then all the crew had been assigned temporary housing aboard the station while waiting for further instructions from Starfleet.
“Starfleet understands our desire to be reunited with family and friends, and so our orders are to remain at Deep Space Nine for the next seven days. Debriefings are expected to follow as well as some additional considerations concerning the status of some of our crew,” Janeway had said and she paused as she saw Tom and B’Elanna exchange a look. “I assure you HQ will have the full details of your exemplary service aboard this ship.” Her mouth felt dry as she’d said the words. It had been so long since she’d had contact with HQ; the names and faces she’d been in contact with since Voyager had the Borg’s transwarp conduit were entirely unknown to her. She put her hands on the back of her chair. She’d stood during the entire meeting; it was impossible to sit, knowing when she rose, it would be for the last time under these circumstances. “It’s been an honor to have you as my staff.” She glanced towards Tom. “I understand there’s a planned gathering in Sandrine’s tonight?”
“Yes,” he’d said. “Starting at 1900 hours until…”
“Then I’ll see you all there.”
Tom and B’Elanna had only come to Sandrine’s for an hour or so and then excused them themselves to attend to their newborn daughter. Harry had spent most of the night playing pool, while Tuvok and Seven had commandeered a table in the back, both appearing stiff and uncomfortable in the social gathering, but neither of them willing to leave. But soon the stress of the day, and the anticipation of what was to come cleared most of the crew out of the holodeck.
“This was a good idea,” Chakotay said, swinging easily into the seat opposite her.
“Thank Tom,” Janeway said. “Sandrine’s is where we first started to get to know each other, so it’s only fitting that it’s where we say our good-byes.”
The dim light played shadows across Chakotay’s face. “You did it, Kathryn.”
“We did it.”
He laughed lightly. “You never gave up hope we would get home.”
She contemplated her first officer with some nostalgia. How different this journey would have been if she hadn’t taken the chance, extended an offer to a man she only knew a few days prior as a criminal.
“What did your sister say?” Janeway sipped from her wine glass. The pinot grigio, purchased off a passing trader just a few days prior, was light, with a hint of peach and perhaps even something floral.
“She’s a day out,” Chakotay said. His lips turned up slightly at the corner. “I’m looking forward to meeting my nephew. Sekaya tells me he wants to join Starfleet, maybe one day have a command of his own.”
“He would have a good role model.”
“What about you?”
“My mother and sister are already at Deep Space Nine.” Janeway ran her finger along the delicate rim of her wine glass. “I wanted to invite them aboard, but their security clearances were denied now that Starfleet has requested shut-down of all non-essential systems, including the warp core.”
Chakotay frowned. “Don’t they know how long it takes for the core to initialize?”
Janeway key her voice even as she said, “It means Voyager isn’t going anywhere for a while.” She convinced herself it was because after seven years lost, Starfleet wanted to fully inspect the ship, bring it into regulation again. But she also knew the shipyards at Utopia Planitia were a better drydock option than Deep Space Nine. Why they had been diverted back to the edge of the Badlands after coming within a lightyear of Earth, Janeway couldn’t fathom. But as with everything else in the last few days, she pushed the thought aside, choosing to not dwell on the questions that kept arising with alarming alacrity.
“I see,” Chakotay said, steepling his fingers together.
Janeway settled back in her chair. Tension stretched across her shoulders, and she tipped her head to one side, then the other, attempting to relieve the strain. As she glanced about, she saw Sandrine’s was now empty. She wondered what it would be like to return to her quarters for her last night aboard the ship that felt just as much like home as Indiana. She thought about slipping into her bed, that mattress that had taken so much to get used to when she first came aboard. Now she couldn’t quite imagine spending a night in another bed, but she already had the number and location of her guest quarters on Deep Space Nine. She drained the remainder of wine in one smooth gulp.
“It’s getting late,” she said.
Chakotay didn’t move. “Yes.”
Janeway studied his face. She would miss looking to her left, seeing him sitting next to her, a calm and steady presence. There were too many moments to hold on to and it was a curious sensation, that this very thing – homecoming – that she’d worked towards for so many years was accompanied by a feeling of dread. Pushing that away, she rose from her seat and tipped her head towards the pool table.
“How about it?” she asked, the challenge clear in her voice.
Chakotay’s smile was slow, broad, dimpled as he followed her lead. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Her fingers were steady as she racked the balls. Then, she reached for her cue stick. Clearing her throat, she said, “You break, Commander.”
Chakotay’s aim was sure as the balls split into different directions, their colors a blur as they bounced against the green cushions. Janeway cleared her throat, ran the back of her hand against her eyes. Her grip was steady as she positioned the cue stick. She was aware of Chakotay shifting his weight from foot to foot, but she took her time; this moment too would pass and be lost.