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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

 

A coming-home and post-Endgame fixer. Time is on our side... yes it is. 

Written for VAMB 2008 Secret Santa for Cheshire.

Thank you to elem for the fantastic beta and encouragement, and to splv for the read-through and suggestions. You gals rock!

 

Tom rushed down the corridor, eager to see for himself that B'Elanna was fine. Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, he hoped to have his confused feelings under control before he got to Sickbay.

In a few short heartbeats, he'd piloted Voyager through the Borg conduit back to Earth, become a parent, and seen his estranged father, who didn't acknowledge his presence. Was it protocol that kept Admiral Paris from more than a passing glance at his only son?

Choosing to remain upbeat and not focus on the negative, Tom picked up the pace and quickly made his way to Sickbay.

She's so beautiful, he thought, as he halted just inside the door. B'Elanna looked up, beaming with pride.

"I can't stop staring at her!" she laughed. "Come here and meet your daughter."

Tom walked over to his wife, and, leaning in, rested his cheek against her forehead. He closed his eyes, overcome with gratitude, and then opened them again, to look down for the first time at his newborn child. She's so beautiful, he thought again. Leaning in to kiss his girls, first B'Elanna and then the baby, Tom felt happier and more proud than he could remember being in a very long time.

As he drew back, he noted that B'Elanna's face now wore a slightly pained expression. Tom was about to ask her what was wrong when she blurted, "Even if this makes me a bad mother, I need to know... how is Engineering? Was there much damage?"

Tom chuckled as he squeezed her around the shoulders. "It's in pretty good shape, considering the bumpy ride we just had. Don't worry; I'll make sure you get the damage reports as soon as I can."

Heaving a sigh of relief, B'Elanna smiled at her husband. "Thank you. I figured we were doing all right, or you wouldn't be here. I just need to see how our modifications worked, maybe help prioritize repairs..."

"I know. It's okay, you're not a bad mother. It's been your life for the past seven years; I'd be worried if you hadn't asked."

B'Elanna smiled, tilting her head to one side as she looked at him. "My life, eh? So, are you saying that other things were neglected ..."

"No, no, no, not like that!" Tom didn't want to argue with a half-Klingon, even one exhausted from a recent, lengthy birth. "I meant that you are a wonderfully creative engineer. You've invested a lot of time and energy into all Voyager's systems, particularly for this trip home. You should be proud of how the ship has adapted, thrived almost..."

B'Elanna's nodded, smiling at Tom's understanding of her predicament. "Until you put that into words, I wasn't sure what I was feeling. But now I know ... I'm feeling guilty, as if I'm abandoning my ‘first born', the ship. I'm just sitting around in Sick Bay, doing nothing... not working on repairs." She laughed at herself. "And, I'll admit that here I'm a bit... panicked. She's so tiny! She looks so fragile... this is totally new for me. What if I mess it all up? I know what to do with a warp core, but this..."

‘This' screwed up her eyes, shivered, and awkwardly punched the air with a tiny fist. B'Elanna laughed, and said, "She just peed!"

Tom laughed too. "That's what she thinks of your insecurities!" As he moved to the cupboard to retrieve a clean diaper, Tom thought about his daughter. She was new, unexplored territory, a grand adventure to be undertaken. Who knew what lay ahead?

 

= / =

 

There was so much to do.

Kathryn Janeway sat on her couch, the table in front of her covered with PADDs. After excusing Tom, she had escaped into the sanctity of her Ready Room with the intention of throwing herself into some work. Once the doors closed behind her, though, she felt light-headed, and stumbled slightly before crumpling onto the sofa.

She was vaguely aware of the cacophony of noises coming from the bridge, which perhaps was why her comm. unit's incessant beeping wasn't enough to draw her attention. Her mind wandered from the reports she had to read to the reports she had to write; from the orders from Star Fleet to the requests already received from the crew, their families, the press; from the official agenda to her own personal one. So many pressing obligations and requirements - all high priority. She hoped she wouldn't overlook anything or anyone.

The intrepid captain felt overwhelmed, and, for the past few moments, had been immobilized, staring out her viewport at the once longed-for stars. Her immediate efforts were focused on breathing steadily, with the hope of calming herself sufficiently to be able to function soon.

The beeping comm. suddenly registered in her consciousness, and Janeway turned her head to look at it. The unit was lit like a Christmas tree, with various coloured buttons flashing, indicating different levels of importance for the multitude of incoming messages. A long, deep sigh was the only indication that she'd acknowledged the intrusion into her jumbled thoughts.

Coffee. Yes, a coffee was just what she needed. She mentally calculated whether her rations were sufficient, and reached to tap her combadge to see if Chakotay wished to join her. Quickly remembering that rations were no longer an issue, Janeway's hand hovered over her breast as an image of Seven slammed into her thoughts.

Seven and Chakotay, together, the Admiral had said.

Old habits die-hard, she mused dourly. It had been awhile - too long - since she and Chakotay had shared the easy camaraderie that had helped her survive the journey through the Delta Quadrant, but she'd forgotten. Their relationship had suffered as of late, and she had been too preoccupied to worry that it was anything more than the usual ebb and flow that their relationship had seen over the years. It seemed clear to her now, given the Admiral's insights, that their current distance was more significant than previous estrangements.

Talking to Chakotay over a cup of coffee was exactly what she needed to help her organize her thoughts, to lighten her mood, to soothe her raw, overstimulated nerves, but she decided to settle for just the coffee. It would be selfish to bother him now, just because she was feeling a bit undone. And clearly, thoughts of Chakotay with Seven would not help her emotional state at this moment.

That, she grumbled to herself, is why captains need to keep their distance from ALL of their crew.

Janeway felt slightly more focused as she seated herself behind her desk, spilling her coffee slightly as she plunked it down. She'd assumed this position many times over the years, and had almost perfected the ability to bolster herself by focusing solely on the positive. To do otherwise would be easier, but disastrous. No, not today. Her short-term goal was to energize herself, find the inner fortitude to continue, and make it through one more day.

Closing her eyes to avoid distractions, she began to recite to herself her usual lines of reasoning. Her purpose, her mission, had been clear from the outset. Kathryn Janeway had been granted the privilege of captaining this vessel because of her superior skills, training and attributes. Her dedication to Starfleet, its principles, policies and protocols, had been highly valued, and she'd sworn to uphold them, at all cost.

She'd done just that. For seven long years, virtually without a break, she'd been responsible for the safety and well-being of those whom she captained. Although the initial losses they'd suffered and the addition of the Maquis, Kes, Neelix, Seven, the Equinox survivors and Icheb had altered the composition of her crew, her sense of duty and honour remained the same for the 140-odd people under her command, despite some bumps along the way.

Always, the goal had been to survive another day so they would be one day closer to getting home.

Suddenly, Janeway's eyes opened wide, and she gasped. They'd done it. They were back in the arms of Starfleet. It wasn't until that moment that the magnitude of their return fully hit her, square in the gut.

Her mission was over. Or rather, would be over when all the ‘paperwork' was done.

Shaking her head at her ability to be so obtuse, she drew a deep breath.  She was alive and back in the Alpha Quadrant; everything else was ‘details'. Those necessities covered, she glanced over at the pile of PADDs on the coffee table, and suddenly felt irritated by her beeping comm. unit.

Janeway typically did nothing by halves, and was secretly horrified that she'd been both overwhelmed and sidetracked by irrelevant sentimentality when she was so close to accomplishing what had been an all-consuming goal for so long. For now, she decided she needed nothing more than to move forward, to embrace all that Starfleet was offering, and to do everything in her power to bring her ship and crew truly home.

Chastising herself for her dithering, she began reading through the high-priority communiqués. Her crew needed her to think clearly, to provide intelligent, well-documented reports, and to strategise for their future well-being. In other words, her crew needed her in her capacity as Captain, to act on their behalf as she had been doing since the outset of their journey. She'd been trained to function under many adverse conditions, and this was no different. She would see to it that her actions now, in conjunction with everything that had been recorded during their voyage, would serve her crew well.

She briefly wondered when there would be time to reflect on the emotional impact of this monumental feat, but pushed that thought aside as she immersed herself in the increasing pile of work.

 

= / =

 

Chakotay sat in his office with his hands braced on his desk, giving the impression he was holding on for dear life. In a way, he was. His mind was churning, wondering what was going to happen to his former-Maquis comrades, to others on the crew who might face disciplinary action, to the EMH and his enhanced programming and mobile emitter, to Icheb and Seven and their Borg technology and knowledge, to Kathryn, to him...

Chakotay closed his eyes and felt a powerful urge to sleep. He realized with a start that he'd been awake for more than 24 hours. Night and day were arbitrary concepts aboard a starship, and the significance of that fact was often highlighted during periods of heightened adrenaline response, when people simply forgot they needed to sleep. Chakotay's fatigue had only become apparent when he'd sat down to compose his personal log. Suddenly exhausted, he spoke briefly in his native tongue, a habit he used when he had a lot to say but was too tired to edit his thoughts. His speech felt more natural, and was more conducive to honesty.

Looking around his office as he spoke of his concerns, his tired thoughts drifted to memories surrounding the various items on his shelves and floor. Chakotay slowly realized that he was saying goodbye to the life he'd known aboard Voyager, and that thought filled him with a deep sadness. For all the danger and uncertainty of the past seven years, he'd been happy. He'd served with a fine crew, in uncharted space, and had played a part in numerous discoveries that fed his explorer's spirit. Usually he embraced change, looking for the opportunities it presented and the adventures that could be undertaken. At that moment, however, Chakotay felt some trepidation.

When they'd safely arrived in Sector 001, Kathryn had asked him to take the conn so Tom could head to Sickbay. "Mr. Chakotay," she'd said. He'd immediately moved into position, as he'd been trained to do, but her tone and her words caught him a little off guard. Amazed at the speed with which her mind had processed the change in status, he considered her intentions.

Was the use of his name, rather than his former rank, a sign of respect, returning him to a Captain's role? Chakotay wondered if he was looking for answers where there really were no questions. How would distance benefit her career, or his? Surely, Starfleet would look at all seven years' worth of reports and logs before deciding on how to proceed with him and the rest of the former Maquis. Did Kathryn already know something about their fate?

Or was this personal? Was she deliberately putting some distance between them?

A holoimage from one of crew gatherings on the holodeck caught his eye, and he paused his recording. Kathryn's hand was on his arm as she faced him, and they were smiling at each other, as if they were the only two people there. Chakotay sighed, remembering the argument they'd had shortly after about her insistence on some time off the ship, alone in a shuttle. The scientific intent of the short mission was a thinly disguised ruse for some time alone for her. This image served as a reminder of the first time that Chakotay had realized the pattern of distancing herself from him and the crew whenever she felt she was getting too close, too personal. He sighed again, unsuccessfully looking around for something to redirect his thoughts. It was always Kathryn...

There was a time when Chakotay would willingly and eagerly have pledged his soul to hers. He'd felt something before he'd even beamed aboard her ship, and his attraction to her only intensified after their initial meeting. He'd sacrificed his own ship, and almost his life, for hers, and laid his future at her feet, despite the fact that she'd been sent to capture him. She'd succeeded brilliantly, though not in the manner Starfleet had intended.

He'd had nothing else to lose then. His love and admiration for her had grown during the first years serving together, in spite of their occasional differences of opinion. Chakotay felt a sense of peace he had never known before, and he desperately wanted to share that love with Kathryn.

Being stranded on the planet they'd called New Earth had not been a hardship for Chakotay; in fact, he was secretly overjoyed to be spending the rest of his life with the woman he loved. Despite their isolation and inability to travel, he was content, and felt he had all the time in the world to help her see that a loving relationship with him would be incredible.

Just as he'd begun to see the real woman underneath the captain's training, and fallen even more in love with this Kathryn, it all changed. Before he could fully express his feelings, before he knew how she really felt, before the time was right, Voyager returned for them.

Chakotay knew that his opportunity was lost. He'd come to know and understand her better, and knew, with a sad, startling certainty, that she would never let anything interfere with her principles.

A relationship with him while onboard was simply not an option.

Upon their return to the ship, both he and Kathryn acted as they had before they were stranded, as if nothing had almost changed between them. Chakotay found it extremely difficult to suppress his feelings, but he knew that it was how it had to be. His own strength of character helped him and eased his pain. Out of respect for her, because he loved her, he let her go, despite the cost to himself.

Rationally, it made sense but convincing his heart that letting go was the best thing he could possibly do, was another matter entirely.

Throughout the following years, emotional upheaval was a constant. He vacillated between savouring and dreading their time together, and their time apart. Eventually, he wore himself down to the point of numbness, feeling very little for Kathryn while functioning as her second-in-command. It was the only way he could see to remain sane.

Alien encounters, though brief, would help him remember that he was a man, with valid wants and needs. Inevitably, he would throw himself whole-heartedly into a short-term relationship, only to be devastated when the necessary end came.  He was reminded of his early days, when he was shallow and undisciplined, and sometimes ashamed of his actions. Despite meditation, traditional rituals and reliance on his animal guide, Chakotay would suffer, withdrawing temporarily from all non-essential activities and going about his business as if he was an automaton.

Kathryn's timing was impeccable. She would arrive at his quarters, concern visible on her face, and override his lock if he refused her entry. Often she would bring a bottle of wine, sometimes with dinner or with an invitation to share her holodeck time. Their visits lasted just until a vital spark gleamed in his eye, or he gave some indication of reinvesting emotionally in his surroundings, perhaps speaking of a future event, or laughing at a feeble joke. Taking that as her cue, Kathryn would excuse herself, leaving the final restoration for Chakotay to achieve on his own. During those times, he hated her for manipulating him, yet loved her more than ever for every time she pulled away before getting close to that line that was not hers to cross.

Chakotay walked a similar fine line supporting Kathryn as well. Since the initial argument about her desire for distance from the crew, he'd watched her closely, monitoring her for signs of stress, depression or burn-out. He knew he'd offered his assistance, in subtle and obvious ways, many more times than had been accepted by her, but felt he'd fulfilled his obligations as both her XO and as her friend. Forcing her to submit to his ministrations never worked; he'd learned his place well.

The on-again-off-again, up and down relationship between captain and first officer had heartened, confused, strengthened, angered, and frustrated him over the years. Chakotay didn't like the man he'd become, despite his efforts to not become embittered and lonely. He often felt that the stalemate of their relationship was the way it might have been if they'd had relationship and failed, but sadly didn't have the memories of the happier times to remember.

Seven's interest in him had been an eye-opening experience for the sad, lonely man who had all but given up on the idea of love for himself while in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay had felt that he couldn't involve himself with anyone onboard for all the same reasons that the Kathryn was unwilling to involve herself with him, mainly Starfleet concerns regarding fraternization with subordinates.

Seven had efficiently ‘understood' his initial rejection, but continued to look at him with such longing in her pale blue eyes that Chakotay felt something stir in his chest where he'd felt nothing in a very long time. They discussed parameters and limits and risks, and together, soon rationalized that neither was technically Starfleet nor had Starfleet ranks. Quietly, joyfully, a hesitant, tentative relationship began.

In a very short time, Chakotay's happiness became palpable. He felt energized with renewed interest in life, and his off-hours were filled with every-day activities that he shared with Seven. She had so much to learn about humanity, and he was more than happy to help.  Smiling seemed easier, and everyone, including Kathryn, noticed the bounce in his step. She'd commented on his eagerness to leave the bridge one afternoon when she had a great deal of work to finish, and it was only later that he realized that she had wanted him to stay to help her, as he would have done in earlier days.

But she didn't ask. He was glad she hadn't interfered with his plans, because he didn't want to stay, but he was also disappointed. Chakotay hadn't explicitly told Kathryn that he'd become involved with someone, but he was almost certain that she knew about his fledgling relationship with Seven. As Captain, she was privy to everything that happened on her ship, and must certainly have known something. Her lack of interest was underwhelming. Had he wanted her to be jealous, to fight for him in some way? Chakotay knew then that he owed it to himself and to Seven, and even to Kathryn, to give his new relationship with Seven an honest effort.

And then Admiral Janeway arrived. Chakotay's thoughts returned to his current predicament, wherein he found himself wondering about his future. Understandably, there was uncertainty regarding his career and whatever judgements would be made about him. More pressing in his own mind, however, was his lack of confidence in his ability to deaden his heart to Kathryn Janeway now that they were home, with all the potential that he'd dreamed of over the years.

Chakotay moved to the centre of the room, and sat down in a comfortable position. Closing his tired eyes and forcing himself to breathe deeply, Chakotay eventually calmed, and with the aid of his exhaustion, slowly entered a meditative state.

He was not surprised when a forested setting coalesced before him. In the far distance, a timber wolf was retreating. As he caught sight of her, the wolf slowed, turned her grey head toward him and met his eyes. He knew better than to ask questions directly, which would simply go unanswered. Instead, he merely made an observation.

"You are moving away, but you're also looking back." The wolf continued to stare at him, and he gleaned nothing from her. Eventually, the wolf tilted her head to one side, and sat down.

"Now you do not move in either direction." The wolf stretched and yawned, turned three times, and laid down, positioning herself so that she had a clear line of sight through Chakotay's eyes and straight into his soul.

He returned the stare, feeling his heart thudding painfully in his chest. With a start, Chakotay opened his eyes to see his reflection in the smooth glass covering of the photo on the shelf. Nodding slowly, he acknowledged the inaction and uncertainty in his spirit-guide's message. Clearly, she would not decide what he should do.

When Chakotay looked up, he caught sight of his medicine wheel, hanging on the opposite wall. Without thinking, his mind became filled with thoughts of Seven.

After a moment, he forced himself to think of his captain, and made one of the hardest decisions of his life.

For her sake, for his sake, he would walk away from Kathryn Janeway.

 

= / =

 

It took the threat of a mild sedative from the EMH to get Captain Janeway to return to her quarters with a promise to eat and get some rest. The week had been filled with emotional reunions, mind-numbing reports, and almost overwhelming excitement. Captain and her crew had been run ragged preparing for disembarking, which involved multiple levels of clearances and near-impossible scheduling.

Acquiescing because they were "ahead of schedule anyway", Janeway carried a couple PADDs into her quarters and flopped down onto the couch. The involvement of her future self had certainly added an interesting twist to their homecoming, and evoked a range of emotions.

Grudgingly, she admitted to herself that she was happy to have a little time off duty. She was sure she'd spoken to or shaken the hand of just about every senior Starfleet official, as well as many junior ones, and answered hundreds of generic questions for the press. Yes, some quiet time sounded very appealing.

Janeway had considered going to the mess hall to eat, but remembered the warning she'd had from the EMH and didn't want to embarrass herself by being ‘caught' in public. Dinner invitations were also considered, but, with a small sigh, she admitted that there really was no one to invite.

Tuvok had been dispatched to Vulcan for medical treatment at the first allowable opportunity, and would not be returning to Voyager. Tom and B'Elanna were settling in as new parents while still providing assistance with the wrap-up of the journey, and Janeway didn't want to intrude on their precious limited private time. Harry's parents had commandeered all of his off-duty time, and she smiled at the memory of the soon-to-be lieutenant's face when he proudly introduced her to them. The doctor didn't eat, and although he enjoyed socializing and could be good company on occasion, she knew that, amidst the crew medical reports, he was very busy tweaking the many ‘fascinating papers' he'd conceived while saving her crew's lives over the past seven years.

As for the last two...

Admitting to a certain sadness at eating alone in her quarters, Janeway reheated the remnants of the dinner she'd shared with her mother... was that only yesterday?

Too wired to rest after her home-cooked leftovers, Janeway luxuriated in a lengthy soak in hot, soothing, scented water. Her relaxation was tempered by the disappointment she felt in not being needed to solve or authorize any problems or requests during her respite in the bath. Annoyed with her conflicted and melancholy perspective, she decided to tackle the PADDs she'd snuck into her quarters before succumbing to her prescribed rest.

Glaring at one of the offending pieces of technology, Janeway shook her head and cursed under her breath as she activated it. As part of her final crew evaluations, Janeway had assured Starfleet of the good standing of her former-Maquis crew, and provided detailed descriptions of their growth and experiences during the seven-year stranding. She detailed their strengths and weaknesses, and gave recommendations for future training and assignments, as she had for all her crew.

Starfleet wanted Voyager's homecoming to remain as a ‘good news' item, but, understandably, Starfleet Security needed to determine for itself the trustworthiness of the former Maquis before freedom to reintegrate into regular society would be granted. Many still had outstanding arrest warrants, and had received a great deal of negative press in the past. Reasoning that their personal logs, especially those from the earliest days, would provide the most unguarded and honest information, Starfleet ordered Janeway to surrender all crew personal logs as part of their assessment.

Personal logs were, by nature, personal, and Janeway was adamant that they remain private. Starfleet agreed with that assessment for the original Voyager crew only. Outraged at the intended breach of confidentiality, Janeway had threatened to alert the press if the privacy of the logs was violated, capitalizing on the positive public sentiment.

The compromise that had been reached involved many, many hours of extra work for the captain. With Tuvok unavailable, she alone was assigned the dubious honour of pre-screening the logs of the former Maquis-crew, and reporting any and all questionable entries to Security. After an initial computerized sorting, and against her better judgment, Janeway had unwillingly begun to wade through the personal thoughts of her former crew, looking for bits and pieces of information that might be worth something to Starfleet.

Janeway began at the beginning, listening to a day's entry at a time. Too much information. The beatings and torture, the rapes, the murders, the annihilation of entire societies, the desecration of all things sacred - she wept as she heard them retell their nightmares, of their past before joining the Maquis. Their faces tortured her - Jor, Chell, Tabor, Gerron - was she glad she hadn't known their history then?  Henly, Carlson, O'Donnell, Jarvin, Tabor, Carlson - would she have behaved differently had she known? Dalby, Ayala, Doyle, Yosa, Jackson - she was repeatedly reminded of Starfleet's inaction and wondered at their ability to forgive and move on. Bendara, Hogan, Jonas, Suder, Seska... - the dead still spoke of their pain.

Not surprisingly, Janeway herself was mentioned often in these earliest logs. She was horrified, but not surprised, at how widespread were the blatant references to mutiny aboard her ship. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as she listened to some of the more detailed descriptions of her impending destruction, forcing her to break from listening or reading to calm herself on several occasions.

Eventually rationalizing that the outcome was already known, Janeway persevered past the indignation and sense of betrayal. She soon learned how her Captaincy, and her very life, had been spared. Overcome once again, this time with gratitude, she learned how Chakotay had quashed the discontent and maintained the status quo. The voices in the logs spoke of his arguments and reasoning, but also of his passion and support for the damned Starfleet Captain. Despite their misgivings, some of which centred on whether Janeway was keeping him in line by sleeping with him, they respected him for the most part, and, with a few notable exceptions, they acquiesced to his leadership.

As the crewmembers slowly adjusted and their life on Voyager assumed some semblance of acceptance and normalcy, entries referring to Janeway and Starfleet became less common. Offended at some of the first assessments made of her (short-sighted? blinded by protocol to current reality?), then amused (why would anyone care how many different hairstyles she used over the years?), she felt most gratified by those entries which showed that she had begun to gain the respect and trust of her crew. Some even expressed regret at their earlier comments.

 Janeway changed her modus operandi and began to progress through each individual's logs seperately, from beginning to end.  Although she had found little to put in her Security assessments, and realistically did not expect to find much that was substantial, she felt that this approach was more conducive to catching subtleties that might otherwise be overlooked. And, most importantly, this method protected her fragile ego from being bogged down by multiple versions of the same horrific events.

Day after isolated day, Janeway painstakingly plodded through the confidential logs of her crew, but found little of any relevance. Jonas, Suder and Seska provided the most interesting reports. Since all three were now dead, however, they were of little value to Starfleet, a fact which Janeway found oddly satisfying.

Finally, only two former-Maquis remained; two people she respected immensely. Anger surged again at the impending violation of their privacy, but it couldn't be helped. And, if it helped ensure their respect and freedom...

B'Elanna's angry voice erupted loudly, angrily cursing. Janeway sighed and rolled her head from shoulder to shoulder. Seven long years ago, she had not immediately won over the half-Klingon; it would be a long few days.

 

= / =

 

Because of his unique and powerful position on the ship, all of Chakotay's personal logs had to be evaluated by Janeway. Her initial reluctance to listen to every private thought he'd documented had quickly been superseded by her interest in his fascinating portrayal of their journey. She was eager to hear his reasoning for his unconditional support for her so early in their journey. The soft timbre of his voice was mesmerizing, and she easily got lost in recollections, both happy and painful.

Most enlightening, and hurtful, were the entries in which Chakotay's feelings for her were described. Janeway had felt the same initial attraction when she'd brazenly placed herself between him and Tom, but had kept that particular observation, and many others of the same ilk, out of her personal logs. Chakotay had taken great pains to document his feelings, stating that he didn't ever want to forget them.

With great trepidation, Janeway moved from Chakotay's jealousy over Gath's interest in her to his conflicting emotions regarding Seska and their defunct relationship. When his neural energy had been drained, and Chakotay had briefly inhabited Janeway, he had just enough time to sense her unspoken love for him and her pain at being honour-bound to not act on her feelings. His entries changed after he learned that she shared his affections, and she began to understand how difficult it had been for Chakotay to keep his distance.

To bolster his inner strength, Chakotay turned to his traditions, but was almost killed when attacked by a young Kazon. Janeway was deeply touched that he had been more worried about the risk to her and Voyager during his rescue attempt than he had been about his own safety. Similarly, when he was trapped on the planet with the Sky Spirits, his thoughts had ultimately centred on her.  

Her kidnapping by the Mokra, her amphibian offspring with Paris, Darwin's murder by Suder, the duplicate Voyager and their deaths, Tuvix - so many different emotions. Anger, fear, incredulity, suspicion, conflict and pain were all expressed, detailed, and processed, alongside the contentment of his every day life.

With Seska and Jonas, Chakotay was insulted by Janeway's lack of faith, but knew that Tuvok had insisted on his ignorance. As was his wont, he expressed understanding and forgiveness, despite his own hurt feelings. Given his early allegiance to her, and his unequivocal role in preventing a mutiny, Janeway felt ashamed for agreeing to Tuvok's plan. She was afraid that Starfleet would use her deception as justification for further questioning Chakotay's allegiances, and carefully documented what she now saw as an error in judgement.

In his logs, Chakotay often spoke in the language of his father. In the beginning, Janeway had used the Universal Translator when necessary, but had learned some of the language and preferred to listen to Chakotay's voice speak his innermost thoughts. Several of his logs were dictated as though they were letters, with some actually addressed to her. One painful entry, to be accessed by her upon his death, left her weeping uncontrollably.

Janeway was amazed at the depth of his unspoken devotion, and found his entries from their time on New Earth to be particularly heartrending. Taking a deep breath, she tried to prepare herself for the entry that followed their return to Voyager. The words, spoken in the language of Chakotay's youth, were heartfelt and filled with emotions. Janeway closed her eyes as tears began to roll down her face.

My dearest Kathryn,

You haven't said a word about ‘us' but I know, from the look in your eyes, that you are sorry.

I am too, but I understand. I've been a captain, and I understand. And I agree; with the wrong person, a relationship could have dire consequences, on so many levels.

But I believe, in my heart, that you are the other half of my soul. I have never before felt the peace that you give to me.

That was not our time to be together. Neither is this.

But it will come. And when the time is right, we will know.

It might not be in this lifetime. Even if something happens to you or me, or one of us thinks we have found our heart's desire elsewhere, I know that we will be joined forever in the spirit world.

Janeway paused the playback and swiped angrily at her traitorous weeping eyes. Damn him! How dare he speak about his undying love for me like this? Is Seven his heart's desire?

In his final logs, he'd spoken of his burgeoning relationship with Seven, and he'd asked for Janeway's forgiveness and understanding of his need to forge ahead with this new association. She wondered if she would be forced to spend the rest of this life without him, simply putting in time until death would bring their longed-for reunion. Or in the end, would she simply be dead, living without him forever?

 

= / =

 

Time marched on. Janeway felt emotionally drained, but was determined to continue. She'd politely refused Starfleet counsellors appointments, explaining that she would contact them soon, and asked for patience while completing her final duties.

Later, after Voyager had been thoroughly scrubbed clean, with terraquads of data downloaded for the edification of Starfleet and academia, and Janeway had listened to Chakotay's final entry detailing his decision to walk away from her, there was nothing left, but to land the ship and begin the next phase of her life.

Janeway sat in the captain's chair for what she knew would be the last time. Chakotay, Tom, Harry, Seven, B'Elanna... everyone who could be was in place for the monumental event.

"Take her in, Tom. Easy."

Tom broke orbit, and expertly landed Voyager in San Francisco. Everyone smiled and cheered, in relief and celebration. Their long ordeal was officially over.

Leaning over their shared console, Chakotay smiled at his former captain and her breath caught.  "Congratulations again, Kathryn!" he enthused.

The revelations in his personal logs had weighed heavily upon her, and she'd needed time and distance to process it all. While finishing reviewing the logs, she'd gone out of her way minimize contact with him, fearing that she would reveal the nature of her illicit task, or knowledge of his feelings for her. She had avoided intimate conversation, until now. It had been challenging - Chakotay had pointedly asked to meet with her on several occasions - but it had been necessary.

Janeway took this opportunity to search his eyes for any hint of lingering, unresolved feelings for her, or regret over his decision, but saw only his delight in their shared accomplishment of their homecoming.

"Thank you Chakotay. And... congratulations to you as well." She would be strong and gracious, for his sake, despite the fact that her heart was breaking.

His smile faltered somewhat, wondering at her intent. He nodded, somewhat stiffly, then replied, "Thank you."

Janeway returned the gesture, then stood and gave her rehearsed speech, thanking everyone for their excellent service, and wishing them well. Hugs and handshakes followed, and amid promises to not be strangers, she watched Seven and Chakotay take their leave, quietly, together.

It was over.

 

= / =

 

Overall, Kathryn Janeway was glad to be home. She felt that she had adjusted to her life back on earth as well as could be expected in the few weeks since they'd left Voyager, though sometimes she still awoke at night to klaxons sounding at imagined horrors.

Although she was required to attend counselling and take some leave, doing ‘nothing' was difficult for her. Luckily, for everyone involved, Starfleet was eager to make use of her energy and many talents, and she was allowed to volunteer her services in a non-official capacity, within the re-acclimation restrictions that were imposed upon all of the Voyagers.

Not everyone had friends or family waiting for them and those that did sometimes found that their expectations exceeded the reality of their reunion. With almost 150 people, there were bound to be some problems. Informal gatherings of small groups of returnees seemed to happen almost daily, while family and friends were being located and plans were being made. The counselling services that had been provided were somewhat helpful, but it was their shared experiences that provided the most support for them.

The press had been eager and relentless, but Captain Janeway used her newfound fame and influence judiciously, trying very hard to make sure that all of her crew were given the best possible spin. Stories featuring the former Maquis and Equinox crew had been plentiful, within the confines of non-classified information that was available, but not all were flattering. With the assistance of Tom Paris, who'd begun to capitalize on his holo-program expertise, the exploits of Voyager were presented in serial-form as a thrilling, grand adventure, filled with drama, intrigue, and interesting personalities.

Janeway was particularly concerned about the EMH, Icheb and Seven, for although the populace found them fascinating, they were also somewhat frightening. With Tom's assistance, Janeway ensured that their contributions to Voyager's successes were highlighted, gradually helping to soften public opinion of them.

With the aid of her skilfully crafted assistance, Janeway's crew slowly began settling into life on earth. Bit by bit, her relationship with her former crewmembers changed as they relied less on her expertise and influence and more on their families and friends for support. Although she was heartened by their successful reintegration, she also despaired at the loss of her ‘family' whom she had grown to love, despite her best intentions.

 

= / =

 

 B'Elanna had never felt comfortable on Earth as a child. Those past insecurities, including her rocky relationship with her father, coupled with her new motherhood and social isolation, made B'Elanna's early days on earth very challenging. In part because of Janeway's past relationship with Tom's father, and in part because Janeway was something of a mother-figure for B'Elanna, Tom and B'Elanna visited Janeway frequently during those first few months at home, seeking her advice and friendship to help them settle in.

 Tom had hoped that his father would be proud of the man he'd become during the past seven years, and that being a father himself would strengthen his bond with his father. The experience of being lost to each other had changed them both, and although they were kinder to each other, they still disagreed more often than not. Old habits are hard to break, and the initial enthusiasm at being reunited had been tempered with the disillusionment of the reality of being home. Tom and B'Elanna were also less forgiving with each other, and were worried about their own relationship surviving.  

Janeway's advice had been consistent: they needed to be kind to themselves and each other, by acknowledging that change is hard, and to not impose unrealistic expectations upon themselves. They needed to give themselves time.

"Think about what's really important, and your heart will guide you."

Give yourself, and others, time.

Each time after they left, Janeway's apartment seemed very empty.

 

= / =

 

After several more months, the frenetic pace slowed, and Janeway took some time to find a small house for herself. It was important to her to be in a similar time-zone as her mother, but she was compelled, for reasons she didn't understand, to live in an area whose natural state had been protected over the millennia. She found herself in a small village in what used to be in northern Canada. Still within transporter distance of anything important, but without the walk-around foot traffic and large crowds, the location provided her with the access she needed and the privacy she desired.

Janeway knew herself well enough to know that she was grieving. Although she allowed herself some leeway, she was mindful of the warning signs of depression, and forced herself to eat well, exercise, and socialize as much as she could tolerate. It felt like it took a lot of effort, but her short-term goal was to survive her first year home, so it was necessary.

Publicly, she appeared to be doing well; she dealt privately with her heartache of losing her opportunity with Chakotay, and losing the close ties that she had unintentionally formed with other members of her crew.

Although she knew it wouldn't be sanctioned by Starfleet, and would lead to disciplinary action and possibly dismissal if ever discovered, Janeway had kept a copy of Chakotay's personal logs. Over the months, she'd reread sections of hers, and was amazed at the differing perspectives they'd shared of the same events.

The letter he'd written for her, to be delivered in case of his death, had been accessed often, to the point of memorization. It was possible that he'd revoked this letter, given his ongoing relationship with Seven, so she relished the moment in time in which he'd written it for her.

Kathryn, If you are reading this letter, it means that I am dead.

For that, I'm sorry.

I intended to stay with you, to support you, until we got home. I failed. Know that I didn't leave by choice. Please don't hate me for leaving you.

I know you love me deeply, though we've never talked about it.  Please know that I love you, with all my heart, still, though I have left you.

Please, don't forget me.

There are many things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime. I often asked myself if I was working toward or against my goals. I was only human and I know I made mistakes. Now that this life has ended and I can't make it up to, I hope you'll forgive me if I've hurt you. I would take it all back if I could.

What I hope you'll remember is our friendship. I look back to our time on New Earth as some of the happiest days of my entire life.

I know you couldn't love me the way you wanted to.

One day, we will be together, my love.

Let me walk with you in the spirit world. I will be waiting there for you.

I love you.

 

= / =

 

Shortly after relocating, and with some trepidation, Janeway invited her senior staff to visit her in her new home. Tuvok's recent return to Earth for his Starfleet assessment provided her with the perfect reason for a get-together, although it was a thinly disguised excuse that was happily overlooked by everyone else.

Seven and Chakotay arrived together, and Seven eagerly, albeit awkwardly, hugged her former mentor. Smiling, Janeway stepped back to welcome her young protégé when Chakotay took her by the arm, turned her, and enveloped her in a solid, warm embrace. Unable to stop herself, Janeway revelled in the feeling of being held by him.

Don't enjoy this! she chided herself as she hastily stepped back, horrified at her own neediness. Chakotay merely smiled warmly at her, and walked with her further into the house.

Maintaining her composure had been a difficult feat after that welcome embrace, but she'd been battle-trained, and soon radiated the same calmness she'd perfected onboard Voyager. Her former crew regaled each other with their latest tales of their re-adjustment to earth, their shared history a lifeline of support that non-Voyagers would never understand.

Tom and B'Elanna seemed more content since their last visit, from a combination of a better-established sleep routine on baby Miral's part, some counselling, and soul-searching.

"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger,"  Tom joked, as he winked at B'Elanna. She rolled her eyes and commented on his lack of sensitivity, but Janeway noticed the playful glint in her eye as she lightly smacked his arm. They were going to be just fine in time.

Tuvok expressed gratitude that his familial mind-melds were not only medically successful, but were also comforting and calming. He appeared to be uncharacteristically happy to see everyone, a fact which caused several raised eyebrows when Tom commented on it. 

Tuvok smugly replied, "Indeed" and sipped his beverage. Janeway had been very happy to see her old friend, and was gratified that the Admiral's dire prediction about Tuvok's illness was just a bad memory. If only her prediction about Chakotay and Seven could be averted with such ease...

 Janeway became more content as the evening wore on. Harry's parents were finally letting him out of their sight for several hours at a time, and had only checked in at the Janeway house once since he'd beamed over. And Seven and Chakotay spoke of the numerous places they'd visited and the experiences they'd had, with such affection and friendship that even Janeway smiled grudgingly at their exploits.

Now that her senior officers seemed to be adjusting, she felt that she'd finally succeeded in getting them home.

= / =

 

Tom and B'Elanna were the first to leave, wanting to take advantage of a baby-free night. The EMH left shortly thereafter, grumbling about his Starfleet-enforced curfew, which Janeway promised to investigate. Tuvok and Harry followed, promising to keep in touch. Janeway noted Tuvok's discomfort at Harry's enthusiastic parting embrace to her, and stepped back, allowing him his Vulcan space.

"Live long and prosper, my dear friend," she intoned, smiling slightly as she held up her hand in the proscribed configuration.

Tuvok nodded, and replied, "Live long and prosper, my dear friend. We shall meet again soon."

Janeway's composure faltered slightly as she realized that only Chakotay and Seven remained. Although she was glad to hear that they were enjoying their time in the Alpha Quadrant, she really did not want any more details than that.

"Captain," Seven began, "would it be acceptable for us to remain for a few more minutes? There is a matter of some urgency we wish to discuss."

Janeway noticed that Chakotay smiled at Seven, who had suddenly appeared nervous.

I can't, she thought. Please don't ask me...

"Since Voyager has returned to earth, I have endeavoured to explore all that humanity has to offer. I am... grateful to you for allowing me the opportunity."

Janeway smiled and nodded. "You're welcome. I am pleased that you have found the experience worthwhile. I know you had some concerns..."

"Yes, and I still do," Seven continued. "I have experienced some ... negative reactions when some Humans and other species noticed my Borg implants. I wish them no harm, and yet I am not trusted as other individuals might be."

Chakotay nodded when Seven looked at him, and so she continued. "I am beginning to fully understand some of the difficulties you encountered in keeping me on Voyager. I know that you and the Commander disagreed, and that he did not want you to allow me to stay."

Janeway studied her hands, which were folded in her lap. Keeping Seven of Nine on board had been a divisive decision, one that had ultimately led to the current wedge between Janeway and her former first officer.

She met Seven's eyes, and forced herself to smile. "He seems to have changed his mind."

Seven's brow furrowed slightly, but she quickly spoke. "I do not wish to discuss that aspect of Commander Chakotay. I wish to thank you for helping me. I know I can never fully repay you for what you have given me..."

"I don't need payment, Seven," Janeway interrupted. "I saw an opportunity to help a fellow human being, and ..."

"If I may disagree, Captain? I appreciate that your scientific nature and quest for knowledge were a factor in deciding to forge the initial alliance with the Borg and even to liberate me from the Collective, both of which put you at great risk. I also believe, however, that you are a unique individual, one who is selfless, willing to sacrifice time and energy for others. I have benefited greatly from your guidance and leadership. I have come to realize that other captains might not have embraced the challenge of rehumanizing a former drone with the enthusiasm that you showed."

Seven paused, and again her eyes travelled to Chakotay. He simply smiled in return.

Sitting taller, Seven continued. "Captain, I want to thank you for giving me back my life, for removing me from the Collective. I have experienced many wonderful things because of your sacrifice."

Janeway licked her dry lips and studied her hands again. She did not want to meet anyone's eyes at the moment, but knew her manners. Stealing a quick glance at Seven, she forced herself to speak.

"Thank you, Seven. I'm very happy for you."

Seven continued to speak, and Janeway wondered how much she'd rehearsed her speech.

"You are a good person, and I have been truly privileged to know you. I will always be grateful for the many sacrifices you made for me and for your assistance with my relocation on earth. You have been an exemplary role model, one which I hope to emulate."

Janeway smiled, hoping Seven was done talking. She was repeating herself and was as close to ‘babbling' as the drone had ever been.

Seven continued, "I know that I cannot fully repay you for your sacrifices."

"Really, Seven, that's not necessary, " Janeway shook her head, wanting the conversation to end. "I am just happy that you are happy."

"But you are not happy, Captain. I have recognized that you attempt to convince others of your happiness, but I am able to discern the deception, as are others. I wish to help. My intention is to assist you... to make your burdens lighter."

Janeway's breath caught and she sat, stunned. When she looked at Chakotay, he was smiling calmly. "Where did you hear that, Seven?"

Seven looked even more uncomfortable, her pale skin colouring as she continued to speak. "I wish to apologize, Captain. I have breached your trust, though I did not understand at the time that I was in error."

Janeway leaned forward, intrigued. "How? When? Tell me what happened."

Seven stood, and walked out to the window, feigning interest in the lovely scenery. Under the moon-lit sky, the snow glistened like it was sprinkled with small diamonds.

 Janeway's concern increased at Seven's hesitation, and she stood to join her.

"It's okay, Seven. Tell her." Chakotay had also joined them.  Seven nodded.

"On stardate 53329, I attempted to assimilate all of the ship's status reports with a cortical processing subunit. You may remember that there were some difficulties."

Janeway and Chakotay shared an embarrassed look. Yes, they had armed themselves against each other as Seven's conspiracy theories abounded.

"The doctor ascertained that I was unable to process the quantity of information that I had downloaded. During my assessment with Starfleet, another factor was discovered. I had downloaded your personal logs as well, but the information contained within seemed irrelevant; however, I was unable to process the emotionality of the logs."

Janeway felt the colour drain from her face.

Seven continued, "I did not understand the sentiments, nor did I understand some of your experiences. I did, however, understand that you shared a special bond with Commander Chakotay."

Janeway's breath caught, and of their own volition, her eyes found Chakotay's face. She expected him to be shocked, maybe embarrassed but instead he looked calm, with a slight smile on his face.

"Because I could not fully assimilate all that was contained in your logs," Seven forged on, "I chose to also assimilate all of the commander's personal logs."

Chakotay said nothing, and simply stood with the two women, offering both his support. Janeway's embarrassment made her feel somewhat defensive, and she glared at Seven and Chakotay in turn.

"I apologize, Captain. I did not understand the concept of privacy at that time. I am now cognizant of my error in judgement. I assure you that I have spoken to only one other person about the contents of your logs."

Closing her eyes, Janeway whispered, "Chakotay?"

"Yes, Captain. It seemed logical that his personal logs would provide me with understanding of yours if he felt the same. I came to understand that the commander also had strong feelings for you. I still did not fully comprehend the feelings discussed, however, and I did not appreciate the unique significance of the bond that you shared with the commander.  In my attempt to improve my social skills and improve my humanity - as you encouraged me to do - I attempted to form a similar relationship with the commander."

Janeway wasn't sure if she should laugh or cry. Shaking her head slightly, she opened her eyes and again looked from Seven to Chakotay and back to Seven.

"I attempted to engage in social situations, as the doctor suggested, as a means of developing feelings of love. I used your logs as a basis for my behaviour, Captain. I wished to emulate your kindness, your uniqueness. I hoped to experience the love you felt for the Commander... but I was not successful.

I hope you can forgive me, Captain. I violated your privacy because I was ignorant. I pursued a relationship with the Commander because you loved him. I was in error. I wish to clarify that my relationship with the Commander is not romantic in nature. We are friends only."

Chakotay smiled apologetically. "We went on a few dates, Kathryn, until we figured out what was going on. I was attracted to those aspects of Seven's personality that reminded me of you, and she wanted to love me because you did."

Janeway stood, dumbfounded, her mouth open in shock.

"I am sorry to have caused you pain, Captain. Please know that I am filled with regret at my actions. I will leave you and the commander to talk." Seven walked to the door as silence ensued. "I hope I have set things right. Goodbye, and good luck," Seven called, closing the door behind her.

After a moment, Chakotay moved toward the chesterfield in the centre of the room. "Come and sit d-"

"Do."

Janeway's senses had returned.

"Pardon me?"

"Do. Not did. Do."

"Do?"

"Do. Seven wanted to you love you because I ... do."

Chakotay's face softened as he looked at her. "Still? I hoped, but ..."

"Still. And I hoped too...?"

"Oh yes." Chakotay's arm encircled her small frame for the second time that night, but this time, neither one wanted it to end.

 

= / =

 

Kathryn padded back into the bedroom and smiled at the large lump under her covers. She sat on the side of the bed, and removed her slippers. Her feet felt like ice. Lifting the weight of flannel sheet and blankets, she slid under, seeking out the heat source near the middle of the bed. As if they'd been doing this for years, Chakotay scooched away slightly, allowing her to slide into the warm spot he'd just vacated. Spooning her naked form from behind, he surrounded her with his warmth, and her shivering soon abated.

"Who was that?" he asked, nuzzling her neck while his hand idly rubbed her hip.

"Seven," laughed Kathryn. "She was checking to see if we'd patched things up."

"Hmmmmmmm," Chakotay sighed into Kathryn's hair. "Was she happy to hear that we did? I felt sorry for her. She's been so worried.... I've wondered many times where we'd be if she hadn't interfered."

Kathryn turned to face him, and studied his face in the moonlight.

"I'd given up," she whispered.

Chakotay leaned forward and kissed Kathryn's forehead. "I know. So did I." He pulled her to him, and appreciated being able to hold her in his arms. Pulling back slightly, he asked, "Do you think that's why the Admiral came back when she did?"

"I have no idea. She claimed she wanted to save Seven, but I've often wondered if that was the only reason."

"She must have known that when we got home you'd have to go through all our logs, just like she did all those years later."

When Kathryn had told Chakotay of Starfleet Security's demand that she scour the former-Maquis crewmembers personal logs for evidence, he wasn't angry. To her surprise, he said he'd been expecting it.

"I figured that would happen," he'd said. "I even warned my crew about the possibility early on," he added sheepishly.

Kathryn's eyes narrowed. "Is that why I found next to nothing to report?"

Chakotay sighed. "I didn't know what would happen, with any of us. I knew we'd all come together as a crew. And I was sure you'd get us home, one day." He paused, searching for the right words. "You had no choice but to take us on, lock, stock and barrel. I knew some of my people were risky, with no love lost between them and Starfleet, no matter what kind of a leader you were...I didn't want you held responsible for anything they'd done, and frankly, I didn't trust some of them. I knew what they were capable of. I knew there'd be trouble."

Pushing thoughts of Seska and Jonas out of his mind, he continued. "Mostly, though, I wanted to be sure you knew how I felt about you, even if I could never tell you. As the years went by, I hoped that I'd die first so you'd know from my logs just how much I have always loved you."

Kathryn smiled a watery smile, and snuggled back into his warm arms. She thought of the admiral, and her reaction to seeing Chakotay and Seven. Kathryn's heart constricted at the thought that the admiral had lived so much of her life without sharing Chakotay's love.

Kathryn sighed heavily, but was determined to enjoy the rest of her night.

"Can you sleep?" Chakotay asked, running his hand up her abdomen toward her breast.

Kathryn licked her lips, and smiled. "I should be exhausted, but I'm suddenly wide awake."

As Chakotay leant forward to kiss her neck, Kathryn inhaled the spicy scent of his hair, and smiled. Somewhere in the distance, a lone wolf began to howl. As Chakotay continued his loving ministrations, another wolf joined the first, their haunting symphony cutting through the cold night air.

Kathryn shivered, though she wasn't cold. A feeling of peace enveloped her, as if she and Chakotay were  somehow connected to these ancient, beautiful creatures.  She didn't understand it, but she knew it was right.

Their time had come.

Chapter End Notes:

Chesh's request:

I want angst... lots of it... I'd love for it to be some sort of story that includes J/C and P/T .... it can be any rating... can include smut or not ...the four people can be as couples or not just so long as they're all there in some capacity. No slash or babyfic please.



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