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Author's Chapter Notes:

This story is for Chris and Audabee. Thank you for all you do for VAMB!

Thank you to Elem for the wonderful beta.

March, 2008

The appearance of the admiral’s shuttle in the middle of that strange temporal rift had shocked the hell out of his captain. Chakotay eyed her posture as he felt her icy glare and heard her clipped tones commanding her crew.

The tension had radiated from Captain Janeway in their first briefing and in every meeting since. He’d also heard her and the Admiral arguing through the bulkhead between their quarters.

Chakotay felt uneasy. Even though the doctor had confirmed her identity, he wasn’t readily inclined to trust the admiral. He knew ‘his’ Kathryn well, but the admiral’s actions seemed reckless, and didn’t seem to fit with what Captain Janeway would do. The older woman’s odd behaviour bothered him. She was tough as nails, and yet the looks she’d given him and Seven over the last few days were filled with a warmth and vulnerability that confused him.

Chakotay sat in his office, studying various options and scenarios, looking for weaknesses in their planned assault on the Borg. High stakes, with many unknown variables. Their actions would affect life across several quadrants. No pressure, he thought wryly.

When his door chimed, Chakotay was somewhat surprised that the admiral was his visitor. She came in, sat down, and smiled at him, a comfortable, genuine smile. It was unexpected, given their stressful predicament, yet it felt good, and he smiled back before he could question his response. He hadn’t seen that sort of dazzling smile from this woman in a long time… no wait… from his Kathryn in a long time. Giving his head a small shake, Chakotay hesitated for a moment before asking how he could help her.

The admiral noticed his hesitation. “I don’t have time to prevaricate, Chakotay. The time is long past to indulge in that luxury.” She paused a moment, staring at him with an intensity that would have made a lesser man uncomfortable. “I need you to help me convince her that my plan is sound, and that we need to get this ship home. NOW.”

Chakotay nodded, nonplussed. He knew the admiral would pull out all the stops, but, strangely, he wasn’t annoyed at being a pawn in this battle of wills. Chakotay told her that he needed to understand what was so important that she was willing to break the Temporal Prime Directive and why, at this particular time. She smiled, and said that if she shouldn’t be here, where the hell was Braxton and one of his damn Time Ships? 

Chakotay pursed his lips, a small smile playing on his face. “You might have a point there,” he admitted, surprised at how relieved he felt. Her attitude told him that this Janeway definitely meant business, and that she was full of the “piss and vinegar” he’d missed seeing in his Janeway.

 Ironic, he thought, that’s three times in five minutes I’ve thought of her as ‘mine’.

Chakotay got each of them a drink from the replicator, and they sat quietly for a moment, savouring their beverages. He searched, unsuccessfully, for an opening into the conversation, but was saved by the admiral.

“Not everyone ‘back home’ was certain I was doing the right thing, either,” she started, after a minute. “Reg Barclay needed some convincing, and so did the doctor. But I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t helped me… And poor Harry was sent to stop me, but Captain Kim –“   She smiled at Chakotay, her obvious pride at Harry’s accomplishment shining through.   “– had become a trusted friend to me over the years, and he knew why I needed to do this.” The admiral paused, and looked at him seriously. “I did make a few friends of my former crew once we got home… Harry, B’Elanna…”

Chakotay gave her a questioning look. “Surely your friendships from here...”

“I did have some friends on Voyager, early in our ‘grand adventure’, Chakotay,” she said sadly, “but the rest of the trip home from this point tore everything apart.”

He studied the woman before him curiously, wondering at her losses and obvious sadness. She was familiar, yet different in many ways. The most obvious difference to him was her attitude. The Kathryn Janeway he knew had always been one to speak plainly. But in the last couple years, since her bout of depression a few years ago, she had seemed less invested, diminished somehow. True, the Kathryn he’d found happily living on Quarra had been full of energy, but she quickly returned to her former life, somehow even more subdued and distant once she’d returned to her life on board Voyager. The Delta Quadrant had certainly taken a toll.

This woman before him held nothing back, and her forthright manner was refreshing. There was a spark in her eyes that jockeyed with a deep sadness, and he wanted to know what had driven her to this point, and why she was so obviously conflicted.

“What can you tell me?” he asked, feeling that he, too, should get right to the point. “I’d like to hear anything you’re willing to share, for instance ... what was your life like once we got home?”

Janeway huffed. “I have no problem telling you anything you want to know. I’ve already obliterated that timeline.”

Chakotay’s eyebrows shot up, but he said nothing. No flippant comment about headaches and temporal mechanics, eh? That attitude was certainly a change.

“And now that I see that the Time Police aren’t interfering.... well, I know it’s right for me to be here, now.”

Settling into storyteller mode, the admiral told him that once she arrived in the Alpha Quadrant and survived the Starfleet ‘welcoming committee’ – her bitter tone caused him to look at her, questioning her with his expression, but he said nothing – she’d had an interesting and challenging career, but not much of a life. She had lost many friends in the war with the Dominion, her mother was gone, and she felt very much alone in her personal life.

Chakotay was a bit surprised at her frankness. He was saddened to think that all of Janeway’s sacrifices and dedication had not provided her with a happier ending. She smiled sadly at his comments, and continued with her story of their journey home.

First, she told him about Tuvok’s rapid loss of emotional control and degeneration into madness. Chakotay was shocked at her blunt choice of words, but accepted the truth of them as she listed examples of his erratic and irrational behaviour. He was saddened by this revelation and grieved for both Tuvok and Kathryn, realizing how much Janeway would have been hurt by Tuvok’s illness.

The admiral then told him that twenty-three members of their crew would die between now and the time she would have made it home. He shook his head, briefly wondering who they were, and how they died, but then realized that the details didn’t matter. Their captain would have been devastated by the loss of any of them.

Janeway was quiet then for a moment before she spoke again. “It was ... almost... unbearable to live with the added guilt of each of those losses. Whether or not I fired the weapon or caused the radiation or explosion or... “ Her eyes clouded over as she searched his face, “I was ultimately responsible for getting my people home, and I failed them.”

Studying the faux wood grain of his desk, Chakotay sat quietly, thinking about how these deaths would have affected the crew and its command team. How had they survived? A thought occurred that chilled him: he knew she’d spoken with Seven earlier, and then Seven had tried to end their relationship.

Speaking quietly, Chakotay asked, “Was Seven one of those twenty-three who died?”

He looked up, meeting the admiral’s eyes, and saw the truth they contained. He shook his head in wonder.

The admiral looked at Chakotay with a sad expression. She nodded and looked away from the hurt and sadness that flickered across his face.

“How did she die?”

Janeway hesitated, her eyes filled with intense pain at the memory. “She was on an away mission, and was badly injured before everyone could beam out.”

 “And?” Chakotay knew from her tone that there was more to Seven’s story, and pressed her.

The admiral looked at him squarely in the eyes, and said, “Our personal relationship never recovered.”

Chakotay laughed lightly. “What relationship?” he asked, somewhat bitterly, momentarily distracted from the untimely death of his current paramour.

The admiral appeared shaken by the denial of any affection between them. It dawned on Chakotay that he had never seen Kathryn Janeway exposing her emotional frailty like she was doing. Knowing how much she valued her privacy, he felt honoured, and, if he was being totally honest with himself, somewhat concerned, that she would bare her soul to him in this manner.

 “I’m sorry, Chakotay.” She cleared her throat before she continued. “I hoped... I... thought we still meant something to each other,” she stammered. “I.... I know she thinks so… hopes so… She wants… so much... for you to be happy.”

Chakotay snorted in disbelief, not noticing how the admiral flinched. “Really?! She hasn’t had time for a friend lately. I know; I’ve tried.” He turned to look at her, noticing her pallor. It suddenly dawned on him that ‘she’ was right in front of him, and could perhaps give him some answers. “What’s going on, Kathryn? Lately I only see you on the bridge or at briefings.  You’ve been shutting yourself away from the crew... from me.  You eat alone in your Ready Room or quarters; don’t come out to the holodeck unless absolutely necessary... You’re entirely focused on getting home at the cost of absolutely everything else… it’s like we left ‘you’ behind or lost ‘you’ somewhere months ago. You’re not living for now. It’s like... it’s almost as if you’re not here, not invested in life on the ship ... It’s hard to take...” Chakotay trailed off, staring at her. He didn’t apologize. It felt good to speak his mind so plainly.

Sighing, Janeway nodded in agreement. “I know. I remember. But I thought it was the only way I could survive. And it was hard to take.” Her sorrowful blue eyes met his angry brown ones. “But it was even harder without you.”

Now his eyes blazed. “You don’t need me! Hell, you don’t even want me around half the time. I am still here….” A thought occurred to him...was she trying to tell him that he died too? And soon?

“Are you really here?” The admiral looked at him sadly. “Chakotay, listen, you have to know this. I valued your friendship above all else. That’s what kept me sane. Despite how it might seem, you were my link to humanity, to the ‘Kathryn’ that was – is –  suffocating inside your ‘Captain’. Your friendship was my lifeline. You... were ... my breath of life. You gave me ... her... hope.”

Chakotay sat stunned. “I don’t do any of that! Hell, she barely talks to me lately! And I just told you, it’s all ship’s business when she does…  ”

“Think about our working lunches, our dinners together over the years.” She paused and shook her head. “This is so difficult... YOUR working lunches and YOUR dinners. Every time you’d escort… her… to a ship function, every time we laughed together, you were injecting some life back into her…. I mean it, Chakotay. You mean the world to her.”

The truth of her words slowly sank in. “We rarely talk now. We’ve disagreed on so much… sometimes it feels like we can’t say anything without arguing…” Chakotay sighed, regretting the harsh words he’d just spoken.

“I know. And you’ve stopped having those lunches and dinner together too. She’s miserable.”

“I never thought about it that way.” Chakotay looked her. “I’m sorry.”

“I’ve told you, she wants nothing more than for you to be happy. I don’t have to tell you it’s been a long trip home.”

Chakotay nodded.

“She’s so regretful… so torn.  She can’t... and won’t… indulge in a relationship because she’s afraid it will lessen her focus on getting this crew home. I remember…. I honestly thought it mattered! I remember it was the most important guiding principle I had, and I clung to it because I thought I would die if I let go. I… she has become so focused, she’s blind to the effects of her behaviour.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “I told her about you and Seven…”

“You had no right…” Chakotay glared at her, his anger resurfacing. Given everything she’d just said, he’d more or less just been told he’d betrayed Kathryn in the most hurtful of ways.

“It doesn’t matter,” she interrupted. “She already suspected something of the sort, but was hoping she was wrong. But if she thinks you’re happy, she won’t interfere, despite the fact that it’s killing her. I know,” she added, simply, “it’s what I did.”

Chakotay felt as though she’d hit him with a brick. He sat there, stunned. The implication of her words was all too much.

“She’s refused to acknowledge my feelings for her for the past seven years, as some kind of penance for her so-called sins? She claims she wants me to be happy, yet she’s denied me the one thing that would make me happy?!?” He realized he was yelling, and stopped talking.

The admiral nodded, her eyes bright. “She’s not ‘punishing’ herself simply for the pleasure of doing it, Chakotay!” She stood up, and leaned on the desk. “It’s a side-effect of her training, her discipline, her strict adherence to Starfleet protocol. Dammit! She doesn’t know what kind of reception the Maquis will receive when she gets you home! She wants to be able to fight to the death for your freedom – and make no mistake, she would gladly sacrifice herself instead. She wants there to be no question of bias because you were involved.”

Chakotay laughed again. “That’s such bullshit. I can defend myself…”

The admiral shook her head. “Not really… if you’d made it home a few years ago, it would have been a real issue. She has no way of knowing the political climate now, even with your Pathfinder communication. She feels like she can’t take the chance yet. She wants to get all of you home safely. And she knew that if she allowed herself a relationship with you, that she wouldn’t be able to cope if you were extradited to Cardassia when you got home.”

Chakotay rubbed his forehead. “But we could have had years together before we got there…”

“But she doesn’t know that!” The admiral paced the room, talking with her hands. “She is solely focused on getting everyone home. But, she’s terrified about what will happen to you and B’Elanna and the Equinox crew when you get there! Don’t you see that?”

She stopped in front of him, and stood for a moment. Reaching out, she took Chakotay’s hand. He looked up at her. She smiled tenderly at him, and squeezed his hand.

“And, she loves you, deeply, Chakotay.”

“She does? … She…”  Could she? He thought so, once, a long time ago, but… she sure as hell wasn’t acting like she gave a damn lately. About him. About anything.

Janeway paused, seemingly unfazed by his inarticulate response, and leaned forward. “She desperately wants a relationship with you, and she has been so lonely... but she won’t jeopardize anyone’s future by indulging herself.” She squeezed his hands again, to emphasize her point. “She needs to be seen as being rational, as unbiased in her evaluations and recommendations... she values all your lives more than her own happiness... I would never change how I felt all these years, Chakotay, but I would have handled it better. I wish I’d trusted you and been brave enough to tell you.”

Chakotay heaved a huge sigh, and shook his head.

“She hopes you’re happy with Seven and she won’t interfere. As long as you’re happy…”

She paused, rubbing her thumbs over the back of Chakotay’s hand.

“Are you happy?”

Chakotay didn’t answer. He sat for some time, thinking about all she had said. Knowing Kathryn loved him filled him with a peace he hadn’t felt in years. He had given up on ‘them’ and was surprised at how good it felt to know his affections were returned. Chakotay was equally saddened at the thought that she would continue to not act on those feelings while they were out here.

Was he happy? Was it enough to know that she loved him? He needed some time to think about what the admiral had just told him, but knew there was a mission looming and he didn’t have time to dally. He chose to ignore her question for the time being.

“How can you talk about her like you and she are not the same person?”

Now it was the admiral’s turn to laugh bitterly. “Isn’t it obvious that I am NOT that woman?! She would never have broken the Temporal Prime Directive, or stolen the technology from an angry Klingon to get here.”

A small smile graced Chakotay’s handsome face as he leaned forward. “Tell me about that. How did you get the temporal device? And why now?”

“It’s Borg,” she laughed, raising an eyebrow. “The ‘how’ doesn’t matter… Why now?” she sighed. “Well, I debated the timing for months. I tried to come before... before we lost Joe, but Korath wasn’t happy with me stealing the temporal device. His attack caused the targeting scanner to misalign. I deeply regret that Joe won’t be coming home with us… His wife and children missed him terribly, and we were so close…” 

The admiral shook her head, and gave him a crooked grin; he thought it made her look much younger. “I have lived through so much…. I’ve changed.” She paused, staring out the viewport with a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Life is a bitch, Chakotay. We – “ she indicated the two of them “ – never recovered any real closeness after our encounter with Ransom. Ironic, don’t you think? For years, I yearned for other officers who would understand our unique situation and share guidance and support… then our first flesh-contact with Starfleet all but destroyed us! Ha!” She paused, and he could tell she was lost in memories. “But life went on, didn’t it? We integrated the Equinox crew into ours and continued home as if nothing had changed. You and I grew further and further apart, and you and Seven grew closer… Seven, Chakotay!”

She abruptly let go of his hand, and startled him with her raised voice. His Kathryn wouldn’t have said anything, but the admiral had no such qualms. Janeway turned to face him, furious. She hadn’t come back to be angry with him, but the weight of her loneliness and bitterness burst through unexpectedly.

“She was more than my friend! Seven and I shared a unique relationship.” Forcing herself to breathe deeply, she calmed somewhat. “But then that stopped too. I lost her, I lost you…” She paused again, and her voice became quiet as she regained mastery of herself. “I would hear the two of you, making love on the other side of the bulkhead… the first time I realized what I was hearing, I... I felt like my heart had been ripped out.”

Chakotay winced, but held her gaze. He and Seven hadn’t yet reached that stage, but ...

“And then, after a while, you asked me to officiate at your wedding…”

Chakotay blanched.

“That was the day I knew that my life didn’t matter anymore.”

He would never have knowingly inflicted such pain on anyone, especially his Kathryn, but apparently he had. His heart ached for the woman standing before him. Chakotay felt inexplicably guilty for causing this heartache. He hadn’t done anything yet, had he? She began to speak again, in a whisper. “I took to sleeping in my Ready Room at night, just so I wouldn’t feel like I was intruding.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, honestly.

She looked up at him sadly, for a few minutes, then gave him a quick nod and small smile. “I know,” she said, simply.

She took a few calming breaths, then stood and walked around the room as she continued her story. “So then we lost a few more crew members, went for a few more weeks with barely enough food and barely functioning systems, and were under constant attack in the next star system. As I said, Tuvok deteriorated rapidly. He would rage and say terrible hurtful things, none of which he could control. He blamed me for all the unhappiness of the crew, and everything that went wrong. I know he wasn’t rational, but... it just reinforced what I was already telling myself.” Janeway’s voice cracked as she continued, “Not long from now, his illness took away my last and only friend.”

Chakotay was filled with anguish, and rose to go to her. She put out a hand to stop him.

“Don’t,” she said. They stood, separated by his desk, each taking deep steadying breaths to settle themselves.

Without looking at him, Janeway continued. “More unfriendly species… more attacks ... desperate for fuel and supplies... We just barely hung on. Then about three years from now, we lost Seven… she was finally pregnant… you never forgave me for sending her on that mission; you told me I killed your child and your future along with your wife... and you were right.” He slumped back down in his chair; she didn’t look at him.

She took a few more deep breaths. “Somehow, Voyager survived through more years of the same. We eventually made it home. Well, most of us. You didn’t.” He wasn’t really surprised to learn this, and oddly felt no strong emotions on hearing the news. The admiral was still talking, pushing herself past this painful memory. “You were angry, defeated; you’d given up after you lost Seven. It took you years to die from your broken heart. And...  you despised me. In those last years, I felt nothing but your contempt and hatred. I’m so sorry...” Her voice faltered, and she sobbed. “ You died just before we reached earth.”

“Kathryn…” He held his hand out to her, as he rose from his chair.

“Please, don’t.” She shook her head, and walked to the other side of the room. In her heart of hearts, she knew she had failed him, and didn’t deserve his comfort or support. She stood looking out the viewport for some time, tears silently falling from her sad eyes. He wanted to comfort her, but knew better than to try. Finally, she wiped her hands across her cheeks, and fortified herself with a deep breath. Lost in thoughts and memories, she quietly walked around his quarters, idly looking at the holo-images on the shelf, and stopped, shocked to see one of the two of them. She gasped when she saw it, and turned to him, not caring about the tears that began again to roll gently down her cheeks. He smiled slightly and nodded.

She carried the holoimage back to Chakotay’s desk, and set it down between them. “I’ve been to hell and back, Chakotay.” Her voice was quiet, still filled with raw emotion. “Most of the first seven years were pretty good years, defining years, for all of us. We needed those experiences to mould us, to make us who we are. But nothing else seemed to matter after now. It was all so pointless. That’s why I chose to come at this time, and why we’re going home now. Though I wish I’d come before you and I drifted apart. Before you and Seven were involved. Before we lost Joe.”

Chakotay sat in stunned silence, contemplating her words. “So you came back to save me?”

The admiral looked at him squarely, and didn’t deny his words. As an afterthought, it seemed, she added, “And deal a crippling blow to the Borg.”

Chakotay looked toward the viewport, his mind muddled. He almost didn’t hear her quiet words when she began to speak again. “I guess in one way, we are still the same, the Captain and I. I want to get this crew home as much as she always did. But we’re different in the most important way, Chakotay – she can never tell you her true feelings – how much she loves you. She won’t ever tell you that the biggest regret of her life was that our friendship didn’t survive. But I’ll tell you. She didn’t have to live with a broken heart for all those years only to lose the chance to tell you that she loves you. She might think she’s unhappy and isolated and suffering now, but she can’t begin to understand the loneliness or regret that is to come. I have lived with the fact that you died not knowing how much I always loved you.” Her voice grew quiet, and was filled with regret. “I don’t want her to have to go through that.”

Exhausted, the admiral seemed to shrink into her chair. She kept her eyes fixed on Chakotay as he stared at his reflection. Several minutes passed in silence, with both of them lost in their private thoughts. Chakotay broke the silence, quietly.

“I do love her, you know.”

The admiral’s eyes welled up with tears again, and she blinked quickly as she looked away. “Still?” she asked quietly.

“Always.” Chakotay nodded. He turned to look at her. “Since the first time I saw her – you – on Liberty’s viewscreen.”

He saw her shoulders shudder, and knew she was once again weeping. He heard her draw a breath, and then she spoke quietly. “Promise me… you’ll tell her, when the time is right. It will mean so much for her to know that you care, Chakotay... that you don’t hate her.” She didn’t want to think what kind of love he meant; she was overjoyed at having reached him in time to salvage a friendship of sorts.

“I’ve been unfair, to her, to myself, hell, even to Seven. I’m so sorry for what you went through.” He knew his words were inadequate, but he hoped she felt his sincerity.

She nodded. “Right now, she thinks she can’t show any weakness, can’t have any risk of failure… and so she’s fighting me on this plan. She wants to ‘save‘ me and destroy the Borg, as well as get you all home. She wants it all, when for so long, she’s had nothing.” The admiral shook her head. “That’s why I told her about you and Seven marrying, and Seven dying. I hoped it would shake her enough to see this through, so that timeline won’t happen and you’ll be happy. You’ve got to help me, Chakotay. Convince her to let me go, so I can save her and all of you. She’s a mess, Chakotay, but I’m already dead.”

Chakotay finally knew that Kathryn Janeway loved him, and the thought of her being dead wrenched at his heart and was more than he could bear. He crossed to her so quickly that she didn’t have time to stop him or move away. He enveloped her in his arms, and felt like he never wanted to let go. He wondered at the burdens carried by this strong woman over the last years, and at her resilience and determination. He hoped that he could right the wrongs he’d done, and prevent the future wrongs that had broken her heart. He was desperate for a chance to show the younger version of this same small woman exactly how much he loved her.

The admiral stood, stunned for a moment. The thought that she might succeed in all of her missions gave her a feeling of happiness she hadn’t felt in years. 

First and foremost, the crew needed to reach Earth, without further loss of life, and she knew he would support her in the effort to use the transwarp hub.

 And now there was a chance to deal the Borg a crippling blow! She would gladly take on the Borg queen personally, dying a happy woman, eagerly sacrificing herself for that cause.

She felt the sting of more tears as the implication of his hug made itself apparent. Her third and selfishly most important mission might also succeed! He didn’t hate her, even after she had told him how she had ruined his future life with Seven. Maybe he and her younger self could work together and rebuild their friendship… She wanted so much more for them, but would settle for that hope. Janeway felt overjoyed, hoping they wouldn’t end their days disillusioned, lonely and heartbroken, regretting what might have been.

She hugged him back, gently, allowing herself, for the first time ever, the comfort of his warm embrace. She revelled in the feeling of many, many year’s worth of love flowing between them. She had missed him so much! It was a gift to see him alive and happy again, to feel his younger, strong frame enveloping her body. Smiling into his chest, she let the tears fall.

It would be alright this time.

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