“And how was young Edward’s first piloting lesson?” Neelix asked jovially.
“Oh,” Kathryn said, interrupting her sip of coffee. “He loved it; couldn’t talk about anything else. My mother-in-law, however, was not pleased.”
“Oh?” he inquired, leaning into the screen. With a shock, Kathryn noted that the Talxaian’s whiskers were gray. Not that she didn’t have a few gray hairs now, herself, she noted.
“She gave poor Michael holy hell. Said a seven-year-old boy had no business piloting a shuttle. I had to tell her that my father started teaching me when I was five…”
Neelix laughed heartily. “Looks like you may have another Starfleet officer in the family.”
She thought about that for a minute. “Don’t know. He’s a bit of a free spirit .. a lot like my sister in some ways. And he’s not at all fascinated with Starfleet .. not the way his sister and brother are.” She shrugged. “Then again, he’s only seven. Who knows?”
Kathryn took another sip from her mug and leaned back in her seat. She enjoyed these chats with Neelix; it was her favorite part of the month.
Obstensively, this was Starfleet business. Neelix was the Federation Ambassador to the Delta Quadrant; he took that job quite seriously. But outside of the occasional useful tidbit – like his report of new Borg activity in the sector – most of his information was, as Michael gently told her, rather unremarkable. Had the project been any other admiral’s, she realized, it would have been cut off long ago. Still, it was nice to keep the connection … she’d lost touch with so many others from Voyager….
Neelix was looking at her hesitantly. Now what?
She decided to joke. “Out with it, now … what’s on your mind?”
“Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting to see you this month.”
That struck her as odd. She’d usually been around – except when she was at Planetia Utopia, or most memorably, the day Sam was born. At first, when the connection was reopened, she practically had to pull rank to say hello; so many crew members would show up. But over the years, jobs, family and attrition had taken its toll. These days, she, the Doctor and B’Elanna were the only regulars.
He noted her puzzlement, and looked down. “I thought … I was hoping … you’d be at the Commander’s wedding.”
Ah yes, Chakotay’s wedding. She knew about it of course; when B’Elanna told her, she felt an odd mix of emotions. Regret that things were still strained. A quick surge of jealously. But mostly, relief. It was good that he had moved on – one less thing she had to feel guilty about.
But what to tell Neelix? Well, honesty was usually the best policy. “Ah, well, I .. we weren’t invited,” she said simply. “I think B’Elanna was one of the few from the crew who was.”
He shook his head sadly. “After all you two went through. I’m sorry things aren’t better between you.”
Her smile mirrored his sadness. “So am I,” she said, wondering just how much anyone had told him about what happened two years ago.
“Somehow, I feel sort of responsible for this.”
Now she was really puzzled. She sat up and put her mug down. “Neelix, what in hell are you talking about? What could you be responsible for?”
He looked at her then, near tears. “I was the one who encouraged Seven to … pursue Chakotay. Perhaps I should have discouraged her …. So you and the Commander could have gotten together.”
She sat back, stunned. “Perhaps not,” she said.
Neelix’s jaw dropped, and he just looked at her for a long second, head slightly cocked. For once, the Talaxian was at a loss for words.
She shook her head and raised her hands, hoping to ward off whatever Neelix might finally say. “Look, Neelix, you didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever I felt for Chakotay at the time, we both know I was in no position to act on it.”
“Yes, but seeing how quickly you got home …”
“We didn’t know that then,” she said firmly. “Besides, Seven was interested in Chakotay,” she said, remembering her conversation with the other Admiral Janeway. “Even if you had dissuaded her, she would have gone ahead.”
“I suppose,” he said, “but it seems such a shame, considering that things didn’t work out … “He shook his head. “I guess I’ve always felt badly that their marriage put such a rift between you and the commander.”
Gods, she thought, he’s been carrying this around all these years. She shook her head at the irony of it. What on earth did he think had happened? Then again, he wouldn’t know. He was still in the Delta Quadrant, depending on bits of gossip.
“Neelix, I’m surprised at you. You had no way of knowing what would happen. Besides, would you really want to keep someone from finding happiness just because things might not work out?” He studied her for a moment, then shook his head.
“All right, then,” she said. “As for their marriage, that didn’t cause any rift…” She paused for a moment, not quite sure of what to say. She wasn’t crazy about the truth: that Chakotay wanted her to leave Michael. That she damn near did something that would have wrecked her marriage.
“As for what did happen,” she finally began, “that’s between Chakotay and me.”
“I’m sorry.. I didn’t intend to pry,” he said.
“You didn’t,” she assured him. Their transmission time was running out; she couldn’t leave things on this note, she realized. “Neelix, do you ever think about Kes? About how things might have been if you’d stayed together?”
The question surprised him, she could tell. He thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I do. Occasionally. But if we had stayed together, I wouldn’t have married Dexa, and I wouldn’t have Braxx and little Alixa,” he hurried to add.
Kathryn chuckled at his earnestness. “But you still care about Kes, right? Still wish her the best?”
Neelix puffed up a bit. “Well, of course. I’ll always care about Kes. And I hope she is happy.”
“Well, then, I think you can understand when I tell you I feel the same way about Chakotay. Things might have worked out; on the other hand, I would have missed life with Michael and our children. I just hope Chakotay can find the same kind of happiness I have.”
She paused, then smiled at him. “Don’t feel too guilty, Neelix. Chakotay and I will find our way back to each other – as friends, of course,” she added pointedly.
The warning signal sounded; they said their good-byes quickly, then the screen went to black.
Kathryn sat back and took a sip of her now-cold coffee. She barely registered the taste; her mind drifted to Chakotay, to Seven, and finally to the elder Admiral Janeway – her ghost of Christmas Future. She’d violated every rule in the book, and she still couldn’t keep those two together. Ironic. On the other hand, she had only intended to insure everyone’s happiness. And on that count, Kathryn admitted, the mission was a roaring success. Tuvok was well; she was happy; Seven seemed content in Toronto with her work; and Chakotay had another chance at a family..
So maybe, Kathryn thought, the details don’t really matter.
Her reverie was broken by a knock on the door, and the entrance of a very familiar man.
“Hi, gorgeous,” Michael said as he leaned over the desk to kiss her. “Lt. Parker said your call was finished.”
“And a good afternoon to you, too, Admiral,” she laughed, teasing him about his lack of protocol. “You just missed Neelix.”
He nodded, “Anything new?”
She paused. “Not too much. We were just talking about what might have been.”
Michael quirked an eyebrow. “Like what?”
She shook her head; Chakotay was not one of his favorite people. “One of those Delta Quadrant things. So what brings you here this early?”
He sighed. “It’s been one of those days. The reports I need from DS7 haven’t arrived, and my meeting with the Federation Senate intelligence committee was cancelled.. I’m calling it a day.”
“Hmmm … paying golf?”
He laughed. “No, can’t find anyone to go. And the Velocity court is booked. So I think I will go home and take the boat out. At least the bay isn’t full.”
As Kathryn listened, an idea began to form. “Want some company?”
Michael quirked his eyebrow again. “I’d love it.” Then he put a hand on her forehead. “You sick?”
She laughed and batted his hand away. “I’m fine. Maybe I just feel like playing hooky. Besides, we haven’t had much alone time lately.”
He didn’t respond, but she could see a gleam ignite in his eyes .. the one he always got just before … well.. A pleasant shiver ran through her; but she put it on hold – at least until they could get out of here and somewhere more private.
Without further ado, she switched off the vid screen and grabbed her briefcase. On her way out, she gave one last order to her adjutant, who was quite surprised to be given the rest of the day off.