Community Property

Disclaimer: CBS owns Star Trek Voyager. I’m just putting them to good use. No infringement intended.

Community Property

by mizvoy

“There are three things to remember about being a starship captain: keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, . . . and never abandon a member of your crew.” Captain Kathryn Janeway, Dark Frontier Part 2

Part 1.1

December 16, 2378 One year after Voyager’s return
Kathryn Janeway’s Quarters, San Francisco

“This damned divorce has been tougher than the marriage was,” Kathryn Janeway complained as she served Tuvok his tea and then sat down on a sofa across from him to sip her coffee. “And I didn’t think anything could be worse than the marriage.”

“It’s never easy when one is caught between two people who are going through emotional turmoil,” the Vulcan agreed with his usual equanimity. “You understand the difficulties and disappointment both are facing, and yet there is nothing that you can do to resolve the conflict.”

“Even worse, instead of helping to diffuse the animosity, I feel like I’ve made it worse.” She placed the steaming mug on the coffee table and then leaned back to study the coral and blue clouds that were visible through the windows of her high-rise apartment. “I care deeply for both Seven and Chakotay, and I want to help, but I find myself trying to be the peacemaker in a war in which neither side wants peace. The process is painful, Tuvok, and it isn’t getting better with time.”

“If anything, it will get worse. You may be forced to choose between them, to ‘take sides,’ before all is said and done.” His expression contained a hint of sadness about her dilemma. “There’s a well-known adage that says it best: friends are part of the community property that is divided between the spouses in every divorce.”

“What a depressing thought, and yet I think you might be right. I’m being pulled in two directions at once, and I’m struggling to remain neutral.”

“Is it possible to remain neutral?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” she chuckled, shaking her head. “I can’t help but blame the way they rushed into this marriage. I thought at the time that Chakotay was being too impulsive, and I was certain that Seven had no idea about the emotional demands that marriage would make upon her. It isn’t easy for her to stop and think about her husband’s wishes and needs when she makes a decision—so much of that seems ‘irrelevant’ to her. When I told her that she has to stop and talk to him before making choices, she always answered that he would ‘adapt.’”

“And you talked to them about this in advance?”

“Oh, yes, I’m afraid I did. I told her that committing to another person brings about a loss of independence—as well as the right of the other party to impose their will upon you.” She rolled her eyes. “Let’s just say that they were not receptive to my advice and leave it at that.”

Tuvok arched a brow and replied, “And now? Are they receptive to your advice now?”

“Not really. Chakotay accuses me of taking Seven’s side, probably because she came straight to me when she moved out of their apartment. He thinks that I’m helping her avoid him and has come right out and accused me of wanting them to break up.”

“Why would he think that you want them to divorce?”

“I’ve tried to imagine a reason.” She sighed and absently rubbed her temples with her fingertips. “Maybe because I warned them that they were getting married too soon, and their divorce proves me right.”

The Vulcan frowned. “Such a conclusion is illogical. You warned them because you wanted their marriage to succeed, and therefore you would be unhappy that it fails.”

“Logic has nothing to do with something as emotional as this. All Chakotay hears me saying is ‘I told you so.’ And Seven. She’s upset if I mention Chakotay’s name in her presence, much less suggest that she talk things out with him. She thinks I’m trying to force her to stay married to him. Every time she finds out that I’ve talked to Chakotay, even briefly during an official meeting or a chance encounter at Starfleet Headquarters, she goes on the offensive to ‘keep me’ from trying to force her to reconcile with him against her will.”

A shadow of amusement shone in the Vulcan’s eyes. “One thinks you want them to break up and the other thinks that you want them to stay together.”

Janeway laughed. “Isn’t it ridiculous?”

“Their discomfort will lessen in time.”

“I should live so long.” She absently picked up the coffee mug and cradled it in her hands. “I’m not sure whether Seven is clueless about life in the Federation or whether she simply enjoys using me as a buffer for the more demanding elements of life. She’s asked for my advice about every little problem that has confronted her these last few weeks, and I’m wondering whether she will ever learn how to get along on her own. She’s so insecure that I have to spend most of my free time with her—which means that I have little or no time to spend with Chakotay.”

“Perhaps, once she’s adjusted to life in the Alpha Quadrant, you will be able to resume your normal friendship with the commander.”

“Perhaps. But that’s assuming he’s still willing to be my friend.” She frowned, slid the empty mug onto the table, and stretched her arms along the back of the sofa. “The truth is that I need Chakotay’s calm presence in my life as much as Seven needs my friendship in hers. I rely on his advice as much as I rely on your level head and unflappable logic. You were really the ideal pair in the Delta Quadrant, bringing me equal measures of logic and emotional balance.”

“I am gratified to hear you say that.”

“I’d hoped that we could continue to work together once we were home.”

“Indeed.” He paused and gave her a close look. “I must say that this desire to continue in the same relationship surprises me, Captain.”

“You’re surprised that I wanted to keep our command team together?”

“Yes, I am. I expected that the conclusion of the debriefings would bring about a change in your relationship with Chakotay.”

“What kind of change?” She looked confused.

“I assumed that your relationship would become more personal in nature—that is, until I learned of his involvement with Seven.”

“Oh, that.” She shook her head, a blush crawling into her cheeks. “From the moment we met, our relationship was limited and defined by our duties on Voyager, and I’ve learned to accept those limitations.” She looked away, unwilling to face him. “But I’ve come to rely on his friendship, and the truth is that I need him. We’ve worked together well for nearly eight years, and he suits me in a dozen different ways.” She glanced at him and grinned at her petulant tone. “He’s the brother I never had.”

“Of all the ways to describe your relationship with the commander, I never thought it resembled one between siblings,” Tuvok replied, stopping short of confronting her about her true feelings. “Your connection to Seven of Nine, however, always seemed close to that of a parent and an adolescent child.”

“Oh, yes, you’re right about that–a rebellious adolescent and a weary parent.” Janeway groaned and put her feet on the coffee table, trying to relax before a burgeoning headache became serious enough to require a visit to Voyager’s EMH. “I feel as responsible for her as a mother would for a wayward child, as if I’d given birth to a baby instead of rescuing a grown woman from the Borg.”

“In many ways, Captain, she’s not a ‘grown’ woman.”

“All evidence to the contrary.” Janeway rolled her eyes. “If you consider her looks alone, she’s a woman in every way.”

“Yet, she has been deprived of many learning experiences that humans go through as they mature, experiences that are important to her emotional well-being. No matter how old or how womanly she looks, she is emotionally naïve. As a result, it is little wonder that her marriage has not prospered.”

“I feel guilty about that.”

“Human mothers usually feel guilty when their children experience problems.”

“I was her mentor, not her mother.”

“I beg to differ.” He held up a hand to prevent Janeway from disagreeing. “She’s the daughter you never had. She demands from you guidance regarding her social and emotional problems that a daughter usually receives from her mother. A mentor has more to do with one’s career decisions and options.”

Janeway laughed and gave him an uncomfortable look. “It sounds almost incestuous, doesn’t it? The daughter I never had is divorcing the brother I always wanted.”

“Indeed.” The Vulcan displayed the barest hint of amusement. “Seven has constantly turned to you for guidance since her liberation from the collective, and she has grown used to having your undivided attention, like an only child. It’s commonly accepted that only children find it difficult to share the parent’s attention with another person.”

“You’re saying that I’ve spoiled her.” She frowned a moment. “Perhaps I have. While we were still on Voyager, she didn’t need me this desperately, at least not after the first few months, once she’d become used to her life on the ship.”

“That is true, unless there was a time of exceptional stress or uncertainty. At those times, she demanded your full attention.”

“Yes, but with growing infrequency as time passed.” She scowled, remembering the many occasions when Seven had resisted following her advice over the years, the many times they’d argued. “If she’d listened to me when I advised her to wait a few months before she married Chakotay, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”

Tuvok templed his hands in front of his face. “Humans seldom listen to advice that they don’t want to hear.”

Janeway laughed, “Watch out! You’re speaking to a human, you know. But, the truth is that neither of them wanted to listen to anyone who was going to discourage them. We’d barely been back a month when they decided to make a lifelong commitment to a relationship that was just a month or two old. It was too soon after all the upheaval of our return to make such a big decision.”

“Undoubtedly. However, my experience has been that humans who believe they are in love are even less receptive to advice that is contrary to their intended actions.”

Janeway snorted. “Tell me about it. When I first brought up waiting, Seven accused me of being an old maid and insisted that I wanted her to be an old maid, too.”

“Her words were inconsistent with her feelings.”

“Really?” Janeway’s tone was both amused and affectionate. “You’ve become an expert at reading human motivations?”

“Hardly.” Tuvok lifted a brow. “One only needs to look at her circumstances to find her motivation.”

“Tell me.”

“She was fearful of the drastic changes that were happening in her life and hoped that marrying Chakotay would help her retain some of the ‘family’ she was losing. There is an undeniable logic to such a reaction.”

“If she felt insecure, it’s probably my fault. If I hadn’t let myself become so overwhelmed with meetings and debriefings, with all the challenges of disassembling Voyager, I could’ve spent more time with her and provided the security she thought her marriage would supply. Maybe I could have helped all of us avoid this whole debacle.”

“It’s possible, but I don’t think so.”

“Why not? I was her sounding board on Voyager for nearly four years. Why wouldn’t she continue to come to me if she were feeling insecure?”

“Because she didn’t?” He raised an eyebrow at Janeway’s glare. “It’s possible that she resented the fact that you were busy elsewhere, or perhaps she was simply jealous of you. She could see that you were at home here on Earth, and she was afraid that you might take Chakotay away from her. Competition almost always confuses human relationships.”

“Take him away from her? Competition?” Janeway sat up straight to stare at him. “You mean that she grew more serious about Chakotay because she saw me as a rival for his affections?”

“It’s possible. She has always been quite competitive with you.”

“She is competitive with everyone.” Janeway murmured as she grew thoughtful, remembering how poorly Seven had reacted when she’d lost at velocity, or hoverball, or any other competitive activity. “I admit that Seven hates to lose, but I never gave her any reason to believe that I was competing with her for Chakotay’s affection.”

“Perhaps not in so many words, yet you told me just a few minutes ago that you need him,” Tuvok reminded her. “And you called him the brother you never had. That implies a fairly close relationship, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes, but I never said those things to her.”

“She was a keen observer of human nature.”

“What she saw was friendship, but nothing more.” She shook her head as her eyes slid away from his. “We settled on friendship long ago.”

“Settled on friendship?” The Vulcan leaned forward, his look intent. “So you admit that at one time there was a deeper attraction between you?”

“Years ago, perhaps.” Janeway felt her face grow warm with a blush. “Briefly.” She took a shuddering breath. “We did absolutely nothing about it. We both knew that it would be a disaster to become involved while we had to maintain a command relationship on Voyager, and then, as the years went by, our deeper feelings simply died a natural death.”

“Perhaps Seven believed that those feelings would be resurrected.”

“You’ve heard that old Klingon saying, ‘Never try to start a fire with half-burned wood.’” She sighed and rested her head on her palm, noticing that the glorious sunset had faded to grey. “I’m afraid, Tuvok, that I’ve finally lost him for good.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Even though I need Chakotay, Seven needs me more.”

Tuvok nodded. “And in a contest between your needs and Seven’s, you will always put Seven’s needs first.”

She looked away, embarrassed at the tears that had filled her eyes. “That’s what mothers do, isn’t it? Make sacrifices? Put the children’s wants and needs before their own?”

Tuvok sat back and crossed his arms, looking out the window at the lights of the city so that Janeway could discreetly wipe the tears from her eyes without his direct observation. “You’re too quick to sacrifice your needs for others, Captain, too willing to bear pain rather than cause it.”

“Losing him can’t hurt any worse than being pulled in two directions at once, Tuvok.”

“If you say so.” He glanced back at her, noticing the misery in her eyes as she picked up the empty mugs and took them to the kitchen. After she had left the room, he said softly, “I’m afraid you shall soon find out how much losing him will hurt.”

Part 1.2 She Said

December 30, 2378—Two Weeks Later
Jupiter Station

Voyager’s EMH took a few final readings of Seven’s optical implant and then closed the medical tricorder with a snap. As he calibrated a piece of technology that looked more appropriate for an engine room than a sickbay, he said, “A simple adjustment should eliminate the periods of double vision that have been troubling you.”

“Thank you.” Seven perched upon one of the biobeds in Jupiter Station, carefully repressing the panic she’d felt earlier in the day over her visual difficulties. Her extreme reaction was just another symptom of the emotional upheaval she’d experienced in the weeks and months since her emotional dampener had been removed.

As the doctor worked, he sensed the turmoil he patient felt and once again blamed himself for her struggle. He reminded himself that “hindsight is always 20-20,” but, as usual, took little comfort from the worn-out adage. He applied the device to her left eye and waited for the tiny blinking red light to turn green. “There. That should do it.”

Seven blinked and focused her eyes at several different distances before she nodded in approval. “I can already discern an improvement in my visual acuity, Doctor. Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” He turned to put away the device before he brought up a proposal. “I’ve wanted to talk to you about resuming a more frequent checkup schedule, similar to what we followed on Voyager.”

“The medical personnel on Earth have been most attentive.”

“I don’t think so. They didn’t prevent the visual problems that brought you all the way to Jupiter station today.” He narrowed his eyes as he thought of a possible problem. “You have been skipping the checkups, am I correct?”

“I’ve been busy.”

“That’s why you should see me. I won’t let you skip your appointments. However, I realize that coming all the way to Jupiter Station on a weekly basis will interfere with other critical duties, not to mention your regeneration regimen.”

“Finding time for regeneration is no longer an issue now that my marriage has ended.” A delicate blush reddened her face. “In fact, I’ve considered asking the captain to have my regeneration alcove relocated to Jupiter Station.”

“I’m delighted to hear it.” He beamed at her. “The sooner the better.”

“There is one problem. My chamber’s power usage might put too much of a strain on the station’s power grid. I’ll have to obtain the station engineer’s approval before I can move here.”

“The captain should be able to facilitate that, and B’Elanna Torres would be able to help the engineer make adjustments, as needed. She’s had years of experience with your alcove on Voyager. If we all work together, we will surely find an acceptable solution.”

“I’m not certain that Lieutenant Torres would be willing to assist me.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“She is one of Chakotay’s oldest and dearest friends.”

“She’s your friend, too.”

“I disagree. We are colleagues, at best.”

“Even so, I’m sure she’d help if you ask her to do so.”

Seven tilted her head slightly. “Lieutenant Torres and I managed to work together when the survival of the ship required it, but we never spent time together as friends and I’ve seen little of her in recent months. I know that she disapproved of my marriage to Chakotay and was angry when I asked him for a divorce.”

The doctor sighed as he closed the storage unit. He suspected that Seven’s ambivalent feelings toward the half-Klingon engineer were just another manifestation of the mood swings that had plagued her over the last year—and especially since her marriage had ended a few weeks earlier. “You may be colleagues, but I assure you that B’Elanna will do whatever she can to help you. The captain will demand it, and Chakotay would expect nothing less.”

“I don’t suppose it would do any harm to ask them.” Seven followed him out of the station’s clinic and walked with him toward Dr. Zimmerman’s lab and quarters, where the EMH had taken up residence. Since her separation from Chakotay, the two of them had spoken on a daily basis and were exploring the possibility of beginning a series of medical experiments that utilized her Borg nanoprobes. Her proposed move to the station would be a first step toward a long-term collaboration.

“I was afraid that Captain Janeway would object to my leaving Earth, but she seemed to welcome it.”

“She wants what is best for you, I’m sure.”

“I think it has more to do with her own desire to return to space herself.”

“There is nothing wrong with that—if everyone benefits. The captain understands that our project would go more smoothly if we were in close proximity, and it would simultaneously give her the chance to return to space. A win-win situation.”

“I will ask her to intervene on my behalf the next time we speak.”

They walked in silence, enjoying each other’s company and the relative quiet of the residential section of the station. Seven’s thoughts turned to Voyager’s first anniversary celebration, which had taken place just a few days earlier, and she brought up an issue that had been bothering her ever since.

“At the reunion, I could tell that the crew was curious about the divorce.” She glanced at the EMH without making eye contact. “They blamed Chakotay’s absence that night on me.”

The doctor shook his head. “They were curious about his absence, of course, but I doubt that they blamed you for it.”

“I disagree. I could sense their disapproval in the questions they asked me. They blamed me for our failed marriage and were quite skeptical when I said that Chakotay and I were simply incompatible.”

“A divorce is a difficult problem for the couple’s mutual friends to understand. It’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

“It wasn’t just that. Some crew members claimed that I have been acting differently since our return. They said that they have noted a more emotional behavior than ever before, pointing out many examples. I didn’t know what to say, and I wondered if they had found out about the deactivation of my emotional dampener.”

“Who would have breached your privacy like that? Certainly not Chakotay or the captain.” The doctor’s brow creased with worry, and he said, in a whisper, “I think you’re overreacting. Only a handful of people know that the emotional dampener existed, much less that it was removed.” The doctor paused at the door to Zimmerman’s laboratory and gestured for Seven to precede him. “As I said, all anyone needs to know is that the marriage didn’t work out.”

Once they were in the EMH’s laboratory, Seven continued the discussion. “No one seemed sadder about the commander’s absence than the captain did.” She paused, remembering how Janeway had turned to the door of the reception hall as each group entered, searching the faces in vain for her former first officer. “I was shocked when several people asked me if she was the reason for the divorce. They implied that the friendship between Chakotay and the captain might have disrupted our marriage. Many of them implied that they were involved with each other on the ship.”

“That rumor is so old it has whiskers. To my knowledge, they’ve never been romantically involved with each other, and I was in a unique position to be aware of such things.”

“That’s what Chakotay claimed when I asked him about it.”

“You asked him point blank?”

“I wanted to know before I became involved with him. I’ve always felt excluded when the three of us were together, as if they had a special bond that didn’t include me, and I wanted to make sure that the commander was truly available.”

“They worked closely as a team for over seven years, Seven. After that length of time, they must have learned to anticipate how the other would react to almost every situation.”

“That might be what I sensed, and it is close to Chakotay’s explanation, as well.” She was hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion, and turned to him abruptly. “I need to return to Earth for a period of regeneration.”

“Of course, I’ll make the arrangements for you to leave on the next shuttle.” He went to his computer console and entered a few codes. “I’m planning a visit to Earth next week. I’ll check on you while I’m there, recalibrate the alcove, and to talk to B’Elanna about a solution to the power issues here on the station.”

Seven retrieved her satchel of PADDs from his desk and then stood staring blindly into the distance. “I made a mistake, Doctor.”

He was confused, thinking she might be referring to the technical problem he had just treated. “What mistake?”

“I made a mistake when I married Chakotay. I thought his presence in my life would replace the security and stability I lost when Voyager returned. Ironically, the marriage threw me even further off balance.”

The doctor sighed, feeling guilty once again over her emotional distress. “You aren’t the only person from the crew to make that mistake. No one knew what was going to happen when we returned, and all of us dealt with that insecurity as best we could. It’s just that you had an extra burden to deal with since you were also adjusting to the removal of the emotional dampener.” At her silence, he said, “As I recall, Chakotay was in just as much of a hurry to get married as you were.”

“I wonder, now, what his motivation was. When Janeway tried to persuade him to wait, he thought she was trying to deny us our chance for happiness and forged ahead. It never occurred to either of us that she actually had our best interests at heart.”

“She would never begrudge either of you a chance for happiness, Seven, not Chakotay, and especially not you.”

“I know that now,” she nodded. “I hurried to do as I pleased, and Chakotay was anxious to prove everyone wrong about us. Now, I’ve not only ruined my friendship with Chakotay, I’ve placed the captain in an untenable position. She’s caught between us, and I can tell how difficult that is for her.”

“Oh, Seven,” the doctor sympathized, putting an arm around her shoulder, “I’m sure that she and the commander will salvage their friendship in time. They’ve been through worse trials than this.”

“I’m not so sure, Doctor. I believe that Chakotay’s absence from the reunion has much deeper implications, but I’m not in a position to rectify the problem.”

“It isn’t your job to restore their friendship.”

“No, but since I damaged it, I think I should do whatever I can to repair it.” She sighed, looking even more tired than before. “I have much to learn about the human heart, and I’m afraid that my first lesson has ended in calamity.”

“Whatever has happened, everyone knows you weren’t malicious in any action you took.” He smiled at her, trying to reassure her. “Things always seem worse when you’re tired, and the adjustments I’ve made to your implant have added to your exhaustion. When you get to Earth, regenerate for at least twelve hours. I’m sure everything will seem less tragic when your cycle is complete.”

“Perhaps so.” She stepped past him toward the door. “Thank you again for your help.”

“Any time, Seven. I wish you’d reconsider your decision to keep the deactivation of the emotional dampener private. If the crew was aware of the struggle you’ve been through, they might be more generous in their attitude about what has transpired.”

“I don’t want their pity, doctor, nor am I seeking an excuse for my mistakes.”

“I beg you to talk to the captain about your feelings, if no one else.”

“I’ll think about it.”

They walked to Zimmerman’s private transporter alcove where the EMH confirmed her passage on the next shuttle heading toward Earth. They said their goodbyes, and then he watched her beam onto her ship.

“I wish I had talked to the captain before I removed the dampener,” he said to himself as the shimmering light faded. His heart was heavy with remorse, and he shuddered as he remembered Janeway’s reaction when he informed her about the procedure soon after Voyager’s return to the Sol system.

Seven went to the captain in tears when she’d learned that teams of Starfleet personnel were scheduled to beam aboard the ship the next morning and begin a detailed study of the astrometrics lab. In spite of the hour, nearly 3 a.m. ship’s time, Janeway spent an hour reasoning with the former drone before she finally gave up and summoned the doctor.

“She’s inconsolable, doctor,” Janeway whispered when he arrived at her quarters. “It’s as if she thinks these people are coming here to violate her in some way.”

He gave Seven a mild sedative, and then they’d accompanied her to cargo bay two. Once Seven was safely regenerating in her alcove, Janeway turned to him with worry in her eyes.

“I know she’s been anxious about meeting new people and dealing with a larger ‘collective,’ but I can’t remember seeing her so overwrought before.”

He hesitated, but then realized he had no choice but to betray Seven’s privacy in order to help the captain understand her panic. He told her about his removal of the emotional dampener just a few hours before the admiral arrived from the future. For a few moments, Janeway stared at him with her mouth open.

“You did what?” She blinked and glanced at the drone. “I thought you said that removing the dampener would take a series of delicate operations over a period of several weeks.”

“Since that time, I discovered another procedure that was quite simple. I was able to remove it one evening after she finished her shift.”

The captain was nearly trembling with fury. “You removed it without discussing the process with me first? Didn’t it occur to you that Seven might need some time to prepare for the emotional changes she would be experiencing?”

He blinked, unsure of what to say. “She has the right to privacy, Captain. She has the right to decide what will and will not be done to her medically.”

Janeway walked away from him and stood in front of Seven’s alcove, staring up at the former drone, a living, breathing statue in their presence. “You forget that four short years ago, she was as far from being an individual as anyone can be, Doctor. She made no decisions for herself, had no concept of what went into being an independent person. I’ve never deprived her of her right to self-determination, but I’ve felt it’s essential to give her advice along the way, to help her take each step in the best way possible.” She turned to face him. “We’ve had this discussion too many times, doctor. All you had to do was suggest that she discuss the procedure with me before she plunged ahead with it.”

He looked away, embarrassed. “I apologize for my arrogance. I thought perhaps I could advise her.”

The captain stared at him a moment, and then brought her hands to her mouth in surprise. “Your profession of love,” she whispered, shaking her head slightly as she remembered the doctor’s “deathbed” confession a few weeks earlier when his program had threatened to decompile. “Is that it? You did the procedure because you thought she wanted to explore an emotional relationship with you?”

Even now, more than a year later, the memory of that embarrassing accusation caused him discomfort. The truth was that the captain had been right. He had hoped that Seven would pursue a relationship with him, and his selfishness had deprived her of the help she needed when the full range and depth of human emotions assailed her. His foolish haste had brought on all of her subsequent struggles, including her discomfort with life in the Alpha Quadrant and especially her failed marriage.

“Physician, heal thyself,” he murmured as he returned to his quarters, detached the mobile emitter from his sleeve, and deactivated his program.

Part 1.3 He Said

January 26, 2379—One Month Later
Trebus Transport Vessel, Mars orbit

“I guess I can understand why you want to resign from Starfleet, Chakotay, but I can’t forgive you for skipping Voyager’s first reunion celebration.” B’Elanna Torres sat in the copilot seat of the deep space transport ship and watched as Chakotay methodically went through a detailed preflight checklist. “Why give up seeing everyone you care about just because of a failed marriage?”

He barely glanced at her, as if he hadn’t heard a word she’d spoken. Without looking up, he said, “Would you hand me the PADD that’s on top the navigation panel?”

“What did Janeway say when you told her you were leaving Starfleet to be a transport captain on Trebus?” she persisted, not moving a muscle to comply with his request.

“Never mind. I can reach it.” He leaned past her and grabbed the PADD himself, activating it and studying it carefully as he continued to ignore her. “Chakotay to Gilmore. Have you resolved the intermix problem yet?”

B’Elanna sat back and listened as Chakotay spent the next ten minutes speaking to Gilmore and other members of his sparse crew, many of them former members of Voyager’s crew. Not everyone had fit comfortably into the Federation when they’d returned a year earlier, including a couple of the Equinox crew, a few Maquis, and one or two from Starfleet. Chakotay had offered them a job, and they’d gladly joined him. She glanced around at the worn-out ship, reminded of the decrepit vessels she’d labored over in the Maquis, and realized how much Chakotay was giving up.

“Where did this bucket come from, anyway?”

This question he was ready to answer. “The company has been buying up whatever they can find to haul raw material around in the borderlands. I did some scrounging and found it.”

“It needs a lot of work.”

“We’ll have plenty of time to do just that as we chug out to Deep Space Nine. I’m looking forward to being my own boss again.”

“I thought you were looking forward to teaching at the Academy.”

“I was, but this is a better offer.”

“Captaining a transport ship that can barely reach warp six?”

“At least I don’t have to play second fiddle.”

“Is that what this is about?” She narrowed her eyes with renewed determination. “Are you mad because Starfleet didn’t offer you a ship?”

“I’m not mad.”

“Then why did you skip the reunion?”

“You said, yourself, that there was a lot to be done on this bucket of bolts. I’m working under a deadline here.”

“Janeway didn’t say anything about this ship or your new job when she was asked about your absence.” Her eyes widened. “You didn’t tell her, did you?”

“It’s none of her business, B’Elanna.”

“I disagree.”

“I don’t need her help in making this decision.”

“Don’t do this without talking it out with somebody. Talk to Janeway, or a counselor, or talk to me.” He kept working without acknowledging her words. “Chakotay!”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he snapped, slamming his fist on the console. “I’ve decided that I just don’t fit in here, and I have a chance to do something to help my family rebuild their colony. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong with that, unless you’re running away from problems that you need to face.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then tell me.”

“Gilmore to Chakotay.”

He took a deep breath. “Go ahead, Marla.”

“Chakotay, I’m sorry. I’ve got to start the initialization over from scratch. It’ll be awhile before I can bring the engines online.”

He slumped in the pilot’s seat, closing his eyes as he told Gilmore to take all the time she needed, and then he turned to B’Elanna. “You wouldn’t be willing to go help Marla so we can get out of here, would you?”

“No way. I think the engineering gods have finally heard my plea and intervened to slow you down. Now, will you talk to me?”

“Follow me to my glorious ready room, where we can have something hot to drink.” He left the helm and walked across the cramped bridge to a chamber that would have been a closet on Voyager. Leaving the door open, Chakotay folded a table down from the wall, revealing a tiny alcove behind it that housed a miniature replicator and computer access panel. “How about some tea?”

“Raktajino, double sweet.” She laughed at the face he made, but took a deep draft of the Klingon coffee that Tom Paris had helped her learn to appreciate. Fortified by the sugar and the caffeine, she sat on one side of the table while Chakotay took a seat across from her. “So, what’s this really about?”

“What can I say?”

“It’s about Seven of Nine, right? It’s about the divorce.”

“I guess it is, at least partly. I got my freedom and Seven got everything and everybody else.”

“What are you talking about? Most of us prefer you to Seven, hands down.”

“Not everyone.” He sounded miserable.

“You’re talking about the captain, right?”

He shook his head. “That’s just part of it.”

“Janeway was your closest friend on Voyager, everyone knows that. And now she’s busy mothering Seven again.”

“Are you surprised by that?” He took a deep breath. “I really think that she wanted to see our marriage fail.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.” She sat forward, her eyes flashing. “That’s hardly fair.”

“Since when does ‘fair’ mean anything in a relationship?” He rubbed his face with his hands, fighting exhaustion. “I’m sure everyone blames me for the divorce, anyway.”

“Who could blame you for divorcing a cold-hearted, insensitive, arrogant, self-absorbed former Borg drone?”

“You’re being too hard on her, B’Elanna. She’s come a long way in five years, and besides, she’s the one who’s asking for the divorce, remember? Not me.”

“Only because you refused to start the legal process after she walked out on you.” She watched as he gazed at the computer screen, studying the numbers that scrolled by as Marla worked on restarting the engines. “You didn’t talk to Janeway at all about leaving, did you?”

“What would I say?” He shrugged and glanced at her. “She’s busy helping Seven get settled into her own place and adjust to being single again.”

“That doesn’t mean that she can’t be your friend, too.”

“She doesn’t have time for both of us, so I’m just going to move on. I don’t want to see either of them.”

“If you don’t want a Starfleet career, maybe you could find work around here.”

“And keep running into them? No thanks.” Chakotay set the mug of tea on the table and leaned his chair back against the wall, his arms crossed on his chest. “Anyway, that’s not how it works, not in a divorce. Everything you share goes to one person or the other, including friends. And Seven has dibs on Kathryn, the doctor, Starfleet . . . .”

“That’s more bull.” B’Elanna struggled to keep her temper. “All kinds of divorced people serve in Starfleet without running into each other, and, anyway, I can’t believe that Janeway would stop being your friend.”

“Oh, yeah? She stopped confiding in me months ago. As soon as she heard that Seven and I were dating, everything changed between us. She became aloof and started treating me like I was poison. She’s ferocious about protecting Seven’s feelings and even warned Seven about . . . oh, never mind.”

“Janeway never approved of this marriage, everybody knows that, but then she was hardly alone.” Her eyes widened in surprise. “You haven’t talked to her because you don’t want her to say ‘I told you so.'”

“Are you kidding?” He laughed. “’I told you so’ was the first thing out of her mouth when she found out that Seven had moved out.” He shook his head. “Kathryn warned Seven that everything was happening too fast, but she was much more specific in what she said to me. She said that Seven was too inexperienced and naïve to settle down, that she is at least ten years younger emotionally than she is physically. She reminded me that Seven had had one date prior to becoming involved with me, a date that had ended in complete disaster. And then she warned me that the prospect of being thrown into a society with billions of unknown individuals scared Seven half to death. She suggested that Seven was using me as a safety net against all the change she was facing, and that no marriage could survive if it was based on that kind of dependency.”

“All good points. Too bad you didn’t listen.”

“Oh, I thought I knew Seven better than Kathryn did, and I was determined to prove her wrong.”

“You did everything humanly possible to make it work, Chakotay. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” She paused, studying her friend’s face. “You just don’t want to admit, even to yourself, that the captain was right. It’s pride. It’s a matter of pride for you, isn’t it?”

“It’s despair.” He let his chair return to all four legs and picked up his mug, draining it before returning it to the table with a thud. “Kathryn has been Seven’s mentor from day one, and she’s spent hours listening to and arguing with Seven over a multitude of ethical and philosophical issues. She sees Seven’s flaws and limitations clearly and she accepts them.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “Conversely, I avoided Seven from day one, and when I finally decided to get involved with her, I saw what I wanted to see and planned to change whatever didn’t suit me. I’m paying the price for my stupidity.”

“Love is blind, Chakotay,” B’Elanna murmured, her eyes warm with sympathy. “Everybody deludes themselves early in a relationship–everybody. There’s no shame in being a human in love, after all.”

He shook his head. “You’re wrong if you think I was blinded by love. I cared about Seven enough to keep working at the marriage as long as she was willing to try, too. The truth was that I wanted to show Kathryn that she was wrong about us. I wanted to rub her nose in it. I guess my motivation was pride, all right, pride and vindictiveness.”

“So you’re saying that you got involved with Seven to hurt Janeway? Why would you do that?”

“It wasn’t a conscious decision.” He stood up and walked the two steps to the tiny sliver of a viewport, keeping his back to her. “Kathryn poured herself into Seven’s burgeoning humanity as if she were assembling a human being from the spare parts. She focused all of her free time on the project, and I decided that it would only be fair if I took the finished product right out from under her nose, as payback.”

B’Elanna took in a quick breath. “You were jealous of Seven’s relationship with the captain.”

“That sounds so selfish,” he laughed softly. “But the truth hurts.”

“I always thought the rumors about you and Janeway were exaggerated.”

“The rumors.” His shoulders fell slightly. “I’m not going there, B’Elanna, but I will say that Kathryn was my friend, my best friend out there, and that was enough as long as we stayed out there. My involvement with Seven couldn’t change my friendship with Kathryn–unless we got home. Just my luck.”

Marla Gilmore’s voice interrupted them. “Chakotay, I finally have all green panels down here. We’re ready to leave orbit whenever you give the order.”

“Thanks, Marla. Stand by.” Chakotay turned to his friend. “I need to secure this table.”

B’Elanna watched as he tidied up, and then she stood up to fold away the chair. “Are you saying that you’re sorry about dating Seven?”

“I can’t say I was that cold-blooded about it. What man in his right mind wouldn’t be attracted to Seven? She’s a beautiful and brilliant woman—“

“And she’s built like a brick outhouse.” B’Elanna caught his arm and turned him to face her. “Chakotay, be honest with me. The reason you won’t talk to Janeway isn’t just because of pride, is it? It’s because you’re still in love with her.”

“Weren’t we all in love with her?” His words surprised B’Elanna so much that her mouth fell open in surprise. “Admit it–we all loved her, and why wouldn’t we? Kathryn is fearless, noble, and amazingly original, with a scathing wit and an irreverent sense of humor that make her seem like a normal, flawed human, when, in fact, she’s really the perfect Starfleet officer in every way. Even her flaws are endearing–her coffee fixation, her willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of others, her tenacity and dedication, her complete failure as a cook, and her inability to slow down or admit defeat.” He sighed and shook his head. “Of course, I loved her, B’Elanna. I had no choice.”

“Then you really shouldn’t leave like this, with everything unresolved between you. You should tell her how you feel.”

“She knows.” He shrugged his shoulders and walked onto the bridge. “She’s known for years.”

“Then why?” She followed him out onto the bridge. “I mean, if you love her, why would you—“

“Get involved with Seven of Nine?” He sat down at the helm and began to enter the codes that would prepare the ship for departure. “The reason is obvious, B’Elanna. Kathryn doesn’t love me back.”

“You know that?” B’Elanna laid a hand on his shoulder, but he ignored her. “She told you that she doesn’t love you?”

“She didn’t have to.” He closed his eyes and put a hand on top of hers, giving it a quick squeeze. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. She’d never get involved with Seven’s ex-husband.”

“So you’re leaving because it hurts too much to stay.”

“I guess so.” He resumed his work. Moments later, B’Elanna could feel the vibrations in the floor plating as the engines come online. “Anyway, if I talked to her, she’d convince me to stay and accept whatever damned parameters she wants to put in place to limit our relationship, and I’m not doing that anymore.”

“I’m not a counselor, and God knows I’ve managed to screw up my life enough times, but it seems to me that your decision-making process always takes the captain into account and never yourself. To me, that means you have unresolved issues that you need to take care of or you’ll never be happy.”

He laughed. “Don’t you think I would have resolved these issues years ago, if I wanted to, B’Elanna? I just have to learn to live with them, and right now, distance seems to be the best solution.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” B’Elanna whispered. “Can I talk to her for you?”

“Please, don’t.” He gave her a brave smile. “I’ll leave you an address where you can send news of the crew.” His head drooped and his voice was barely audible. “And keep me posted on what’s going on with Kathryn?”

“Sure.” She gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “That’s the least I can do. And you’ll keep me posted on what’s going on with you?”

“Yeah. We’re going to be working in the borderlands between Trebus and Dorvan, with an occasional trip to Deep Space 9. If you’re ever in the area, look me up?”

“Absolutely. That’s a promise.”

She walked to the turbolift, stepping aside as the two members of the bridge crew arrived. Chakotay was too busy to notice that she lingered at the back of the bridge watching him. She felt sorry for all that he was giving up and wished once again that she could have convinced him to stay.

But she also understood why he had to go.

Part 1.4 Not to Decide is To Decide

February 4, 2379—One week later
The Janeway Farm, Indiana

Martha Kathryn Janeway O’Reilly was a textbook example of a “busybody.”

Gretchen Janeway, her sister-in-law of nearly fifty years, always listened to Martha’s tirades without comment, preferring to unload her own frustrations on whoever was around when Martha left. She’d hoped that Martha would mellow as she got older, but, if anything, she had only gotten worse. Gretchen never missed her husband more than when his sister was on her soapbox, because Edward had possessed the brotherly ability of silencing her with a few well-chosen words. And in Martha O’Reilly’s case, silence was golden.

Martha was in fine form today, aiming her comments at Gretchen’s older daughter, Kathryn. She had been offering Kathryn unsolicited advice from the moment she’d arrived, and, in an effort to prevent an explosion, Gretchen had managed to lure Martha into the kitchen and give Kathryn a much-needed chance to regain control of her temper. However, relocating Martha did not mean that she was about to let the subject drop.

“You’ve talked to her,” Martha whispered, peering over Gretchen’s shoulder toward the family room where her Kathryn sat staring into the fire. “Maybe you can tell me what put the burr under her saddle.”

“Kathryn doesn’t have a ‘burr under her saddle,’ Martha, unless you put it there. The counselors told us it might take a few months for her to recover from her ordeal out there. We just have to give her time.”

“A few months? It’s been over a year, Gretchen, and she still disconnects from us as if she’s slipping into some sort of damned dream state.” She drummed her fingers on the counter as Gretchen fixed coffee. “Is she depressed now the way she was when Eddie died?”

Gretchen lifted the old fashioned coffee pot to eye level, checking the amount of cold water it held, and shook her head. “Not depressed, really, but she does have periods of melancholy, just like the rest of us.”

“She seemed almost normal when I saw her at Thanksgiving. Did something happen to her after I left for Florida? Over the winter break? Was she depressed after seeing the crew again at the Voyager reunion in December?”

“Maybe.” Gretchen slid the coffee-filled basket into the pot, added the lid, and plugged the device into the wall. She stared at the device as it began to percolate, deep in thought, and then said, “Maybe it’s the divorce.”

“Divorce?” Martha snorted. “Are you telling me that our career girl actually found the time to get married? Without telling me?”

“Not her divorce, Martha. Seven’s divorce.”

“Oh, Gretchen, are you talking about that female Borg?” Martha leaned on the counter and watched Gretchen carefully slice the caramel brownies into squares and arrange them on a serving plate. “Honestly, you’d think Kathryn had personally given birth to that drone.”

“She does feel responsible for her, but I suspect her sadness has more to do with the husband, Chakotay.”

“The man who was her first officer.”

“Right, and I don’t think she’s seen much of him since the divorce. I know he didn’t attend their reunion, and I’ve even heard he’s taken a job in deep space. She probably misses him.”

“Well, who wouldn’t miss him,” Martha laughed, giving Gretchen an exaggerated wink. “I’d say the man is just about unforgettable.”

Gretchen narrowed her eyes, yet couldn’t help but agree. “He seems to have completely disappeared, I’ve heard.”


“We’ve heard through the grape vine that he resigned from Starfleet and took a job with a transport company in the borderlands.”

“The grape vine? You mean Kathryn doesn’t hear from him?”

“I don’t think she does, at least not directly. When his wife filed for divorce, Kathryn had to step in and give her advice about how to adjust to being single, find a place to live, and so on. Because Kathryn was focused on her, Chakotay went his separate way.”

“Divorces. Somebody always gets the shaft—in this case, Kathryn. She gets saddled with her pet Borg and loses a dreamboat in the process.”

“Martha, you’re a mess.” Gretchen laughed as she put four mugs on a tray and poured the steaming coffee into them. “Bring the brownies, will you?”

In the family room, they found Phoebe curled up on one end of the sofa fast asleep under a quilt and Kathryn standing at the window watching the snow falling.

“I made some brownies yesterday,” Gretchen said as she set the tray on the coffee table. “I thought they would taste good with coffee.”

“You spoil me,” Kathryn replied as she turned from the window and gave her mom a smile. “I’m going to have to order a larger uniform if you keep this up.”

“I’d say you’d be better off to gain a little weight at your age,” Martha quipped as she handed her the platter of brownies. “Men appreciate a little more woman to grab onto as they grow older.”

Phoebe’s eyes appeared from beneath the quilt. “Which men would that be, Aunt Martha? The shuffleboard set down in Tampa?”

“All retired admirals, my dear,” Martha replied, unwilling to rise to Phoebe’s bait. “And remarkably virile for their age, I might add. I’ve tried for years to get your mother to come spend the winters in Florida with me. It’s been twenty years since Eddie died, Gretchen. I think you can move on now.”

“Who says I haven’t?” Gretchen gave her girls a warning look and took a seat by the fire. “Pass the brownies, Kate.”

Kathryn took the largest brownie she could find, passed the plate to her sister, and then snared a mug of coffee from the tray. Taking the opposite end of the sofa from where Phoebe was sprawled, she said, “It was the desire to eat these brownies again that kept my hopes alive out in the Delta Quadrant.”

“And your crew, darling?” Martha asked, sitting in the chair across from her sister-in-law. “Are they settling back into their lives now?”

“For the most part.”

“Even the Borg one? What was her number?”

“Seven of Nine,” Phoebe giggled from under the quilt. “Honestly, Aunt Martha, it’s her name, not her ‘number’!”

“I’m sure she has a real name, Phoebe,” Martha sniffed, as she ignored the warning glare that Gretchen directed toward her. “She does, doesn’t she, Kathryn?”

“Annika Hansen,” Kathryn replied, struggling to keep her temper in check, “although she prefers to use her Borg designation.”

“That’s it.” Phoebe sat up and reached for a mug of coffee. “She has a designation, not a number.”

“Does she live with you, Kathryn?” Martha wondered.

“No, she doesn’t. Seven is dependent on a Borg regeneration chamber that’s currently housed at a cybernetic lab at the Daystrom Institute in Oakland,” Kathryn explained. “When she isn’t regenerating, she works at the Institute or with our EMH on Jupiter Station.”

Martha was incredulous. “She plugs herself into something? Like a coffee pot?”

“Not exactly, although the process is similar.” Kathryn’s faced was flushed with irritation. “Her implants require maintenance to continue working properly, and the alcove is able to take care of that.” Her voice was deadly calm, but her eyes were blazing. Phoebe and Gretchen made eye contact, both trying to think of a way to avert the inevitable confrontation that Martha was inciting.

Martha, oblivious, pressed on. “I understand from your mother that you spend a lot of time with her.”

“We work in the same office complex, and I monitor most of the work she does with the cybernetic team.”

“Does she still wear those skin-tight suits?” Martha’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “My word, Katie, how did keep the men from jumping her bones on that little ship? What’s a man to do with a woman strutting around with her wares on such obvious display? They must have had to start wearing codpieces.”

“Honestly, Martha,” Gretchen sighed as she gestured for Kathryn to keep her seat. “Not everyone’s mind is in the gutter all the time, you know. She needed the tight suit because of the damage done to her body during her assimilation. Right, Kathryn?”

“That’s right,” Kathryn replied, a muscle twitching in her jaw.

“Well, she could have worn something over it, couldn’t she? Slacks and a top? Maybe a jumper?” Martha sipped her coffee thoughtfully, her eyes unfocused, “Although I assume that since your first officer was busy with her, the lower-ranking officers naturally left her alone.”

Kathryn slammed her mug down on the tray and stood up, her fists tightly gripped. She glared at her aunt, who continued to sip her coffee, unmindful to her niece’s fury, and then she turned to her mother, who was braced for confrontation. “Can’t you do something, Mother?”

“About what?” Phoebe teased, trying to inject a little humor into the situation. “Did you sit on a tack or something?”

Kathryn forced herself to keep a straight face and then glanced at the clock. “Would you look at the time? I had no idea it was this late. If you’ll excuse me, I need to make some calls.”

She steamed out of the room at full impulse, and the others watched her go, knowing better than to try to stop her.

“I didn’t mean to make her angry, Gretchen,” Martha said a few moments later, looking almost remorseful. “I was just thinking out loud.”

“Oh, sure you didn’t,” Gretchen sighed as Phoebe rolled her eyes in disbelief.

A few hours later, soon after Martha O’Reilly had gone home to Florida, Gretchen peeked into the study where Kathryn had holed up. Except for the pool of light beneath the green-shaded desk lamp and the moonlight reflected from the snow, the room was dark and filled with the relaxing sounds of a piano concerto. Kathryn sat in the desk chair, her back to the door as she watched the snow falling in big fat flakes on the patio behind the house.

“Do I need to wave a white flag?” Gretchen said as she pushed the door open. “I come in peace.”

“What?” Kathryn twirled in the chair and smiled. “You only need a white flag if you have Aunt Martha with you. But if that’s the case, have her wave it. I’ll use it as a target.”

“She’s gone, and she’s taken her overbearing attitude with her.” Gretchen set the tray she was carrying on the desk. “I’ve brought you a bowl of hot soup as a peace offering.”

“You’re not responsible for what Aunt Martha says and does, Mom.” She scooted toward the desk and lifted the lid from the bowl of soup, only to put it back down with a loud clang, her face turning pale. “Mushroom soup?”

“You don’t like mushroom soup?” Gretchen sat down in a chair facing the desk. “It’s very good. I made it from scratch, but if you aren’t in the mood, don’t eat it. You won’t hurt my feelings.”

“No, I like mushroom soup. I was just surprised to see it, that’s all.” Kathryn set the lid aside and pushed her spoon through the steaming liquid. “I usually have broth.”

Gretchen watched her daughter closely, a thoughtful look on her face. “I know how challenging your Aunt Martha can be, but try to overlook her brusqueness. The truth is that she’s worried about you. She thinks you’re depressed, the way you were when we lost Justin and your dad.”

“Why would she think that?” Kathryn leaned forward and blew on a spoonful of soup before putting in into her mouth. “This is really good, by the way.”

“You have to be hungry, since you hid out in here instead of joining us for dinner.” She grinned at the face her daughter made. “You do seem to disengage from us at times, the way you did then, and there are times when you look sad. But at least you aren’t sleeping your life away, refusing to eat, skipping work, or looking like you wished you were dead.”

Kathryn rested her chin on her hand. “The whole Voyager ordeal is something I’m still grappling with, Mom. I’m seeing a counselor, and she’s helping, but it was a long time to be under so much pressure. I’m not the only one dealing with issues, most of the crew is, too, and, of course, I tend to worry about their problems as much as I do my own.”

“Or more so. You’re finally willing to admit that you’re taking on everyone’s problems? That’s a relief. I appreciate an honest answer. Thank you for that.”

“It’s pretty common for a captain to feel responsible for the crew,” Kathryn grinned. “Why wouldn’t I be honest about it?”

“Because honesty hurts.” She took a deep breath before plunging on. “I’ll be honest, too. You seem to have taken Seven’s problems as your own when they should be hers to deal with. I’ve noticed a definite correlation between her flare-ups and your withdrawal from us.”

“I am responsible for her, Mom.” She put the lid back on the soup bowl and pushed it away. “She wouldn’t be dealing with these issues if I hadn’t liberated her from the collective.”

“No, she’d still be a drone in the Delta Quadrant, or killed in the explosions that brought Voyager home.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“Should I feel guilty, too? I mean, you wouldn’t be dealing with these problems if I hadn’t given birth to you.”

“Of course not, but I get your point.” The younger woman pushed back from the desk and swiveled the chair so that her back was turned toward her mother once again. “While my relationship toward her might seem maternal, there are big differences. I feel that I should help her adjust to her new life and guilty for having put her in this situation, but I’m not her mother.”

“How is it different? I don’t think anyone in the world can feel more guilt than a mother does when one of her children is suffering. But, be that as it may, there’s more going on here than you’re sharing.” She waited patiently for an answer, only to realize that Kathryn was ignoring her. “Kate, we need to discuss this.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Why not? Have you done something that you don’t want to admit?”

Kathryn turned halfway around and glared at her mother. “I beg your pardon?”

“There have been rumors about how close you and Seven might really be.”

“If you’re referring to the rumors of a romantic liaison between us, then the answer is ‘no.’ You should know by now that I’m strictly heterosexual.”

“I never believed those particular rumors, but there are other rumors that seem fairly plausible.”

“I don’t discuss rumors, Mom, not even with you.” She turned back to the window, the tension in the room thick enough to cut with a knife. “Would you just leave, please? And take the soup with you?”

Gretchen huffed. “I’m not ready to leave.”

“Suit yourself. Leave or stay. I’m finished talking.” She laced her fingers together, put her hands behind her head, and leaned back in the chair, closing her eyes and listening to the music. She knew her mother could see her reflection in the window, so she composed her expression and waited for her to give up and depart.

“I have a theory,” her mother said softly, “that your unhappiness isn’t really about Seven, at all. I think it has more to do with your former first officer.”

In spite of her determination to keep her face inscrutable, Kathryn’s eyes flew open. “Chakotay? I hardly feel responsible for him, Mother. He’s a big boy, and he’s made his own choices.”

“You limited his choices, though, didn’t you?” She studied her daughter’s face in the window’s reflection, and then said, “Rumor has it that Chakotay was in love with you for years and that you refused to give him the time of day because he was your subordinate.”

No reaction.

“Rumor has it that he turned to Seven in despair of ever getting an honest answer from you about your feelings.”


“Rumors say that your quick return to Earth was facilitated by a person from the future who came back to change an unhappy past, to give all of you new and better choices—perhaps you, most of all.”

Kathryn’s cold blue eyes fastened on Gretchen’s face in the window’s reflection. “Mother, you know that certain details of our return are classified.”

“I’ve also heard that when Seven filed for divorce, you turned your back on Chakotay in favor of being her mentor and comforter, and that he resigned from Starfleet and left the Federation because he was jealous of Seven’s relationship with you.”

“It wasn’t like that.” Kathryn leaned forward and buried her face in her hands. “You make it sound so coldblooded. I tried to talk to him, many times. It’s just that Seven needed a place to stay and someone to help her fit in. She was totally intimidated by Earth, and she needed a friend.”

“And Chakotay didn’t?”

“Mom, you know what divorce is like. You’re friends with both parties during the marriage, but once they’re separated it becomes too complicated. They’re worried that you’ll betray their confidences or that they’ll run into the other person while they’re with you. I never stopped being friends with Chakotay, but Seven needed my help more than he did. So I helped her.”

“And in the process, lost contact with Chakotay.”

“More or less.” She shrugged. “It was his decision to leave without even saying goodbye.”

Gretchen sat down. “When we were finally able to get regular communication from you, thanks to Pathfinder, Phoebe and I noticed how frequently Chakotay’s name came up in your messages. It seemed you spent a great deal of time with him, on duty and off, and that you considered him a friend as well as a first officer.” She watched as Kathryn hid her face behind her hand and massaged her forehead with her fingertips. “Seven was much less important to you personally, from what we could tell. And yet, here you are, focused on her while he’s completely absent from your life.”

“I was caught in the middle,” she replied, her voice tight with emotion. “I guess that Chakotay realized how hard it was for me to be a friend to both of them, so he withdrew from the equation. He left to make it easier on me, Mother.”

Gretchen nodded, her heart breaking. “And you, sweetie? How do you feel about that now?”

“I miss him, of course.”

“That’s it? You just miss him?”

“What did you expect me to say?”

“I expected you to tell me the truth, Kathryn, no matter how much it hurts. I expected you to be honest with yourself, as well.”

“All right.” Kathryn swiveled in her chair and faced her mother, her eyes bright with tears. “I miss him every day. I miss his smile and his sense of humor and the way he makes me laugh. I miss the way he sticks silly comments into his reports. I miss his vegetable lasagna. I miss his advice and perspective on the problems I face. I’m always surprised when I realize that he isn’t around. I find myself talking to him as if he’s still in the seat beside me, and I wish I could find the courage to find him and convince him to come back.” She paused to regain control of her emotions before she asked, “Do you feel better now? Is that the confession you wanted to hear?”

Gretchen’s heart was breaking. “Katie, does he know that you love him?”

Kathryn didn’t answer the question, but simply took a calming breath and laced her fingers together on the desktop. “Mushroom soup is his favorite,” she said, as if that explained everything. “Please, Mom, take it away and let me have some time to myself.”

“If you insist.” Gretchen stood up and retrieved the tray, standing in front of the desk a moment before she turned to leave the room. She stopped at the door and looked back, making one last comment. “He deserves to know the truth, don’t you think? You should find him and tell him how you feel, Katie. Then, whatever happens, you know that everything was out in the open.”

Kathryn waited until her mother was gone before she cradled her head in her arms and cried.

Part 1.5 Escape

Feb. 4, 2379– Same day
Trebus Transport Vessel, Fringes of Sol System

“Chakotay seems depressed, that’s all,” Mariah Henley explained as Mike Ayala sat down in the copilot’s seat and began the usual pre-shift check of the security settings. “It’s not like him to sulk in his quarters for days at a time.”

“The divorce hit him hard, I guess.”

“Well, Seven of Nine was never a good choice for him, in my opinion.”

“In everyone’s opinion. Who would imagine that Chakotay, one of the most spiritual people I ever met, would hook up with a former Borg drone?”

“It boggles the imagination.” She finished her check of the helm and sat back to sip her tea. “Were you ever around them while they were married?”

“Not really. I saw Chakotay almost every day during the debriefings, but I never ran into Seven of Nine. I take that they weren’t blissfully happy?”

“I think that’s an understatement.” She glanced around the tiny bridge and lowered her voice. “Everybody looks at Seven and sees her obvious physical attributes, but they underestimate the Borg baggage she carries, both emotionally and in the flesh.”

“That’s true,” Ayala agreed, giving her a wink. “I don’t think most guys thought much past what would happen in the bedroom.”

“Well, don’t feel bad. What man does think much beyond that?” Mariah laughed as Ayala rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I heard that they argued a lot, and it was really tough to be around them for any length of time without getting pulled into the middle of their disagreements.”

“Now that you mention it, I remember B’Elanna talking about that.”

“Seven wasn’t very flexible. She got upset if he was two minutes late, and she didn’t react well to unexpected changes in their plans.”

“And it was even worse when Janeway was around.”

“I know. I was with the three of them once, and it was like watching a tennis match. Chakotay said something that Seven disagreed with, but he persisted, which just made Seven angry. So the captain tried to suggest a compromise, but, really, it was obvious that she agreed with Chakotay. Seven was livid and accused Janeway of taking sides against her. Meanwhile, Chakotay was smug and sort of rubbed it in, pointing out that Janeway’s opinion bolstered his own. That made Janeway back off a bit, only to have Chakotay accuse her of giving in to Seven when she knew better. Seven just smiled that supercilious smile she has. At that point, I had to leave the room. I hated to see Janeway in a lose/lose proposition, and it was pretty obvious that Janeway hated it, too.”

Mike laughed. “Sounds awful. B’Elanna used to crack us up describing the way Seven complained about marriage. The questions she asked were a hoot. ‘Does he want to copulate all the time?’; ‘Does he snore and hog the covers?’; ‘Does he refuse to pick up his dirty socks and leave the milk on the counter all night?’ It got to the point that B’Elanna took off in the opposite direction whenever she saw Seven approaching.”

“I heard about that stuff, too. What about Chakotay? Who did he talk to?”

“Good question. Under normal circumstances, I’d guess that he talked to Janeway, since she was really his best friend after Kurt Bandera died.”

“So Janeway heard it from both sides.” Mariah sighed.

“Too bad Seven kept that burning desire to achieve Borg perfection.” Mike shook his head. “And I heard that she tried to ‘perfect’ Chakotay, too.”

“She did, and she wanted a regular routine, day in and day out, to the minute.” She leaned toward him. “The joke is that she once asked B’Elanna how much time she and Tom allotted for foreplay. Seems that Seven has some internal clock she uses to keep track of such things.”

“Oh, boy, I bet B’Elanna wanted to punch her lights out when she asked that question,” Mike laughed. “I’m surprised she lived through it.”

“But really, Mike, can’t you just imagine how Seven might behave in bed? Things are progressing nicely, building gradually to a climax, and then she sits up and announces, ‘Sufficient foreplay has taken place; we may now proceed to copulation.'”

Mike burst out laughing, and the two of them were still chuckling when Chakotay stepped out of the turbolift, at which time they stopped. Chakotay knew that they must have been laughing at his expense. He ignored the uncomfortable atmosphere that greeted them and gave them a tentative smile.

“Don’t let me spoil the fun.”

“We thought you were having lunch,” Mike said, glancing at Mariah.

“I was, but Chell told me that Mariah hasn’t eaten yet, so I came up to take her place while she goes below. I recommend having the ‘Maquiche’ with Swiss cheese and spinach. It was really good.”

“Sure, Chakotay, ‘Maquiche’ sounds good to me, too.” As she left her seat, she gave Mike a warning glance, hoping that he wouldn’t tell their new captain that he’d been the butt of their joke. “I won’t be gone long.”

“Take your time,” Chakotay said, sliding into the pilot’s seat. “I don’t have anything better to do at the moment.” After Mariah boarded the ‘lift, Chakotay reviewed the helm’s settings, did a quick scan of surrounding space, and then turned to Mike, who was suddenly captivated by the routine space lane messages that were scrolling across the tactical panel. “So, Mike, are you going to tell me what was so funny?”

“I’d rather not.” Mike blushed and glanced at his captain, taking note of the determined look on the man’s face. He realized that he had no choice; Chakotay deserved to hear the truth, if he really wanted to know. It was tough to be the subject of so much gossip, and, to his knowledge, Chakotay didn’t have a real friend that he could confide in. Since he’d known the man longer than anyone else on the ship, Mike was more than willing to fill the void. “You probably don’t want to know.”

“Because it was about me, right?”

“More or less.”

“And it had to do with my blighted relationship with Seven, right?” At Mike’s nod, he rubbed his face with his hands. “I’ve been hoping that all the rumors would eventually die down.”

“They will, with time. It’s already well on its way to being old news.”

“Yeah, sure it is.” Chakotay stared into the blackness of space, computing in his head how long it would take them to get to Trebus and put the cargo ship to work. Voyager could be there in a less than six days, but this bucket would take six full weeks, if they were lucky. He might as well get used to living in close quarters with his crew–which meant there would be few, if any, secrets between them. “I wonder if I’d be better off just talking about it to people.”

“I don’t know, either. People don’t like her, and they wonder if you lost your mind when you got involved with her.”

“I probably ought to talk to somebody, if I’m going to get over it.”

“You can always talk to me. If I have the facts, I might be able to quash some of the more ridiculous rumors.”

Chakotay narrowed his eyes. “It’s really not my style.”

“You know you can trust me, and, like you said, it might do you good to get some of this stuff off your chest.”

“It just might.” He smiled at his friend and took a deep, calming breath. “I started seeing her just before the admiral arrived from the future.”

“Yeah. I thought it started really late in the journey.”

“It was just a playful thing, really, nothing serious. I had a feeling that she was just exploring what it was like to date someone and that I was the safest person to use.”

“It’s hard to think of Seven as playful.”

“Yeah, I imagine it is. But she can be very charming, if she wants to be.”

“If you say so.”

Chakotay chuckled. “Things seemed to be going along fine. We’d had a few dates, and she was ready to take the next step, I think, on the very night the admiral arrived from the future. In fact, we were called to the bridge during our very first kiss.”

“Wow. Bad timing.”

“That’s what I thought.” He shook his head and sighed. “The admiral’s presence really upset everything. In fact, I think the admiral must have talked to her, because for awhile there, Seven had cold feet.”

“Really? She had second thoughts that early?”

“Yeah, she did, but, fool that I am, I refused to heed the warning signs. I just kept charging ahead with the relationship like a bull in a china closet.”

“Well, don’t feel too bad. We’ve all done it once or twice in our lives.” Mike gave him a sympathetic look.

“I also ignored the way everyone thought my dating her was a bad idea.”

“It was something of a shock when we found out,” Mike agreed, remembering the way the news had raced through the crew like wildfire. “The fact is that everybody expected you to hook up with–.” He stopped, suddenly realizing that what he was about to say was the one topic everyone avoided mentioning around either Chakotay or Janeway.

“They expected me to start seeing Kathryn Janeway?” Chakotay kept his eyes focused on the view screen. “They figured we’d end up together, right?”

“Yeah, we did, actually.”

The two men sat in silence for a few minutes before Chakotay heaved an audible sigh and gave him a rueful look. “Well, I managed to screw that up royally, didn’t I?”

Mike barely managed to cover his surprise. He never expected Chakotay to admit that he had designs on their former captain. The details of the command team’s intimate friendship had been a taboo subject on Voyager, and Chakotay had always managed to sidestep any probing questions with a joke or a vague answer. “You mean you screwed it up because you got involved with Seven?”

“Once I messed with the captain’s pet reclamation project, I was off limits.”

“Why would that matter?”

“Seven is like a surrogate daughter to her, Mike. Being Seven’s ex-husband is the only sure-fire way to guarantee that Janeway keeps her distance, don’t you think?”

“I guess that never occurred to me.” Mike grew thoughtful. “But, if you’re still interested in Janeway, I don’t understand why you’re leaving for the borderlands. I mean, now that you and Seven are divorced, you’d be free to date the her, if that’s what you want.”

“Do you really think she’d get involved with Seven’s ex-husband?”

“You won’t know until you try.”

“I’ve had about all the rejection I can stand, Mike.” Chakotay stared at him a moment and then laughed. “Maybe you’re hoping I’ll resign as captain so you can be given command of this grand vessel.”

“That’s not it. I just–,” Mike paused, trying to think of the best way to say what he wanted to say. “Well, I’ve suspected for years that you cared for Janeway, and I always thought that the feelings were mutual.”

“All evidence to the contrary.”

“Because she hasn’t reached out to you? Maybe she wanted to, but couldn’t.”

“Then because her feelings for Seven take precedence?” He crossed his arms. “She’s made her choice, then.”

“Shouldn’t you make sure of her feelings before you give up for good?”

“It’s too late for Kathryn and me, Mike. Too much has happened between us over the years, too many missed opportunities. Whatever spark was there at first has long since fizzled out.”

“So you’re giving up? Just like that?”

“No, not ‘just like that,’” he snapped before taking a moment to regain his composure. “It’s been eight years, Mike, eight long years. You can’t blame me for wanting to move on after waiting that long, can you?”

“I guess not.” Mike glanced at the older man, feeling sorry for him. “It’s just a shame, that’s all. You two always seemed so good together.”

“It’s too damned late, Mike.”

“For what it’s worth, I really am sorry to hear that, Chakotay.”

“I’m sorry, too, Mike.” He called up the navigational display on the view screen and watched as the Sol System slowly receded behind them. He wondered idly when, or if, he’d see Kathryn again. “I’m sorry, too.”

They sat in silence until Mariah Henley returned to the bridge twenty minutes later. By then, the Sol system had been swallowed up by the stars.