Out of the Mouth of Babes

Disclaimer: They aren’t mine.

Summary: A conversation between Chakotay and Naomi Wildman one year after Voyager’s return brings about a dramatic change for the command team. Pure fluff. J/C

A/N: This story was drafted in 2008 as a possible story in recognition of VAMB’s fifth anniversary (hence the early reference to Naomi being five when the ship returned). Now that VAMB is approaching its twelfth anniversary, I decided it was time to post it! Thanks to KJaneway115 for her patient reading and rereading of this story! :D

Out of the Mouths of Babes

By mizvoy

I have heard Chakotay call me his personal “Cupid” and say that my innocent talk with him a year after Voyager returned changed his life forever. People ask him what I did or said, wondering how a six year old could influence a grown man so profoundly, but he smiles and says that we underestimate the wisdom of our children.

This is how I remember it.

I was five when Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant. I had spent my entire life on the ship and became famous as its “next-to-youngest” passenger, but I wasn’t the sole child on board the ship. The youngest passenger, Miral Paris, was born as we careened through the Borg conduit; until then, I’d enjoyed many years as the solitary child who was born on the ship. For a while, I shared my childhood with the Borg children, but Icheb was the only one to come all the way to Earth, and he was close to a grown up when I first met him.

Voyager’s crew called me The Kid, but I had many other nicknames. I was referred to as Babysitting Duty, Holodeck Hogger, Replicator Rabbit, “Leola Ruth” (because I was the only person besides Neelix who loved the stuff), Subunit of Samantha Wildman (thanks to Seven of Nine), and, my personal favorite, the Captain’s Assistant. The press called me “the DQ Doll,” and Miral was “Voyager’s Baby.” The captain, however, called me Miss Wildman in public, and Naomi in private.

For as far back as I can remember, I cherished Kathryn Janeway. My mom and Neelix were my principal caretakers in my infancy, and Seven of Nine schooled me and the Borg children once I was older, but Seven felt like a big sister to me, just a few years ahead of me in emotional maturity and interpersonal experience. I loved Seven, but I idolized the captain, even though she was seldom part of my daily life. To me, she was the pinnacle of feminine perfection, the focal point of power and influence on Voyager, and I revered her for that.

I heard people discuss the captain’s “mask,” but I had no idea what they were talking about; I never saw the captain wear a mask. On the rare occasions that I spent time with her, she was kind and thoughtful, often kneeling on the floor so that she would be at my level and could talk to me eye-to-eye. She also spoke in simple language she knew I would understand and had a way of explaining complicated concepts in ways that were clear and logical. Even more important, she listened to whatever I had to say, even when it was nothing more than childhood daydreams or half-baked notions. It isn’t often that a child has the ear of a Starfleet captain, and the fact that she seemed to take what I said seriously made me feel important and even loved. I found her official bearing more comforting than threatening. She exuded confidence, and I had absolute faith in her judgment and in her inexhaustible devotion to me, the crew, and the ship.

I had no idea what her life was like, of course, either personally or professionally. Even now, years later and as a grown woman, I have a difficult time imagining the incredible pressure and suffocating responsibility she endured, not to mention the isolation and loneliness of her existence. I don’t think anyone appreciated that part of her job, except, maybe, Chakotay and Tuvok. To me, she seemed cool and serene, which was how she wanted me and the rest of the crew to see her.

Voyager was my whole world and the crew was my family, and so I was one very confused little girl when I left the ship. I’d spent a few brief periods of time on a planet’s surface, but now I was on Earth all the time. I was surrounded by strangers who didn’t know me or my mom and who had no idea where I was supposed to be-and where I wasn’t. After living on fifteen decks and breathing the same recycled air for five years, I lived in a high-rise apartment complex surrounded by outsiders, exposed to the ever-changing weather, and challenged by a school full of odd children who delighted in teasing me. I was six years old in human terms, but twelve in development, a fact that made my adjustment to school even more problematic.

I didn’t handle the changes well. When I started school that fall, I was withdrawn and moody, refusing to interact with anyone my own age and impatient with having to sit in a classroom and follow a schedule for hours at a time. I was often in trouble and reluctant to go to school, at all.

My parents tried to talk to me, the school counselor made allowances for me, even Voyager’s EMH was involved in my “treatment.” I limped along until one day I’d just had enough. I don’t remember what happened to bring about my obstinacy. I just remember that the day came when I refused to cooperate with anyone until I could talk to Captain Janeway. I was sure that she could make my problems disappear.

My mother explained that the captain was too busy to come see a child. She was embroiled in Voyager’s ongoing debriefing and was often off planet meeting people in her new job. No matter what she said, I was not about to change my mind. I was adamant about avoiding school until I talked to Captain Janeway.

Naomi Wildman had drawn a line in the sand.

The next day, everything changed.

On that fateful day in November of 2378, Commander Chakotay came to our apartment in Denver, Colorado. Well, he wasn’t a commander any more, because he had left Starfleet a month earlier, but we all continued to call him by his former rank out of respect for his years as our first officer. My hopes soared when I saw him. I was sure that he had brought the captain with him. When I heard his voice at the door, I had burst into the hallway, barely containing my excitement. “Where is Captain Janeway?”

My mother inhaled and gave me a frown, but Chakotay knelt down and took my shoulders in his hands before Mom could say a word. “The captain wanted to come, Naomi, but she couldn’t get away, so she sent me to talk to you. She wants you to tell me what’s wrong so that I can tell her. Then, she will come to see you as soon as she can and help figure things out.”

I didn’t want to cry, but the tears welled in my eyes in spite of myself. “But the captain listens to me better than anybody else does,” I explained. “No one understands.”

“Try me,” he insisted. He has very kind eyes, and I found I wasn’t able to argue with him. “Let’s go for a walk in the park, okay? It’s a nice day for November, and I could use some fresh air.” We looked at each other for a long moment, and then he said, “The captain says I’m a good listener, you know; that’s why she asked me to talk to you.”

He had a point. I knew that the commander was the captain’s closest friend and that she talked to him all the time, so I reluctantly agreed. If he was good enough for her, he would be good enough for me. I pulled on a jacket and mittens and followed him out of the building and across the street to the deserted city park. I could see the gratitude in my mom’s eyes as we left the house, but I was determined not to cooperate any more than the minimum amount possible. I wanted to see the captain in person, and I would settle for nothing less.

It was cold, but there was no wind and the sun provided a small measure of warmth. We walked for a long time in silence, stopping when we came to a pond where some half-frozen ducks shivered in the weeds.

“I thought birds flew south in the winter,” I said, looking up at the commander.

“This is south to some birds.” He pulled a bag of bread crumbs out of his pocket, and we spent a few minutes throwing the food to the birds which flocked around us in absolute glee and with a cacophony of quacking that made me forget my determination to be moody. Before I knew it, the commander and I were eating ice cream at the corner store with the comfortable ease of lifelong friends.

“So,” he said, his spoon suspended in midair, “what is it that you want to talk about?”

“It’s private,” I insisted, “something the Captain’s Assistant has to tell the captain in person.”

“You know, I’ve been her assistant, too, in a way. I might understand what’s on your mind better than you expect, and you can trust me to keep a secret.”

His eyes were sincere and I realized that he was right. The two of them had often whispered about serious things, and if she trusted him with everything she valued, so could I. I’d heard from many members of the crew say that they were closer than anyone thought, whatever that meant. “You and the captain are more than friends, right?” I asked, repeating their words.

“What?” I could tell he was startled by what I said-surprised, but not angry. “More than friends? Where did you hear that?”

I shrugged, surprised at his reaction. “Everybody said so.”

“Oh, everybody, hm?” His smile was nice, but I could tell that he wasn’t listening the way the captain would, and that made me mad.

“But that wasn’t all,” I blurted out, wanting to make him take me seriously. “They said the captain loves you.”

“Loves me?” He laughed and sat back in the booth, his dimples showing. “Oh, Naomi, I think they’re seeing things.”

Now that made me angry, so I decided to tell him everything I’d seen, especially those times when the captain didn’t know I was looking. “Sometimes she cries about you.”

“The captain?” he said, narrowing his eyes. “You’ve seen her cry? About me?”

“Well, she didn’t cry like a baby,” I replied, twirling my spoon in the ice cream. “She just turned away and brushed her eyes with her fingers.”

He frowned at me. “She did this one time? Or more than once?”

I tried to think, but could only shrug. “It happened now and then.” He seemed skeptical, so I offered more detail. “She did it when Tuvok got that letter and Mom and I were locked in our quarters.”

“Teero?” He looked at me funny, as if I wasn’t supposed to know about that. “You remember that?”

“You mean because I wasn’t supposed to know what happened, right?”

He looked away, and I could see some muscles in his cheek working the way my mom’s do when she is losing patience with me. “I guess I hoped you didn’t know why.”

“Even happy families have bad days,” I replied, hoping to offer him consolation. “Neelix said that there had been a misunderstanding or something, and I figured that you and the captain must have had a fight. Right?”

He swallowed. “In a way.”

“A few days afterward, the captain was just finishing her dessert when you came into the mess hall. She saw you and got a funny look on her face. She turned away and stared out the window for a long time, and then she brushed her eyes and left the room without even putting her dishes in the recycler. Neelix just shook his head and asked me to take care of her tray. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, ‘It’s hard to let go sometimes.’ I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, because it wasn’t hard to let go of that tray! It wasn’t even sticky.” Chakotay laughed, and I got madder than ever. “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing, Naomi,” he got serious again. “It’s just that Neelix wasn’t talking about the tray.”

“Yeah, I know that now. I asked Mom, and she said he meant that the captain didn’t want to let go of her special friendship with you, but I told her that would never happen. You’ll always be her friend, won’t you?”

He cleared his throat. “Of course, I will.”

“That’s what I told her.”

“Your mother?”

“The captain.”

“You talked to the captain about this?”

“I did, although she didn’t remember leaving the tray in the mess hall,” I shrugged. “She probably thought I was imagining things. But, that wasn’t the only time I saw her cry about you.”

“There were others?”

“Plenty of them. When you and Seven disappeared on that planet and we had to find you. When you found that old Earth spaceship and got hurt trying to bring it back.”

He looked away, and I knew I’d upset him. “There were some hard times out there.”

“Mom says we have to work things out the way a family does, but we aren’t a family any more, are we?” Tears welled up in my eyes. “I miss my family.”

He gave me a sad smile. “We’ve all had a hard time leaving Voyager behind, Naomi, not just you.”

“It was hard for me when Neelix left the ship, but I had Icheb and Seven to rely on, and now I have my mom and dad. Even so, I feel sad a lot of the time.”

“It’s important to have people you can rely on.”

“You relied on Seven, didn’t you?”

“When Voyager got back? Yes, I did, along with other people.”

“But did you stay friends with the captain? Because I think she missed you a lot. I’ve seen her look away and brush her eyes when she sees you with Seven at crew parties, and you two don’t treat her like a friend.”

His eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“Just what I see. And hear. I see how sad she looks when you and Seven forget to include her.”

“Were you spying on her?”

“Oh, no, sir. I would never do that. And I haven’t seen her since before school started, so she might be feeling better now.”

He nodded. “So you were watching her.”

“I always watch her. That’s part of my job as her assistant. Like, the day that you and Seven left the ship to go to Sweden for the first time? I was in the mess hall all by myself because I wanted to eat breakfast before my dad beamed aboard. The captain came in and sat down in front of the big windows. I’m pretty sure she thought she was alone because I hadn’t turned on the lights. She looked tired and kept rubbing her eyes while she was reading a PADD, and then she put her head down on the table top. I think she was crying.”

“She was under a lot of stress about then,” he suggested. “There was a lot going on, and no one knew if things would turn out okay.”

“Maybe, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking of you.” I finished my ice cream and began to fold my napkin like the origami we were doing in school.

“How do you know what she was thinking, Naomi?”

“This is the part that will get me in trouble,” I whispered.

“Because you were spying on her?”

“Well, it isn’t right to read someone else’s private log, is it?” I looked up at him hoping that he wouldn’t guess what I’d done, but I could tell that he had.

“You looked at the PADD.”

“It was beside her on the table. I wanted to take her some fresh coffee and to try to help her feel better. I didn’t mean to read the words.”

“So she was making a personal log? In writing?”

“Yeah.” I took a deep breath. “Do you think she’ll be mad at me because I saw the words?”

“I doubt it, Naomi. It was just lying there on the table, right? You didn’t pick it up and read through it.”

I nodded. “The captain must’ve fallen asleep, because she didn’t look up when I walked up to her.” I paused. “You can keep a secret, right?”

He nodded, but I noticed that he was so intent on our conversation that he hadn’t finished his ice cream. It made me feel good to know that he was listening, even if that meant that the ice cream was a soupy mess in the bowl. “You can trust me.”

“It was about Seven. She said she was jealous because Seven had the one thing she’d wanted to have for herself when we made it home. And then there was something about a New Earth. Did we visit a planet with that name, Commander?” He just stared at me. “Commander?”

He straightened up and then swallowed. “New Earth? It was a place that she and I would remember, but you wouldn’t. You were a tiny baby back then.”

“Okay. I didn’t pick up the PADD, I just read the words on the screen, and I have wondered what they meant.” I sat up straight. “I want to tell the captain that it’s okay to feel jealous about somebody now and then. I’ve felt jealous about Seven, too.”

“You have?”

“Seven used to spend a lot of time with me. But in those last few months, she was with you more.” I unfolded the napkin and started over. “I began to figure out what this ‘letting go’ feels like. It can really hurt.”

“You’re a very smart girl.”

That comment made me feel good. “A lot of people are jealous of Seven because she’s so smart and pretty, but the captain is pretty, too, and she’s just as smart. Don’t you think so, sir?” He seemed unable to talk, so I went on. “I wanted to tell the captain that whatever it is that she wanted that Seven got? She should just ask Seven to share. Seven used to talk to me about sharing things with Mezoti, so she knows how important it is.”

“Some things are harder to share than others,” he said, but he wasn’t looking me in the eyes any more. That’s when I realized that he was upset.

“Did I say something wrong?” My stomach started to hurt. I remembered that he and Seven were dating, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. It occurred to me that he might not want Seven to share with the captain. “I should just wait and talk to the captain.”

“Oh, no. I think I need to hear all of this, Naomi, maybe more than the captain does. Do you have any idea what it is that she wanted for herself?”

“Well,” I hesitated, embarrassed. “When the captain woke up and looked at me, she snatched the PADD and rubbed her eyes. She didn’t want me to see that she’d been crying or to know how tired she was. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, ‘Dreams don’t always come true.’ What did that mean, Commander?”

“She meant that things don’t always turn out just the way we want them to, I imagine.”

“That’s what I thought. I tried to think about how I would feel if I didn’t get what I wished for after all the time on Voyager. I wondered what I would do if my daddy decided he didn’t want me. I know that would make me cry, because I’ve dreamed of meeting him and being with him for so long.”

“That would be a hard dream to let go of,” he agreed.

“I’m lucky that he was waiting for me.”

“Who wouldn’t want you, Naomi?” He reached over and patted my hand. “You are a wonderful girl.”

“Thanks, Commander. I love my daddy, but I feel very sad to be away from Voyager and everyone I know.” I paused, trying to decide whether I could trust him. “I’m thinking that if the captain is as unhappy as I am, maybe we can just go back to the ship where we were happy together. Then I could live with all the same people around me, only this time I could take Daddy along, too.”

“That is quite a dream, Naomi.”

“Mom says the crew will never be together again, but if that’s true, I’m not sure I can stand it.”

“The crew has gone in many different directions, but we’ll stay in touch with each other. Not even families can be together all the time. You know that.”

I didn’t know that; Voyager’s crew had always been together—for my whole life. “I want to be with them like before, when we were on the ship.” I felt tears in my eyes. “I don’t want to let them go.”

“Nobody wants that.” He pushed the dish of melted ice cream away and took my hands in his. “I don’t want to let anyone go, and I’m sure the captain doesn’t either.”

“I don’t want to let go of the captain, because she needs me. Later, after you and Seven left, the captain went to her quarters to pack. When I brought her a goodbye present, a picture of us together, I could tell that she’d been crying again. I asked her if she was all right.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she was fine, just a little tired.” I shrugged. “She always says she’s fine.”

He laughed. “Yes, she does.”

“I know you’re her best friend, so maybe it would help if you talked to her? Maybe you can talk her into going back to Voyager?”

“I’m not sure I can.” He gave me a small smile, even though his dark eyes were troubled. “She cried when Seven and I left?”

“I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings, Commander. I know you’re her friend, too, and didn’t mean to upset her. But if she is as sad to say goodbye to the crew as I am, maybe she can fix it so we don’t have to be apart.”

“I’m glad you told me this, Naomi. I promise to talk to the captain about what you’ve said. I need to remind her that I’m still around, I guess. We all need someone to listen to us, don’t we?”

“I know that I do. And then, if you talk to Seven about sharing, maybe the captain can be happy, too.” My stomach was feeling a little better, but I was still worried.

“I know you think that going back to the ship is what you want, Naomi, but a lot of the crew was unhappy out there. They were away from their spouses and children, and the captain worried all the time about our safety and survival.”

My eyes opened wide. “I forgot about that part of it.”

He continued, “The captain was also lonely on the ship, and she was always working. It was hard on her to live like that for seven years.”

I nodded. “If going back to the ship would make her unhappy, maybe we shouldn’t do that.”

“You want her to be happy.”

“I do. Maybe sharing with Seven will help her. I want her to have what she wants more than anything.”

“What if sharing would make Seven unhappy?”

“I don’t want Seven to be unhappy, either, but is it wrong to want the captain to be happy first?”

He smiled at me and shook his head. “I think it’s one of the primary duties of the captain’s assistant, don’t you? To put the captain’s happiness first?”

“I think so.” I smiled back. “That’s the first officer’s job, too, right?”

“Yes, it is. Thanks for reminding me.” He stood up, holding out a hand. “Ready to walk back?”

When we arrived at our apartment, he knelt down and gave me a hug, pausing for one last chat. “This message for the captain, Naomi. What, exactly, do you want me to say?”

“Tell her it’s just like Neelix told me all the time: ‘Don’t let anything get between you and whatever it is that makes you happy.’ Tell her I’m sorry I read her personal logs that night. I feel really bad about that. And ask her about going back to the ship.”

“Will do,” he replied. “Now, you have to promise me something.” He took me by the shoulders and looked me right in the eye. “This is between you and me? You won’t tell the captain what we talked about? And you won’t say anything to Seven? You’ll trust me to take care of everything?”

“I promise.”

“I’m glad. The captain wants you to go back to school and start getting used to living on Earth. She knows it’s hard, but it’s what all of us have to do. We have to show everyone that being on Voyager was a good thing and that we can handle whatever life throws our way. If you give school a chance, maybe you can be a Starfleet officer someday and go into space on another ship. That would make the captain proud.”

“I can try, Commander.”

“That’s all anyone can ask of you.” He gave me a hug, told my mom goodbye, and left without saying much else, but I remember that he paused in the doorway to give me an intense look that almost scared me. I was worried that I’d hurt his feelings, but then he gave me a wink and a grin before he left the apartment.

Our meeting made a big difference in my attitude. I’d gotten a few worries off of my chest and was comforted to know that I wasn’t the only crew member who was struggling to adjust to all the changes we were experiencing. I also believed that Chakotay would talk to the captain and take care of the things that worried me. I felt so much better that I started to enjoy school and to make some friends.

A couple of months passed, and I acclimated to life on Earth and to my new school. In fact, when I received a first place ribbon in the science fair, I sent an invitation to the captain to come to the award ceremony and see in person the display of the experiments. Imagine my surprise when it was Captain Janeway who emceed the presentations!

“Miss Wildman,” she said, when we had a chance to talk, “I’m so proud of you! I know that everyone on Voyager’s crew would join me in congratulating you for doing such a good job on your project and for letting everyone in your school see how great it was to grow up on the ship.”

“Thank you, Captain.” I felt like I was walking on air. “Did Commander Chakotay tell you about our talk?”

“He did.” She sat down on a sofa and patted the cushion beside her, inviting me to join her.

“Did he apologize about my reading the log you wrote?”

“Yes, and the apology is accepted. I should be more careful with my personal logs, don’t you think?” She gave me a crooked grin. “I left it right there for anyone to see. The commander and I had a very interesting discussion about what you told him.”

“I told him you cried.”

“Sometimes, I did cry. I feel close to everyone on my crew, including you. After all the years we spent together, all the dangers we faced, I was sorry to have to tell everyone goodbye.”

“Just like I was!”

“Very much so. There’s nothing wrong with a few tears when you’re feeling sad.”

“Did he talk to Seven about sharing with you?”

At that comment, the captain laughed. “He talked to me about that more than anything else.”

I was mortified! “Why did you laugh?” I demanded.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she replied, giving me a quick hug. “It’s just a topic that Chakotay and I had failed to talk through before, and your comments were what we needed to get a few things settled.”

“Oh, good. I want everybody to be happy.”

“I know you do, and I want you to know that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.”

“So you don’t think it is a good idea for all of us to go back to live on Voyager?”

“I’m afraid that can’t happen. Voyager is a famous ship because she travelled all the way across the galaxy. She’s going to be a museum in San Francisco so people from all over the Federation can walk through and imagine that they are living all of the adventures we experienced.”

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. “Oh, no.”

“Now, just a minute,” she said, putting an arm around my shoulders. “You were right about the crew needing to stay in touch with each other, so I asked the commander to set up a message board where we can leave notes and videos for each other. I’m going to post a story about your award today and include pictures of you with your display. We’re going to suggest that crew members who are on Earth meet every month at a local restaurant for dinner and for the chance to catch up with each other. You mother has promised to take you whenever she can.” She looked down at me. “I know it isn’t the same as being on the ship, but it will help us stay close and feel like family.”

“Will you be at the meetings?”

“As often as I can.”

I nodded. “I think that is a workable compromise.”

The captain laughed again. “Very well, Captain’s Assistant! If you approve, then we’ll forge ahead with it.”

Looking back now, I realize that a lot must have changed in the weeks since I’d seen Chakotay. Apparently he and Seven had parted ways, because there was no way to “share” what the captain wanted—which turned out to be Chakotay, himself. At the first monthly meeting of Voyager’s crew, the captain and commander were together as a couple, and they have been ever since.

At their wedding, at which I served as the flower girl, Chakotay said for the first time that I was the Cupid who had brought them together. I was amazed, and I asked him what I’d done.

He said, “You were honest and open about your true feelings, Naomi, and that was what the captain and I needed to be reminded of.”

Today, I’m serving on the Montgomery Scott in the Beta Quadrant. I don’t get to attend the on-going Voyager dinners very often, but when I do, Chakotay and I have a tradition of sharing a bowl of ice cream and telling each other how we feel—just like members of the same family would do.

Out of the mouths of children come innocent and honest words, reminding adults of the basic principles of life that we sometimes forget. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who respected me, even though I was a child, and by people who were able to find the truth behind my innocent and sometimes befuddled observations.

The end