Pecan Pie

Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager and its crew belong to CBS/Paramount. No infringement intended.

A/N: This story is set in the first part of Season Six, soon after the destruction of Equinox.

For quantumsilver

Pecan Pie

by mizvoy

“This place reminds me of France,” Chakotay said at last, breaking a long, uncomfortable silence.

Seated across the table from him at an open-air café, Kathryn Janeway did not respond. She sat hunched over a cup of Sultran’s version of coffee in one of her moods, and he knew that this time he was partially responsible for it. She had been fine when on duty the last few weeks, her usual self, but he and Tuvok had been subjected to her recurrent black moods since the destruction of the Equinox. They both feared that she might descend into another depression like the one she’d suffered when the ship was crossing the starless void.

He pressed on, hoping to get a reaction from her. “Actually, it reminds me of a small bistro about a block or two from Starfleet’s Paris offices. I think it was called Michele’s. Or maybe Monique’s. I used to go there for coffee on beautiful spring afternoons like this.”

Kathryn ignored him. She didn’t want to be there, of course. She had come to the surface only after he had created a scene on the bridge about her needing some time away from the ship. He was worried about the guilt she felt for her part in the Equinox’s destruction, and he’d hoped that a few hours of relaxation would improve her mood.

“I remember dappled shadows like these in the early afternoon,” he continued. “On warm days like this, the teachers would open the windows at the school across the street. It was Ste. Simone’s or something. I could hear the teachers talking, and, sometimes, the children’s voices would waft over from the choir room. It was like being serenaded by angels.”

Kathryn looked up at him, a scowl on her face. “The bistro was called Simone’s, and it was six blocks away from the Starfleet offices.”

He shrugged, trying to hide his relief at her response. “My mistake.”

Behind her, the waiter watched the pair closely, having been cautioned to wait upon the alien captain and her first officer with special care. The tension between them was obvious, and he’d hoped that they would relax and resolve their differences during their meal in the beautiful afternoon sunshine. He decided to find them a special treat to improve their mood.

“And the school, which was called Ste. Therese’s, was next door to the bistro, not across the street.”

He glanced at her, a troubled look on his face. “Are you sure about that?”

“Positive. When I was an ensign, I spent six months in Paris on a diplomatic assignment, and my pension was across the street from Simone’s.” She sat back, pushing the mug and its icy contents away in disgust. “And the children were a nuisance in the mornings, waking me up with all the noise they made as they walked to school.”

“You might be right. Maybe the school was next door to the bistro,” he nodded. “But the singing was nice, right? Angelic?”

She gave him a lopsided grin, “You knew better all along, didn’t you? You’re just trying to get a rise out of me.”

“I was just reminiscing.” He gave her a wink.

“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but this place doesn’t remind me of Paris much.”

“It does if you use a little imagination. The sidewalk cafe. The angle of the sun and the shadows of the leaves. The flowers and the colorful awnings. The school playground.”

“The sun is too far into the red spectrum, and the atmosphere-,” she paused as he rolled his eyes. “What?”

“Were you going to say that the atmosphere has too much nitrogen or something?” A smile tugged at his lips. “Because it’s just a couple of percentage points off.”

“I was going to say that it’s too humid.” She narrowed her eyes in mock anger.

“Right.” He leaned toward her, his elbows on the table. “Kathryn, we’ve had a tough few weeks. It’s okay to enjoy yourself..”

“Who says I’m not enjoying myself?”

“You’ve been thinking about the repair schedule. Admit it.”

“What if I have been?” she snapped back, her temper flaring. “I can enjoy myself while thinking about the ship, can’t I?”

“Not if you let it interfere with your shore leave.”

“I just want to move on, and we aren’t going to go far until we get the port nacelle fixed.”

“B’Elanna knows that and is working on it as we speak. Can’t you just relax?”

“I feel like I’m wasting time.”

“Vacations are not ‘wasting time,’ and you know it.”

They fell silent again, regarding each other across the table in silence. Kathryn glared at him in defiance, but he studied her eyes, seeing there the guilt, exhaustion, and frustration of six years of exile. Although he knew she didn’t want to discuss it, he brought up Equinox once again.

“You’re still hurting over Rudy Ransom, aren’t you? Haven’t you done enough penance for his decision to throw Starfleet ethics out the airlock?”

Her eyes flashed with anger as she pushed her chair away from the table, wiped her mouth with her napkin, and stood up. She was about to leave the bistro and find transportation to the shuttle port when she realized that they were not alone. She looked over her shoulder to find that the waiter had arrived at their table with a fresh pot of coffee and a small tray.

“Is Madame leaving?” he asked. “I was just bringing dessert. The chef has prepared a special delight for your enjoyment.”

Kathryn was about to make an excuse for leaving when the “special delight” on the tray caught her eye. Sitting down with an audible plop, she asked him the name of the dessert.

“She calls it payeah.” The waiter made a great show of sweeping the tray through the air and settling it gently on the edge of the table. He set a plate and fork in front of each of them, refilled their mugs with coffee, and then said, with a bow, “Compliments of the chef.”

“On Earth, paella has rice and chicken in it,” Chakotay observed once the waiter departed. However, Kathryn’s attention was totally fixed on the plate in front of her. He watched as she scraped some of the dark brown topping away, pulled out the gelatinous filling, and then flaked the bottom crust with her fork. At long last, she gathered a small dollop of the payeah onto her fork and tasted it.

“It’s pecan pie.” She looked up at him in amazement. “In fact, it’s my Aunt Betty’s recipe.”

“The pie you replicate on Saturday nights?” He sat up and took a look at his plate. “You mean it’s a close approximation.”

“I mean it’s hers.” She took a second bite and closed her eyes with pleasure.

He examined it closely. “Looks very familiar. I guess it’s possible for pecan pie to exist on more than one planet in the galaxy.”

“Maybe a close approximation, but the same pie? Real pecans baked on top? Corn syrup and brown sugar in the filling? Pie crust with lard in it?” She gestured at his plate. “Taste it.”

He cut off a piece of the pie and put it in his mouth. For a moment, he was simply too stunned to speak. “It tastes just like the pie you eat on Saturday night.”

“It sure does. My question is this—where did the Sultrani get the recipe? When we arrived in the system three days ago, they had never seen us before. They even claimed that they’d never heard of Voyager before.”

“They probably acquired it not knowing it’s from Earth.”

“Maybe so, but when did they get it? And from whom?” She took a moment to eat another bite, sipping the bitter “coffee” as a chaser. “And, Chakotay, these are real pecans.”

“They have replicators. I’m guessing that they replicated it.”

“I suppose so, but pecans? Exactly? The odds are astronomical.”

Chakotay watched as Kathryn finished her pie, and then he pushed the rest of his toward her. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks,” she gushed, giving him a happy grin. “I think I should thank the chef personally for giving us her payeah, don’t you?”

“Absolutely.” He was glad that the dessert had caught her attention and hoped that the mystery surrounding it would be enough to keep her mind off of Voyager’s repairs and the demise of the Equinox. “But first, finish the pie.”

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t think of leaving a scrap behind.”

The café’s kitchen was like every other that Chakotay had visited over the years—barely controlled chaos and continuous noise. In the middle of it all, exuding an attitude of command, was a small Sultrani female chef dressed entirely in red. He thought to himself that the kitchen was very much like Voyager’s bridge in the midst of crisis with Kathryn’s calm attitude keeping everyone focused on the problem at hand.

The chef approached them and gave them a small bow. “I am Chef Xani. We’re honored to have you at our café. I hope you enjoyed the food.”

“It was a delightful meal,” Janeway replied, “but we were especially delighted with the dessert. What did you call it?”

“Payeah.” The woman beamed at them. “I’m so pleased. It’s a new recipe I recently obtained, and it has created quite a sensation.”

“I don’t suppose you would reveal your source, would you?”

The chef blushed. “It would be a breach of policy to give you the recipe.”

“Oh, you misunderstand. I don’t need the recipe,” Janeway explained. “You see, your payeah is identical a dessert on my home world.”

“I doubt that very much, ma’am.”

Kathryn rattled off the recipe’s ingredients, and then she started describing how the crust was made, how the lard was cut into the flour and the dough chilled before rolling it out on a floured board.

“Quiet! Quiet!” Xani interrupted, pulling Janeway toward her private office. “I’m the only one who knows how to make the cruSte. Don’t say another word.”

The door closed behind them, bringing with it a blessed silence, and for a long moment, the two women stared at each other. Through the window, Xani could see the commander waiting just outside the room, keeping a watchful eye on his captain but respecting her need for privacy.

“Captain Janeway, I would never have served you that dish had I known that it was from your home world. The man who . . . I was told that the recipe was available for purchase.”

“It’s all right, Chef, I’m not upset about your purchase of it. If we had met personally, I would have gladly shared it with you. I am simply curious about who sold it to you.”

“I hesitate to tell you. It is a bit embarrassing and might even be considered improper.”

“I assure you that I will keep your secret. I’ve shared the replicator formula with a few people during the last few years, so it is quite possible that I gave it to the seller. However, I’ve never explained how the dish is made, but yours wasn’t replicated, was it? You made that pie from scratch, didn’t you?”

“From scratch?” The chef was confused. “Pie?”

“That’s what we call it. Pecan pie. And ‘from scratch’ means that you assembled it yourself.”

“Oh, I see. You call it pie. I was given the replicator formula, as you say, but I studied it and worked with it until I was able to make it myself. I replicated the ingredients and then made it from scratch.”

“And the man who gave you the replicator formula?” Janeway’s curiosity was mounting. I won’t cause either of you any problems, I promise.”

“Very well. I’ll tell you.” She took a deep breath. “You see, he is a parolee, a former prisoner, who worked briefly in my kitchen as part of his rehabilitation.”

“A parolee? Someone who broke your laws?”

“Yes. He was convicted of criminal trespass.”

“He went to prison for trespassing?”

“Criminal trespassing.” The chef paused, trying to think of the best way to describe his crime. “You see, he arrived on the planet suddenly and uninvited, not with proper greetings, as your ship used. It is a serious offense and considered an attack on our planet to simply materialize on the surface without warning.”

Kathryn nodded. While the Sutrani had developed replicator capabilities, they hadn’t yet extended that process to a transporter. In fact, they found whole idea of transporters distasteful, prompting them to ask Voyager’s crew to use shuttles to come to the surface. It made sense that anyone who beamed onto the planet uninvited would be considered a serious threat, even if they were just alien visitors wanting to establish a friendship.

“Did he come from a cloaked ship, perhaps?” Janeway wondered aloud.

“No, he didn’t, as strange as that sounds. He simply appeared out of thin air from thousands of light years away, which scared us even more. He was in prison for several years and then worked here when he was paroled. I found him to be a very kind and charming individual—not at all threatening. He offered me the payeah recipe as a way to make money and support himself once he was released.”

“Is he still here? Would it be possible for me to meet him?”

Xani looked doubtful. “He keeps a low profile and tries not to make waves, but I can ask him if he would talk to you.”

“Please do.” Kathryn took a moment to tell the chef where she could be found on the planet for the next thirty-six hours. “Just leave a message for me there if he is willing to meet us.”

“Yes, Captain,” she paused, a bit embarrassed. “I just have one small question to ask before you leave. It was a challenge to try to duplicate the payeah. Can you tell me if I got the recipe right?”

“You did better than that.” Kathryn gave her a brilliant smile. “You made my Aunt Betty proud.”

“She said the man traveled thousands of light years, Chakotay. It has to be a Sikarian, maybe Gath, himself.” Kathryn and Chakotay were walking back to their hotel. “It has to be someone who has the replicator formula and also has the ability to travel long distances without using a ship.”

“Makes sense.” Chakotay was pleased to see that Kathryn was intrigued by the pecan pie mystery. “He might have used their spatial trajector to visit Sultran, but was unlucky enough to arrive in front of some of the natives.”

“So why didn’t he just go back at some point?”

“Maybe the Sikarians believe that they have to adhere to local customs if they are discovered. We know that they’re rather inflexible about following their own directives.”

“That we do.” She grew thoughtful. “I didn’t actually use their trajector, so I don’t know how they access it from the destination point. Maybe the Sultrani damaged the transceiver, basically stranding him here.”

“It’s possible, but we’re speculating. It might be someone else, someone who got the recipe from the Sikarians, or some other aliens that we shared it with.”

“Maybe so. I’m not sure I want to see Gath again. As you know, we didn’t part on the best of terms.”

Chakotay was relieved to see that Kathryn had a sparkle in her eye thanks to the pecan pie mystery. In fact, her mood seemed to be improving with every step they took. When they arrived in the hotel lobby a few minutes later, they were flagged down by the desk clerk who handed them a message.

“It’s from the chef,” Kathryn said after scanning the note. “The recipe man wants to meet with us as soon as possible—back at the café.”

Chakotay gestured at the door. “Good thing it’s a nice day for a walk.”

They were silent as they started back, and Chakotay could see that Kathryn was uneasy about who this unknown person might be. The incident with the Sikarians had been one of their first disappointments in their struggle to get home, one of the first tests of her determination to follow Starfleet principles. It had been the first of many blows that had eventually resulted in her depression the previous year. She didn’t need another letdown so soon after the Equinox fiasco.

He stopped her by taking her wrist in his hand. “What will you do if it is Gath?”

“Am I going to stick out my tongue at him? Kick him in the shins?” She smiled and shook her head. “I’ll be fine. Really.”

“Are you sure?”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she moved on down the street, a spring in her step. “I’m flattered that he liked the pie!”

They arrived at the deserted café during the lull between the lunch and dinner rush. The open-air sidewalk area was deserted, so they stepped into the dim interior, stopping a moment to let their eyes adjust to the darkness. They gradually became aware of a tall slender man who was standing by the bar, his head surrounded by familiar wiry halos.

“Gath,” Janeway exclaimed, putting a hand on Chakotay’s arm and giving it a squeeze. “It is you.”

“Captain Janeway. Commander Chakotay. Against all odds, we meet again.” He gestured for them to sit down at a table and then joined them. He had aged over the six years since their last meeting, his hair a silvery grey, the lines around his eyes deepened. “Please, let’s talk. I have prepared the Sultran form of ‘coffee’ for your pleasure.”

“For my pleasure,” Janeway repeated as she took a seat, a grim look in her eye. Their last conversation, some five years earlier, had focused on Gath’s need for novelty and amusement. He had been defensive as Janeway had pointed out how selfish and shallow his attitude was.

“I take what pleasure I can these days, Captain, but, I assure you, my experience here on Sultran has changed me.”

“Have they?” she wondered, giving Chakotay a meaningful look. He just shrugged and sat back to listen, his arms crossed over his chest. “In what way?”

“I don’t blame you for your skepticism. I can see, now, how I seemed to be a pompous degenerate to you, so focused on my own gratification.” He leaned forward. “But I have learned better. For one thing, after my long stay here, I understand your overwhelming desire to return to your home planet.”

“I suppose you do,” she sighed. “Am I right to assume that you were stranded here by your spatial transport system?”

“In a way, I was. I had visited Sultran in my youth, but hadn’t come here in many years. One day, on impulse, I decided to return for a visit. There are spectacular waterfalls in the mountains along the western coast of this continent. Our transport system is set to place the traveler in an unpopulated region, but mistakes happen, and this time, there were Sultrani there on some sort of excursion.” He made a face of displeasure. “Usually, we are able to return to Sikaris before the natives can react to our appearance amongst them, or we are able to create a diversion that allows us to signal for an immediate retrieval.”

“But, this time, you were unable to escape.”

“Exactly. I was tackled by a very large security guard, and my retrieval device was taken from me in the ensuing struggle.”

“Unfortunate,” Janeway replied, shaking her head. “Wouldn’t your people come looking for you when you failed to return?”

“Under normal circumstances, they would use my departure vector to come and help me.” He rubbed his temples, obviously distressed. “But I left in a hurry and didn’t take the time to file a travel itinerary. As you can imagine, knowing how focused I was on my own pleasure, I preferred to get on with what I wanted to do rather than take the time to do the required paperwork.”

“It was tiresome, I suppose, and you didn’t enjoy waiting.” Kathryn nodded, noticing the look of contrition on Gath’s face. “And so, here you are.”

“Here I am.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Almost three years. After my conviction and imprisonment, I have had to survive by my wits. The sale of your recipe, for example, has helped me pay for my room and board in an apartment upstairs. I have continued to use my knowledge of food and drink to make a living.” He sighed, obviously disappointed in his situation. “Luckily, Sultran is a pleasant planet, for the most part.”

“But it isn’t home.”

“No, it isn’t.” He gave her a smile that was almost shy. “However, you’ve traveled far since we were together on Sikaris. You must have many interesting stories to tell.”

“I do,” she agreed, a wicked gleam in her eye, remembering how her crew had bartered for the use of the trajector by trading stories out of Voyager’s database. “Perhaps I should sell them to you.”

“Touché, Captain. You have every right to be irritated with me.”

She glanced at Chakotay, a thoughtful look on her face. “No, I don’t that right, Gath. When you denied us access to the trajectory, you were simply following your own version of our prime directive. It’s just that, on your planet, I was on the unhappy side of the situation, and I found that distasteful.”

“And you found my focus on pleasure distasteful, too, as I recall.”

“Yes, but I always realized now that it’s a cultural variation. We find pleasure by serving others, not by indulging ourselves.”

“I appreciate the difference now, as well,” he answered. “When I heard that Voyager was in orbit, I had hoped to talk to you, to ask a favor of you, if possible.”

“You want us to help you get home, I suppose,” she guessed.

“I have no right to ask, but if you can help me, I would be most grateful. You see, the Sultrani do not have the technological expertise to repair my damaged retrieval device, but you might.”

“I see.” She turned toward Chakotay, who simply shrugged his shoulders. He was enjoying their repartee and wasn’t about to interfere. Looking back at Gath, she asked, “How can we help?”

“Your ship came very close to successfully accessing our spatial trajector. If you still have the same engineer, you should be able to repair my retrieval device.” He grasped a chain around his neck and pulled a tiny pendant up from where it had been hidden inside his shirt. “The micro-circuitry is a challenge for the Sultrani.”

“You’ve asked them to help you?”

“Not exactly.” At her wary look, he continued, “As I said, they took the device from me when I was apprehended and didn’t return it until I was released from prison. Of course, I tried to activate it at once, but I found that it was no longer operational. I can’t tell if it was damaged, if they tried to disassemble it, or if it simply lost power over the years.”

“You can’t tell?”

“I’m not an engineer.” He shrugged. “I never took the time to learn about the technology—it was so tedious.”

“And you didn’t enjoy doing anything tedious.”

“You know I didn’t.”

Kathryn fought the urge to smile. “I suppose we could look at it.”

“I would be so grateful if you would.” He sat up and leaned toward her. “I know that I failed to help you before, when you were visiting our planet. It would be only fair for you to turn away now and leave me here, so far from my home.”

“How would that be fair?”

“I let you leave Sikaris, knowing that you faced a long journey fraught with danger, and I did nothing to help you.”

“And because of that, you think I should do the same to you? I suppose that could seem fair.” She paused a moment. “What is the saying, Chakotay, about fair play?”

“You must be thinking of the saying that ‘turnabout is fair play,'” he answered.

“That’s one saying. Another is, ‘what goes around, comes around.’ I like the sound of that one, too,” she chuckled. When she turned to Gath, she found him watching her closely, a look of panic in his face. For a long moment, she imagined turning her back on him and leaving him on Sultran, imagined how it would feel to rub his face in the smug complacency he’d shown her so many years ago, but she suspected that the pleasure would be short-lived. Soon enough, she would regret her selfishness and add another load of guilt to the burden she already carried.

“I throw myself on your mercy,” Gath whispered.

Her expression softened as she reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “Well, today is your lucky day.”

“You will help me?” His face lit up.

“Of course, I will, I’d be happy to help you,” she smiled. “Remember that we find our greatest pleasure by helping others.”

“I don’t know how to thank you!” he replied, tears in his eyes. “I’m at a loss.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Thank me once we get your device operational.”

He shook his head in amazement at her generosity. “I have great faith in you, Captain.”

“And I have great faith in my engineer.” She stood up and extended her hand to him. “Come along, Gath. We’ll see whether B’Elanna Torres can work a miracle for you today.”

A week later, after Sultran had disappeared from their aft sensors, Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay sat in her ready room discussing the events of the day. Voyager was in good shape, thanks to the help the Sultrani had given them, and the tension that Chakotay had sensed in her following the Equinox incident was finally fading.

“It’s Saturday, and I’ve saved a lot of my replicator rations, thanks to the supply of coffee beans from Sultran,” Janeway said, standing up and circling her desk. “Would you like to share some pecan pie with me?”

“I’d love to.” Chakotay followed her to the upper level and took a seat on the sofa. “I think pecan pie will always remind me of Gath from now on.”

“You expected me to refuse to help him, didn’t you?” she laughed, giving him a dark look as she replicated the pie. “I was angry with Gath, but I always realized that the problems I faced had more to do with my crew than with the Sikarian version of the prime directive.”

“You called Gath a slimy jerk, and you have to admit that it would have been poetic justice to leave him there, stranded and struggling to get home, just as he left us in our predicament.”

“I never said he was slimy, I said he was smarmy,” she grinned, handing him a plate and sitting down on the sofa. “Poetic justice isn’t always ethical, you know.” She put a small bite of the pie into her mouth, her face shining with pleasure. “I will never forget the look on B’Elanna’s face when Gath walked into engineering that day. I thought she might explode.”

“I think she wanted to explode. He reminded her of one of her worst acts of insubordination. But then she realized how good it would feel to prove to him that we weren’t as backward as he thought we were.”

“He was amazed at how quickly she repaired his device.”

“I was, too. I thought he’d activate it immediately, but he had the good manners to stay long enough to thank us properly first.”

“It had been a long three years for him, all alone and in prison. At least we have each other.” She toyed with her pie, picking at the flakey crust with her fork, a sad look on her face. “How long would I wait before going home, if I could do so by simply pressing a button?”

“You would say thanks first to whoever helped you, I imagine.”

“I’d like to think so, but I’m not as sure about that as I once was. I have learned that I don’t always react to situations the way a Starfleet captain should.”

He frowned, sensing the specter of Rudy Ransom in her words. “Why do you doubt yourself, all of a sudden? Is Ransom’s betrayal still haunting you?”

“I’m starting to come to terms with everything that happened.” She sat back on the sofa and sighed. “Ransom did remind me of how easy it is to get off course. An error of just a degree or two can mean that you miss the mark by thousands of light years.”

“You sound like my flight instructor at the Academy,” Chakotay grinned. “But, in my opinion, you’re usually right on course.”

“I appreciate your faith in me, but I know how off course I can be, and, for a Starfleet captain, that’s not good.”

“Starfleet captains don’t have to be perfect.”

“Don’t they, Chakotay?” She shook her head. “At this distance, a course that’s 99.9% accurate won’t get us very close to Earth.”

“That’s why we make course corrections along the way, isn’t it?” At her raised brow, he gave her a sympathetic grin. “In spite of Ransom’s poor example, and in the face of a chance to take revenge on Gath, you did the right thing. You made a necessary course correction. Isn’t that a good sign?”

She laughed out loud. “Maybe so. Maybe it’s a sign that the captain isn’t off her rocker after all.”

Chakotay thought her laughter was the best sound he’d heard in many long days. He looked down, realized that he hadn’t touched his pie, and held it toward her. “I think this is one Saturday that you deserve two pieces of pecan pie, Kathryn.”

“I’m not turning that kind of generosity down!” She snatched the plate from him with blinding speed. “But I’m going to forego eating it until I say thank you first.”

“Is this why you invite me to have pie with you? Because I usually let you have mine, too?”

She grinned. “Maybe. Why do you do that, by the way?”

“I get more pleasure from watching you eat it than I could ever get from eating it myself.”

Her face softened with affection as she realized just how generous he was, how patient and supportive. “I’m going to say thank you, Chakotay, before I eat the whole thing.”

“I knew you would,” he answered, raising his coffee mug in acknowledgment.

Kathryn toyed with the pie as she contemplated the faith he placed in her. She was humbled by his loyalty, especially in the face of her errant behavior when dealing with the Equinox and its crew. Both he and Tuvok had disapproved of her actions, but they had stopped short of removing her from command, believing that she would realize her mistakes and make the proper “course correction.” She knew how close she had come to letting them down, and that knowledge haunted her.

“Have you ever thought,” she wondered, her voice a whisper, “that your faith in me might be misplaced?”

Chakotay narrowed his eyes, suspecting that she was, once again, doubting herself. “I’d be lying if I said the thought hasn’t occurred to me, Kathryn, but I’ve learned that I can trust you to do the right thing—sooner or later.”

“Sooner or later, hm?” She smiled and shook her head. “I thank you for the vote of confidence.”

“You’re welcome.” He laughed at the face she made at him. “Now, finish my dessert before I decide to take it back.”

“Take back the pie? No chance.” She picked up the fork and cut off a bite, pausing to look up at him. “I was thinking about how this dessert played a hand in Gath’s survival. Pecan pie has turned out to be an important element in my diplomatic toolbox.”

“Only if you replicate it, Kathryn,” he replied, keeping his face serious. “No cooking, or you might kill someone.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” She grew thoughtful, letting the joke roll off her back. “If I make it from scratch, I can threaten them with it.”

Chakotay was relieved that her sense of humor was back. It was a good sign that she was finally moving on. “The threat of your cooking would be at least as effective as photon torpedoes, I’d say.”

“I agree!” She ate the bite of pie with a satisfied sigh. “I can see it now, can’t you? When we get back home, I’ll make a fortune by publishing Kathryn Janeway’s Recipes for Gastronomic Weaponry.”

“I’ll buy the first copy—and burn it.”

Their shared laughter was, as always, the best medicine.

The End

Endnote: Gath and the Sikarians were first season aliens who refused to let Voyager use their spatial transport to shorten their journey home. This story was written for VAMB’s 2010 Secret Santa exchange. The request was for a story where a fifth or sixth season Janeway meets Gath again.